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.

Poetic Living

From Oriental Secrets of Graceful Living (1963) by Boye de Mente:

SHINMIRI (Sheen-me-ree). Another word that is laden with a serene type of sadness is shinmiri. A completely colloquial term known and used by all Japanese, shinmiri refers to a type of atmosphere that is charged with intimate tranquility and sad contentment, and is characteristic of traditional life in Japan. The idea of passing time alone, austerely, while letting one’s mind dwell on nostalgic events of the past, or giving up the hectic life of the city for a quiet, rustic type of existence in some isolated countryside, is not unique to Japan. But no other people crave it like the Japanese. As a result of this craving, the Japanese attempt to create the atmosphere of shinmiri in their surroundings, their music and their literature. Rain is often one of the most important ingredients of a shinmiri atmosphere. An afternoon spent sitting quietly in a Japanese style room that looks out over a garden which is being pelted by a late fall rain is certain to be flooded by a strong sense of shinmiri.

Poetic Living

From Proust and Santayana (1937) by Van Meter Ames:

“To live aesthetically does not involve literally following the example of Santayana or anyone else who has a sense of beauty. It does not require living abroad or in an ivory tower. It does not necessarily mean devoting oneself to the fine arts or to the society of artists; nor does it involve the artificialities often practiced by “aesthetes.” Aesthetic is simply appreciative living, with awareness of lights and shadows, textures and tensions. It is living religiously without religion, with a sense of awe and gratitude; with inner joy, in the senses and the mind, in the revelation of the mystery and majesty of the universe; it means welcoming the sun of each succeeding day, the stars of each new night; responding to friends, wondering at their otherness and nearness; and ever marveling at being alive, being oneself, or dreaming.”