Monday, September 14, 2015

something little


by Trilussa

I saw a bee settle
on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too
is something little.

- translated by John Duval, found in The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry

The question of happiness, what happiness even is, or looks like, or can be, is something that occupies me. Is this a writer thing, or does everyone think about happiness in this way? In a piece in The Atlantic, Yasmina Reza talks about the inspiration for the title of her book, Happy Are the Happy, which comes from a quotation by Borges:

Happy are those who are beloved, and those who love, 
and those who are without love.
Happy are the happy.

She talks about the lines: 
In English, “happy are the happy” is not as fantastic as it is in French (heureux les heureux), or in the original Spanish (feliz los felices). In English we have to add the “are” because, without a verb, the sentence doesn’t make grammatical sense. I prefer the Spanish sense “happy the happy,” which is the same in French. Except French is the best formulation, I think, because heureux also means lucky: Lucky are the happy. French is the only language that carries this additional connotation. In any case, I love the way Borges ends the poem with this self-reflexive “happy are the happy.” The condition of being happy, in other words, can only be obtained by those who are happy. This is so paradoxical, so enigmatic, so Borges. You can turn that idea over and over in your mind. Part of what Borges is saying, I think, is that happiness has nothing to do with external forces. Happiness is a disposition you have inside of you. It’s not the outside world—it’s you.   
The sentiment is echoed in Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary: “It’s not the circumstances but what our soul is made of that makes us happy.”

A quick Google will let us know what various writers have said about happiness. Here, and here. A short post by Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) here

I've always liked the Colette quotation:

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”

And so we might ask ourselves, what is my soul made of? What is happiness? I have to agree with our Italian poet: happiness is something little, taken in small sips, but without which it would be impossible to fly.

The Breathing

by Denise Levertov

An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.

And so one morning this past week, (I've been waiting for this morning) we woke up to fog. It's quite rare here, and I felt myself holding my breath, as though to keep it here longer.

Well, "an absolute patience." One feels that. "No other than happiness itself." Yes. And, "a breathing too quiet to hear."


by Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

The Milosz poem with its wonderful first line: "A day so happy." Who would not want to read on? A poem, I think, to return to and return to through a life.

This weekend we did long overdue things: cleaned out the garage, pruned trees, attempted to find order in the chaos of our backyard.

I read this next poem after making various 'to do' lists. A list for things that need doing in our house and yard. A list for work. A list of things I need and/or want to do with regards to Rumi and the Red Handbag, and a list of dates. In fact, I recently bought a list pad which has the line along the top: "Work Hard, Then Champagne...."

But, yes:

The Moment

by Marie Howe

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment
when, nothing
no what-have-I-to-do-today-list

maybe half a moment
the rush of traffic stops.
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be
slows to silence,
the white cotton curtains hanging still.

I'll be working toward the moment when there's no list. Nothing at all to do. A vast, clear, empty space. Without, how can we get to this next moment:


by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention – the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

And maybe the words, "Help me" are as good a prayer as any.

This one I found on Anthony Wilson's blog, Lifesaving Poems, one of my favourite places on the internet. His book of the same name is out in the UK, and available for pre-order in Canada. I can't wait for my copy.

Wife, daughters, friends.
This is for you.
Enlightenment is
Mistake after mistake.

- Ikkyu

A couple from Whiskey Rivers:

"Nevertheless, you have the right to remain miserable. Any joy you express will certainly be used against you. We don't want to know how you really feel, but we are sure it is bad. What have you got to smile about? Life's a bitch, then you die.

We may not cause, cure, or control someone's misery, but we cannot ignore it either. We are each thing always, all the time. The universe is not a burden. A burden suggests there is something separate from ourselves to carry. There is not. We are the expression of the universe, the voice of the Dharma, and to ignore anything in it divides us from all of it."

- Terrance Keenan

"So strange, life is. Why people do not go around in a continual state of surprise is beyond me."

- William Maxwell

Another line to remember: "the universe is not a burden."

But oh yes, it is surprising. The fog is surprising, the September light. The music of the world. The quiet. The oddness, the beauty. The little things.

I like what Keenan says about how "we are each thing always, all the time." We can still feel lousy and miserable in a day, still feel sorrow, and experience suffering, at the same time as we might feel that things are lovely. That's how weird it is to live.

Perhaps, as with enlightenment, we also move toward happiness, mistake after mistake. Or, feeling after feeling. It seems they all come in their turn, and one perhaps becomes more adept at focusing on, returning to, those little things. Like the bee, we move flower to flower.

As I'm writing this, collecting poems, jotting things down, I'm listening to:

Another thing about this past week, for me: insomnia. Long sloppy loopy hours in the middle of the night. 

Waking at 3 a.m.

by William Stafford

Even in the cave of the night when you
wake and are free and lonely,
neglected by others, discarded, loved only
by what doesn't matter - even in that
big room no one can see,
you push with your eyes till forever
comes in its twisted figure eight
and lies down in your head.

You think water in the river;
you think slower than the tide in
the grain of the wood; you become
a secret storehouse that saves the country,
so open and foolish and empty.

You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
all right. And you sleep.

One last poem for the week, and then some yard photos. Because it's still summer, and yet it's not summer. The late bloomers are coming on strong. The morning chill is wonderful and perfect for long walks. And the light.....well, there is nothing quite like September light. Deserving of many poems. The light of "neither before nor after."

To the Light of September

by W.S. Merwin

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew


  1. Oh, I like that; something little.

  2. I've been feeling the same thing here... still summer yet no longer really summer. Sitting on the dock is still good, but not that blissfulness I could sink into under the high sun. Summer does seem endless while we're in it, as if there will never be another time. I always feel cheated when it slips away, not ready to turn to pumpkins and sweaters.

    That Milosz poem... those rare moment where everything is fine... so perfect!

    I really loved your photography in this post, the fogginess... dreamlike. And all those delicious pinks and orages. Thank you for yet another thoughtful Monday post, perfect companion to my morning coffee. No matter what, I put everything aside on Monday morning and just relax... once the trash is at the road I allow no noise or obligations, no work, email or phone calls, only a bit of reading and staring into space listening to the wind in the trees. I feel so much happier overall since I started doing this.

    I hope you have a wonderful week!

    1. Thanks so much for all this, Wintergreen. I'm a bit in shock that summer is nearly over. I love sweaters, and yet I'm not yet ready for sweaters....

  3. Beautiful, as always! I wait for your posts. Funny that I also wrote about the light of September, on the other side of the planet, here in Bangalore, India - :) -

    This is a series I started, about a Sunday ritual I have in the park here.

    1. Asha - your blog post is amazing. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Oh I am so envious of that beautiful fog and your gorgeous captures! I love a day when my lists are all checked off and I have no "have to's". This is one of those posts that I may revisit many times, so much good stuff! I'm off to check out some of the links you've mentioned.

  5. I was so happy it happened on a day I didn't have to run off to work. It felt like such good luck. Thanks, Susan!


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