Thoughts on “Pericles” by William Shakespeare

This was my first time reading this play, and I have mixed feelings about it. There are some things I liked, and a lot that just did not work for me. It is worth noting that in the Introduction to the text, G.B. Harrison points out that scholars believe that Shakespeare only wrote a small part of the play, and that the poor writing which dominates the text is from someone else.

Pericles is still retained in the canon of Shakespeare’s work, though there is little trace of his hand in any passage before Act III. With the third act the style changes and much of the remainder of the play may well b e Shakespeare’s writing, but if so it is Shakespeare far below his best. Most critics are agreed, however, that the prose scenes of the brothel (IV.ii and vi) are undoubtedly his. The earlier scenes of the play, especially I.iv and II.vi and v, are puerile melodrama and so badly written that they might almost be parodies of Elizabethan drama at its worst. The poor quality of these scenes may be partly due to the fact that the text of this play was a piracy.

This really sums up the play well. The early acts are cringe-worthy, where the writer resorted to using the same word at the end of couplet lines to create rhyme. It almost seems like the person who swiped Shakespeare’s sections and tried to fill in the blank acts really didn’t even care enough to try to create quality work.

The other thing that really bothered me about this play was the excessive use of a chorus as a narrator to drive the story. Every act begins with a chorus scene to advance the timeline and skip a bunch of events, and then some acts have other chorus scenes interspersed. The play covers a time span of what appears to be at least 16 years (possibly more). Aristotle must have rolled over in his grave when this was put forth.

I will say, though, that the last two acts were good, but not good enough to save the play as a whole. I liked the way that the play resolved itself, and the reunion of Pericles with his wife and daughter was touching.

During my reading, I took a few notes on some passages, but upon reviewing them, I don’t feel that they are worth expounding on. That said, to sum up, unless you are like me and just want to be able to say you read everything by Shakespeare, you can probably skip reading this one. Since time is limited and reading material vast, you’d be better off spending your time reading Hamlet again.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an amazing day.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 3 – The Advent of the Aeon of Horus

In the timeline of Crowley’s autobiography, this section pertains to the period associated with his writing of The Book of the Law, which he claims was channeled from a preternatural intelligence called Aiwass.

It may be said that nevertheless there may have been someone somewhere in the world who possessed the necessary qualities. This again is rebutted by the fact that some of the allusions are to facts known to me alone. We are forced to conclude that the author of The Book of the Law is an intelligence both alien and superior to myself, yet acquainted with my inmost secrets; and, most important point of all, that this intelligence is discarnate.

(p. 397)

Crowley believed that the Book would usher in the next phase of human spiritual evolution, which he calls the Aeon of Horus.

Through the reception of the Book, Crowley proclaimed the arrival of a new stage in the spiritual evolution of humanity, to be known as the “Æon of Horus”. The primary precept of this new aeon is the charge to “Do what thou wilt”.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Crowley spends very little time discussing The Book of the Law in this section of his autobiography, and instead returns to telling stories of his travels. Further on in the section, Crowley lets the reader know that the stories are symbolic, representing the Mystic Path, citing as an example his other works which symbolize aspects of the mystical journey.

This conversation led to my endeavouring to put a certain vividness of phraseology into my poetry. ‘The Eyes of Pharaoh’ was my first attempt to give vivid and immediate images. I chose my similes so as to strengthen the main theme. Later in the month, at Mandalay, I wrote approximately half of ‘Sir Palamede the Saracen’. The idea of this book was to give an account of the Mystic Path in a series of episodes, and each episode was to constitute a definite arrangement of colour and form. Thus, Section I shows the blue and yellow of the sea and sand, a knight in silver armour riding along their junction to a point where an albatross circles around a mutilated corpse.

(p. 464)

He immediately follows his clue with a story that appears to symbolically represent a mystical experience.

On November 15th we started up the Irrawaddy by the steamship Java and reached Mandalay on the twenty-first. I spent my days and nights leaning over the rail, watching the wavelets of the great river and the flying-fish. I became insane. There I was, lean, stern, brown and immobile; and there was a set of disconnected phenomena, each with a sufficient reason in itself, and the whole of them uniting to produce another phenomenon; but there was no connection between one set of reasons and the other. Each wavelet was caused by certain physical conditions and the effect of the total was to slow down the revolution of the earth. But neither the so-called transitory, nor the so-called permanent, phenomenon was ultimately intelligible. Further, what I called ‘I’ was simply a machine which recorded the impact of various phenomena.

(p. 465)

In this passage, I interpret the rail as symbolizing the threshold between ordinary consciousness and heightened awareness, or an altered state of consciousness. In order to successfully engage in magick and mysticism, one must shift states of awareness and then gaze into the abyss, where thoughts and energy pulsate in waves. When one is in this state, the practitioner is “insane,” for all intents and purposes. He is no longer grounded in this plane of reality. In this altered state, Crowley realizes that his ego, or normal consciousness, is separated from the stream of divine power, and that his “normal state of consciousness” is nothing more than a machine that records the effects of stimuli, but does nothing to create conscious change through the use of the will.

I will provide one more example from this section to demonstrate Crowley’s use of allegory. In the following paragraph, Crowley is using the metaphor of exploration to represent his spiritual quest and search for occult power. He cites examples of others who have pushed the boundaries by exploring forbidden paths and going against the established paradigm, and how they are all met with resistance, hatred, and violence.

I thought this story extraordinarily typical of human thought in general. Everyone admits that we have reached the summit of wisdom, scaled the loftiest pinnacles of morality, put the crown of perfection upon the cranium of progress, and everyone knows perfectly well how this remarkable result has been achieved. But at the first hint that anyone proposes to take a step farther on this road, he is universally set down as a lunatic of the most dangerous type. However, the most savage Lolos are content with that diagnosis, whereas the most enlightened English add that the pioneer is not only a lunatic but a pervert, degenerate, anarchist and the rest of it – whatever terms of abuse chance to be in fashion. The abolition of slavery, humane treatment of the insane, the restriction of the death penalty to serious offences, and of indiscriminate flogging, the admission of Jews, Catholics, Dissenters and women as citizens, the introduction of the use of chloroform and antiseptics, the application of steam to travel, and of mechanical principles to such arts as spinning and printing, the systematic study of nature, the extension of the term poetry to metres other than the heroic, the recognition of painting other than voluptuous coloured photographs as art, and of music other than classical melody as art – these and a thousand similar innovations have all been denounced as chimerical, blasphemous, obscene, seditious, anti-social and what not.

(pp. 481 – 482)

Crowley was certainly labeled as insane, perverted, blasphemous, and so on. Whether he was just labeled this way because of his brazen break with the established mores of his time is not for me to judge. But clearly he was aware of the criticism leveled against him, but he chose to continue exploring his path regardless.

Thanks for stopping by. I will share my thoughts on Part 4 once I complete reading it.

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“Antony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare: A Critique on Women Leaders

It is believed that Antony and Cleopatra was written in 1607 or 1608, not long after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, who died March 24, 1603. In the play, Shakespeare paints a disparaging image of Cleopatra as the Queen of Egypt, implying that women are not suited to be rulers. It is possible that Shakespeare was reflecting on the reign of Elizabeth and criticizing her through the character of Cleopatra.

Early in the play, Caesar criticizes Antony, claiming he is womanly and therefore not a fit leader.

You may see, Lepidus, and henceforth know,
It is not Caesar’s natural vice to hate
Our great competitor: from Alexandria
This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more man-like
Than Cleopatra; nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he; hardly gave audience, or
Vouchsafed to think he had partners: you shall find there
A man who is the abstract of all faults
That all men follow.

(Act I, scene iv)

When Antony is preparing to go to battle against Caesar, his friend Enobarbus speaks with Cleopatra, who plans on assisting with the war effort. Enobarbus makes it clear that he does not respect Cleopatra as a leader and views her as nothing more than a sexual plaything for Antony.

Cleopatra:

I will be even with thee, doubt it not.

 Enobarbus:

But why, why, why?

Cleopatra:

Thou hast forspoke my being in these wars,
And say’st it is not fit.

Enobarbus:

Well, is it, is it?

Cleopatra:

If not denounced against us, why should not we
Be there in person?

Enobarbus:

[Aside] Well, I could reply:
If we should serve with horse and mares together,
The horse were merely lost; the mares would bear
A soldier and his horse.

(Act III, scene vii)

In the same scene, Antony’s lieutenant Canidius tells one of the soldiers that they are “women’s men” after Antony places the naval forces under Cleopatra. The disdain that the military personnel feel at having to serve under a woman’s command is evident.

Soldier:

By Hercules, I think I am i’ the right.

Canidius:

Soldier, thou art: but his whole action grows
Not in the power on’t: so our leader’s led,
And we are women’s men.

(Act III, scene vii)

Finally, in the last scene, Cleopatra tells Caesar that the limitations of her gender are the causes of her frailty; in other words, the reason why she lacks the power to rule in the manner of Caesar, who represents male patriarchal leadership.

Sole sir o’ the world,
I cannot project mine own cause so well
To make it clear; but do confess I have
Been laden with like frailties which before
Have often shamed our sex.

 (Act V, scene ii)

Clearly, we have made vast strides toward gender equality since the days of Shakespeare, although we are not yet where we need to be. But I am grateful to be alive in a time where I have seen women leaders assuming their rightful place in the world. I look forward to the day when there are no longer male leaders or women leaders, but just leaders.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Juneteenth 2020: Thoughts on “We Saw Beyond Our Seeming” by Maya Angelou

President Obama presenting Maya with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Source: Wikipedia)

Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day, and is “an American holiday celebrated annually on June 19. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier, and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April, Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.” (Source: Wikipedia) To honor black artists and to show support for the continued struggle for human rights in this country, I feel it is appropriate to share my thoughts on this powerful poem by the late Maya Angelou.

We saw beyond our seeming
These days of bloodied screaming

Of children dying bloated
Out where the lilies floated

Of men all noosed and dangling
Within the temples strangling

Our guilt grey fungus growing
We knew and lied our knowing

Deafened and unwilling
We aided in the killing

And now our souls lie broken
Dry tablets without token.

As a white man in America, this poem hits me on a visceral level. It is not enough to sit back and silently feel sorry for our fellow humans who are being systematically assaulted, humiliated, oppressed, and killed because of the color of their skin. We have a responsibility to speak out against injustice and to show courage in the face of hatred. Doing nothing makes us all complicit in the subjugation of an entire group of people. And as Ms. Angelou succinctly states in the final couplet, when we turn away and ignore the suffering of others, we incur scars on our own souls.

I hope this poem inspired you as much as it inspires me, and that you will draw on its strength to take a stand against racism. For those of you who are interested, here is a short YouTube video of someone reciting this poem. Thanks for stopping by.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 2 – The Mystical Adventure

In this second part of Crowley’s autobiography, the focus is on a period of his life when he was traveling and exploring various spiritual paths in the process. It is almost like a travelogue from an occult perspective. Throughout the section, he unreservedly shares his opinions on the various cultures he encounters. There is one passage in particular where he compares his view of Americans with Europeans.

The psychology of these people really interested me. They had no experience of the kind of man who knows all the tricks but refuses to cheat. Their world was composed of sharps and flats. It is the typical American conception; the use of knowledge is to get ahead of the other fellow, and the question of fairness depends on the chance of detection. We see this even in amateur sport. The one idea is to win. Knowledge for its own sake, pleasure for its own sake, seems to the American mere frivolity. ‘Life is real, life is earnest.’ One of themselves told me recently that the American ideal is attainment, while that of Europe is enjoyment. There is much truth in this, and the reason is that in Europe we have already attained everything, and discovered that nothing is worth while. Unless we live in the present, we do not live at all.

(p. 209)

It seems that the assertion that the American ideal is attainment is still valid today. When I hear of the obscene amounts of personal wealth that some individuals have amassed, I cannot help but think that our system of values is flawed. At some point, the accumulation of more stuff does nothing to increase happiness, which for me is important. As I am now in the later stages of life, it is happiness and not stuff that is of value to me.

One idea that Crowley promotes which I am in complete agreement with is that an individual should explore all spiritual paths.

I sailed for Ceylon, chiefly because I had said I would go, certainly not in the hope of assistance from Allan. Perhaps because I had found my feet, he was, as will appear, allowed to guide them, in what seemed at first sight a new Path. I had got to learn that all roads lead to Rome. It is proper, more, it is prudent, more yet, it is educative, for the aspirant to pursue all possible Ways to Wisdom. Thus he broadens the base of his Pyramid, thus he diminishes the probability of missing the method which happens to suit him best, thus he insures against the obsession that the goat-track of his own success is the One Highway for all men, and thus he discounts the disappointment of discovering that he is not the Utter, the Unique, when it becomes plain that Magick, mysticism, and mathematics are triplets, and that the Himalayan Brotherhood is to be found in Brixton.

(p. 232)

This was something I learned in my youth. I read a book called The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley which taught me that various traditions essentially teach similar ideas, but are just presented differently. It was then that I realized that I need to explore all available paths, and to learn as much as possible from each one. It is an approach that has served me well over the years. I still have my old copy of Huxley’s book, and may have to reread it sometime soon. I’m sure it will be a different experience than it was 35 or 40 years ago.

The last thing I want to mention about this part of the book is Crowley’s definition of poetry.

A poem is a series of words so arranged that the combination of meaning, rhythm and rime produces the definitely magical effect of exalting the soul to divine ecstasy. Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Machen share this view.

(p. 345)

This is an excellent definition of poetry. I remember my days taking creative writing classes, and the professor would encourage us to read our poems out loud to ourselves to get a sense of how they sound, the cadence and intonation being critical in the evocation of emotion that the poet seeks to convey. For a while, I attended open mic poetry readings, and learned to appreciate how the spoken word can be vastly different than the written word. One need only attend a great performance of a Shakespeare play to validate this claim.

As I did when I finished Part 1, I will take a short break from this book and read some other stuff before moving on to Part 3. Thanks for stopping by, and always explore life’s paths with an open mind.

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Thoughts on “The Ideal” by Charles Baudelaire

Night by Michelangelo

Never those beauties in old prints vignetted,
Those shopworn products of an worthless age,
With slippered feet and fingers castanetted,
The thirst of hearts like my heart can assuage.

To Gavarni, the poet of chloroses,
I leave his troupe of beauties sick and wan;
I cannot find among those pale, pale roses
The red ideal mine eyes would gaze upon.

Lady Macbeth, a soul strong in crime,
Aeschylus’ dream born in a northern clime—
Ah, you could quench my dark heart’s deep desiring;

Or you, Michelangelo’s daughter, Night,
In a strange posture dreamily admiring
Your beauty fashioned for a giant’s delight!

(translation: F.P. Sturm)

This poem is Baudelaire’s critique of the artistic ideal of beauty. He asserts that beauty expressed through art is unrealistic, and the result is a “dark heart’s deep desiring” for something that does not exist.

In the second stanza, he contrasts “pale, pale roses” with the “red ideal mine eyes would gaze upon.” The roses here symbolize women, the red rose being an artistic representation of the idealized female form, and the pale rose being a real woman.

Baudelaire’s argument is still valid today. We still have an ideal of what beauty should be, and this ideal is something that no amount of plastic surgery can bestow upon a person. We all have flaws and imperfections, and I think what Baudelaire is asserting here is that it is our imperfections that convey our true beauty, those unique qualities that are specific to an individual.

As long as we lust after the ideal of beauty, we will always be disillusioned, unhappy, and burdened with the longing for something we will never attain.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 58” by Lao Tzu

Where the ruler is mum, mum,
The people are simple and happy.
Where the ruler is sharp, sharp,
The people are wily and discontented.

Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on,
Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
Who knows the ultimate end of this process?
Is there no norm of right?
Yet what is normal soon becomes abnormal,
And what is auspicious soon turns ominous.
Long indeed have the people been in a quandary.

Therefore, the Sage squares without cutting, carves without disfiguring, straightens without straining, enlightens without dazzling.

This passage seems especially timely given the current state of affairs in the US. As we grapple with public outrage and social disruption, the sharp responses we have seen have failed to calm the situation. As Lao Tzu points out, people are discontented.

I can’t stop thinking about the last line of the second stanza: “Long indeed have the people been in a quandary.” It has been a painfully long time that we seem to have been dealing with the same set of social issues. I do not claim to know how to begin addressing the myriad problems facing our society, but I agree with Lao Tzu that our normal has become abnormal. All I can do is try to encourage change through personal example.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and be a positive power in the world.

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Thoughts on “Balzac” by Aleister Crowley

Rodin’s Balzac

I’ve been slowly working my way through The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, which is quite a long book, so I’ve been interspersing it with other books and poems. So far, Crowley spends a lot of time emphasizing his brilliance as a poet, going so far as to view himself as superior to Yeats (a fine example of hubris, in my humble opinion). But he did include a sonnet which he said was inspired by Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of Honoré de Balzac, the French writer (see image above). I felt the poem was worth talking about. Here is the text for reference:

Giant, with iron secrecies ennighted,
Cloaked, Balzac stands and sees. Immense disdain,
Egyptian silence, mastery of pain,
Gargantuan laughter, shake or still the ignited
Statue of the Master, vivid. Far, affrighted,
The stunned air shudders on the skin. In vain
The Master of La Comédie Humaine
Shadows the deep-set eyes, genius lighted.

Epithalamia, birth songs, epitaphs,
Are written in the mystery of his lips.
Sad wisdom, scornful shame, grand agony
In the coffin folds of the cloak, scarred mountains, lie,
And pity hides i’ th’ heart. Grim knowledge grips
The essential manhood. Balzac stands, and laughs.

Crowley explains that he wrote the poem in support of Rodin, who was being harshly criticized regarding the sculpture.

The sculpture was not received well by the critics; Rodin took the negativity as a personal attack. Many disliked the grotesque stature of the figure while others criticized the work to be very similar to that of the Italian impressionist Medardo Rosso. As well, reports surfaced before the unveiling of the sculpture regarding anticipated dismay over the final outcome of the artwork. The Société des Gens de Lettres decided to disregard the commission to Rodin and not accept the sculpture.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Personally, I love when artists find inspiration from artistic works of different mediums. So here we have a poem, written about a sculpture, which was inspired by the works of a novelist. To me, this exemplifies how all artistic forms are connected, that they all seek to elevate the human consciousness to loftier planes.

As I look at Rodin’s sculpture and consider Crowley’s words, I get the sense that Crowley’s admiration of this work stems from the cloak of mystery that seems to enshroud Balzac. From what I gather about Crowley, he would likely have related to the feeling of being cloaked, particularly from the ritualistic occult perspective. And even artistically. As I read more of his writings, I get the sense that he was attempting to create this myth about himself, wrapping himself in a woven tale to give him a mystique as a prophet and occultist.

While I don’t think that Crowley is as great of a poet as he claims he was, it is interesting to read his poems nonetheless, because if nothing else, poems provide a window into the writer’s psyche.

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“Sonnet 38: How can my Muse want subject to invent” by William Shakespeare

How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

This is another of the Fair Youth sonnets, expressing love toward a young man. It is pretty straight-forward. The speaker in the poem is identifying the fair youth as the source of his poetic inspiration, assigning him status among the traditional nine Greek muses to whom poets and artists have offered supplication.

There is really not much else to be said about this poem. Its beauty lies in its simplicity.

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Thoughts on “Half-Witch” by John Schoffstall

One of my best friends sent me this book as a gift, and since he is someone whose opinions on literature I highly value, I promptly added it to the reading list; but when I discovered that he was listed in the Acknowledgements for his assistance to the author, I moved it to the top of the proverbial pile.

The book is a fantasy story about two girls, Lizbet and Strix, who are on a quest to retrieve a magical book. Their travels take them to some unusual places and the adventures strengthen their bonds of friendship.

After overcoming some dangerous challenges, the two girls have an interesting exchange regarding storytelling.

“We are travelers from over the Montagnes du Monde,” Strix yelled. “We have wonderful tales to tell, of thrilling adventures in our strange, foreign land!”

“We do?” Lizbet said.

“You almost had your soul blown out of you, remember? We fought off a murderer?”

“Those weren’t thrilling,” Lizbet complained. “They were terrifying and horrible.”

“’Thrilling’ is when awful things happen to someone else,” Strix said. “’Horrible’ is when they happen to you.”

(p. 127)

The perspective of the audience is integral in the sharing of stories. The storyteller can try to elicit certain responses from the audience, but ultimately how a story is received depends upon the listener. An individual’s experiences, likes and dislikes, personality traits, and so forth, all contribute to how that person will respond to a particular story, which is why some genres appeal to some people while others do not.

In order to complete the quest, Lizbet had to allow herself to become infused with negative characteristics, which were later removed.

“Are you sure you got every last bit?” Lizbet shrugged her shoulders and stretched her chest. It creaked, and armor plates rang against each other. “I think I can still feel something I don’t like. Something biting and restless, that wants to fight for no reason.”

“I got it all,” Strix said. “But while it’s in you, it changes you. That can’t be helped. Everything you do molds you, and squeezes you into its shape. Your heart always has the imprint of everything you’ve done, everything you’ve been.” Her voice was pained.

(pp. 310 – 311)

This is true. We are the sum of all our experiences, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. Every action we take, no matter how trivial it seems, has a direct and lasting impact on who we become. Nothing happens within a vacuum. It would serve us well to internalize this truth.

That’s about all I have to share regarding this book. It was a fun read and I am glad that this book made it my way. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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