Verweile doch, du bist so schon

WordPress doesn’t have easily accessible umlauts; you’ll have to forgive me. (That’s Goethe in the title; the line is fairly fraught, as it’s one of the terms in the deal Faust negotiates with the Devil. “If I ever say to a moment — linger then, so beautiful you are — then you can come and claim me.”)

Early autumn days like this one tug at me with recollections of moments to which I only feel moved to quote Faust in retrospect; moments in which I must have been paying a good deal of attention, but possibly should have paid more. There was an afternoon, probably thirty years ago, later in the season than this because the sun was dropping and the sky going to the colors of iron and copper only a little after five. I was sitting at a kitchen window, reading a book about the confluence between Neolithic sacred sites, Loch Ness-like creature sightings, and UFO appearances. It wasn’t F. W. Holiday’s The Dragon and the Disc, but one that I had picked up after reading Holiday to see how someone else treated the same material. It all seemed very important to me then because of the longing for a sort of Unified Field Theory of what held life and conscious intelligence together with physical matter, the critical question that religions stab at but always seemed doomed to reduce to platitude.

Something like an insight or a moment of clarity may have struck me on that occasion. I don’t know. If one did, I can’t remember it. I simply have a vivid mental picture of the pummeled, ember-like sky outside that window, and of a feeling of lucidity and penetration. I plunge back down through my memories to that moment as if there were some axle around which my life and experience revolved and only a few points on it, that occasion among them, really mattered.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

Yeats, that. There’s a reason I have the don’t-drop-it-on-your-foot variorium edition of his poems. In fact I am doing all this quoting because only the poets, in their heroic syntheses of verbal exactness and disabling emotion, come close to preserving whatever it is that I felt.

H. G. Wells, an intense rationalist, wrote about a similar feeling in a story far removed from Fabian tracts and time machines.

I don’t know if these occasions are about the blur of memory, of some confabulation with dream states, or if there really are moments in our lives when we are a fingersbreadth away from really understanding something about existence and our own connection to everything else. I only know that when I have some sense of it, it’s always sometime in autumn.

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15 thoughts on “Verweile doch, du bist so schon

  1. I always just go here

    http://www.ascii.cl/htmlcodes.htm

    and enter the html codes directly. I’m the sort of person for whom a minuscule detail outwits all attempts at laziness.

    Autumn’s a naturally reflective time, the slowing down before entering winter’s sleep. Personally I’d rather just cycle from May through August.

    • Oh dear, thorns and circumflexes — you’ll get me into all kinds of trouble.

      I wouldn’t miss this subjective sense of near-enlightenment for the world. I suspect we would all apply for permission to escape February, though.

      • I’ve got one on my keyboard… see? shön

        But thanks for the link, Don. I’ve been looking for a way to make one of these – £ – for ages.

        And I’d much rather escape November … in February there are sometimes orange blossoms!

  2. What a lovely and engaging post about a reflective time on an Autumn day. It says a lot for slowing down and really taking things in. I usually dread Autumn, because that means that Winter is next, my most dreaded season. I love Spring, though, and I suppose that is the time when I would really do all my deep thinking, looking forward to the sun and some warmth.

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