You are old when your longtime friend Melvin, turned seventy-five, writes you in rage about becoming old. … Melvin knows nothing about old age: Melvin can walk upstairs! Melvin flies to the West Indies with his girlfriend and his wife!
In your eighties you are invisible. Nearing ninety you hope nobody sees you. At nineteen you were six foot two. At ninety-one you will be two foot six.
—Donald Hall, “You Are Old,” A Carnival of Losses, 2018
Oh, praised be the beauty of this earth, the beauty, and the bloom, and the mirthfulness thereof! The first worlds made were winter worlds; the second made, were vernal worlds; the third, and last, and perfectest, was this summer world of ours.
—Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, 1852
On June 26, 1938, there was a lull in the early-summer rains, and bland summer clouds were in the sky. The foliage in the garden of the Kōyōkan had been washed clean by the rains. Strong sunlight shimmered on a scattering of bamboo leaves …
Otaké opened his eyes and closed them again. During the sessions at Itō he read the Lotus Sutra on mornings of play, and he now seemed to be bringing himself to order through silent meditation. Then, quickly, there came a rap of stone on board. It was twenty minutes before noon.
—Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go, 1951
It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: After a heavy rainfall, poems titled “Rain” pour in from across the nation.
—Sylvia Plath, August 1950, The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Even in the Arctic summer, temperatures in the underground network of chambers were below freezing, and the walls were coated with white ice crystals. I felt like we were wandering around in a geode.
Not every wall sparkled with fractals of white frost. Some were windows of clear ice, revealing mud that was 10,000, 20,000, even 30,000 years old. … Nikita knelt and scratched at one of the frozen panels with his fingernail. Columns of exhaled steam floated up through the white beams of his headlamp. … “See this?” he said. I leaned in, training my lamp on his thumb and forefinger. Between them, he held a thread of vegetable matter so tiny and pale that an errant breath might have reduced it to powder. It was a 30,000-year-old root that had once been attached to a bright-green blade of grass.
—Ross Andersen, “Welcome to Pleistocene Park,” The Atlantic, April 2017
Along the trail the ferns are dense, drooping with wet, twenty kinds of them. Again he does not know them (in my experience, ferns are an exclusively feminine expertise), and she tells him: hay-scented fern, wood fern, sensitive fern, cinnamon fern, ostrich fern, interrupted fern, Christmas fern, bracken, maidenhair—names that are as pleasant to his ear as the woods smells are to his nose.
—Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety, 1987
If I weren’t reasonably placid, I don’t think I could cope with this sort of life. To be a diva, you’ve got to be absolutely like a horse.
—Joan Sutherland (quoted by Winthrop Sargeant in Divas, 1973)
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun …
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house …
It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.
—Wallace Stevens, “The Well Dressed Man With A Beard,” 1942
How can a man write the same thoughts by the light of the moon, resting his book on a rail by the side of a remote potato-field, that he does by the light of the sun, on his study table? The light is but a luminousness. My pencil seems to move through a creamy, mystic medium. The moonlight is rich and somewhat opaque, like cream, but the daylight is thin and blue, like skimmed milk. I am less conscious than in the presence of the sun: my instincts have more influence.
—Henry David Thoreau, The Journal, June 1853
There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other …
your knees held in mine
let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills
let the storm wash the plates
—Edwin Morgan, “Strawberries,” The Second Life, 1968
The sister whose hand I am clutching in the picture is dead. I wonder every day whether she still exists. A person whom one has loved seems altogether too significant a thing to simply vanish altogether from the world. A person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world. How can worlds like these simply cease altogether? But if my sister does exist, then what is she, and what makes that thing that she now is identical with the beautiful girl laughing at her little sister on that forgotten day? Can she remember that summer’s day while I cannot?
—Rebecca Goldstein, Betraying Spinoza, 2006
i’m sure there are other heres.
a somewhere for every kind
of somebody, a heaven of brown
girls braiding on golden stoops
how could i ever explain to you—
someone prayed we’d rest in peace
& here we are
in peace whole all summer
—Danez Smith, “summer, somewhere,” 2016
“Why do we call all our generous ideas illusions, and the mean ones truths?”
—Edith Wharton (Lawrence Selden answering Lily Barth), The House of Mirth, 1905
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