The knowledge of reality is always in some measure a secret knowledge. It is a kind of death.
-- Yeats, Autobiographies, p. 482
An excerpt from the lecture:
In the Kaufering slave-labor camp, swinging a pick-ax at frozen earth in the pre-dawn and being insulted and kicked by guards of various levels of brutality, Frankl was living in and experiencing the “stubbly fields of the present” as he would say. But he discovered that he could turn to the rich granary of the past (both immediate and distant) and dip into the storeroom of memories—both of his wife and of seemingly trivial events. Frankl says of fellow prisoners:
[An] intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation, and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. When given free rein, his imagination played with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling things. ... In my mind I took bus rides, unlocked the front door of my apartment, answered my telephone, switched on the electric lights. Our thoughts often centered on such details, and these memories could move one to tears.
Frankl was not escaping into a fantasy land, he was visiting again events and experiences that had contributed in one way or another to the meaningfulness of his life.
Frankl’s claim is that we discover our unique, personal meanings by fulfilling the responsibilities that Life places before us: by giving to life—creatively, by receiving from life—experientially, and by the stance or attitude we take toward those things we can neither change nor overcome.
When we are fully aware of the amazing gifts of Life, we become brimful with gratitude—and In spite of Everything Say Yes to Life. Trotsdem Ja zum Leben Sagen!
What you see is not the flower --
Lo, the flower unfolds itself
Within you and Behold! You
Are there as though one apart
from the blossoming of your soul.
Were I young once only
I would not know now
how to walk with trees
or fly south with the geese.
Would you know yourself
If you were to see the beauty
Of your eyes in mine
Or would you see the mountains
Rise up and kiss the sky?
makes this rock
a place to rest --
so too the moon.
Even the wind may rest.
WRITTEN IN PENCIL IN THE SEALED RAILWAY-CAR
here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i
-- Dan Pagis
If it would only rain my words would pour forth like girls and boys too young to know shame O they are bold as I would be the rain falls I am young again dance touch while the music plays so falls the rain O she is here there are tears of joy tears songs of praise for the beauty of the day earth yields up its flowers to her hand turns to gentle thunder her body lifts and holds her laughter makes the night shudder unbinds her hair and falls to me now here now there like summer rain
From her essay The Russian Point of View:
The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture. Outside of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.
Here is a link the essay itself: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91c/chapter16.html
I have tried in what follows to express my understanding of Alyosha’s desire to suffer the pain of others.
“I want to suffer too,” Alyosha responds to Ivan, who fears that his description of children who have been been cruelly mistreated has been too much for his little brother. Alyosha’s response may well refer also to his desire to share the suffering of Ivan himself, who is tormented by his own account of the suffering of the innocent. Is it really, however, possible to desire to suffer the pain of others? Such a desire goes counter to the desire of each and every one of us to avoid whatever suffering we can in our personal lives, let alone the suffering of others. Yet, paradoxically, the release from the pain of our own suffering is to join it to that of others so that our shared experience becomes our bond. This insight is not the same as expressed in the common sayings “I know your pain” or “misery loves company”. If we take Alyosha’s example as instructive, we must take responsibility for and experience through active love the pain of others and not simply recognize its likeness with our own. If we are able to do this, we will experience a profound intimacy and embrace the wholeness of life or, as described in Alyosha’s ecstatic experience that comes only after the doubt and depair he has endured alone following the death of Father Zosima and his stinking corpse:
It was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God all came together in his soul, and it was trembling all over, “touching other worlds.” He wanted to forgive everyone and for everything, and to ask forgiveness, oh, not for himself! but for all and for everything, “as others are asking for me,” rang again in his soul. But with each moment he felt clearly and almost tangibly something as firm and immovable as this heavenly vault descend into his soul.
Thereby does the whirlwind of our existence, all our actively shared suffering, become a fount of joy and beauty. It is this that the story of the onion and the speech at the stone affirm and it is this that is the import of the book’s epigraph:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it brigheth forth much fruit. (John 12:24)
'The Fall' called for here is the dying of the personal self and the recognition of our common culpability for the pain and suffering in the world. Thus, we become one with the ground of our shared existence and walk hand and hand through the Garden. It remains for me a mystery. How could it be otherwise? This I say and believe even though I know no God or Savior.
I have reached that time when I measure my life not by the years but by the months. Thus, I lengthen my life. I say to myself I may have only 6 years remaining, but 72 months is another lifetime. Soon, I will do the same with days and hours, then minutes and seconds. Each new measure will push life’s horizon back to a safe distance. The question is, of course, how long can I get away with this sort of time-chopping. Theoretically, forever.
Ah, but poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simple emotions (one has emotions early enough)--they are experiences. For the sake of a simple poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighbourhoods, to unexpected encounters and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else--); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,--and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labour, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very well blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.
Excerpt from <em>The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge</em>.
You know it’s winter
When words freeze on your lips
and your breath breaks into stutter.
How can it be that you open your eyes
Yet see nothing
But the next thing to die?
You know then it is winter.
I pray for spring to come
So that I can breathe again
And not know the pain
Of being alone
Or for summer when every night
There is a full moon
And, lying down in the grass,
I am lifted up to the stars.
In winter the sun turns dark
And day after day
When will I wake?
But for poetry
I could only pray.
But for poetry
I would be damned.
The old goat sighed, lifting first one hoof then another over the remains of the seasons. He had tried to invoke a world, embody his words.
And yes, spring summer fall winter took form, wheeled in cycles and everywhere the plants and little animals rejoiced, colors and music floated through the leaves, browns and greens became a medley of sound in the half light, became wind and in the midst of all stood a man and a woman, opening themselves like flowers to each other, and his words made mountains and streams, the whurling bark of trees traced vowels and consonants, roots plunged deep into pure sound.
Then a scream shattered the scene.
And what remained?
An old goat and his song.
The leaves of autumn littered the ground.
Light acts upon us as inspiration. The touch of the beloved makes us beautiful. The bird’s song becomes our own. The chill in the air turns us into living stone. With each step we create the earth, our pulse the measure of all things. The river runs away from and into us. Being is because we are. The doors of perception always open upon our own creation and we pronounce it good.
My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end of the earth. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but birds would be happier at your side--a little happier, anyway--and children and all animals, if you were nobler than you are now. It's all like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds too, consumed by an all-embracing love, in a sort of transport, and pray that they too will forgive you your sin. Treasure this ecstasy, however senseless it may seem to men.
Translation by Constance Garnett
The Four Lectures: http://eclipsearchive.org/projects/FOUR/four.html
My program is simple: to surrender to the city and survive its inundation. To read it and in reading, order it to read itself. Not a doctrine, but a public notice.
The city, which even before Baudelaire had been a ready-made collage or cutup of history, constantly remaking itself-a work of art, founded on an anthill. And every art grows out of the same collective desire which informs and compels the idea and reality of a city (Latin colligere, to tie together.) A district, or a ghetto, is a segmentation, an alternative version which both resists and embodies in a different fashion, that is with an opposing ideology, the original model. Hence, dialect and civil strife are alternating codes of the same phenomenon: the city does not hold together. Language, which also binds together and extends, including as it isolates, is a city also.
In such a metropolitan of history, in which the city is literally the mother, the greatest art is painting, if only by the sheer weight of the temporal. Without a city and its structures there would be no painting. The only thing precedent to painting is caves-the Gilgamesh is not as old as Lascaux.
The Greeks had painted sculpture and from the start all cultures have painted their deities. Today we have painted cities, painted conveyances, painted apartments, painted roads, painted people, even painted food. Is it not time for painted poetry as well?
A poetry painted with every jarring color and juxtaposition, every simultaneous order and disorder, every deliberate working, every movement toward one thing deformed into another. Painted with every erosion and scraping away, every blurring, every showing through, every wiping out and every replacement, with every dismemberment of the figure and assault on creation, every menace and response, every transformation of the color and reforming of the parts, necessary to express the world.
Even the words and way of language itself will suffer the consequent deformity and reformation. The color beneath, which has been covered over, will begin to show through later, when what overcame it is questioned and scraped on, if not away.
To begin, all that is necessary
Is to close your eyes
To the darkness around you
Like you did last night when you looked at me
And forgot my name.
Let's begin again to tell stories
Of the train station and lost luggage
Of all those lost souls on the prowl
Like tigers hiding
Like me, a
For a name or a destination
Somewhere near the sea
Where I can hear your heart beating --
O how I wanted you then!
Surely you know me now.
Surely you know I am love.
To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing. If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the aesthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.
-- Marcel Duchamp
All in, my
Tattered hands hold out for hope
Like some scarecrow
Or just to stand on my own two feet
Or make a call
And speak two words
That mean something
And so stay alive, stay alive
Until next time, this time
This same time yesterday
When the birds came in the morning
And sang for me an evening song
As they do now, stay alive.
In regard to favorite Transtromer poems, I could be well satisfied with the first of his poems that I read—to be held as an image in my mind—without words.
Weary of all who come with words,
words but no language,
I make my way to the snow-covered
The untamed has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out on
I come upon the tracks of deer in
Language but no words.
You asked for Haiku. Here is one:
language without words—
ancient arrowheads new-found:
fossil thoughts – mind prints
Picking up arrowheads that had been revealed by plowing a field, Henry David Thoreau said that arrowheads were “humanity inscribed on the face of the earth” as “mindprints” or “fossil thoughts”.
Time will soon destroy the works of famous painters and sculptors, but the Indian arrowhead will balk his efforts and Eternity will have to come to his aid. They are not fossil bones, but, as it were, fossil thoughts, forever reminding me of the mind that shaped them. I would fain know that I am treading in the tracks of human game—that I am on the trail of mind—and these little reminders never fail to set me right. When I see these signs I know that the subtle spirits that made them are not far off, into whatever form transmuted. What if you do plow and hoe amid them, and swear that not one stone shall be left upon another? They are only the less like to break in that case. When you turn up one layer you bury another so much the more securely. They are at peace with rust. This arrow-headed character promises to outlast all others. The larger pestles and axes may, perchance, grow scarce and be broken, but the arrowhead shall, perhaps, never cease to wing its way through the ages to eternity. It was originally winged for but a short flight, but it still, to my mind’s eye, wings its way through the ages, bearing a message from the hand that shot it. Myriads of arrow-points lie sleeping in the skin of the revolving earth, while meteors revolve in space. The footprint, the mind-print of the oldest men.
March 28, 1859 (From Henry David Thoreau’s Journal)
It could fairly be said that we, too, are on a similar journey—"on the trail of mind."
Black stone white rain
Blue smoke soft pain.
Night comes. I do not sleep
Yet dream of birds climbing
The sky to find the sea.
I fall like fire and sing
To strange boys and girls
Who close their eyes and turn
Toward the sea and hear
The birds singing like rain.
When they wake, they will dream.
This autumn rain comes
on me strange
as you and I lie
beneath the ledge
hold hands and kiss
and say goodbye
When shall I see you again
In Winter when I am dead
or Spring when you flower
or Summer when you rise
with the waves upon the beach
and make love
to every passing eye
No, it will be as today
the rain drop drops
like leaves like tears
that hold our love
and all that's lost
I shall come
as surely as winter
and die a thousand deaths
You too will come
and lie upon these
and give me up
You shall come
as you always do
dressed in pearls
and make it rain.
If the slave-boy had some inkling of Pythagorean doctrine, it may be that he could not only have learned to make a square double the area of an original square of 4, i.e. a square of 8, but he could also have glimpsed the Pythagorean theorem itself, for it turns out that the square built upon the diagonal of the original square of 4, i.e. the hypotenuse of the isosceles right triangles formed by that diagonal, is the side of the desired square that is twice the area of the original. The square of each of the other two sides of the isosceles triangle added together are 8, the same as the square built upon the hypotenuse, i.e. the diagonal. A more knowledgeable witness might have made a connection here between this unspoken reference to Pythagoras and the theory of the transmigration of souls and the theory of recollection that Socrates is supposedly demonstrating. That the length of the diagonal turns out to be 2 x square root of 2 suggests that Socrates is additionally hinting at an esoteric Pythagorean discovery, the existence of an irrational number, i.e. the square of 2, a real number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers. This perhaps relates by analogy to Meno's paradox and the difference between true opinion and actual knowledge that is discussed in the remainder of the Meno.
See related posts: Meno's Paradox and A Classroom Version of the Slave Boy Scene in Plato's A classroom version of the slave boy scene in Plato's Meno
One of the many things Naomi taught me is that my life is a poem. At first, this seemed to me just a nice thing to say, that my life was too fragmented and too often meaningless and ordinary to be a poem, but then one day I was just sitting there watching the wind move through the leaves and I knew that something like that wind was moving through me as well. I was a leaf in the wind.
You weigh on me, you whom I lost in death.
You’ve given me the silent charge to live for you;
So it is for me now to erase the debt of your extermination.
Until I know that with each ray of sun
You wish to warm me and to meet me;
Until I see that in each blossoming tree
There’s someone dead who wants to greet me;
Until I hear that every bird’s song is your voice
Sounding out to bless me and perhaps to say
That you forgive me that I live.
-- Viktor Frankl, 1946, from his autobiography Recollections
Ibidom. Is no thinking thing here but the peepinghouse round it goes is there nothing there from sea to rounda coda no knowing no browbeating to hoedown the adamses and damses looking roundaway the wailing goes awagginawaning about the off wall but there shebares all to what is not there the museymusik makes you trot and drop so rainruns and her lastofall. There!
I believe in the Road.
When I was a sophomore at Brown University, I returned home for spring break and asked my father to read some of my own poems and others by Rilke. My father, a pioneer in the study of the biochemical basis of mental illness, told me that my poems and those of Rilke revealed schizophrenia. I left home within the hour, on foot, never to truly return again. Before my father died, I had forgiven him and loved him as a father should be loved. Now, I am grateful to him. Grateful for endowing me with the same passion with which he lived his life, however imperfectly. My own life has been no less imperfect. That night, as I walked down a dark highway, singing to myself the Woody Guthrie song “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” I vowed never to allow another person’s assessment of me to determine how I felt about myself, my ideas or my poetry. I did not then return to Brown. When I did, I was married and a father.
That first long night on the road lead to two years of aimless but purposeful hitchhiking. There were others on that road. One bad man, the owner of an art gallery in Austin, Texas, lured me out to his ranch and tried to force me to have sex with him. I refused. Quietly but definitely. His hired man pulled out a knife. I said, “I will not.” Quietly but definitely. I was not afraid. He did not touch me. In that precarious moment, I knew myself. It was as if life had asked me a question and I had answered.
Since that time, I have found myself in other precarious situations, as I do even today. I will not chronicle these critical moments here except to say they put the integrity of my life in question. Each of these situations required of me an answer beyond any philosophy I had ever read. Philosophy does indeed ask essential questions, but it is only with our actual lives that we answer those questions. Such philosophical questions as Do we have free will? What is truth? Or Justice? are all too often illusions like the paradoxes propounded by Zeno. The illusion comes when we mistake the arena in which these questions are to be answered. What is truth? Observe how I live, not what I say. I necessarily live out my answers to what is true and good. I am my philosophy and all that I have suffered I own.
I am always on the road, aimless but purposeful, knowing that the road is where my true self is revealed. For me the literal and metaphorical road have become one. I know I have at least one great road trip still in me. We may pass by each other in the East Mountains or between here and there. Know all is well even if I look sad, ragged and tired. Pass on. All is well.
A poem without a woman
begets no sound
no wind born child
There is no overflow
no yes no now
A poem without a woman
closes on itself
night and day
and makes it real.
Let anyone who would know the secret of things first learn geometry. It is as if all things are generated from straight lines that bend and circles that yield to angles as lines and circles do in Picasso’s painting. Geometry pervades the canvas in small details, e.g. on the open hand of the fallen warrior, and in the large triangles that give a sense of order to the chaotic images. Against the angles and straight lines rounded images emerge, human faces, distorted as if yielding to a linear force. There is a brooding fatalism about the painting; the human figures seem the playthings of impersonal forces that are beyond human governance. The bull is the only figure that expresses no anguish; it presides over the scene with an idiotic look, as if to say– how has it all come to this, this terrible suffering? The bull, the horse, and the fallen warrior are potentially expressive of the corrida and the painting as whole displays the tragic meaning of that event – life in death and death in life, an event that plays itself out in war as it does in all things. We can imagine the bull as Picasso himself viewing from the safe distance of his Paris studio a torn and scattered world that is only a heartbeat away. He is the idiot, a man alone, as Aristotle says, not fully human, a beast or god. The black and white of the painting, blending into shades of gray, underscore the elemental, geometrical struggle that the painting represents. Tragedy is inherent in the nature of things. The artist triumphs over that tragedy by making it at once devastating and beautiful.
Where is the earth?
What do I stand on
If not the earth?
My earth, the earth
Of the dead poet
That should flower
When we see his moon
and sing his deep song,
and make it our own.
That earth is here
In the heart, where
We stand, nowhere
Bury me here.
Bury here all who love
Life and death,
the night's passion.
Fear only the shallow grave.
For a girl who pushes the boys off
The edge and watches them fall:
And yet when you look down
Is there not one who looks up
And laughs, “Well done, Señorita!”
And you call out, “You fool!
Kiss me and you will die.”
And he will say, “Too late.
I am already dead.”
Just then you fall, though
Some will say you jumped,
And now at last you cry,
Your body parts scattered
Over the rich, dark earth,
"Kiss me and let me die.”
So begins a lover’s life.
(to the Plowshares 8, with love)
Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.
Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,
Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.
Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.
“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”
“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”
“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”
Walking through days
I have walked through
long ago, same
step and stride, same
heart wanting something
more; yet today
is the only day
I can’t remember you
Walking through the years
to find me standing
here alone, longing
for the moon,
Its light buried
in my heart of hearts:
Be with you soon.