Reading Notes: James Richardson’s Vectors

~ Vectors (2001) by James Richardson ~

My reading had been scattershot lately. I’d been dipping into Kipling’s short stories, and into Chekhov’s. I’d been reading essays by Loren Eiseley and George Orwell, too, but one of the few books I’d read cover to cover in the latter half of June was this one. James Richardson is a poet, but I don’t read much poetry and didn’t know him that way. He’s quite a good aphorist, however, and it seems to me that aphorists are due some fresh appreciation in our era of abbreviated attention spans.

Which is not to say that a good aphorism is exhausted in the few seconds it takes to read it. On the contrary, a good aphorism cracks open at the end in some unexpected way and rewards leisured contemplation. Take, for example, this one, which I have selected at random from my well-marked copy Vectors:

“Ah, what can fill the heart? But then, what can’t?”

Indeed. We like to think grandly of ourselves, don’t we? But then it may be that the heart is not always so expansive a place as we imagine. Petty obsessions, grudges, etc. may consume it totally.

Another:

“On what is valuable thieves and the law agree.”

Let us think twice before we place ourselves in their company.

One more:

“If the couple could see themselves twenty years later, they might not recognize their love, but they would recognize their argument.”

As a husband for something near the twenty-year mark myself, I like this one very much. Love need not vanish within two decades, of course, and I’ve been blessed in this regard, but love will – and, I think, must inevitably – change. That’s because love is alive. It grows, alters, matures in unpredictable ways, like any living thing. This is as it should be, and I would never trade the love I have toward my wife now for the by-comparison-adolescent love I had for her when we first married.

That said, it’s true we argue today about the same things that we did at the beginning of our relationship. Perhaps that’s because the unhappy parts of any relationship are unhappy because they lack a life of their own, because they are the dead ends we drag about with us.

Remembering

“I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.”

~ Thoreau, Walden

In the West today it seems that we live in the shadow of a loss we are at pains to understand. We scramble in the shadows for we know not what and even if we laid hands on the Necessary Thing might fail to recognize it. But perhaps it has something to do with fidelity and companionship (the hound), with valor and intrepidity (the horse) and with peace and transcendent vision (the dove).

I am not an intellectual or academic. I am not a skilled speaker or debater. I am a middle-aged man, a husband, a father. I read books, walk in the woods, and work in my garden. It is not my intent to indulge in chicken-little-ism. I hope that we may yet shrug off our forgetfulness and recover the Necessary Thing. I only want to remember.