Commonplace Book - Spring 2011


By Anne Matthews | March 2, 2011


I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things . . .
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

Patience, how it mitigates physical pain, makes it easier, more bearable, even lighter—as I myself experienced and observed during chest spasms I suffered in Bologna on May 29, 1826, where impatience and restlessness increased my pain. It’s a question of non-resistance, mental resignation, a certain quieting of mind while suffering. You can sneer at this virtue or call it cowardice if you like. . . . When resistance ceases, troubles and suffering become easier, lighter.

Giacomo Leopardi, December 30, 1826

Michael carried back from the other side of his island the first sods of scrappy grass he had cut. Back and forth he went all morning, until he had a stack beside his shelter. Then he lifted the sods into place, twelve rows of six on the two slight inclines of the roof, beating them together with the long, flat stone he kept for the purpose. . . . At the abbey he had learned piety, had practised patience, been humbled by his companions’ talents, strengthened by their friendship. . . . did they guess he still visited in his thoughts the little pond beyond the coppice, and watched the decorating of a verse, the play of creatures arrested by Conan’s pen, fish and birds, snakes coiled about a letter’s stem?

William Trevor, The Hill Bachelors, 1997

Elm hateth man, and waiteth.

—(English proverb)

What makes you anxious anyway? The wrongs of others? Well, consider the following: reasonable men and women are made for one another; patience is a part of justice; and no one willingly does wrong. Think of all those who filled their days with anger, suspicion, hatred, and fighting—and are now dust. Think on them and what has become of their wrongdoing. This ought to calm you down.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 170–180 A.D.

You have subjected me to endless boring talk about weather, regularity, back problems, and whether something happened in 1938 or 1939, insisting that I sit quietly and listen to every word. “How’s it going with you?” you said. “Oh, about the same,” you replied. “Cold enough for you?” It was always cold, always about the same. . . . Keep a lid on it. Save it for later. Be careful. Weigh the alternatives. Wear navy blue. Years later, I am constantly adjusting my feelings downward to achieve that fine balance of caution and melancholy.

Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days, 1985

Certainly one cannot read this poem without effort. The page is often corrupt and mud-stained, and torn and stuck together with faded leaves, with scraps of verbena or geranium. . . . One must put aside antipathies and jealousies and not interrupt. One must have patience and infinite care and let the light sound, whether of spiders’ delicate feet on a leaf or the chuckle of water in some irrelevant drainpipe, unfold too.

Virginia Woolf, The Waves, 1931

Perhaps . . . there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out [of Paradise], because of impatience we cannot return.

Franz Kafka, in W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand, 1962

I have drank as many as fifteen bottles of soda-water, in one night, after going to bed, and been still thirsty—calculating, however, some lost from the bursting out and effervescence and overflowing of the soda-water, in drawing the corks, or striking off the necks of the bottles from mere thirsty impatience. At present, I have not the thirst, but the depression of spirits is no less violent.

George Gordon, Lord Byron, February 2, 1821

I had gone to Rosa Bonheur’s studio, just out of the city, to see her “Horse Fair”: the moist smell of jonquils, the drifting light clouds above the Seine, like patches of wool; but most, the peculiar life that seemed to impregnate the place itself, holding her, as it were, to her own precise niche and work in the world,—the sharply managed lights, the skins, trappings, her disguises on the walls, the stables outside, and the finished work before us, instinct with vigor and an observation as patient as keen. I remembered how some one had quoted her as saying, “Any woman can be a wife or mother, but this is my work alone.” . . . I remember clutching my hands up to my throat, as if holding safe the power that should release me, suffer me to grow again, and looking across the oil-lamp on the table at my husband. . . . “I want work fit for me,” I said, almost fiercely.

Rebecca Harding Davis, “The Wife’s Story,” The Atlantic Monthly, 1864

Cunningly, I started hundreds of conversations in which I knew [my stepfather] would be hopelessly lost. . . . My technique was aimed at withering his soul without giving him the slightest excuse for a refreshing outburst of violence. . . . His patience with me was superhuman.

Russell Baker, Growing Up, 1982

When we first saw the lion [in Namibia’s Etosha Park], he was all alone on an open plain near a natural spring, lying propped on his elbows with his head raised, apparently watching the sun set. At least, he was facing the sun, which was sinking toward the horizon. He seemed patient but alert, as if he were waiting for something. As the sun touched the horizon, he began to roar. He continued to roar as the sun sank out of sight, and fell silent the moment it vanished. His mission seemingly accomplished, he then stood up, turned his rump to the gorgeous western sky, and slowly walked east across the plain.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Old Way, 2007

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