to Plato’s shadows
playing on the wall.
We’re living lives
in half light,
of their own
of the fire as potent
as fear of
extinguishment.The poetry is mine (!) ,the illustration has a far more illustrious background being from Joris Hoefnagel, 16th century flemish artist.
Nearly beginning a new year , and that seems to me to be a good time for some reflection in the company of a reknown anthropologist Loren Eiseley. He wrote a piece to introduce part of the fifteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and I have included two small quotes to whet your appetite.
It appears to me that what the author is suggesting , is that the human condition is significantly different to that of other species because of the size of our brain which has adapted to intellectual capacities which we ourselves do not understand or always put to good use. The future of mankind has often in our history appeared to be either dangerously under threat, or at some sort of crossroads that changes how we live. These are times we live in too, technology is driving change at a rate that once could not have been dreamt of. We have threats of climate change which are not inconsiderable. Everyday living makes demands on all of us that we forget to question, and decisions are multiplied exponentially across the globe which continuously aggravates the existing problems of consumption and availablility of food, water, resources.
Sometimes reflection is necessary, to stop and consider how best we can lead our lives individually and as societies. Loren narrates how his father explained some of the deeper questions to him as a youngster, after he had come across a turtle that had been riddled with shot. In that story, LOren’s father describes mankind as a cosmic orphan, struggling to find his way in a difficult, challenging world.
Because man was truly an orphan and confined to no single way of life, he was, in essence a prison breaker. But in ignorance his very knowledge sometimes led from one terrible prison to another. Was the final problem then, to escape himself, or, if not that, to reconcile his devastating intellect with his heart? All of the knowledge set down in great books directly or indirectly affects this problem. It is the problem of every man, for even the indifferent man is making, unknown to himself, his own callous judgment.
I love the power of his storytelling and the insight he displays in his writing, a poetic sensibility which enhances his anthropology.
“None there be, can rehearse the whole tale.” That phrase, too, contains the warning that man is an orphan of uncertain beginnings and an indefinite ending. All that the archaeological and anthropological sciences can do is to place a somewhat flawed crystal before man and say: This is the way you came, these are your present dangers; somewhere, seen dimly beyond, lies your destiny. God help you, you are a cosmic orphan, a symbol-shifting magician, mostly immature and inattentive without humility of heart. This the old ones knew long ago in the great deserts under the stars. This they sought to learn and pass on. It is the only hope of men.
The whole article can be found here
Image is Tissot The Creation
Happy New Year to everyone!
A long time ago, so the legend has it, a young man followed in his father’s footsteps and made such a good job of engineering the Chinese landscape to prevent the catastrophic flooding that plagued their land, that he was made an Emperor. Not a bad promotion, but one he declined at first , agreeing when he was aged 53 . To put a date on it, we are talking about two millennia before we started counting time as a positive number.
One of the few men to earn the posthumous accolade of ‘the Great’, Yu was applauded by Confucius amongst others as a deeply virtuous and moral man. Few records exist from the time, and ballads were a predominant measure of popular thought, this is one verse of many ballads at the time praising Yu for giving the people back their land to farm,
Very grand is Mt. Liang,
Its cultivation being made possible by Yu.
The waters of the Fung flow on to the east.
Through the meritorious work of Yu.
The people of the four quarters have the same
opinion; He is truly a great ruler.
Yu had a right hand man, chief minister Kao-Yao who was responsible for defining the codes of behaviour . I particularly admire his list below – what society would not benefit from such a list? Though I suspect the list came a long time after, since there are virtually no historical records from that period in China.
The Nine Follies:
• To think oneself immortal
• To think investments are secure
• To mistake conventional good manners for friendship
• To expect any reward for doing right
• To imagine the rich regard you as an equal
• To continue to drink after you have begun to declare that you are sober
• To recite your own verse
• To lend money and expect its return
• To travel with too much luggage
Further reading :
by Marianne Moore
My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”
Inns are not residences.
I was doing an ordinary thing, the same ordinary thing that millions of housewives do, possibly even synchronistically (we”ll never know, and it doesn’t matter does it?), anyway I was just standing moderately still pushing an iron across a board with a shirt draped over it, but mostly I was listening. I was listening to Jeanette Winterson on a morning radio programme, thinking how she articulates so well where my thoughts have been, prods and pushes them to go elsewhere. She was talking about how some of us are dead already, measuring out lives without consciousness, and how important it is to make ourselves take notice now; whilst we can. I remembered a letter I wrote perhaps thirty years ago to a lover, explaining how we commit our own suicides times over. I remembered a favourite poem by Stanley Kunitz, The Layers, and how it burned when I first read it. ‘ I have lived through many lives, some of which have been my own ‘, the feelings of excitement and thrill from sharing visions with people I will never meet. How extra ordinary is this life we inhabit, the one I’m in now, tapping away on a keyboard , aware of a major humanitarian disaster having wreaked its havoc on hundreds of thousands of people in the oceans far away, and feeling such pathos for the victims. How can I live so free, so full, so contentedly amidst this world, which hurtles through space disinterestedly and do nothing? How can I? But I do. I forget to make the awareness count. I don’t live on this planet alone, I share it with you , and with those who have no food, no homes, and no hope.
Jeannette Winterson was not making a political point yesterday morning, the discussion was about the individual coming to terms with him or herself, but it is a political point too. Each individual life is connected to each other individual life. We might not like it, or want to think about it too often. But that doesn’t make it false. So I wonder about what I am going to do today, to take some responsibility for a tiny part of the colossus which makes up humanity. It won’t be big or heroic, I can’t run marathons and I havn’t got much so can’t give much, I am the ordinary, but when lots of ordinaries come together, extraordinary happens.
Serendipitously I read a short poem before I sat down to write, it came through my in-box via Brain Pickings – ostensibly about the companionship of her dog, it is about being alive, by Mary Oliver;
THE SWEETNESS OF DOGS
What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go
and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself
thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up
into my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.
The fortunate ones are those who heed the lesson and continue to act upon it. Our days are limited. Waste some, but not all. Enjoy most if you can. Bear the unbearable with the knowledge that most things can be endured.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible
to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that
he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he
would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it.
You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible
for your rose. . . ”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would
be sure to remember.
This excerpt is from ‘ The Little Prince’ , the well loved, best read, most translated book to have come out of France, written in 1943 by Antoine de St- Exupery. It came on the radio as I was driving down the country, and immediately took me back to being a young mother. Now I am a bit of an older one, as the boys grapple with the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthhood.
‘Je suis responsible pour ma rose.’ The little prince is reminded by the Fox that love binds us to the recipient, that with the privilege of loving, the ecstasies and the solace of loving arrive the responsibilities of providing love. Our partners, our families, our friends and our work demand our patience, understanding and forbearance, as we demand theirs. Love binds.
The Little Prince reminds us of that, and how barren our lives are without it.
‘ Je suis responsable pour ma rose’
For the full text online, go to the link http://cs.swan.ac.uk/~cswill/The_little_prince.pdf
I have been remembering a feeling from my childhood, one that created deep impressions on my psyche, at least that is how it appears to me now, looking back on what would have been a life not that long ago, but now is probably about half of one. ( If you can work that out , you will know I have passed the fifty mark – just.) What was it then, this echo of reminiscence? In a nutshell, and that is an appropriate metaphor, it is feeling small. I am half the size of the adult in close proximity to me, and having to half walk, half run in order to keep up. I am feeling a curious mixture of humiliation and challenge – I can’t keep up, I know I can’ t keep up and I know I will meet with a disapproving remonstrance, and I don’t want to give in. This is a feeling that will cover me like an unwanted coat for the next thirty or so years. Everything I ever attempt is just a little too much, somewhat out of reach. I work in a fast paced environment that I simultaneously love and hate, I know I am good, I know I can’t keep up with the ever increasing demands. I finish that after a decade and a bit of telling myself I won’t expire, and move on to raising a family, throwing myself into the domestic arena. I am exhausted to my marrow. I can’t keep up with the demands of two challenging boys and be the wife I expected to be. Bodies fail when the essence of what you need is missing. We are extraordinary animals, our thinking brains consider the answers lie within the rationale of the mind, but they don’t. Not all of them. Sometimes the spirit has to assert itself, and it may do this by sending messages through the gut, across the heart, inside the veins and arteries. It may take a lifetime to understand this. I hope it doesn’t for you.
My tale? My spirit came and invited me to make a bold change, one that would resonate through the family and friends and offer new challenges.
I did make that change and though my body never repaired fully, my life expanded and life continues to throw out its hurdles. The difference I can report is that I am less belittled by them. By meeting my spirit, and answering an opportunity I began to grow. I am still growing. Sometimes that little girl that is not being seen or heard is still there. I take her by the hand, and I show her she can keep up, or stop if she needs to.
Taking the hands of someone you love,
You see that are delicate cages…
Tiny birds are singing
In the secluded prairies
And in the deep valleys of the hand.