The Highest Happiness

From Solitude (1830), by Johann von Zimmermann.

The highest happiness which is capable of being enjoyed in this world, consists in peace of mind. The wise mortal who renounces the tumults of the world, restrains his desires and inclinations, resigns himself to the dispensations of his Creator, and looks with an eye of pity on the frailties of his fellow creatures; whose greatest pleasure is to listen among the rocks to the soft murmurs of a cascade; to inhale, as he walks along the plains, the refreshing breezes of the zephyrs; and to dwell in the surrounding woods, on the melodious accents of the aerial choristers; may, by the simple feelings of his heart, obtain this invaluable blessing.

What to Do with the People Who Cause Us Suffering

From Time Regained (1931), by Marcel Proust.

We can, perhaps, attach every creature who has caused us unhappiness to a divinity of which she is only the most fragmentary reflection, a divinity the contemplation of whom in the realm of idea will give us immediate happiness instead of our former pain. The whole art of living is to regard people who cause us suffering as, in a degree, enabling us to accept its divine form and thus to populate our daily life with divinities.

How to Bathe Your Mind in Eternity

From Advice to a Young Poet (1949), by Llewelyn Powys.

I will first try to indicate why I told you to go to the sea every day. We are all in danger of being trapped in our environments–a poet is saved from this by his appreciation of the mysteries of earth life–if you every day meditate even for a moment on the beauty and mystery of the sea–you bathe your mind in Eternity. The smell of it, the sound of it, the sight of it should enable you to forget the bath machines and all modern vulgarities and realize that you are looking at what Homer looked at and all the long line of great poets, “Sophocles long ago heard it on the Aegean”. It should become to you a symbol of release and an elixir for the imagination and you should never pass it by with philistine apathy.

P. S. If you don’t have close access to the sea, anything other natural manifestation which is vast or sublime will also work: clouds, mountains, stars, prairie . . .

How to Obtain Boundless Satisfaction

From The Three-Cornered World (1958), by Natsume Sōseki.

The so-called pleasures in life derive from material attachments, and thus inevitably contain the seeds of pain. The poet and the artist, however, come to know absolute purity by concerning themselves only with those things which constitute the innermost essence of this world of relativity. They dine on the summer haze, and drink the evening dew. They discuss purple, and weigh the merits of crimson, and when death comes they have no regrets. For them, pleasure does not lie in becoming attached to things, but in becoming a part of them by a process of assimilation. And when at last they succeed in this, they find there is no room to spare for their ego. Thus, having risen out of the quagmire of materialism, they are free to devote themselves to the real essentials of life, and thereby obtain boundless satisfaction.

The Apostles of Freedom

From The Vision of Asia (1933), by L. Cranmer-Byng.

Poets are essentially the apostles of freedom, but the freedom of which they dream is the freedom of ordered sequence and adjustment into the coherent and sustained harmonies. A fortuitous combination of chords and discords, of melodies that have no relation to each other, is not freedom but the anarchy of contending forces. And all the harmonies are combined and contained in the greater rhythm of life. There are harmonies of type both human and sub-human, and the rarer harmony of which Shakespere speaks:

‘There’s not the smallest orb that thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed Cherubims;
Such harmony is in immortal souls. …”

Developing a Personality of High Quality

From Principles of Chinese Painting (1947), by George Rowley.

Shen Tsung-chien listed four ways of developing a personality of high quality, namely: “To purify your heart in order to eliminate vulgar worries, to read books widely in order to understand the realm of the principles (li), to renounce early reputation in order to become far-reaching, to associate with cultivated people in order to rectify your style.”

The first and third ways are Taoist and the second and fourth are Confucian. Another writer, in discussing cultivation or elegance, which was the supreme Confucian quality in both the painter and his painting, enumerated four Taoist virtues as the roads to elegance, namely: to be “cranky”–going against the world, “foolish”–forgetting about the world, “poor”–being contrary to the world, and “remote”–being far from the ways of the world and thus able to preserve elegance.

The Sole Question of Importance

From The Poems and Prose Poems (1919), by Charles Baudelaire.


One must be for ever drunken: that is the sole question of importance. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time that bruises your shoulders and bends you to the earth, you must be drunken without cease. But how? With wine, with poetry, with virtue, with what you please. But be drunken. And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace, on the green grass by a moat, or in the dull loneliness of your chamber, you should waken up, your intoxication already lessened or gone, ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the timepiece; ask of all that flees, all that sighs, all that revolves, all that sings, all that speaks, ask of these the hour; and wind and wave and star and bird and timepiece will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken! Lest you be the martyred slaves of Time, intoxicate yourselves, be drunken without cease! With wine, with poetry, with virtue, or with what you will.”

Accidental Happiness

From The Enchanted Woods: and Other Essays on the Genius of Places (1905), by Vernon Lee:

There is no folly more vain or fruitless than to manipulate one’s own happiness! My growing belief is that the journeys richest in pleasant memories are those undertaken accidentally, or under the stress of necessity; moreover, that the most interesting places are those which we stray into, or just deflect towards, as we wander for the sake of friends or work, or even in humbler quest of cheapness of living or economy of health. This belief that the best travel is not for travelling’s sake goes hand in hand with a certain philosophy of life, very vague, difficult to define, but perhaps the deeper down and more inevitable, forcing itself upon one with every added year of experience. As we continue to live, and see more of our own and other folks’ lives behind, or alongside of us, there arises a dim comprehension of some mysterious law by which the good things of life, all the happiness–nay, the very power of being happy–are not life’s aims but life’s furtherance, and their true possession depends on willing and uncalculating response to life’s multifold and changing beckonings and behests. Life itself is a journey from an unknown starting point to an unknown goal. We who move along its tracks cannot overlook the roads which cross and recross one another in endless intricacy; and the maps we make for ourselves are the mere scrawlings of fanciful children. All we can do, while thus travelling we know neither whence nor whither, is to keep our eyes clear, our feet undefiled, to drop as much useless baggage as possible, and fill our hands with the fruits and herbs, sweet or salutary, of the roadside. But if we imagine that we can bend our course to the hidden Temples of Sais, or the Gardens of Armida, or the Heavenly Jerusalem, why! there is no mischief in hoping; only, methinks we shall be disappointed. For wisdom, beauty–nay, holiness itself–are not regions of the soul, attainable and separate kingdoms; but rather, methinks, modes in which the soul carries itself, or not, along the mysterious journey to which it is elected or condemned.

Poetic Living

From the Preface to Selected Poems, by Arthur Davison Ficke (1926):

The meaning of poetry, and the secret of the imaginative life of the poets, is quite simple. The poet has always believed that the almost unattainably wise and inspired way of living is, first to fortify the soul with rigid individualism, and then to approach each event and each personality and each emotion as a thing neither good nor evil, but as a phenomenon that is curious, glittering, inexplicable, worthy of wonder or joy or terror. In that thrill of naive recognition, in that instant of interpretive imagination, the soul feels all of life that can be felt and knows all of life that can be known. There comes to every man a moment when he grows infinitely weary of the pompous confusion and cruel ignorance which is so elaborately organized to constitute human society―a moment when the heart is aware that the collective judgment of mankind is merely the brutal roaring of the loudest voices, and that this corrupt oracle can never by any chance be as wise as the whispers of the individual soul. At such a moment, in a profound repudiation of all the intricacies of forms and faiths, the heart quietly turns back to its own intuitions as to a guide more trustworthy than all the parliaments of man. It is at this level of solitary experience that poetry may be born.

Poetic Living

From Zen and Zen Classics, Volume 1, by Reginald Horace Blyth (1970):

Asceticism, found in every religion, is seen too often in people who were pretty bare and empty from the beginning. The desire to be nothing is particularly common among those who are already practically nothing. The other extreme, a Wagnerian wallowing in sensation is of course worse, but there is a third alternative, not the Middle Way, of course, but another extreme, mentioned before, the way of poetry. This has practically nothing to do with iambic pentameter, but consists in giving the highest possible value to every moment. We are to be painting or looking at pictures, or composing or reading verse, or thinking deeply or making things grow, or having sexual intercourse with someone we cannot bear to be parted from even for a moment — and when we die we shall sleep the sleep of the just.

Poetic Living

From The Green Round, by Arthur Machen (1933):

“Has it ever been your fortune, courteous reader,” the author enquired, “to rise in the earliest dawning of a summer day, ere yet the radiant beams of the sun have done more than touch with light the domes and spires of the great city? Have you risen from your couch, weary, perchance, of sleepless hours of tossing to and fro, or, it may be, impelled by the call of business, and gone forth through the familiar street where your abode is situated, the street which had known your steps by day and by night, but never before at the hour of dawn? If this has been your lot, have you not observed that magic powers have apparently been at work? The accustomed scene has lost its familiar appearance. The houses which you have passed daily, it may be for many years, as you have issued forth on your avocations or your amusements, now seem as if you beheld them for the first time. They have suffered a mysterious change, into something rich and strange. Though they may have been designed by no extraordinary exertion of the art of architecture, though their materials may be of common brick and stone and piaster, though neither Pentelicus nor Ferrara has assisted in the adornment of these edifices; yet you have been ready to affirm that they now ‘stand in glory, shine like stars, apparelled in a light serene’. They have become magical habitations, supernal dwellings; more desirable to the eye than the fabled pleasure dome of the Eastern potentate, or the bejewelled hall built by the Genie for Aladdin in the Arabian Tale.” And so forth, and so forth: “And if the boughs of a tree chance to extend over a garden wall, you are ready to vow that its roots must flourish in the soil of Paradise. . . . Your perspective may be closed by the heights of Hampstead or of Highgate; but in the light of the Aurora these hills rise in the land that is very far off.” A good deal in this vein; and then a curious passage: “But all these are transitory effects that soon disappear. As the sun mounts in the sky, the vision fades into the light of common day; buildings, trees, objects close at hand and distant vistas resume their ordinary aspect; the whole enchanting scene is now a sullen street of common clay. You may, perhaps, reproach yourself with having allowed your senses to be beguiled and your imagination to be overcome by the mere fad: that you have gazed on a familiar scene in unusual circumstances. Yet, some have declared that it lies within our own choice to gaze continually upon a world of like beauty, or even greater.”

Poetic Living

From Studies in Prose and Verse (1908) by Arthur Symons.

A man who goes through a day without some fine emotion has wasted his day, whatever he has gained by it. And it is so easy to go through day after day, busily and agreeably, without ever really living for a single instant. Art begins when a man wishes to immortalise the most vivid moment he has ever lived. Life has already, to one not an artist, become art in that moment. And the making of one’s life into art is after all the first duty and privilege of every man. It is to escape from material reality into whatever form of ecstasy is our own form of spiritual existence.