Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body. — James Joyce, Dubliners
I walked the dog this morning. The painting to the right isn’t where I walked him. The painting is John Constable’s “The Hay Wain,” from around 1830. Notable because it was one of the last depictions of the unbroken English countryside before the railroad’s came. Takes my breath away, it does.
Note the dog in the picture. (Bottom of pond, a little left of center.)
A large print of “The Hay Wain” presided on my bedroom wall when I was in high school. If you look at the picture and listen to a Ralph Vaughn Williams piece, say “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” I promise it will profit you. Go ahead, click–you can listen and read on–it’s that kind of music.
Bonus: you have just knocked off two of Goethe’s triad at once.
What is Goethe’s triad you ask? Here you go:
A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We must excuse Goethe’s sexism and not judge him out of his time. Where was I? Oh, yes. Walking the dog. “The Hay Wain” shows not where I walked the dog, but how I felt this morning, walking the dog.
This is why “The Hay Wain” was in my head:
Last week I read a post on someone’s blog about the terrible state of modern art. The argument was above my head, but the writer used “The Hay Wain” as an example of something that had once been considered art, but wasn’t art anymore, in the sense that if someone were to paint something like “The Hay Wain” nowadays, it wouldn’t be taken seriously.
What is to be taken seriously nowadays is a piece of music like, say, “Four Minutes of Silence,” by John Cage, which has no music in it, obviously.
(I don’t know about you but the idea of four minutes of silence doesn’t strike me as entirely bad. I don’t see why we can’t be happy to have both “The Hay Wain” and four minutes of silence. Though I want the option of four minutes of “Greensleeves.”)
The whole contretemps reminded me of what Alan Watt’s said about the relation of art to civilization: When art gets to the point where no one understands what makes art art, a civilization has gone about as far as it can go.
Where was I?
Most of the time, I resent walking the dog, mostly because I have other things to do. I resent picking up the dog products off the grass. This reflects badly on me, I know, but there it is.
New Yorker cartoon–Image: Two men walking their dogs in the city and picking up the dog products. The dogs appear to be in conversation with each other. Caption: “I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel really special.”
I do pick them up, the products. I just don’t enjoy it, and I’m sure our dog, Stripe, couldn’t care less either way. There are many Zen things that could be said about this, but I’ll content myself with a Fritz Pearls one:
I am not in this world to live up to the expectations of a dog product, and the dog product is not in this world to live up to mine. Dog products are dog products, and I am I. And if by chance we find each other, that’s beautiful.
As we got the dog for Nick, Nick should be walking the dog. But he doesn’t. And the childrearing consequence probably should be that we give the dog away to one of his many admirers.
But we don’t because we’re too attached to him.
All right, I walked the dog. Around the block. Our block. A perfectly imperfect block with concrete sidewalks and telephone wires and cars and all the rest.
Only it was perfect. It was around 9:30 in the morning. Today is Sunday. There were no cars. There was quiet. And because it’s been raining a lot, the grass was very green and the sky very blue and the clouds very white.
And I noticed all these things because, as I had nothing in particular on my plate this morning, I didn’t actually walk the dog. I let him walk me. Somehow, I ended up in my body.
We meandered, Stripe and I. Rather, he meandered and I followed. I began to wonder how many things I could notice about the neighborhood–a neighborhood I’ve lived in over half my life–that I hadn’t seen before. I stopped counting after ten.
That’s it, that’s the whole point. I let the dog walk me.
And when a person gets to the point where he can let the dog walk him then he has gone about as far as he can go on that particular day. The only thing left is to write it down in order to remember it, that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.
This two-part post continues on February 25 with Map and Territory
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Another by Ralph Vaughan Williams–“The Wasps.” I know you have no time–leave it on as background. This one is more up-tempo. It’ll cheer your day.
Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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