Tag Archives: literature

The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare

This past weekend was a milestone for Stuff Jeff Reads. After publishing my thoughts on The Tempest, I have officially covered every Shakespeare play on my blog. Fear not, though. If you are a Shakespeare fan, there are still plenty of sonnets, as well as some longer poems for me to read and write about.

So here is the list of all 38 plays, with links to my reviews. In addition, you can access everything in my archive via the Books & Poems by Author page. Enjoy, and never stop reading!

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Thoughts on “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

I like this play a lot, and have read it and seen it performed multiple times. It is such a rich play that one could write volumes on it. Having said that, I decided that I would keep my post short and focus on one of Prospero’s passages that exemplifies the wonder of this play.

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb’d with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind.

(Act IV, scene i)

Reading this gives you the sense of a wise person nearing the end of their life. The revels of youth are over, and one must accept that we are but actors who have a fleeting role in the human drama. We are spiritual beings destined to melt back into the heavens. Our consciousness is but a dream, and when our sojourn is over, we will drift back into the eternal sleep, becoming one with the universal consciousness from which we emanated.

There is nothing I can say that can add to the splendor of this passage. It is, in my humble opinion, perfect in every way.

I hope you enjoyed this post, even though it was short. May it inspire you to make the most of life, before this insubstantial pageant fades away, into thin air.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 6 – At the Abbey of Thelema

As I have now finished reading all of Crowley’s autobiography, it’s probably time to address the question: Was Aleister Crowley the evil black magician that he was portrayed to be? The short answer is, I don’t know. To quote Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And I think this was Crowley’s take on magick, that there is no good or bad magick, there is just magick. He uses the metaphor of music as an example.

Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F is a bad one; yet this is exactly the standpoint from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.

(p. 838)

In a manner that is very familiar in our current political climate, Crowley blames the news media of his time as spreading “fake news” about him and his practices, asserting that what was written about him amounted to nothing less than slander.

I replied ‘Allegations utterly absurd.’ My only annoyance was having to pay for the telegram. Presently copies of the Sunday papers for November 28th arrived. I read them with tireless amusement. I had read in my time a great deal of utter balderdash, but nothing quite so comprehensively ridiculous. It gave me the greatest joy to notice that practically every single detail was false. There was, for instance, a description of the abbey, without a single failure to misstate the facts. If a thing was white, they called it red, if square, circular, if stone, brick; and so for everything.

(p. 914)

To sum up, this is a long book, probably longer than it needed to be, but interesting in providing context for the development of the occult ideologies that have had a profound impact on the ideas and practices of those circles ever since. I also, personally, ended this book with the impression that some of Crowley’s stories were embellished, either to establish a cult of himself, or to convey symbolically some mystical information to the careful reader who could notice the subtleties of metaphor woven into the text.

I will close this series on The Confessions of Aleister Crowley with a quote that is most appropriate.

‘The mind is improved by reading.’

(p. 853)

Hope you enjoyed, and keep improving your mind.

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“Henry VIII” by William Shakespeare: On Politics and Literature

This was my first time reading this particular play, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The introduction said that the play is a “pageant to be seen rather than a play to be read,” and the abundance of stage directions confirms this. Still, there are some interesting passages, especially in regard to the politics of that age.

The play essentially takes place as King Henry VIII was getting divorced from Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn (spelled Bullen in Shakespeare’s text). Toward the end of the play, Queen Anne gives birth to Elizabeth, the future queen, and this is where the text gets really interesting for me.

At the time that Shakespeare wrote this play, James I had succeeded Queen Elizabeth I and was reigning over England. In the final act, Shakespeare pays homage to the two monarchs that ruled during his time, a move that was politically savvy and ensured that he remained within the good graces of the ruler. He did this by crafting a prophesy, asserting that Elizabeth and James were both divinely ordained to do great things during their lifetimes. It is a long passage, but worth sharing.

Let me speak, sir,
For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter
Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth.
This royal infant–heaven still move about her!–
Though in her cradle, yet now promises
Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,
Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be–
But few now living can behold that goodness–
A pattern to all princes living with her,
And all that shall succeed: Saba was never
More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue
Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces,
That mould up such a mighty piece as this is,
With all the virtues that attend the good,
Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her,
Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
She shall be loved and fear’d: her own shall bless her;
Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn,
And hang their heads with sorrow: good grows with her:
In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix’d: peace, plenty, love, truth, terror,
That were the servants to this chosen infant,
Shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him:
Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honour and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
To all the plains about him: our children’s children
Shall see this, and bless heaven.

(Act V, scene v)

Shakespeare eloquently validates the rule of James I, while evoking the praise of Elizabeth, and at the same time, connects both of them to the idea of “divine rule,” that the King and Queen of England were God’s manifestation of power on the temporal plane.

I hope you found this passage interesting. If you are not a Shakespeare buff, you may want to watch instead of read this one. I also will look for a good version to stream online.

Thanks for stopping by, and try not to let the crazy politics of these times overwhelm you. Cheers!

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 5 – The Magus

In the timeline of Crowley’s life, this section of his autobiography corresponds to a period when he spent a significant amount of time in the United States, and also began to sink into poverty.

During this period, Crowley became involved in Freemasonry and assumed a leadership position. He claims that one of the first things he set out to do was define Freemasonry.

I proposed to define freemasonry as a system of communicating truth – religious, philosophical, magical and mystical; and indicating the proper means of developing human faculty by means of a peculiar language whose alphabet is the symbolism of ritual. Universal brotherhood and the greater moral principles, independent of personal, racial, climactic and other prejudices, naturally formed a background which would assure individual security and social stability for each and all.

(p. 700)

While the Freemasonry stuff and his personal history were intriguing, what I found the most interesting in this section of the book is Crowley’s theory that there is a symbolic connection between Christ and the god Mercury. I have read plenty of texts comparing Christ with other manifestations of the divine (Mithras, Osiris, etc.), but this is the first time I heard of anyone attempting to establish a relationship between Christ and Mercury; and I must admit, Crowley makes a convincing argument.

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, who is Mercury, and is therefore to be identified with Christ. Both are messengers; their birth mysteries are similar; the pranks of their childhood are similar. In the Vision of the Universal Mercury, Hermes is seen descending upon the sea, which refers to Maria. The Crucifixion represents the caduceus; the two thieves, the two serpents; the cliff in the Vision of the Universal Mercury is Golgotha; Maria is simply Maia with the solar R in her womb.

. . .

To continue the identification, compare Christ’s descent into hell with the function of Hermes as guide of the dead. Also Hermes leading up Eurydice, and Christ raising up Jairus’s daughter. Christ is said to have risen on the third day, because it takes three days for the planet Mercury to become visible after separating from the orb of the sun. (It may be noted here that Mercury and Venus are the planets between us and the sun, as if the Mother and the Son were mediators between us and the Father.)

(pp. 720 – 721)

Crowley cites other similarities, but I think this is sufficient to demonstrate his assertion.

Crowley’s ideas are difficult to grasp and often misinterpreted. As he states in the text, “you’re not the first people to fail to understand Mr Aleister Crowley!” (p. 755) But this is the challenge when approaching a text of this type. Mystical and occult literature is difficult to understand and the symbolic nature of it makes it prone to myriad interpretations. It is always prudent to keep this in mind when reading books of this sort.

Thanks for stopping by, and always read critically.

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Occult Correlations in “He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace” by William Butler Yeats

I hear the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,
Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;
The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,
The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:
Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat
Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,
Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,
And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

Yeats was a member of the Golden Dawn, and therefore very familiar with Hermeticism and occult philosophy. This poem contains a weaving of occult correlations, and to begin to understand the poem, you need to be aware of the connections.

Four is the key number in this poem: four directions, four elements, four vanities, and four horsemen. Yeats establishes a correlation between elements, directions, and emotions, and then implies a symbolic connection with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

In Western Hermetic thought, the four directions are associated with the four elements as follows:

  • North – Earth
  • East – Air
  • West – Water
  • South – Fire

Next, we need to factor in the four associated emotional states:

  • North – Earth – Sleep
  • East – Air – Hope
  • West – Water – Dream
  • South – Fire –Desire

It appears that Yeats viewed these emotional states as ills, states of being that are detrimental to the development and advancement of humanity.

Finally, let’s connect these with the four horsemen:

  • North – Earth – Sleep – Third Horseman (Famine) on black horse
  • East – Air – Hope – First Horseman (Pestilence) on white horse
  • West – Water – Dream – Fourth Horseman (Death) on pale horse
  • South – Fire –Desire – Second Horseman (War) on red horse

At this point we see the pattern emerge, and the pattern is reflected in the lines of the poem.

The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:

So what does all this mean? What was Yeats ultimately trying to convey? I think he was attempting to provide us with a map delineating the progression of the apocalypse, both on an individual level as well as a global level. We begin our journey with hope, but this leads us to desire, then we become tired and sleep, and ultimately, we pass away and slip into the eternal dream.

I hope that you found this post interesting and that it helped you to form some of your own interpretations of this poem. Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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“Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare: Fear No More

My first ever exposure to Shakespeare was an excerpt from this play. As a kid, I somehow acquired a copy of a cheap paperback book called Immortal Poems of the English Language. I can still picture the cover. Anyway, the book included a Shakespeare “poem” entitled “Fear No More,” which I would discover many years later was actually just a passage from Cymbeline. But I loved this poem and read it over and over as a kid. So, having just re-read this play, it is that passage that I want to focus on.

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish’d joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!

(Act IV: scene ii)

Just a quick note: the above passage is sung by two characters, Guiderius and Arviragus, and in the play they take turns with sections and lines, but I have omitted the names to preserve the flow that was in my old poetry book.

While these words are being spoken over a supposedly deceased person in the play, blessing the spirit as it is freed from the suffering of existence, it speaks volumes to the living. “Fear no more.” We spend so much of our lives worrying about things that in the end will amount to nothing. Death awaits all of us and is a part of all life. When we accept this fact, that we will “as chimney-sweepers, come to dust,” our priorities change. We recognize what is truly important in life, and can let go of the senseless worry and fear that burdens the existence of so many individuals, robbing them of the joy to be experienced during our brief sojourn.

Another aspect of this passage that resonates with me is in the second stanza: “The sceptre, learning, physic, must / All follow this, and come to dust.” It does not matter how much political power you amass, how educated you are, or how physically strong you might be; ultimately, you will die, just like everyone else. Death is the great equalizer.

While I focused on my favorite passage from this play, I want to close by saying that this is a really good play, and does not get the attention I feel it deserves. The story is great, the writing is superb, and it has a little bit of everything: history, tragedy, comedy, romance, and philosophy. If you have never read this play, I highly recommend you do so.

Thanks for stopping by, and remember, in these crazy times: Fear No More.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 4 – Magical Workings

At this point in Crowley’s autobiographical work, he begins to get a little deeper into magickal theory, which can be challenging and demands a lot of the reader. Early in this section, he draws on kabbalistic mysticism to explain the symbolism associated with the proverbial Fall.

I have already explained briefly what are meant by Neschamah, Ruach and Nephesch. I must now do a little more deeply into the doctrines of the Cabbala. The human consciousness is represented as the centre of a hexagon whose points are the various faculties of the mind; but the uppermost point, which should link the human consciousness with the divine, is missing. Its name is Daäth, Knowledge. The Babylonian legend of the ‘fall’ is a parable of the shutting out of man from Paradise by the destruction of this Daäth and the establishment of this Abyss. Regeneration, redemption, atonement and similar terms mean alike the reunion of the human with the divine consciousness. Arrived at the highest possible point of human attainment by regular steps, one finds oneself on the brink of the Abyss, and to cross this one must abandon utterly and for ever all that one has and is. (In unscientific mysticism the act is represented sentimentally as the complete surrender of the self to God.) In unsectarian English, the act implies first of all the silencing of the human intellect so that one may hear the voice of the Neschamah.

(pp. 509 – 510)

There is a lot to unpack here. Essentially, the fall from the Edenic state is the separation of the human consciousness from the divine. There then exists a space separating the divine and human consciousnesses. This is what Crowley refers to as the Abyss, and it must be crossed in order to reunify one’s consciousness with the divine. But to cross the Abyss into the realm of divine being is not a simple task, and one must dedicate him or herself completely. Half measures avail nothing. Here he lets the reader know that the first thing a seeker must do is learn to quiet the mind. The practice of meditation with the goal of silencing the ego allows the practitioner to get that first bit of insight needed to cross the Abyss.

So how does one actually cross the Abyss? Crowley directs those seeks to The Book of the Law.

I know now from the experience of others that The Book of the Law is veritably a Golden Bough. It is the only thing that one is allowed to take with one through Hades and it is an absolute passport. In fact, one cannot go through Hades at all; there is no ‘one’ to go. But the Law itself bridges the Abyss, for ‘Love is the law, love under will.’ One’s will-to-cross is to disintegrate all things soever into soulless dust, love is the one force which can bind them together into a coherent causeway. There, where torn thoughts sank through the starless space, aching and impotent, into what was not even nothingness, each alive for ever because reduced to its ultimate atoms so that there is no possibility of change, no hope of any alleviation of its anguish, each exquisitely mindful that its captain had slain himself in despair; there may men pass today in peace. What with The Book of the Law to guide them, and my experience to warn them, they can prepare themselves for the passage; and it is their own fault if the process of self-annihilation involves suffering.

(p. 513)

What is important to note here is that the spiritual path, the crossing of the Abyss, and the reunification with the divine, is something that must be done alone. The practitioner and seeker can accept guidance and support, but the actual work must be done on one’s own.

There are a lot of details in this section of the book which are too in-depth to cover in this short post. I found myself having to pause and contemplate throughout, just to get the gist of what he was writing. Having said that, I feel like this is a good place to stop in regard to this section of the book. But I will share my thoughts on “Part 5: The Magus” once I finish reading it.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you be safe and healthy.

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Thoughts on “The Knight” by Rainer Maria Rilke

The knight rides forth in sable mail
into the stirring world.
Out there is all:
the friend, the foe, the valley, the day,
the meal in the hall,
the maid and the wood and the month of May,
and the Holy Grail,
and God himself many thousand times
is shown in the streets.

Yet, in the armor of the knight,
behind the sinister rings,
Death squats, brooding and brooding:
When will the sword spring
over the hedge of iron,
that strange and freeing blade,
to fetch me from this place
that has cramped me many a day,
so that at last I can stretch myself
and sing
and play?

(translation by C. F. MacIntyre)

I read this poem a couple times, and for me, I see the knight as a symbol for a young and idealistic individual, riding out to explore the world. Everything seems possible, and it is just a matter of going out and seeking one’s goal. It is essentially being on the archetypal quest.

But then the tone of the second stanza changes abruptly. It is the voice of the mature person, likely someone who having spent youth pursuing some lofty goal, has settled into the mundane reality of existence. The mature person feels trapped, stifled, and very aware of mortality. There is a sense of longing for the freedom of youth, the excitement of heading out into the world, and the simple pleasures that one associates with early years.

It is also worth considering the knight’s armor and what it represents. As we mature, we are prone to wrap ourselves in a protective cloak. But this security is an illusion. It is really a slow form of death that steadily smothers our lives.

As we near the end of our lives, we imagine that there is a better world waiting for us beyond the veil, where we can “sing and play” with the same joy and abandon as we did when young. But it is a sad and sobering thought that death would seem a welcome escape from the doldrums of life.

So how does one avoid this dread fate? I feel that by maintaining a sense of wonder and adventure that we can stave off the dreariness and monotony of life in later years. Stay on the quest. Always actively engage in life, for there is always something else out there to experience.

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Thoughts on “Crito” by Plato

This short dialog is included in The Last Days of Socrates which I originally read in college (and yes, I still have my old copy). It takes place while Socrates is in prison awaiting execution, and his friend Crito offers to help him escape and leave Athens. The two discuss whether it is right to do something that is wrong if something wrong is done to you, ultimately concluding that it is not justified, that the ideal of the social contract is more important than an individual’s self-interest. Essentially, Socrates would not break the law by escaping prison even though he was wrongly convicted, because upholding the ideal to which he agreed to live mattered more than his life.

Reading this in a time of social unrest as a result of individuals being frustrated with an unjust legal system raised a lot of questions for me, particularly: At what point does the social contract become invalid? If the laws themselves are just, but the people enforcing and applying those laws are unjust, is it right to respond unlawfully to foment social change which is clearly in the best interest of society? These are not easy questions to grapple with and I do not feel equipped to address them, but I felt I would put them out there for individuals to contemplate on their own.

There are a couple passages worth sharing and considering.

SOCRATES: I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good; which would be a splendid thing, if it were so. Actually they have neither. They cannot make a man wise or stupid; they simply act at random.

(Last Days of Socrates: p. 81)

There are some interesting things to think about here. First, it seems that Socrates is asserting that a person’s ability to do good is equal to that person’s ability to do wrong, and vice versa. This is important, especially in our current world of social media where people tend to view others as either good or bad, depending upon how that persons actions or ideologies correlate with the person making the judgment call. In our drive to squeeze everything down to a Tweet or a meme, we’ve lost the ability to recognize the complexity and range of scope that every individual possesses.

The other thing that struck me about the previous quote is Socrates’ claim that ordinary people “simply act at random.” At first glance, this seems rather insulting, but upon further reflection, one begins to see the truth in the statement. The problem with many people in the world is that they react to situations without taking the time to adequately think through the ramifications of their actions. A wise person would pause, consider the situation, and come to a logical conclusion. Conversely, a stupid person would pause, consider the situation, and come to an illogical conclusion. Too many people do neither. They react without consideration, essentially acting at random, as Socrates would claim.

Later in the dialog, Socrates debates whether it is best to listen to public opinion or to defer to a single authority.

SOCRATES: In that case, my dear fellow, what we ought to consider is not so much what people in general will say about us but how we stand with the expert in right and wrong, the one authority, who represents the actual truth. So in the first place your proposition is not correct when you say that we should consider popular opinion in questions of what is right and honorable and good, or the opposite.

(ibid: p. 86)

Socrates builds on this to establish that the law is the one authority that represents truth and that the public opinion that he should break the law by fleeing prison is the wrong course of action. But this again leads back to my quandary, which is, at what point does public opinion outweigh the law and previously agreed-upon social contract? It is a really difficult question, and one worthy of analysis via Socratic Method. But that is beyond the scope of this post, so I will leave you with the questions to ponder.

This dialog is very short (a mere 16 pages), but evokes a lot of questions relevant to our society today. I encourage you to give it a read. I suspect you can find a digital copy online for free.

Thanks for stopping by and for reading and thinking.

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