In Works and Days Ralph Waldo Emerson writes “Just to fill the hour – that is happiness. Fill my hour, ye gods, so that I shall not say whilst I have done this ‘behold an hour of my life is gone,’ but rather ‘I have lived one hour.’”
Walter Pater’s conclusion to the Renaissance is not to be missed; Pater’s five paragraphs will change your life. For Pater there are moments of exquisite pleasure, secular epiphanies: not to be alive to these moments “is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. … We have an interval, and then our place knows us no more.” He advises us to devote our lives to art: “for art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” John Ashbery rephrases Pater directly in his major poem A Wave, in which he writes
BecauseItalo Calvino, at the end of Invisible Cities, writes
We all have to walk back this way
A second time, and not to know it then, not
To number each straggling piece of sagebrush
Is to sleep before evening, and well into the night
That always coaxes us out, smoothes out our troubles and puts us back to bed again.
The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.My favourite, however, is from the title track of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album is a weirdly, endlessly stunning, absurdly accomplished tribute to Anne Frank; the song begins
What a beautiful face I have found in this place that is circling all round the sun. What a beautiful dream that could flash on the screen in the blink of an eye and be gone from me. Soft and sweet let me hold it close and keep it here with me. And one day we will die and our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea. But for now we are young let us play in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see.The archaic three syllable “aeroplane” is matched by the way singer Jeff Magnum gives us a three syllable “every”: just as we are to count every thing, we get an extended word “every,” allowing us to count it as three things, to be alive to every detail.