But These Alone?

27 07 2014

In the deserted, moon-blanched street,
How lonely rings the echo of my feet!
Those windows, which I gaze at, frown,
Silent and white, unopening down,
Repellent as the world, but see,
A break between the housetops shows
The moon! and lost behind her, fading dim
Into the dewy dark obscurity
Down at the far horizon’s rim,
Doth a whole tract of heaven disclose!

And to my mind the thought
Is on a sudden brought
Of a past night, and a far different scene:
Headlands stood out into the moonlit deep
As clearly as at noon;
The spring-tide’s brimming flow
Heaved dazzlingly between;
Houses, with long wide sweep,
Girdled the glistening bay;
Behind, through the soft air,
The blue haze-cradled mountains spread away.
That night was far more fair
But the same restless pacings to and fro,
And the same vainly throbbing heart was there,
And the same bright, calm moon.

And the calm moonlight seems to say:
Hast thou then still the old unquiet breast,
Which neither deadens into rest,
Nor ever feels the fiery glow
That whirls the spirit from itself away,
But fluctuates to and fro,
Never by passion quite possessed
And never quite benumbed by the world’s sway?
And I, I know not if to pray
Still to be what I am, or yield, and be
Like all the other men I see.

For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where, in the sun’s hot eye,
With heads bent o’er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of naught beyond their prison wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labor fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast.
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them,
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest.

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea.
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity:
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him; and between
The lightning bursts is seen
Only a driving wreck,
And the pale master on his spar-strewn deck
With anguished face and flying hair
Grasping the rudder hard,
Still bent to make some port he knows not where,
Still standing for some false, impossible shore.
And sterner comes the roar
Of sea and wind, and through the deepening gloom
Fainter and fainter wreck and helmsman loom,
And he too disappears, and comes no more.

Is there no life, but these alone?
Madman or slave, must man be one?

Plainness and clearness without shadow of stain!
Clearness divine!
Ye heavens, whose pure dark regions have no sign
Of languor, though so calm, and though so great
Are yet untroubled and unpassionate;
Who, though so noble, share in the world’s toil,
And, though so tasked, keep free from dust and soil!
I will not say that your mild deeps retain
A tinge, it may be, of their silent pain
Who have longed deeply once, and longed in vain
But I will rather say that you remain

A world above man’s head, to let him see
How boundless might his soul’s horizons be,
How vast, yet of what clear transparency!
How it were good to live there, and breathe free;
How fair a lot to fill
Is left to each man still!

 

Matthew Arnold

moonrise 1

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 American Standard Version (ASV)

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?

10 I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.

11 He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end.

12 I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to do good so long as they live.

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God.

14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God hath done it, that men should fear before him.





Woodcraft 7: My Father’s Wood Shop

26 07 2014

By the time I was nine, I knew my pieces of wood pretty well.  I relied on sight more than on sound or scent, but I could almost always correctly identify a piece of pine or fir, cherry or walnut, oak or ash, willow or whatever.  I also knew how to identify pieces by their standard dimensions: 2 by 4, 2 by 6, and such. 

By the same time, I knew my way around my father’s shop.  That didn’t mean, however, that I had the run of the shop.  Every time I entered, I had to pause at pre-selected locations and wait to be recognized.  The place housed many machines: jig saw, circular saw, band saw, lathe, joiner, planer, and drill press, every one potentially dangerous.  Upon entry, I had to wait and receive specific, oral permission from my father to proceed with whatever I had in mind. 

Sometimes I didn’t have anything in mind.  I just happened to be nearby in the course of my playful wanderings, and I wanted to see what my father was doing.  I’d come in, check my toy gun at the door, and then stand.  I wouldn’t remove my cowboy hat.  The guys on television didn’t remove their hats when they entered a building, so I didn’t, either… 

Unless my mother was at hand.  If she was with me upon entering a building –grocery store, bakery, shoe shop, especially a church building — it was off with the hat.  That even included her husband’s place of work, even though he kept his on. 

“That’s different,” she said once.  “Your father’s cap is a tool.  He works by the sweat of his brow, and that cap keeps the sweat from dripping into his eyes so he can see what he’s doing.” 

“I thought you said that men perspire and horses sweat.” 

She just glared at me. 

“But cowboy hats are tools,” I said.  “They keep sweat out of the eyes.  They keep the sun’s heat off of the head and the sun’s glare out of the eyes.  They keep the rain from going down the back of the neck.  They provide handy buckets for watering horses.” 

“Well enough, but that’s all outdoors.  We’re indoors now.” 

It was off with the hat, too, if we came into the presence of a “she-female”, as I used to say.  Her age didn’t make any difference.  She could be young enough to walk betwixt the legs of a colt standing up.  In the presence of a female, take off the hat.  I didn’t understand why that was so necessary, but I didn’t object.  The cowboys on television tended to do something like that, too.  If one didn’t remove his hat entirely, he would at least tip it or touch it.  That seemed manly, so I did it. 

            My father didn’t mind my wearing a hat in his shop, though.  There I’d stand, cowboy hat on my head, cowboy belt around my middle.  Maybe there’d be a cowboy shirt on my torso, maybe not.  Maybe there’d be a cowboy kerchief around my neck, maybe not.  Almost always, though, there’d be the cowboy blue jeans.  I’d wear corduroy trousers in the fall and winter, sometimes.  Shorts in the summer?  Never.  Shorts were for sissies, though I would always be corrected for saying it that way.  Jeans were preferred. 

And take note: back then, we boys wore our jeans “stacked”.  That meant that the pant legs were too long to be considered a proper fit if one were wearing, say, dress slacks to school or church.  But the cowboys wore their jeans long so they’d be the right length when astride horses.  Off the horse, then the pant leg stood crumpled on top of the boot, or it was rolled up some at the cuff.  That’s what we kids did: we wore our jeans rolled up at the cuff. It looked funny with our U.S. Keds, Red Ball Jets, and P.F. Flyers, brands of sneakers available back then.  Very few of us would be allowed to have actual cowboy boots because they were too expensive to buy just for play. 

Anyway, sometimes I would stand just inside the door of my father’s shop, gun off, hat on, just waiting to say, “Howdy!”  I would stand and wait silently because some kind of noise typically filled the air.  Often it was so loud that I couldn’t hear myself if I were to make any noise of my own.  So I didn’t.  I just stood there and waited. 

I never really liked all that noise, being much too loud much too often, or at least much too harsh.  But yet, something about all that racket pleased me.  I could usually hear it even when I ran around outside in the yard.  It told me of my father’s presence:  he was there, he was near at hand.  I could go in whenever I wanted, and he would see me and recognize me and talk to me and share who he was and what he had with me.  He was there for me. 

And even today, on those occasions when I hear wood-working machines sawing and shaping and sanding, that noise is haunted by the image of my father.  There he is, with his utility cap on his head and a pencil stuck on top of an ear, working some piece of wood into a thing of lasting utility and beauty.  And there he is, smiling at me through the dust and saying, “Howdy, pardner!  What can I do for you?”

woodcraft 4





A Country Pathway

25 07 2014

I come upon it suddenly, alone:
A little pathway winding in the weeds
That fringe the roadside; and with dreams my own,
I wander as it leads.

Full wistfully along the slender way,
Through summer tan of freckled shade and shine,
I take the path that leads me as it may;
Its every choice is mine.

 

green leaves of summer

A chipmunk, or a sudden-whirring quail,
Is startled by my step as on I fare;
A garter-snake across the dusty trail
Glances and … is not there.

Above the arching jimson-weeds flare twos
And twos of sallow-yellow butterflies,
Like blooms of lorn primroses blowing loose
When autumn winds arise.

The trail dips, dwindles, broadens then, and lifts
Itself astride a cross-road dubiously,
And, from the fennel marge beyond it, drifts
Still onward, beckoning me.

And though it needs must lure me mile on mile
Out of the public highway, still I go,
My thoughts, far in advance in Indian-file,
Allure me even so.

IMG_0387

Why, I am as a long-lost boy that went
At dusk to bring the cattle to the bars,
And was not found again, though Heaven lent
His mother all the stars

With which to seek him through that awful night.
O years of nights as vain! Stars never rise
But well might miss their glitter in the light
Of tears in mother-eyes!

So … on, with quickened breaths, I follow still;
My avant-courier must be obeyed!
Thus am I led, and thus the path, at will,
Invites me to invade

A meadow’s precincts, where my daring guide
Clambers the steps of an old-fashioned stile,
And stumbles down again, the other side,
To gambol there awhile

In pranks of hide-and-seek, as on ahead
I see it running, while the clover-stalks
Shake rosy fists at me, as though they said -
“You dog our country-walks

And mutilate us with your walking-stick!
We will not suffer tamely what you do
And warn you at your peril, for we’ll sic
Our bumble-bees on you!”

grassland floral

But I smile back, in airy nonchalance,
The more determined on my wayward quest,
As some bright memory a moment dawns
A morning in my breast,

Sending a thrill that hurries me along
In faulty similes of childish skips,
Enthused with lithe contortions of a song
Performing on my lips.

In wild meanderings o’er pasture wealth,
Erratic wanderings through dead’ning-lands,
Where sly old brambles, plucking me by stealth,
Put berries in my hands:

IMG_0325

Or, the path climbs a boulder, wades a slough,
Or, rollicking through buttercups and flags,
Goes gaily dancing o’er a deep bayou
On old tree-trunks and snags:

Or, at the creek, leads o’er a limpid pool
Upon a bridge the stream itself has made,
With some Spring-freshet for the mighty tool
That its foundation laid.

spring green

I pause a moment here to bend and muse,
With dreamy eyes, on my reflection, where
A boat-backed bug drifts on a helpless cruise,
Or wildly oars the air

As, dimly seen, the pirate of the brook -
The pike, whose jaunty hulk denotes his speed -
Swings pivoting about, with wary look
Of low and cunning greed.

Till, filled with other thought, I turn again
To where the pathway enters in a realm
Of lordly woodland, under sovereign reign
Of towering oak and elm.

IMG_0343

A puritanic quiet here reviles
The almost whispered warble from the hedge,
And takes a locust’s rasping voice and files
The silence to an edge.

In such a solitude my somber way
Strays like a misanthrope within a gloom
Of his own shadows, till the perfect day
Bursts into sudden bloom,

And crowns a long, declining stretch of space,
Where King Corn’s armies lie with flags unfurled,
And where the valley’s dint in Nature’s face
Dimples a smiling world.

leftover

And lo! through mists that may not be dispelled,
I see an old farm homestead, as in dreams,
Where, like a gem in costly setting held,
The old log cabin gleams.

centenarians

O darling Pathway! lead me bravely on
Adown your valley way, and run before
Among the roses crowding up the lawn
And thronging at the door,

And carry up the echo there that shall
Arouse the drowsy dog, that he may bay
The household out to greet the prodigal
That wanders home today.

 

James Whitcomb Riley





The Living Temple

24 07 2014

Not in the world of light alone,
Where God has built his blazing throne,
Nor yet alone in earth below,
With belted seas that come and go,
And endless isles of sunlit green,
Is all thy Maker’s glory seen:
Look in upon thy wondrous frame, -
Eternal wisdom still the same!

The smooth, soft air with pulse-like waves
Flows murmuring through its hidden caves,
Whose streams of brightening purple rush,
Fired with a new and livelier blush,
While all their burden of decay
The ebbing current steals away,
And red with Nature’s flame they start
From the warm fountains of the heart.

No rest that throbbing slave may ask,
Forever quivering o’er his task,
While far and wide a crimson jet
Leaps forth to fill the woven net
Which in unnumbered crossing tides
The flood of burning life divides,
Then, kindling each decaying part,
Creeps back to find the throbbing heart.

But warmed with that unchanging flame
Behold the outward moving frame,
Its living marbles jointed strong
With glistening band and silvery thong,
And linked to reason’s guiding reins
By myriad rings in trembling chains,
Each graven with the threaded zone
Which claims it as the master’s own.

See how yon beam of seeming white
Is braided out of seven-hued light,
Yet in those lucid globes no ray
By any chance shall break astray.
Hark how the rolling surge of sound,
Arches and spirals circling round,
Wakes the hushed spirit through thine ear
With music it is heaven to hear.

Then mark the cloven sphere that holds
All thought in its mysterious folds;
That feels sensation’s faintest thrill,
And flashes forth the sovereign will;
Think on the stormy world that dwells
Locked in its dim and clustering cells!
The lightning gleams of power it sheds
Along its hollow glassy threads!

O Father! grant thy love divine
To make these mystic temples thine!
When wasting age and wearying strife
Have sapped the leaning walls of life,
When darkness gathers over all,
And the last tottering pillars fall,
Take the poor dust thy mercy warms,
And mould it into heavenly forms!

Oliver Wendell Holmes

IMG_0925

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”

 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious…

1 Peter 2: 4-7a (New International Version)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (New International Version)





The Inward Morning

23 07 2014

Packed in my mind lie all the clothes
Which outward nature wears,
And in its fashion’s hourly change
It all things else repairs.
In vain I look for change abroad,
And can no difference find,
Till some new ray of peace uncalled
Illumes my inmost mind.

What is it gilds the trees and clouds,
And paints the heavens so gay,
But yonder fast-abiding light
With its unchanging ray?

Lo, when the sun streams through the wood,
Upon a winter’s morn,
Where’er his silent beams intrude,
The murky night is gone.

How could the patient pine have known
The morning breeze would come,
Or humble flowers anticipate
The insect’s noonday hum–

Till the new light with morning cheer
From far streamed through the aisles,
And nimbly told the forest trees
For many stretching miles?

I’ve heard within my inmost soul
Such cheerful morning news,
In the horizon of my mind
Have seen such orient hues,

As in the twilight of the dawn,
When the first birds awake,
Are heard within some silent wood,
Where they the small twigs break,

Or in the eastern skies are seen,
Before the sun appears,
The harbingers of summer heats
Which from afar he bears.

Henry David Thoreau
foggy mountain morning




The Caged Skylark

21 07 2014
As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage,
    Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells —
    That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.
Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage
    Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
    Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.
Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest —
Why, hear him, hear him babble & drop down to his nest,
    But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.
Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound, when found at best,
But uncumberèd: meadow-down is not distressed
    For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bones risen.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
rainbow2




From Rising Unto Setting Sun

20 07 2014

Praise God, ye servants of the Lord,
Praise, praise His Name with one accord;
Bless ye the Lord, His Name adore
From this time forth, forevermore.

From rising unto setting sun
Praised be the Lord, the Mighty One;
He reigns o’er all, supreme in might,
Above the heavens in glory bright.

On whom but God can we rely,
The Lord our God Who reigns on high,
Who condescends to see and know
The things of heaven and earth below?

He lifts the poor and makes them great,
With joy He fills the desolate;
Praise ye the Lord and bless His Name,
His mercy and His might proclaim.

Psalm 113 (as rendered in the 1912 Psalter of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches of America)

lakeview sunrise








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