Commonplace Book - Spring 2019

Spring 2019

By Anne Matthews | March 4, 2019
John Naughton/Flickr

An April Sunday brings the snow
Making the blossom on the plum trees green,
Not white. An hour or two, and it will go.

Philip Larkin, “An April Sunday brings the snow,” 1948


Do nothing, only keep agitating, debating; and things will destroy themselves.

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, 1837


Wittgenstein declared that it did not much matter to him what he ate, so long as it was always the same. When a dish that looked especially appetizing was brought to the table, I sometimes exclaimed ‘Hot Ziggety!’—a slang phrase that I learned as a boy in Kansas. Wittgenstein picked up this expression from me. It was inconceivably droll to hear him exclaim ‘Hot Ziggety!’ when my wife put the bread and cheese before him.

Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, 1958


I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, 1879


You can walk at night down the middle of the street and hear women talking on the telephone. Warmer weather produces voices in the dark. They are talking about their adolescent sons. How big, how fast. The sons are almost frightening. The quantities they eat. The way they loom in doorways. These are the days that are full of wormy bugs. They are in the grass, stuck to the siding, hanging in the air, hanging from the trees and eaves, stuck to the window screens. The women talk long-distance to the grandparents of the growing boys. They share the Trimline phone, beamish old folks in hand-knit sweaters on fixed incomes.

What happens to them when the commercial ends?

Don DeLillo, White Noise, 1985


Let us devoutly take no blame
If similar does not mean the same.

And grateful for the wit to see
Prospects through doors we cannot enter,
Ah! let us praise Diversity
Which holds the world upon its center.

Phyllis McGinley, “In Praise of Diversity,” The American Scholar, 1954


At his best this man was much kinder than at my very best I have ever been or could ever be. He was aware that he must meet, and he did meet—through all the confusion and degraded clowning of this life through which we are speeding—he did meet the terms of his contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it—that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.

Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, 1970


The medieval stripe was the cause of disorder and transgression. The modern and contemporary stripe has progressively transformed into a tool for setting things in order. But if it organizes the world and society, the stripe itself seems unwilling to serve any organization too rigorous or too limited. Not only can it function through any medium, but it can be its own medium. … The semiology of the stripe is infinite.

Michel Pastoureau, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes, 2001


[W]e do not know until the shell breaks what kind of egg we have been sitting on.

T. S. Eliot, Norton lecture, Harvard University, 1932


Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray beginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1850.

George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, 1936


I now believe that when a new family moves into a house, the house suffers something like a nervous breakdown. … It may be that it simply takes several months for a new homeowner to become numb to the cost of maintaining what is essentially a huge box filled with complicated things that want to break—a box that sits outside, day and night, in the rain and snow, surrounded by creatures that would like to eat it.

David Owen, The Walls Around Us, 1991


Mr. Sellers has in his yard a large Newfoundland dog, and an old raven: these have fallen deeply in love with each other, and never desire to be apart. The bird has learned the bark of the dog, so that few can distinguish them. She is inconsolable when he goes out, and if he stays out a day or two, she will get up all the bones and scraps she can, and hoard them up for him till he comes back!

John Wesley, journal entry, April 5, 1790


Acorn, almond, apricot, ash, beech, beetroot, blackberry, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, violet, walnut, willow.

—Words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in 2007; the editors replaced them with such words as blog, voicemail, broadband, celebrity, and MP3 player.


One morning, however, finding that my path lay through a deep wood, I ventured to continue my journey after the sun had risen; the day, which was one of the first of spring, cheered even me by the loveliness of its sunshine and the balminess of the air. I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure that had long appeared dead, revive within me. Half surprised by the novelty of these sensations, I allowed myself to be borne away by them; and, forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818


… Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist, I’ll take it all.

Ada Limón, “Instructions on Not Giving Up,” The Carrying, 2018


Never make something more accurate than necessary.

Enrico Fermi to his daughter, Nella

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