Yeats was a great admirer of Paul Valéry’s poem ‘Le Cimetière marin’ (‘The Graveyard by the Sea’), but only up to a point – the point where he thought that the poem’s main injunction was not about lingering among the tombs and talking to the dead, but about getting on with life, or trying to. ‘After certain poignant stanzas,’ Yeats wrote, ‘and just when I am deeply moved, he chills me.’ Valéry turned out to be a mere ‘metropolitan, who has … learned as a part of good manners to deny what has no remedy’, and who ‘in a passage of great eloquence rejoices that human life must pass’. ‘I was about to put his poem among my sacred books,’ Yeats continued, ‘but I cannot now, for I do not believe him.’ It’s not that Yeats doesn’t recognise that all things must pass, it’s the rejoicing he objects to. ‘Man is in love and loves what vanishes,’ Yeats himself wrote. ‘What more is there to say?’ One answer is: pretty much everything.
If he had paused over the poem’s epigraph, taken from Pindar – ‘Do not, O my soul, aspire to immortal life, but exhaust what is possible’ – Yeats might have given up earlier. But then is the poem illustrating the epigraph or complicating it? It ends with a declared commitment to ‘l’ère successive’ (‘passing time’). But then the famous exhortation ‘il faut tenter de vivre!’ (‘we must try to live!’), sounds a little unsure of itself – tenter is after all related to ‘tentative’. Perhaps we should see the poem’s earlier, vigorous ‘no’ to the idea of stasis, ‘cette forme pensive’ (‘this pensive form’) as part of a continuing argument rather than an achieved end. Such a picture would match everything else we know about Valéry’s work. How could he be saying ‘no’ to thought? He thinks about nothing else.
Among his many claims to distinction, Thomas Jefferson can be regarded as America’s first connoisseur. The term and the concept emerged among the philosophes of eighteenth-century Paris, where Jefferson lived between 1784 and 1789. As minister to France he gorged on French culture. In five years, he bought more than sixty oil paintings, and many more objets d’art. He attended countless operas, plays, recitals, and masquerade balls. He researched the latest discoveries in botany, zoology and horticulture, and read inveterately—poetry, history, philosophy. In every inch of Paris he found something to stir his senses and cultivate his expertise. “Were I to proceed to tell you how much I enjoy their architecture, sculpture, painting, music,” he wrote a friend back in America, “I should want words.”
Ultimately, he poured all these influences into Monticello, the plantation he inherited from his father, which Jefferson redesigned into a palace of his own refined tastes. More than in its domed ceilings, its gardens, or its galleries, it was in Monticello’s dining room that Jefferson the connoisseur reigned. Here, he shared with his guests recipes, produce, and ideas that continue to have a sizable effect on how and what Americans eat.
“If you’re a Picasso fan and you walk into a room full of early Cubism, and there’s a painting there that you’ve never seen before, it’s like that,” said Lisa Bielawa, a composer and a vocalist in the Philip Glass Ensemble. “It’s right at the center of the authentic early period, right in the middle of it.”
For 18 minutes, nothing interrupts the purr of insects bar the sound of kookaburras calling, and a solitary passing car. This is Field Recordings, a creation of the London-based radio producer Eleanor McDowall, “a podcast where audio-makers stand silently in fields”. Boasting submissions from all over the world, the first episode debuted in March and captures the sounds of an Australian town at dusk. Highlights from the more than 70 episodes since include a recording from the inside of a hollow tree in Russia, which becomes an orchestra of creaks and whistles as it sways in the wind. It is, in McDowall’s words, “a real banger”.
I wake to dark sky
and heavy rain
equal in an hour
to 30 inches of snow.
When the first half of Hamlet ends,
the schoolkids rise, pull on their jackets,
and gather their trash as their teacher
says wait, the play’s not over, there’s more.