Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birthday of Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

I remember Wuthering Heights as one of the best and most passionate love novels I have ever read, but looking back carefully I actually don't think I ever finished it. Although I remember a lot of the novel's action, it had a deeper emotional impact than an intellectual one. Recounting this piece of literature, it is the feeling of despair and impossible love, a contraction around the heart and a sea of sadness in the chest that is present with me. And this hints at why I never finished the story - I simply didn't stand the anguish and turmoil. Being quite an emotional reader (some times, at least) the story's innumerable difficulties were simply too much.
A little biographical information:

It's the birthday of the novelist Emily Brontë, born in Thornton, England, in 1818. Emily Brontë, who wrote what is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time, Wuthering Heights (1847), but who never had a lover and almost never talked to anyone besides her family and her servants. She and her sisters Anne and Charlotte and their brother, Branwell, educated themselves at home, reading their father's large collection of classic literature, while their father locked himself up in his room and even ate dinner alone. Emily was interested in mysticism, and she had no friends. Emily also wrote poetry. Her sister Charlotte discovered some of her verses: "I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me, —a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, not at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music—wild, melancholy, and elevating." In 1848, Emily died of tuberculosis when she was just 30 years old, standing in the living room of her family's parsonage with one hand on the mantle. Emily Brontë wrote in Wuthering Heights:

"I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of creation, if I were entirely contained here?"

"I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind."
I think this last sentence, of dreams permeating one's mind with a watery colour resembling that of wine through water, is exquisite. What a sensual, tactile, even tasty impression it makes! It really is tactility, vision, taste and smell in one image. Remarkable as well as eye and mouth-watering.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Auden, Icarus and Truth

As always, a few musings follow the poem.

Musée Des Beaux Arts
by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

For a better view of this painting and to get a better chance of spotting the next to invisible splashing of Icarus's legs into the green ocean, thus catching the depressing insight of an apparent human insignificance, click here .

Although I quite agree with Auden on the single human being's relative insignificance, I am also deeply convinced that humanity has an immensely important role to play in the development of the universe. As the most intelligent life form known to us, we carry a wonderful responsability of continual development, of keeping creation alive. Of course, as is becoming more and more clear with pollution, global warming, never ending wars and a violently unfair balance in money and food planetwise, this responsability at the same time holds the danger of corruption and human weakness or even evil (strong word). But great progress, blinding insight and ever deeper love for the rest of existing forms tend to get its opposite pole of stagnation/reactionism, new ways of suppressing and witholding of information and boon that should be to the benefit of all.

As I see it, this dualistic tendency, this inevitable polarity, is just part of a universal law. With expansion comes the possibility of even greater contraction and walking backwards; with blinding light even deeper darkness.

However, this does not make me pessimistic. I have too much faith in human goodness, and in another universal law: Truth will out.

This, as I see it, is deeply true.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The 14th Dalai Lama in Britain

There is an interesting article out about the Dalai Lama, in the July issue of The New York Review of Books called "How he sees it now" by Jonathan Mirsky.

Here we get a glimpse of the difficult territory this spiritual leader navigates in.

The article is written on the backdrop of the 14th Dalai Lama's visit to Britain in May. China's political importance is reflected in several ways: Prime minister Gordon Brown would not receive the Dalai Lama in 10 Downing Street, in the same way his predecessor Tony Blair would not. A frail diplomatic balance must clearly be kept at all costs.
Also, rather absurdly, DL visited Oxford, but as no one was allowed to say precisely where, or take any pictures at the place he was welcomed (?), the building remains nameless. This seems rather paranoid, and also a good indicator of the enormous influence China has on practically every other country in the world. No one wants them as an enemy, and it doesn't exactly seem difficult to get antagonized by them.

For probably the ninehundredth time the Dalai Lama had to answer questions about whether he wants autonomy for Tibet. To this he answered "I have said one thousand times we do not seek independence. China should manage defense and foreign policy. Inside Tibet, Tibetans should be responsible for education, religion and the environment. We want the preservation of Tibetan culture inside the People's Republic of China." (page 4 in NYRB.) This statement is as clear as anything, and I find it strange that the Chinese cannot trust this. If anything, this shows how little they understand about this man's culture, morality and sincerity.

Tibet is a state, or an area or whatever we should call the place now, of great cultural and religious depth. Or at least it was, until the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959 and demolished huge amounts of buildings and priceless, old artefacts expressing Tibetan religion/spirituality and their long cultural tradition.

The article ends with a priceless citation The Dalai Lama made to the writer of the article:

"In Oxford the Dalai Lama whispered into my ear that 'my doctors tell me I am in very good health. Everything fine. They think I will live to 102'."

What better than 29 more years of this peaceworking, loving, wise man?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Is the time for the long reads over?

Today I was thinking:
Is the time for concentration over?

Is the time for longtime commitment to thorough reading a forgotten art?

Are "slow texts" and literature that demand more from you than 30 minutes a day, perhaps even spread out between text messages, phone calls and checking your mail losing the battle in these efficient times? I really sensed a voice telling me that I couldn't possibly consider sitting down a couple of hours every day to do what I enjoy so much: read.
Walking past a shelf in a book store today with a display of Proust's In Search of Lost Time or Remembrence of Things Past, a memory of reading the first volume of his long mémoire filled me -- or rather, my memory of reading his wonderfully rich text brought back the feeling of how it was to read him. It actually feels like a deep, fluid-like presence in the whole of my chest, particularly in the heart-area.
But this sweet, thick fluid was immediately mixed with a mild melancholy, as I felt how rarely I get to sink into the wonderland of makebelieve and literature that I inhabited as a child, when this kind of excess was allowed.
Proust's texts are a mix of makebelieve and real life, and offers a texture so rich, so deeply reverberating in your soul (at least in mine) that it's strange how seldom I actually find the time to dive into them and similarly magical literary landscapes.
Naturally, when our macrostructure tends towards fragmentation and speedy efficiency without time for depth and continuous study, the small structures suffer the same destiny. You are such a microstructure which is part of the macro; in fact you are the ones making the macro, and that means you can also change this structure from within.
Want the world to allow you to spend a few hours a day with continued, unabrupted concentration? Just do it! Spend those hours by yourself. You will help make this place better to live in.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mary Oliver: The Summer Day

What better this warm, yellow, leaf-humming day than a true and simple summer poem.

Mary Oliver has visited this blog before, and in this poem you can recognize her pure and spacious curiosity and her heartfelt concentrated presence. Sorry about all the adjectives, but how explain a poet's voice?

Better just to read her:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

* * *

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
How about kneeling to your own nature, or to your one wild and precious life?
How about agreeing to the simplicity Mary Oliver is expressing.