By Anne Matthews
September 7, 2015
If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953
and we part,
clamshells on the beach.
—Basho, c. 1680 (Robert Hass, translator)
As we walked homeward across the fields, the sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose color, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world.
In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat, every sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of those fields at nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my way could end there.
—Willa Cather, My Ántonia, 1918
I have been unwell all the morning. Nota bene, never eat new honey. Lay in bed nearly all day, in consequence of that nota bene not having been noted yesterday.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning, September 1831
He died the next October, still at home and able to recognize the people around him. Joe told me that in that long year he’d read aloud to his father often, and discovered that he enjoyed listening to his own writings, though he wasn’t always clear about who the author was. Sometimes he’d raise a hand and impatiently wave a passage away: not good enough. Other evenings, he’d listen to the end, almost at rest, and then ask again who’d written these words.
“You did, Dad,” Joe said.
There was a pause, and Andy said, “Well, not bad.”
—Roger Angell on his stepfather, E. B. White, Let Me Finish, 2006
Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones
There’s something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look, austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spate
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.
—Elinor Wylie, “Wild Peaches,” 1921
Long anticipated by the watermen, the big northwest blow will last for at least twenty-four hours, churning the Bay milky white with steady forty-knot winds, fifty or higher in the gusts. When at last it stops, the water is gin clear and a new cold creeps over its surface. The grays and greens of summer’s discoloring plankton have been banished. Canada geese that rafted lazily far from shore on Indian summer days move closer to land and the hunters’ guns. … Autumn, a charmingly indecisive time on the Chesapeake, has given way to winter.
The blue crab, always rather sensitive to such things, may react overnight to the autumn-dispelling blow. Where one day big Jimmies still cruised the shallows, the next will see them all gone.
—William W. Warner, Beautiful Swimmers, 1976
Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn-Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. … Fog everywhere.
Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.
—Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1853
There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Bless the day.
—O. Henry, “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen,” 1907
Music is a good thing; and after all that soul-butter and hogwash, I never seen it freshen up things so, and sound so honest and bully.
—Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884
If you cut grass it doesn’t die. If you eat its tops it doesn’t mind, because it grows from near its base at what is called an intercalary meristem. This is the joint-like node on the stalk, the bump you feel beneath your fingers when you pluck a stem from the side of a path. Grasses and intercalary meristems are inseparable. In the growth tissue at the meristem, rapid cell division occurs and pushes the grass upwards. A simple and beautiful adaptation has brought us to where we are: hay can be cut, lawns mown, plains grazed. …
And grass itself seems endlessly young while endlessly dying. Nowhere do its blades grow older than any autumn makes them. A meadow is a year.
—Tim Dee, Four Fields, 2015
As I walked out to the plane in the balmy air of a Sydney September night, my mind flew back to the dusty cemetery where my father was buried. Where, I wondered, would my bones come to rest? It pained me to think of them not fertilizing Australian soil. Then I comforted myself with the notion that wherever on the earth was my final resting place, my body would return to the restless red dust of the western plains. I could see how it would blow about and get in people’s eyes, and I was content with that.
—Jill Ker Conway, The Road From Coorain, 1989
… Then most suddenly we saw
horizon on horizon lifting up
out of the sea’s edge a shining mountain
sun-yellow and sea-green; against it surf
flung spray and spume against the miles of sky.
Somebody said mirage, and it was gone,
but there I have been living ever since.
—R. P. Blackmur, “Mirage,” from Jordan’s Delight, 1937
I feel a very unusual sensation—if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.