Tag Archives: dark

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 21” by Lao Tzu

chinesestorm

It lies in the nature of Grand Virtue
To follow the Tao and the Tao alone.
Now what is the Tao?
It is Something elusive and evasive.
Evasive and elusive!
And yet It contains within Itself a Form.
Elusive and evasive!
And yet It contains within Itself a Substance.
Shadowy and dim!
And yet It contains within Itself a Core of Vitality.
The Core of Vitality is very real,
It contains within Itself an unfailing Sincerity.
Throughout the ages Its Name has been preserved
In order to recall the Beginning of all things.
How do I know the ways of all things at the Beginning?
By what is within me.

This has been a difficult week for me, as it has been for many people who are close to me. My friend Heather sent an email asking how her friends are dealing with these dark times. For me, it is all about continuing on the spiritual path, being supportive to others, and trying to be a glimmer of light by living my life as best I can. With that in mind, I returned to my reading and contemplation of the Tao Teh Ching.

As I read this passage, I was reminded that we are all spiritual beings, and within each of us is the divine essence. This essence is subtle and easily overlooked when distracted by the noise of the world around us. Many people have completely lost touch of this elusive and evasive shadowy thing within. Personally, I am reaffirming my commitment to continue nurturing the spiritual substance which is the core of my being, and I hope that others will do so too. If this happens, then the perceived dark times will become that seed of light which, if nurtured, can swell into a glow of enlightenment for all humanity.

Blessings to all and thanks for stopping by to share in my thoughts.

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“Ill Luck” by Charles Baudelaire

The Poor Poet - Spitzweg

The Poor Poet – Spitzweg

So huge a burden to support
Your courage, Sisyphus, would ask;
Well though my heart attacks its task,
Yet Art is long and Time is short.

Far from the famed memorial arch
Towards a lonely grave I come.
My heart in its funereal march
Goes beating like a muffled drum.

— Yet many a gem lies hidden still
Of whom no pick-axe, spade, or drill
The lonely secrecy invades;

And many a flower, to heal regret,
Pours forth its fragrant secret yet
Amidst the solitary shades.

(Translation by Roy Campbell)

I really like this sonnet, and it is fairly accessible as far as poetry goes. This is essentially a poem about the “ill luck” of being born a poet or an artist.

In the first stanza, Baudelaire describes being an artist/poet as a Sisyphean task, a constant uphill struggle that will likely lead nowhere. But it is a calling and something he must heed. He also acknowledges that artistic expression often requires more time than one is allotted in life.

In the second stanza, he acknowledges his mortality and what he sees as in impending death. He realizes that with each beat of his heart, he is a moment closer to death. His heart is like a clock, ticking away the short time he has left on earth.

In the final two stanzas, he confesses that, even though he feels his death approaching, there are more poems inside him, more art that he wants to express. The hidden gems and the blossoming flowers are the unformed works of art still nestled within him. He longs to expose them, to carve and polish the gems and nurture the flowers of artistic expression.

Let this be a warning to all of us. Our time here is limited. If you have things to say, work to do, art to create, don’t procrastinate. If you do, you may awaken to the beating of your heart one day, like a metronome, and realize you don’t have time left to complete your life’s purpose.

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“The Enemy” by Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire

My youth was but a tempest, dark and savage,
Through which, at times, a dazzling sun would shoot
The thunder and the rain have made such ravage
My garden is nigh bare of rosy fruit.

Now I have reached the Autumn of my thought,
And spade and rake must toil the land to save,
That fragments of my flooded fields be sought
From where the water sluices out a grave.

Who knows if the new flowers my dreams prefigure,
In this washed soil should find, as by a sluit,
The mystic nourishment to give them vigour?

Time swallows up our life, O ruthless rigour!
And the dark foe that nibbles our heart’s root,
Grows on our blood the stronger and the bigger!

(Translation by Roy Campbell)

So the first thing I would like to discuss regarding this poem is the title, which in French is “L’Ennemi.” I think this is one of those times where something key is lost in translation, because the word “ennemi” seems too similar to ennui for coincidence, in my opinion, especially considering how prominent ennui is in many of Baudelaire’s poems. I should note that in my version of The Flowers of Evil, the translator, Robert Lowell, translates the title as ‘The Ruined Garden,” which I feel is a less accurate translation, at least regarding the title of the poem.

The sonnet begins with Baudelaire describing his youth, which is depicted as troubled and painful. The garden is symbolic of his mind and the source of his artistic expression. But this garden was not able to produce when he was young. It was only later in life that the “new flowers,” or poems, grew from the ailing and damaged garden bed.

It is in the last stanza that the mysterious enemy appears, described as “the dark foe that nibbles our heart’s root.” I believe that the enemy is ennui, slowly eating away at the poet’s heart. He knows he has “reached the Autumn” of his life and that he must express himself now or he never will. There is a palpable sense of urgency in his words. But ennui is ever there, gnawing at him, seeking to destroy his creative urge.

For those of you who are interested, there is a great website that has multiple translations of this poem, as well as the original French. I encourage you to read some of the other translations to get a better feel of this great sonnet. Cheers!

fleursdumal.org

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“The Wicked Monk” by Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire2

Old cloisters, on their mighty walls, displayed
In tableau, scenes of holy Verity
Which warmed the pious entrails and allayed
The chill of cenobite austerity.

When the seed of Christ flourished long ago,
Many a monk, of small renown today,
Using the churchyard for his studio,
Glorified Death in all simplicity.

My soul’s a tomb which, wicked cenobite,
I wander in for all eternity;
Nothing embellishes these odious walls.

O slothful monk! When shall they learn to make
Of the live pageant of my misery
My hands their labor, my eyes their delight?

(translation by Barbara Gibbs)

This is an extremely dark sonnet where Baudelaire contemplates the darkness within his own consciousness. In the first two stanzas, it sounds as if he is criticizing the Church and the monastic order; but by the time we reach the third stanza, it becomes clear that the monk is a symbol for his introspective thoughts, silently analyzing the darker aspects of his soul, or psyche. With this in mind, the first two stanzas take on a different meaning.

A tableau is “a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history.” Considering that this is a self-reflexive poem, the cloister then represents the poet’s memory. The scenes depicted on the walls are memories that he cannot escape, since the truth of these memories is clear to him. And these memories cause anguish, because Baudelaire cannot deny the dark aspects of his being. One must admire his level of acceptance to embrace that part of himself that he finds repulsive, “odious.”

Although the past is dead, Baudelaire is still trapped within the tomb of his memories. He continues to relive the misery of his past, forever contemplating the hidden parts of himself, silently, as a monk, pondering how his soul became so corrupt and diseased.

I cannot help but wonder if Baudelaire was going for the cathartic experience when he wrote this. I get the sense that he wants to be free of his inner monk, to step out of the dark cloister of his past and bask in the beauty of the sunlit world.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 1” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.

As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.

These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.

The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.

(translation: John C. H. Wu)

As I read this passage, I thought about the yin/yang symbol. I have always interpreted this symbol as an expression of duality: light and dark, male and female, positive and negative, and so forth. But this passage made me consider the symbol as a representation of the Divine, the dark being the ineffable aspect of the Divine while the light is the illuminated aspect which is manifest in our realm and which we can perceive. There is also a small amount of the hidden within the manifest, as well as a small amount of the manifest within the hidden.

This brings us to the last line. For me, I see this as the purpose of meditation and contemplation. We will never be able to penetrate the “Mystery of mysteries” in our earthly existence, but through contemplating that which is unknowable, we can open the doors within ourselves and gain a sense of the divine essence which is within us and within everything that exists.

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“She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

This poem is from Byron’s volume of Hebrew Melodies. So as I read this, I kept that in mind and looked for hints of Jewish mysticism woven into the verse.

The central symbol in this poem is the moon, which appears at night and possesses both “dark and bright” aspects. Byron expresses a reverence to the lunar orb and acknowledges the connection between the moon and the divine feminine. As I considered this, the Jewish mystic connection became clear.

I suspect that Byron is making a reference to the Shekhinah, which in Jewish kabbalistic tradition is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. The Shekhinah, like other goddess symbols, is associated with the moon, which represents divine light in the darkness.

The Kabbalah refers to the Shekhinah as feminine, according to Gershom Scholem. “The introduction of this idea was one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism. …no other element of Kabbalism won such a degree of popular approval.” The “feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature.”

“In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as ‘the daughter of God’. … The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The Romantic writers were deeply interested in all forms of mysticism and the occult, so it does not surprise me that Byron found inspiration in Jewish mystical tradition.

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“My Soul is Dark” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

My soul is dark – Oh! quickly string
The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
Its melting murmurs o’er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
‘Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.

But bid the strain be wild and deep,
Nor let thy notes of joy be first:
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,
Or else this heavy heart will burst;
For it hath been by sorrow nursed,
And ached in sleepless silence, long;
And now ’tis doomed to know the worst,
And break at once – or yield to song.

This poem is a great example of English Romanticism. It is an expression of inner pain and suffering that is only alleviated through the restorative power of art.

In the poem, Byron conveys a sense of deep sorrow, the type which leads to isolation and despair. The emphasis on the darkness of his soul indicates that all hope and joy are void from his being. He is cast into a state of darkness that nothing seems able to penetrate. He concedes that there is one thing that can overcome this darkness, and that is music.

Here it is important to note that music has two meanings. On one level, he is referring to music in the audible sense. Instrumental music is unique in artistic expression because the tones communicate directly with the psyche and instill emotion without the use of words. But music is also a metaphor for poetry, and I think that Byron is claiming that there are actually two ways in which he can overcome his sorrow: by either listening to music or by opening up his soul through the composition of poetry. So in the final line, when Byron states that his heart will “break at once – or yield to song,” he is asserting that he can cure himself of his internal darkness is by opening his heart and expressing his deep emotion through poetry, which is essentially what he is doing in this poem.

I relate to this poem on a deep level. There have been many times in my life where playing music and writing poetry were the only ways that I was able to deal with my inner turmoil. I guess that’s why I have always related to the Romantic poets on a visceral level. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and have a creative day.

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“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas

ChildsChristmasWales

I was reminded today about why I hate to get rid of books. I was scanning my shelves, looking for something appropriate to read for the holidays, and spotted my old copy of Quite Early One Morning by Dylan Thomas. It had been probably 30 years since I opened this book, but it called to me. As soon as I looked at the table of contents and saw that it contained “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” I knew I had been guided to this book.

Let me start by saying that I loved this piece. It is a prose poem that has the feel and lyrical cadence of some of the most beautiful lyric poetry I have ever read. Reading this stirred memories of holidays when I was a kid, complete with the wonder and imagination and adventure that was such a big part of growing up in the north east.

While I would love to include the entire text in this post, I will limit myself to three passages that I feel capture the essence of this tale. I hope it will inspire you to read the entire piece because it is amazing. In fact, here is a link to an online version if you feel so inclined.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

The first section I’d like to share is a great example of childhood imagination. It brought back memories of how, as a kid, we stalked the woods with sling-shots hunting small animals, which we never caught, but it was the adventure, fueled by our active imaginations, which made it such a formative experience.

It was on the afternoon of the day of Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows—eternal, ever since Wednesday—that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbour’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

The use of alliteration adds to the music of the writing, and Thomas uses this technique throughout the piece. This next passage—which is a long, single sentence—focuses on his romanticized memories of past Christmases and is another great example of the use alliteration and punctuation to instill a poetic feel into the prose.

Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.

The last section that I want to share is a paragraph near the end where Thomas recounts the telling of stories beside the fire. In an age of digital media and endless streaming entertainment, this is rapidly becoming a lost art, like hand-written letters on artistic stationery arriving in the mailbox. He also recalls going out caroling, something I too did as a kid, and the thrill of going up to a dark, mysterious house, of which there was always at least one in each neighborhood.

Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs where the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn’t the shaving of a moon to light the flying street. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.

Reading this story kindled warm memories of my childhood. Ever the romantic, I often look back at the past and reminisce about the carefree and adventurous days of my youth. Not that I would ever want to give up the life I have today, but I am grateful that I have those memories.

Have a blessed holiday and New Year!

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