Commonplace Book - Summer 2016

Summer 2016

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By Anne Matthews

June 6, 2016


 

 

It infuriates me to be wrong when I know
I’m right.

Molière, George Dandin, 1668


My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation) the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges.

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1955


There are women who are unmarried by accident, and others who are unmarried by option; but Olive Chancellor was unmarried by every implication of her being. She was a spinster as Shelley was a lyric poet, or as the month of August is sultry.

Henry James, The Bostonians, 1886


It was still possible in 1941 to walk through the White House gate and into the grounds without showing a pass or answering any questions, since the White House was not yet considered much different from any other public building in the city. Until a few years before there had been no gates at all, and on summer days government employees had lounged on the White House lawns eating picnic lunches out of paper sacks. In the mid-thirties, a Washington resident was driving his Ford convertible down Pennsylvania Avenue with the top down when it began to rain. He turned into the White House driveway and drove under the portico for shelter, put his top up, and went on. Only twenty-five years before that, in Taft’s administration, tourists looking around inside the White House had been allowed, when the president was absent, to go into his office and sit for a moment and bounce in his chair. It was all casual, easy, open and trusting.

David Brinkley, Washington Goes to War, 1988


Like sailing, gardening, politics and poetry, law and ethnography are crafts of place; they work by the light of local knowledge.

Clifford Geertz, “Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective,” 1983


At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. … Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven, and wandered around rather ill at ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn’t know—though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925


Nobody who has not spent a whole sunny afternoon under his bed rereading a pile of comics left over from the previous holidays has any real idea of the meaning of intellectual freedom.

Peter S. Dickinson, lecture at the University of Exeter, 1970


Anne was crazy about diving that summer. She would go up high … and stand up there in the sunlight poised at the very verge. Then, when she lifted her arms, I would feel that something was about to snap in me. Then down she would fly, a beautiful swan dive, with her arms wide to emphasize her trim breasts and her narrow back arched and her long legs close and sweet together. She would come flying down in the sunlight, and as I watched her it would be as if nobody else was there. I would hold my breath till whatever was going to snap inside me snapped. Then she would knife into the water, and her twin heels would draw through the wreath of ripple and the flicker of spray, and be gone.

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men, 1946


O children, citizens, my wayward jungly dears
you are all to be celebrated
plucked, transplanted, tilled under, resurrected here
—even the lowly despised
purslane, chickweed, burdock, poke, wild poppies.
For all of you, whether eaten or extirpated
I plan to spend the rest of my life on my knees.

Maxine Kumin, “An Insider’s View of the Garden,” 1996


The summer day became vast and opalescent with twilight. The calming and languid scent of manure came slowly to meet her as she passed through the back gate and went out to the pasture among the mounds of wild roses. “Daisy,” she had only to say once, in her quietest voice, for she felt very near to the cow. There she walked, not even eating—Daisy, the small tender Jersey with her soft violet nose, walking and presenting her warm side. Josie bent to lean her forehead against her. Here the tears from her eyes could go rolling down Daisy’s shining coarse hairs, and Daisy did not move or speak but held patient, richly compassionate and still.

Eudora Welty, “The Winds,” 1942


What a muddle I’ve been in with girls, in spite of all my headaches, insomnia, grey hair, despair. Let me count them: there have been at least six since the summer. I can’t resist, my tongue is fairly torn from my mouth if I don’t give in and admire anyone who is admirable and love her until admiration is exhausted. With all six my guilt is almost wholly inward, though one of the six did complain of me to someone.

Franz Kafka, Journal, June 2, 1916


The nuclear subs are keeping sinister watch
while sun heat focuses on the cabbage-patch.
What weird weather can we expect this July?
Tornado, hail, some sort of freak tempest?
The bonfire month, and another storm brewing:
I hear it sing i’th’wind, and among the leaves.
But out here in the hot pastures of the west,
no Google goggling at our marginal lives,
there still are corners where a lark can sing.

Derek Mahon, “The Seasons,” 2011


Thank heavens, the sun has gone in, and I don’t have to go out and enjoy it.

Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts, 1931


Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.

Russell Baker, The New York Times, June 27, 1965


Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.


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