, , , , , ,

Here is the next installment of Beatrice Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:

“Walked down to the deserted beach just before dark last evening. It was very quiet. The ocean crept up smoothly as a cat, put a soft paw tentatively on the beach at my feet, and then backed off. I felt as if I were coaxing the tide to come in. Three black-crowned night herons flew silently overhead on their way to their night roost. A couple of lines from Longfellow strayed into my head: ‘The twilight darkens, the curlew calls’ and ‘The little waves with their soft white hands.’ That was all I could remember of the poem except the line that ends each stanza” ‘And the tide rises, the tide falls.’

I never realized before what a wonderful line that is. You feel in it the gradual, inexorable gathering of the tide in its fullness, and then the slow ebb, recurring endlessly through time. How easily the line could have been ruined by the addition or subtraction of just one syllable. Or if Longfellow had taken the ‘And’ that begins the line and inserted it instead between the two clauses, the feeling of the mysterious rise and fall of the tide would have been lost completely in a sort of ball-bouncing chant.

When I got home I pulled the old volume of Longfellow off the shelf, which I hadn’t looked into since my early teens. On the whole I much prefer un-rhymed to rhymed poetry but last night there seemed to me a spontaneity and simplicity about his rhymes that delighted me. And I made an interesting discovery: the phrase ‘reverence for life’ was not originated by Schweitzer. Longfellow said it first in The Poet’s Tale: The Birds of Killingworth, from the Tales of a Wayside Inn. Not that I think Schweitzer consciously appropriated it, but it would be interesting to know whether he thought of it independently or had read it at some time in his life and then forgotten it. For that matter, Longfellow may not have been the first to use it either.

To have an original thought must be even more rare than to make an original phrase. I suspect tat most of us unconsciously plagiarize all the time. We read something that strikes a sympathetic chord, forget it, and then years later it comes back to us as our own idea.”