Tag Archives: life

Thoughts on “The Premature Burial” by Edgar Allan Poe

This is a great story to read for Halloween. It’s dark, creepy, and the topic is one that gives the chills. For as Poe states early in the tale: “To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.”

He goes on to describe the feeling of being buried alive, of awakening to find oneself trapped within a tomb. He even makes a nice allusion to his poem, “The Conqueror Worm.”

Fearful indeed the suspicion — but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs — the stifling fumes of the damp earth — the clinging to the death garments — the rigid embrace of the narrow house — the blackness of the absolute Night — the silence like a sea that overwhelms — the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm — these things, with thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed — that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead — these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth — we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter narrated. What I have now to tell, is of my own actual knowledge — of my own positive and personal experience.

As with so many of Poe’s tales, there are often parables or symbolism woven into the macabre stories, and this one is no different. The following passage describes the protagonist’s vision of the sheer number of people who were buried prematurely.

I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind; and from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay; so that I could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But, alas! the real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the buried. And, of those who seemed tranquilly to repose, I saw that a vast number had changed, in a greater or less degree, the rigid and uneasy position in which they had originally been entombed.

I see this passage as an allegory for the general state of humanity. Many of us die having never fulfilled our life’s purpose, or never doing the things we long to do, or without expressing to another how we truly feel. In essence, we are buried prematurely, with unrealized life still within us. I see this as Poe’s way of telling us to live now, don’t put things off, because soon, you will be food for the Conqueror Worm.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. I hope you have a blessed Samhain.

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Thoughts on “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

I was searching the tables in a book store a while back, as I am wont to do, and came across this book. I had read The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and loved it, so I decided to give this one a read, especially since it was one of the books that influenced the Swedish Academy’s decision to award Ishiguro the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017.

The story follows a group of friends from a special school, whose students face a grim future. While the main plot of the story is thought-provoking, it is the subtle explorations of humanity that makes this an incredible work of art. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who has not read it, but I will say this deserves a spot on everyone’s “must read” list.

OK, let’s take a look at a few passages that stood out for me.

“But that wasn’t all,” Tommy’s voice was now down to a whisper. “What she told Roy, what she let slip, which she probably didn’t mean to let slip, do you remember, Kath? She told Roy that things like pictures, poetry, all that kind of stuff, she said they revealed what you were like inside. She said they revealed your soul.”

(p. 175)

I have always believed this. Art provides a way for an individual to express aspects of their being that cannot be conveyed through standard conversation. And yes, stories and poems are comprised of words, just like common speech, but it is what is unsaid, the cadence of the language, the metaphors and symbolism, which all combine to allow the artist to share something so deep that only a poem or well-crafted story could possibly come close to imparting that hidden part of the self to another human being.

I’ve thought about those moments over and over. I should have found something to say. I could have denied it, though Tommy wouldn’t have believed me. And to try to explain the thing truthfully would have been too complicated. But I could have done something. I could have challenged Ruth…

(p. 195)

In this passage, Kathy is remembering how she participated in the psychological bullying of her friend Tommy by staying silent and not speaking up. It is a painful lesson that too many of us learn the hard way. I learned it when I was quite young. I had a friend named Mason, and one day, a kid who usually bullied me directed his anger and hatred toward my friend instead, and I did nothing, grateful for the respite from my own torment. But the real torment came afterwards, when Mason confronted me for not standing by him. I made some lame excuse, but he was wise enough to see right through it. It’s a memory that haunted me for a long time. But I learned a valuable lesson, that silence is not acceptable when facing injustice. Not taking action makes you just as guilty in the end.

“… You built your lives on what we gave you. You wouldn’t be who you are today if we’d not protected you. You wouldn’t have become absorbed in your lessons, you wouldn’t have lost yourselves in your art and your writing. Why should you have done, knowing what lay in store for each of you? You would have told us it was all pointless, and how could we have argued with you? So she had to go.”

(p. 268)

This is the ultimate existential dilemma. We all know what’s in store for us. So what’s the point? Why struggle like Sisyphus? For me, it is precisely my lessons, my art, my writing, and my relationships with the people I love that give this life meaning. And in fact, knowing that death is inevitable makes me cherish my limited time here. It inspires me to do things that have lasting meaning and value. It’s not the end that matters. All ends are the same. It’s what you do while on the road that gives life meaning.

To sum up, this book is powerful, disturbing, inspiring, and elegantly written. If you have not read it, I highly recommend doing so. His Nobel Prize is certainly justified.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 2: At the Crossroads

Painting by Wilhelm Marstrand

Painting by Wilhelm Marstrand

One of the symbols that I have always found fascinating is the crossroads. Not only is it a representation of a point in our lives where we must choose a direction, but it is also an intersection between two realms: the conscious and subconscious, life and death, past and present. Maya Deren’s exploration of voudou offers great insights into the powerful symbolism of the crossroads.

Anyway, as I am continuing to read through Cervantes, I have noticed the symbol appearing in the text. In fact, Don Quixote states in no uncertain terms how important the crossroads are.

To which Don Quixote replied, “Thou must take notice, brother Sancho, that this adventure and those like it are not adventures of islands, but of crossroads, in which nothing is got except a broken head or an ear the less: have patience, for adventures will present themselves from which I may make you, not only a governor, but something more.”

(p. 65)

What is being expressed here is that the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza conveys more than what appears on the surface. It is not just an island in the vast sea of literature. It is a mystical place where the spiritual and the physical meet, where the veil between reality and the imagination is torn away.

Not long after this passage, Don Quixote and Sancho meet a group of shepherds at a crossroads who are on their way to a funeral.

They had not gone a quarter of a league when at the meeting of two paths they saw coming towards them some six shepherds dressed in black sheepskins and with their heads crowned with garlands of cypress and bitter oleander, Each of them carried a stout holly staff in his hand and along with them came two men of quality on horseback in handsome travelling dress, with three servants on foot accompanying them. Courteous salutations were exchanged on meeting, and inquiring one of the other which way each party was going, they learned that all were bound for the scene of the burial, so they went on all together.

(p. 86)

Here we have the intersection between life and death. The three plants that are mentioned—cypress, oleander, and holly—are all evergreens and symbolize the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

I still have a long way to go in this book, and I suspect that Don Quixote and Sancho will find themselves at many other crossroads along their journey. I look forward to seeing which pathways they choose.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 13” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

“Welcome disgrace as a pleasant surprise.
Prize calamities as your own body.”

Why should we “welcome disgrace as a pleasant
surprise”?
Because a lowly state is a boon:
Getting it is a pleasant surprise,
And so is losing it!
That is why we should “welcome disgrace as a pleasant
surprise.”

Why should we “prize calamities as our own body”?
Because our body is the very source of our calamities.
If we have no body, what calamities can we have?

Hence, only he who is willing to give his body for the
sake of the world is fit to be entrusted with the world.
Only he who can do it with love is worthy of being the
steward of the world.

So I struggled with this passage and had to read it a couple times. I’m still not sure I fully grasp what Lao Tzu is saying, but here is my interpretation. I think that disgrace and calamity may refer to failure. The old saying goes that there is no shame in failure, there is only shame in not trying. If you try to live a spiritual life and fail, or if you try to be a good steward of the world and fail, at least you attempted and did your best. We have no control over outcomes, only our efforts.

I also could not help thinking about Nietzsche, and how that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Adversity can often motivate us, and overcoming difficulties can sometimes lead to spiritual growth. Suffering can be a path to enlightenment; although, given a choice, I would probably choose the path of less suffering.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. If you have any insights into this passage, please feel free to share them in the comment section. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers and blessings.

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #04 – The Symbolic Fork in the Road

ScarletWitch_04

As I was reading this issue, I came across an interesting quote.

Yes, but there are forks in the road… some lead to light and others to darkness.

The fork in the road is a powerful symbol for me. On the path through life, there are points where we come to a fork and must choose a direction, the outcome of which is often not clear at the time. Choosing the wrong path often has consequences that become apparent later on. But as the song goes, “Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on” (Stairway to Heaven). So yes, you can learn valuable life lessons from taking the wrong path, provided you are subtle enough to acknowledge your mistake and change course. Sadly, some people are not able to do this and tenaciously stay upon the road they have chosen, and this ultimately leads to the dark end.

Looking back on my life, I have faced the fork many times. Sometimes I have chosen more wisely than others. But regardless, I have been willing to change directions when I needed to. If you have chosen a wrong road, don’t fret; instead, summon the courage to alter your course. Doing so may lead you to your true path.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 9” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

As for holding to fullness,
Far better were it to stop in time!

Keep on beating and sharpening a sword,
And the edge cannot be preserved for long.

Fill your house with gold and jade,
And it can no longer be guarded.

Set store by your riches and honour,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.

Here is the Way of Heaven:
When you have done your work, retire!

This is very practical advice for living life in the material world. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and we must work and do certain things to take care of ourselves in this life. But what Lao Tzu is saying here is that we should not let our earthly desires dominate our lives. We all must work, and we all need a certain amount of wealth in order to survive, but the key to happiness and the “Way to Heaven” is to be content with just enough, and not to keep constantly striving for more. When we reach fullness, it is time to stop and rest. When a bird has finished building a nest, it does not keep building other ones. Likewise, when the bird has eaten enough, it stops eating. If it were to continue eating after it was full, it would no longer be able to fly.

We can spend our lives chasing after things that mean nothing in the end, but will that bring us happiness? I personally do not think so. I encourage you to pause, rest, and reflect on what is really important in your life. I suspect that it will not be material gains.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 8” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWaterPainting

The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.
It stays in places loathed by all men.
Therefore, it comes near the Tao.

In choosing your dwelling, know how to keep to the ground.
In cultivating your mind, know how to dive in the hidden deeps.
In dealing with others, know how to be gentle and kind.
In speaking, know how to keep your words.
In governing, know how to maintain order.
In transacting business, know how to be efficient.
In making a move, know how to choose the right moment.

If you do not strive with others,
You will be free from blame.

Water is a pretty standard symbol for the spirit and the subconscious mind. But this passage builds on that metaphor and uses water as a symbol for how to live a spiritual life in the material world. Fluidity is the key. Lately, it seems like people are taking the complete opposite approach, asserting that a “hard stance” is what is required, that one needs rigid adherence to ideologies in order to be successful. This is the materialistic approach and is antithetical to the spiritual path.

When you move like water through life, obstacles that may arise to not block your progress. You are able to flow past the stones that crop up in your way. And then you are happier, because you are not spending your energy struggling and fighting against things that you cannot change. It is a great philosophy for how to live life.

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