It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”—Ernest Hemingway
“There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world.”—Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss
What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
“Since you’re up …” Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.
“Recall that whatever lofty things you might accomplish today, you will do them only because you first ate something that grew out of dirt.”—Barbara Kingsolver, The Future of Culture, Community, and Land
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”—Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
“Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.”—Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
“Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”—Victor Frankl
“I would say that learning to know anxiety is an adventure which every man has to affront if he would not go to perdition either by not having known anxiety or by sinking under it. He therefore who has learned rightly to be anxious has learned the most important thing.”—Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety
“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”—St. Bernard of Clairvaux, care of Jordan Konkol
“I think we can push this further and say that when we claim the right to be respected - when we claim our “human rights,” in fact - we are not just asserting that somewhere in us there is something making imperative demands. We are trying to affirm a proper place in relation with others. We are trying to affirm that we are embedded in relationship. I am and have value because I am seen by and engaged with love - ideally, the love we experience humanly and socially, but beyond and behind that always and unconditionally the love of God. And the service of others’ rights or dignity is simply the search to echo this permanent attitude of love, attention, respect, which the creator gives to what is made.”—Rowan Williams
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or forego the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”—Viktor E. Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning
“…Tereza discovered in herself a picture of country life originating in memories of books she had read or in her ancestors. It was a harmonious world; everyone came together in one big happy family with common interests and routines: church services on Sundays, a tavern where the men could get away from their womenfolk, and a hall in the tavern where a band played on Saturdays and the villagers dances…however, village life no longer fit the age-old pattern. The church was in the neighboring village, and no one went there; the tavern had been turned into offices, so the men had nowhere to meet and drink beer, the young people nowhere to dance…at the end of a day’s work filled with boisterous shouting and relaxed chatter, they would all shut themselves up within their four walls and, surrounded by contemporary furniture emanating bad taste like a cold draft, stare at the refulgent television screen. They never paid one another visits besides dropping in on a neighbor for a word or two before supper. They all dreamed of moving into town. The country offered them nothing in the way of even a minimally interesting life.”—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us.”—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“…there is nothing heavier than compassion. Noe even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.”—T.S. Eliot
“There are victories that weigh heavily and overpower. There are also defeats that revive, where new, unlooked-for strengths spring forth suddenly from the wounds received….And then there are wounds that one must not heal, for they are the source of our loving intimacy with our highest task, the one we have received, impossibly, without having sought it.”—Jean-Louis Chretien, Hand to Hand
“…but these little things begin to add up in you, and you can begin to understand that you’re important. You may not be real important like people who do great things that you read about in the newspaper, but you begin to feel that you’re important to all the life around you. Nobody else knows or cares too much about what you do, but if you get a good feeling inside about what you do, then it doesn’t matter if nobody else knows.”—Terry Cummins, Feed My Sheep
“I hope that my contentment with living here at home will be like that of a man I once read about. He, too, was tired of his home—and he wanted to ride away from it. When he had traveled a little way his horse stumbled and he fell off. And when he got to his feet he chanced to see his home, which now looked so beautiful to him hat he immediately remounted his horse, rode home, and remained there. If only one views it from the right angle.”
— Journals, July 10th, 1838
Tending your own garden does not, for example, confront the problem of Monsanto. The corporation that developed genetically modified organisms as a way to promote its pesticides and is trying to control seed stock worldwide is a scourge. Planting heirloom seeds is great, but someone has to try to stop Monsanto, and that involves political organizing, sticking your neck out, and confrontation. It involves leaving your garden. Which farmers have done—this magazine documented, some years back, how the wheat farmers of North Dakota defeated Monsanto’s plans to introduce GMO wheat worldwide. But they didn’t do it by planting heirloom organic wheat or talking to school kids about what constitutes beautiful bread or by baking. They did it by organizing, by collective power, and by political engagement. The biggest problem of our time requires big cooperative international transformations that cannot be reached one rutabaga patch at a time.
The fact that gardens have become the revolution of the young is good news and bad news. Baby boomers of the sixties revolutionary variety had their hectoring bombastic arrogant self-righteous flaws, but they were fearless about engagement. The young I often meet today have so distanced themselves from the flaws of the baby boomers that they’ve gone too far in the opposite direction of mildness, modesty, disengagement, and nonconfrontation. (At a recent conference on the Occupy movement, two youngish people in the audience suggested that the slogan “We are the 99 percent” might hurt the feelings of the 1 percent; they wanted a polite revolution that wasn’t exactly against anything and offended no one, which is a nice way to be totally ineffectual.) The garden suits them perfectly because it is a realm of quiet idealism—but that too readily slides over into disengagement or the belief that your activism can stop with the demonstration of your own purity and lack of culpability.
To be a writer in this market requires not only money, but a concept of “work” that is most easily gained from privilege. It requires a sense of entitlement, the ability to network and self-promote without seeing yourself as an arrogant, schmoozing blowhard. And it requires you to think of working for free—at an internship, say, or on one of those gratis assignments that seem to be everywhere now—as an opportunity rather than an insult or a scam.
This is no longer an industry that rewards working-class values, in other words, and I underestimated how hard it would be to shuck them. It still seems strange to me that people work, unpaid, without a guaranteed job at the end. And I haven’t reconciled myself with the central irony here: that journalism, ostensibly a populist endeavour, is becoming a rarefied practice best suited, both financially and psychologically, to the well-off.
“It is not enough to give. We must have a heart that gives. In order to give, we must have a compassion deep enough for our gift to be forgiven, because if we give dutifully, if we are charitable only in our actions, the recipient receives humiliation and sorrow and pain together with our gift.”—Anthony of Sourozh
“Never had man possessed so many means for making history, and for making his own history, yet never has he felt so completely determined, so subjugated. Here he is, caught in an astonishing system of actions and reactions. The more he struggles to loosen what he considers his bonds, the more he tightens them. Technology is creating for him a marvelous world of capabilities and objects. He accepts the capabilities without even noticing, and then he begins to fear the objects, for his life has no meaning and he is afraid of being supplanted by things. The only possible meaning of all his activity is precisely the procuring of still more objects for himself, for that is the only value the system can have to offer him as compensation for his efforts. He buys continually and thus increases his agony at being overrun by objects.”—Jacques Ellul, Hope in Time of Abandonment
“Naturally, every person wants to be active in the world in accordance with his abilities, but this in turn implies that he wants to develop his abilities in a particular direction, namely in that which is best suited to his particular personality. But which direction is that? Here I am confronted with a great question mark. Here I stand like Hercules, but not at a crossroads. No, here there are a great many more roads, and it is thus all the more difficult to choose the right one. Perhaps it is precisely my life’s misfortune to be interested in far too many things, but not decisively in any one thing. My interests are not all subordinated under one heading, but are all coordinated.”—Soren Kierkegaard, Journals, 1835
“Part of finding your own voice as a writer is finding your own grammar. Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.”—Colin Nissan, The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do, McSweeny’s, http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-ultimate-guide-to-writing-better-than-you-normally-do
“Men and women have at their disposal an array of resources for generating greater knowledge of truth so that their lives may be ever more human. Among these is philosophy, which is directly concerned with asking the question of life’s meaning and sketching an answer to it. Philosophy emerges, then, as one of noblest of human tasks.”—Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
I would not speak of this dilemma if it were only mine, but I watch many others race again and again through the cycle of widening concern, frenzied effort, and exhaustion. Whatever the source of conscience—parents, God, solemn books, earnest friends, the dictates of biology—it is adapted to a narrower space than the one we inhabit. Limited to a small tribe or a community of a few hundred people, conscience may prompt us to serve others in a balanced and wholesome way. But when television and newspapers and the Internet bring us word of dangers by the thousands and miseries by the millions and needful creatures by the billions; when pleas for help reach us around the clock; when aching faces greet us on every street—then conscience either goes numb or punishes us with a sense of failure.
I often lie awake at night, rehearsing the names of those I’ve disappointed by failing to give them all they asked. I don’t say this to make myself out as a generous soul. I am hardly that; I feel defenseless rather than virtuous. The truth is that I’ve come to fear the claims that other beings make on me, because their numbers grow relentlessly. I wish to love my neighbor, but the neighborhood has expanded so far, and the neighbors have become so many, that my love is stretched to the breaking point. I’m tempted to run away, beyond reach of the needy voices. So I make of this hut a hiding place.
“I won’t be able to write from the grave
so let me tell you what I love:
oil, vinegar, salt, lettuce, brown bread, butter,
cheese and wine, a windy day, a fireplace,
the children nearby, poems and songs,
a friend sleeping in my bed—