Posts Tagged ‘contemplation’


Wallace Stevens 1879-1955

In his poem “Sunday Morning,” the modern American poet Wallace Stevens depicts a leisured woman enjoying her late-morning coffee in a sun-drenched room. “She dreams a little,” the narrator notes; and in her reverie she revisits moments of heightened emotional intensity:

            Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;

            Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued

            Elations when the forest blooms; gusty

            Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;

            All pleasures and all pains, remembering

            The bough of summer and the winter branch.

I first read those lines as an undergraduate, some fifty years ago. They have stayed with me over the decades, partly because of their formal beauty but also because they exemplify what the English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) viewed as a principal aim of the poetic imagination: the “balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities.” In this instance, the qualities being reconciled are the disparate emotional states associated with spring and fall, summer and winter. Passion and its absence, grief and elation, loneliness and excitement, pleasure and pain—all are held in balance in one harmonious whole. (more…)

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       Scott Chapel    Drake University

Scott Chapel
Drake University

Four weeks ago, in anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, we of a certain age were asked to recall where we were when the president was shot. As it happened, I was then a sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and I listened to the announcement of the president’s death in the lobby of Goodwin-Kirk Residence Hall, where a few of us had gathered around a portable radio. In retrospect, however, the question of where I was seems less important than where I went, having just received that sad and shocking news.


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Autumn in Kyoto, Japan

In his essay “Reading Oneself,” the writer and teacher Sven Birkerts describes the experience of encountering a long-forgotten page of his own prose. As Birkerts tells the story, he agreed to read the book manuscript of a student whom he had taught many years before. When his former student arrived at their meeting, she brought both her manuscript and Birkerts’ written evaluation of her work, which she had saved from her days in his course. Typed on the Selectric II he was using at the time, Birkerts’ prose seemed foreign to its author:

And suddenly there’s this feeling, I’ve had it before—more and more in recent years. I am reading something I’ve written and I not only don’t recognize the sentences—they’ve gone from me—I also don’t quite map to the mind that produced them. It’s very much like catching your shopwindow reflection for a split second before you realize it’s you. Almost always, the shock is negative. I look like that? With these sentences it’s the opposite. My eyes catch sight of what my hand did. Reading, I actually admire the images, the figures of speech, the confidence of the rhythm. Not the rhythm I would write in now. But I feel it as distinct.

For Birkerts this encounter with his younger self was comparable to contemplating an old photograph. “The looking,” he observes, “is mainly about taking in the differences.”* (more…)

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