Tag Archives: past

“Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

This poem is one of the “fair youth” sonnets. It essentially contrasts the emotional states associated with focusing on the past as opposed to the present.

The beginning of the sonnet is filled with the alliterative “s” sound, emulating the sound of a sigh, which is actually mentioned in the third line. The speaker is lost in thought about the past, obsessed with wasted time, failed endeavors, and lost loves. There is also a sense of mortality, as the person remembers the deaths of his friends and presumably contemplates his own. The focus on the past becomes so intense, that he is actually renewing and reliving his pain and loss. This is something I feel we have all experienced, at least I know for sure that I have. In my quiet times, it is easy for me to replay old tapes of the past and imagine what might have been, to mourn missed opportunities and lost friendships. This is exactly the feeling that Shakespeare is conveying in this poem.

But the last couplet provides a stark contrast to the prevailing mood of the sonnet. Here his focus shifts from the past to his current relationship with the fair youth, and you get the sense that the speaker is immediately able to let go of the past and appreciate what is truly important: the connection with people here and now.

We have a very limited time in our lives, and to waste that precious time obsessing about the past is a tragedy. To quote Ram Dass, we need to “Be Here Now.” We cannot change the past, and the future is uncertain. All we have is this moment. Take advantage of it and enjoy your connection with your friends and loved ones.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 6

InfiniteJest

Let the call go forth, to pretty much any nation we might feel like calling, that the past has been torched by a new and millennial generation of Americans…

(p. 381)

I’ve thought about this quote a lot since I read it. And while I agree with the essence of this statement, I am not sure whether this torching of the past is a good thing or a bad thing.

On one hand, I agree that we need to break from the social mores of the past if we are to evolve as a global society and face the challenges ahead. As such, I am all for torching the antiquated ideologies to which we cling that no longer serve the better interests of our world. If we live in the past, we will never be able to successfully move into the future. We must, of necessity, break free from the chains of our past in order to move forward.

But here’s the rub…

I have observed a tendency among some millennials to use this as a justification for apathy. Since all candidates are part of the political machine and you are basically voting for the lesser of two evils, then why bother voting at all. It is better to completely reject the corrupt and antiquated system. But is it? And what I find most unsettling is the backlash against the social change that millenials represent. Personally, I feel that much of the right-wing radicalism and fundamentalist fervor is a response to the threat that the “old guard” feels when confronted by a generation that clearly rejects their way of thinking and their set of values. When I see angry people demanding that we “take back our country,” I must ask from whom do they wish to take it back. It seems logical that they want to take it back from the “new and millennial generation.”

I sense that we are on the cusp of a major shift in humanity, but I have no clue what direction that shift will take. I see humanity collectively standing on a tightrope, teetering, and it is not clear whether we will fall to the left or the right. But inevitably, we will fall, one way or the other.

These are interesting times, that much is certain.

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“My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold” by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So it was when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

This is a poem about how our experiences as children affect who we become as adults. Wordsworth begins by expressing his joy and excitement upon seeing a rainbow. He then states that he had the same feelings as a child, as an adult, and that he expects the same feelings when he gets old. He essentially establishes a connection between his past, present, and future. He also strongly asserts that when he reaches the point where he is no longer enthralled by the sight of a rainbow, which is a symbol for the beauty of Nature, then it is time for him to die.

When Wordsworth writes “The Child is father of the Man;” he is stating that his reverence for Nature is something that he learned as a child. His thoughts and feelings that he had as a child are what created the man he became. Likewise, those childhood impressions would continue to influence his life as he enters old age.

For Wordsworth, all his days are “bound each to each.” There is a natural connection between who he was, who he is, and who he will become, and it all grows from the seeds of wonder that were planted within him as a child.

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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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Magneto: Issue #9

Magneto_09

This is the first part of a mini-series featuring the Red Skull. He is a pretty nasty character who runs a concentration camp for mutants. Magneto experiences a series of memories from when he was in a Nazi concentration camp. During his incarceration there, he was forced to load bodies into the furnaces. These memories cause him to act recklessly as he feels that stepping forth to challenge the Red Skull will constitute making amends for his acquiescence and his failure to fight against the Nazi atrocities.

Memories can be terrible tormentors. For a long time, I was tormented by the memories of things I did, and failed to do. It is easy to look back at our past and imagine how we could have or should have done things differently. But I eventually figured out that it serves no purpose. The past is the past. At best, we can learn from our mistakes. Obsessing about what happened serves no purpose. It is easier said than done, and I often find myself slipping back into self-obsession, but I usually recognize this when it happens and can change my thinking. The truth is, it’s much easier to change your thoughts than it is to change the past.

Cheers!

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“Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden” by William Shatner

StarTrekAshesOfEden

Several months ago, I stopped at a yard sale to look for books and records. Among the various items I discovered a couple of Star Trek novels, one of which was written by William Shanter. A Star Trek novel written by Kirk himself? In hardcover? For one dollar? I couldn’t pass it up. Well, I finally got around to reading it and it was everything I expected: sci-fi adventure, some philosophical ideas to mull over, enough cheesiness to make it endearing, and a healthy portion of Shatner’s ego. In fact, there were several places where other characters wondered what Kirk would do in the situation, which made me chuckle and think “WWKD.” Anyway, combined together, all these things made for a fun, entertaining read, which was what I was in the mood for.

The general theme of this book is how we as humans deal with getting old and our quest for youth. It’s a universal concept, that we seek immortality through fame and that we try to keep ourselves feeling young; but there is always a cost. Early in the book, Kirk reflects on his fame and the issues associated with it.

But then his recognition had moved beyond the Fleet. Civilians began approaching him, asking the same questions, seeking more details. Always details. After the incident with V’Ger, the floodgates had opened. All Earth claimed to know him. Most of the other worlds too.

Now Kirk couldn’t go anywhere without detecting the unsettling flash of recognition in strangers’ eyes. All the more intense because, unlike the sudden recognition awarded a new sports star or politician, people had come to recognize him over decades of his career.

(p. 39)

I see this as very autobiographical. Shatner certainly gained fame as Kirk, but he had plenty of other roles which added to his fame and recognition, such as T. J Hooker and his role as Denny Crane in Boston Legal.

As Kirk struggles to find his place in life as a person who is no longer young, he turns to his memories. There is a great passage about how memories mark your journey through life. By following the path of your memories, you begin to see patterns which enable you to make a reasonable guess at where the path is leading you.

Memories were the markers of the journey through life. It was necessary to know where you had come from. Only then could you know where you were going.

(p. 72)

At one point in the book, Kirk considers a question that resonated with me: “When was it ever right to give up doing what you lived to do?” (p. 126) I have asked myself this question many times throughout my life, particularly in regard to playing music and writing. These are things I love. They are a part of who I am. Would I be more successful if I gave them up and focused all my energy on the pursuit of material gain? Yes, but at what cost? I would be sacrificing a part of who I am. I could never do that and continue living a happy life.

One of my favorite quotes from this book appears in the later part.

… we’re not responsible for the world we’re born into. Only for the world we leave when we die. So we have to accept what’s gone before us in the past, and work to change the only thing we can—the future.

(p. 268)

This is so very true. I make a conscious effort to think about the future whenever I am acting or making a decision. Everything I do, every choice I make, directly affects the future in ways that I may never know. My actions may not have a recognizable impact on the world today, but I know that what I do now will impact the world that my children’s children will inherit.

So I want to close this post with one last quote that ties in with a little nerdy Star Trek trivia.

Then Kirk gave an order he had never given before.
“Beam me up, Scotty.”

(p. 282)

If you’re a Trekkie, you know that Kirk never actually said “Beam me up, Scotty” in any of the Star Trek episodes. I found it funny that Shatner pointed that out in the book.

So, this is not great literature, but it is a fun and easy read, and if you are a Star Trek fan, you’ll definitely get a kick out of it.

Live long and prosper.

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 1 of 4: Burnt Norton

FourQuartets

I read T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets early on in college and really didn’t grasp it. I think the fact that I read it on my own and not as part of a class was what made it difficult for me to grasp. Anyway, I decided to read the collection of poems again and to write about them one at a time. So this is my first of four posts on the Four Quartets.

“Burnt Norton” is a poem about time, essentially, the cycle of time and how the past and the future relate to the present. I found it to be very spiritual and it seems to me that Eliot was drawing inspiration from Eastern religions. The language and the metaphors he uses conjured images of a mandala, where the present is the center and the past and future revolve around, folding into and out from the central point.

Mandala

From the poem’s opening lines, you immediately get the sense that time is not linear.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

There is a definite impression that everything that ever was and everything that will come into being already exists in the now. Time is relative to our point of existence in the universe. The infinity of possibilities extends in every direction, emanating from our point in space.

Since time and possibility surrounding us is infinite, there is no way that our consciousness can grasp its depth. As Eliot expresses in the following lines, we are only able to grasp an infinitesimal amount of reality, and that is symbolized by the present.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

(Lines 42 – 46)

Since we cannot fully grasp the past or the future, since both are infinite, all we can do is focus on the present. The only thing we can grasp completely is the moment in which we exist. In order to do this, one must still the mind, as expressed in the following lines.

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
T be conscious is to not be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbor where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

(Lines 82 – 89)

So in order to become fully conscious, we must transcend time. The way that we transcend time is through meditation. When we enter a deep meditative state, time is no longer linear. Everything exists within the single moment of our awakened consciousness. At that point, the past and the future become one with the present in our psyches. This is the only way that we can truly comprehend time and existence.

Later in the poem, Eliot offers a great description of how it feels to enter the deep meditative state.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

(Lines 114 – 126)

As I read these lines, I recalled experiences I have had while meditating. There is a sense that you lose touch with the world around you, and yet, at the same time, you are fully connected with the world and with all existence within that one moment. It is something that is very hard to describe because it transcends our ordinary reality. The closest you can come to expressing that feeling is through poetry, and Eliot does a great job here.

There is much more to this poem than what I have covered here; for example, I noticed symbolism of time as an eternal circle which I personally associate with the ourosboros. In addition, the number 10 appears in the poem which for me is a very mystical number. Finally, there are references to various Eastern and Western mystic traditions. Any of these could be explored deeper in another post. But I will leave some for you to explore. I encourage you to read this poem, even if you have read it before. It is deeply spiritual and profoundly inspiring.

Look for Part 2—“East Coker”—soon.

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