By Anne Matthews
June 4, 2018
I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.
I have always wondered, in reading travels, at the childish joy travellers felt at meeting people they knew, and their sense of loneliness when they did not, in places where there was everything new to occupy the attention. So childish, I thought, always to be longing for the new in the old, and the old in the new. Yet just such sadness I felt, when I looked on the island, glittering in the sunset, canopied by the rainbow, and thought no friend would welcome me there; just such childish joy I felt, to see unexpectedly on the landing, the face of one whom I called friend.
—Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes, 1844
Our three boats were close together, and down the light current on the flat water we drifted toward the fishing bear.
He picked up a salmon, roughly ten pounds of fish, and, holding it with one paw, he began to whirl it around his head. Apparently, he was not hungry, and this was a form of play. He played sling-the-salmon. With his claws embedded near the tail, he whirled the salmon and then tossed it high, end over end. As it fell, he scooped it up and slung it around his head again, lariat salmon, and again he tossed it into the air.
—John McPhee, Coming into the Country, 1977
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word—the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
—Philip Larkin, “MCMXIV,” 1964
Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.
—Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh, July 1888
If an American, because his skin is dark … cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
—John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing which stands in the way. Some see Nature all Ridicule and Deformity, & by these I shall not regulate my proportions; & some scarce see Nature at all. But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.
—William Blake, to the Reverend Dr. Trusler, August 23, 1799
When Mark and I got married we were rich and two years later we were broke. Not actually broke—we did have equity. We had a stereo system that had eaten thousands of dollars, and a country house in West Virginia that had eaten tens of thousands of dollars, and a city house in Washington that had eaten hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we had things—God, did we have things. We had weather vanes and quilts and carousel horses and stained-glass windows and tin boxes and pocket mirrors and Cadbury chocolate cups and postcards of San Francisco before the earthquake, so we were worth something; we just had no money. It was always a little mystifying to me how we had gone from having so much money to having so little, but now, of course, I understand it all a little better, because the other thing that ate our money was the affair with Thelma Rice. Thelma went to France in the middle of it, and you should see the phone bills.
—Nora Ephron, Heartburn, 1983
Deep in the greens of summer sing the lives
I’ve come to love …
—Theodore Roethke, “Infirmity,” 1960
A tongue in a mouth, mouthing, whispering, and,
A pair of pricked-up, ever-listening ears.
At night you can hear her screeching as she flies
Through the darkness, gliding exactly midway between
The heavens above and the earth beneath, and sits,
Nightwatcher, on the ledges of roofs, or on
The towers of cities, and calls down on the ones
Below, her frightening mingle of truth and lies,
Rhapsodically singing about them in the darkness …
—Virgil, description of Rumor, The Aeneid (trans. David Ferry, 2017)
I can hear echoes of my grandfather and grandmother and Aunt Emily, echoes of porch talk on the long summer evenings when affairs were settled, mysteries solved, the unnamed named. … As a Bolling in Feliciana Parish, I became accustomed to sitting on the porch in the dark and talking of the size of the universe and the treachery of men; as a Smith on the Gulf Coast I have become accustomed to eating crabs and drinking beer under a hundred and fifty watt bulb—and one is as pleasant a way as the other of passing a summer night.
—Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, 1961
“[N]ever be flippantly rude to any inoffensive, grey-bearded stranger that you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking-rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden.”
—Saki (H. H. Munro), “Reginald at the Theatre,” 1902
We enjoy caricatures of our friends because we do not want to think of their changing, above all, of their dying; we enjoy caricatures of our enemies because we do not want to consider the possibility of their having a change of heart so that we would have to forgive them.
—W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand, 1962
Everything fell, and Miss Sasaki lost consciousness. The ceiling dropped suddenly and the wooden floor above collapsed in splinters and the people up there came down and the roof above them gave way; but principally and first of all, the bookcases right behind her swooped forward and the contents threw her down, with her left leg horribly twisted and breaking underneath her. There, in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.
—John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” The New Yorker, August 31, 1946
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.