The the.

When was it that one first heard of the truth? The the.” – Wallace Stevens

Perhaps it was in Sunday school, perhaps it was the talk from family members at home, but to point at one point would be going back into a memory that I no longer have any recollection of and be subject to early memory fabrication as psychologists tell us. “The the” though is a powerful notion, one that exists with us despite the revolution of Nietzsche and post modernism. If art likes to imagine that it is the creator of the “the the,” creating out of The Waste Land the meaning left behind by God, dancing around the flame of nihilism with the “eternal yes,” this is only one amongst the many reasons it has broken off from the sciences, whose outward claim of atheism is in fact deeply rooted in “the the.” An unawareness that they have fed into mass consumerism that I imagine will one day catch up with them. In fact, is consuming them as we speak. Will Durant’s essay titled “On the Insight of History” has come back to me again and again in light of the recent elections. As a prolific philosopher and historian, he ended his section on “Morality” with the following paragraph:

“According to this historical alteration of paganism and puritanism, we should expect our present moral laxity to be followed by some return to moral restraint under old or new forms of belief, authority, and censorship. Every age reacts to its predecessor. If a Third World War should come, shattering our cities, and driving the survivors back to agriculture, the age of science may end, and religion may return with its consolatory myths and its moral discipline, and parental authority may be restored.”

The one exception I have found is perhaps in mathematics, where scholars are aware of “the the,” and therefore less unaware than their physicist counterparts. And perhaps at the end then what will rise from the ashes will be religion and mathematics. I don’t know the answer to avoid such dire events. Perhaps it would include ceasing the linguistic mind play we indulge ourselves in, a word play in which the word of peace has been elevated over the action of peace. There is a Sufi saying that knowledge that does not flow rots, and perhaps this is what is happening. The very acute divide between academic and pop culture is where the gap is most present, where the words of peace of the academics does not flow into active peace not only within the general population, but on college campuses where professors are no longer reflections of those they teach.

The Waste Land

They say everyone has one poem that is set to the tune of their life. I think that would be Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat for me, but The Waste Land is a close second for me. I was listening to Dr. Langdon Hammer’s analysis of it, and his description of The Waste Land as a space where God is absent, and this poem being the result of that absence, of a kind of fragmentation and disconnection, where love is paired with killing, shed so much light to this poem for me. Even before hearing his lecture on it though with the knowledge of the audience being a discontented youth heading into the Jazz Age, this poem just has these lines that imprint themselves in your mind with strong images.

 

A Scolding Moon as Syria Burns

This poem by Thomas Hardy brings Syria into my mind. A nation that has been near obliterated by unrest. How many great poets, thinkers, scientists, writers have been lost. Are lost every day. Pakistan’s poverty rate is staggering, and I look at the poor children who will never go to school, wondering if given the chance, how many of them would have risen to greatness, and then, what is greatness? In the ending paragraphs of Middlemarch by George Eliot, she alludes to a great life perhaps being one that lives and dies quietly, peacefully. A life that is in fact lost to history.

I Looked Up from My Writing

“I looked up from my writing,
   And gave a start to see,
As if rapt in my inditing,
   The moon’s full gaze on me.
Her meditative misty head
   Was spectral in its air,
And I involuntarily said,
   ‘What are you doing there?’
‘Oh, I’ve been scanning pond and hole
   And waterway hereabout
For the body of one with a sunken soul
   Who has put his life-light out.
‘Did you hear his frenzied tattle?
   It was sorrow for his son
Who is slain in brutish battle,
   Though he has injured none.
‘And now I am curious to look
   Into the blinkered mind
Of one who wants to write a book
   In a world of such a kind.’
Her temper overwrought me,
   And I edged to shun her view,
For I felt assured she thought me
   One who should drown him too.”
-Thomas Hardy

Excerpt from Easter, 1916

“Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.”
-W.B. Yeats

Magic

“I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating magical illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, and been the foundations of nearly all magical practices. These doctrines are:

(1) That the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.

(2) That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.

(3) That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols”

 

-W.B. Yeats

The Song of Wandering by Aengus

What I love about this poem is the imagery, “I went out to the hazel wood, because a fire was in my head, and cut and appealed a hazel wand, and hooked a berry to a thread.” Ahhh that just blows my mind away. The angel that calls him by his name, repeated. The dream of union, kept until “time and times are undone.”

“I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.”

-W.B. Yeats

Tulips by Sylvia Plath

I love it when the worlds of medicine and words meet:
 “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.”