Showing posts from February, 2014

The Magnificent seven

I have a taste for lists this week.

It is said that as you grow older you find it more difficult to make new friends and that the number of truly close friends you have in a life never goes beyond the number of fingers on two hands. However true this is as a sociological observation (probably more so for introverts than extroverts), it does appear to be true, for me, in the authors that I love and return to over and over: my friends. Though it does not appear to be true with artists as I discover, and fall in love with, new ones all the time!

I came up with seven that I thought I would list roughly in chronological order.

Herman Hesse is possibly an inevitable starting place as an author you discover in youth, love in a passionate, uncomprehending adolescent way; and, if you are lucky, rediscover later and learn to appreciate the richness, the blend of classical restraint and Romantic ideal, the thought as well as the poetic narrative. I read Narziss and Goldmund first, it being abo…

Ten favourite poets (in no particular order except the first)

Edwin Muir enfolding our story within the pattern of the Fable.

Kathleen Raine haunting the ideal as it moves across time.

Edward Thomas shaping the pastoral of a lost country.

T.S. Eliot exploring the traced lines of history and place in the mystical.

Wendell Berry celebrating community, place and Sabbath.

Constantine Cavafy memorialising his lost time, surrendered love and a forgotten history.

William Blake finding his cleansed doors of perception and the realities of prophecy.

Angelos Sikelianos recreating mythos in a Greek village, now and always.

Mary Oliver singing from nature into her naturalness.

Rabindranath Tagore balancing between knowing and unknowing, affirming even when denying.

 Beatrice addressing Dante from the Car by William Blake Archetype in the West of Poetic Inspiration

The Good Man in Hell
If a good man were ever housed in Hell By needful error of the qualities, Perhaps to prove the rule or shame the devil, Or speak the truth only a stranger sees,
Would he, sur…

When will Uganda abolish interest?

I keep promising to myself that I will not read the commentary threads attached to newspaper articles. With honourable exceptions, they appear to be written by people of such entrenched opinion paradoxically grounded in air, whose world never made it into colour (or even shades of grey). They hurl their opinions at one another across divides, cloaked often, if certainly not always, by anonymity. I can feel the tempting power behind that very strongly!!!

Most recently I saw the threads following articles on the new law in Uganda on homosexuality. The trenches here are manifold - the 'Keep out of Uganda's business' trench (especially if you are white)' faces the 'Uganda is a beastly non de-script country occupied by bigots' trench. The former trench is noticeably supplied by the 'The Bible condemns sodomy' supply trench and the latter is happily reinforced by atheists everywhere!

It is an unedifying spectacle (as, sadly, is the law itself).

Being me, I w…

A Book of Silence

When I went on my sabbatical into silence, six months at the Friends of God Dominican Ashram, by the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the things I expected to be able to do with all my freed time was read more. This proved an illusory hope as, in fact, my average one and half books a week slipped away to probably half of that even though my only outward obligation was cooking for our community on Thursdays!

As Sara Maitland discovers on her own exploration into silence in her 'A Book of Silence', you find yourself slowed, you read with more attention and greater care. Unlike her, who sought the different dimensions of silence and adjusts her reading accordingly - the Desert Fathers to explore the self-emptying silence of the desert or the Romantic poets and the 'self' conforming genius of creativity when faced with the solitude of nature  - mine changed not an iota. It continued in its wayward substance, reading along in what I now see is my haphazard fits of bundled e…

Wilding poetry

We imagine the wild to be 'out there' in a wilderness beyond the usual domain, even if, in truth, there is no where we, as humans, have not been, touched and, sadly, often despoiled. Alternatively the wild is something that breaks in, from an 'out there' that is 'in here', disturbing our orderliness - the drunk on a Friday night say disrupting our walk home, aggressively advertising his presence. 'He behaved like a wild animal,' we say, even though this is usually a most inaccurate comparison.

But, in truth, the wild is amongst us, within the heart of the very nature of things, everywhere.

In David Hinton's superlative, 'Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape', he tells us that in China (of whose ancient poetry he is a distinguished translator) there is a mountain revered by artists, poets and monks and called 'Thatch-Hut' (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The ideogram that depicts this name is a stylised roof of a h…

Art and action

Hermann Hesse: Baum, Häuser, 1922
I recall my first reading of Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game' (the third of his books that I read) as a seventeen year old, fledged Romantic, and being shocked at the death of Joseph Knecht its central charcter. I had not realised that the book comes in three parts - Knecht's biography, his poems and the three lives, exercises in imaginary biography that he wrote as a student. I was expecting a continuance of his life, now that he had laid down his position as Master of the Glass Bead Game and taken on the challenge of tutoring his friend's gifted, imperious, problematic son. I had not expected his death. I remember it as a wrenching shock accompanied by a real grief. No rejoinder that this was 'merely' a book and Knecht a character would have made any difference to me. I had stepped into the book's life and it had become my own.
This is the theme of Sven Lindqvist's classic text, 'The Myth of Wu Tao-tzu' that I …

One Foot in Eden

I remember a conversation with Wendy Robinson, Orthodox Christian and unconventional Jungian analyst, on the poetry of Edwin Muir, that we both immeasurably loved, and we settled on this poem, "One Foot in Eden", as his greatest achievement. For here there was an absolute balancing between his underlying Platonism - that there is another world, ideal, paradisal of which this is a moving image - and his Christianity - that in this moving image, in its compromised, messy suchness, just being so, is to be discovered the fullness of reality.   The mystery of creation, our creatureliness, is to be revealed no where else but 'here' and, if there is to be a 'new creation', it starts, sprouts, now in these 'beclouded skies' and no where else. The 'world' is neither an occluded meaningless landscape nor a waiting station for 'heaven'. It is the place, seen aright, where the fullness of being reveals itself  when we meet it in the openness and vu…

Librarian genes overcome their selfishness

It would not be strange to find that Richard Dawkins is not on the side of the angels (as he undoubtedly does not believe in their existence) but it is to find that he is not on the side of 'nature' either. But this is one of the themes of Colin Tudge's excellent "Why Genes are not Selfish and People are Nice: A Challenge to the Dangerous Ideas that Dominate our Lives".

The rhetorical flourish of the 'selfish gene' is precisely that a literary flourish with only a minor strand of substance to give it factual weight and yet it is the bearer of a long history in thinking about evolution. Thinking that is grounded in political and philosophical speculation about the nature of the human rather than in the experience of the actual texture of nature. That thinking has tended to imagine that 'at bottom' the world is rooted in competitive struggle, of nature battling it out 'tooth and claw' (an image coined, as it happens, by a poet, Tennyson) an…

'Nothing ever happens'

My mother recalls when I was ten or eleven passionately (and surprisingly) disclaiming that 'nothing ever happens'!

This might have been simply the plaintive cry of a bored child excepting that I remember it vividly too, the very moment, where I was and how I was.

I was reminded of it today reading an essay by the esotericist and scholar, Richard Smoley, entitled 'On Encounter with the Ancient Wisdom', where he describes that his first lesson from ancient wisdom was acquiring a 'sense of scale' - 'the recognition that earthly not the only, or even the most important, reality.' This world, our everyday place in which 'nothing ever happens', is a filtered out and down version of the 'real thing' that waits upon us beyond a thin veil.

This sense of scale is a common experience, though its usual fleetingness often relegates it to the realm of the forgotten. I remember sitting in a doctor's surgery listening to a young man …