We are the sad bewildered quills, Guido Cavalcanti

Sonnet by the Florentine poet (and friend of Dante) Guido Cavalcanti. From an essay by David Bowe of Balliol College, University of Oxford.


Oh, the effort it takes to not let all this hollow out one's heart. But I will be sleeping with a heavy one tonight, taking it gently out of my chest so that it cannot disturb me as I dream, dearly hoping that things look more settled by the morning, that this accumulation of humanity-related sadness pulling me into the water weighs a little less, that I can continue on with the real and true things, the things that will endure.

'Ma' (間) is a Japanese concept, an idea. I discovered it when reading Ariana Huffington's book Thrive, as the mention of it caused me to double back and think 'I'm going to want to remember this'. 

It can be translated, roughly, as a gap, space, or interval between two things. It has particular application for philosophical and artistic ways of being, and 'ma' is intrinsically bound to both these things with great complexity, great subtlety. I've only just begun to read about it, and I'll be reading forever I'm sure, but it has already given me a renewed sense of being unhurried—a sense that not everything is so close behind me as I once thought it surely was.

It is space and it is time.


I know that every single person with the ability to string two coherent thoughts together has reached this conclusion before, but today it's hitting me with a renewed sense of ouch.

Time, the beastly yet beautiful thing, can never be grasped. When you have too much of it, it goes slowly, dragging its hands through the mud and threatening to grind to a halt completely. And when you don't have enough of it, it's gone before you even had time to glance at the clock. 

Time, after all our measuring and aligning and rushing about, is really only an illusion. Yet we cannot exist without it, which leaves us straining to understand, walking around with time-telling devices strapped to our wrists so that we may never miss one millimetre of the second hand's measured dance. It gives a rhythm to our days that we would otherwise long for, and gives us somewhere to slot the minutiae that we are made up of.

It's always alarming to realise that we have so little of it, to realise that as we get older, days and years will pass by comparatively faster, and that while we want some uncomfortable things to be over as soon as possible, for others several lifetimes would never be enough.

Therein lies my problem of today, as I have hours to fill until I can sleep again, and the expanse feels unusually empty.


I've been ravenously devouring The Book of Life in quiet moments, and have been half-heartedly contemplating becoming a yinshi, which in Chinese culture refers to a recluse, someone who leaves everything busy behind them to go and live up a mountain.

Of course, I'm not entirely serious, but this poem entitled 'On Drinking Wine' by the original yinshi Tao Yuanming had me craving green silence and only mountain goats and books for company.*

Plucking chrysanthemums from the eastern hedge
I gaze into the distance at the southern mountain.
The mountain air is refreshing at sunset
As the flocking birds are returning home.
In such things we find true meaning,
But when I try to explain, I can’t find the words.

*I've decided this is not a realistic goal.


We have reached the sort-of-depressingly-sad section of my quote notebook. Yippee!*

*I take this back, as I realised there are plenty of rather hard-hitting ones scattered across the quote library.