Tag Archives: poetry

“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.

17 Comments

Filed under Literature

“She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” by William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

This poem is classified as one of Wordsworth’s “Lucy” poems. There seems to be a little disagreement on the number of Lucy poems. Online resources claim there are five, but my volume of English Romantic Writers from college asserts there are six, including the poem “Lucy Gray” among them. I guess I will have to go with the scholarly text over Wikipedia. That said, this will be my first in the series of posts covering the six Lucy poems.

All sources agree that there is no record of who Lucy was, or if she even existed at all, so it is pointless to try to speculate. Instead, I will focus on the poems themselves.

This poem for me exemplifies the essence of the nineteenth century English romantic writers from the Lake District. It evokes a sense of bucolic beauty and simplicity. Having been to the Lake District multiple times, I can easily envision a pastoral setting where the rustic Lucy was said to dwell. And you get a sense of her loneliness, living in a home away from townsfolk, tending to the garden.

The third stanza drives this poem home. City dwellers, absorbed in materialism, self-obsessed, and dominated by the ego, think nothing of the value of the life of a single, peasant girl off in the countryside. But as Wordsworth points out, every life has its unique beauty, every soul is a star twinkling in the firmament, every human being brings something of value to this world, and every loss is felt by someone.

I really like this poem a lot. It’s unpretentious and stirs emotion on a visceral level. I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I do. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

3 Comments

Filed under Literature

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.

11 Comments

Filed under Literature

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

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.

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

Filed under Literature

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

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.

8 Comments

Filed under Literature

“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.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “Initiation” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go…

(translation: C.F. MacIntyre)

It dawned on me that up to this point I have not shared my thoughts on any of Rilke’s poetry here, so I am amending that issue right now.

As I read and thought about this poem, two interpretations came to me. The first of these is that the reader is being beckoned to be initiated into the transcendent wonder of Nature. Rilke encourages the reader to leave the sterile and safe domicile and venture out into the wild, creative, and divine realm of the natural world.

The other interpretation I see is that Rilke is describing death as an initiation of sorts, marking the transition when the soul becomes one with the divine source. The house that he mentions is a symbol for the body, which houses the spirit and is the last residence of the soul “before the infinite.” The “worn-out door-stone” represents the tombstone, marking the transition from material to spiritual. Finally, the raising of the “shadowy black tree” that is being fixed in the sky implies that the soul is no longer rooted in this world, but is now being firmly planted in the divine realm.

I really enjoyed this poem a lot, and I will definitely be looking at more of Rilke’s work in upcoming posts. I hope you found this inspiring, and as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section.

Cheers!

2 Comments

Filed under Literature