“Samples of My Common-place Book” — Walt Whitman (from Specimen Days)
I ought not to offer a record of these days, interests, recuperations, without including a certain old, well-thumb’d common-place book, filled with favorite excerpts, I carried in my pocket for three summers, and absorb’d over and over again, when the mood invited. I find so much in having a poem or fine suggestion sink into me (a little then goes a great ways) prepar’d by these vacant-sane and natural influences.
Samples of my common-place book down at the creek:
I have—says old Pindar—many swift arrows in my quiver which speak to the wise, though they need an interpreter to the thoughtless. Such a man as it takes ages to make, and ages to understand. H. D. Thoreau.
If you hate a man, don’t kill him, but let him live.—Buddhistic.
Famous swords are made of refuse scraps, thought worthless.
Poetry is the only verity—the expression of a sound mind speaking after the ideal—and not after the apparent.—Emerson.
The form of oath among the Shoshone Indians is, “The earth hears me.
The sun hears me. Shall I lie?”
The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops—no, but the kind of a man the country turns out.—Emerson.
The whole wide ether is the eagle’s sway:
The whole earth is a brave man’s fatherland.—Euripides.
Spices crush’d, their pungence yield,
Trodden scents their sweets respire;
Would you have its strength reveal’d?
Cast the incense in the fire.
Matthew Arnold speaks of “the huge Mississippi of falsehood called
The wind blows north, the wind blows south,
The wind blows east and west;
No matter how the free wind blows,
Some ship will find it best.
Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.—Epictetus.
Victor Hugo makes a donkey meditate and apostrophize thus:
My brother, man, if you would know the truth,
We both are by the same dull walls shut in;
The gate is massive and the dungeon strong.
But you look through the key-hole out beyond,
And call this knowledge; yet have not at hand
The key wherein to turn the fatal lock.
“William Cullen Bryant surprised me once,” relates a writer in a New York paper, “by saying that prose was the natural language of composition, and he wonder’d how anybody came to write poetry.”
Farewell! I did not know thy worth;
But thou art gone, and now ’tis prized:
So angels walk’d unknown on earth,
But when they flew were recognized.—Hood.
John Burroughs, writing of Thoreau, says: “He improves with age—in fact requires age to take off a little of his asperity, and fully ripen him. The world likes a good hater and refuser almost as well as it likes a good lover and accepter—only it likes him farther off.”
Louise Michel at the burial of Blanqui, (1881.)
Blanqui drill’d his body to subjection to his grand conscience and his noble passions, and commencing as a young man, broke with all that is sybaritish in modern civilization. Without the power to sacrifice self, great ideas will never bear fruit.
Out of the leaping furnace flame
A mass of molten silver came;
Then, beaten into pieces three,
Went forth to meet its destiny.
The first a crucifix was made,
Within a soldier’s knapsack laid;
The second was a locket fair,
Where a mother kept her dead child’s hair;
The third—a bangle, bright and warm,
Around a faithless woman’s arm.
A mighty pain to love it is,
And’tis a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pain the greatest pain,
It is to love, but love in vain.
Maurice F. Egan on De Guerin.
A pagan heart, a Christian soul had he,
He followed Christ, yet for dead Pan he sigh’d,
Till earth and heaven met within his breast:
As if Theocritus in Sicily
Had come upon the Figure crucified,
And lost his gods in deep, Christ-given rest.
And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me,
Is, leave the mind that now I bear,
And give me Liberty.—Emily Bronte.
I travel on not knowing,
I would not if I might;
I would rather walk with God in the dark,
Than go alone in the light;
I would rather walk with Him by faith
Than pick my way by sight