Richard Rorty lived with words all his life. His life work was an American philosopher, born in 1931 and living until he was 76. Knowing he was dying, he was asked by his son whether any of his philosophical reading helped his new situation. ;”No,” He replied, neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation. I had no quarrel with Epicurus’s argument that it is irrational to fear death, nor with Heidegger’s suggestion that ontotheology originates in an attempt to evade our mortality. But neither ataraxia (freedom from disturbance) nor Sein zum Tode (being toward death) seemed in point.
“Hasn’t anything you’ve read been of any use?” his son persisted. “Yes, poetry.”
I read around the world, diving here, coming up for air and plunging into new and fascinating landscapes. Sometimes I take a photograph, sometimes I leave untouched by what I have read. As I continue exploring poets and philosophers, I come back again and again to the poets, crystallizing and distilling the ineffable.
Here is a marvellous poem from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. He was a prolific man of verse, leaving a body of work that encompasses the human condition. His understanding was that creative love, or the urge to rejoin the spirit to divinity, was the goal towards which every thing moves. The universality of his writings appeals to cultures worldwide, they are beyond creed, beyond culture. When I read poetry like this, I come closest to that feeling of union with something bigger than all of us. The sense of belonging to an energy that envelops everything, the idea that Einstein proposed about the mysteries of life. I don’t belong to any religion, but I do belong to the human race, and beyond that to the creativity of life.
“Be helpless, dumbfounded,Unable to say yes or no.Then a stretcher will come from graceto gather us up.We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.If we say we can, we’re lying.If we say No, we don’t see it,That No will behead usAnd shut tight our window onto spirit.So let us rather not be sure of anything,Beside ourselves, and only that, soMiraculous beings come running to help.Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,We shall be saying finally,With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,We shall be a mighty kindness.”― Rumi