Commonplace Book

Autumn 2017

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By Anne Matthews

September 5, 2017


 

He looked at me as if I was a side dish he hadn’t ordered.

—Ring Lardner, on William Howard Taft


Great rains at last replenish the springs, the brooks, the swamp, and impregnate the earth. Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow, though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.

—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, 1782


He had ten yards in the clear and picked up speed, breathing easily, feeling his thigh pads rising and falling against his legs, listening to the sound of cleats behind him, pulling away from them …

How long ago? It was autumn then, and the ground was getting hard because the nights were cold and leaves from the maples around the stadium blew across the practice fields in gusts of wind, and the girls were beginning to put polo coats over their sweaters when they came to watch practice in the afternoons. … Fifteen years.

—Irwin Shaw, “The Eighty-Yard Run,” Esquire, 1941


At the end of November 1974, a friend from Paris called and told me that Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would probably die. I said that this must not be, not at this time, German cinema could not do without her now, we would not permit her death. I took a jacket, a compass and a duffel bag with the necessities. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself.

—Werner Herzog, Of Walking in Ice, 1978


At Autumn Cove, so many white monkeys,
bounding, leaping up like snowflakes in flight!
They coax and pull their young ones down from the branches
to drink and frolic with the water-borne moon.

—Li Po, c. 760 (tr. Burton Watson)


The concern of a democracy is that no honest man shall feel uncomfortable, I don’t care who he is, or how nutty he is. I hope that belief never is made to appear mandatory. One of our founders, in 1787, said, “Even the diseases of the people should be represented.” Those were strange, noble words, and they have endured.

—E. B. White, “Bedfellows,” 1956


O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

—Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms,” Rose, 1986


Life is funny that way. It always is funny that way, the ones that naturally should offer do not, and those who have no reason to offer it, do, you never know you never do know where your good-fortune is to come from.

—Gertrude SteinWars I Have Seen, 1945


Off in the silent, drying woods a tree would now and then drop something—a pod, perhaps, or a leaf—and we would listen to it scratching down. While the shadows grew long we lay calmly, feeling the moment, the calmness, the warm light of the red sun—each of us happy enough with the others, unworried, each of us quiet and serene. I’ve been to many places on the earth, to the Arctic, to the African savannah, yet wherever I went, I always traveled in my own bubble of primate energy, primate experience, and so never before or since have I felt as far removed from what seemed familiar as I felt with these dogs, by their den. Primates feel pure, flat immobility as boredom, but dogs feel it as peace.

—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Hidden Life of Dogs, 1993


The past has not been erased, its erasure has not been forgotten, the lie has not become truth. But the past of proof is strange and, on its uncertain future, much in public life turns. In the end, it comes down to this: the history of truth is cockamamie, and lately it’s been getting cockamamier.

—Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 2016


I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege

And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

—Seamus Heaney, “Oysters,” Field Work, 1979


It is some relief to reflect that to be a good diarist one must have a little snouty sneaky mind.

—Harold Nicolson, diary entry, November 9, 1947


Shall I not wander there, a shadow’s shade,
A spectre self-destroyed,
So purged of all remembrance and sucked back
Into the primal void,
That should we on the shore phantasmal meet
I should not know the coming of your feet?

—Edith Wharton, “An Autumn Sunset,” 1894


I’m just a guy who probably should have been a semi-talented poet on the Left Bank. I got sort of side-tracked here.

—Steve Jobs, Fortune, October 1, 1984


Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851


The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

—Eden Phillpotts, A Shadow Passes, 1919


It was almost night.
Now we must choose, said Mercier.
Between what? said Camier.
Ruin and collapse, said Mercier.
Could we not somehow combine them? said Camier.

—Samuel Beckett, Mercier and Camier, 1946


Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.


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