Commonplace Book - Autumn 2016

Autumn 2016

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By Anne Matthews

September 6, 2016


 

 

Power doesn’t always corrupt. Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals.

Robert Caro, The Guardian, 2012


I never see autumn anymore without the feeling that I have missed summer—out of doors so forbidden to the poor and the desperate; for us, there is no time, no sun, no daylight, but the endless crouching over a typewriter, trying to keep it from its own will, forcing it in a dozen suggested paths to fortune or at least security.

Dawn Powell, diary entry, October 1941


Friday Morning. — A drisling Rain. Heavy masses of shapeless Vapour upon the mountains [O the perpetual Forms of Borrodale!] yet it is no unbroken Tale of dull Sadness — slanting Pillars travel across the Lake, at long Intervals — the vaporous mass whitens, in large Stains of Light / on the Lakeward ride of that huge arm chair, of Lowdore, fell a gleam of softest light, that brought out the rich hues of the late Autumn … the Birds are singing in the tender Rain as if it were the Rain of April, & the decaying Foliage were Flowers & Blossoms.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Notebooks, October 21, 1803


The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

Willa Cather, My Ántonia, 1918


My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.

Robert Frost, “After Apple-Picking,” 1914


Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life.

Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review, October 1974


Sanctities, pieties, treasures, abysses! … Isn’t the highest deepest note of the whole thing the never-to-be-lost memory of that evening hour at Mount Auburn—at the Cambridge Cemetery when I took my way alone—after much waiting for the favouring hour—to that unspeakable group of graves. It was late, in November; the trees all bare, the dusk to fall early, the air all still (at Cambridge, in general, so still), with the western sky more and more turning to that terrible, deadly, pure polar pink that shows behind American winter woods.

Henry James, California Notebook, 1905


The cat comes in from an early walk amid the weeds. She is full of sparrows and wants no more breakfast this morning, unless it be a saucer of milk, the dear creature. I saw her studying ornithology between the corn-rows.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, October 2, 1858


At first, the British regard for barbed wire was on a par with Sir Douglas Haig’s understanding of the machine gun. In the autumn of 1914, the first wire Private Frank Richards saw emplaced before the British positions was a single strand of agricultural wire found in the vicinity. Only later did the manufactured article begin to arrive from England in sufficient quantity to create the thickets of mock-organic rusty brown that helped give a look of eternal autumn to the front.

Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, 1975


Just three months after arriving in November 1620, only half remained alive. Why didn’t the pilgrims just help themselves to limpets, snails, cattails, fern roots, clams and mussels? Why didn’t they just eat seaweed? … Seagulls, true master foragers, pecked apart razor clams and small crabs, leaving clean shell fragments at the waterline. After the storms on the inner shore, at least two inches of sand and mud shifted, revealing tens of thousands of shells in their vertical position—razor clams, soft shells, and quahogs, all shellfish that had died naturally. Everywhere clams sent up mini jets d’eau, little squirts of water, hardly keeping their location a secret. In a half hour, I could have collected enough to make a cioppino, a seafood stew. So why did the pilgrims starve?

Jeffrey Greene, “A Seaweed Thanksgiving,” University of Virginia Press blog, 2013


The noons are more laconic and the sunsets sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign. November always seemed to me to be the Norway of the year.

Emily Dickinson, letter to Elizabeth Holland, November 1864


The world will not forget the weird psychological effect of the Prime Minister of Prussia [Hermann Goering] shouting at a prisoner supposed to be receiving a fair trial, “You wait till I get you outside” like a very low-class schoolboy threatening what he would do out of school. That sort of thing simply does not happen amongst civilized people: not even when they are very wicked people. How anybody can see such lunacy dancing in high places, in the broad daylight of political responsibility, and have any further doubt about the sort of danger that threatens the world, is more than I can understand.

G. K. Chesterton, November 23, 1933


Present-tense narration is now taken for granted by many fiction readers because everything they read, from internet news to texting, is in the present tense. … The present tense is a narrowbeam flashlight in the dark, limiting the view to the next step—now, now, now. No past, no future. The world of the infant, of the animal, perhaps of the immortal.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian, 2014


I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

Jane Austen, letter to her sister, 1798


Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.


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