Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seeking only our own happiness

I think these lines from a book a dear friend gave me sum up everything I've ever learned about happiness. All the meditation retreats in the world will not make a lasting difference, if in the end we don't love the world, and reach out to it with warmth - even the world outside our narrow circle of family and friends.

Hating the world, and being happy, apparently, are mutually exclusive :)  (Been there, done that!!)
......................................................................................

"So much of spiritual life involves one's interior journey, yet for most of us spirituality gets expressed - even transformed - only in our relationships with others.

...Our relationships with others not only test our spiritual resources but push us to levels of development we could not attain through solitary practice.

More important, our gifts to others are the very fruits of our self-development. The two forms of life, communal and solitary, are mutually sustaining.

...Seeking only our own happiness is the surest way to remain unhappy. As the great monastic and scholar Thomas Merton puts it, "Isolation in the self, inability to go out of oneself to others, would mean incapacity for any form of self-transcendence. To be thus the prisoner of one's own selfhood is, in fact, to be in hell."

Page 64, 65. 'Learning to Fall, The Rewards of an Imperfect Life',  Philip Simmons

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sometimes I get up early, and even my soul is wet...


















 "At the time (in my youth), I was seeking out late afternoons, drab outskirts, and unhappiness; now I seek mornings, the center of town, peace." Jorge Luis Borges

You find yourself waking up earlier and earlier. You were never a morning person. Now you are.

Went for a walk this morning, at 5.30, before the world was awake, while the street lights were still on, the leaves, dark against a sky already turning blue...and you remember the Neruda poem you read yesterday...and the sea, and love, rise up within you, in waves....
.............................................................

Oh the black cross of a ship.
Alone.

Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.

Pablo Neruda, 'Here I love you', Translated by W.S.Merwin

Photo: A gift from Martin, of the stunning photos, here. Early morning at Aachen, Germany.

A new voice

The Journey
Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.


Thank you.

In the middle of the world, breathing...

Mary Oliver came to me from a friend, who drifted away. What a gift, that keeps giving, endlessly. I know this feeling, this "standing in the middle of the world, breathing..."
...............................................

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn't have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there's a temple, I haven't found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

Mary Oliver

The Departed

From David, with his fine eye for all that is beautiful, his unfettered imagination, his intense prose, David, who chokes me up with his poetry:

The Departed
David Milligan-Croft

Holes appear in wardrobes,
Cupboards stare agape.

Delf wrapped in newsprint,
Boxes packed and taped.

Naked patches,
Where photographs once hung.

Dusty bookshelves
With no stories to tell.

Bulging suitcases
Clambering for the door.

Except, you’re not the one
Going anywhere.

From here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Not to understand it, only to see

Rebus

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus - slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life -
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

(Rebus -- "A representation of words in the form of pictures or symbols, often presented as a puzzle.")

Jane Hirshfield

Monday, June 25, 2012

To learn to see

Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
Your glance scattered seeds.
It planted a tree.
I talk
because you shake its leaves.

Octavio Paz, Coda, from Letter of Testimony

Ache

"If he had a razor now he would have drawn it across his aching throat, across the intolerable ache of remembered happiness."

From 'Violets and Strawberries in the Snow', Shena Mackay, BBC Books.

Perhaps there are times




















Perhaps
The truth depends on a walk around a lake,
A composing as the body tires, a stop
To see hepatica, a stop to watch
A definition growing certain and
A wait within that certainty, a rest
In the swags of pine-trees bordering the lake.
Perhaps there are times of inherent excellence.

Wallace Stevens

You must live though the time when everything hurts...

You must live though the time when everything hurts
When the space of the ripe, loaded afternoon
Expands to a landscape of white heat frozen
And trees are weighed down with hearts of stone
And green stares back where you stare alone,
And the walking eyes throw flinty comments,
And the words which carry most knives are the blind
Phrases searching to be kind.

From 'The Double Shame', Stephen Spender

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Being raised above being

On Czeslaw Milosz, Polish poet of Lithuanian origin, Nobel Prize for Literature (1980):

"At a time when voices of doubt, deadness, and despair are the loudest; when writers are outstripping each other in negation of man, his culture, and nature; when the predominant action is destruction . . . , the world built by the author of 'Daylight' creates a space in which one can breathe freely, where one can find rescue.

It renders the world of surfaces transparent and condenses being.It does not promise any final solutions to the unleashed elements of nature and history here on earth, but it enlarges the space in which one can await the Coming with hope.

Milosz does not believe in the omnipotence of man, and he has been deprived of the optimistic faith in the self-sufficiency of a world known only through empirical experience. He leads the reader to a place where one can see—to paraphrase the poet's own formula regarding time—Being raised above being, through Being."

Stand very still

Stand very still some coolish evening
see if you cant grasp that extra galaxy past
the last one visible on clearest nights.
Don't look for anything.
Let your eyes go completely
out of your head.
Just make sure it's dark, cool.

Stand very still.
Look at me, my eyes,
if that will help.
The words I really want to say to you
are under these.

J. Allyn Roser, 'The City Underneath'

The unseen design

'Under the Frog',* by the Hungarian writer Tibor Fischer, was my introduction to East European literature. The spirit of people who fight oppression, learn to circumvent it to lead as normal a life as possible - and the rich humour that is a hallmark of those who have learned to laugh, when they cannot do anything else.

This particular passage moved me especially. This is something I believe in strongly - that people have so many sides, you can never put them in a box and label them. We are plural. It is always good to leave that margin for surprise.

"It was the first time Gyuri had seen Makkai smile, in the four years of his tuition he had never glimpsed the woebegotten Makkai enjoying anything. He thought he knew the whole Makkai, childless widower, glum scholar, whose erudition - far from earning him esteem and fortune or securing him a comfortable position, was a handicap as if he were chained to the decomposing carcass of an elephant.

The smile made Gyuri realise there were whole departments of Makkai he had never glimpsed; it was like turning a dusty vase stationed on top of a wardrobe for years to discover the reverse has an unseen design."


*"Under a frog's arse down a coalmine" is the Hungarian expression for when you are truly at the lowest point of life.

A Wake

A wake rose up
In my heart today
A wake in a shoreless sea
In the midst of fragrance
my soul weeps, and gathers wet forest flowers
With what tune do the watchmen
fill the dark night today?

Today through what illusion
What mistake, do I become
agitated and forget all?
The rain pours down in
unchecked torrents…

Rabindranath Tagore

The sacred tortoise

"Everything has its own place and function. That applies to people, although many don't seem to realize it, stuck as they are in the wrong job, the wrong marriage, or the wrong house. When you know and respect your own inner nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don't belong. One man's food is often another man's poison, and what is glamorous and exciting to some can be a dangerous trap to others. An incident in the life of Chuang-tse can serve as an example:

"While sitting on the banks of the P'u river, Chuang-tse was approached by two representatives of the Prince of Ch'u, who offered him a position at court. Chuang-tse watched the water flowing by as if he had not heard. Finally he remarked, "I am told that the Prince has a sacred tortoise, over two thousand years old, which is kept in a box, wrapped in silk and brocade." "That's true" the official replied. "If the tortoise had been given a choice", Chuang-tse continued, "which do you think he would have liked better - to have been alive in the mud, or dead within the palace?" "To have been alive in the mud, of course," the men answered. "I too prefer the mud", said Chuang-tse. "Good-bye".

'The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet', Benjamin Hoff

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Joy

In that hot wind
Our hair mixed;
I cried
For so much joy.

Montri Umarijani

What the given world gave

Night Heron Maybe
Fred Marchant

I woke to more rain, and felt in the dark
for how wet the sill was, then rolled back
to my radio, and a midnight preacher
in my earphone teaching about sin.

I learned that punishment would come
like lightning that surprises an innocent shore.
Thunder would follow me all my days,
stern reminder and sharp rebuke.

The long, sleek, and pointed call
that rose, as if in response, out of the estuary
of night and storm, said it knew well
what the given world gave, and wanted more.

(2009)

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Was Always Leaving

I was always leaving, I was
about to get up and go, I was
on my way, not sure where.
Somewhere else. Not here.
Nothing here was good enough.

It would be better there, where I
was going. Not sure how or why.
The dome I cowered under
would be raised, and I would be released
into my true life. I would meet there

the ones I was destined to meet.
They would make an opening for me
among the flutes and boulders,
and I would be taken up. That this
might be a form of death

did not occur to me. I only know
that something held me back,
a doubt, a debt, a face I could not
leave behind. When the door
fell open, I did not go through.

Jean Nordhaus

Your portion

Sooner or later the temples will be destroyed
By the acts of barbarians, or the vagaries
Of the earth. But all you need, to be happy,
Is an earthen bowl
To collect every day, your portion
Of the precarious beauty of the world,
And then to share its remains with your friend,
Or the innocence of your dog.

Claude Michel Cluny

Guilt

"One word evokes the other: Schulden, Schuld, debts, guilt. Two words so close and so deeply rooted in the soil of the German language.

But while debts can be mitigated by instalment payments, long-term as they may be, guilt - whether proven, presumed, or concealed - remains, ticking on and on, and holds its place, even on journeys to nowhere. It says its piece, fears no repetition, is mercifully forgotten for a time, hibernates in dreams. It remains as sediment - not a stain to be removed or to be wiped away.

Penitent, it learns early to seek refuge in the shell of an ear, to think of itself as beyond the statute of limitations, as long since forgiven, as smaller than small, next to nothing, yet there it is, as the onion sheds skin after skin, permanently inscribed on the youngest skins, now in capital letters, now in subordinate clause or footnote, now clear and legible, now in barely decipherable hieroglyphics.  The brief inscription meant for me reads: I kept silent."

Peeling the Onion - A Memoir. Page 28
G√ľnter Grass [Nobel Prize for Literature 1999]

And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness...

The Gift
Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It doesn't matter

Love

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills.
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn't always understand.

Czeslaw Milosz
Collected Poems, 1931-1987

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Immensity

"...she got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees...

'Esse', Czeslaw Milosz

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Delight




















So I learn that yesterday was the birthday of Kobayashi Issa ((1763-1828) "who is celebrated for his delighted, almost child-like celebrations of the natural world.

Issa saw four children die in infancy, his wife die in childbirth, and his own body partially paralyzed."

Live in simple faith...
Just as this trusting cherry
Flowers, fades, and falls.

* * *
Great moon
woven in plum scent,
all mine.

* * *
Just simply alive,
Both of us, I
And the poppy.

* * *
On a branch
floating downriver,
a cricket, singing...

The Wargallons – A dark story for children

David writes beautifully. And Chapter 1 of this story for children, is just so fascinating, can't wait for the rest. And the illustrations he uses are indeed "stunningly dark".

"A writer doesn’t write stories. Stories come out to be written when they’re ready. Sometimes they only show you part of the story. Other times, they’ll emerge fully fledged in their Sunday best. Admittedly, sometimes you have to tease them out a little like getting your younglings ready for school in the morning."

The Wargallons – A dark story for children: http://thereisnocavalry.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/the-wargallons-a-dark-story-for-children/

Friday, June 15, 2012

I was a bride, married to amazement

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver from “When Death Comes”

Old friends




















Cat came to me about 18 years ago, my friend Karthik brought him for me from the US. Snowman I bought in Boston, Christmas of 2000. Yes, they’ve had baths since then.

They’ve sat at my various desks all these years. I guess they should be counted as old friends by now.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On Self-Respect

A friend gave me a xerox copy of this article, in 1988. It has probably played a huge role in helping me get my priorities right.
...........................................................................

"The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.

To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one.

To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.

...Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life - is the source from which self-respect springs.

Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts."

From 'On Self-Respect', by Joan Didion

Complete article, here.  Every line is worth re-reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This is what it is like, in words

Words, Wide Night
Carol Ann Duffy

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.

The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I am singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La la la la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

Wholly wind, wholly wild...

Hawks

Surely, you too have longed for this --
to pour yourself out
on the rising circles of the air
to ride, unthinking,
on the flesh of emptiness.

Can you claim, in your civilized life,
that you have never leaned toward
the headlong dive, the snap of bones,
the chance to be so terrible,
so free from evil, beyond choice?

The air that they are riding
is the same breath as your own.

How could you not remember?
That same swift stillness binds
your cells in balance, rushes
through the pulsing circles of your blood.

Each breath proclaims it --
the flash of feathers, the chance to rest
on such a muscled quietness,
to be in that fierce presence,
wholly wind, wholly wild.

Lynn Ungar, 'Blessing the Bread'

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Imitate the habit of twilight




















A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted

...You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

John O’Donohue

Monday, June 11, 2012

Poetry

"A young man in a small town in Patagonia or in Kansas reads an ancient Chinese poet in a book he borrowed from the library and falls in love with a poem, which he reads to himself over and over again as the summer night is falling. With each reading he brings the voice of the dead poet to life. For one unforgettable moment, he steps out of his own cramped self and enters the lives of unknown men and women, seeing the world through their eyes, feeling what they once felt and thinking what they once thought.

If poetry is not the most utopian project ever devised by human beings, I don’t know what is."

Poetry and Utopia, Charles Simic

Intimacy

Not who we dance with, but what we dance around.

Not closeness, but distance made aware of itself. The heartbeat in the next room, eyes meeting in the crowd.

Turn it inside out and every emptiness is an ache. Angles of expectation add up to desire.

We must return to the old savageries. You bring the broken dances, my love. I'll bring the fire.

Aseem Kaul

From here.

On a day when the wind is perfect

On a day
when the wind is perfect,
the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.
Today is such a
day.

My eyes are like the sun that makes promises;
the promise of life
that it always
keeps

each morning.

The living heart gives to us as does that luminous sphere,
both caress the earth with great
tenderness.

This is a breeze that can enter the soul.
This love I know plays a drum. Arms move around me;
who can contain their self before my beauty?

Peace is wonderful,
but ecstatic dance is more fun, and less narcissistic;
gregarious He makes our lips.

On a day when the wind is perfect,
the sail just needs to open
and the love starts.

Today is such
a day.

Jelaluddin  Rumi
'Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West' by Daniel Ladinsky

Listen

From 'How Silence Works: Emailed Conversations With Four Trappist Monks', Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston:

"On yet another level, silence means listening. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and the first word of that Rule is "Listen." That's the great ethical element of silence: to check my words and listen to another point of view. I'll never have any real peace should my sense of well-being depend on soundless peace. When I can learn the patience of receiving, in an unthreatened way, what I'd rather not hear, then I can have a real measure of peace in any situation."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rolling in the Deep

What an unexpected, intense, beautiful way to reach “We could’ve have it all”. :)

O Re Piya/Rolling in the Deep: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipNB-ijxHiI

You can beat death in life

you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.

'The Laughing Heart', Charles Bukowski

Practice resurrection




















Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry
From 'Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front'

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meanwhile, in your life

To Waiting
W. S. Merwin

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different

someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long.

Awaking in New York

Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.

Maya Angelou

Deep

Quietening the mind
Deep in the forest
Water drips.

Hosha

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The world is a glass overflowing




















The thousandth post, I am told, though it's just a collection :)   If anyone's been reading this blog, I hope you sometimes found lines that brought you joy, comfort, perspective. And those who did reach out, left comments, tried to know me more, showed appreciation - while there is still time - thank you so much. In a world where reciprocity is so hard to come by, you filled my glass to overflowing.

"All that is not given, is lost". Indeed.

Ode To Enchanted Light
Pablo Neruda

Under the trees, light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
light
like a green
latticework of branches,
shining
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.

The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.

Monday, June 4, 2012

it may not always be so...

it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch
another's, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;

if this should be, i say if this should be—
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that i may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.

e. e. cummings

from 100 Selected Poems. © Grove Press, 1954.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Listen to me

West Wind #2
Mary Oliver

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.

Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied.

When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.

Meeting Up




















Having coffee alone, while studying attempts at connection, all around me. When I cannot hear what people are saying, I get to hear so much more.

Meeting Up

Am I rambling as usual?
Doesn't this sound all fake?
But don't I have to fit in?
Don't I have to connect?

Am I revealing too much?

Does he even believe me?
Does she care two hoots?
Have they drifted away?
Who am I talking to?
Is anyone really listening?

Is my loneliness showing?
Will they use it against me?

What matters to me, does it matter only to me?

Can I go home now?
And never come out again?

The quality of the day



"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour."

Thoreau

Friday, June 1, 2012

To emanate, to heal through attention and affection

"When he (Walt Whitman, the poet) was in the city he went to Campbell Hospital to visit 'a couple of Brooklyn boys' from his brother's regiment. About a hundred wounded men lay in a long shed with whitewashed walls. Whitman stopped to try to comfort a boy who was groaning with pain. 'I talked to him some time'. Whitman wrote to his sister. 'He seemed to have entirely given up, and lost heart  - he had not a cent of money - not a friend or acquaintance.'

Discovering that no one had examined the boy since he was brought in, Whitman went and found a doctor. He sat on the bedside and wrote out a letter that the young man dictated to his family. 'The boy said he would like to buy some milk from a woman who came through the ward each afternoon, and Whitman gave him the change in his pocket. 'Trifling as this was, he was overcome and began to cry'.

This serendipitous encounter drew on so many elements of Whitman's personality that he soon abandoned his plans to return to New York. It not only touched his sympathy and generosity but gave him a chance to 'emanate' - to heal through attention and affection - and to fulfill one of his roles as a poet, committing to paper the speech of the illiterate boy.

He began to visit the hospitals daily. He wrote to friends in Boston and New York soliciting contributions so he could buy things for the soldiers, and soon he had settled into the routine that was to last all through the war - living in a rented room, working three or four hours a day at odd jobs, and visiting the hospitals."

Page 207, 'A Draft of Whitman', from 'The Gift, How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World' by Lewis Hyde

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