Spring 2020


The pawn is the soul of chess.

—François-André Danican Philidor, Analysis of the Game of Chess, 1749

But only when I am wrapped, naked, by these soft spring clouds of evening steam, as now, do I feel I could well become someone from a past age. The steam envelops me but not so densely that the visible world is lost to view; neither is it a mere thin, silken swath that, were it to be whipped away, would reveal me as a normal naked mortal of this world.

—Natsume Sōseki, Kusamakura, 1906, tr. by Meredith McKinney

This or any other procedure is merely a dam against the spring tide of memories which surges toward any collector as he contemplates his possessions. Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.

—Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” Illuminations, 1931

… Meanwhile
my dog runs off, noses down packed leaves
into damp, mysterious tunnels.
He says the smells are rising now
stiff and lively; he says the beasts
are waking up now full of oil,
sleep sweat, tag-ends of dreams …

—Mary Oliver, “Spring,” American Primitive, 1983

Superb weather. Hideous sore throat and black melancholy for thirty-six hours. … After the desolation of winter, when spring is bringing new life, man, of all animate beings, wearies most quickly and most completely of the delights of outside nature. … Why is his capacity for happiness so short-lived that it cannot last through one week of pleasant weather?

—George Sand, journal entry, June 6, 1837

He had sold vitality, in one form or another, all his life and when your affections are not too involved you give much better value for the money.

—Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” 1936

(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

—Delmore Schwartz, “Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day,” Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems, 1959

If you don’t know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do.

—Clive James, Latest Readings, 2015

The human animal originally came from out-of-doors. When spring begins to move in his bones, he just must get out again. Moreover, as civilization, cement pavements, office buildings, radios have overwhelmed us, the need for regeneration has increased, and the impulses are even stronger. When all the routines and details and the human bores get on our nerves, we just yearn to go away from here to somewhere else. …

Furthermore, no one commits crime while fishing.

—Herbert Hoover, “Men Are Equal Before Fish,” September 1951

A farm murders natural diversity and extracts the life force from nature’s carcass to sell for profit. Most farming is voodoo ecology that makes a walking zombie out of nature. So why do we celebrate America’s farmers with such a soft heart? Why do we find beauty in the farmscape but not in the well-landscaped shopping mall or subdivision? It’s sentimentality.

—Wallace Kaufman, “Confessions of a Developer,” Orion Nature Quarterly, Autumn 1989

May with its light behaving
Stirs vessel, eye and limb,
The singular and sad
Are willing to recover,
And to each swan-delighting river
The careless picnics come …

—W. H. Auden, “May,” revised 1966

I have for some time now been haunted by the Saami vision of the underland as a perfect inversion of the human realm, with the ground always the mirror-line, such that ‘the feet of the dead, who must walk upside down, touch those of the living, who stand upright.’ The intimacy of that posture is moving to me—the dead and the living standing sole to sole. Seeing photographs of the early hand-marks left on the cave walls of Maltravieso, Lascaux or Sulawesi, I imagine laying my own palm precisely against the outline left by those unknown makers. I imagine, too, feeling a warm hand pressing through from within the cold rock, meeting mine fingertip to fingertip in open-handed encounter across time.

—Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, 2019

I owned my farm for two years before learning that the [woodcock] sky dance is to be seen over my woods … on the first warm evening in April at exactly 6:50 P.M. The curtain goes up one minute later each day until 1 June, when the time is 7:50. The sliding scale is dictated by vanity, the dancer demanding a romantic light intensity of exactly 0.05 foot-candles. Do not be late, and sit quietly, lest he fly away in a huff.

—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. In pronounced cases there is no question about them. But in some supposed cases, in various degrees supposedly less pronounced, to draw the exact line of demarcation few will undertake though for a fee becoming considerate some professional experts will.

—Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor, published posthumously, 1924

If any part of the following mixture of truth and fiction strikes the reader as unconvincing, he has my permission to disregard it. I would be content to stick to the facts if there were any.

—William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow, 1980

My friend, my friend, I was born
doing reference work in sin, and born
confessing it. This is what poems are:
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the world’s pottage, the rat’s star.

—Anne Sexton, “With Mercy for the Greedy,” 1962

In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, October 5, 1830

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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