Thursday, February 03, 2011


Seeking the Sunny South

Henry David Thoreau, untitled poem, in Collected Essays and Poems (New York: Library of America, 2001), pp. 608-609:
I seek the Present Time,
No other clime,
Life in to-day,
Not to sail another way,
To Paris or to Rome,
Or farther still from home.
That man, whoe'er he is,
Lives but a moral death,
Whose life is not coeval
With his breath.
What are deeds done
Away from home?
What the best essay
On the Ruins of Rome?
The dusty highways,
What Scripture says,
This pleasant weather
And all signs together—
The river's meander,
All things, in short,
Forbid me to wander
In deed or in thought.
In cold or in drouth,
Seek Not the sunny South,
But make the whole tour
Of the sunny Present Hour.
For here if thou fail,
Where canst thou prevail?
If you love not
Your own land most,
You'll find nothing lovely
Upon a distant coast.
If you love not
The latest sunset,
What is there in pictures
Or old gems set?

If no man should travel
Till he had the means,
There'd be little travelling
For kings or for Queens.
The means, what are they!
They are the wherewithal
Great expenses to pay;—
Life got, and some to spare,
Great works on hand,
And freedom from care.
Plenty of time well spent,
To use,—
Clothes paid for, and no rent
In your shoes;—
Something to eat,
And something to burn,
And, above all, no need to return;—
For they who come back,
Have they not failed,
Wherever they've ridden
Or steamed it, or sailed?
All your grass hayed,—
All your debts paid,—
All your wills made?
Then you might as well have stayed,
For are you not dead,
Only not buried?

The way unto "Today,"
The rail road to "Here,"
They never'll grade that way,
Nor shorten it, I fear.
There are plenty of depots
All the world o'er,
But not a single station
At a man's door;
If we would get near
To the secret of things,
We shall not have to hear
When the engine bell rings.
In most doubtful matters I ask the question "What would Thoreau do?" and try to follow his advice, but when he says, "Seek Not the sunny South," I'm going to disobey. The cold and snow have beaten me down this winter, and as soon as it's safe to drive, I'm going to "das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn," or at any rate where the peach trees blossom, to Georgia.

R. Dillon Boylan translated Goethe's lines thus:
Know'st thou the land where the lemon tree blows—
Where deep in the bower the gold orange grows?
Where zephyrs from Heaven die softly away,
And the laurel and myrtle tree never decay?
Know'st thou it?
Thither, oh! thither with thee,
My dearest, my fondest! with thee would I flee.
The German:
Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.
Goethe's stanza recalls James Thomson, The Seasons (Summer, lines 663-668):
Bear me, Pomona! to thy citron Groves;
To where the Lemon and the piercing Lime,
With the deep Orange, glowing through the green,
Their lighter glories blend. Lay me reclined
Beneath the spreading Tamarind that shakes,
Fann'd by the breeze, its fever-cooling Fruit.

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