Nov 192010
 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to the morning light,
Thanks to the seething sea,
To the uplands of New Hampshire,
To the green-haired forest free;
Thanks to each man of courage,
To the maids of holy mind,
To the boy with his games undaunted,
Who never looks behind.
Cities of proud hotels,
Houses of rich and great,
Vice nestles in your chambers,
Beneath your roofs of slate.
It cannot conquer folly,
Time-and-space-conquering steam,—
And the light-outspeeding telegraph
Bears nothing on its beam.

The politics are base,
The letters do not cheer,
And ’tis far in the deeps of history—
The voice that speaketh clear.
Trade and the streets ensnare us,
Our bodies are weak and worn,
We plot and corrupt each other,
And we despoil the unborn.

Yet there in the parlor sits
Some figure of noble guise,
Our angel in a stranger’s form,
Or woman’s pleading eyes;
Or only a flashing sunbeam
In at the window pane;
Or music pours on mortals
Its beautiful disdain.

The inevitable morning
Finds them who in cellars be,
And be sure the all-loving Nature
Will smile in a factory.
Yon ridge of purple landscape,
Yon sky between the walls,
Hold all the hidden wonders
In scanty intervals.

Alas, the sprite that haunts us
Deceives our rash desire,
It whispers of the glorious gods,
And leaves us in the mire:
We cannot learn the cipher
That’s writ upon our cell,
Stars help us by a mystery
Which we could never spell.

If but one hero knew it,
The world would blush in flame,
The sage, till he hit the secret,
Would hang his head for shame.
But our brothers have not read it,
Not one has found the key,
And henceforth we are comforted,
We are but such as they.

Still, still the secret presses,
The nearing clouds draw down,
The crimson morning flames into
The fopperies of the town.
Within, without, the idle earth
Stars weave eternal rings,
The sun himself shines heartily,
And shares the joy he brings.

And what if trade sow cities
Like shells along the shore,
And thatch with towns the prairie broad
With railways ironed o’er;—
They are but sailing foambells
Along Thought’s causing stream,
And take their shape and Sun-color
From him that sends the dream.

For destiny does not like
To yield to men the helm,
And shoots his thought by hidden nerves
Throughout the solid realm.
The patient Dæmon sits
With roses and a shroud,
He has his way, and deals his gifts—
But ours is not allowed.

He is no churl or trifler,
And his viceroy is none,
Love-without-weakness,
Of genius sire and son;
And his will is not thwarted,—
The seeds of land and sea
Are the atoms of his body bright,
And his behest obey.

He serveth the servant,
The brave he loves amain,
He kills the cripple and the sick,
And straight begins again;
For gods delight in gods,
And thrust the weak aside;
To him who scorns their charities,
Their arms fly open wide.

When the old world is sterile,
And the ages are effete,
He will from wrecks and sediment
The fairer world complete.
He forbids to despair,
His cheeks mantle with mirth,
And the unimagined good of men
Is yeaning at the birth.

Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old.
Over the winter glaciers,
I see the summer glow,
And through the wild-piled snowdrift
The warm rose buds below

 Comments Off on The World-Soul
Nov 192010
 

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Yet hence arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, — the act of thought, — is transferred to the record. The poet chanting, was felt to be a divine man: henceforth the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled, the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly, the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude, slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry, if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are written on it by thinkers, not by Man Thinking; by men of talent, that is, who start wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from their own sight of principles. Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books.

Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. Hence, the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the world and the soul. Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees.

[…]

I would not be hurried by any love of system, by any exaggeration of instincts, to underrate the Book. We all know, that, as the human body can be nourished on any food, though it were boiled grass and the broth of shoes, so the human mind can be fed by any knowledge. And great and heroic men have existed, who had almost no other information than by the printed page. I only would say, that it needs a strong head to bear that diet. One must be an inventor to read well. As the proverb says, “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry out the wealth of the Indies.” There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. We then see, what is always true, that, as the seer’s hour of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only that least part, — only the authentic utterances of the oracle; — all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakspeare’s.

– from The American Scholar

 Comments Off on Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nov 192010
 

Tithonus

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man–
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask’d thee, “Give me immortality.”
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,
And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was in ashes. Can thy love
Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,
Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men,
Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From any pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.
Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,
Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.
Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
In silence, then before thine answer given
Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
“The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.”

Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
In days far-off, and with what other eyes
I used to watch – if I be he that watch’d –
The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all
Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d
Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

Yet hold me not for ever in thine East;
How can my nature longer mix with thine?
Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

 Comments Off on Alfred Lord Tennyson
Nov 192010
 

Conversation with Murasaki

Murasaki – I imagined
a dye the colour of mulberries.
A burnet moth’s underwing.

She brushes past Sei Shonagon.
Sleeves in tension.
Both brushes charged with silken resistance.

When she sang it was brocade.
When she modestly whispered,
a most delicate embroidery.

‘Her sash matched her robe.
But did you notice the lining of her sleeve?
I could have laughed all evening!’

The wisteria in its tub, whose ancient stem
and transient clusters you comprehended clearly,
but which you did not know how to prune.

How many such cultivated
and also promiscuous ladies
have I wished to have been acquainted with?

Late afternoon rain,
then sun on the raspberries –
I so wanted to show you.

How vulgar would you think it
to express my predilection
for these extra yellow quinces?

Please tell me: how, culturally, could we
be more different? Yet I, with minor, bemused
reservations, am drawn entirely to your aesthetic.

So many little rules.
How delicious to break one!
We’ll mend these fragments into something.

His long night’s escapade.
Does inherited custom demand
rupture of tradition?

Dilapidated mansion. Tangled thickets.
Behind a screen,
she waits for moon-rise.

Having sunk to this obscurity
she still plies the koto.
No one behind screens to listen.

Shut in from sunlight,
she keeps company with rain and music.
Wasting beneath powder.

What happens in the Genji?
Births, fixation, death and an eroticism by subterfuge
delayed tantalisingly by the complicated exchange of waka.

The plum which in the 16th century was
supplanted by the cherry. Aesthetically staggered,
do they now blossom in competition?

Lamp light. Moon-rise.
I look up. Does the moon, too,
say I?

The floating world.
We move within it.
It. We. Tangle and illusion.

High above the city, he searches out
two things that grow together:
wild herbs and the sutras.

It is comparatively simple to satisfy desire.
But to die without studying the sutras…
Still, it makes little difference.

A poignant meditation on the doctrine of the anicca.
Then all at once
they’re playing football.

Guarding against presenting things
only in the best possible taste,
thus he expressed an asymmetrical aesthetic.

A trunk that grew lichen.
A stone that happened to
lie on the mountain.

I know how loud and irregular noises
disturbed you. I too live
in your ideal silence.

To be old and still young.
At once female and male.
We are all one prison.

You would be astonished
at the squalor of European history.
But you would have liked Jane Austen.

Spirit possession.
The hysterical luxury
of existence as two people.

No longer even dust.
Your you became
someone else’s brush strokes.

Waley on his deathbed.
Neither he nor his space.
But now equal with not-you in north London traffic.

‘Genji was dead. And there was no one like him.’
Punks eat sushi.
Mono no aware. Lacrimae rerum.

These MSN and Myspace girls whose virtual selves
fire off keyboard fantasies: they, as with Genji’s
women, gossip apprehensively behind their screens.

There they all must be
in Ambitabha’s garden, where birds and rivers
sing unintelligibly in Sanskrit.

The Bridge of Dreams joins two absolute spaces.
We rush across the surface
not knowing where we were or where we’re headed.

Hokku faxed from a tobacconist.
Syllabically hopping,
to Tokyo they yo yo.

—————

Murasaki Shikibu was the 11th century author of The Tale of Genji, which contains almost a thousand classical verses. Sei Shonagon was her contemporary and the author of The Pillow Book.

Koto: a zither-like instrument
Waka: classical verses
Mono no aware: ‘the pitiful transcience of existence’
Anicca: impermanence
Ambitabha: the Buddha of the Western Paradise or Pure Land
Hokku: 17-syllable verse

 Comments Off on Tom Lowenstein
Nov 192010
 

Shatapatha-Brahmana, I, 8, 1-6.

1. In the morning they brought to Manu water for washing, just as now they continue to bring water for washing the hands. When Manu was washing himself, a fish came into his hands.

2. The fish spoke to him: “Protect me and I will save you!” “From what are you going to save me?” Manu asked. “A flood will carry away all everything: from that flood I will save you!” “How am I to protect you?” said Manu.

3. The fish said, “As long as we are small, there is great destruction for us: fish eat fish. You will first keep me in a jar. When I outgrow that, you will dig a pit and keep me in it. When I outgrow that, you will take me down to the sea, for then I shall be beyond destruction.”

4. It soon became a ghasha (a great fish), one that grows largest (of all fish). The great fish said, “In such and such a year that flood will come. You will then attend to me and by my advice prepare a ship and when the flood has risen you will enter into the ship, and I will save you from it.”

5. After Manu had reared the fish this way, he took it down to the sea. And in the same year which the fish had indicated to him, he followed the advice of the fish and built a ship. And when the flood had risen, he entered into the ship. The fish then swam up to him, and to its horn he tied the rope of the ship, and by that means he passed swiftly up to the northern mountains.

6. The fish then said, “I have saved you. Fasten the ship to a tree; but do not let the water cut you off while you are on the mountain. As the water subsides, you may gradually descend!” Accordingly Manu gradually descended and since then the slope of the northern mountain is called ‘Manu’s descent.’ The flood then swept away all creatures and Manu alone remained here.

Matsyavatara (The Fish Incarnation) [From the Bhagavata VIII]

There was an intermediate deluge. Brahma slept for a while and the demon Hayagriva stole the Vedas. Lord Vishnu noticed this and took the form of Fish. In the Dravida country, there was a pious King, Satyavrata by name. As he was making an offering of water in the Kritamala river, the Lord appeared as a tiny Fish in the water of his palm. The Fish began to grow, and wondering at this, the King went on transferring it from one container to another. The Fish, which had finally to be deposited in the sea, told him: “On the seventh day from now, all the worlds will become completely flooded; on the flood waters, a boat will come to you; embark in it with manifold herbs and seeds and surrounded by the seven great sages and every class of living beings; a strong gale will rock the boat, but tie it to my snout with the great serpent, and as you ask me questions, I shall expound to you then the glory of Myself, the Supreme Brahman.”

Accordingly the sea swelled as huge rain-clouds poured down incessantly, rolled on and engulfed the world; the boat appeared, and also the great Fish; to its single snout, Satyavrata tied the ark. Dragging the ark over the waters, the Lord as a Fish imparted to Satyavrata the teachings about Truth which were collected in the Purana known as the Matsya (Fish). After the waters of the deluge had subsided, the Lord slew the demon Hayagriva and restored the Vedas to Brahma, who had awoke from his slumber.

 Comments Off on Ancient Indian Flood Myths