From The Wind in the Willows
They found themselves standing on the very edge of the Wild Wood. Rocks and brambles and tree-roots behind them, confusedly heaped and tangled; in front, a great space of quiet fields, hemmed by lines of hedges black on the snow, and, far ahead, a glint of the familiar old river, while the wintry sun hung red and low on the horizon. The Otter, as knowing all the paths, took charge of the party, and they trailed out on a bee-line for a distant stile. Pausing there a moment and looking back, they saw the whole mass of the Wild Wood, dense, menacing, compact, grimly set in vast white surroundings; simultaneously they turned and made swiftly for home, for firelight and the familiar things it played on, for the voice, sounding cheerily outside their window, of the river that they knew and trusted in all its moods, that never made them afraid with any amazement.
As he hurried along, eagerly anticipating the moment when he would be at home again among the things he knew and liked, the Mole saw clearly that he was an animal of tilled field and hedgerow, linked to the ploughed furrow, the frequented pasture, the lane of evening lingerings, the cultivated garden-plot. For others the asperities, the stubborn endurance, or the clash of actual conflict, that went with Nature in the rough; he must be wise, must keep to the pleasant places in which his lines were laid and which held adventure enough, in their way, to last for a lifetime.
From Trevor Bryce’s Warriors of Anatolia. This is the third in the I.B. Tauris ancient/forgotten/something civilization series I’ve read – along with the Etruscans (terrible) and Persians (fine for the history, drags for the influence into the present) – and the second of Bryce’s Hittite books – with the more specialized The Kingdom of the Hittites.
But Hittite regulations went ever further. Anyone found guilty of serving their guests food from an unclean vessel were forced to eat excrement and drink urine as a punishment. And kitchen-hands who prepared the food in an unclean state – by having sex the previous night and then failing to bathe at sunrise – suffered the death penalty.
From Aldous Huxely’s Those Barren Leaves:
The road is steep that leads up from Vezza to the palace of the Cybo Malaspina, perched on the hill above the town. The Italian sun can shine most powerfully, even in September, and olive trees give but little shade. The young man with the peaked cap and the leather wallet slung over his shoulder pushed his bicycle slowly and wearily up the hill. Every now and then he halted, wiped his face and sighed. It was on an evil day, he was thinking, on a black, black day for the poor postmen of Vezza that the insane old Englishwoman with the impossible name bought this palace; and a blacker day still when she had elected to come and live in it. In the old days the place had been quite empty. A couple of peasant families had lived in the out-houses; that was all. Not more than one letter a month between them, and as for telegrams – why, there had never been a telegram for the palace in all the memory of man. But those happy days were now over, and what with letters, what with packets of newspapers and parcels, what with expresses and telegrams, there was never a day and scarcely an hour in the day when some one from the office wasn’t toiling up to this accursed house.
True, the young man went on thinking, one got a good tip for bringing a telegram or an express. But being a young man of sense, he preferred leisure, if a choice had to be made, to money. The expense of energy was not to be compensated for by the three francs he would receive at the end of the climb. Money brings no satisfaction if one has to work for it; for if one works for it one has no time to spend it.
From Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior
Today we came through places with names like Children-Desert-Parents, Lost Children, Send-Back-the-Dog, Turn-Back-the-Horse, some of the most fearsomely dangerous places in all the North Country. And well named. Weakened and exhausted, I went to bed early, but was roused by the voices of two young women in the room next door. Then an old man’s voice joined theirs. They were prostitutes from Niigata in Echigo Province and were on their way to Ise Shrine in the south, the old man seeing them off at this barrier, Ichiburi. He would turn back to Niigata in the morning, carrying their letters home. One girl quoted the Shinkokinshū poem, “On the beach where white waves fall, / we all wander like children into every circumstance, / carried forward every day . . .” And as they bemoaned their fate in life, I fell asleep.
In the morning, preparing to leave, they came to ask directions. “May we follow along behind?” they asked. “We’re lost and not a little fearful. Your robes bring the spirit of the Buddha to our journey.” They had mistaken us for priests. “Our way includes detours and retreats,” I told them. “But follow anyone on this road and the gods will see you through.” I hated to leave them in tears, and thought about them hard for a long time after we left. I told Sora, and he wrote down:
Under one roof, prostitute and priest,
we all sleep together;
moon in a field of clover
From Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior (Sam Hamill translator):
Checking Kaemon’s drawings as we walked, we followed the oku-no-hosomichi along the mountainside where sedge grass grew tall in bunches. The Tofu area is famous for its sedge mats sent in tribute to the governor each year.
At Taga Castle, we found the most ancient monument Tsubo-no-ishibumi, in Ichikawa Village. It’s about six feet high and three feet wide. We struggled to read the inscription under heavy moss:
This Castle Was Built by Shogun Ono-no-Azumabito in 724. In 762, His Majesty’s Commanding General Emi-no-Asakari Supervised Repairs.
Dated from the time of Emperor Shomu, Tsubo-no-ishibumi inspired many a poet. Floods and landslides buried trails and markers, trees have grown and died, making this monument very difficult to find. The past remains hidden in clouds of memory. Still it returned us to memories from a thousand years before. Such a moment is the reason for a pilgrimage: infirmities forgotten, the ancients remembered, joyous tears trembled in my eyes.
From Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home (Burton Watson translator):
All on my own I’m happy
in the unmapped landscape
inside the bottle
my only friend
we stayed up talking
that I’m afraid
I was overheard
by the empty sky
From Jean Cocteau’s Opium: Diary of His Cure (Opium, Journal d’une Désintoxication – though I only have the translation).
Beware of your handwriting, complete your letters, join them together and do not writer t’s which can be mistaken for d’s
The height of inelegance: an illegible signature.
One day, when I was writing an address at Picasso’s house, he looked at me and said with a strange smile: “Oh! you too?” I was in the process of joining thogether the letters in the name that I had just written. Picasso knows everything: naturally he knew that too.
Fifine Answers, from Ezra Pound’s A Lume Spento
“Why is it that, disgraced they seem to relish life
the more?”—FIFINE AT THE FAIR, VII, 5.
Sharing his exile that hath borne the flame,
Joining his freedom that hath drunk the shame
And known the torture of the Skull-place hours
Free and so bound, that mingled with the powers
Of air and sea and light his soul’s far reach
Yet strictured did the body-lips beseech
“To drink” “I thirst.” And then the sponge of gall.
Wherefore we wastrels that the grey road’s call
Doth master and make slaves and yet make free,
Drink all of life and quaffing lustily
Take bitter with the sweet without complain
And sharers in his drink defy the pain
That makes you fearful to unfurl your souls.
We claim no glory. If the tempest rolls
About us we have fear, and then
Having so small a stake grow bold again.
We know not definitely even this
But ’cause some vague half knowing half doth miss
Our consciousness and leaves us feeling
That somehow all is well, that sober, reeling
From the last carouse, or in what measure
Of so called right or so damned wrong our leisure
Runs out uncounted sand beneath the sun,
That, spite your carping, still the thing is done
With some deep sanction, that, we know not how,
Sans thought gives us this feeling; you allow
That this not need we know our every thought
Or see the work shop where each mask is wrought
Wherefrom we view the world of box and pit,
Careless of wear, just so the mask shall fit
And serve our jape’s turn for a night or two.
Call! eh bye! the little door at twelve!
I meet you there myself
In one of my often pricey midnight impulses a few weeks back I almost bought a three volume facsimile edition of the hand-annotated Bordeaux edition of Montaigne’s Essais. There is a likely nicer single volume color edition printed in 2002 that I have never been able to find, while this is a 1987 black and white photostat copy printed by Slatkine. Fortunately I exercised restraint and found a library willing to send me their copy for a bit. It’s fascinating as insight into his revision process but – like my Proust facsimile – impossible to read and, for general purposes, unnecessary next to the Pleiade edition that works (most of) his changes into the body of the text or the notes and variants section of the edition.
From Jean Cocteau’s Opium: Diary of His Cure (Opium, journal d’une désintoxication – though I only have the translation). I’ve lost my page citation but I think it was towards the middle of the book – along with a few other notes on Proust.
I have recounted elsewhere the anecdote about the tip to the concierge at the Ritz Hotel. “Can you lend me fifty francs?” “Here you are, Monsieur Proust.” “Keep it, it’s for you.”
Needless to say, the concierge was to receive three times the amount next morning.