... some reflections on readings
“Quite Early One Morning”, from Dylan Thomas, reads more like a prose poem than a short story.
The narrator meanders through the town, preceding comments on five occasions: “The town was not
yet awake…” I feel the rhythm in these words. There is a haunting sense of isolation as the
narrator conveys his observations of his aloneness, “And I walked in a timeless morning…almost
expecting that an ancient man with a great beard and an hour-glass and scythe under his night-
dressed arm might lean from the widow and ask me the time.” Challenged by this specter of
earth, the narrator imagines him shouting,”…come out, old chicken, and stir up the winter
morning with your spoon of a scythe.” Shortly, first one chimney smoke and then another
signals the town coming awake.
I suppose this note has something to do with my wondering about my future, where have I been,
where am I going?
Here is a note from Migrations to Solitude, by Sue Halpren, from “Wild Ducks, People, and
Distances”. This explores wistfulness experienced by people who yearn for a time of small town
closeness, swallowed by megalopolis. There is a yearning for a day when, “Cookies arrive on the
doorstep of the sick, and prayers are said, and the postmaster inquires after your absent
It is probably true that human sentiment and connectedness is more difficult to achieve in the
big City. Yet, such feeling and doing is more about an interior life, not geography.
One of the scourges of our time is homelessness. “New Heaven and Earth” is the title of
Halpren’s essay on the homeless. During the sub-zero temperatures in Boston, I remember an
evening News TV film showing workers trying to urge a man, huddled in a doorway to go with them
to a shelter. After several minutes, the man left the doorway with the workers. One of the
characters, Petey, in the Halpren essay says, “The shelter is death!” It is better to freeze
alone in a doorway than the exposure to intimacy. Privacy means individualism and respect for
Homeless seems to mean a need for disconnection. “The shelter is death!” is the fright of being
confronted with the prospect of engagement. Homeless is to be empty of home and of an interior
The essay I have been thumbing through this morning is, “The Place of the Solitaries”. Halpren
begins by describing a journey to visit hermits but adds, “Actually, this is not how to get
here at all. They asked me not to tell.” This is from Ned and Mae, about age seventy. “They are
solitaries together, but solitaries nonetheless. They live deep in a forest in a house of their
own construction. They are self-sufficient. They prefer not to know you.”
Ned and Mae have lived in the woods for forty years. “Hermits are wedded to their life in the
woods. It’s a marriage that’s not about what they don’t have (central heat, news papers, ice
cream) but what they do (buffleheads on their pond, a pond), and it’s not about what they have
given up (children, light bulbs), but how to use what they have [and] to make what they need.”
“Forty years in the woods earning a life, not a living.” Mae says, “…a lot of people, I think,
wished they would have done it.”
These words leave me with a chill. I cannot even begin to imagine such isolation. Even before
any formal training, I have come to realize, I have always been interested in persons. This, no
doubt, has sustained me through a professional life that I now am working at fashioning into
writing and painting. I am beginning to understand how the idea of “Migrations to Solitude”
captured my attention.
Another library selection, One Hundred Years Best Essays, has a delicious essay by Robert Frost
about writing poetry. This is a 1939 essay entitled, “The Figure A Poem Makes.” It is an essay
about writing poems that could well apply to other forms of writing. Here are a few of Frost’s
“It should be the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It
begins in light and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same for love.” At the end of this brief
yet powerful essay, Frost says, “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its
I have felt for many years that sunshine radiates from inside out, not the other way around.
The last line also reminds me of “gesture” as applied to drawing and painting. Gesture is
something that an artist allows to happen by making a spontaneous movement without knowledge of
its purpose beforehand. This is a lovely idea for writers as they might sit frozen before a
computer or writing pad.
The title of Halpern’s essay is “Secret Beach.” It explores when to tell and when not to. The
subject is a single letter as the means of highlighting the idea of secrecy. S. is a writer
dying of AIDS who chooses not disclose his imminent death. Halpern writes, “We sat in the
living room, two old friends talking. S. was dying but didn’t mention it. Looking back, I think
he didn’t mention it for his own sake, not mine, so he could have afternoons like that, easy
and sweet. Before this, I understood that sometimes there is courage-optimistic, humorous,
brave-in silence, as well.”
Tough guys don’t talk, some say. This is what it means to be manly. Others say that self-
disclosure is essential for awareness and for healing. I sometimes have a strong sense with
another; baring one’s breast would release a powerful burden. I think I’ve learned, though, a
need for such unburdening should originate from the other. I must not pursue. Ironically, such
a posture often allows another to self-disclose.
These are a few notes that I have made and my comments. I have a habit of recording such
writings that give me a chance to say what I think about them. I suppose this is the means of
containing my thought.
January 4, 2013