Monday, October 24, 2016

Robert Grudin: Weighed down by the future

No. III.22

The birth of our second child is one, maybe two weeks away.  The coming event looms over us, the way a big wave looms over a little boat; and our days are dimmed by its shadow.   The future can exert this force upon us, can totally suck the juice out of the present, turning it into something tense, dry, useless to memory.  How can we enjoy or profit from such a transitional state?  The practical answer is "Don't sit and wait; prepare."  The subtler answer is that no period in life is more or less transitional than any other, had we only the power to understand each.  

Robert Grudin
Time and the Art of Living 

I have experienced those times when some future event caused me considerable distress which distracted me and resulted in a blank period in which nothing seemed to happen until that event occurred and I was then able to take action.  

However, I have to disagree with him on one  point.  There are periods in which significant changes occur, and there are those periods that are quiet and life will go on as usual.  This isn't to say that  there are the unexpected occurrences that can happen during periods of change or during  relatively static periods which can bring about changes in a person's life.    

His statement regarding the "subtle answer" suggests that he is able to detect influences or trends which the rest of us are too dense to notice. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

More Autumn Poems


Sky full of autumn
earth like crystal
news arrives from a long way off following one wild goose.
The fragrance gone from the ten foot lotus
by the Heavenly Well.
Beech leaves
fall through the night onto the cold river,
fireflies drift by the bamboo fence.
Summer clothes are too thin.
Suddenly the distant flute stops
and I stand a long time waiting.
Where is Paradise
so that I can mount the phoenix and fly there?
          Ngo Chi Lan, Vietnamese, 15th Century
from Art and Nature.

Here's a cheerful view of autumnal themes by Emily Bronte

Fall, Leaves, Fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
                 -- Emily Bronte --
from Art and Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry



Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright  
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of the crow sounds
loud--a landmark--now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.
-- Wendell Berry --
from A Year in Poetry
Thomas E. Foster & Elizabeth C. Guthrie, eds.

By the Open Window

     In the calm of the autumn night
     I sit by the open window
     For whole hours in perfect
     Delightful quietness.
     The light rain of leaves falls.
     The sigh of the corruptible world
     Echoes in my corruptible nature.
But it is a sweet sigh, it soars as a prayer.
     My window opens up a world
     Unknown.  A source of ineffable,
     Perfumed memories is offered me;
     Wings beat at my window--
Refreshing autumnal spirits
     Come unto me and encircle me
     And they speak with me in their innocence.
     I feel indistinct, far-reaching hopes
     And in the venerable silence
Of creation, my ears hear melodies,
     They hear crystalline, mystical
     Music from the chorus of the stars.

-- C. F. Cavafy--
from  Art & Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry    


I hope you find one of these to your liking. 


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lawrence Durrell: "A Bowl of Roses"

A Bowl of Roses

'Spring' says your Alexandrian poet
'Means time of the remission of the rose.'

Now here at this tattered old cafe',
By the sea-wall, where so many like us
Have felt the revengeful power of life,
Are roses trapped in blue tin bowls.
I think of you somewhere among them -
Other roses - outworn by our literature,
Made tenants of calf-love or else
The poet's portion, a black black rose
Coughed into the helpless lap of love,
Or fallen from a lapel -  a night-club rose.

It would take more than this loving imagination
To claim them for you out of time,
To make them dense and fecund so that
Snow would never pocket them, nor would
They travel under glass to great sanatoria
And like a sibling of the sickness thrust
Flushed faces up beside a dead man's plate.

No, you should have picked one from a poem
Being written softly with a brush -
The deathless ideogram for love we writers hunt.
Now alas the writing and the roses, Melissa,
Are nearly over:  who will next remember
Their spring remission in kept promises,

Or even the true ground of their invention
In some dry heart or earthen inkwell.

-- Lawrence Durrell --

"Alexandrian poet"   Cavafy

"a night-club rose"    Melissa

"sanatoria"                Melissa ends up in a TB sanatorium

"Melissa"                  a night-club singer  and prostitute in Justine who loves


"A Bowl of  Roses" takes its inspiration from Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.   The "Alexandrian poet" is C. P. Cavafy, the 20th century Greek poet.  Durrell refers frequently to him throughout the Quartet and has written at least one poem celebrating Cavafy.  The title is "Cavafy" (of course) and the first stanza of the three stanza poem is as follows:


I like to see so much the old man's loves
Egregious if you like and often shabby
Protruding from the ass's skin of verse,
For better or for worse,
The bones of poems cultured by a thirst--
Dilapidated taverns, dark eyes washed
Now in the wry and loving brilliance
Of such barbaric memories
As held them when the dyes of passion ran.
No cant about the sottishness of man! 

-- Lawrence Durrell --

In one of his sonnets, Shakespeare claimed that his poem about her would make her immortal, long after everyone else would be forgotten.  Do you think the Poet/Narrator thinks the same way about Melissa?

It's been some time since I've last looked into any of Durrell's fiction.  Perhaps it's time to take another look.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jane Austen: Lady Susan (Boo, Hiss)

Jane Austen
"Lady Susan"

"Lady Susan" is one of those works whose length makes it difficult to categorize it.  Is it a short novel or a novella?  I guess I will put it in the novella category.  It wasn't published until 1871, fifty-four years after she died in 1817.  Why it took the family so long to release it is beyond me.  I found it a thoroughly delightful story, featuring one of those villains we (at least I do anyway) love to hate.  If this was a Gaslight Theatre production, the audience would be expected to boo and hiss whenever she appeared.

To be honest, this is a one character tale.  This is Lady Susan's story. The supporting characters are just that, there to provide fodder for Lady Susan's manipulations.    They are well-drawn but are overshadowed by Lady Susan.   What contemporary readers may find disturbing is that it is an epistolary novel, so the plot is carried forward by a series of letters passing back and forth among the various characters.

The letters  that I find most fascinating are those from Lady Susan to her friend, Mrs. Johnson.  In those letters, she seems to be completely honest about what is going on, perhaps.  The letters remind me of that theater convention, the "aside," when characters directly address the audience to reveal their innermost thoughts and motives while the other characters are oblivious of  what is being said.  One gains a more or less true picture of  her and her actions  by comparing her letters to Mrs. Johnson with the other letters she writes, and, of course, the letters written by the others entangled in her
machinations give us a picture of her effect on them.

The first letter in the work provides an excellent example: 

From Lady Susan's letter to Charles Vernon, the brother of her recently deceased husband.

"My dear brother,
     I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted, of spending some weeks with you at Churchill,  and therefore  if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with."

This is followed by Lady Susan's letter to her friend, Mrs. Johnson.

"I take town in my way to that insupportable spot, a country village, for I am really going to Churchill.  Forgive me my dear friend, it is my last resort.  Were there another place in England open to me, I would prefer it.  Charles Vernon is my aversion, and I am afraid of his wife.  At Churchill I must remain till I have something better in view."

Some background information here is necessary.    Prior to Lord Vernon's death, there had been little contact between Charles and Lady Susan since Charles's marriage.   At that time, Lady Susan had worked hard to prevent Charles's marriage to that "sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with."  This is why she is "afraid of his wife."   Moreover, upon her husband's death, Charles had attempted to buy the family estate, but she had prevented it because she "could not endure that (her) husband's dignity should be lessened by his younger brother's  having possession of the family estate."  She did sell it eventually to someone else.  We never do learn why she was opposed to Charles's marriage or to the purchase of her deceased husband's estate.  I would think she would be happy to keep it in the family.

In the same letter to the Vernons,  Lady Susan also explains why she must leave the Manwarings at Langford:  "My kind friends here are most affectionately urgent with me to prolong my stay, but their hospitable and cheerful dispositions lead them to much into society for my present situation and state of mind; and I impatiently look forward to the hour when I should be admitted into your delightful retirement."

However, once again in her first letter to Mrs. Johnson, we learn a different tale.  Lady Susan writes of her position at Langford, "At present nothing goes smoothly.  The females of the family are united against me."  Mrs. Manwaring is jealous and "enraged" because Lady Susan "admitted no one's attentions but Manwaring's" and he has become madly in love with her.

We also learn of the engagement between the Manwarings's daughter and Sir James Martin.  But, as Lady Susan notes in her letter, she "bestowed a little notice (on Sir James Martin) in order to detach him from Miss Manwaring."   She goes on to say that, if people were aware of her motive, instead of condemning her,  "they  would honor me."  That motive was  "the sacred impulse of maternal affection," for she interfered with their engagement only in order to secure him for her own daughter.

She has a genius for duplicity, manipulation, and rationalization.  Regardless of how poorly she treats people, she always manages to find herself the injured party when they become angry at discovering just how she has used them or injured them.  And, no matter how difficult or embarrassing the predicament she finds herself immersed in, she manages to charm her way out of it.

She is a most marvelous character and I strongly urge you to make her acquaintance, if you haven't already done so..

Friday, October 14, 2016

Joseph Wood Krutch: Some thoughts on autumn

Joseph Wood Krutch, prior to moving to Tucson, lived in New England,  and some of his finest writings about nature relate to that period. The excerpt below is from The Twelve Seasons.

     "One day the first prematurely senile leaf will quietly detach itself in a faint breeze and flutter silently to the ground. All through the summer an occasional unnoticed, unregretted leaf has fallen from time to time. But not as this one falls. There is something quietly ominous about the way in which it gives up the ghost, without a struggle, almost with an air of relief. Others will follow, faster, and faster. Soon the ground will be covered, though many of the stubborner trees are still clothed. Then one night a wind, a little harder than usual, and carrying perhaps the drops of a cold rain, will come. We shall awake in the morning to see that the show is over. The trees are naked; bare, ruined choirs, stark against the sky."  (See Shakespeare, Sonnet 73)


(What follows is an expression of Krutch's attitude towards those who admire autumn. I must admit I'm one of those whom Krutch considers a bit perverse in my thinking.)

     "To me there always seems to be something perverse about those country dwellers who like the autumn best. Their hearts, I feel, are not in the right place. They must be among those who see Nature merely as a spectacle or a picture, not among those who share her own own moods. Spring is the time for exuberance, autumn for melancholy and regret. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Yes, of course, it is that too. But promise, not fulfillment, is what lifts the heart. Autumn is no less fulfillment than it is also the beginning of the inevitable end.

     No doubt the colors of autumn are as gorgeous in their own way as any of spring. Looked at merely as color, looked with the eye of that kind of painter to whom only color and design are important, I suppose they are beautiful and nothing more. But looked at as outward and visible signs, as an expression of what is going on in the world of living things, they produce another effect.

     'No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face'--so wrote John Donne in compliment to an old lady. But Donne was enamored of death. Send not to know for whom the leaf falls, it falls for thee."  (See John Donne, "Meditation 17:  Devotions upon Emergent Occasions")

What Krutch doesn't mention is that the appreciation of the fall colors is also frequently tinged with sadness or melancholy.  In addition, autumn is the harvest season, the culmination of the farmer's efforts for the past six or seven months.   I think autumn is the most complex of the seasons, joy at the colors and the fullness of the harvest and also sadness at the end of the cycle,  or at the inescapable sign of the end of the cycle. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Short ones, but. . .

Must be in a strange mood this morning as I read these short poems and found that they brought a smile, not a laugh, but just a gentle smile. I hope they do the same for you.

Caged Birds

The young finch asked the old one why he wept:
"There's comfort in this cage where we are kept."
"You who were born here may well think that's so
But I knew freedom once, and weep to know."

-- Ignacy Krasicki --
from World Poetry,  trans. Jerszy Peterkiewicz and
Burns Singer

Rival  Beauties

Slanting their parasols against the blaze,
They smiled politely, went their separate ways. . .

-- Rskuten --
from A Chime of Windbells, Harold Stewart, ed.

Hunger for Beauty

Beside the road a pink hibicus flowered,
Which my discriminating horse devoured!

-- Basho --
from A Chime of Windbells, Harold Stewart, ed.

The Master and the Dog

Because of thieves, a dog barked all night through.
The master, sleepless, beat him black and blue.
On the next night the dog slept; and thieves came.
The silent dog was beaten all the same.

-- Ignacy Krasicki --
from World Poetry,  trans. Jerszy Peterkiewicz and
Burns Singer

I hope the above bring a smile this Monday morn.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXII

This quatrain continues the theme of the nature of the afterlife, or at least the Poet's thoughts on what it is.  The theme, therefore, ties this quatrain to the previous quatrain's last line: " . . .Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:".   Moreover, the last line of the previous quatrain ends with a colon, not a period, and thus this quatrain serves grammatically to amplify or extend or explain the previous one.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXII

Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
    Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire. 

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXVII

Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
    Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.  

The quatrain is identical in the two editions.

As I mentioned above, this quatrain follows the colon of the previous quatrain

Quatrain LXXI. . ..Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Quatrain LXXII     Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
                                 And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
                                      Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
                                 So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.

and explains the nature of that  Heav'n and Hell.   The two states are portrayed as a Vision and a Shadow, and not, seemingly, a location.   This would conflict with the views of Heaven and Hell as actual places in for both Islamic and Christian traditions.   Furthermore, the Poet has consistently held that nobody knows if there is an afterlife and what it would be if it exists, and that those who describe Heaven and Hell are talking about their own present psychological states of mind: they are a Vision and a Shadow.  Heaven is where we will get everything we want and Hell a state of guilt for our sins.

This Vision and this Shadow then are put forth onto the Void or Darkness from we have just emerged at birth and will return to shortly.  The Void signifies the unknown, from which we emerged and to which we will return, a constant theme in previous quatrains.  As the Poet has expressed it earlier: we don't know where we came from and we are equally ignorant of our destination.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Minute Meditation


There's a gleam of green in an old bottle,
There's a stir of red in the quiet stove,
There's a feeling of snow in the dusk outside--
What about a cup of wine inside?
                             -- Po Chu-yi --
from The Jade Mountain
trans.  Witter Bynner

Don't know about you, but it works for me.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Confucius and Wisdom

Confucius met two boys who were arguing.  One said: "When the sun rises it is closer to the  earth and at midday it is farther away.  I know this because it looks bigger when it rises in the morning annd smaller at midday and distance makes objects seem smaller."  The other boy disagreed furiously, insisting: "No. No. When it rises the sun is cool, but at midday it is hot.  Therefore it must be nearer at midday because near things are warmer than distant things."  The two boys asked Confucius to settle their disagreement.  Having thought for a while, Confucius had to admit, "I don't know."  "So why do they call you wise?" demanded the boys.  "Because I know that is is possible to prove anything with clever arguments," replied Confucius.

from Taoist Wisdom:  Daily Teachings from the Taoist Sages
Timothy Freke, editor.

Wise he is, but there's something else that demonstrates Confucius' wisdom in this story, something rarely seen in the wise of all ages and eras, especially today.  He is able to say, "I don't know." 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ray Bradbury: Long After Midnight, "The Blue Bottle"

Ray Bradbury
Long After Midnight

Long After Midnight is a  collection of short stories that I had read many years ago, but as usual, I had forgotten what stories it contained.  I sat down yesterday and began. What I found surprised me.  I am a great admirer of Bradbury's short works, but I missed recognizing just how good these simple little tales are.

Since this collection contains 22 stories, I will comment on a number of them in several subsequent posts.  "The Blue Bottle" is the first story in the collection. .

"The Blue Bottle"
 This story takes place on Mars.  To be sure, I checked my copy of The Martian Chronicles, but it wasn't in there.  After reading the story, I wouldn't have been surprised to find it there because it contained elements reminiscent of those tales.

The story begins with two men searching for the Blue Bottle.

  "The sundials were tumbled into white pebbles.  The birds of the air flew in ancient skies of rock and sand, buried, their songs. stopped.  The dead sea bottoms were currented with dust which flooded  the land when the wind bade it reenact an old tale of engulfment.  The cities were deep laid with granaries of silence, time stored and kept, pools and fountains of quietude and memory.
  Mars was dead.
  Then, out of the large stillness, from a great distance, there was an insect sound which grew large among the cinnamon hills and moved in the sun-blazed air until the highway trembled and dust was shook whispering down in the old cities.
  The sound ceased.

  In the shimmering silence of midday, Albert Beck and Leonard Craig sat in an ancient landcar, eyeing a dead city which did not move under their gaze but waited for their shout:
  A crystal tower dropped into soft dusting rain.
  'You there!'
  And another tumbled down.
  And another and another fell as Beck called, summoning them to death.  In shattering flights, stone animals with vast granite wings dived to strike the courtyards and fountains.  His cry summoned them like living beasts and the beast gave answer, groaned, cracked, leaned up, tilted over, trembling, hesitant, then split the air and swept down with grimaced mouths and empty eyes, with sharp, eternally hungry teeth suddenly seized out and strewn like shrapnel on the tiles."

They were searching for the Blue Bottle, a mysterious Martian artifact which legends claimed that it held that which one most wanted.  Craig came along for the ride; it was Beck who drove the two of them from one deserted city to the next.  Many had found the bottle, according to various tales, and many had died, but still the Blue Bottle remained elusive.

Beck's search, though intensive and driven, was a strange one: "Only after he had heard of the Blue Bottle. . .had life begun to take on a purpose.  The fever had lit him and he had burned steadily ever since.  If he worked it properly, the prospect of finding the bottle might fill his entire life to the brim.  Another thirty years, if he was careful and not too diligent, of search, never admitting aloud that it wasn't the bottle that counted at all, but the search, the running and the hunting, the dust and the cities and the going-on."

It is Craig who finds the Blue Bottle, but he doesn't recognize it. He opens it to discover that the bottle is filled with bourbon; he takes a drink from it and discards it.  Beck, however, realizes what it is and places "it on the table.  Sunlight spearing through a side window struck blue flashes off the slender container.  It was the blue of a star held in the hand.  It was the blue of a shallow ocean at at noon.  It was the blue of a diamond at morning."

Beck picks it up and shakes it: Craig hears it gurgle (some bourbon is still in there), but Beck hears nothing.  He is about to open it when a man appears with a gun  (another fanatic searcher obviously), takes the bottle, and drives off.  Beck and Craig give chase.  They find him, by the side of the road, his body dissolving away. They see three men hurrying up a hill. Craig decides enough is enough and is no longer interested in the search, but Beck goes on after them.  He finds them, dead, their bodies also dissolving.  Beck now realizes what is in the Bottle.  It is what each searcher most desires, and now he knows what he most desires.

Beck's search for the Blue Bottle reminds me of the Arthurian tales of the Search for the Holy Grail. Those who find it will recognize it, as Beck recognizes the Blue Bottle, his Holy Grail, but that's only part of the story.  Why the search that absorbs so many people?  The mystery of both is the meaning of the Bottle and the Grail--what the Blue Bottle and the Holy Grail signify and that seems to differ for each searcher.

I think this story could well have been included in The Martian Chronicles.  The tone, the setting, the causal destruction of Martian cities and structures by humans, and those strange almost recognizable artifacts that possess an alien aura.  In this story it is the Blue Bottle.  Blue bottles are not alien to earth cultures, but what it contains may be.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Missed cultural signals

No. 93

well nothing happened
yesterday has passed away
with globefish soup
                -- Basho --
from The Complete Haiku

Texts written in a foreign language always present a translation problem for anyone not familiar with the original language.  However, another problem is also present--lack of knowledge about the text's culture.  I find this a regular obstacle because I frequently read stories and poems in translation.  Regardless of my knowledge, limited or otherwise, I was not born in that culture and therefore miss much.

The haiku, brief as it is, presents that problem: many times I have read a haiku, get what it expresses and, yet, feel I'm missing something.  What's even more worrisome is that I wonder how many times I never suspected I missed something.

Fortunately, Jane Reichhold, the editor and translator of Basho: The Complete Haiku has provided an appendix which includes notes for every single haiku.  You can guess how much this helps.

I read the above haiku and was a bit puzzled for it appeared as though the point was that it's been an empty day, with its high point being a bowl of globefish soup the day before.  However, turning to the notes, I find the following:

"1678--spring.  The globefish, or puffer fish, is a popular delicacy.  If a globefish isn't prepared properly it can be deadly.  It remains an expensive dish because chefs have to be specially trained and licensed.  The expense and idea of tempting death add to the thrill of eating this food."

Now I understand.  This haiku is a sigh of relief.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Minute Meditation

"Don't worry and everything will naturally sort itself out."
                                                                     -- Lao Tzu --
from Taoist Wisdom, September 23

I wonder if this is one of his most misunderstood sayings. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Poems

Today, September 22,  2016 is the first day of Autumn, or the Autumnal Equinox, or if you prefer, the Fall Equinox.  In recognition of this, here are a few poems about autumn. 

No. 12

The morns are meeker than they were --
The nuts are getting brown --
The berry's cheek is plumper --
The Rose is out of town.

The Maple wears a gayer scarf --
The field a scarlet gown --
Lest I should be old fashioned
I'll put a trinket on.

-- Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

With the moon-rising .. .
   Leaf after leaf after leaf
        Falls fluttering down
                     -- Shiki --
from Cherry-Blossoms: Japanese Haiku Series III
tran. not given

     The mountain grows darker,
Taking the scarlet
    From the autumn leaves.
                     -- Buson --
from Silent Flowers
trans R. H. Blyth

Clear autumn sky
   One pine tree
Soaring on the ridge.
               -- Soseki --
from Zen Haiku
Trans and edited by Soiku Shigematsu

Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this autumn that arrives
In smells.  All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields.  Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within
A child's cake would understand
The ambiguity of this--
Summer still raging while a thin
column of smoke stirs from the land
Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia.  We give names--
Autumn and summer, winter, spring--
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marbles. smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said autumn, autumn broke. 

-- Elizabeth Jennings --
from Collected Poems

 When I think of autumn, I do not think of autumn in Tucson, where I've lived for over 45 years.  Instead, I think of autumn in Chicago, where I grew up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

John Muir: immortality, sort of anyway


Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters.  A bear's days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours, and was poured from the same First Fountain.  And whether he at last goes to our stingy heaven or no, he has terrestrial immortality.  His life not long, not short, knows no beginning, no ending.  To him life unstinted, unplanned, is above the accidents of time, and his years, markless and boundless, equal Eternity.

-- John Muir --
from John Muir: In His Own Words 

Many have said that only humans are "mortal" for we alone know we have a beginning and an end.  Others on this planet are unaware of this and, therefore, have a form of immortality.  While this idea is not unique to John Muir, I don't think I've ever heard anyone put it as clearly and concretely as this. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882): The Two Longfellows

Presented are two poems written by Longfellow,  one published in 1836 and one published some forty years later.  I wonder what has happened to bring about such a change in perspective.

Longfellow the Younger

A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.

This was published in  1838 when Longfellow was 31.

Longfellow the Elder

The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown,
The traveller hastens toward the town,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls.

This poem was published in 1879, when Longfellow was 72 years old.  He died three years later in 1882.

An image brought up in both, but with a different conclusion to the latter.

 Longfellow the Younger

"Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again."

 Longfellow the Elder
"Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls."

His view of those footsteps in the sand has changed somewhat, it appears.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Minute Meditation: a paradox or a contradiction or. . .?

August 6

All theories are completely false.

-- Chuang Tzu --
from Taoist Wisdom:  Daily Teachings 

Does this include his theory? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXI

And yet another quatrain that FitzGerald introduced in the Second Edition.

Second Edition: Quatrain LXXI

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
     And after many days my Soul return'd
And said, "Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXVI
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
     And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
And answered, "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Note the colon that ends each version of the quatrain.  That signifies that the quatrain that follows will provide a further elaboration to that last line. 

FitzGerald has modified the last two lines of the quatrain.  He has substituted "by and by" for "after many days" in the third line.  The first version suggests that the Soul returned a long time later (many days) while the second is far more indeterminate (by and by).  That could be many days or hours or weeks or . . .?
Perhaps he felt that after many days was too prosaic and that by and by flowed more smoothly.

The second change, from  Behold, Myself am  to I Myself am,  seems, to me anyway, to eliminate the awkwardness of  Myself am and replacing it with the much more standard I Myself am.

The Poet/Narrator does not say how he sent his Soul searching for information about the Afterlife.  Perhaps he uses some form of meditation or maybe even wine.  He does not say.  But, his Soul does return with an answer, a rather disconcerting one at that: "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:".

This reminds me of Milton's Paradise Lost in which Satan says, "Which way I fly is Hell:  myself am Hell."   This is the wording of the last line in the Second Edition, only FitzGerald has added "Heav'n" to the equation.  Actually, it now seems to me that the entire quatrain seems to echo that line in Milton or perhaps is FitzGerald's incorporation of that line from Milton into the Rubaiyat..

But, the addition of  Heav'n changes radically Satan's realization.   Satan is doomed to Hell with no escape, but humans, some anyway, have another possibility.   Yet, the operative verb is am which signifies identity in both FitzGerald's and Milton's poems.  It is not that they are destined for Hell but that they are Hell itself, or possibly Heaven also for FitzGerald. 

Is there a suggestion here that the nature of the Afterlife is not determined by the Creator but by ourselves?  Since we are Heaven and Hell, does that mean that Afterlife will be as we are, both Heaven and Hell?  Or perhaps, the Afterlife for the Good will be as they are, Heaven, and for the Evil, it is Hell?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cats: a poem and a painting

                                                  Cat and Yellow Butterfly
                                           Hsu Pei-hung, Chinese, (1895-1953)
                 Garden Lion 
O Michael, you are at once the enemy
And the chief ornament of our garden,
Scrambling up rose-posts, nibbling at nepeta,
Making your lair where tender plants should flourish,
Or proudly couchant on a sun-warmed stone.

What do you do all night there,
When we seek our soft beds,
And you go off, old roisterer,
Away into the dark?

I think you play at leopards and panthers;
I think you wander on to foreign properties;
But on winter mornings you are a lost orphan
Pitifully wailing underneath our windows;
And in summer, by the open doorway,
You come in pad, pad, lazily to breakfast,
Plumy tail waving, with a fine swagger,
Like a drum-major, or a parish beadle,
Or a rich rajah, or the Grand Mogul.

-- Mary Ursula Bethell --
New Zealand, (1874-1945)

Just a slight change of pace.  The poem and the painting remind me of Molly and Dusky, both of whom have moved on to wherever they go after their stay with me:  Molly for about 16 years and Dusky about three weeks shy of 18 years.  Both had very active fantasy lives as I watched them out in the front and back yards.

Note:  Both the poem and the painting are featured in Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of  Nature Poetry  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Elizabeth Jennings: "The Enemies"

Here is a strange, enigmatic poem by Elizabeth Jennings, a poet of whom I know nothing.  I shall have to do some digging around.

The Enemies

Last night they came across the river and
Entered the city.  Women were awake
With lights and food.  They entertained the band,
Not asking what the men had come to take
Or what strange tongue they spoke
Or why they came so suddenly through the land.

Now in the morning all the town is filled
With stories of the swift and dark invasion;
The women say that not one stranger told
A reason for his coming.  The intrusion
Was not for devastation:
Peace is apparent still on hearth and field.

Yet all the city is a haunted place.
Man meeting man speaks cautiously.  Old friends
Close up the candid looks upon their face.
There is no warmth in hands accepting hands;
Each ponders, 'Better hide myself in case
Those strangers have set up their homes in minds
I used to walk in.  Better draw the blinds
Even if the strangers haunt in my own house.

-- Elizabeth Jennings --
from Penguin Modern Poets: I

Who are the invaders? 

What is the role of the women here?  Why were they "awake/With lights and food?"  Why didn't they ask any questions of the invaders?  Did the women invite them?

Who are the enemies?  Who are the real enemies?

The last stanza suggests that the men, assuming that the term "man" is not a generic term that refers to both men and women,  now fear their neighbors more than they do the invaders.  How has this come about?

Is this a "feminist" poem?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Minute Meditation

No. 36

inside the temple
  visitors cannot know
     cherries are blooming                  
-- Basho --
from  Basho:  The Complete Haiku 

Just a simple observation?

Or, is Basho making a point here?