From My Commonplace Book - 20

"The fineness of things gives the universe nobility"

by Jean Follain


The fineness of things gives the universe nobility. Behind each thing a password lies hidden. These fragile cups, these crystal glasses, how carefully they must be put into the cupboard! The maid gets up on a chair when they belong on the highest shelf. They link us to the world whose tarnished images blur together. In the same way a boy, seeing old straw beehives, thinks of the Gauls' huts in his History of France. Suppose the boy's mother happens to say to him, "You're heartless," and the sentence echoes deeper and deeper inside him. The world around him is veiled, sadness hangs heavily on roofs with weathervanes depicting a variety of things, even racehorses ridden by their jockeys. Sadness covers everything, even toys. It's sadness for the end of the world, for the last judgment. "No," the child answers, "I am not a bad boy because I cried when grandfather died." "Maybe so," the mother comes back, "but you aren't always good." That's like telling him he is good sometimes, anyway. So the universe clears up again, things regain their glitter, clouds are proud and graceful. Once more decorations and everyday things sparkle. You hear the saw grinding into wood, food boiling, even if it's one of those monotonous long days that persist in having been, long after the memory of them is gone.


Jean Follain (French, 1903-1971) was, besides being an extraordinary writer, a lawyer and judge.

Translators Mary Feeney and William Matthews chose the above prose poem and others from Jean Follain's
Tout instant (1957) and Appareil de la terre (1964) for a small collection of his work called A World Rich in Anniversaries.

Comments

Thank you, Steve. This is a favorite of mine -- and the entire book, lovely. Snapshots of village life in rural France during Jean Follain's childhood.
 
What a delightful piece of writing - thanks Merry. Though comparisons are odious I am much reminded of Alain Fournier and Proust - memory and time. And also rural France which has a magical timeless quality about it - beautiful. Little wonder we are such Channel hoppers - the sense of "place" leaps out - I can almost smell the herbs of Provence, the fresh baked bread and much more. And "so the universe clears up again" - sadness goes, happy again - how lovely.
 
Enid, thank you.

Your description makes me wish I could travel to rural France. Meet you there!
 
Would that we could Merry but (hopefully) temporarily confined to a Kent chair and much enjoying all your happy making findings which cheers Steve too. Keeping up your lovely humour - and thoughts of timelessness/the eternal I found a remark (not quite true) about the English - no sense of the spiritual/eternal so they invented Cricket (goes on for five days). Suggest detractors try it - very relaxing. And may they eventually find.
 
Enid -- stuck in a Kent chair -- sounds dreadful! Oh, I just googled and found a photo. Looks comfortable enough, but not someplace you would want to spend every minute of your life.

I laughed out loud at the joke about cricket and the quest for the eternal. Not that I've ever played or seen more than a few seconds of a game.
 
Getting very deep here Merry - the whole universe sings whether I crawl to the bathroom or not. It's your cheerfulness "wots" good. Any poems on Spiders - Lear etc ?
 
A Noiseless Patient Spider

by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
 
Ah - lovely Merry - never saw this one. I once heard a Hindu Sage mention three Western Poets - Shakespeare, Tennyson and Whitman. Of course and a delightful poem - you will know more but I think he saw some pretty gruesome things in his time perhaps Civil War ? - and latterly ill health.
 
Hi, Enid.

Yes, Walt Whitman did take care of soldiers wounded in the Civil War.

Your question about his ill health led me to do a little research. I was surprised to find out that the famed Canadian physician Sir William Osler saw Walt Whitman professionally several times after the poet suffered what were probably a series of small strokes.
 

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