One Thousand Beautiful Things

Over the summer, Pete bought me a book from a used book sale intriguingly titled One Thousand Beautiful Things. Shame on me for not really looking at it until two days ago, for it is a wonderful book! The best way for me to describe the book’s contents and purpose is for me to include an excerpt from the intro:

“The great German poet, Goethe, was once asked by a friend what he would suggest as a daily exercise for spiritual betterment. He said:

‘I would like to read a noble poem. I would like to see a beautiful picture. I would like to hear a bit of inspiring music. I would like to meet a great soul. And for my fellow men I would like to sy a few sensible words.’

Because we recommend this wish of the great poet to you, we offer an anthology resplendent with beautiful things to enrich your daily life.”

The book includes poems, short stories, and quotes, some by very famous authors and some by lesser-known ones. I have already stumbled upon many that I love. Here is one of my favorites so far.

Inventory at Dawn                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Eleanor Saltzman

I have gathered violets in April
And watched the silent falling of a star.
The wind has touched my hair, and I have laid
My ear against the earth to hear the grasses
Whisper. I have shocked the new-bound oats
In summer and walked bareheaded in the rain,
Thrilling with the thunder. I have baked
A ham and sat with friends at supper. We talked
Of ghosts and Bach and vegetables, and filled
Our coffee cups again. I have kissed
My heart goodby at nightfall, and I have loved,
But deeply.
   And still to sit in the sun, to know
The breadth of tenderness deep as the earth.
And bread. And sleep. And waking after pain,
To eat my breakfast at Walden. To feel the hush
Of snow against my lips. And still to love,
But deeply.


Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

-John Keats

My two favorite lines of this poem are “with patient look, thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours,” and the start of the final stanza, “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.”

I like the first because it is so accurate – autumn oozes away, its departure out of our control, and all we can do is watch. The word “oozes” and phrase “hours by hours” at first make it seem as though fall is leaving slowly, which would be incongruous because fall is actually so fleeting. But note that it doesn’t say “weeks by weeks” or even “days by days”. When autumn finally flees from us, it does so in an afternoon or an evening, “hours by hours,” and we wake up to find it winter.  

I like the second passage because it’s as if the speaker is talking directly to Autumn, repeating a question autumn has already asked itself and then responding: “What? You want to know where spring is? Well, who cares. You have your own loveliness and lets just be in this moment, not always thinking ahead.”

I remember my professor, Jonathan Hill, saying that this poem is so extraordinary because poems about autumn usually focus on its nostalgia and fleetingness, and how it’s so sad precisely because of its transient passing (whereas poems of spring are usually happy and focus on a fresh start), but Keats with this poem manages to acknowledge that yes, fall is fleeting and thus sad, but ultimately says, “For once, lets not worry about that just now – let’s just enjoy the loveliness it gives us.”