outtakes from a commonplace book

Various Phrases

From James Buchan, Heart’s Journey in Winter:

The railway to Cologne runs over farmland. There are small fields under beets or cabbages, with no fences between them, just a new crop or plough to mark where one field ends and another begins. On the horizon is an abandoned office block, the Wesseling gas-cracker, the towers of Cologne cathedral; as if, on this tedious plain, scale and history had disintegrated. Transmission lines lope out of sight. Somewhere, parallel to the tracks, is a shabby 1930s autobahn. Also the phlegmatic Rhine.

From Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen:

The endless sea was shrouded in darkness. I could see the shadowy forms of gigantic, rugged crags against which the waves were crashing. While watching them, I felt a strange, sweet sadness. In the biting air I told myself, there will be so much pleasure, so much suffering.

From Philip Roth, American Pastoral:

The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful consideration, getting them wrong again.

Philip Larkin, Aubade

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels.

Lines from W.H. Auden:
In the prison of his days…
Time will say nothing but I told you so…

morning scene
Outside the morning air is awash with birdsong. The grass is wet, shining, the sun not yet having burned off the morning’s dew.

His eyes open at the sounds of birdsong. Spirited from his sleep, Mickey stretches out his broken body.
a false dawn

adapted from R. Wilbur’s Love Calls Us to the Things of This World [1956]

Richard Wilbur

I dreamt the past was never past redeeming:
But whether this was false or honest dreaming
I beg death’s pardon now. And mourn the dead.

from The Pardon (1950), last stanza

John Ashbery
You and I
Are suddely what the trees try
To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

from Some Trees [1956]

from Lorca & Jiménez, Selected Poems, chosen and translated by Robert Bly
Jimenez, p. 81

“Even though my soul”
Even though my soul fits so wonderfully
inside my body–
like a clear idea
in a line perfect for it–
nevertheless it has to abandon the body
eventually, leaving it like some academic’s line,
hollow and stiff!


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