Albert Murray, Ralph Ellison’s friend, remembers a short poem, which I will call a haiku, from their days as students together: Murray recalls the author of Invisible Man as the smartest-dressed upperclassman at Tuskegee. Murray was impressed that Ellison always seemed to check out the best books in the library, and he presented a “nascent elegance” in his two-tone shoes, bow tie, contrasting slacks, and whatever else the best haberdasher in Oklahoma had to offer.
“I even remember the poetry Ralph wrote,” Murray said:
“‘Death is nothing, / Life is nothing, / How beautiful these two nothings!’ “
“For as the carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life…
“The question at stake,” said Epictetus, “is no common one; it is this:—Are we in our senses, or are we not?”
– Excerpt From: Epictetus. “A Selection from the Discourses of Epictetus with the Encheiridion.”
“Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.
“I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Red Pine, Stonehouse and Gary Snyder are mentioned in Jim Harrison’s new trilogy of novellas that was just released, The Ancient Minstrel:
“After attending and giving at least a hundred poetry readings he could remember only one that struck him as a hundred percent genuine and honest. A poet named, simply enough, Red Pine read from an ancient Chinese poet he had translated, called Stonehouse. Red Pine read with quiet integrity just what he translated. Usually after a reading he was in a private snit and needed a drink, but now he walked down and looked at the harbor, his spine still tingling. The other true exception was Gary Snyder. He never wanted Snyder’s readings to end.”
Did you notice the daylight today?
The days are short in December.
It comes before dark. Sometimes it passes
in a hurry to get someplace else
More friendly perhaps. Fiji maybe.
We become forgetful and miss it some days.
In March there were six different warblers
in one willow bush. What else could
you possibly want from daylight?
– Jim Harrison, Dead Man’s Float
People can’t explain why they’re so crazy
The two evil birds on their faces
The three poison snakes in their hearts
One or another blocks their way
Making it hard to get hold of things
Lift your hand high and snap your fingers
Homage to the Buddha
– Poem #223 from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated from Chinese by Red Pine