Commonplace Book - Summer 2021

Summer 2021

By Anne Matthews | June 2, 2021

The night of the year is approaching. What have we done with our talent? All nature prompts and reproves us. How early in the year it begins to be late!

—Henry David Thoreau, Journal, August 18, 1853

I thought of Carthage, Baalbek, Jerusalem, Rome, Atlantis, Peking, Babylon, Nineveh … I hope for some sort of peace—but I fear that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries and when morals catch up perhaps there’ll be no reason for any of it.

—Harry S. Truman, diary entry, July 1945

In that game
called pickle,

or hotbox, I rarely
got caught. I ran
like only the sly,

four-eyed can—to get there
& to get away—
to reach somewhere
safe, where I
never thought
to stay.

—Kevin Young, “Stealing,” Brown: Poems, 2018

Lastly, I take the liberty of confiding to your charity and humanity the precious little person of my Dachshund Max, who is the best and gentlest and most reasonable and well-mannered as well as most beautiful, small animal of his kind to be easily come across—so that I think you will speedily find yourselves loving him for his own sweet sake … and I shall take it kindly if he be not too often gratified with tid-bits between meals. Of course what he most intensely dreams of is being taken out on walks, and the more you are able so to indulge him the more he will adore you and the more all the latent beauty of his nature will come out.

—Henry James, letter to Louise Horstmann, August 12, 1904

“I come down from the hills … We had us owls for chickens and fox for yard dogs but we sung true.”

—Eudora Welty, “The Hitch-Hikers,” 1941

In my eyes [the train berth] is a perfect thing, perfect in conception and execution, this small green hole in the dark moving night, this soft warren in a hard world.

—E. B. White, One Man’s Meat, 1942

[Chicago, August 1968] From our windows we could see the menacing blue lines of police and the massing of the National Guard, the constant passing of the weird jeeps armed with front screens of flesh-tearing barbed wire. … And then I heard the strong clear voice of Mary Travers singing “Where have all the flowers gone?” And soon they were all singing—one protest song after another, it is true, but rage went out of the voices and quiet gradually came to the park. I slept a little.

—Abigail Quigley McCarthy, Private Faces/Public Places, 1972

All men say “What” to me, but I thought it a fashion.

—Emily Dickinson, letter to Colonel T. W. Higginson, August 1862

Money is the last enemy that shall never be subdued.

—Samuel Butler, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, 1912

Summer soomerki—the lovely Russian word for dusk. Time: a dim point in the first decade of this unpopular century. Place: latitude 59° north from your equator, longitude 100° east from my writing hand. The day would take hours to fade, and everything—sky, tall flowers, still water—would be kept in a state of infinite vesperal suspense, deepened rather than resolved by the doleful moo of a cow in a distant meadow or by the still more moving cry that came from some bird beyond the lower course of the river, where the vast expanse of a misty-blue sphagnum bog, because of its mystery and remoteness, the Rukavishnikov children had baptized America.

—Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1951

In a summer season,
When soft was the sun,
I shoop me into shrowds
As I a sheep were;
In habit as an hermit
Unholy of werkes,
Went wide in this world
Wonders to hear …

—William Langland, “The Vision of Piers Plowman,” c. 1362

The practicing lawyer from Massachusetts and aristocratic slaveholder from Virginia also differed altogether in their use of uppercase. Adams wrote out a copy of the original draft of the Declaration, and we can hear the thundering orator in it. He capitalizes throughout, giving us, in just the opening sentence, “Course,” “Events,” “Powers of the Earth,” “Nature,” “Nature’s God,” “Respect,” and “Mankind.” Jefferson, in contrast, capitalized only at the start of sentences. His texts are quiet, just as he was.

—Danielle S. Allen, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, 2014

I like the generosity of numbers …
And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mother’s call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn’t anywhere you look.

—Mary Cornish, “Numbers,” Poetry, June 2000

It was summertime. There was a polio epidemic. I was seventeen. …

The same black nurse who helped treat me with hot packs kept vigil by my bedside all during the first night of my hospitalization. I do not know her name. But I do know that I survived that night because she put her head beside mine on the pillow where I lay, and breathed every breath with me.

—Renee C. Fox, In the Field: A Sociologist’s Journey, 2010

If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on artists who paint landscapes from nature. Oh, I don’t mean to kill anyone; just a little dose of bird-shot now and then as a warning.

—Edgar Degas, in Ambroise Vollard, Degas: An Intimate Portrait, 1927

Illusion dwells forever with the wave.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Sea-Shore,” 1857

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