Saturday morning my brother e-mailed a photograph he had just taken of a morning glory blossom surrounded by dense greenery. I recognized spearmint and white clover. Ken wrote: “This was taken 10 minutes ago under the fir tree in front of the garage.” The flower is a deep, piercing blue, like lapis lazuli. Details from the vegetation, the planes and angles formed by stems and leaves, recall late Cezanne landscapes. Another e-mail, from Dave Lull, sent me to this:
“Honour for [Jacques] Barzun means recognising the immense debt each of us owes to so many others, both dead and living, which can only be discharged by living for those others.”
That’s how Harry Eyres concludes his Financial Times column on Barzun, who celebrates his 103rd birthday on Nov. 30. I like this notion of moral reciprocity, accounts balanced across a lifetime, discharging un-repayable debt by living the gifts. Like most of us I’m luckier than I deserve to be. Despite my best efforts good people have entered my life and left gifts, from Suzanne Murphy, my high-school writing teacher, to Guy Davenport and, most recently, Helen Pinkerton, whose poem “The Gift” is collected in Taken in Faith: Poems:
“I had a gift once that I then refused.
Now, when I take it, though I be accused
Of softness, cant, self-weariness at best,
Of failure, fear, neurosis, and the rest.
Still, I am here and I shall not remove.
I know my need. And this reluctant love,
This little that I have, is something true,
Sign of the unrevealed that lies in you.
Grace is the gift. To take it my concern—
Itself the only possible return.”