Wednesday, November 29, 2017

associative leaps in poetry




excerpts from the essay entitled
so much happens when no one is watching 

by Daniel Deardorff



There are three things involved in making a associative leap:
a place to leap from, 
a place to leap to,
and most importantly, that space which is in-between.

Bly suggests that the in-between , the liminal space of the leap, provides a mysterious kind of content.  Bly calls our attention to the many things that happen "when no one is watching."  Pointing toward that which must remain outside our conscious awareness is like Lao Tzu saying that "knowing with not-knowing is best."  Connecting "what happens when no one is watching" to the emphasis on associativity, we notice a similar invitation to consider the unconscious space behind the associative image.  There is a great distance, swiftly traversed, between the philosopher and the predator in the line: "Plato wrote by the light from sharks' teeth."

One key to entering the vast spaces in Bly's thought in understanding is something I've called "associative alacrity" - the adroit capacity to form unexpected correlations,  In the modern world this capacity has been so repressed that it's hard to work out any sense of it.   In Norse mythology there is an ash tree that connects many worlds.  This "World Tree," called Yggdrasil, presents a complex image that works like this: at the top is the solar bird, the great eagle; at the bottom is the old lunar serpent.  The third thing, which connects this opposition, is something much less grand, a squirrel.  Leaping from branch to root, the acrobat squirrel carries messages between the extremities.  The furry mammal presents the limbic capacity to bridge the contradictions without reconciliation.  The squirrel is the embodiment of the leaping consciousness.

Leaping in this manner, the poems of Robert Bly refuse to turn away from Heaven, and at once, stubbornly refuse to renounce the earthly life.  "In a great ancient or modern poem, the considerable distance between the associations, the distance the spark has to leap, gives the lines their bottomless feeling, their space."  The relationships formed by these leaps are not linear - they are not stops along some rational railway, or some predictable system of linked facts - they are images or feelings related by something inexplicable and mysterious.  In this kind of association the distance, the interval or the leap, provides verticality and depth, a kind of bottomless content which functions as what Lawrence Hatab called "mythic disclosure": it does not explain things but "presents an intelligible picture of the lived world and the form of human involvement with the lived world."

In ancient times, in the "time of inspiration." the poet flew from
one world to another, "riding on dragons," as the Chinese said. 
Isaiah rode on those dragons, so did Li Po and Pindar.  They
dragged behind them long tails of dragon smoke.  Some of that 
dragon smoke still boils out of Beowulf. ...This dragon smoke 
means that a leap has taken place in the poem.

The associative paths... allow us to leap from one part of the brain
to another and lay out their contraries.  Moreover it's possible that
what we call "mythology" deals precisely with these abrupt juxtapositions...
using what Joseph Campbell called "mythological thinking," 
it moves the energy along a spectrum - either up or down. 
It can awaken the "lost music," walk on the sea, cross the 
river from instinct to spirit.

It is in the interval of the leap that "so much happens when no one is watching" and this is related to Richard Schechner's idea that certain rituals require "selective inattention."  He says: "Selective inattention allows patterns of the whole to be visible, patterns that otherwise would be burned out of the consciousness by a too intense concentration.



this essay is part of a collection in the book
Robert Bly - In This World




Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River

I
I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota.
The stubble field catches the last growth of sun.
The soybeans are breathing on all sides.
Old men are sitting before their houses on car seats
In the small towns. I am happy,
The moon rising above the turkey sheds.

II
The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.

III
Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge,
And water kneeling in the moonlight.
In small towns the houses are built right on the ground;
The lamplight falls on all fours on the grass.
When I reach the river, the full moon covers it.
A few people are talking, low, in a boat.


~ Robert Bly




Tuesday, November 28, 2017

a home in the dark grass








In the deep fall, the body awakes,
And we find lions on the seashore—
Nothing to fear.
The wind rises, the water is born,
Spreading white tomb-clothes on a rocky shore,
Drawing us up
From the bed of the land.

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up on great roots;
Like mad poets captured by the Moors,
Men who live out
A second life.

That we should learn of poverty and rags,
That we should taste the weed of Dillinger,
And swim in the sea,
Not always walking on dry land,
And, dancing, find in the trees a saviour,
A home in the dark grass,
And nourishment in death.




~ Robert Bly
from Stealing Sugar from the Castle
art by O'keeffe

Monday, November 27, 2017

Matins





1
Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
Is turning and the waves of darkness
Begin to brighten on the shore of dawn

The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light,
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
And thoughts stir to give birth to color.

2
I arise today

In the name of Silence
Womb of the Word,
In the name of Stillness
Home of Belonging,
In the name of the Solitude
Of the Soul and the Earth.

I arise today

Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch,
Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thought,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God.

May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,
Clear of word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.



~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Merton on Sufism








Sufism looks at man as a heart and a spirit and a secret, and the secret is the deepest part. The secret of man is God's secret; therefore it is in God. My secret is God's innermost knowledge of me, which He alone possesses. It is God's secret knowledge of myself in Him, which is a beautiful concept. The heart is the faculty by which man knows God and there Sufism develops the heart.

This is a very important concept in the contemplative life, both in Sufism and in Christian tradition. To develop a heart that knows God, not just a heart that loves God, but a heart that knows God. How does one know God in the heart? By praying in the heart. The Sufis have ways of learning to pray so that you are really praying in the heart, from the heart, not just saying words, not just thinking good thoughts or making intentions or acts of the will, but from the heart. This is a very ancient Biblical concept that is carried over from Jewish thought into monasticism. It is the spirit which loves God, in Sufism. The spirit is almost the same word as the Biblical word "spirit" -- the breath of life. So man knows God with his heart, but loves God with his life. It is your living self that is an act of constant love for God and this inmost secret of man is that by which he contemplates God, it is the secret of man in God himself.




-- Thomas Merton, 
speaking to a group of Catholic sisters in Alaska, 
2 1/2 months before his death in 1968
with thanks to louie,louie

 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

good or bad?







~ Alan Watts

Saturday, November 18, 2017

reverence of approach





A reverence of approach awakens depth and enables us
 to be truly present where we are.  When we approach with reverence
 great things decide to approach us.  Our real life comes 
to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things.  

When we walk on the earth with reverence, 
beauty will decide to trust us.  The rushed heart and
 the arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience 
to enter that embrace. 

 Beauty is mysterious, a slow presence who waits for the ready,
 expectant heart.  When the heart becomes attuned to her 
restrained glimmerings, it learns to recognize her intimations
 more frequently in places it would never have lingered before.


~ John O'Donohue
from Beauty, The Invisible Embrace
art by Van Gogh
 

Friday, November 17, 2017

a symbolic universe







There is no remedy against this reversal of the natural order. Man cannot escape from his own achievement. He cannot but adopt the conditions of his own life. No longer in a merely physical universe, man lives in a symbolic universe. Language, myth, art, and religion are parts of this universe. They are the varied threads which weave the symbolic net, the tangled web of human experience. All human progress in thought and experience refines and strengthens this net. No longer can man confront reality immediately; he cannot see it, as it were, face to face. Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man's symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself.

He has so enveloped himself in linguistic forms, in artistic images, in mythical symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of this artificial medium. His situation is the same in the theoretical as in the practical sphere. Even here man does not live in a world of hard facts, or according to his immediate needs and desires. He lives rather in the midst of imaginary emotions, in hopes and fears, in illusions and disillusions, in his fantasies and dreams. 'What disturbs and alarms man,' said Epictetus, 'are not the things, but his opinions and fantasies about the things.




 ~  Ernst Cassirer 
from An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture

 

There is nothing but this

.




First days of spring - blue sky, bright sun. Everything is gradually becoming fresh and green. Carrying my bowl, I walk slowly to the village. The children, surprised to see me, Joyfully crowd about, bringing My begging trip to an end at the temple gate. I place my bowl on top of a white rock and Hang my sack from the branch of a tree. Here we play with the wild grasses and throw a ball. For a time, I play catch while the children sing; Then it is my turn. Playing like this, here and there, I have forgotten the time. Passers-by point and laugh at me, asking, "What is the reason for such foolishness?" No answer I give, only a deep bow; Even if I replied, they would not understand. Look around! There is nothing but this.


~ Ryokan

half life





We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.





- Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I come to you without me






I come to you without me, come to me without you.
Self is the thorn in the sole of the soul.
Merge with others,
If you stay in self, you are a grain, you are a drop,
If you merge with others, you are an ocean, you are a mine.


~ Rumi
art by Van Gogh

for celebration








Now is the time to free the heart,
Let all intentions and worries stop,
Free the joy inside the self,
Awaken to the wonder of your life.

Open your eyes and see the friends
Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
Those whose kindness watchful and near,
Encourages you to live everything here.

See the gifts the years have given,
Things your effort could never earn,
The health to enjoy who you want to be
And the mind to mirror mystery.



~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us


Households, cities, countries, and nations have enjoyed great happiness when a single individual has taken heed of the Good and Beautiful. . . . Such people not only liberate themselves; they fill those they meet with a free mind. 

~  Philo

Sunday, November 12, 2017

this rain










What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone,
in the forest, at night, cherished by this
wonderful, unintelligible,
perfectly innocent speech,
the most comforting speech in the world,
the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges,
and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!
Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.
It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.
As long as it talks I am going to listen.




~ Thomas Merton




seeing and letting go




But there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.
When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied... But I can't
go out and try to see this way. I'll fail, I'll go mad. All I can do
is try to gag the commentator, to hush the noise of useless
interior babble…The effort is really a discipline requiring a
lifetime of dedicated struggle; it marks the literature of saints
and monks of every order East and West…

The world's spiritual geniuses seem to discover universally
 that the mind's muddy river, this ceaseless flow 
of trivia and trash, cannot be dammed, 
and that trying to dam it is a waste of effort 
that might lead to madness. 
Instead you must allow the muddy river to flow unheeded
 in the dim channels of consciousness; you raise your sights;
 you look along it, mildly, acknowledging its presence
 without interest and gazing beyond it into the realm of the real
 where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance.


~ Annie Dillard 
from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
art by Van Gogh
with thanks



nothing except what he is







Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness. 
 
 
 
~ Hermann Hesse
from  Trees: Reflections and Poems
 
 
 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

by dying they have their living


The lovers know the loveliness
That is not of their bodies only
(Though they be lovely) but is of
Their bodies given up to love.

They find the open-heartedness
Of two desires which both are lonely
Until by dying they have their living,
And gain all they have lost in giving,

Each offering the desired desire.
Beyond what time requires, they are
What they surpass themselves to make;
They give the pleasure that they take.



~ Wendell Berry
from Sabbaths, 1997 V
Painting by Chagall

Thursday, November 2, 2017

farewell letter





She wrote me a letter
after her death
and I remember
a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree
on her old bench
at the back door,
so surprised by its arrival
wondering what she would say,
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself
in silent expectation.

Dear son, it is time
for me to leave you.
I am afraid that the words
you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give,
they are gone and mingled
back in the world
where it is no longer
in my power
to be their first
original author
not their last loving bearer.
You can hear
motherly
words of affection now
only from your own mouth
and only
when you speak them
to those
who stand
motherless
before you.

As for me I must forsake
adulthood
and be bound gladly
to a new childhood.
You must understand
this apprenticeship
demands of me
an elemental innocence
from everything
I ever held in my hands. 

I know your generous soul
is well able to let me go
you will in the end
be happy to know
my God was true
and I find myself
after loving you all so long,
in the wide,
infinite mercy
of being mothered myself. 


P.S. All your intuitions are true.




~ David Whyte
photo by edward steichen



all-one







Don’t forget the nut, being so proud of the shell,
The body has its inward ways,

the five senses. They crack open,
and the Friend is revealed.

Crack open the Friend, you become
the All-One.



  ~ Rumi

 version by Coleman Barks
from Unseen Rain

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

beneath persona



The person, from the Latin persona, was originally the megaphone-mouthed mask used by actors in the open-air theaters of ancient Greece and Rome, the mask through (per) which the sound (sonus) came.

~ Alan Watts


Walt Whitman - 1854


There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises,
 independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal. 
This is the thought of identity — yours for you, 
whoever you are, as mine for me. 
 
Miracle of miracles, beyond statement, 
most spiritual and vaguest of earth’s dreams, 
yet hardest basic fact, and only entrance to all facts.
 
 In such devout hours, in the midst of the significant wonders of heaven and earth,
 (significant only because of the Me in the centre,) creeds, conventions, 
fall away and become of no account before this simple idea.
 
 Under the luminousness of real vision, it alone takes possession, 
takes value. Like the shadowy dwarf in the fable, once liberated and look’d upon, 
it expands over the whole earth, and spreads to the roof of heaven.
 
 
 
~ Walt Whitman
 from Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose
 with thanks