Friday, September 30, 2011

Li Po: Now and then, a glass of wine, or two or . . .

Li Po (701 AD--762 AD)

Drinking Alone In The Moonlight

Number One

Beneath the blossoms with a pot of wine,
No friends at hand, so I poured alone;
I raised my cup to invite the moon,
Turned to my shadow, and we became three.
Now the moon had never learned about drinking,
And my shadow had merely followed my form,
But I quickly made friends with the moon and my shadow;
To find pleasure in life, make the most of the spring.

Whenever I sang, the moon swayed with me;
Whenever I danced, my shadow went wild.
Drinking, we shared our enjoyment together;
Drunk, then each went off on his own.
But forever agreed on dispassionate revels.
We promised to meet in the far Milky Way.

-- Li Po --

Number Two

Now, if Heaven didn't love wine,
There wouldn't be a Wine Star in Heaven.
And if Earth didn't love wine,
Earth shouldn't have the town of Wine Spring.
But since Heaven and Earth love wine,
Loving wine is no crime with Heaven.
The light, I hear, is like a sage.
The heavy, they say, is called the worthy.
If have have drunk with the sage and worthy,
What need have I to search for immortals?
Three cups and I've mastered the Way;
A jarful and I am at one with Nature.
A man can get hold of the spirit of drinking,
But no point explaining to those who abstain.

-- Li Po --

Old Tai's Wine Shop

When Old Tai goes down below,
He may still make Young Springtime brew;
But there's no Li Po on the Terrace of Night,
So who in hell will he sell it to?

-- Li Po --

from World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse
from Antiquity to Our Time
Elling O. Eide, trans

(Now--where is that corkscrew?)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Confucius: Sept. 28, 551 BC (trad)--479 BC

Some thoughts from the Master:

"The Master said, 'At fifteen I set my heart on learning; at thirty I took my stand; at forty, I came to be free from doubts; at fifty I understood the Decree of Heaven; at sixty my ear was attuned; at seventy I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the line.' "

"The Master said, 'A man is worthy of being a teacher who gets to know what is new by keeping fresh in his mind what he is already familiar with.' "

"The Master said, 'If one learns from others but does not think, one will be bewildered. If, on the other hand, one thinks but does not learn from others, one will be in peril.' "

"The Master said, 'I do not see how a man can be acceptable who is untrustworthy in word. When a pin in missing in the yoke-bar or a large cart or in the collar-bar of a small cart, how can the cart be expected to go?' "

"Lin Fang asked about the basis of the rites. The Master said, 'a noble question indeed! With the rites, it is better to err on the side of frugality than on the side of extravagance; in mourning, it is better to err on the side of grief than on the side of formality.' "

from Confucius: The Analects
Penguin Classics
D. C. Lau, trans.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some Autumn Thoughts

from "The Preface"

"Autumn is that season in between: not summer, though still somewhat like summer, and not winter, though still somewhat like winter. It is the season that does not seem to progress--like spring--as much as it juggles blazing opposites in a great circle. It is the season of work to be taken up after summer rest, and the season to harvest the work of the summer and to turn over the garden and tuck it in for its own long sleep. It is the season that grabs the attention of the moment as we take up our schedules again. And it is the season that reminds us to look ahead, to prepare for the orneriness of winter. It is the season of brilliant October leaves and drab November branches, of yellow warm days and cold crystal nights, of the unfamiliar clunkings of radiator and furnace, the smell of blankets taken out of the cedar chest, and the first touch of silver frost on thew windowpane that quickly melts away--until, one morning, it doesn't.

It is the season that teaches us that our lives are made not to run in smooth and easy paths, predictable, and even, always known. Our lives are messy, sometimes scheduled, sometimes random, sometimes prepared for, sometimes taken on the fly as we juggle our own blazing experiences, all of which come at us with their contradictions and with their own joys and sorrows. It is the season that teaches us that beginnings and endings are part of our experiences; though autumn represents the fulfillment of cycles, fulfillment must also bring ending. And it is the season that reminds us that maybe we are not our own; we neither mark out nor control all the paths we may take.

And like all the season, autumn teaches that these aspects of our lives are not negotiable--they are part of our experience in this world. School buses, soccer practice, apples, grapes--this is the stuff of our daily life. But our response to changes, renewals, endings, and the confusing mix of day-to-day moments--this is the stuff of our spiritual life."

from Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
Gary Schmidt and Susan M Felch, editors

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Joseph Wood Krutch: more from Baja California

from Baja California

"Even an amateur like myself will seldom lack something to see if he will only look. 'Lift up thine eyes unto the hills' is a religious exhortation. 'Go thou to the ant, thou sluggard,' is a scientific one. And, at least for certain temperaments, it is the more fruitful. Because I obey it, the place where I am is never really the same place two days in succession, and I can take every morning the same short walk down a certain wood road because it is not really the same walk."

I should start up my walking routine again. I can feel my muscles atrophying--spending too much time at the keyboard and too little on my feet. But, I find walking boring, at least in the residential area of Tucson where I have been living for decades. Perhaps I should try Krutch's technique and see if every day does give me a different walk, even if it's the same sidewalks. Look for differences instead of seeing only the same things again and again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall Equinox

Like last year, the first day of autumn, or the Fall Equinox, doesn't seem much like fall here in Tucson, where the temperature is expected to hit 100. But, the Sun and the Stars have decreed that today is the day, so here's a few poems that may be closer to reality in a month or so.

For you in northern climes, therefore:

Under the Harvest Moon

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the fragrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
with a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

-- Carl Sandburg --

(Autumn--the season of memories . . .)

Yellow autumn moon . . .
Unimpressed the scarecrow stands
Simply looking bored

-- Issa --
from A Little Treasury of Haiku

Autumn Refrain

The skreak and skritter of evening gone
And grackles gone and sorrows of the sun,
The sorrows of the sun, too, gone . . . the moon and moon,
The yellow moon of words about the nightingale
In measureless measures, not a bird for me
But the name of a bird and the name of a nameless air
I have never--shall never hear. And yet beneath
The stillness that comes to me out of this, beneath
The stillness of everything gone, and being still
Being and sitting still, something resides,
Some skreaking and skrittering residuum,
And grates these evasions of the nightingale
Though I have never--shall never hear that bird.
And the stillness is in the key, all of it is,
The stillness is all in the key of that desolate sound.

--Wallace Stevens --

(I find this the most puzzling of the autumn poems.)


The name - of it - is "Autumn" -
The hue - of it - is Blood -
An Artery - upon the Hill -
A Vein - along the Road -

Great Globules - in the Alleys -
And Oh, the Shower of Stain -
When winds - upset the Basin -
And spill the Scarlet Rain -

It sprinkles Bonnets - far slow -
It gathers ruddy Pools -
Then - eddies like a Rose - away -
Upon Vermilion Wheels -

-- Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
ed. Thomas H. Johnson

Autumn Note

The little flowers of yesterday
Have all forgotten May.
The last gold leaf
Has turned to brown.
The last bright day is grey.
The cold of winter comes apace
And you have gone away.

-- Langston Hughes --

Gathering Leaves

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?

-- Robert Frost --

(That last line raises some questions, doesn't it? Frost has a habit of doing that. Does the poem end on an ominous note?)

Dry cheerful cricket
Chirping, keeps the autumn gay . . .
Contemptuous of frost

-- Basho --
from A Little Treasury of Haiku
(This poem also seems to end on an ominous note.)

(Just noticed the double tie-ins with the previous poem.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

John Scalzi: Android's Dream, an SF novel

John Scalzi’s Android’s Dream

Usually I select a book to read, excluding those chosen by a book discussion group that I belong to, on the basis of the author or perhaps subject matter or a recommendation. Seldom I select one because of its title. I hope this isn’t too discouraging or disappointing to writers who spend considerable time trying to choose the perfect title for their books. But, titles really don’t mean that much to me until after I’ve read the book. Then, I become aware of the significance, if any, of the title. There are, though, some exceptions to this rule.

John Scalzi’s Android’s Dream is one of those exceptions. I had already read Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t impressed enough to put Scalzi into my “must buy” category. It was the combination of the title and the cover art that made me decide to purchase and read this book. The title, as I have already mentioned, is Android’s Dream. The cover of the paperback edition that I have has a metal robot lying on its side with sheep floating above it; obviously this is what the robot is dreaming. A robot dreaming of sheep!

This could only be a reference to Philip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? More clues are inside the work. First, robots or androids play no role in the story. Secondly, we are told that the sheep are blue sheep—electric blue, to be precise and are called Android’s Dream, for some inexplicable and possibly “literary” reason. So, the android’s dream is of electric blue sheep. And, this isn’t the only reference to an science fiction writer in the novel.

The plot is straightforward—an SF thriller probably would describe it best. Earth is part of a galactic organization. One of the alien races, the Nidu, is undergoing a leadership crisis. It’s leader has died, and various clans on the planet are struggling to gain control, which means complete domination of the planet. The path to leadership is a bit strange: to become the Supreme Leader, the contenders must fulfill the succession ritual exactly as it has been specified by the previous leader. One of the peculiarities of gaining leadership among the Nidu is that the Supreme Ruler gets to determine the ritual for his successor, which presumably will give some advantage to his clan.

The ritual at the present time requires the blood of a specific type of sheep developed by human geneticists. The unusual pattern of its DNA results in blue-colored sheep. A rival clan has gone about enthusiastically killing all of this particular strain of sheep. If all of the sheep are killed, then nobody can gain power through the use of the ritual. Therefore the succession is determined by a power struggle among the clans. And, this rival clan has quietly managed to place a number of its members in positions of power in the planet’s space navy.

Harry Creek, a member of Earth’s State Department, has been assigned the task of locating one of the sheep as a favor to the clan presently in power. If one of the sheep could be located, the ruling clan would be able to fulfill the ritual, maintain control, and, no doubt, look very favorably on Earth. The Earth military forces , however, have a different plan in mind and are determined to prevent the State Department from delivering a sheep.

This all seems a waste of energy for it appears that all of the sheep are dead. Creek, however, discovers that the required DNA is not lost. Some criminal geneticists have been conducting experiments in which animal DNA has been implanted into humans. One woman who had the DNA of the sheep is now dead, but she had a daughter. Creek finds the young woman, who, strangely enough, owns a pet shop. The sheep DNA has not affected her in any way, as it is part of what is called junk DNA, that part which appears to play no role in human development, or at least, none found so far. Some of her blood would be sufficient to successfully pass the ritual.

Harry, and the young woman, are forced to go on the run, because both the Earth Military and the rival alien clan are determined to prevent her from reaching the alien planet. It is at this point that a third force enters the fray, a religious cult--.the Church of the Evolved Lamb. It’s Founder was “M. Robbin Dwellin, an early 21st century science fiction writer of admittedly modest talents and a man on the make. . . .” An SF writer who establishes a religious cult? L Ron Hubbard?

This is not a serious novel. Scalzi is enjoying himself by poking fun at a variety of targets. If a corporation can be called a person by the courts, then in a courtroom scene reminiscent of some of Heinlein’s forays into the legal system, a human woman can be ruled to be an alien species unto herself and, as the duly appointed ambassador of her species, has diplomatic immunity.

One small byplay among two of the characters on Earth referred slightingly to both the Washington Senators and my Chicago Cubs as the two worst teams in baseball.

One of the featured attractions is Takk, an alien who appears to be the animal? equivalent of a Venus fly-trap. Takk eliminates his victims by opening a fissure in his trunk and ingesting the unfortunate one. Takk is presently on a pilgrimage, learning (gastronomically as well as by other means) all about the various races that inhabit the galaxy. There is a touching scene near the end between Takk and one of his victim, for they find that they are religiously compatible.

Overall Rating: I’d give it a 4 on a 5 point scale. It’s basically a chase novel with due homage to two SF writers, both of whom rank high on the quirky scale: PK Dick and L. R Hubbard. The reader has to be alert, also, to pick up the sly jests and comments Scalzi scatters about.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Basho: Sept. 15, 1644--Nov. 28, 1694

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, September 15 is the traditional date given for Basho's birth. As it comes shortly before the Fall Equinox, it would seem to be good date. Again, we will go around the year with Basho.


ah, spring, spring,
great is spring,

ah spring spring
how great is spring!
and so on

This one caught me by surprise. I was expecting some image (another cherry blossom haiku perhaps) of the wonders of spring and instead got hit by boredom. Even haiku poets get tired of writing about the same old thing. Or, perhaps this is a "finish it yourself" haiku.

I prefer the second version, for "etcetera" sounds a bit pompous, while "and so on" better conveys the tedium of yet another haiku about the glories of spring.


departing from an old friend

deer horns
developing their first branch:
our separation

deer antler
now branching at the joint

This haiku is more about separation than about summer. There's also a hint of sadness there that isn't obvious at first, at least it wasn't to me. Those branching antlers will never meet again. Is an "old friend" one who has been a friend for a long time or a friend who is getting old, or perhaps both. Could it be a quiet suggestion that they probably will never see each other again? This might be the final farewell.

I would go with the second version, but only by a slight preference. I don't like "joint," for it seems harsh, but "farewell" comes across more succinctly to me than "our separation." It echoes more clearly the hint carried by those antlers that branch and will never meet again.


autumn wind
through an open door--
a piercing cry

autumn wind's
mouth at the sliding door
a piercing voice

The harsh wind of Autumn accompanies the withdrawal of life outside that door. What is that "piercing voice"? Is it a cry of despair?

I would go with the first version this time. "Mouth" bothers me.


at a poor mountain temple,
a kettle crying in the frost,
the voice frigid

a poor temple
frost on the iron kettle
has a cold voice

There is an example of personification in these two versions, but what is being personified differs. In the first version, the kettle is crying amidst the frost with a frigid voice, but in the second, it is the frost on the kettle that has a cold voice.

I think I would go with the first version here, today anyway. Some might go for the second version because considering frost with a voice is certainly more striking.

Bonus haiku

wind from Mt. Fuji--
carrying it in my fan,
a souvenir for those in Edo

a Fuji wind
placed here on a fan
a souvenir of Tokyo

I just like the idea here--a fan carrying a breeze from Mt. Fuji.

I prefer the first version this time; the second line seems clumsy--"placed here on a fan".

a) these versions are from
Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
trans. David Landis Barnhill

b) these versions are from
Basho: The Complete Haiku
trans. Jane Reichhold

Monday, September 12, 2011


Since the Fall Equinox or the First Day of Fall is September 23 this year, less than two weeks from today, this poem seemed appropriate.

Late Summer

In the gentle evening of the summer,
which is tired with the festival,
the water is clear
and the fish are at the bottom.

Holding leftover wreaths
in their languid arms,
trees are
already dreaming.

The last bird has flown by,
holding a black sound
in its beak.

Farewell, summer,
quicken your pace as you go . . .
Stars fall quietly into the water . . .

-- Tada Chimako --

from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
Gary Schmidt & Susan M. Felch, editors

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Something to think about:


"There are men of evil mind, who would make of everything a crime, and not because of passion, but just naturally. They condemn everybody, some for what they have done, and others for what they may do. It is the sign of a narrow mind, as cruel as it is vile, for they charge so immoderately, that of motes they fashion beams with which to put out the eyes. Slave drivers in every position, they would make a galley of what was an elysium, for in the midst of excitement, they push everything to extremes. The large soul, on the other hand, finds an excuse for everything, if not in intention, then in inattention."

Balthazar Gracian (1601-1658)
The Art of Worldly Wisdom
trans. Martin Fischer

Unfortunately, we are still cursed with this sort, some five hundred years later. In fact, they may be more powerful now than before, since they seem to be able to make full use of modern communication technology to spread their message of hatred for everything not to their own narrow biases. They are found everywhere: extremists on both sides of the aisle in politics, religion, science, the arts . . .

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Loren Eiseley: from The Immense Journey

Loren Eiseley: Sept. 3, 1911--July 9, 1977

I have read many works in which the author discussed or lamented what is variously called the human predicament, the human situation, or the human condition, and usually treated from an existential or a moral or a theological or even a literary point of view. Below, Loren Eiseley writes about the human predicament, but from a slightly different perspective--a sociobiological perspective perhaps or maybe even an epistemological perspective. What would you call it?

We are now in a position to see the wonder and terror of the human predicament: man is totally dependent on society. Creature of dream, he has created an invisible world of ideas, beliefs, habits, and customs which buttress him about and replace for him the precise instincts of the lower creatures. In this invisible universe he takes refuge, but just as instinct may fail an animal under some shift of environmental conditions, so man's cultural beliefs may prove inadequate to meet a new situation, or, at an individual level, the confused mind may substitute by some terrible alchemy, cruelty for love.

As another author once said, we live in a virtual world, for we have given up the real or natural world for a world of ideas. We don't interact with things, but with the ideas of things. Eiseley also differs from other writers in that, while others see humans as victims of an uncaring universe or deity or fate, he suggests that we have created our own predicament, and we may be victims, but we are also the perpetrators of our situation.