Saturday, April 25, 2015

Eric Hoffer: product of dissatisfaction

No. 17

There is perhaps no better way of measuring the natural endowment of a soul than by its ability to transmute dissatisfaction into a creative impulse.  The genuine artist is as much a dissatisfied person as the revolutionary, yet how diametrically opposed are the products each distills from his dissatisfaction.

--  Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind

While I can see how dissatisfaction can move a revolutionary to act, I'm not sure how dissatisfaction can move an artist to create.

Do you think Hoffer is neutral here--showing no preference for either the products of a genuine artist or that of a revolutionary?

Does "creative impulse" refer only to the product of a genuine artist or to the products of both the artist and the revolutionary?

I lean towards the position that Hoffer prefers the products of the genuine artist, but I have nothing to support that "lean."  Perhaps it's my own rather distrustful attitude towards revolutionaries and the results of their actions:  that revolutionaries seldom produce real change--that only the names of the rulers are changed and little else. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day: April 22, 2015

Mid-America Prayer

Standing again
within and among all things,
Standing with each other
as sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers,
daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers--
the past and present generations of our people,
Standing again
with and among all items of life,
the land, rivers, the mountains, plants, animals,
all life that is around us
that we are included with,
Standing within the circle of the horizon,
the day sky and the night sky,
the sun, moon, the cycle of seasons
and the earth mother which sustains us,
Standing again
with all things
that have been in the past,
that are in the present,
and that will be in the future
we acknowledge ourselves
to be in a relationship that is responsible
and proper, that is loving and compassionate,
for the sake of the land and all people,
we ask humbly of the creative forces of life
that we be given a portion
with which to help ourselves so that our struggle
and work will also be creative
for the continuance of life,
Standing again, within, among all things
we ask in all sincerity for hope, courage, peace,
strength, vision, unity and continuance.

-- Simon J. Ortiz --
from Woven Stone

Simon J. Ortiz is an Acoma Pueblo Native American who was born and raised near Albuquerque, New Mexico and grew up speaking the Acoma tongue.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's April

I know--April is two-thirds gone already, but as the old cliche goes--better late than never.  Following are several poems about April, and not all agree about April.  That's what makes poetry so interesting, for me anyway.

While this first poem doesn't specially refer to April, in the Midwest, where I grew up, April would seem to be the best fit.  A frost in March wouldn't really be considered a late frost, while one in May is extremely unlikely.  Moreover, the blossoming appears to be more like April, which seems, to me anyway, to be set between the "orchard bare" and the "orchard green."   But, I'm sure there will be those who disagree with my weather observations.

Frost here uses his name to signify something dangerous, which he has done several times in the past in a number of poems.  Other writers have also suggested that reading can be dangerous to one's ideas or one's perspective.

A Peril of Hope

It is right in there
Betwixt and between
The orchard bare
And the orchard green,

When the boughs are right
In a flowery burst
Of pink and white,
That we fear the worst.

For there's not a clime
But at any cost
Will take that time
For a night of frost.
-- Robert Frost --

The following opening lines to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales provides a different feeling about April--partly I think as a reaction to the escape from winter, as well as recognition of the beauties of Spring.

Prologue to Canterbury Tales

WHANNE that April with his shoures sote
The droughte of March hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veine in swiche licour,
Of whiche vertue engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eke with his sote brethe
Enspired hath in every holt and hethe
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foules maken melodie,
That slepen alle night with open eye,
So priketh hem nature in hir corages;
Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,

 -- Geoffrey Chaucer --
 from The Canterbury Tales

For those who don't have a glossary for Middle English handy:

  When April's gentle rains have pierced the drought
Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout
Through every vein with liquid of such power
It brings forth the engendering of the flower;  
When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown             5
Through every field and forest, urging on
The tender shoots, and there's a youthful sun,
His second half course through the Ram now run,
And little birds are making melody
And sleep all night, eyes open as can be                     10
(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),
On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

I think the opening lines of this poem plays on Chaucer's opening lines.  Of course, the difference can be seen as due primarily to the differing locations for each poem:  Chaucer's set in England, "Now that Aprils' here,"  while Eliot's is set in a wasteland.  It's sort of related to Frost's poem, in that both speak of thwarted hope. 

The Wasteland, first stanza
  April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

-- T. S. Eliot --
from The Wasteland

Here's another view of April, very different than that of Eliot.  It's very simple and straightforward and echoes Chaucer's "April with his shoures sote ." 

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night--

And I love the rain.

-- Langston Hughes --

I can't leave out my favorite haiku, even though I've posted it several times already.

April's air stirs in
Willow-leaves.  .  .  a butterfly
Floats and balances.
          -- Basho  --

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Murder on the Orient Express--Hollywood at what it does best

I just finished a film version of Agatha Cristie's Murder on the Orient Express--the 1974 version.  I'm not going to do a summary or analysis of the plot or even a comparison of the film to the book.  Others have done that, numerous times, so I'm just going to do a very short commentary here on some trifles.

What I enjoyed most about the film was the cast--the cast--the cast.  In an interview, somebody--the producer?  the director?--said that they weren't going to do a tight little black-and-white British mystery.  They were going to do a real glamour job on it--an Hollywood big picture, expensive, marvelous costumes and sets, star-studded cast, and all the trimmings.  They did it and then some.

The film score is excellent and provides an excellent example of what they tried to do and succeeded in doing.  In an early scene, we see the train pulling out of the station at night. The steam from the engine provides a foggy atmosphere.  And the music and sound effects?  It isn't the expected sound of the driving wheels, and the music doesn't provide that sense of imminent danger ahead--something bad is going to happen.  NO!  What we get is a waltz! The train pulls out of the station and chugs through the countryside to a Viennese Waltz, perhaps even a variation on a Strauss waltz.  The feeling is that of a vacation, a fairyland trip, almost a musical.

Well, that's all I'm going to say about the film itself--now here's a list of the cast.

Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot

Lauren Bacall

Martin Balsam

Ingrid Bergman

Jacqueline Bisset

Sean Connery

Sir John Gielgud

Wendy Hiller

Anthony Perkins

Vanessa Redgrave

Richard Widmark

Michael York

I couldn't recognize Albert Finney because of his makeup.  And Ingrid Bergman?  One of the actors in an interview talked about sitting in the makeup room next to Ingrid Bergman who was being "deglamorized." --his term and very appropriate.

Sir John Gielgud--the consummate professional--does more with a look and syllable than most with a long monologue.  At one point, Gielgud, who plays a butler in the film, has just been questioned by Poirot, and as he leaves, one of the others present says very seriously, "The butler did it."  Gielgud, as he leaves the room,  turns his head and with a sneer utters one syllable of a contemptuous sound.  Gielgud's butler is superior to everyone there, and he lets everyone know it.

Great film--lots of fun--go see it, perhaps with a glass of champagne.  That's what I'm going to do the next time I watch it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XLII, Second Edition

This quatrain focuses on a libation

"A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid as an offering to a god or spirit or in memory of those who have died. It was common in many religions of antiquity and continues to be offered in various cultures today."  (From the Wikipedia entry)

Second Edition:  Quatrain XLII
And not a drop that from our Cups we throw 
On the parcht herbage but may steal below
    To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye
There hidden--far beneath, and long ago.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XXXIX

And not a drop that from our Cups we throw 
For Earth to drink of, but may steal below
    To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye
There hidden--far beneath, and long ago.

The only change from the 2nd to the 5th Edition  occurs in the second line where "On the parcht herbage" becomes "For Earth to drink of."  The change makes the pouring of the wine into an event that is broader in scope, from where there are dry plants to any situation where a libation is made.   This makes more sense in that the Poet/Narrator tells us that there is a someone below nearly everywhere one goes.

The first word, "And,"   links back to the previous quatrain which echoed Genesis:

                               "Of such a clod of saturated Earth
                                 Cast by the Maker into Human mould"

What is the Earth "saturated" with?  Water?  Wine?  Perhaps it refers to the life force or soul with which the Maker infuses this clod to create a human.  

The most intriguing line is the third--To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye.  Both Islamic and Christian religious beliefs include a heaven and a hell.  To suggest that all who have died and are buried below are suffering would be contrary to those beliefs, so I think that the "fire of Anguish" belongs to those in hell.  I do not know where hell's location is thought to be by the followers of Islam, but Christians generally indicate that hell is below and heaven above, perhaps not literally, but symbolically anyway.

This suggests that the libation may ease, even if only temporarily, the suffering of those in hell.  This would seem to go against the religious traditions that accept a hell, which is conceived of as eternal and relentless suffering, and the witnessing of the misery and the pain of the sinners should cause the faithful to rejoice, according to most religious texts I have encountered.  

Is the Poet/Narrator positing a heretical idea here?  Moreover, it appears to me anyway that he seems to be encouraging us to ease the suffering of those condemned to hell for eternity.   Unfortunately, I cannot ask either Omar Khayyam or Edward FitzGerald what they meant here, so I am left with a question, and not the first one that arose while reading The Rubaiyat.