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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Thomas Traherne: Shadows in the Water

File:Surface waves and water striders.JPG

Shadows of mating Water Striders (Gerris argentatus), their motion creating surface ripples upon a pond, with reflections of sun upon their footprints: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2007

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
.......That doth instruct the mind
.......In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
.......I fancied other feet
.......Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
.......In bright and open space
.......I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
.......We other worlds should see,
.......Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
.......I plainly saw by these
.......A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
.......Where skies beneath us shine,
.......And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
.......Where many numerous hosts
.......In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
.......I my companions see
.......In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
.......Are lofty heavens hurled
.......’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
.......Some unknown joys there be
.......Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

File:Multy droplets impact.JPG

Capillary waves produced by several droplet impacts upon the interface between water and air: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2007

Glocken aus der Tiefe

Still from Glocken aus der Tiefe (Bells from the Deep): Werner Herzog, 1993

Thomas Traherne (1637-1674): Shadows in the Water (n.d.) from Poems of Felicity (1910)


TC said...

I hated to crop the great Mila Zinkova images, but a simple click will restore them to full size.

hardPressed poetry said...

Nice choice, TC. And thanks for being the first to comment on our new blog.

TC said...

Any horseplayer will tell you that when there is a good feeling about the first race, one must also lay a wager on the second.

(Though even as I say that I am reminded of Damon Runyon's character, Regret, the horseplayer.)

Knowing that that great fabricator of miracles Herzog had hired a lot of inebriated Siberians to be pretending to hear the Bells of the Deep through the ice, I did somewhat regret (speaking of) contaminating Traherne's wonderful intuition of water babies pressing their feet up against his, with such drastic showbiz stuff.

But then conscience always enters the scene a bit late to rescue the heroine.



How fortunate are we over here to find Traherne here, noting "lofty spacious skies/ Reversed there" and how "I my companions see/ In you, another me". . . . And such photos!

TC said...

Thanks, Steve.

What a lift, this poem.

The shadows of those Water Striders made me think of EP's shadow of the water bug's mittens on the rock.

SarahA said...

These words so true. Nothing is ever what it seems; hey?

I see a brain, in that first image. Really!


Thanks Tom and yes, "what a lift" (that poem), and what beautiful photos (that one from Herzog, those two from Mila Kinkova) -- and where is that Pound passage (?).

Happy Thanksgiving!

TC said...


I do believe I know what you mean.

(My brain sometimes feels a bit wet, with small fuzzy things swimming about in it.)

Steve, the same happy wishes to you and Johnny.

The Pound passage is this:

"The water-bug’s mittens / petal the rock beneath, / The natrix glides sapphire into the rock pool."

(Canto 91, 1955)


Thanks Tom, there it is (!), and there too "the light flowing, whelming the stars". . . .

Julia said...

Oh, I have missed this post. I read it now for the first time, thank you for pointing me out to it. I didn't know Taherne (as most English poetry).
The pictures are fantastic, and I liked very much this poem. The idea of a subaquatic world seemed to me absolutely unheard and modern for a 17th century poem. I even thought after seeing the date of publication of of the book that there were a typo with the dates of birth and death... But, no. It's funny how I read three times the poem, thinking it was written in different periods of time. I've read three different poems.
"They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be. "

TC said...

The more poems, and selves, and shadows, the better... maybe.

What an uncanny, eerie, unearthly, otherworldly poem this is, though.

I've lately been feeling a bit more, or perhaps less, substantial, than might be wished... and this poem, with its giddying reversals, seems to fit the strange condition perfectly.

I fancied other feet/Came mine to touch or meet;/ As by some puddle I did play/ Another world within it lay...

That's definitely a voyage "through the looking glass".

TC said...

(Speaking of the looking glass, indeed this post was prompted by the previous extended conversations re. Mirroring.)