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A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST PAUL

[It’s arguable that tradition is wrong and St Paul never quite maintained what is popularly believed as regards “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” – words not used in his time. But belief about what he famously or notoriously wrote in Romans still has effects. But if the Apostle did say things along the line attributed to him,  both popular and scholarly understanding does not consider the evidence for  an element within Pauline experience which suggests the possibility of real error in his outlook in this area, one divinely anticipated and disapproved. Within poetic limits that difficult and controversial point is addressed. Related notes add a little more. Ideas for the poem came to me after reading the  outrageous extent of homelessness of gay people in America as a result of some ongoing conservative Christian attitudes]

Conversion

(The Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus, by Caravaggio c. 1600)

A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST PAUL

From birth those energies defining life
May be transformed but keep their force,
There’s limit set upon the chance for change.

The angry youth may live to father revolution
But, lifelong, yearning visionaries may never
Grasp all truth; the times, society, a weakness of
The vehicle determines where and how each will
May grow. Light can enlighten when not blind,
But sight may need what’s heard to truly see.

Let eyes be opened, ready for the sun
Of Truth, but still recall that Logos speaks
Across the universe of space and time
Through ages, not one age alone which ends,
As ours, its spiritual life enfeebled,
Lacking true prophetic view, even
Ignoring such as you, St Paul, wilful
Doubting or perhaps confused, refused
The words of Agabus. [1]

Upon Damascus road met by great Light,
You saw, you gazed, you fell and then
Three days remained alone in darkness, blind,
Till, helped by human hands, scales fell like leaves
From off your eyes. But what was that your ears
Had heard? Your mind in shock no doubt turned much
Upon a sacred history, ancient Law,
The Lord, but had you in that solitude
Absorbed the fullness of the uttered words
And even when preaching soon the Christ as
Son, repressed and left unlearned what echoed
Through the flashing of celestial light?

Even God had seen you on the road
Not just as Jew devout to last extremity,
But kin to pagan Pentheus face set against
The worlds of women and of difference
And spoke to you the words of question and
Rebuke once given by Agathon’s lover to the god
Of ecstasy and the flourishing vine.[2]

Of this, though Christ alone is truly he,
The shadow also speaks to depths of mind for
In yourself and God a Gentile dwells as
In the Gentile there’s a Jew. To soul within
And world without your call was to a wider field
Than even you would quite allow, lands and lives
Not only to address with a new gospel
Of deliverance and transcendent Law
But in their essence to reclaim. Such would require
Not only persons of the Way not fall sad victim
To persecutions of your policy
But – what and who are more remote to
The conservative, devoted mind – also
Minorities, the outsider, the enslaved.

The stubborn ox resists the goad, so hard
It is for even the good to heed God’s voice;
But harder then life weighs on many more
If that same voice is disregarded or misheard.
It brings a canker to redemption’s rose,
It hid a poison in the new and good,
And justified whole centuries of harm,
Of inquisition, secrecy and dull despair
Of suicide, of souls denied the family home,
Of youth made objects of improper cure
Confused by a false loathing of the self,
Lives lived as though beneath a curse,
And so because you never learned, not even
From Jeremiah in his difference,
That never the leopard lost his spots
Nor did the Ethiopian his skin.[3]
The pedantry and prejudice of one once
Proudly Pharisee, stayed blind to what
In nature, art, and even just humanity
Might teach. You failed, as even great Luther
Later failed the Jews. [4]

Within a Roman world whose ruling might
Your angry will alone could hope to oppose,
Scarce noticing the slavery and pleasure
Taken in refinement of all cruelties,
You made a scapegoat and the symbol
Of most vice and sin, (almost the fall
Of this whole world and worthy of death itself),
Those whose eros and whose loves inclined them
To one side, their own, by this made
Enemies of a “Law” – transcended and fulfilled,
You taught – yet holding you still much in thrall.[5]

Not only was the scapegoat harmed but also
Spiritual lives identified most narrowly
With nature’s way. [6] Vague rumour, petty hate
In place of information or of love, worldly
Obsession with oppressive law and politics
Sometimes rank violence on the streets,
Such was and is the legacy to those
Whose loyalty is wholly to “God’s word”
And your authority, all ignorant
Of just how little the Spirit spoke
To you on the contested theme but
Rather echoes of Apocrypha, pressures
And customs of your familiar world.[7]

Like Peter struck with vision by the sea
But who denied the wisdom shown because
It seemed to oppose a written source,  [8]
Likewise idolatry of tradition and of text
Chokes inspiration of the Living Word.

Oh Spirit who should lead to Truth and who
In your own being is the Truth, descend
Upon the human mind that thought
May rise to judgements on a higher plane,
Not timeless only but aware of time, its cycles
And those changes they intend. [9] Together let
Inspiration, scriptures and the kairos speak,
And not one source alone lest faith’s whole vessel
Run aground or sink.

No theory, no philosophy, no abstract
Statement of a rule will summarize
The Spirit’s truth whose will embraces
Situations and hurt souls as even
Holy Law was forced to do for daughters
Of Zelophehad.[10] Alas that Tarsus
Was the home not just of you, St Paul,
But to that Stoic thought defining
Nature, pleasure and a universal law
Too abstractly in the face of plain
Reality and human need. How hard
It was for you to accept even the
Character of the youthful Mark. [11]

11

Even so, Goodness can redirect
And heal what harms. But wrong’s a wild weed
Reproduced and strong and stronger still
When unacknowledged where it grows. Within
The fields of faith still worse than choking weed
Stands visible and alone the bending,
Stricken tree of noxious fruit. It should
Be left to perish in its place, but those
Encircling it for its defence as though to guard
A relic’s power, and then their foes (seeing
More the persons than the tree), both these
Partake in what corrupts at root and branch.
Truth to both is inconvenient and feared;
Those who defend the tree will not admit
Beyond all claims of justice and of evidence
Their saint and scripture might be wrong (even though
They do not dare to cite them now on
Due obedience of slaves). They are themselves
Enslaved to Paul, so much they’ll even join
Their voice and vote with unbelievers in Christ’s
Name if only still to impose their way. [12]
Their mouths speak lies and foolish syllogisms:
Difference is but a “lifestyle” and a “choice”,
Let no one teach that it exists lest youth be
Converts to perversion; talk of discrimination
Or harassment is beside the point. Just as indeed
It always was, the righteous standing too long
Passive witness to a thousand wrongs, approving
Countless marriages in name alone
(But these deemed holy –  other kinds are wrong).
This way “the unnatural” could be simply
Punished or erased and blessing from heaven,
Not wrath, shower down upon a Pauline world
Sore needing apprehensions more divine
Of being and persons in themselves. For
Grace itself is para physin – Paul
Deemed it work against the natural.  [13]

Those who attack tradition’s tree and tribe
Are but soul brothers of their tyranny
They’re almost what was so long feared
Or banned or damned, emerged like hell’s
Own self to manifest in monstrous form
A beast conformed to worst imagination.
Revenge lends savour to its policies
And once again the abstraction – now
“Equality” – invokes and spreads new chaos wide.
The sacred, too soon victim to the secular,
The atheist and hedonist demand full
Equal rights for ceremony and employ
All places from the college class up to
The altar’s rail. Appeals to conscience, failures  [14]
To welcome well or grant request,
Such can be deemed new forms of insult
Or discrimination, grounds to pursue
A case at law, if need be, ruin livelihoods
And lives. For now what’s spiritual is only false
And what is ethical is only relative
While what is sexual is plainly true -
And –so some believe – honest as pornography,
Itself a model for new ways of life.
It’s why beyond love’s rights, sometimes
Demanded with fanatic zeal, too often
Lies what’s scarcely more than sex as sport,
And heartless exploitation of the young.
And while the theorist and the litigant
Hold forth, indifference meets the
Youthful homeless and perplexed. But then,
Beyond “acceptance” at all costs, what
Will the monster’s tribe provide for life
And health beyond its empty round of
Party celebration and narcotic haze?

III

Enough! The false can only bring forth
Lies again. The conflict of inflexible minds,
Harms everything and everyone, disturbs
The life of faith and human rights alike
With argument too close to cavil and to kvetch. [15]
Both parties see repeatedly but
One another to their shame in that dark
Mirror of St Paul. [16] In him, amid
Deep revolutions for the mind and age
And strivings with a hostile world, what seemed
Like vulgar issues of the few bore little weight
Except to dismiss, condemn, deride,
Though history would prove that wrong
Like any utterance on a theme
When one admits to “think”, not fully know,
Just what it is the Spirit of God declares  [17]
Or by pure silence does not judge. Therefore…

Unless to say it can be that the first
Are last [18], amid those sufferings and that
Martyrdom, let none too quickly judge
The life and words of you, St Paul, for
Scarcely will the saint or sage, and others
Less, attain full knowledge and perfection.
Each soul needs a Damascus with its light…
Yet there, let even saints not only see
But hear what makes for life and should set free.

NOTES

[1] Acts 21:10. The prophet Agabus warns Paul against going to Rome and the Christians beseech him not to go but he goes anyway. It is not clear how much he believes the forecast and how much God is understood to give a choice in the matter through the warning, but anyway Paul remains adamant. He had always intended or wanted to go to Rome (Acts 19:21) though it is not specifically stated the Spirit told him to go there as opposed to Achaia.
[2] Jesus is self-described as the true vine (Joh 15:1) so by implication the vine god, Dionysius (whom Gentiles believed was the God of the Jewish Temple) is the false. However the archetype is still relevant. We now know even pious Jews attended the pagan theatre and there is reason to suppose both Jesus and Paul could have known the celebrated Bacchae of Euripides (“the lover of Agathon”, Agathon being one of Athens’ most beautiful men). In the play Dionysius manifests like Christ to Paul, to accuse Pentheus of disregarding and persecuting him…”a man defying god”. Although Acts 24:16 says Paul heard  in Hebrew, the apparent quote from Euripides’ Greek is exact. It has unnecessarily kept the dramatist’s plural form of kentra goad/necessity (which would fit rather with a common proverb in the singular) that Euripides employs when Pentheus says,  “You disregard my words…and kick against necessity/the goads”. Euripides has only pluralized to make his poetic metre go. It is also important to note that the necessity/the goad could have sexual implications which the KJV bible’s “kick against the pricks” accidentally reflects. Though I don’t accept theories Paul was a closet gay, it’s possible the conversion narrative contains a hint Paul needs to examine his sexual being and attitudes at deep levels, as otherwise they could affect his teachings, treatment of people and understanding of what Jesus himself is like. While one could dismiss the Euripides connection as a fluke, there is yet another “fluke” to suggest real Christ/Euripides/Dionysius connection. (See separate note below). I do not believe the Jesus of Paul’s conversion would approve the Paul of Romans 1 and is already implicitly warning against going or continuing in its direction.
[3] Jer 13:23, On the basically gay/queer character of Jeremiah see for example Chapter 8 of my Cosmic Father: Spirituality as Relationship. It is beyond present scope but contained in my writings that some persons do, or appear to make, at least partial change from their orientation. There are reasons for this but in most instances persons are what they are and remain what they are  from childhood.
[4]  Luther reformed much and lit a torch for liberty in Europe generally, but his record of anti-Semitic prejudice (he proposed synagogues should be burned down) left a legacy in Germany facilitating Nazi attitudes centuries later, a case of a great man making great mistakes.
[5] It could be that Paul’s famous/infamous Romans 1 describes male prostitution, paedophilia, recreational bisexuality or just blasts the extreme indulgence of ancient Rome. Practically however, this is rant influenced by the Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon on sex and idolatry. But by referring to whatever precisely same sex as “degrading passions”, “shameless acts” “degrading of the body” etc “for which they deserve to die” this part of scripture works out as hate speech and a life sentence if not a hell sentence for anyone remotely same sex attracted. It is what makes for a great proportion of the homeless of America being gays thrown out of the house by “good” Christians. Christian rejection was the reason of the now eternally remorseful Linda Robertson’s son took to drugs and overdosed at eighteen. Romans 1 would have been better never written and it should be excised from our bibles for the damage it does. For vastly less good reason even the sola scriptura Luther declared the epistle of James “an epistle of straw” that should be censored from our bibles. At the same time, it must be allowed Paul and Christians past and present have a perfect right to maintain that “homosexuality” like heterosexuality can be the basis for excessive, immoral, decadent behaviour (such as really does exist in America as in ancient Rome) It is troubling that the defence of gay rights now so often today also seeks to indite all and any criticism of gay behaviour as “homophobic”, even an indictable offence. Queer theory doesn’t accept the notion of morality in any normal sense and there is much to legitimately question in the work of leaders of gay/queer theory.
[6] i.e. associating sex with nothing but reproduction like the pagan Stoics which is scarcely biblical – Paul seems not to have read or absorbed the Song of Solomon..
[7] Paul’s diatribe is owing to the Apocyphal Wisdom of Solomon and is not untypical of his society and times – numbers of pagan writers like the satirist Juvenal spit out hatred of effeminates or any male who seems “different” from some militaristic masculine norm. The subject was confused by various class and military factors that no longer apply today. Any male passive towards another male was disgraced, the reason sodomy was used on prisoners of war. Masters could use slaves sexually. Doubtless because so many non gay persons were made to function that way that St Paul confuses values to this day by talking about “and such were some of you” ( 1 Cor 6:11) still the scriptural basis for praying or exorcising the gay away.
[8] Acts 10:14. Peter wrongly rejects the vision given him (three times!) because it contradicts or modifies scripture.
[9] The point is little stressed hence unfamiliar, but that the Spirit is God as Truth is indicated by 1 Joh 5:6. It is suggested here that the Spirit oversees/interprets the ages and cycles of time which promote changes and the new which are meant to be accepted.
[10] Numbers 27 recounts how these women petitioned to have the inheritance laws changed. This would imply the Law, (apart from core covenant with its Ten Commandments), is not written to be and beyond questioning and negotiation. All secondary law is besides for organization of the society of the covenanted Jews. It is not presented as any universal prescription and it is controversial if St Paul (and various Popes and councils) privilege and universalize only items almost at random following generalizing philosophical principles which is what Paul does re laws even his Jewish contemporary Philo believed applied to sacred prostitution.
[11]  St Paul did not get on well with the young John Mark, probably because his character was different in some way – perhaps gay/queer. Various controversies around Mark like The Secret Gospel, however heretical nonetheless likely reflect traditional suspicions around this gospeller’s character.
[12] In India minority Christians have successfully joined with Muslims (who elsewhere persecute their faith), to campaign for a recriminalizing of homosexuality laws against which were repealed in 2009. In 2014 conservative Christian pastor and politician Danny Nalliah who has been constantly opposed by or opposed to Muslims in Australia has recently supported them in opposition to gays.
[13]  Paul fails to see the irony that at the same time as he will approve whatever is unnatural, God works against his nature (his perfection) in grafting Gentiles onto the tree of Israel and salvation. Rom 11.24
[14]   Politically correct Gay/Queer rights are theoretically inclusive of atheist or libertarian gays having the right to teach religion classes or run church and university religion clubs etc or, in some radically liberal churches, to be priests without beliefs or usual  moral standards. While religious people can be blinkered bigots,even the individual bigot may still appreciate and support a larger community sense of the sacred which the rationalist libertarian may not. A community should have the right to retain what makes for the sacred, and arguably the owner of property (such as a hotel) should have some right to set the rules which may include a preference against gay couples? Conscience should be educated rather than state  coerced by laws, and where gays conspire to coerce Christians they are not better than those they oppose. Presently churches  are just being split apart and charity services curtailed due to arguments and court cases over gays and their rights.
[15] kveth is Yiddish for ceaseless outlandish complaining, grumbling, blaming. It is suggested St Paul somewhat indulges this in Romans 1
[16] St Paul famously states we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12), a principle forgotten when writing on things and persons “unnatural”!
[17] 1 Cor 7:39. It seems controversial that in pronouncing on marriage and divorce St Paul can only say he “thinks” he has the Spirit of God on the matter. He should surely know in making rules so vital to people’s lives, though one could say it’s liberating in that it leaves the door open for alternatives and exceptions. But if he only “thinks” re divorce, how much more likely is it he would have “thought” what he claims about same sex loving and lovers about which even just humanly and socially he would know so much less?
[18]  Matt 20:16

NOTE: The Christ/Euripides/Dionysius Connection.   I hold it significant if others don’t (or just won’t) that the ignored but remarkably efficient and always relevant data I have long claimed to possess for Christ’s birth (see http://goo.gl/HEpQRE) improbably support the connection made in the above poem and notes. Christ’s destiny and reputation Midheaven which is  in shocks and surprises Aquarius, is conjuncted by Euripides from the ninth house of religion. Something about Christ connects with Euripides and can use his voice. In turn, Euripides is in what’s called quincunx to Paul, an aspect commonly meaning “adjustments must be made” which plainly as regards Christ, Gentiles, Euripides and gays Paul badly needed to do. Moreover  Paul is opposite the Bethlehem star (Jupiter) conjunct Saturn showing the degree of challenge Christ and Christianity represented and his willingness originally to be simply opposed. The Bethlehem star conjunction is in Pisces, the sign normally associated with Dionysius by astrologers. There is a Dionysius asteroid but it cannot be reckoned for remote dates. This apart, and perhaps because all time is one at a certain level, all the asteroids whenever discovered and named will work accurately, retroactively, for Christ’s birth as for all historical births. The naming/discovery seems to obtain a life of its own and the Psalms do claim God names the stars (Ps 147:4). It is interesting that the same Christians who oppose gays, oppose astrology on the basis of the bible. They are as wrong and as Paul on gays, not hearing what God intends them to hear for, as again the Psalms say, the night skies utter knowledge (Ps 19:1). They don’t and won’t if you stop your ears to astrology and damn it for “divination”.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015…AND MORE

YEATS2015         YEATSCard

WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015….AND MORE

Ireland has designated 2015 the year of Yeats – it’s the 150th anniversary of his birth. Celebration is appropriate not least because this is a poet who sounds surprisingly modern and relevant – lines from such as The Second Coming are often cited today as people observe IS and worldwide turmoil. And unlike the also Nobel prize winning Seamus Heaney, Yeats was always willing to be engaged in politics and with almost any subject.

Yeats’ legacy is however at once something notable and negligible. It can seem like the latter in terms of real influence upon modern Irish poetry which I will argue, despite its contemporary profusion and the cult of Heaney, has –  by and large –  lost steam and been in decline since Yeats’ death in 1939. It has been so despite Ireland’s earlier and celebrated history of bards and schools of poetry. The situation is radical because now even the very notion of poetry is in eclipse in Ireland. This is evident when one reads for example that Michael Davitt (1950-2005) was “…one of modern Ireland’s finest poets in either of the nation’s languages, (according to critic Philip O’Leary in The Irish Literary Supplement, 22.3.04)). As translated by another of Ireland’s “leading” poets, Paul Muldoon, the kind of adolescent, “avant-garde” level at which Davitt worked as in To Pound from God, was in the order of:

“ I suppose you’ll want me to wipe your bum
Or open a tin of Pedigree Chum….

At least, and unlike Trinity College’s now retired Professor of Modern Literature Brendan Kennelly, Davitt didn’t write a collection of verse called Poetry My Arse and opine that the subject of poetry as he understands it is “basically a celebration of human inadequacy and failure” ( cited An Anthology of Irish Poetry, ed.Wes Davies, p.307).

Those seeking by contrast a confident secular sublime, can always try verse from poetry festival organizer, poetry prize winner and university lecturer in creative literature and poetry, Conor O’Callaghan. The first verse of his two verse poem Comma  runs

Infinite
blip that
a flyover
sped beneath
scores into
a down-

(and the second verse begins with the word ‘pour’).

Nowadays you are almost more likely to find the spirit of Irish verse and vision in some prose works like Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim Two Boys or in the work of Colm Toibin, a writer who always wanted and intended to be a poet rather than the novelist he has become. So…what happened? And what might Yeats teach us if poetry is to be significantly revived today in West Europe’s former home of many muses, or at least aisling sky women?

NATIONALISM AND SOUL AS POETIC INGREDIENTS

Yeats

I will  presently give more examples (they could, alas, be greatly multiplied) to suggest just how seriously something is amiss in the emerald fields of Hibernian poesia, but I can state from the outset what is wrong as regards the general direction of the verse since Yeats.

It is of course possible – just – to  be anti-Yeats and produce some good poetry as the work of such as Northern Ireland’s Seamus Deane ( b.1940) indicates, but the first de-potentiating mistake of Irish poets was, however politely and surreptitiously, to dismiss or swerve from Yeats as any exemplar. It was felt he was too nationalist in inspiration and there could be no value or future in that because, with Ireland independently established, literature should become international (pursue Modernism in effect). The trend began mildly with a diplomat of the newly independent Ireland, Denis Devlin (1908-1959), but soon it would gather pace and even become a torrent. Rejection of the Yeatsian poetic could hardly go further than in the irony of Celtic Twilight from Brendan Kennelly (b.1936). Instead of any sense of myth or “magic” the poem evokes a Dublin of prowling decrepit whores, and a Grand Canal in whose “rank waters bloated corpses float”. Even studies of Yeats – and even last September’s curiously early London launch of Yeats 2015 somewhat – tend to place the undeclared laureate somewhere apart, in a disappeared society and time past because of his obvious contribution to foundational events of 1916. The psychological and cultural reality however is that by understanding a national history and ethos a poet may better understand and reach into the world at large.

I would hardly be the first person to stress that point – it’s almost a commonplace. Walt Whitman voiced and helped shape American democracy but also espoused universal ideas beyond it while Goethe was the very cosmopolitan founder of a liberal Germanic tradition. But I know for certain the national/international principle is true as regards Yeats from having lived in Asia. I found him to be appreciated there and I might be asked to read from him. Some of Yeats’ verses like Lapis Lazuli are mentally or geographically located in Asia, while it’s well known some of the poet’s best verse dramas draw upon traditions of Japanese Noh. At least one accomplished poet, Desmond O’Grady (1935-2014), is an exception to prove the national/international rule within Ireland. He does manage to combine Celtic with wider themes and like Yeats at one point he was strongly influenced by Pound – perhaps too much so when he got side-tracked into mammoth labours of poetic translation. But though appreciated, O’ Grady enjoys neither the status nor the influence of a Heaney or Muldoon, both poets of the North and the troubled North has attracted a lot of attention in Irish poetry.

Although Yeats’ affinity for Asia owes something to his attachment to the theosophy and theories of magic many could never accept, more generally he was simply following the wisdom of the archetypes with which most serious poetry will always be involved. Genuine introspection will bring one there. Intense affinity with just place may not. Influenced by Joyce, a notable poet, Patrick Kavanagh, believed that one could be universal by devotion to a place, a notion that owed not a little to Joyce’s Dublincentric imagination. He risked becoming, as I think he often was, merely parochial because place will not quite generate the same imaginative verve as society or nation which can be a matter almost of soul. Linked to the archetypes one could say that Yeats was about – in the broadest sense – “soul”, something which, like contemporary Western poetry generally, modern Irish verse singularly isn’t despite the reputation of the Celts for spirituality.

But poetry itself is first and foremost spiritual. If you don’t believe that, then you must at least accept spirituality is what many people either assume poetry is about or appear to want from it – the biggest selling poet in the world today is, like it or not, the medieval Sufi mystic, Rumi. Poetry is Orphic and originated in the ecstatic, prophetic function and the serious poet, i.e. one who offers something beyond the entertainment or instruction which have their place, can never quite escape that root function….and/or the love theme which will often accompany it as we see everywhere from the Bible’s Hosea to Dante in the Vita Nuova.  Even major atheist poets like Lucretius and Shelley have dealt in the universe, large vistas and the sublime.

At its highest and best, poetry heals, inspires and creates – including whole peoples. Critic Harold Bloom may exaggerate but is essentially correct to propose Shakespeare has helped form modern humanity; Bloom maintains the bard did not only reflect humanity, he also made it and we have become his characters. In somewhat similar fashion, the rhapsodies of Isaiah inspired and remade a lost Hebrew society and largely through introducing new images of God and the self that allowed a new synthesis for a new age to emerge. Dante half created the modern Italian language itself amid his visions. The poets of the Romantic era expressed and half made the age they inhabited.

Sometimes, just sometimes, poets can and do change the world (though of course the noncommittal Seamus Heaney predictably denied it). Granted most poets cannot and need not aspire to such a degree of achievement. No nation is anyway likely to produce more than four or five really outstanding poets in a century, and society needs not just seers and culture heroes but minstrels, balladeers, teachers and entertainers. Poets nonetheless need to avoid through resentment, dullness or, sloth merely subverting the almost alchemical Great Work to which at varying levels their tribe contributes across time.

THE JOYCE/BECKETT PROBLEM

JJOYCE         BECKETTPHOTO

What could and should have been the ongoing influence of Yeats on modern Irish poetry has, I believe, been blocked and limited within his homeland by the strong competing legacy of Joyce and his admirer cum devotee, Beckett. Both these Modernist writers who have cast long shadows. Though both composed a few poems they were essentially authors of prose and both were unspiritual or very negatively spiritual. (Beckett’s prize winning and obscure Whoroscope, written in a hurry to pay Paris rent and rewarded by the heiress Nancy Cunard, when it can be understood is arguably one of the most nihilistic, sordid and profane poems in the canon of verse. It surely belongs to “the throne of the faecal inlet” it refers to). The prose of the Joyce/Beckett duo has nevertheless been more weighty in influence upon modern Irish poetry than any poetic antecedents. Some want to claim it for life itself. I admire the wide-ranging erudition on most things Irish of Declan Kiberd, but I can’t accept as per his Ulysses and Us that Ulysses is really any notable guide to the management and celebration of life.

Although Yeats was something of a heretic in relation to most beliefs and traditions, his origins were Protestant. This has been held against him, or at least left him less favoured as a model for novice writers and poets than the by comparison more street-wise, democratic (sometimes), Catholic-raised Joyce who managed to voice those feelings of frustration and discontent many Irish Catholics have felt at least now and again. By contrast, and although Joyce himself could demonstrate an almost non serviam Luciferian pride, Yeats’ Protestant voice would be regarded as imperious and elitist, in short merely Anglo-Irish of the past, something Yeats scarcely even sounded like in real life. (To hear recordings of his voice which is neither very Irish nor English and not particularly emphatic can come as a surprise and challenges the image some have of him). Patrick Kavanagh reflecting an all too familiar social resentment in a poem called Yeats  exclaims, “Yes Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected/ By the middle classes and the Big  Houses”. This is green-eyed nonsense like the whole poem in effect –  Yeats faced enormous struggles in all directions and rightly called himself poor until well into middle age and winning the Nobel prize.

So the class objection was again a mistake fostering further error because even though with age Yeats undeniably evolved some dubiously elitist, even fascist notions (partly in disgust at the sheer ruin the ultra-Catholic Ireland of De Valera was doing to hard won new freedoms), the fact is that poetry of the serious, bardic kind will often sound or seem elitist. Such poetry declaims, declares, reveals from the higher mind or worlds and as such is not about the everyday nor issues describable in its terms. Even England’s witty, socialist Auden decided in his latter years that what poetry needed next was to get back to the high style. Getting back there could nonetheless prove harder in our egalitarian times than leaving it behind. Ireland especially would seem to have to prepare for a very steep climb. It might even need to engage a bit of “censorship”, a self-censorship of a new and not merely puritanical kind to arrive there and at least try to be serious.

It may be mildly entertaining, but does a poem like James Simmons’ Epigrams constitute something – anything – worthy of a place in Wes Davies’ critically acclaimed and all-encompassing Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry? Epigrams 2 and 4 run:

Declining appetite
Made him polite

Now my faculties give in
I see the need for discipline.

Modern Irish poetry could use some discipline. Too many contemporary offerings such as one can read at  PoetHead on the Net which has showcased new Irish women poets, seem just self-indulgent and trite.

Award winning Denise Blake, an advisor to the RTE national broadcaster on poetry (like the mentioned Michael Davitt – no wonder poetry is in some trouble!) begins her poem, Adjusting,

The saucepan is full of left over potatoes
And I keep cooking too much rice and pasta
Three placemats still sit on our dining table

In musing on an absent son in Beyond the Front Door she writes of

“Cold pizza slices in a cardboard box, an empty coke can
lying on the table”

Subject matter for Irish still life art perhaps? Doubtless Mrs Blake is a caring family person and her sentiments genuine enough, but one finds nothing here and elsewhere that couldn’t be said as well or better in prose. But possibly she was remembering precedents like Beckett’s in Whoroscope with its ridiculous and profane reference to Hovis bread.

Dr Emily Cullen, noted harpist, short story writer and much else if one can quite locate her anywhere, seems willing to inhabit the same kind of kitchen zone if more impishly than  Mrs Blake.. In Galway Mould  we learn

For fun I bought you mouldy cheese,
Last night it took revenge on me
Inducing a vivid dream
Of a while chandelier of mould
That slowly lowered
Through our kitchen space.

Although without question Mairtin O’ Direain of Aran (1910-1988) can be hailed, as he has been by some, as a gifted poet of real distinction, apart from him let no one imagine any back-to-Gaelic direction such as Sean O’Riordain  (1916-1977) and Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) took would improve much inside or out of any Irish kitchens and better preserve the true Ireland. O’Riordain was a good, proficient if somewhat overrated poet whose illness and dramatic depressions seem like an unintended metaphor for the sad fate of things Gaelic. Hartnett is sometimes good but also sometimes gratuitously weird as in Death of an Irishwoman where she is described as “a card game where a nose was broken…a child’s purse, full of useless things”. If this is the latest incarnation of Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan, that lady is now in serious trouble and indeed a bit useless!

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill born in the Kerry Gaeltacht in1952 has devoted herself to verse in Irish. Translated, one of her poems begins,  “I wake up and my hands are sticky/With the smell of blood” and it concludes…”I’m stuck forever with this stink of blood/That’s on my hands”. In the course of the poem she has reduced bars of Sunlight Soap to slivers trying to rid herself of the smell at the tap. Nowhere is it explained what this blood represents or why it sticks. Does it symbolize, war, Ulster Troubles, the poet or anyone from history or myth? In his Nobel prize address Heaney compared poetic inspiration to breeze over a scullery bucket. Why not the kitchen sinks and dustbins of Hibernia? Well, at least with the likes of Vona Groarke (b.1964) you may find yourself in the open air, kitchen observations exchanged a sort of gardener’s diary verse – “I let the gooseberries/ Rot for not knowing when to pick them”.

But let it be said, Ireland’s contemporary female bards are more delicate than the menfolk, including the revered Heaney who (as only one example of the gratuitously sordid) writes – in Mycenae Outlook – having just referred to a vision of webbed blood and bodies raining down on the speaker “like tattered meat” -

“I would feel my tongue
Like the dropped gang plank of a cattle truck
Trampled and rattled, running piss and muck
All swimmy-trembly…

Not to consider what an über baroque evocation of a state of tension this is, it is really just more from the stock of sensationalist Joycean prose with its “snot green, scrotum tightening sea”, the world as a human theatre where people are holding on to or letting out their urine and never quite forgetting urine like Bloom who enjoys “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.

JOYCE: FROM REALISM TO NIHILISM

chastened

If it belongs anywhere, modernist realism of the Joycean kind belongs principally with prose whose main sphere is the factual report and which is not something designed to the same degree as poetry to convey or reach the transcendent. But post-Yeats Irish poetry has constantly, pedantically and monotonously appropriated the themes and style of Joycean realism and cynicism for verse. We need to ask why.

As said, Joyce spoke for those of the Catholic background that Yeats and his advisor in things Gaelic, Lady Gregory, did not share. Jesuit educated Joyce did not however pronounce on religion in any way prophetically – he was closer to a satirist, even just lampoonist of Irish and Catholic traditions. He had no alternative vision that might help reform, modify or substitute for Catholicism; he did not even reject it like an atheist. Like the true Luciferian he sometimes was, and possibly even aspired to be, Joyce simply subverts and renders toxic, contributing by his example to the also unhelpful example of the (Protestant raised) Beckett’s extreme paralysis of thought and action, his Murphy/Molloy/Belacquaism sitting in a corner cursing and despairing of existence – when not farting, evacuating, or masturbating. Inclusion of the latter theme to the field of poetry, (and rather insultingly to the Irish farmer as in Kavanagh’s half good poem, The Great Hunger,) can be traced back to Joyce, Ulysses and its anti-hero Bloom.

In accepting Joyce as high literature and a suitable object of academic study (he quite intended us to make it our life work!) we risk, and Ireland has risked, accepting him more metaphysically by osmosis. And the sad fact is that despite his obvious and undisputed brilliance, Joyce is at root unhealthy, certainly almost the last thing any new nation, not to say nascent poetic circles, should look to for prime inspiration, and if he wrote about the common man, apart from some early work he certainly didn’t write what the common man could ever hope to understand.. Even just humanly Joyce does not come up to the mark, straining the kind of tolerance society normally reckons to extend to artists. Ignoring his questionable treatment of both parents at their death, this was a person so ungratefully arrogant he could turn even his main benefactor Harriet Weaver from the door. This was a person so merely contrary that having been keen to make Nora Barnacle his mistress, he prevented publication of his first biography because Nora was not portrayed in it as his wife. If Joyce wasn’t Lucifer he was periodically Judas and to follow him leads inexorably to precisely the Judas theme – it receives its fullest treatment in Brendan Kennelly’s bombastic, overflowing  succes de scandale,  Book of Judas (1991) which supplies the Messiah the traitors he is assumed to need to be himself and identifies Ireland itself with a species of Judas complex.

Such perspectives apart, practically, Joyce’s values were never truly liberal of an exemplary kind for us to follow; they were merely rebellious designed to shock like the basically unnecessary, irrelevant incest theme of Finnegan’s Wake. Even the repulsive reference in Ulysses to “the snot green, scrotum tightening sea” is merely a sideward glance to Dublin’s Forty Foot nude beach often frequented by gays. Anyone from his friends to the Trinity (as in the famous “my Mother’s a Jew, my father’s a bird” etc doggerel ditty) were the pretext of largely aimless, self-congratulatory Joycean humour and cynicism.

The Joyce and Beckett effect has been to divert energies from, rather than to encourage attention to the needed reform and development of modern Irish life including not least its spiritual life to which poetry might have been expected to contribute. One doesn’t need to plough through the earnest examination of the Catholic theme in modern verse that Andrew Auge pursues in  A Chastened Communion (2013), to realize that the poets, like the people at large, have  few religious ideas to offer. Mainstream Irish religion has been and remains too weak in theology and philosophy in the first place. This nonetheless means that once the roof has been blown off traditional pieties and reverence there is little substance left but instead just hollow, trivializing profanity like Patrick Fiacc’s whose poem Our Father begins, “Our Father who art a Belfast night /Pub bouncer”. Or again the purely bizarre like Brendan Kennelly’s God’s Laughter. This pictures God unable to stop laughing or “freezing in fear” when he hears words. As fear is a negative emotion plainly it could not be a meaningful attribute of any true deity. But at least Kennelly’s half dotty admirer, U2 frontsman Bono, (who has used the poem for U2’s pop theology), hasn’t controversially praised it as he did Kennelly’s The Book of Judas as poetry flying “as high as the Holy Spirit flies” for sheer inspiration!).

Scriptures and especially the reformist/prophetic Hebrew tradition scarcely register for Ireland despite some natural Celtic affinity for such, a reason perhaps that the Irish and Jews have been so associated, at least politically, in America. Irish Catholicism is, alas, more a matter of devotions, rituals and folk religion, not to say superstition, though in earlier centuries and before Catholicism invaded via England like Protestantism later, the Celts produced the likes of Pelagius and Erigena in theology and philosophy. The convolutions of Joycean thought which could serve an almost “rabbinical” examination of life and literature, are expended by Joyce and his imitators on what is often little more than lavatory wall scribble. The attack upon Irish religion given Joycean example has become a matter of aesthetics rather than thought, and there the matter has become largely stuck. Reform and development are highjacked by aimless, passive complaint which the poetry echoes. Joyce’s interest in Ireland may at one level have been futuristic in revolt against nationalist nostalgias of his time, but paradoxically his labours (eighteen years alone on the still almost unreadable, Finnegans’s Wake whose best effects are contained in the first and last sentences!) catch the culture in a circling, repetitive torpor from which it seems unable to emerge.

If it wasn’t clearer earlier, it is fully apparent in the wake of the Murphy and Ryan reports and ongoing church scandals, that the Catholic church has failed Ireland abysmally.The country has survived less because of Catholicism as long popularly maintained, than despite it. For long the hierarchy opposed most Irish moves and calls to independence, (notoriously one prelate declared that hell wasn’t hot enough nor eternity wasn’t long enough to punish Fenians). Meanwhile, hidden in  orphanages, monasteries and nunneries was behaviour fit for the Inquisition. Some of it (and despite the vein of quasi-Wildean preciousness in a lot of Irish culture) seems as though arisen from some, satanic, nightmare level of Celtic consciousness which the modern poetry almost celebrates in its vision of existence as virtual vomitorium and lavatory, a dream world in which one falls in a shower of waste as in a ridiculous short poem Free Falls by Thomas Kinsella. (You can read it with a commentary many times its length in Britain’s Guardian newspaper’s Poem of the Week for 9.12.13 where you will be assured Kinsella b.1928, “significantly helped shape the course of poetry in Ireland, and beyond”. By conducting it to Sam Beckett’s lavatory?)

Only Catholicism whose semper idem principle has almost automatically opposed change, fails to recognize the at once psychological and spiritual principle, that there is a duty to seek change for the sake of soul, and even for spiritual health and progress to question religion as mere tradition and “to let the dead bury their dead”. Biblically God is portrayed as departing from the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 10:18) when a certain level of evil is exceeded, this in itself a declaration that no institution however venerable is automatically, eternally sacrosanct in the eyes of God. The Judaeo-Christian tradition always declares “come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4 ) the reason being “so that you do not partake in her sins….so that you do not share in her plagues”. Christianity is, or should be, less about tradition than the in-break and formation of the new. In our own times and faced with certain features of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has proposed, (what Christians seem fearful of doing even while Christians are persecuted by Muslims and denied the legal right to use the Allah word in some places), namely that Muslims should reject their faith and become either atheists or Christians or (more recently she concedes) at least definitively reject the traditions of Sharia Law.

In The Invention of Ireland  (1995) Declan Kiberd proposes the Protestant perspective could have been more used and useful to Ireland. I agree. Maybe reform is yet possible for Irish Catholicism, but as the author of Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency who believes religion must work for people, I feel I could go further than Kiberd and maintain it’s probably high time Ireland abandoned the Catholicism it seems no longer able to trust, love and believe – not abandon for pure secularism which would be defeatist and perhaps even impossible given certain features of the Celtic mind, but some alternative. Obviously one would not recommend surrender to anything like Paisleyite Protestantism and Ireland wouldn’t go there anyway. But anything from Orthodoxy to Charismatics might serve….anything in order to start again and actually to exert a spiritual will, to integrate the levels of Celtic vision. This, where it is strong in persons, is currently sinking back into the vaguest neo-paganism, new ageism or  perhaps Buddhism, going everywhere and nowhere like the repeated ambiguities of Bono lyrics or an agnostic Heaney advising in Doubletake,

….“Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells”.

If even Latin America has been casting off Catholicism usually for Protestant alternatives, why not Ireland if it would help cauterize the wounds and go somewhere definite?

I think there can be no question but that influences on Irish leaders of opinion stemming from Joyce and Beckett and their often slavish successors colour the social outlook and have favoured poetic themes in a way to justify a certain victimology, a culture of complaint and aimless protest much of it just a Beckettian sinking Winnie passivity. And we readers of such authors are even encouraged by the guides and critics of their productions to take a “poor Joyce” and still more a “poor Beckett” line in estimation of their lives and work. Contrary to Yeats’ meaningful dictum “in dreams begin responsibilities”, it as though these artists’ deliberate life choices meant little or nothing. Especially depression in the style of Beckett somehow excuses speaking darkness and a sitting-Murphy despair to the rest of the world at every opportunity –the sort of thing some of us like myself who has suffered clinical depression, have made actual effort to avoid.

We need moreover to wake up and realize that like the bad tree which can only produce bad fruit, in pursuit of their aims these persons have, however unwittingly, contributed to establish new and unacceptable restrictions. Obviously much censorship in Joyce’ youth was absurd and we have all heard of how the accomplished prose of Dubliners got refused for publication because of inclusion of the word bloody. Yet a century later admirers and inheritors of the Joycean legacy are not themselves without their prejudices and the society which readily tolerates what today would have the likes of Beckett executed if he were a Muslim for repeated profanities, behind the scenes can prove  controversially censoring in the area of religion and much else. Even to include such words as “conduct” and “bestow” can be sufficient to refuse you publication.

I had no special intention to make this article personal, and I don’t really have any need now that the scandals and injustices experienced in relation to persons of the literary establishments and publishing is available for anyone to read as an aspect of my memoir Reflections of an Only Child. (amzn.to/1rRagvl). However if I do include a personal note at this point, it’s because while preparing this article I received from The Irish Review, and not unexpectedly – I only applied to satisfy pressures on me to do so – an incoherent refusal from a writer (ironically and almost hilariously of all people  the author of Deconstructing Ireland) as regards a request for some exposure of my poetry.

ROAOC     NPTCDRAMAS

I was informed in one and half lines they couldn’t publish “it”, whatever poem could have been meant by “it”, since I’d suggested seeing a collection of verse (New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas) from which something might have been selected. As self-recommendation I had pointed out a poetic drama of mine on a Celtic theme had been performed in Australia. I also suggested my Coming To Syracuse mini epic could be looked at on the Net as proof of some basic competence in poetry (It would be too long for publication so I didn’t offer it for such). As no one from specifically Ireland visited the poem between my sending the email and receiving the refusal two days later, plainly those of The Irish Review didn’t bother to check.

Had he/they done so, it would have been clear apart from shortage of space or a special theme of the month such as could have been told me, there would be at least no moral right to refuse me. Any occasionally expressed claim of mine to be writing and as a Protestant of Irish nationality closest to Yeats in theme and style is not any boast but a statement of fact. I am more inclined to the mythic, metaphysical and visionary theme, and I deserve the attention denied me and not for the first time, but continuously in Ireland for anything poetic or otherwise. And I could well demand it in the face of the sometimes insulting and selfish way those of the diaspora are too easily dismissed as having no inheritance, no stake in anything Irish at all. (I can’t imagine Jews or Italians suffering the same kind of treatment). I suspect what the refused “it” was and which damned me, was that I also mentioned, (and I admit I was testing the waters!), that he could also look on the Net at my Remembering Seamus Heaney. No one today is allowed to blaspheme the Heaney god. He is Irish poetry, even if some of us like Camille Paglia (who refused to anthologize him) would consider him third class Yeats.

“OUT OF SHAPE FROM TOE TO TOP”

Heaneyverse

Well might Yeats’ valedictory Under Ben Bulben almost prophetically declare:

Irish poets learn your trade
Sing whatever is well made
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top…

Well made” here is key. Poetry (above the simple entertainment level) is first and foremost the art of excellence. It’s because it is about excellence that Yeats like his virtual mentor, Shelley, often felt that what he had produced was not quite good enough. ”True” poetry is what is as distinctively finished as a piece of sculpture or memorable as the strains of a major  symphony. And despite the self-doubt, it was this absolute quality that at his best Yeats was able to achieve and it’s why he continues to be internationally celebrated. Obviously he wouldn’t have appreciated those many Irish poets who have followed him who are too often writing what is almost an anti-poetry that has not issued from heart and intellect working in harmony. And there is something else here.

It is an admitted embarrassment that the elderly Yeats should have leaned towards fascist views of genetics and eugenics and that his Under Ben Bulben too baldly refers to the new Irish poets in terms of:

Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base born products of base beds

but there is arguably a kernel of truth here to be considered.

POETRY THAT REMEMBERS

Ben Bulben

It was and still is yet another mistake of post-Yeats poetry that it too lightly assumed there is scarcely anything Irish to represent whether through the “remembering” of Yeats’ Great Memory (read Collective Unconscious) or raw temperament. By the latter I mean those things like a sense of rhythm, pattern, even a way of observing people and objects that seems as distinctive as La Tène Celtic art yet spontaneous and minimally acquired through cultural means.

There are two ways in which persons belong or deeply feel they belong to a country. One may do so, as the perhaps more Anglo-Irish than Irish Yeats seemed to, namely by some hard-to-understand and as good as occult principle of earth consciousness of the kind Jung accepted. It is a belief that the land itself can leave some imprint beyond any effects of culture or the length of time spent there. (Like actress Joanna Lumley, unquestionably many Anglos born in India have felt there is some “touch” of Asia left on them that time and cultural education away from it will not erase or explain). Plainly there was something in Yeats that would always want to arise and go to Innisfree or stand beneath Ben Bulben even when dying in France. Just recently I read on the Net the poem of an Irish American plainly in the grip of the same kind draw to the Irish earth itself. Some accomplished late poems of the mostly self-exiled C.Day Lewis could be deriving their strength from the principle.

The other important way one belongs to a people is – likely enough – genetically. It is almost taboo in a multicultural society to speak of race as any determinant of anything, but there may even be a hidden injustice to that position, one which obscures certain realities. How do we explain (as the last week that I have been writing this, one hears of the Lebanese son of an Australian mother and the Libyan son of a French Canadian mother, both feeling themselves different and maladjusted and turning against family, homeland and every sensible advantage to become IS fanatics.

Multiculturalism is a value system relying much on the empirical/pragmatic outlook Yeats held suspect, and it is apparent the kind of society it encourages too often produces divided, discontented even tormented individuals left to feel an impulse to realize – precisely what? It may be, and probably is, the ineradicable drumbeats of something profoundly genetic that feels unaccepted, inalienably different and struggles to reach expression beyond whatever a post-enlightenment culture of reason lays out. I have myself protested in Reflections of an Only Child what seems like the blithe indifference to questions of race and inheritance among Irish leaders of opinion. If some nations have had too much race theory, Ireland has arguably had too little, even almost none though of no people group might something like racial inheritance be more obvious – the character of the Celts is easily recognizable in the descriptions of the ancients over two millennia ago. It is too easily imagined in Ireland (and originally because pragmatic, empirical England had assumed something of the kind) that as long as a person can make a living and be fed, it doesn’t much matter where on the face of the globe they reside. Accordingly, immigration is almost regarded as necessary and convenient even while it may in fact prove quite disorientating and take a real psychological toll on individuals.

Reacquainting myself after many years with Irish poetry and its issues, I found a reading of Stan Smith’s Irish Poetry and the Construction of Modern Identity (2005) and Wes Davies’ compendious An Anthology of Irish Verse (2013) dispiriting. There were fine examples of poetry from numbers of poets, but overall I would judge the collection, especially as it covers the scene over the last two generations, trashy. Too often it presents a punkish anti-poetry in which the only Irish thing about it is the will to act and pose, in this case to act out not being Irish, to uncharacteristically understate oneself, to be cool because it’s hip, sophisticated and neo-international to be so. (As I shall inevitably be accused of exaggeration, I was pleased to read a Paris Review interview (The Art of Fiction. no 82) in which even Edna O’Brien, whose concern is with prose fiction not poetry, charging modern Ireland with just imitating Anglo-American mores).

“STILL THE INDOMITABLE IRISHY”?

Shamrocks

If I hardly recognize any distinctive, perennial Celtic character in the poetry of especially the last thirty years (beyond perhaps, however negatively, a quality of  violent/surrealistic “vision” in elements of Brendan Kennelly), it is because something counter-intuitional is going on. There is a refusal of the “remembering” which Yeats rightly considered essential to poetry, Irish or any other. It will be protested that Heaney, a poseur if ever there was one, does remember – he remembers a dark ancient bog past and a rough farmland present or recent past. But his roughness is either inauthentic or unnecessary or both. If he genuinely aimed to represent a rural coarseness he should not have weighed his verse down like an over burdened Christmas tree with jargon and obscure technical vocabulary that avoids, or substitutes for, real emotion or committed statement (a really great and passionate poet could, like Racine, say everything with only two thousand words). Also if Heaney is indifferent (as in The Early Purges) to the killing and drowning of kittens and pups, then he was just a rough cur who we can and should just dismiss as such. I can only say, as indicated in my memoir, my own forebears in Ireland didn’t take that kind of attitude towards animals despite being raised on a farm and I know plenty of Irish didn’t and don’t either. Indeed I looked up an article on the Net where some protested similar things, in one case someone insisted their people had been farmers not far from the Heaneys and didn’t approve such views. Heaney’s sentiments cannot just be excused on the basis they are only “representative” of Irish life and farmers.

In response to Early Purges words like

….Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, “Bloody pups”, it makes sense.

one disgusted correspondent was even moved to extemporize:

Seamus is dead thank God
I hated the words of this man
Cruel and unthinking and more than a little odd
Now he’s gone, give his work an outright ban

My chief overall impression of modern Irish poetry is of so much quasi-journalism presuming to call itself verse. (And again, having arrived at that conclusion, I was again fascinated to note that from her different sphere Edna O’Brien opines in the mentioned interview that the trouble today is so many writers are just journalists). Ireland’s poets sound too often depressed, glum, sullen, resentful, mocking and shocking, even occasionally cruel like Michael Hartnett – his Pigkilling belongs with Heaney for indifference to animals – almost totally devoid of a smile and certainly lacking any good story to tell. Indeed it’s can be so remote from any light touch that isn’t outright clown-silly with Paul Muldoon (”with a stink and a stink and a stinky-stick”) that it’s hard to imagine Oscar Wilde ever came out of Ireland. It’s typical of what’s wrong that a quite well known, almost popular poem by Sean O’Riorain called Saoirse (Freedom) includes such sentiments as:

I’ll bear affection for people
without anything original
in their stockthoughts.

One can of course do that; it belongs today to various relativist and egalitarian tendencies – Yeats’ “levelling wind” – but if you surrender to the humdrum in this way you won’t be going on any Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to anywhere (certainly not to Yeats’ Byzantium)  and have much to say or be at all. Ultimately most modern Irish poetry, like too much poetry elsewhere, is just a bore, an activity for in-groups, precisely the scene Yeats would encourage us to turn from and even scorn. And necessarily so if one doesn’t want to lose all sense of social, let alone literary direction.

According to one of his reviewers, the essential idea behind Colin Graham’s The Deconstruction of Ireland (2001)  is that what’s called ‘Ireland’ just “stages its own deconstruction and that at every turn the idea unravels and reforms itself, always in anticipation of the next act of definition and criticism which…will be inadequately applied to it”. It follows that both affirmation and deconstruction for Ireland are but a “momentary stop on a seemingly runaway train” and Ireland, itself a concept in flux, “is a future which is always posited and never attained”.

Undeniably Ireland and our world is changing, but change is not everything; and notions of an ungraspable, indefinable “Ireland” bespeak how things are – or will just feel and seem – to the secular consciousness for which there is no “remembering” in the Yeatsian sense, little or no scope for poetry in the broadest sense as contributing to culture, and perhaps most importantly as indicated, no personal or collective willingness to take real control of the spiritual life from which so much else flows.

We inhabit an almost post-poetic age in which the magic, the mystery, the spirit of the poetic art has been lost, but which the policy direction behind the granting of  bursaries, prizes, professorships of poetry, publications are almost busy helping us lose, putting what was once a fairly public medium – even when difficult, Isaiah, Dante and Shakespeare were essentially for everyone – into the hands of cliques. Yeats, even in his greatness may not be the perfect poet – who is? – and most could never reckon to follow him into ritual magic. But if poets and modern Ireland cannot regain some grip upon his magic and the magic of existence, we shall continue in the shallows rather than the heights of literature if we don’t bring it to near to outright extinction. Hopefully Yeats 2015 will provide new inspiration and beginnings.

IRISH AUSTRALIAN  (Irish Australian Heritage Flag)

 

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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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THE HIDDEN DEITY and A DIVINE REJECTION : TWO POEMS

FIG TREE

[The idea for the first of these two related poems occurred to me last June on the barren slopes of Mt Etna in Sicily. It thus has at least an indirect relation to Coming to Syracuse (August blog). The Fig tree has a variety of associations inside and outside the Bible.. It can represent prosperity, Israel or knowledge. Its fruit may even have been deemed the original Edenic one rather than the proverbial apple. In the first poem it is related simply to what can be known ].

THE HIDDEN DEITY

A leafy fig tree at a distance you once
Saw. You were hungry and desired its fruit
So you approached it for you wished to know
If it held sustenance for your relief. [1]
And truly then your searching self
Was mortal and your eyes like anyone’s,
For whom even simple things within their reach
May not be seen or understood.

At night you walked the wind blown waves
Intending none should see you did, [2]
The meaning of that labour undeclared
Except I AM, your self, given as the clue. [3]
For are you not the Lord of seas because
Still more the womb of all the elements,
Your soul extended out beyond your form [4]
Into and through the visible universe?

Sometimes you were a man, sometimes were God
Your soul an infinite sea lain mostly
Calm and undisclosed to those around, even
Sometimes to yourself who had to struggle
When a man as man.[5] But nature sensed and
Always knew the truth, the reason why upon
Your death even light declined and darkness
Closed upon a still uncomprehending world.

Alone can soul know what soul is and
Apprehend what intellect and Chalcedon    [6]
Could not : you were less God and man together,
Equally and all complete than each by turn
And then by concentrated will. When fully God
You were God’s Soul, not Spirit or the Father’s
Mind which you would only imitate since
Spirit and Soul proceed from the Creator’s Head. [7]

It’s why you’re self-declared the door or gate
Through which souls enter in like sheep to
Pasturage though they will go outside again. [8]
For once your person and direction’s known,
Less perfectly and fully we are gods [9]
Partaking in what’s human and through soul
What is divine, learning through words what’s Word
Being inside and out of time’s confine.

In the sublime high seraphs sing God holy thrice, [10]
God’s unity is entire as three, ‘we” from the first,
The Elohim, before the single Name
Revealed in sound and fire: Yahwéh. This was [11]
The Angel of the Lord, not God as primal        [12]
Will, nor Spirit, the energy that shapes what is,
But womb and face of the material
The one revealed to Gideon beside the tree.   [13]

A Son that waits upon a Father’s will
And works but as the Spirit empowers
Is also Wisdom, Word, Messiah, Angel more, [14]
Unique in his sole self and yet to which
All we may add – even though of little faith
And greedy still like Gideon for a sign
From One with faith enough in Providence
Not to perceive each fruit upon a tree.

 NOTES

[1] Mk 11.12 “he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it”. It is quite clear Jesus needs to examine the tree not being sure what is on it.
[2] Mk 6: 48 “he intended to pass them by”. Although Jesus aims to control the elements and help the disciples straining against “an adverse wind” he doesn’t seem to want them to know that on this occasion which is effectively a revelation of his other self.
[3] The familiar “It is I, be not afraid” though literary can be misleading. It is really one of the ego eimi statements. “Be not afraid, I AM”, one of the declarations of divinity in a synoptic gospel, (the presumed earliest gospel) which liberal scepticism maintains is absent from earliest belief.
[4] The soul or esoterically the aura which surrounds the body, sustains it in existence and departs from the body at death.
[5] The poem takes a line with affinities for one expounded by Scottish theologian P.T.Forsyth ( 1848-1921). He believed Jesus was bound to succeed and remain perfect given his nature, but he had to struggle like a man because the divinity was considerably hidden from him or accepted by faith. In his kenosis (self-emptying in incarnation) “the divine attributes were not discarded but they were retracted or condensed” (The Person and Place of Christ 1909). My poem suggests the divinity was only perceived, claimed, tapped into rather like a psychic talent. Being divine could have been experienced like a living dream. Those times apart, Jesus had to grow in wisdom as the record says (Luk 2:52).
[6] The creed of Chalcedon of 451 produced formulae coloured by Greek philosophy which render Christ, “truly God and truly Man….consubstantial with the Father and the same consubstantial with us as regards his divinity…..” No one explained how these two levels (“rational soul” and “rational body”), interacted and it should be more a matter for esoterics and psychology than philosophy. Forsyth (see above) was anti-Chalcedonian.
[7]   My Cosmic Father: Spirituality as Relationship, insists that just as the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, so Jesus is the Soul of God. Spirit and Soul are together emanated from God and are to be imagined as “below” the Creator, the Head, and correspond to (in kabbalistic terms influenced by Jesus’ contemporaries the Essenes), respectively Hokhmah and Binah who are of, within, but just below, Keter, (the Head) – for “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3) as St Paul has it. Absolute, mathematical equality of the Trinity is a philosophical notion that is arguably a biblical heresy and was never accepted by all churches. Jesus only does what he sees the Father already doing (Joh 5:19).
[8] Joh 10:9 “I am the gate . Whoever enters by me will be saved…and will come in and go out and find pasture “ To notice here is this going in and out where one might imagine salvation was a matter of simply going in by the door. Instead, the person capable of divinization is not in one “place” to realize that.
[9] Joh 10:35 “If those to whom the word of the Lord came are called ‘gods’….”
The disciples/believers are not God as such, but they participate in God and become divine by association, especially if they can transcend the limited material for the wider universal realm of soul. The Eastern churches have always held to a doctrine of divinization of the self.
[10] In Is 6:3 the seraphs calls “Holy, Holy, Holy”. The concept of trinity is not ruled out by the divine unity which is Echod (inclusive One) not Yachid (absolutely single One).
[11] The earliest name for the one God (Elohim pro, Eloheem) is uniplural (Gods). The secret, revealed covenant name of God is Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM, and gradually custom and editing makes this Israel’s name for God, though careful reading would indicate it is only a face, aspect or person of Elohim, essentially the manifesting one. The original pronunciation of the divine name is unknown – I have accented the second vowel for reading purposes only.
[12] It is because the earliest followers of Jesus could think of him as Angel of the Lord that they could accept his divinity, and not as some imported pagan notion, almost from the first. Calling Jesus “Lord: can mean Angel of the Lord, Yahweh and for the first Christians the OT Angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Christ
13] Jdg 6:11 Beneath an oak tree. Noticeably in this incident the stranger/Angel terrifies Gideon by declaring himself to be God rather than just God’s messenger which, since God is declared invisible, Gideon does not expect to see – for no one shall see “God” and live (Ex: 33:20).
[14] It is not to deny the “sonship” of Christ to suggest it is possible to overdo the title beyond original Christian usage as it is only one of several titles describing the kind of nature emanated (proceeding from) God; and like God, the Son is still somewhat hidden even when revealed.

BLASTED

A DIVINE REJECTION

 When hungry you approached a fig tree in full leaf
Though it was not, you knew, the season for its fruit,
You cursed it, so your chief disciple thought,
Declaring none might eat from it again.[1]
In this the generations since perceived a wrath
If real, too hard, too veiled to understand.

It was even so a Messiah’s truth, bitter
As had been sweet the fruit of the same tree
To the taste of Eden’s gardener, Eve, despite the lie,[2]
While you, much like a worker in the fields,
From hunger sought and did not find the still
Green tsak, the pre-fruit plucked by peasantry.[3]

Lost Eden’s substitute was Temple ground [4]
And from the barren fig tree you went there
To drive corrupted worship from the scene.
This you willed should never thrive again;
The temple was reserved for doom just as
Within a day the tree would wither to its roots.

What madness fit for Pharisees caused you
Oh Calvin, Luther and too many more
To teach that by the cursing of a tree
Sometimes the symbol of a chosen race
A people was as good as banned from
Further life, from rights and prophecy.[5]

The Temple’s prayers gave no more fruit;
They were the rejects of a spiritual field
Not supporting and remote from life. Ripeness
Is all in either thought or deed and such
The Lord of life, life’s gardener, beholds
In persons and the Mossiach who’s his vine. [6]

All live through God, there was scarce curse to say
More like a natural process to confirm.
Life’s Lord dwells in and forms from sacred fire
And what refuses growth and bloom resolves
To primal fire without the other elements
Held and beheld in the mirror of his messenger,

A messiah who only speaks and sees what
First it is his Parent does. [7] And has not that
Same Parent willed that people of the sacred tree
Return revived? But should again the Temple rise,
Then many soon will mourn a day of
Sacrilege that desolates all life on earth [8].

NOTES

[1] The cursing of the fig tree see Mk 11: 12-13,20 and Matt 21: 18-20. It is Peter who in the Markan version (which implies a withering overnight as opposed to Matthew’s “at once”), describes Jesus’ words as a “curse” on the tree. The contradiction between accounts as regards time is probably the difference between observation of an immediate withering of the leaves and Mark’s next day withering “to the roots” that all disciples observe.
[2] It can be assumed as have many and Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, that the forbidden tree was the fig – once having “knowledge” it is with fig leaves that the Edenic pair try to clothe themselves.
[3] It is a common error to assume Jesus “cursed” a tree for not bearing fruit it could not have borne. The tree could have given at least edible tsak by Passover time.
[4] The Temple’s design and rituals reinstitutes Eden’s intimacy with God. The equivalence is particularly stressed today in the Temple theology of Margaret Barker and see my Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency (http://amzn.to/Xz9L7X).
[5] To the extent the fig tree sometimes symbolizes Israel, Jesus quite expects a national restoration not evident in his day, and even associates apocalyptic times with it as in the parable of the budding fig tree Luk 21: 29-32. Hence “cursing” the fig tree cannot be the cursing of all Israel; it must indicate something else even if within the life of Israel.
[6] Mossiach is Messiah. The poem’s theme links to Joh 15: “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener” which precedes the warning, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are thrown into the fire…” this being the “natural process” of the next verse.
[7] Joh 5:19 the Son does “only what he sees the Father doing….”
[8] i.e. the “desolating sacrilege” of Matt 24: 15. Even if as per prophecies a temple is rebuilt in good faith, it would be overtaken by a repeat of the sacrilege of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC, the future Antichrist being one who appropriates the temple for his own worship.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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THAT LEFT BEHIND RAPTURE RIDDLE

THAT LEFT BEHIND RAPTURE RIDDLE

On October 3rd  a hopefully more sophisticated remake of the Left Behind film on the theme of the Rapture was premiered in Hollywood starring Nicholas Cage. Initial reviews don’t seem too favourable and the subject is so difficult it would be hard to imagine any completely satisfactory treatment. It is hard enough just to write about this theme as I do here, and I don’t probe into all aspects of the belief in Rapture and its history. Like most apocalyptic thinking  it is strongest among some branches of Protestantism  although Catholicism does have a version of Rapture doctrine called The Warning. In Catholicism at large, however, the subject has often got projected onto and absorbed into descriptions of mystical states as for St Teresa. But in all honesty, to do that can mark an avoidance and finish no more faithful to what look like some original Christian beliefs than in Islam calling jihad nothing but a war  against oneself. In the following I consider aspects of Rapture belief, especially its current association in some minds with Red Moon eclipses etc.  The following is excerpted from my  just updated Christianity’s Destiny: The First and Lasting Signs  (http://amzn.to/106iosd).

Readers and very much the writers on current celestial signs, Shemitah years etc  either won’t know or wilfully ignore some of the following information. This helps no one and nothing. Some attitudes and levels of information on this subject  need to change. You will find quite a lot here and more in the source excerpted from, but be patient. You will hopefully glean a few things you probably didn’t know before and need to know. (If you order this book and get a  not available notice that will only be for a few days while the new edition is still going through the Book Depository etc – the book itself has not been raptured!). 

Rapture

………Outside of Daniel, few biblical prophecies come with any timetables attached………However…while I am disposed to believe date-setting is wrong, from certain facts and questions put to me I have finally realized why it could be almost more the role of the astrologer than even the prophet to engage some at least broad speculation in this area and because what appears to be the biblical prohibition of settling upon any times and seasons may not be quite what it appears. Instead it opens upon a special challenge.

The subject of apocalypse is far more embedded in Jewish/rabbinical worldviews than is commonly known or admitted. Arguably, Jesus speaks paradoxically about this subject, even in coded expressions half giving away the time although to the normal gentile reader he may appear to be denying knowledge. Thus when he refers to the day and the hour that can’t be known except by the father (Matt 24:36), he has virtually declared the assumed season of his advent. No one knowing the day nor the hour except the father were common idioms referred to both traditional Jewish marriage custom and the Feast of Trumpets. The latter opens the secular year in September, and carries many associations. These include the marriage of the Messiah, the opening of the heavens and for rabbinic myth the birth of both the world and Adam. Because Trumpets is the only festival dependent upon a new moon, assessment of which depended upon annual observation, no one knew for certain the day or hour the two day festival would begin, while in marriage custom only the Father of the bridegroom knew when the son would leave home to take (snatch away) the bride. Traditional marriage celebrations lasted seven days. The apocalyptic “Marriage of the Lamb” appears to mirror this in the way it lasts over a seven year period which parallels the seven years of Tribulation from which the ready, believing “bride” has been removed at the time when one shall be taken and the other left (Matt 24:40) at “the Last Trump” (1 Cor 15:52) or Trump of God (1 Thess 4:16).

But what is the “Last Trump?” Some believe the reference is to the single trumpet blast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, or perhaps the blast of Pentecost which summoned Moses up Sinai to meet God. However, it should be obvious that the last Trump is the last blast of the series of blasts during the Feast of Trumpets, three sets of thirty three plus a final very long hundredth one around the end of the festival. This association is almost guaranteed to be the correct one, because St Paul referring to the Last Trump (1 Cor 15:52) says the Rapture transformation occurs “in the twinkling of an eye”. This is in fact another Hebrew idiom indicating sunset and a change in light. Noticeably the last trumpet of the festival should occur at sunset near the the end of the two day festival which will have begun on the evening of the heralding new moon.

Can we, and are we perhaps even intended, to go further and   associate Second Advent teaching with a season of the year, and locate it at a point in future time? Relevant if disputed is Jesus’ parable of the budding fig tree (Luk 21:29:33). To the extent the fig tree is a common symbol of Israel, the forecast that “this generation” (or people) will not pass away “before all these things” (the apocalypse) “begin to be fulfilled” (the truest sense of the Greek is progressive in this way) has been thought to mean that when Israel, which was divided and can hardly be said to have independently existed in Jesus’ time, is revived as a nation then the time of the apocalypse approaches. Popularly and among skeptics, the Lukan saying is taken to prove Jesus wrongly taught and expected an imminent apocalypse and was thus a failed prophet. But a strong hint that Jesus did assume a major time delay, one involved with affairs of Israel and that the disciples more or less expected that too, is given by the way that at Jesus’ reported departure, the disciples ask him when he will restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).

In which case the question arises, and apparently contradicting what I have just said, why did the early church and even the apostles get the whole matter of the Second Advent so spectacularly wrong? Even St Paul who, though he warns Thessalonians against expecting a very imminent Rapture, still wrongly teaches the Corinthians the time is short (1 Cor 7:29). I suggest, and the point is important not just for apocalyptic thought but even insights of gay theology which get dismissed because they might contradict “tradition from the first”, the church can get and has got a few things wrong from the first and till now. The secret of the misreading or ignorance around apocalypse can be traced to Jesus’ followers not absorbing two key points. First, they were told the gospel must be preached in the entire world, surely a long haul venture, but second and more importantly they ignored Jesus’ parting words to the effect he will be with the disciples (to whom personally it is not given to know ‘the times and the seasons’) “until the end of the age” (aion). The word is age, not as sometimes mistranslated “the world”. What is this unexplained “age” or “era”?        

Only those without or opposed to all astrology as everyone from St Augustine to American evangelicals have been, would miss the at least possible and plausible point that indicated is the Piscean era which began approximately around the time of Jesus birth and which as it nears its end does so as modern Israel comes into being. The bridegroom of the apocalyptic parable who arrives unexpectedly at night might be unpredictable, but not completely so; nor need the bridesmaids be entirely unprepared. With some assistance from astrology, slowly and carefully it may be possible to get a grasp on the theme of the church’s ending, especially as it could have some connection with the related fate of Israel.

The first thing that astrology can with some certainty hope to establish from the data, is how the people of Pentecost would tend to understand and describe their final destiny. I have already mentioned expectations of the Rapture variety, but one must ask: was this or something else what was originally and generally believed? Given modern differences about the subject, any additional clues are useful. And at the very least we can determine how the faith won’t end. Having clarified this it is possible to make a few deductions and speculations for our times.

As I will indicate, there are ways of knowing broadly something about the endings of people and nations even if the finer details may elude us. Applying the usual guidelines for the ending of the lives of persons and institutions (it’s an issue of especially the fourth house of any pattern), it is apparent Christianity is not going to disappear slowly and end with a whimper rather than a bang, even though a certain decadence among its leaders (a lifelong potential given the Neptune square to the Midheaven!) and the closure of church properties in parts of Europe might encourage that impression on a temporary basis. Nor is there a strong case for its disappearance in the face of influences from any other single faith such as Islam or Buddhism, influential in the modern world though both these are, and although some threat to Pentecost’s pattern might be read into the symbolism of Mars opposite Ahmed (a name of Mohammed) which, as mentioned in commentary, has a touch of jihad conflict about it. But in effect there has always been some tension of that sort; it’s hardly a novelty. Wherever Islam has gained ground the rights of non-Muslims, Christian and others, are usually reduced, especially as regards fundamental rights of religion such as to proselytize or to build new places of worship. So this is a perennial issue. It is only the square of Ahmed to factors in the fourth sector at 26 Libra gives indication Islam could be involved with other faiths and factors at or near the end rather than, if it afflicted the IC, materially so as to help trigger the end, though one could just make out that Arabia (home and advocate of extremist Salafist Islam) square Pentecost’s IC does do that.

The single most vital and peculiar datum to reckon with from the angles, rulers and planets, is the speed that would attach to any ending. Practically, and in relation to such a large international organization, and short of the miracles some might expect, one could scarcely imagine anything so rapid, unless the institution were somehow to be signed away overnight on some interfaith basis or some form of political coup overtook it – one thinks of a prophecy of the late Catholic seeress Jeane Dixon to the effect that the last Pope would be assassinated and someone take over the papacy to proclaim a new and universal faith. But presumably not even that would take everyone with it, there would be pockets of resistance. Nevertheless, something like this, a crisis in effect, is what is implied – short of some radical, Rapture style alternative others hope for and which I will demonstrate might need to occur reasonably soon too; otherwise it would be further or indefinitely postponed. So, we next set the given celestial picture against what the first Christians believed and imagined.

Unlike most people, the first believers actually assumed they could know something about the end of the path on which they were launched. Some, like Paul’s Thessalonians, seem even to have been obsessed with their (imminent) end. Astrology reveals how individuals or institutions understand and image themselves quite as much as what will happen to them; indeed self-understanding may influence their destiny often as an inextricable part of it. To illustrate the point I can offer some personalizing example.

From my own life (and that of others I’ve known), I can see that given Sagittarius, sign of the foreign, on the fourth house cusp of home and last home, there was always a heightened likelihood I, and they, would reside far from where we were born. It’s even quite likely too in my case I will end my days overseas. (Alternative expressions of Sagittarius on the fourth could be the parents are not native to the place you are born, the background is religious, or it’s very ecological, or materially the homes were often spacious in size or view – I think of living with views of Hong Kong harbour and overlooking the Thames at Chelsea). For the potential of overseas residence to be strengthened, there would usually need to be supplementary factors such as in my case the moon (general symbol of home) in the ninth sector of the overseas in a fixed sign (permanently overseas). But obviously I still can’t establish ironclad guarantees about where I or anyone will be at the last. Even so, it’s a fact that since childhood I quite hoped and expected I would not remain where I was born, an outlook which events, partly accidental – if that’s the word – conspired to insure.

How much did I foresee or even positively determine my future in this respect? There really wasn’t much by way of determining things. Only years after all the relevant events had occurred did I see my travels and homes confirmed in the natal pattern – for example Australia had always been conjunct my natal sun and both China and Hong Kong aspecting my moon. I emigrated to Australia when a major Plutonic transit had just triggered off the moon (home) and Australia in the chart across astrology’s emigration axis of the chart. As to my place of origin, Europe, and my other nationality, Ireland, Europa is firmly in the fourth house of origins while Ireland conjuncts the ruler of my writing house so I am perhaps more an Irish writer than anything. Asteroid Ireland was hit by transit when Irish media first contacted me about my writing. It looks like we are back to the challenge of the frontispiece quote, “ In your book were written all the days that were formed for me when none of them existed” (Ps 139:16). Yet just what all this means philosophically as regards fate and free is hard to say.

Reverting to Pentecost, insofar as the birth pattern shows what is thought and believed as much as what may happen, I think we can rather clearly see the first believers did believe their community would sooner or later be snatched away, “raptured”, (though that’s not a biblical word). The idea was highly original, of course….but then the Part of Originality is bordering the cusp of the fourth putting the whole subject of endings on an unusual basis! The earliest commentaries on Revelation we possess maintain the believers understood they would be delivered amid a time of troubles. Whether that meant before the time of major troubles (the Tribulation) or mid way through it is not clear. They may or may not have held to various “pre-trib” or “mid trib” theories debated among especially American Christians. (Catholics, if they even consider the subject, are more taken up with St Malachy’s last pope before the advent of the Antichrist). Astrologically, much is relevant to the subject of the conditions at the end of life. We therefore look for confirmations and explications to all of the following……..:

………[The chapter then sets out and examines in detail specific features of the natal pattern for Pentecost which promises or at least reflect original expectations of an unusual end]

………The most blatant modern prediction, or virtual prediction, of Second Advent (whether over Arabia, at Jerusalem or anywhere) that conservative Christians normally opposed to such specific speculations have allowed through, has its source in speculations launched by the Messianic Christian Rabbi, Mark Biltz. Biltz is founder of El Shaddai Ministries devoted to stressing the more Jewish side of Jesus. Findings and variations on a theme by Biltz like John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change (2013) are rapidly becoming bestseller material. Though Biltz and the rest don’t care to be too specific about the Rapture, some may be said to hint that Christ could return to Mount Olivet in 2015 around the Day of Atonement. Because the gospels forecast signs in the heavens and (whether literally or symbolically), the moon turned to blood before whatever event precisely marks “The Day of the Lord” (the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Second coming to Jerusalem?), it struck Biltz there could be some significance in the tetrad (sequence of four) red moon eclipses due to fall on the Jewish festivals in 2014 and 2015. There had at any rate been significance in such festival tetrads for Jewish history. We shall see what this significance is.

However, albeit rabbinic traditions can refer to blood moons as the moon turned to blood and solar eclipses as the sun turned to darkness and they have always regarded blood moon as important for Israel either for war or major change, it can still be argued something stronger than just eclipses, even vivid ones, are indicated by specifically the gospel prophecies if they are to be taken literally. And how literal are they? For example, asteroids might fall from the heavens, but not stars (it would take too long!) as envisaged by Mk 15:23…..unless perhaps stars appear to be falling because there’s, say, an axis shift. Which is a real possibility. So there’s an issue here around what and how much is literal or symbolic. The idea that eclipses are end times “signs” is simply a fair compromise in context, but worth examining.

Even so, blood moons and solar eclipses are not in themselves a great rarity, though it is true the lunar tetrads that Biltz highlights are fairly rare and rarer still falling on the Jewish feasts. (62 tetrads since the first century but only 8 on Jewish festivals). The 2014/15 tetrad could thus correspond to significant times for Israel as mentioned presently and just possibly by extension the church – but only indirectly. For direct relevance to Christianity the test case is the year of the crucifixion which as will be apparent from this book and Testament of the Magi I claim, along with many theologians if for different reasons, was unquestionably AD 30.

Proponents of blood moon theories assume that with blood moons in evidence in AD 33, Jesus necessarily died then. Jesus’ death was however of more global than national significance and hence suitably reflected by the nearest solar eclipse.(Any blood moons in 33/34 are more likely to reflect the division and turmoil within Israel which Christianity, the conversion of St Paul, the martyrdom of Stephen etc were opening up for it). Moreover by no stretch of the imagination could one think of the prophetic details of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, which draw upon a prophecy of Joel, as fully realized at Pentecost (whether in AD 30 or 33). It is not unreasonable to suppose the apostle’s audience was intended to understand the festival was a foretaste of a much greater day of fulfilment towards whenever the end of the age was. A blood moon didn’t absolutely have to manifest for the first Pentecost to be the unique day it was, any more than those present were witness to the drifting smoke of volcanos and major signs in the heavens or in the earth beneath, (though to the extent the Jews and Jerusalem are deemed specially linked to end-of-era events, any future Pentecost might be dramatic after Joel’s description).

The relevance of the blood moons for the fate of Jews before modern times was best seen in 1492 when they were famously expelled from Spain. More recently, tetrads were significant in 1949/50 and in 1967/68. Modern Israel came into being in 1948, but it had to fight for its existence in ‘49 and ’50, so the blood moons suitably delivered war and development at that time. In 1967 there was the Six Day War and Jerusalem was retaken by Israel after two millennia. This was seen by many as highly prophetic, an end of “the times of the Gentiles”, a first herald of the end of organized Christianity as we know it, a promise of the Second Coming. 1967 was also significantly a Hebrew Jubilee year, 50 years (one Jubilee on from 1917 when modern Israel suddenly began to seem like a real possibility when Britain’s General Allenby taking Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks after centuries). The question of Jubilee years and the related Shemitah or Sabbath years every seven years and ending in a release of debts, has given some shape and timing to the speculations of those like another popular Christian rabbi, Jonathan Cahn, who are employing eclipses in prophecy. This is however done without reference to standard astrology either from ignorance or in order to please their evangelical constituency.

There is no question that the principle of the Shemitah years seriously and dramatically works for events not least in national economics and the stock market. Cahn has well proved that point, and those who play the stock market are aware of seven year cycles. But plainly too, the Shemitah’s seven, twenty eight and forty nine years cyclic relevance, has something to do with cycles of Saturn and/or certain sensitive degrees within it which astrology would do well to incorporate if it could establish the degree or date or sign to begin the sequence. Currently Jonathan Cahn has it that the last day of the Shemitah in 2015 will almost certainly mark the final downfall of the American economy and must see the beginning of the Tribulation? Must it, and should there be a connection with the destiny of Christianity that now has others anticipating the Rapture, or the appearance of the Antichrist and so on in relation to a red moon of 2015?

This is where and how if there is anything to say here, astrology and the astrology of Pentecost must be brought in. The fact is that eclipses, which are frequent enough, are not too significant from the astrological standpoint if they can’t do a bit more than make a spectacle in the heavens every so often. And even if one refuses to consider little more than the time of their appearance, tradition would still have us consider the intensity (total, partial), the time span and track – there is more effect and more that’s prophetic over where the event is most viewable.

What any eclipse does astrologically is to shine a spotlight on a portion of a person’s, nation’s, or institution’s life as already defined by their birth chart. An eclipse in, say, a person’s ninth house might signal taking a university course or, for a nation, instigating reforms in higher education over the coming year from the solar eclipse. A solar eclipse introduces the new. Lunar eclipses are more by way of a challenge to resolve some already existing situation, expectation or problem and usually during the six months from the time of the eclipse. They at least leave people pondering certain issues more than others. They oversee a mood, a thought trend, even if and when they don’t produce the kind of major action Jewish rabbis are prepared to associate with blood moons for especially Israel.

Eclipse effect is anyway more in evidence if natal planets or progressions to them for persons or nations are hit by the eclipsed sun or moon and the transiting planets at the time of the eclipse (the latter within a small orb of contact only). Without this not too much may occur. The outcome need not be immediate either; it can wait months until, say, a lunation or notable transit hits the degree zone sensitized by the eclipse. A classic example is the horror of 9/11. An eclipse on June 21st had hit a world point (0 Cancer), itself related to America’s birth chart. When action and bellicose Mars struck opposite that point, the disaster was released.

Although everyone from atheists like Dawkins to Christian fundamentalists may for their own reasons deny astrology and thus eclipse effect, one needs to be willfully blind to ignore their evidence, which is unfailing. I myself knew the full effect when an eclipse just inside my ninth house (universities and religious and overseas affairs) hit near my Midheaven (reputation/career) at the same time as an aggressive Mars conjuncting my Lie asteroid hit opposite my natal Saturn (restriction). Things proved suitably difficult. I received a doctorate to maximum media attention but as regards the subject matter got misreported in many places round the globe. It was even said I had been government paid to study Jesus’ sexuality – I hadn’t been so paid nor engaged that subject – and even that I held Jesus incarnated to have sex with his disciples (I have never said or written anything of the kind). This was disinformation on a major scale almost none of which I was allowed to correct (Saturn as restriction) because it was too interesting for those purveying it.

As said, traditionally the rabbis have always held that lunar eclipses are more important than solars for the affairs of Israel, the latter being supposedly more relevant to the gentile nations. Though the blood moons do seem relevant to Israel, unless we could say Israel seems always to have a lot of proverbially “unfinished business” (a lunar eclipse issue), I think the assumption which likely owes something to traditional fears of solar worship, can be overemphasized. Israel like any other nation will undergo important solar eclipses when things hot up for it. Significantly, a solar eclipse in May of 1948 in Taurus fell just days before Israel’s foundation (a typically solar “new thing”) under Taurus. And I rather suspect the year long implications of the solar eclipse of Oct 23rd 2014 which falls right on Israel’s ascendant, will gather up and lock in any significance of the lunar tetrad and may overall accompany more action than the more psychological effect of the lunars.

The solar/lunar difference I have described is empirically derived by astrologers and it is worth respecting and working with. This brings me back to my point that those promoting an interest in blood moons don’t know quite enough, and if they won’t work with the astrology they so readily demonize and abominate, they stand to miss much and even mislead people about what is most likely in the area of Israel and Christianity’s destiny.

I would for a start doubt that, even if it destabilizes many things especially economically, the end of the Shemitah year in 2015 and the last lunar eclipse will produce the biblical Tribulation itself whether thought of as more relevant to Jew or Christian. Even if literally believed in and deemed probable within this decade, it is hard to see that the world shocking and troubling effects of such as the Rapture (often believed to mark the beginning of the Tribulation) are present in 2015. There is for example nothing especially aerial, Libran and Rapture Ready about the solar and lunar eclipses of September 2015.

And unless they believe that the last and true Pentecost before the Second Advent should occur during the Tribulation, (perhaps as last warning before the full reign of 666 mid-Tribulation), do they mean to imply that between September 2014 and 2015 the world will be swept up in “revival”? This and so much more is unclear or just not worked out. But if we dismiss the limitations of the eclipse only (plus Shemitahs) approach to interpretation, by contrast, how would regular astrology proceed in this area? I will immediately say and will example the point in conclusion that any astrologer would seek maximum evidence, a convergence of signs. A single sign, transit, pattern or eclipse will rarely be sufficient to certify especially the more difficult claims.

One thing to do is to inquire what the first eclipse of the Tetrad shows in order to acquire some notion of what its whole sequence is about. Here perhaps we begin to have some real clues. Rather sensationally we find that the first blood moon is fortunately trine to the minute of a degree to the asteroid Tempel (sic) in modern Israel’s natal sector of land and property. At the very least we can know that, whether something active towards it occurs or not, Israel is going to be more keen on seeing its temple rebuilt, and I am told that there has been a surge of feeling in that direction during this year. However it is quite possible that by the end of the tetrad on Tabernacles in 2015, war or a treaty will bring the dream of the temple nearer to reality. More strife and change during the whole period is signalled for Israel not just by the first of or indeed all of the blood moons, but by the fact that on October 23rd 2014 a solar eclipse falls on the degree of the rising of Israel’s foundation (0 Scorpio). Also the fact that the revolutionary and always dangerous Pluto/Uranus square belongs within the pattern for April 2014. It cannot bespeak much peace for Israel during the rest of the Tetrads. The fifty day Gaza war is already involved in this pattern of turmoil.

Is this principle of the revelatory first moon of the tetrad reliable and validated by previous example? Effectively yes… In 1967 the first blood moon was on 3 Scorpio opposite (the challenge, the conflict) to 3 Taurus, the degree of precisely asteroid Jerusalem in Israel’s foundational chart. Although the connection is not quite so dramatic, in the first blood moon of 1949 at 22 Libra, the fact that Mercury and Venus at 21 and 22 Aries oppose the eclipse point but in turn make fortunate trine to Israel’s foundation time Israel asteroid at nearly 22 Leo in its destiny and reputation house, bespeaks a successful struggle for land and identity at the time. It’s all tellingly exact, though doubtless St Augustine and various American bigots would say it is so because of Satan. Yet the skies are supposed to utter knowledge according to the Psalms (Ps 19:2).

What about 2014’s first blood moon as it could relate to the church rather than the Israel blood moons supposedly privilege? Here the pattern is also striking because the eclipse has affected Pentecost’s endings sector, hitting opposite its Venus  which from its destiny house which rules the fourth of endings. Granted that across two millennia eclipses have hit the same point before, but they have not necessarily joined with other factors like the month’s shocking Pluto/Uranus square in action-geared (cardinal) signs, and certainly not around the end of the age of Pisces itself.

So does that mean the church is at its end, even approaching the much discussed Rapture? This is where a mature astrology and prediction must not run to sensation, and not least because it must always recall the principle of level. The same seemingly potent endings sign could mean nothing more than that (as is the case) the church in at least its Catholic branch, is going to beautify (Venus) its properties during 2014 because the fourth sector of endings also rules the institution’s property. Millions are to be poured into modern Christian art. But at the same time and ironically, at one level we know that the Rapture will take place and even within the required six months of the first eclipse. It will take place in Hollywood and cinemas where a more sophisticated version of the original Left Behind film has its premiere! Suitably, it even premieres under aerial Libra and on 10 degrees which is the degree of Pentecost’s Trumpet asteroid (Trombka)- for what is the Rapture about if not the Last Trumpet? And so between talk of blood moons and the film, there are plenty of Christians full of Rapture thoughts and imaginings. Presently I will indicate when this decade any such event would be most likely to eventuate as far as astrological symbolism is concerned.

I will first run through the lunar and solar eclipses of 2014/2015 for their potential significance for Israel and Christianity. The April 2014 lunar on Passover has already been dealt with, except I did not stress that 25 Libra is the degree of Isa (Jesus) in the birth chart of Jesus.The next lunar eclipse on October 8th on the Feast of Tabernacles falls at 15 Aries conjunct Uranus, a true fire cracker of an eclipse. The degree itself falls inside Israel’s sixth house which covers any armies – which is perhaps enough said. Almost on 15 degrees at 14.58 is Israel’s Part of Soul. I don’t set much store by the Parts, the asteroids are more reliable, yet we may imagine much soul searching and perhaps aspiration where Israel’s policies and the temple theme are concerned. Pentecost has nothing on 15 Aries which is in its religion and preaching sector, but Vaticana is closely conjunct it from 14, so possibly there will be more of the already begun intense Vatican negotiation about ownership of the Cenacle or even the international status of Jerusalem itself.

The Passover eclipse in 2015 is on 14 Libra in Israel’s twelfth house of the hidden and mystical and sometimes self undoing. The degree continues the soul theme positively. It’s Israel’s degree of the Parts both of Goodness of Soul and of Vocation. Pentecost has nothing on 14 Libra unless Bischoff (Bishop) and near it is Kriegh (War) – historically bishops have stirred up many wars!

The Tabernacles eclipse of 28th September 2015 is strong. It’s a total Supermoon on 4 Aries where it conjuncts the sixth house cusp for Israel (its house of any armies and military service) but exactly trines Israel’s moon, itself conjunct its destiny Midheaven. Israel may feel quite pleased with the result of previous turmoil. For Pentecost the blood moon falls conjunct its all important Jupiter in the religion sector.

These lunar eclipses are bracketed by the solar eclipses. In April 2014 the solar of 8 Taurus was on Israel’s Part of Sentiment but more importantly within its seventh house – an open invitation to open enemies to attack, which they did, and friendlier nations to speak of peace treaties as they also did (the house can also be involved with the treaties overcoming wars), but nothing was settled as hoped for Passover. For Pentecost the eclipse was on its Part of Marriage, possibly apocalyptic but more likely church concern with definitions of marraige. The solar eclipse of Oct 23rd 2014 on Israel’s ascendant challenges the natiom and its ethos, and quite likely brings more danger to “the body of the people”. For Pentecost, the eclipse is within a degree of its Lucifer.

In 2015 the solar eclipse of March 20th is on the ghastly 29th, last degree of Pisces which is significant near the end of the Piscean era. Since it falls in the month of both a blood moon and another danger ridden Pluto-Uranus square, there could be much disturbance then and over months following, with even perhaps the feeling among some that the Tribulation itself must have begun. The degree is not of huge significance to Israel, but to Christianity it might be or seem so to the extent it borders its one degree Aries Reich (Kingdom) asteroid. People might be expecting suffering to lead straight to the kingdom.

The last tetrad-associated solar eclipse is on 13th September at 20 Virgo. This could be more important for Christianity than Israel as 20 Virgo is the degree of Jesus’ sun. Moreover 19.45 Virgo is the position of asteroid Spirit for Pentecost – the Spirit is what Jesus said he would send after he left. For Israel 20 Virgo is the Part of Misinterpretation (which is almost but not quite amusing if referred to the Jewish attitudes towards Jesus!).

Summing up, the tetrad picture looks as though for Israel there is a period of renewed, extended warfare which could lead to some major acceptable settlement for it on or within 6 months of the last eclipse. For the church there looks to be something like an increasing spirituality and heightened expectation of endings – which Middle Eastern conflicts might well generate. The potential for the most end-of-era, apocalyptic event of the times would be for the last hoped for Pentecost. At the very least September 2015’s peculiar combination of the Jesus and Spirit associated solar eclipse and an important red moon on Pentecost’s Jupiter allows for a very spiritual time. For those who would want to associate that with a Rapture scenario, is that possible? The answer is no, so in conclusion it only remains to indicate where if anytime this decade the signs would be most agreeable with it.

For a start, any event so extreme which involves and even changes the entire world, would need to engage one or more of the world points after the manner of the 9/11 event. The “world points” are the four solstice points (O degrees Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn to within 1.30 degrees of conjunction) plus 15 Leo and 15 Aquarius. One would need that even for a global Pentecost, and possibly one has that in   March 2015’s difficult solar eclipse on 29 Pisces which precedes the curiously spiritual potential of the two September eclipses. However, those two eclipses don’t bespeak events like the Rapture and they certainly don’t touch the fatal critical degree of 26 Libra.

The year and the season which carries the maximum potential for anything like Rapture (and beyond astrology apparently agrees with considerations like the release of the Jubilee year as it could be applied to either Jew or Christian) is 2017. In August that year there is a lunar eclipse on a world point (15 Aquarius), the sign of shocks, surprises and revolution, and then a solar eclipse at 28 of Leo which not only conjuncts Pentecost’s natal moon and Church asteroid (at 26 and 27 Leo) but something else, of which presently, which very much links besides to the 15 Aquarius eclipse.

The lunation for the Feast of Trumpets on the 21st is on 27.27 Virgo. But by the end of the feast and its last blast the sun will be within conjunction of another world point (0 Libra) while freedom bringing Jupiter, itself the Bethlehem Star, will be conjunct the crucial, endings related 26 Libra. The transit of shocking Uranus is fortunately trine the mentioned preceding solar eclipse on the Moon/Church.

Years ago for my Testament and the Magi and before I had come to conclusions regarding Pentecost, I did write that I expected a certain factor within what I called the Leavetaking chart for Jesus would have to stimulated for any return scenario. Undeniably the Virgo lunation for the Feast of Trumpets could provide such a trigger. But then the eclipses, transits and lunation can all fit a distinct narrative of apocalypse to which many are attached. If one assumes that the Rapture is what brings the Antichrist into the world, then the two mentioned eclipses of August 2017 suitably and uniquely hit sensitive, destiny-invoking points for the natus of the Antichrist. We either do or do not possess data for this individual according to whether one accepts the late Catholic seeress, Jeane Dixon, had true visions regarding his birth and career. Whatever else she got right or wrong, it was her belief her Antichrist visions were the point of her gifts and the purpose of her life. The fact that she believed in astrology was enough to damn her among American religious conservatives. I can only say that the case for her visions on this theme strong. It is beyond present scope to analyse the relevant data but it would be hard to imagine a better birth chart for a false Messiah and someone or something that makes for global deception – the pattern even shows the Christ asteroid on the degree of Christ’s Bethlehem Star at birth as though the aim was precisely to take over the messianic role.

Finally I would note that 2017 plausibly fulfils apparent gospel demands as regards a “generation” that sees the era’s end in parallel with affairs of a reviving Israel. Theoretically a generation could be forty, seventy or one hundred and twenty years according to biblical count. 2017 is 40 years from 1967 when Israel retook its ancient capital, Jerusalem. It is 70 years from 1947 which is when Israel was first announced by the UN (albeit only fully founded a few months later in 1948) and it is 120 years from 1897 which saw the birth of Zionism, while it is 2 Jubilees of 50 years from 1917 when Allenby took Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks. Plainly 2017 is and should prove a special year in some fashion.  There can be no ironclad guarantees from astrology or anywhere for scenarios as unique as Rapture or related apocalyptic events, even assuming believers are intended to consider “times and seasons” rather more than has traditionally been thought to be right.. But there’s little question that it is in 2017 one sees the greatest convergence of signs supporting ideas of a major turning point in history……

Note: All eclipse and any other degrees cited in this article are according to the Tropical system of measurements normally employed by astrology since the Greeks who discovered the precession principle. It is this system which gives maximum symbolic sense. So called biblical astronomers and readers of eclipses like Biltz are employing an essentially sidereal reading akin to that of Hindu astrology which reads against the fixed stars and the heavens as seen by the naked eye, not as read in divisions of the heavens from the vernal equinox and the intersection then of ecliptic with the celestial equator. Only around the birth of Christ were tropical and sidereal systems in near alignment.

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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UNDER PARNASSUS (an Under Ben Bulben variation)

[The aim of this experiment in poetry is not to rival Yeats’ impressive valedictory Under Ben Bulben.  It aims rather to offer a variation upon it, to “correct”, so to speak, the poem’s theories ranging from reincarnation to  dubious, quasi-fascist notions of eugenics and war which have grated with me as with many. Some of my beliefs re especially poetry colour the piece, but I have not exactly encapsulated my beliefs on poetry or anything;  it would not be possible given I have confined myself to following, however loosely, themes and development of Yeats’ own poem. Arguably I should have just composed my own poetic and spiritual credo but I think the exercise has its value. This poem with  others is included in a new edition of New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas,http://amzn.to/1tKdkJr  .  This  month another very different poem, can be found on my other Additions blog at http://bit.ly/1sUmAsO %5D.

 

Parnassus

UNDER PARNASSUS (An UNDER BEN BULBEN VARIATION) 

1

Swear by what the sages spoke
At Corycian Cave [1] and Sinai’s side
That Orpheus and Elijah [2] knew,
They who for darkness of the earth
Seized fire from fields of paradise.

Swear by those seers, those bards,
Names only known, their earthly form
Obscured as though by mists of dawn
Even while their Mosaic faces shine
Like light of noon upon the mount.[3]
They view the fated journeys done
The paths from Troy to Ithaca and Rome [4]
And Egypt into Jericho all won.

Here’s what that lasting radiance means:

11

Once only does man live and die
Through measureless eternity,
What earth or ashes cover now
In grave or in memorial urn
Awaits but only more decease if not
A resurrection. This is because,
Soul’s core is most like fires
Of God (or self-consuming will alone),
Its natural end and flight thus primed
For highest light or lowest dark;
And vision and poetry declare
Truth’s quest can only reach above,
For wisdom lies with choosing life.[5]

111

All you who heard a call to war
And thought it served both God and world
Go into none, unless with self
Or for the defenceless of the earth.
Time’s past when for some greater good
Peace was established by the sword,
And strength and merit lay in power.
For if it was blind Homer failed
Most sightless was his “unchristened heart” [6]
For which, though what’s most noble,
Is most calm, mere violence made for majesty.

1V

Poets like sculptors do your work
Shape into sound as they to sight
What is most fixed in form and style
And brings to mind eternal lines.

With Isaiah and with Aeschylus
Personality through verse began
Then Plato fixed the archetypes
And Pentecost spread wide the Word.
If measurement began our might
It bore as well with Aristotle
Division for the heart and mind
So that increasingly we dwelt with earth
And lost most vision of the higher,
First source of ecstasy and song.
But then, even Plato could be wrong.
His God was passionless, his poets
Banned since poetry is music too
And not just thought and words alone.

Renaissance and Baroque in verse
Through Shakespeare, Milton and beyond
Knew passion and a God of same
While taking Plato for the forms.
Then Wordsworth, later, part agreed
But Shelley cursed the Miltonic God
And saved most love for Lucifer [7]
And after that much poetry fell
From vision to a Satanic hell
Words found less meaning, feeling took
A lesser place, until it’s
Mostly objects steal the scene.

The passing ages run their course,
Now lightning of Aquarius waits
To make again and to renew and
Like great Michelangelo’s roof
To save Platonic forms and also show
Supposed unnatural’s natural too.[8]

V

But poets still perfect your art
One never learned but always given
Which speaks to where it cannot grow,
The crowd which throngs about below
The sacred mount you must ascend
Charged with the elect vocation.
Then sing the music of the spheres
Stars, planets, symbols, history, [9]
Great lyric loves and ways of God,
All shapes and forms of mysteries.
Ignore the upstart trivial kind
Whose labour is to strain at words
And mire the mind in earthiness.
Such make a show for passing days
Your work serves what it is transcends:
The task is vision’s truth and
Even the truth you are alone.

V1

Beneath Parnassus poets lie or else
Their soul is everywhere. On Nebo’s side
Where Moses died remains unknown
And since they fled into the night,
Doubt must surround the Magi’s tombs [10].
But whether in earth, or with Elijah
Into sky, small matter where the poet
Ends, nor what carved epitaphs declare.
Let only the work and vision stay,
Words echoed to eternity
Paths pointing still to ecstasy.

NOTES

[1] The Corycian cave on Parnassus was the home of the  Muses of poetry. Orpheus originally dwelt on Parnassus. Sinai is not just associated with Moses. The likes of Elijah and St Paul sought affirmation and clarification of vision by visiting Sinai.
[2]  Orpheus originally dwelt on Parnassus. Sinai is not just associated with Moses. The likes of Elijah and St Paul sought affirmation and clarification of vision by visiting.
[3]  When he had bee on Sinai and spoken with God his face shone so that it had to be covered with a veil. (Ex 34: 29-35)
[4]  Troy to Ithaca refers to the Odyssey and  “Tory to Rome”  is a  reference to Virgil and his epic of Rome’s foundation, The Aeneid.
[5]  As in “For the wise the path of life leads upwards in order to avoid Sheol below” (Pro 14:24) and “all who hate me[Wisdom] love death” (Pro 8:36).”Choose life…”(Deut 30:19)
[6]  Yeats identifies with Homer and his “unchristened heart” in Vacillation V111, without perhaps thinking out all implications of this.
[7] Shelley is radically atheistic as in Queen Mab and crypto satanistic in Prometheus where Jupiter is symbolic for the Miltonic God who must be overthrown. For Shelley the devil is heroic and light bringing.
[8]  Although Michelangelo’s art, mentioned by Yeats, followed a version of Christian Neo-Platonism, his inspiration and nature was essentially gay and the coming age of Aquarius is the sign of freedom and often of the homosexuality which the age may be expected to accept as part of nature itself. Yeats curiously suggests the artist’s work incites particularly female desire.
[9] Orpheus traditionally proclaimed star lore and astrology.
[10] A disputed tombs of the Magi site does exist in Iran to the south of the capital Tehran. Reputed remains of the Magi found their way to a shrine in Cologne via Constantinople.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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COMING TO SYRACUSE (A Poem: Epyllion not Epic, Urblogues not Eclogues, in Six Parts)

COMING TO SYRACUSE (A Poem: Epyllion not Epic, Urblogues not Eclogues, in Six Parts)

COMING TO SYRACUSE

After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose
figurehead was the Twin Brothers…And landing at Syracuse
we stayed three days
” Acts 28:11

PART ONE: A CITY, ITS ISLAND AND ITS MUSE

Sing of arms and of the man no more
The human person can suffice, and then
A city and its island’s life. [1]  While wars
Still rage and rumours of the same escape,
Instead relate the struggle of cultures and
The soul with which as lengthy ages pass
Each day and century are filled, driven
Onwards by strong forces little grasped
And rarely seen, whose impulse shapes
The mystery and course of fate, their truths
Concealed within an implicate order.

Syracuse, great Syracuse, arisen besides
Ionian waves that anciently Tenians and
Corinthians braved, like Athens born anew
You shone, for wealth, trade, theatre, science and law
And all as if to rival a later Rome
While yet the glory of a larger Greece.
As though Athena’s second child you thrived
And from afar, some said, were joined to fields
Of blest Arcadia from which a river
Flowed beneath the ocean’s depths. Still others
Then devoutly claimed you housed the spring
Of Arethusa by a legend famed which tells
How on Ortygia’s isle that nymph poured forth.

A victim of the river god’s lust
She’d tried to flee; yet even hidden
By Artemis, first in a cloud then
 

Fountain

Caverns of the sea, she learned that haven
And safe place from Alphaeus there was none
Unless as water. And even with that
The cruel pursuer found a way
All suddenly to merge with her until
The earth itself was opened up, when
Artemis had given means so that
The nymph in freshest salt free jet
Emerged in new found freedom, all alone.

Oh light of Sicily whose sainted patron
Too was light [2], where went the freedom and
Your knowledge with its widespread beaconing,
And then the wealth of fields beyond
Whose grain fed Rome and Italy itself?
Since Alphaeus forced illicit claim
And Verres stole from land and shrine, what street
And parcel of your earth has not known loss
And fear through Carthage, Rome, Byzantium,
From Norman lord and Saracen and violent
Clan, all this bound fast by a colonial curse
So multiplied, so like the sea nymph’s mergence
Much renewed, each person’s left to wonder
“Who am I?” and “Who are you?”. Thus all
Become like characters without, yet striving
Still, to find the pattern and their author [3] ,
Step children of Pythagoras round whom
Biography dissolves in myth, though history
Receives his theories and his numbers.
Yet theirs remains the blessed ground of
Idyll and the elegy whose being rests
With inner landscapes of the mind, bucolic
Scenes lit by the eternal and ideal
In which through fancy and through reverie,
Hopes of the soul and its regrets speak quietly
As you of Syracuse, Theocritus [4] ,
First did and with such art that even as male
Some hailed in you another muse. Though
In our times main streams of inspiration
Fail, be now if not a muse, a guide
To help our tales and teachings flow through
Lands and pastures rich as Arcady’s.

PART TWO: A SICILIAN CURSE

CERES

Begin with Ceres and her loss and how
From out the earth all of a sudden evil rose
And Etna had its part in this. Enkelades was
The titan’s name or some said Typhon;
Either way, amid the struggles of
The gods Athena caught and pressed
Him down beneath the weight of
Etna’s heights. Desiring still to rise to
Heaven, the demon struggled in his bonds [5]
And raged and screamed so fire and smoke
And tremblings deep beneath the earth
In what was also Vulcan’s forge, at
Unexpected times broke forth. Within
Tartarian depths and far remote
From sunlight and the fields above,
Upon his throne of darkness now and then
Even Hades took offence and felt alarm [6]
Enough to draw him up to inspect
The pillars and balance of the earth.

It was at Enna in the spring that
Earth being shaken, opened up
And steeds of wrathful Hades galloped
Forth, nor did they stop until the god
Who drove his dusky chariot alone,
Glimpsed from afar a radiant maiden,
Proserpine, carefree, at play and
Gathering violets in a grove. She,
Although herself divine as Ceres’ child,
Was not yet strong against the will
Of Venus and her son who bore
His arrows and, as ordered, shot the girl
To leave her victim to those powers
Of love till then it seemed she might reject
Or else she was too young to know.
And so it was that Hades snatched the
Maiden’s innocence and thought it love.
His victim screamed in terror and she called
Repeatedly for Ceres’ aid and yet,
Though she resisted, due to Cupid’s dart
She somewhat loved her rapist too
And passed below where soon she would
Be honoured as the hell king’s queen.

proserpine2

But not before the Underworld’s mad steeds
As though enraptured by the violence
Still rushed across and round the trembling
Isle and by a pool where Sicily’s nymph,
Cyane, in vain protested at the crime,
And wept. So great was Hades’s wrath at that
He threw his sceptre in her pool returning
To his home from there, while she dissolved
Into her tears and her no longer sacred place
Until she was but silent water. Meanwhile and
Soon, Ceres to whom no child returned
Began to fear, to grow in anger and to mourn
And, tossed like waves at sea in her distress,
Set out to search the whole wide world, first
Sicily then that island last. And at the pool
Where now Cyane was only voiceless water
She saw, just as the sorry nymph intended,
The maiden’s girdle floating free. Here
Was the proof the island held her daughter still.
But Ceres while she quested on grew more enraged
And bitter at the Sicilian earth. With no child found
And seeking vengeance ever more, in grief
And comfortless this Mother caused all
Natural gifts of fruit and grain to be
Withheld so round about whole deserts spread
As fields were wilted, blackened and a
Blighted earth fell barren of its previous life.

At Arethusa’s fountain, there alone
It was that earth gained some reprieve.
The nymph, who now loved Sicily as her home,
Made plea to set harsh punishment aside,
Assured the troubled mother that the
Very land opposed the crime to which it was
The sad reluctant witness, and, from what
She’s glimpsed beneath the earth where Hades
Bore his bride away, there was no doubt
It was the dark Lord surely did the deed.
At first struck dumb, the anguished mother soon
Resolved to take her outrage to the courts
Of Zeus, rose there in haste and stood upon
Olympus’ heights. But Zeus was torn between
The claims on him of his own sister and
A brother too; and what his sister called vile theft,
To him seemed more like love gone half astray.
But witness to so great distress with consequences
For the world, his will allowed his niece could
Be returned to the maternal home. Except
This boon was now impossible. Within
The realms of hell its king had given his spouse
To eat; and once a soul, even one divine,
Had taken of food outside the world,
There they must stay and there belong. So
Zeus decreed a compromise that half the year
The girl might spend some time on earth
And every spring she could return.

Which is what many have believed. And
It is true that every spring the sun
Gives light and heat and violets blow
First and more early in Europa’s fields
In Sicily than anywhere. But even so
Some curse still lurked and whispered to the land
And that same sun that spreads on Enna’s walls
Would see the challenge to that city’s rule,
Conflict repeated and oppression too
Where it now stands athwart the island’s centre.
And to the north still Etna groaned and
Spat and had no mercy on a man
Except its slopes at rest gave honey [7].
It swallowed up even Empedocles who,
The last philosopher to write in verse,
Defined the fundamental elements
And thought all change results alone from
Strife and love in their perpetual motion.
Strife with gods and elements he met
When, seeking proof for his divinity,
Into a fiery crater of the mountain’s side
Himself he flung and was consumed. It is
As though in Etna’s shadow lie heaven
And hell, there sky and earth cannot agree
And from their violent colours, violent ways
Like poisoned flowers; and out of Vulcan’s
Forge and from the Titan’s jail arise
The retribution that lays waste…. But
To the south rose Syracuse whose bays
Face eastwards to the sea and Greece and
Do not look to, nor are overseen, by
Any mountain or dread Typhon’s place.
There, even if a tyrant ruled, the light
Of day could still be hailed like so much
Radiance of Reason’s rule, the blessing
Of Athena’s aid on every thinking citizen.
But darkness hides in many forms,
Sometimes even most and longest in the light.
And always there is love and strife.

PART THREE: TOURISTS AND VISITORS TO SIRACUSA

Arethusa

Alex:  From Dionysius’ Ear to Arethusa’s fount
And other places in between I have a feeling
That you’re following me. What’s on? You’ll
Make me think you want, I’ll not say what.

Cori:  Mi dispiace Sir, Signor, Mein Herr,
You make me feel confused, the route we take
Is all coincidence; but what you sense
Is that I’m looking rather hard at you
Because I’d say we’ve met before,
Somehow, somewhere…Could that be true?

Alex:  If not met seen, that is the likelier thing,
I’ve been so many places near and far
Where were you last? Half choked in Beijing’s fog?
To rest and breathe try Taormina or Tahiti’s shores.
Today all travel’s much like work.

Cori:  I’ve been in Europe, not much past Italy, I find
It’s good enough for me, from Mantua’s plains
To Etna’s height all’s fine, even Rome and all
The crowds – I’ve just come here from there
But Taormina, that I like, it’s heaven,
So even Goethe said when he could stop
Examining varieties of Sicily’s soil.

Alex:  You sound like Verdi who declared
The universe is yours if Italy’s for me.

Cori:  Well, I’m not Verdi but wherever I go
I write some songs or poems for each place .

Alex: You have them here? I’ll listen to them
If you wish. We should sit down,
It’s rather hot to keep on walking in this sun.
Let’s find the nearest tree – beech, oak
Or cypress, willow or plane. [8] Let poets
Find them different meanings, what’s certain
Is trees offer shade.

Cori:  Just there is fine, things aren’t so certain with
My words. On Syracuse they’re very new
With some of them I must admit, still rough,
They’re all a bit impromptu. More than
Description of a place I write of people
Native here or those who visited and stayed.

Alex:  I’ll listen anyway when you begin.
.
Cori:  Born in Eleusis where in Greece the cult
Of Ceres flourished most, the father of
Stage Tragedy was raised. He was familiar
With the Maiden’s fate, indeed according to
The Stagirite [9] the plays of Aesychlus – most
Now are lost – betrayed some secrets of
Initiate rites. Save but for bravery at war
At Salamis and at Marathon in which
The playwright lost a hand, he would have forfeit
Life itself. Even so he was attacked with
Such degree of violence by a crowd
It’s likely why before too long he took
To sea and Syracuse. At Demacopus’
Theatre there his tragedies could be
Performed (first The Persians which had won
A prize), but though among all ninety plays
We’re ignorant what depth his Women of Etna
Plumbed, in Reason’s cause the playwright wrote
What sounds like homage to Athena’s power
And then the benefits of rule by men.
Which would not have been clear to all – the
Play which most affirmed it was the same
At which a pregnant woman died in shock
At sounds too supernatural. Even so
It must be said that though in youth it was
The vine god told the dramatist to write,
With age and Syracuse he grew more like
Apollo’s devotee, a lover of the local light.

Dramatist

At Gela not at Enna Aeschylus died,
His end, alas, was all too tragi-comic.
Due to a forecast he had heard he feared
To stay too long indoors, but outdoors
Proved no safer. An eagle thought his head
A rock and on it dropped a tortoise.

Alex:  That must be myth. I’d guess the last act of the
Playwright’s life got written by his enemies.

Cori:  I think…. I’ll let you read the next piece
If you choose. Philosophy’s more serious.

Alex:  As though for life’s experiments Sicilia
Was the Promised Land, Pythagoras once
Settled there, in Croton where disciples
Learned new simple ways and diet too -
None caught or ate an animal. Perhaps
Recalling the example shone, great
Plato sailed to Syracuse three times.

Plato

With politics corrupt in Greece then
Hearing how across the sea within
The largest colony that gluttony
And debauch were rife, the best solution
Seemed to be to educate some leaders.
Indeed he would feel honour bound
And working for the good of all.
With sober Dion, an admirer, he began,
(He was the local tyrant’s brother in law)
But fears of too great influence at court
Had Dion placed beneath a ban and
Plato flee the hostile shores. And later
Visits ended much the same. Once come
To power the tyrant’s son, at Dion’s urge,
At first submitted to the Sage’s way, but
Wearied soon and once again intrigue
And violence arose. Dion, long cheerfully
Exiled abroad and pupil at the Academy
At last returned and being Reason’s child
And thus an enemy to mere anarchy,
Placed rule and order on his home
But by recourse to sword and force.
The island slid towards new chaos.
And thus with age and grave experience
The visitor from Athens learned that
Teaching can’t alone suffice; the maybe
Necessary second best is rule by Law,
So what he’d deemed the Good might need
Assistance from strict rules and greater
Limitation. And so, O Syracuse, alas,
Your world and history helped to shape
Ideas for later generations of
A state less democratic than policed,
All poetry suspect or simply banned
And gays – the sage now changed his mind
And allowed for laws against them.

Cori:  Now me again. Next in my line is
Someone born in Syracuse….

archimedes

Archimedes found out many things in
Physics, maths, in pumps and screws, and managed
Too to map the heavens. But even so
His fame lies chiefly with his bath,
Where inspiration in a trice revealed
How he, beyond whatever science knew,
Could judge the buoyancy of water.
Up from his seat within the tub he
Jumped, screamed but one word, “Eureka”
And then while still a-drip ran out
Stark naked through the streets
To share the thrill of his discovery.

Alex: How fortunate police weren’t there,
The type to think him criminal!

Cori:  No, it was a Roman called him criminal
And killed him with a sword for studying
Maths with Carthage at the city gates…
But clothed or nude he was so little
Loved and lost to public memory soon,
It was alone the brave and gold mouthed
Cicero, when not attacking Verres’
Crimes, discovered and restored his tomb.

At this point there’s an interval, a tuning
Of the instruments let’s say, in which
We introduce some other themes that follow.

When, because he would look back
Sad Orpheus lost a wife to Hades’ realm
His interests turned, and, so it’s said
He taught and loved young men instead.
But his own magic lyre, the legend goes,
Had floated down from Thrace to Greece
And stopped at where fair Sappho dwelled….

Alex:  With that did someone wish to imply
That love and lyric verse are gay
And maybe even music too?

Cori:  Perhaps, or possibly they thought bisexual,
For some say Sappho had a child. Consider too
King David loved to play a harp and he had
Wives and sons; but then, as scriptures tell,
He loved and entered – sort of – marriage
With a man – the word they used was berith.
In Sicily no doubt things were more free
As long before Von Gloeden had a camera
Trained on charms of local naked youth,
Greek Diocles who admired just such, once
Dead was honoured and at his own grave
With competitions in the spring for boys
To meet and greet and in the grandest style
To kiss in harmony with vernal gusto[9].
(Just what they did in Syracuse remains unsure
We only know Theocritus approved).

Gloeden Faun

Things weren’t so easy
For the other sex, but nonetheless…
Your turn. Pull the stops out for a great Poet

Alex:  To Siracuse from Lesbos Sappho came
In flight from Pittacus, a tyrant and intrigues
Back home. The citizens were so agog
That she whom Plato called tenth muse
Inventor of new music and poetic forms
Should seek to make her home with them, that
Even before they saw her face, as welcome
To their refugee, Silanion was engaged to carve
A statue in her honour. Before the town hall
It was raised but then, like Archimedes tomb,
This too was doomed to disappear
– only the pedestal was left – another of
Those victims to gross Verres’ thefts.
And yet, how like the symbol of a fate
That was. One poem from nine volumes
Is what now remains, and for the rest, like
Marble chips, we own but scattered fragments
And they’re unclear – the dialect in which
The Lesbian wrote itself died out -
And like her image fades away as when
It’s said this poetess was fair and tall while
Others think her dark and low, so in the end
It is the name and fame alone endure.

Sappho2

Such was the fate of one who wrote, alas,
As she herself would once admit, despite
Her social and erotic themes, chiefly
To be recalled when she passed on and not
Be lost to night within the Underworld.

Cori:  I’ll come back again, I represent Italia…
The centuries passed but then, as though
He had to pursue the Lesbian (as surely
Later fathers would to hell), the apostle Paul
Sailed into harbour with a companion Luke -
A doctor, (though there’s legend claims a painter).
An unlikely pair they might appear
One strict, the other generous, the
Apocalypse of one, some deem indeed,
Half gay with two men sleeping in a bed [11] ;
But anyway, even twins affined can be
At odds and disagree and of the
Heavenly twins beneath whose sign
The two embarked at Syracuse, we know
That Pollux was a boxer as was Castor too
Though he was more disposed to sleep.
As to St Paul, (I cannot speak for Luke)
He maybe liked to box, but not the air….. [12].

PAUL

Alex:  I’ll interrupt you there…I want to say…
With no church founded nor epistle
Written and just three days Paul was
Ashore, could time here be significant?
A small church only, not a cathedral
Or cathedral square exists in town
To commemorate his stay, and that stands
Close beside some ruins of Apollo’s shrine.
Which some might feel was almost right
Because if mildly, quietly in its way
This place is somewhat pagan still.
It’s transformation is its style and not
I think conversion. In centre town,
With little change, the Virgin’s cult
Now owns Athena’s temple.

Cori:  No, once again I think this is symbolic.
Three days Christ lay within the tomb and
On the third day he was raised. Recall Paul’s
Company was tossed about and nearly died
Devoured by fiercely angry waves until
They ran aground in Malta. A pattern of
Pure woe indeed, one much akin to storms
And tempests of our lives. When three months later
They could leave, safe harbour lay in Syracuse
As well as calm and brief serenity
Three days before the apostle sailed to Rome,
To judgement on his life and work,
His final days and execution. Thus say
That Syracuse is the sacred pause,
The moment of vision and of rest,
Maybe a fork within the traveller’s road,
Almost a place of heaven’s door, as
Have not others said before, this island
Stands a portal to heaven as to hell?…..

Escaped from out a prison cell above the bay
Of Malta, that artist Caravaggio,

Caravaggio

The same who claimed – he was no Paul – that
All his sins were mortal, found home awhile
In Syracuse. His goal was Rome and
Pardon there, though he met death along the way.
But in this harbour city he still gained
Some favour with its leaders. These all were keen
He turn a hand to make fine image
Of their patron saint – he showed her dead
And ready for her burial. Her story goes
She had been dragged towards a brothel where
Her throat was cut because she’d wished to
Sacrifice both life and chastity to God. The image
Shows….

Alex:  Oh, something morbid I dare say
But then that was that painter’s way
He loved the shadows more than light
But Lucy stands for all that’s bright
So white is doubtless in the picture…
Enough of history and the town
Let’s follow sunlight to the beach
I’ll put the sunscreen on your back

PART FOUR: THE COMING AGE

ROMAN

Now for a higher theme, its flight ascends [13]
Above all trees and forests that give shade
And beats strong wings to fly beyond firm
Harbour walls of ancient Syracuse,
Its aim to reach into our larger world
Beyond even noble monuments of Rome.
As to its seeing, may that be with vision
Like the eagle’s eye which looks upon both
Heaven’s sun and earth beneath as though
Those two could be the same.

Sicilian muse, soon is again the time
For which now dreamers dare to yearn
When through the circle of celestial signs
There dawns a new age for humanity.
Yet can it savour of that Golden Age
And be the crowning era of all prophecy
Once sung so hopefully but only spied
Through darkness of a glass where rose those
Images combining true and false amid
A too great trust of Caesar as a god
And reverence for Pan in every field?
For prophecy indeed is hard and harder
Than all poetry (even though those two
Are much allied), for in it farthest futures
Show as though a virtual present, and this
Because main words of prophecy derive
From outside time, their usual frame and
Speech being symbol and their working out
All bounded by the round of stars,

For no, throughout the world wars have not
Ceased, nor fear, nor is wild nature purified
So that a fertile land grows to support
Itself with no fields harrowed, no vines pruned
And even the ox  and lion reconciled [14].
But though you grasped how for redemption and
The age the sign of Jupiter was core [15]
And though from heaven the First Born came so that
Past evils could erase, most that was forecast
And desired did not occur and that
Because true alteration knows two kinds,
One gradual, the other born of crisis.
Within the time that cycles and their symbols
Shape, freewill exists to choose a higher
Above a lower way of the same thing,
And thus to learn and change as persons
And societies. When that’s refused
So evil thrives, it’s God and Nature bring
An end and introduce the new by force.
For when the Good is little taught or learned
How could your Golden Age be realized
Or Nature form new harmonies when amity,
Forgiveness, love are rarely settled in
The heart? Relentless hatred must be
Swept away, and will, with all confusion
Of the names of God lest poison through belief
That’s false and misnamed vision keep its
Hold, prolonging strife with every wrong.

Then only does the monarch of this world,
No more a mother’s child, but even now
Awaiting and prepared within the light
Bring near the justice of a longed for reign.
For this come soon, the world is impatient
To rejoice, the gate of welcome is unbarred,
None may resist the sceptre of your rule…..
And yet, before the new age can begin
And when within the heavens the Water Bearer’s
Sign lets freely flow the healing springs of
Spirit beyond the lightning flash and sudden
Fear and wakening towards new dawn [16],
Some years a weary earth must suffer still.
Whole multitudes, alas, must die as seas
Will rise and mountains fall and many
Cities be destroyed and even Rome itself
Fall once again beneath barbarians.
And all these things shall be because the world
Must be renewed and those who cannot
Live aright must learn instead how well
To lose what’s theirs, and even maybe
How to die, to perceive that life alone
On earth is not the sum of all that is.

It’s only then and following the years
Of strife and loss, of false beliefs and none
Another world, one wholly new, can rise,
All history and life such as was known
No longer there except as records read,
Or told as tales, by which fresh offspring of
The age will be amazed, sometimes amused.
Though travelling less, within their lands
And in their minds they’ll travel more
As with all cities rare, villages and groups
Combine, communication being total,
While on its mountain Zion rules above
All peoples and beyond all memory of
Terrors past, the division and confusion.
Each person shall be free, at last more free
Than all before and their own leaders,
Who’ll be few, will – much as once in Plato’s
Dream – be guardians of a single Law with
Wisdom and philosophy empowered and
Knowledge of most things divine, an absolute.

Then, what remains of Italy in which
No more a pontiff reigns to speak of deity
Or take its place, the beasts of field and forest
The  hunters slew, and slew to desolation,
These now as nature soon revives, return
Not to devour but roam in greater harmony
As centuries long all life itself
Will lose much of it that was entropy -
Even age extends, a hundred years like
Infancy as time grows closer to eternity.
And then, those fortunate of the coming age
Beneath the shade of beech and elm
Again in midday idleness they’ll sing
And speak of love that’s everywhere and everything
And under clusters of the vine, breathe in
Deep peace and view all Being as benign.

PART FIVE: OVERHEARD AT THE THEATRE

GKTHEATRE

He:   It’s really quite a mystery. This theatre
With the largest stage this island holds, the
Birthplace of so many plays, and many
Now deemed classic, has least to show by way
Of natural vista. We’re even told that sites
Like these were chosen for their setting, it’s
Integral to the drama. Segesta shows
A pure sublime; there’s nothing here to rival it
Or Taormina’s majesty. See… just a tiny
Sliver of the bay, its distant blue half lost
To clumps of cypress – the tree of death
So Virgil wrote. But then I’d say these plays
Are guilt and death-filled first to last.

She:  So deaths are all we’ve come to see?

He:  It must be said the action is quite minimal
It’s mostly chorus plus much commentary,
On serious actions little seen whose outcomes
You evaluate.

She:  If this is Greek and philosophical I’d think
We might need help with that.

He: ……Well, rather as Plato once dismissed
The Homeric gods so as to affirm
Some higher principles of good or God
Beyond those poor Olympian morals,
So Aesychlus evokes a holier Zeus.
He tries to make existence seem more
Sane and tangled fates more rational
By teaching Zeus one time decreed man learns
Through suffering alone. While things this poet
Does with myth can be ingenious and
Original, the messages may not convince.

She:  What messages are those? I’m sure to miss
Them for the spectacle and sound!

He:  To understand and two millennia on
I’d need to give the Oresteia storyline …
Be patient if you can, it’s this:

Oresteia

The Trojan war being at its end, King
Agamemnon now heads home. However
There’s some guilt on him. To appease a goddess
And to help the Greeks he’s sacrificed a daughter.
Clytemnestra who’s his wife and queen
Resents this death and, having suffered a
Ten year absence of her spouse has taken
A lover, though of course she hides the fact
Declaring strict fidelity. So guilt’s on her
(as on Helen who began the war). The king
Himself has not been faithful (what king is?)
And guilt of sorts is on his mistress too
Cassandra a prophetess and true
But whom a god, Apollo, cursed to
Never be believed for any oracle made.
– he took offence at her because she
Was unwilling to return his love.
The unfortunate girl foresees that if she
Enters in her lover’s house she will be
Murdered as he will be too. She prays the sun
In vain to be delivered. At palace entrance
King and queen might just be reconciled
Again except – it’s maybe fate -
There’s something makes them disagree.
The queen plans welcome on a tapestry
All purple where she utters praise that’s
So extreme – more suited to the very gods
Her husband feels – that he recoils, in both
Humility and fear. But then, reluctant still
He gives consent and enters in though later
Resting in his bath he’s murdered by the
Ambitious queen abetted by her lover.
This spouse, condemned by Chorus members
On the stage, rejoices in her evil deed
Whose fatal blow she offers to the god
Of Earth. She feels no guilt; it helps her lover’s
Party to the crime and he, Aegisthus,
Can declare it’s just and even proof the gods
Are good because he now sees vengeance on
The death the father of the murdered king
Had put upon his brothers. Thus retribution
Vengeance, guilt seem all combined and likely
To continue, the Chorus left with little choice
But to concede whoever acts must suffer.

She:  Yes, that’s exactly how it seems,
Should gods and men do nothing? So far, so bad
What is the next part of the Trilogy?

He:  It’s all the worst fears of the queen come true.
Fate intervenes when out of exile in disguise
Orestes, the king’s son, makes his return
He with a cousin, Pylades, goes to the tomb
And there, both for his father and a nurse
Sets down two locks of his own hair. Elektra
His mourning sister soon appears with bearers
Of libation, themselves arrived because
The queen now seeks to appease the dead
Due to her suffering from dreams by night.
To Hermes, god of dead souls in the underworld
Elektra prays for vengeance and on seeing
Both the locks of hair and certain footprints
In the ground suspects at last her brother’s
Near. This he can prove when he presents
A robe his sister helped to stitch. Rejoicing
At reunion the pair invoke high Zeus
For vengeance which Orestes now reveals
Is highest duty and a need since in an oracle
Even Apollo told him blood needs blood
And that ignored more curse and sickness
Follows. At which the Chorus calls
On Zeus for justice and is free to reveal
What dream it is haunts Clytemnestra in
The night, though not before declaring (at some
Length) the madness of all women’s passion.
The queen dreamt that a snake would suckle
At her breasts but then draw blood, and this
Orestes feels assured is forecast of
The matricide he must pursue once he
Has entered in his home and readied it
For vengeance. Requesting shelter but disguised,
Orestes meets his mother telling her
That he himself is dead abroad. Distress
Is feigned but he’s admitted and Aegisthus told,
Then with the Chorus’ aid, Orestes’ nurse
Will lead the lover of the queen to
Where he’s all alone so that Orestes
Is left free to strike. He does this and the
Dying screams bring Clytemnestra to
Aegisthus’ side. Now all is clear, mother and
Son are face to face and against the queen’s
So desperate pleas the son is deaf
Refusing mercy to fulfil quite other laws
As he sees fit. Although the deed once done
Both Chorus and the prince rejoice,
No sooner has the matricide declared his right
Than he falls victim to gross torments,
Visions and pain avenging ancient Furies
Place on him. In agony he flees the scene.
The Chorus is now left to ask, can deliverance
Exist or must there be another death?

She:  I must agree it’s getting worse and what
The Chorus asks makes sense.

Orestes

He:  Now comes the final episode, Part Three
Of this most dire Trilogy.

No longer Argos now the scene is Delphi
At Apollo’s shrine. Its prophetess appears
And terrified. She flees at sight of hag-like
Furies fast asleep sprawled in a circle round
Orestes, still a hunted, haunted man.
But soon Apollo, newly lord of earth
Appears with soul guide Hermes at his side.
Apollo’s promise is the curse must end
But not before Orestes makes appeal to
Athena in the city that she rules.
As Hermes leads the matricide away
The ghost of the dead queen appears and
Rouses the vile Furies to pursue their prey
And they, enraged to see their quarry gone,
Renew their curse and rail against all
New gods on the earth and Apollo who
Is firm to order them away. In Athens
Its own goddess will appear to declare
Orestes and the Furies, both, must be
Submitted to her rule which will include
Trial by a citizen’s jury. Still vehement
And unsubdued, the Furies rage against
All thought of any process and the law
Which might curb warning terrors and
All retribution of their kind which is
True justice, so they claim, which once denied
Expose even parents to all crime. But
Athena and Apollo too know that
The Furies rise from earth and hell and
Speak for earlier ages and for women.
Apollo who is witness and an advocate
For the victim now his protégé,
Maintains Orestes did a deed once
Forecast by his oracle itself made
With the authority of Zeus. He also
Rules true parenthood belongs not to
Mothers whose wombs can only nurture seed
But rather to Fathers from the first.
The court holds session and the count
Is equal save that Athena casts her vote
Through which the haunted prince is freed
And it’s agreed henceforth the city
Will have trials and be a seat of justice.
Again the Furies rage but seeking peace
Athena promises them a noble home
Within the city’s bounds to which
At last with hesitation they agree.

She:  And so, despite the misery and gore
The story isn’t quite a tragedy.

He:  How much of misery and gore could
Any audience hope to stand, even if, as
Aristotle held, such drama gives catharsis?
But for myself I’d say there’s tragedy of
Another kind and hidden on another plain.

She:  What’s that I’ve missed?

He:  In essence there’s no formula for good
Nor any real redemption

She: Not even with Orestes freed?

He:  Well, think of it. The Furies may be loathsome
But they have a point, or almost so, because
What flame is it the new gods bring to justice?
Apollo was cruel to Cassandra
And to Marsyas too, his rival in music
Whom he skinned alive. Compassion never was
His style. Orestes is quite right to plead
Compassion of him, and though we hear his
Father Zeus stands closer to true mercy,
Why would that Father then endorse
The crime of matricide Apollo gives
To Orestes as an oracle?
And why does that same god of prophecy
And truth maintain that blood needs blood
In what, if taken as a rule, which
In the dramas it can be, might run to
Unending tolls of sacrifice and vengeance?

She:  It doesn’t make much sense I must agree.

He:  The friendlier Athena will declare
For practice of a noble mean and peace
But only for her city. All war that’s
Made abroad to garner fame or win
More land she can approve. Her stated “mean”
Is scarcely something rational, more like
A shaman’s trick in primitive societies
Which holds the forces of the night at bay
By admitting just sufficient light. It’s

Athens

Much the same for what’s approved for life
Within society, its rule by men, a point
On which even gods can be agreed
But it’s the poor name for or an alternative
Form of Hellenistic Reason. Hence,
Practically, and faced with problems that
The Furies pose, it’s change is the redeemer
Its cure a lie akin to how – although
Apollo claims he could not lie – The Furies,
Pacified, will be renamed the Kind Ones.
In sum, there’s never exorcism nor
Is there banishment or blood of final
Sacrifice. Like Lucifer as angelic light
The new gods, greatly idealized, could hide
New rule by demons. But what is plain -
The gods themselves admit it – is how
Even cutting bonds and granting boons
It’s life they do not and they cannot give
In either this world or the next; no years
Once lost, as lost they were beneath Troy’s walls,
Can find their recompense and be restored.
Those few in fields of bright Elysium
Are wraiths who have no body and no home
And thus the only prospect for mankind is
Endless night in Hades. From Acheron’s
River none return because the family of Zeus
Though worshipped widely and still more appeased
Don’t deal in life as resurrection. And
Reason as a path to Truth and peace is
What the sages offer for this life
And then Gods utter versions of the same;
But it’s the fact that purest Reason
Never is entirely of the intellect,
Nor is it wholly male or something men
Alone may guard. Its thought is for this
Middle earth and really, truest Knowledge
Has a span encompassing the heaven above
And hell below, the visible with
The invisible. When that’s ignored
The human mind Is too divided, vision split
And, never reaching true control, our thoughts
Fall prey to forces not quite understood,
Misnamed, misused and so we walk to death
Alone  in blindfolds and in ignorance.

She: Well, something I now understand is why
The natural scenery as a setting counts.
It’s like a counsel to enjoy this life
As being your nearest to the world of
Gods before your brief hour of existence
Ends. In which case I’m inclined to say
I’d rather sit and contemplate this world
From Taormina than from here.

He:  But here the stage is sacred for its drama.
In Taormina Romans changed the theme,
No longer tragedy but combats of the
Gladiatorial kind, fights to the death
As entertainment. With such the memory
Of its stage is stained. Recall that
Syracuse rose faced away from Etna’s
Height. Maybe it has more light, less curse,
There’s just less past to exorcise.

She:  No curtain rises but the play begins
All light and sound, I’m ready for this tragedy.

PART SIX: EVENING, NIGHT AND GOING HOME

EVENING

 Alex:  You should finish our journeys with a song.

Cori:  I’m not so sure I really can. It might be
That the problem’s you.

Alex:  What’s wrong with me? What words or tunes
Do I prevent?

Cori:  I thought I knew, but now I feel less sure
Just who you are, from where or why?

Alex:  You must think I am secretive!

Cori:  More like just strange. You sometimes visit
In my dreams and always it’s so long ago
Though vivid as true memory; but often too
You disappear and manage to escape me.

Alex:  Oh such imagination! What ages past
Did we call home?

Cori:  It was whole centuries ago and then
At times we talked of poetry and Rome
Of distant futures and of love.

Alex:  So long ago and serious? Well, certain is
We never had a life before. If we made
Poetry and talk then think when
Certain stars are in the skies
That people much like us return
And say things that are similar
Which some repeat and may recall.
It’s really nothing more than that…
Well, as it seems you won’t perform
Now maybe I should be the poet.
But since I don’t profess to own your
Kind of special talent, I may be left
To work with scarcely more than what
Are merely borrowings from others…
“Now I am wearied with the day”
My longing happily receives the starry night [17]
(That fits, the sky tonight is clear enough
And I’ll admit I’m rather tired)

Cori:  I know the verse, what follows is..”And then
My unfettered soul desires to soar,
Freely into night’s magic sphere to
Live there deeply and a thousand fold”
Don’t say you’re trying to escape again! [18]
It’s very “north” and sounds too like those
Hymns to Night Novalis wrote in hope
That night’s eternal. I never understand it.

Alex: No need to try. It has a lot to do
With mood and time or simply place…..
Another poet of the sunset wrote
“Soon it will be the time to sleep…
Let’s not lose our way within this solitude
O vast and tranquil peace,
so deep within the evening’s glow!
How weary we are of wandering..”. [19]
(And don’t you think by now we are?)….

Cori:  Weary of wandering here and now
Or wandering simply everywhere?
Well you, I know, have seen the world,
And yes we’ve gone quite far today
But that’s not how the poem ends…
Don’t repeat it, you might trouble me.

Alex:  No, nor is there need to ask what’s next,
Or where. The sun’s gone down.
I feel, and so may you, a special radiance
As much from earth as from the sky
The peace, that glow; they are enough;
They join what has been and will be
With or without our journeys or our songs
Think we are here and we have paused.
Right now there’s nothing to complete
Say only that we came to Syracuse.

[This poem is now available in a second edition of New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas, http://amzn.to/1tKdkJr ]

NOTES

[1]  Arma virumque cano….”Arms and the Man I sing” opens Virgil’s Aeneid , the epic of Rome’s conquest by survivors of the Trojan war.
[2}  St Lucia, a saint associated with light and vision, is patron saint of Syracuse (Siracusa)
[3] Six Character in Search of an Author is a classic play by Sicilian dramatist, Luigi Pirandello
[4} Theocritus ( d.260 BC ) was a Greek poet born in Syracuse whose original Idylls and Elegies influenced the work of especially the Roman Virgil
[5} The Demon…….Here the Titan sent to Tartarus and effectively all titans are identified with fallen angels of biblical account. This somewhat influences the theory and theology of this account of spiritual influences.
[6} Hades. Strictly speaking, if one keeps to Roman names and myth it was Pluto, not the identical Greek Hades who raped Proserpine (Gk Persephone),
but Hades is not just a name but a place and concept. It thus  works better and more widely for meaning in the poem, but any reading could substitute the Pluto name since both names have two vowels and similarly Zeus could be substituted with Jove..
[7]  During Etna’s dormancy its slopes can be very fertile and the best honey in Sicily derives from there.
[8] The mentioned trees feature extensively in the poetry and symbolism of Virgil’s Eclogues.
[9] The Stagirite was a title for Aristotle who defined the aesthetic rules of Greek drama.
[10] Baron Von Gloeden (1856 -1931) settled in Taormina for health reasons and became famous for some early homoerotic art photography. It’s hard to tell whether in Idlyll 12 Democritus means that the spring male kissing competition took place in Sicily or not – he refers to Diocles as the Athenian “stranger” (visitor in this case?). We know he was born in Megara on the Greek mainland and went to Athens where the competition was celebrated by his tomb, but whether also he went to Democritus’s Sicily is not clear. He may just have influenced it.
[11] Two Men in a bed. See Luk 17:34. Although their sleeping together in not condemned and probably only refers to the fairly common ancient custom of shared beds (albeit Luke’s gospel does include the story of the centurion and his boy), what is implicitly condemned is the spiritual  unpreparedness of one of the men who is not taken  at the end of age Rapture.
[12] 1 Cor 9:26. “So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air”
[13] “A higher theme”. Eclogue 4 concerning the Golden Age, describes its theme as more important than tamarinds and shrubs and hopes it will be worthy of forests.
[14] Virgil’s Eclogue 4 speaks of lion and ox being reconciled. It is like a echo of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Millennium from earlier centuries and is one of several features that makes one wonder how much the classical world was aware of biblical prophecies.
[15]. Jupiter is core because Jupiter is traditional ruler (Neptune is modern co-ruler) of Pisces on the cusp of whose era Virgil was writing, but also because Jupiter would be the Bethlehem Star that stands at the entry of the New Age with the messianic birth Virgil, I think, dimly foresees. Virgil’s coming child of the gods is the representative of Jupiter. Modern criticism in its easy sceptical rationalism dismisses the Eclogue as any kind of prophecy such as by tradition the churches regarded it as paganly being. I feel however that despite its misses and confusion it was intended to be prophecy and mixes current events with future developments dimly seen.
[16] The Water Bearer is Aquarius. As Aquarius is the sign of any Utopias and idealistic group work, it is closest to the idea of any Golden Age and Millennium of harmony, freedom and new Law.. The New Age is inaugurated in, or its inauguration is like, lightning which is a symbol of Aquarius (Matt 24:27).
[17] “Now I am wearied with the day….” from Hermann Hesse’s Beim Schlafengehen
[18]  In Eclogue 2 the shepherd  Corydon suffers frustrated passion feeling that Alexis is ignoring and avoiding him.
[19]  From Eichendorff  Im Abendrot   Both this poem and Hesse’s are set to music in Richard Strauss’s Vier Letzten Lieder, Four Last Songs 

 

 
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RILKE: SINGER OF HADES, (Part Two: The Death Muse and Modern Spirituality )

RILKE: SINGER OF HADES, (Part Two: The Death Muse and Modern Spirituality )

 

RILKE, SINGER OF HADES, (Part Two: The Death Muse and Modern Spirituality)

The personal spiritual and artistic development of the poet Rilke could be said to anticipate and summarize almost the whole modern spiritual predicament and its various  mystical/new age strivings, certainly its now familiar “spiritual not religious” aims. It’s therefore important for modern religion and poetry, and in some respects even morality, to understand where Rilke could be considered most right and wrong about the highly original direction his work and vision took.

What Rilke was unconsciously and consciously doing amid his “soul making” has been charted at great but readable and illuminating length (700 pages) by Daniel Joseph Polikoff in his In the Image of Orpheus: Rilke a Soul History (2011). Its interpretations draw upon insights from the work of neo-Jungian theorist James Hillman. Hillman was a psychiatrist who sought to dethrone the overdone Freudian Oedipal theory in favour of a new theory of psychoanalysis based on the myth of Psyche, she who after many adventures engages the sacred marriage with the Eros she almost loses. Polikoff regards Rilke as all about Psyche. I agree and would regard a lot of modern spirituality about the same – both for better and for worse. Hillman also sought to restore a “polytheistic” imagination over a “monotheistic” one. This doesn’t exactly mean restoring all the old gods but, in a way Polikoff regards Rilke as exemplifying, instead overcoming fundamental familiar western splits like body and mind, life and death etc to perceive energies and symbols operating everywhere.

Under the influence of especially the Danish novelist Jens Jacobsen, Rilke had briefly turned atheist in his late teens. This phase was nonetheless soon abandoned for a more psychological approach to religion which variously allowed for soul-making and a search for, or even construction of, an alternative god. Both Rilke and his lover the early Freudian theorist, Lou Andreas-Salome, whom he met in Munich in 1897, loved the Bible that they didn’t believe in and often read it to one another. Their anti-Christian convictions nevertheless preferred the Old Testament many of whose figures and ideas weave in and out of Rilke’s verse. There is however particularly one OT verse that seems relevant to the poet’s spiritual progress and the mystery of his  final illness that Lou couldn’t explain for him – Rilke believed in dying one’s own death that would express one’s personal beliefs and entire life. The verse is: “For the path of the Wise leads upwards in order to avoid Sheol [Hades] below”. (Prov 15:24). In what I dare say the kind of Hillmanesque psychology just mentioned would regard as only and even the needed reaction against historic religious over-cultivation of spirit as against soul and thus an appropriate openness to unconscious depths, it is declared in the early collection Das Stundenbuch The Book of Hours:

Doch wie ich mich auch in mich selber neige:

Mein Gott is dunkel und wie ein Gewebe

Von hundert Wurzeln, welche schweigsam trinken.

This is loosely rendered in the popular Barrows and Macy translation as:

But when I lean over the chasm of myself/it seems/my God is dark/and like a web; a hundred roots/silently drinking.

The Book of Hours and this statement anticipates the direction Rilke would go.  Even if we should find something (or even much) of God in the unconscious, the claim is immediately religiously problematic to the extent God is “the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17) and “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Joh 1:5). Like the Rilke devotee, Stephanie Dowrick, many find the foundational early lyrics (voiced through the alter ego of an icon painting monk), poignant, honest and expressive for many seekers today. They are felt to represent those to whom God doesn’t respond but who sense he is or must be found somewhere and even everywhere.

But this is to read Rilke as almost an elegist of a lost modern belief which isn’t quite the case, Rilke’s sense of elegy being more about what can’t be readily achieved in life and spiritual quests. There is never any notable regret for lost faith. Rilke had early imbibed the American Unitarian Emerson’s “self reliance” doctrine which had no need for a helper deity reached by prayer – his Russian monk even speaks of God’s care as “being a nightmare to us”. What Rilke always wants is spiritual/mystical reality, a certain connection with the All, a feeling of reverence before the World, Earth and Existence which is like religion. But effectively the problem is stated (if indeed the trap for the rest hasn’t been set) by, in effect, not just encountering something of God in the soul/unconscious, but by treating the soul itself as God (a rather Jungian position and opening upon Hillman’s “polytheism”).

Before the above cited lines about God as darkness, Rilke’s monk has mentioned, (reflecting the poet’s own experiences with Italy and Renaissance art and religion prior to his definitive Russian experiences), that down in the South, God becomes “an ardent flame”. This is rather important for the whole picture. Biblically God, or God the Creator/Father (whom the Russian monk even wants to make his son instead) is primarily fire as per the visions of Ezekiel and Heb 12:29. Himself born of fiery Sagittarius, Rilke under-represents and even represses “fire” in his quest and this has certain consequences. It is even key to the whole life and opus. But to this I can return.

Despite the radical rejection of Christ, Christianity and organized religion, as Polikoff reminds us Rilke, however incongruously, lifelong also remained a devoted reader of St Augustine and we need to understand why. It is in Rilke’s attraction to and rejection of Augustine (asteroid Augustinus suggestively rises in his birth chart to heighten any sympathetic identification!) we have a clue to at any rate what is most positive and challenging to religion about the poet’s work and I can begin with that.

AN IMAGINATIVE ERROR: AUGUSTINE’S COSMOS AND INDIVIDUALISM

Augustine stands very much behind the development of modern individualism itself. He was highly self-conscious defining the self over against God and world, and Rilke adheres strongly to what has been this ever growing western tradition of autonomy. Augustine’s selfhood, like that of many romantics centuries later, is located in the cor (heart) which certifies his feelings which are in turn related to memoria.

According to Hillman, Augustine and the ancient world’s memoria is more like our unconscious and imagination – imagination needless to say being crucial to any poet and poetry. I was incidentally prompted by Hillman’s claim to look up where asteroid Memoria was placed in my ever relevant and working data for Christ’s birth. (Who wouldn’t want clues to Jesus’ “unconscious”?!). Sure enough it was conjunct Poesia, an indication that the mind of Christ was nothing if not poetic as indeed many scholars have long claimed pointing out that translated back into the Aramaic Jesus spoke, the Sermon on the Mount becomes poetry. Also relevant is that Christ’s Neptune, a factor that  itself is much symbol, dream and imagination- linked, conjuncts his Eros.

Hillman maintains religion is inevitably and rightly focussed on “soul”, but that paradoxically Christianity, like the western secularism influenced by a legacy of Christianity and science together (even if in strife), is anti-soul. And Augustine unwittingly leads the field in being anti-soul. Yet how can this be if Augustine was a mystic and theologian? Basically because he believes in ex-nihilo creation. God creates a cosmos which is separate from him and which once humanity “falls” is very separate indeed. It leaves all nature as rejected and evil. There is no longer as for the ancient world any animus mundi (world soul) providing a relation however reduced to God or the gods. God is not immanent and present through anything but wholly transcendent. Result: imagination and  itssymbols, the mediator between soul and spirit, psyche and eros, have no place. The world is disenchanted, empty. The only way out of it is via the dictates of doctrine and morals literally understood much like a scientific principle. (Hillman even finds something “unimaginative”, depersonalized in Augustine’s conversion to Christ which is little better than a formularized submission to morality).

Is this true? Somewhat and even essentially yes. Augustinian Christianity which is inadequately biblical and  Judaeo-Christian (though foundational for medieval Catholic philosophy), is fatally flawed and in error about the world. The “soul of the world” is effectively the Cosmic Christ of Paul’s epistles and the world is upheld by God in this way because, as Jewish mysticism realized, the world is created from God even if because God first created a womb-like space within himself  in which to create and sustain. If ‘nothing’ could exist outside God it would be a rival to God. Everything must be through God. The needed correction to ex nihilo doctrine which as much as anything is a logical point, is important for life, poetry and much else. As argued in my Solomon’s Tantric Song (http://amzn.to/14aa5Qe), one will not adequately interpret the poetry of the Song (it is always taken too spiritually or materially) unless it is understood that God is behind and through all things, including or even sometimes even especially Eros.

What about imagination and morality that Hillman wants to connect? Undeniably it’s possible to be so “imaginative” and subjective that like Rilke one accepts virtually no objective, given moral principles. Truth can be deemed so immanent and immediate as opposed to transcendent and eternal that one indulges every whim even to making poetry depend upon the latest liaison! After all, undeniably “soul life” is connective on the way to its ultimate connection with spiritual Eros!. Even so and practically, morality does need to be “imaginative” to a degree or it becomes oppressive, inflexible legalism.   An example is how Christian literalists cannot give any sympathetic or socially realistic reading to the existence of gays, failing to see those scriptural hints and directions which suggest things beyond the apparent ban of Leviticus. Without the imagination born of soul, religion becomes dry theology and formal observance and there is nothing that can be felt in or out of life as we know it.

JESUS THE IMAGINATION

Before going further I will say something already emphasized in several of my books and first set out in Cosmic Father. The at any rate Christian relation to art which Rilke supremely doesn’t represent, is or should be this. It needs to be recognized, even if for different reasons from William Blake, that Jesus is “Jesus The Imagination”. Arguably the ban on images in the Old Testament dispensation (which corresponds to the Age of Aries) is a purification and preparation for the New Testament dispensation (of the Age of Pisces “ruled” by imaginative, symbol rich Neptune) in which Jesus is recognized as Cosmic Christ who is the Animus Mundi. And this cosmic soul contains the symbols which despite everything, and in however hidden a way, is also Eros (which actually conjuncts Jesus’ Neptune natally). It is as Christ “dwells within” organizing the mass of floating symbols that the soul can hope to reach Spirit and that Spirit can reach down to soul.

With that thought in mind we can see how the Rilke who chose for this world and the material over against a God assumed to be totally transcendent, went wrong and, in my opinion, misled himself and misled others. Indeed he even finished up with a very strange last illness he begged his mistress and guru Lou Salome to “explain” but which she couldn’t do. Rilke had imagined (perhaps most clearly in the Elegies) that by correctly naming and declaring things like a magus one could connect all things symbolically from animal to angel. In the course of this operation one helps transform oneself and things from visible to invisible nature in which everything eternally exists  – at least as a kind of vibration cum symbol it seems. There is no death in the sense that all life is just the flip side of an all-embracing death vibration, something akin to, though not acknowledged by Rilke as, a Buddhist style Plenum Void.  This  is however a Void to which Rilke does not appear to allow any reincarnations – they would only savour of the fragmentation his Whole negates. The Elegies are most insistent upon the uniqueness of life. Elegy 9 declares “ Everyone once, once only. Just once and no more/And we also once. Never again”….Some of Rilke’s sense of tragedy and elegy depends upon exactly this belief/feeling, that to all appearances some persons will have lived happy lives and other merely wretched ones though as in his poems on the urban poor he seems to think a truly summarizing death helps redeem things in an inexplicable way and is almost a gift.

Lou, though a former mistress/lover came to be seen by herself and by Rilke as a kind of twin from a time before incest was known. Given the nature of Rilke’s relation to her and to many other women subsequently, I think one may come to see why (as per statements of my February blog re Matthew Vines and gay theology) there is much to be said for the notion that all Christians need to become slightly gay and “eunuchs for the kingdom”. A lot of the symbolism, complexes and input as from the Puer archetype for the kind of alternative psychic/spiritual development Hillman envisages and Rilke implies, are almost nearer to those associated with homosexuality.  We should note that  after having lost his wife to Hades the mythic Orpheus becomes founder of same sex love according to Ovid’s rendering of the myth. This is a datum that Rilke’s journey into the Orpheus archetype ignores). And the poet’s symbols and complexes would probably work more easily within homosexuality and with less dire consequences than the confusion and heartbreak Rilke’s amours entailed for many of the women appropriated to his markedly heterosexual pilgrimage of the spiritual terrain. There is a strange almost sinister poem Don Juans Auswahl (Don Juan’s Election) in New Poems, one of two devoted to the subject of Don Juan, though really about Rilke himself, in which an angel arrives to tell DJ to let him give him all the women who are going to be “ripened” by the experience of solitude (which it seems the seduction and abandonment of the women will supply!).

It is a difficult saying but in some respects Christianity, psychologically regarded, is a somewhat “gay” spirituality. Salvation and Resurrection themselves are (psychologically and archetypally speaking) Puer issues. It is in part because Rilke is insufficiently “gay” in the broadest sense that he does not and cannot absorb salvation and resurrection but is simply forced to love the earth and unite life and death and is even swallowed up by them or more precisely by death, frantically trying to declare death and/or its centre Hades to be life itself. Another biblical verse seems relevant:   “For whoever finds me [Wisdom/the divine feminine] finds life….but those who miss me injure themselves, all who hate me love death”. (Pro 8: 35/6).

THE FOUR STAGES OF RILKE’S DEVELOPMENT

Be that as it may…..Rilke begins with a not unreasonable rejection of the Augustinian universe in favour of the one that Sagittarians prefer and of which we have some example in the philosophy of Spinoza. This will be a perfect unity (of sorts) in which one is optimistically involved in “life”, a great Whole founded in this earth that we can mystically intuit as one thing. It follows that there must and need be no mediator with God to sully the immediacy of perception involved. Christ is simply in the way of perceiving ‘God’ and anyway he can’t help anyone. Rilke’s little studied and conveniently ignored (because at points almost Satanistic) early composed Visions of Christ (1898) had inclined to this position that Jesus was a thoroughly failed Messiah. In one of the poems he is a person unable to comfort an orphan girl, in another he is portrayed in a brothel himself needing help from a modern Magdalene.

Rilke was encouraged in his outlook by Lou Salome and her book Jesus the Jew which expounded the theory Jesus arrived at disappointment and failure through the hubris of imagining he was God. Lou believed God and the gods were originally created by human need, though devotion to them created a kind of “back effect” that made them real at a certain purely psychological level. Both Rilke and Lou were influenced by Nietzsche causing Rilke at one point (as in his short story The Apostle) to be against Christ or Christianity because it represented the kind of pity and compassion that undermines life. (While some of Rilke’s later poetry as about the urban poor and sick or trapped animals does suggest a level of pity and compassion it is almost despite himself. There is no record of Rilke ever engaging in any notable acts of charity or campaigning for social change; he simply observed and recorded and of course wished a good, self-expressive death on them).

Rilke’s development is as follows and it corresponds approximately to the emphases of four main collections of poetry, first The Book of Hours, then New Poems (1907) plus New Poems the Other Part (1908), then Duino Elegies (1922), and finally Sonnets to Orpheus (1922). These chart and express

  • A phase in which he will choose and create his own god by simply imagining deity. He wants “God” to reply, but becomes more or less resigned to silence and even desires it for his work of deity creation.
  • A phase in which no longer awaiting revelation and connection of whatever kind, his “Thing Poems” perceive the radiance in objects and people that issue from the Whole.
  • A phase in which he accepts the need if not for a mediator, then a transformer or witness for the energies of earth in the form of “the Angel”. This is a time when feeling ever more alienated from Christianity Rilke experiences some attraction to Islam, to its unmediated “one” God who has no son. His poetic/spiritual mission at this point is to name things, to give messages in the style of Mohammed, to evoke “initiation” itself (along Hermetic lines in Rilke’s case – the last elegy looks towards Egypt) with its multilayered concerns and sensations evoking the great Whole.
  • A phase, prompted by the death of a young woman who haunts the collection in which with life and death unified as part of the One, “the or a god” emerges in the form of the poet semi divinity Orpheus who in some respects is the poet of Hades.

These four stages show considerable correspondence to features of new age spirituality whether or not in the same order.

  • Rejecting “religion”, “doctrine” or “tradition” one goes within and chooses the deity or system that best fits individual striving, self creation and what can be felt – direct experience of “God”. Practically, one is simply building soul apart from notions of deity, especially of God as Creator or in any way omnipotent.
  • With God firmly absent one lives a more aesthetic life, cultivates Zen gardens or flower arrangements, finding para-divine experiences in the way and spirit of things. There emerges a new relation to objects, nature, food, the body, food etc (Rilke was trendily attracted to vegetarianism and nudism). Art becomes a spirituality or religion in itself – Rilke spent a great time studying and writing about art.
  • Various spiritual practices like yoga may suddenly produce shocks and visions or “initiation” as when kundalini energies unexpectedly rise. At this point God and/or spirits assume more importance at least as organizing, controlling factors akin to Rilke’s enigmatic angels. Alienation from Christian traditions may as for Rilke produce at least temporary attraction to Islam. Much of Rilke’s poetry is anyway deemed to have affinities with Sufism (a mystical heresy of Islam). The soul function tries to manage spirit, make the soul itself, save it, initiate it.
  • The or a new god or at least guru appears. Heidegger thought of poets as harbingers of the new revelation of a/the god some await. It is the artist Benjamin Creme who declares the soon advent of Maitreya/Christ. Rilke reintroduces the god of poetry, Orpheus, to the world.

Can the new god save us? It depends upon what you are looking for and believe “salvation” implies, but I would suggest that Rilke does not and cannot solve the problems and quest he sets himself. It is not possible in Christian terms and not especially possible, even just psychologically, as regards many faith systems to approach God unmediated. Philosophy may think otherwise and Sagittarius is both philosophical and very optimistic about what it sets out to do, but experience denies it. Some kind of lens is required. Even Tibetan Buddhism which denies the existence of a Creator virtually renders the guru a mediating divine figure.By repudiating (Christian) mediation one simply opens oneself up (to the extent one does touch ultimacy at all) to horror. As the opening lines of the Duino Elegies have it:

Who if I shouted, among the hierarchy of angels

Would hear me? And supposing one of them

Took me suddenly to his heart, I would perish

Before his stronger existence. For beauty is nothing

But the beginning of terror……..Every angel of terrible

One might add to this perception that “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Rilke sort of knows but ignores this. If early on his alter ego monk had conceded that outside of Russia God was a flame, he didn’t absorb this himself. Polikoff’s psychological analysis of the poet’s soul life has things to say about his experience of Coagulatio, (earth phase) Solutio (water phase) and Sublimatio (air phase) i.e. those mental states, especially Coagulatio’s black depression or Nigredo, that are terms borrowed from alchemy and used by Jung to describe mental states and processes towards individuation. But Calcinatio, the process of purification by fire scarcely features. In alchemy the Lion screams as his paws are burned off in the destruction of pride. As a fire sign Sagittarius can have a great sense of entitlement with affinities to the pride of Leo the lion. Rilke, even at his most humble or vulnerable, is still full of entitlement towards God and Life (his prose work, Tales of God, could be considered distinctly presumptuous if not blasphemous). Considering that in his early Visions of Christ, in the poem Jewish Cemetery Jesus raves against God invoking powers at an occult Rabbi’s tomb to curse the world with destruction by fire, there is a special irony in the poet’s death which he experienced as fiery. It is as though a certain repression of psychological/spiritual “fire” and the feelings of the fiery Christ curse manifest in him.

This is why I have called Rilke the poet of Hades which biblically is one of the words for hell. Rilke intends to join all things. Life must be joined to death, even is itself death so that death should be sung as much as life. Orpheus himself is a kind of death god. In Christianity hell itself is effectively experience of God, (since all things do exist through God), but it’s experience as only fire, not any of the other elemental cum psychological states possible. Having refused the fiery Creator God, Rilke is consumed by him. He wanted to have, as he wished for everyone, their own death and in effect he evoked his own. (Granted much of what he felt during his last illness was simply common to leukaemia, but his relation to it was psychologically peculiar – he even believed he could know the very first moment it began, and plainly there was as much psychological as physical going on in his case. He needed to explain it because he almost seems to have thought he gave his illnesses permission, which at a certain level is just possible).

UTTERANCES AND AFFIRMATIONS

It is impossible to summarize the work of Rilke to make it merely easy, but one can evoke it through lines of or references to his poetry particularly the first and most popular Book of  Hours.  It anticipates so much else even if it’s more about deity making than the later soul making. The book is divided into three sections The Book of Monastic Life, The Book of Pilgrimage and The Book of Poverty and Death, the last written part reflecting a hard time in the poet’s life and his very negative initial impressions of urban life in especially Paris. The poems have no titles. The collection’s sub-title is Love Poems to God, but the feeling is closer to a one-sided argument, love attaches rather to the atmosphere of art and religion

Poem 1:1 affirms in harmony with the Idealist strain in German philosophy that “nothing has ever been real/without my beholding it/ All becoming has needed me”. This helps set the collection’s attitude towards God, even though the poet is willing to describe himself as like “a tree rustling over a gravesite” (1:5) which already justifies my description of Rilke as very Hades identified.

The approach to God is quirky and petulant. Living next door to God, the icon painter declares: “If you should be thirsty/ there’s no one to get you a glass of water…I wait listening”   (1:6).   Psychologically significant is 1: 11’s admission “I love you more than the flame that limits the world” and this because “the dark embraces everything….I believe in the night”. Conflict with the Christian view that “This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light” ( Joh 3:19) is patent here.

There is anyway no submission to the divine whether as darkness or light because (and it’s very modern!) “I want to know my own will/ and to move with it” ( 1:13). In Rilke’s attitude to God even where a trace of conventional humility enters, it is never from any sense of shortcoming. The attitude has affinity for the resentment of other Sagittarian poets towards the divine like Emily Dickinson and Heinrich   Heine.

Though the poet is more interested in knowing himself, there’s hope for God yet: “You are not dead yet; it’s not too late/ To Enter your depths” ( 1:14)

Also according to (1:25), God is the great homesickness (Heimweh) we could never shake off.

The same poet who doesn’t believe that death can remain a sorrow or a need for us asks:

“What will you do God, when I die?/I am your pitcher when you shatter (1:36)

Poem 1:44 is almost an ultimatum. Having said that God’s first word was light, that his second birthed man and fear, the poet doesn’t now want to hear the third word. Admitting he sometimes prays he says, “Please don’t talk/Let all your gesture be by doing only……Be our shepherd but never call us”. Plainly this God is not the Word. Silence like darkness is required of him or it.

1:55 wants to make God “complete” (without speech?!) because that will make the poet complete.

Anticipating the spirit of New Poems 1: 61 wants to love “the things”.

1:62 is a little more conventionally pious. The “deep power” is thanked that he/it works with the poet ever more lightly, and this feeling carries over to the beginning of book 2 on Pilgrimage.

In 2:2 the poet yearns to belong to something and be contained in an all-embracing divine mind which however significantly will need to perceive him “as a single thing”.

2:3 sees God as the Being without voice to whom all bow, but inquires is the poet himself not “the whole” and asks if God is distracted from hearing him by “some whining little tune”.   He wishes God were back inside him in the darkness that grew him.

In 2: 4 the poet decides he loves God as his son. In 2:6 he affirms it would create a gulf between them if God were to be thought of as any father. Sons are superior to fathers. (I imagine some of Rilke’s contempt for his own father colours this!)

2:16 anticipates many later poems in its declaration “if we surrendered to earth’s intelligence/ we could rise up rooted like trees”. 2:25 dismisses all yearning for the afterlife, all looking for a beyond, all belittling of death. We should long for what belongs to us and “serve earth” (a very new age sentiment). 2:26 declares we won’t be herded in churches, God meets us in solitude only).

In Book 3 on poverty and death the poet still goes on seeing God in places and situations he would rather not. 3:1 declares the big cities are lost and rotting. Perceiving that people live unfulfilled lives in cities, again anticipating various developments in 3:6 the poet asks God to give us our own death   “The dying that proceeds/From each of our lives”. 3:7 speaks of the “The great death that each of us carries inside”.   Pursuing the wretchedness of city life it is suggested in 3:18 that God is “the diseased one/whom we fear to touch”. 3:31 condemns cities for caring for only what is theirs and in effect for being totally unspiritual. There is a block here which the next main collection of verse will somewhat resolve.

Prior to Paris Rilke was prone to wait for inspiration to fall however long it took. Under the influence of the workaholic Rodin he went to the other extreme of believing he must force himself to create poetry rather like sculpture, working at it, rather than waiting for it, carving it from the block of existence which will release radiance, epiphanies. Some of the poems of New Poems, parts 1 and 2 are Rilke’s best loved like The Carousel known to most schoolchildren in Germany. The most famous and exemplary for the whole collection is the celebrated Archaic Torso of Apollo which is about the power of art and its capacity to contain and convey life itself. It is somewhat the power of eros that is conveyed since though headless and broken the image still smiles at the viewer, still holds the power of its loins. The image is the kind of living imprint alive and dead that belongs to existence and immortality Rilke style.

The poems reflect simply life as in The Square, or The Lady Before her Mirror and the well known Venice poems. There are also some memorable poems about animals like The Panther (a Sagittarian speciality as for example Blake’s The Tiger). However the religious theme persists throughout in such as Abishag, David Sings Before Saul, Joshua’s Council, The Olive Garden, The Prophet, The Angel, The Departure of the Prodigal Son and many more. Numbers of these anticipate queer theology with its revisionings of familiar scriptural stories. The Olive Garden presents a Jesus who feels he couldn’t succeed, has had a lot to put up from a Father who doesn’t exist “Oh ineffable shame”. It is affirmed no angel ever came to Gethsemane as reported, only night did and it was only like any other night anyway. The Crucifixion portrays the soldiers wanting something special from Jesus’ death but all they get is Mary screaming and Christ bellowing and “caving in”. There are two poems about the Buddha – The Buddha in Glory even finishes the collection. But it is the Buddha’s power to reflect, to be and influence life along perhaps with the artistic beauty of his image that seems to be the attraction since Rilke was far from a believer having more affinity with Mohammed though it is unlikely Muslims would be quite delighted with the peculiar Mohammed’s Summoning which has the prophet at first resisting an angel who then worships him for his ability to read. The relatively long Orpheus, Eurydice and Hermes loosely anticipates Sonnets to Orpheus in establishing a certain association with the Hermetic and to my mind casts a few doubts on how completely spontaneous the vision of the Sonnets should be considered.

The organ peals of the highly if jaggedly lyrical dense and oracular Duino Elegies arguably constitute Rilke’s finest work. They take him nearest to the role of prophet or shaman to which, Sagittarian style, he always seemed to aspire. The vision of the poetry traverses several levels and the material is not easy to understand and is not meant to be. It comes from some Beyond and is to be meditated like so much scripture. At least some of the verse borders on glossolalia, a speaking in tongues though it never quite reaches the surrealistic incoherence of a Dylan Thomas. (The likely meaning of each elegy is neatly summarized in the McIntyre’s German/English version of 1961, but there will always be some level of difference over the exact meanings even as we sense the drift of the whole).

The Elegies are elegies to the extent their subject is the lamentable difficulty of life, our attempts to get things right amid the sorrows of existence and not being able to reach to the level of the inspirational, numinous (“terrible”), energy transforming angels. (The angels are Mohammedan not Christian ones from the period in which following a trip to Southern Spain Rilke felt an attraction to the Koran and Islam). The poem is most essentially about soul-making and the need of soul to hold within itself the underlying substance of spirit (Hillman’s Psyche/Eros theme). This is often assisted by love as exemplified by the great lovers of history and others… “then sing the girls who were lovers /the fame of their passion has not made them immortal enough” and “when we love, arises in our arms/the sap from immemorial ages”. Love of all or any kind thus helps link us to the great Whole, to Life-in-itself beyond just life and death – significantly the angels, unlike us, don’t know if they move among the quick or the dead.

Especially the second half of the Elegies (Elegies 5 to 10) is about the poverty of life and its perception short of realizing the pure consciousness inhabiting it and the things and the animals who may have wisdom we lack. “Nowhere beloved can world exist but within/ our life is spent in changing”. There is a certain emphasis upon wind and space or the Open (Das Offene), space being a symbol for the mystic experience itself and effectively an initiatory one which arguably the poetry is directly evoking by its disorientation of the reader through the shock of its images, unexpected connections and declarations. Eventually realization of Truth creates simply praise. Working through the numerous paradoxes of the elegies the poet exclaims in Elegy 9, “Earth, isn’t this what you want: invisibly to arise in us? Is it not your dream/to be some day invisible? Earth Invisible!/ What if not transformation, is your insistent commission? Earth, dear one, I will!”.   This in my opinion is almost the core of the work, the affirmation of and commitment to a kind of quasi-Spinozan pantheism which worships and praises Life-in-itself and “the things” and which, whether visible or invisible (and ultimate energies are invisible) is one, now and eternal.

Although apart from the many New Poems Rilke relied upon “inspiration”, this was never so pronounced as for the Sonnets to Orpheus. Unlike other inspirations he experienced these as gift and virtual dictation or revelation from the god (i.e. Orpheus, mythic founder of music and poetry and escapee from the Hades where he lost his wife). Certainly all 55 were completed in an incredible few days in February 1922, the month which also saw the completion of the long unfinished Elegies. The sole possible triggers were an image of Orpheus bought in a local shop in Switzerland where Rilke was living and at the beginning of February news of the premature death at twenty of the highly talented Vera Ouckama Knoop, daughter of a friend. It was the kind of death that for Rilke was the worst, the life not lived, not come to “ripeness”, apparently wasted and for which we want comfort or explanations even if God and afterlife present no answers.

As opposed to the oracular often philosophical statements of the Elegies, the Sonnets are more like sensory and sensuous, showings of what transcendence into life in the whole through or as the god of poetry and music really is. What this is borders at times upon a surrealism. Obviously referring to Vera’s recent decease Sonnet 2 (again the poems are untitled) begins “Almost a girl it was and issued forth……She made herself a bed inside my ear/ And slept in me. And all things were her sleep”. It was the miracle of the singing god that he so perfected her she had no desire to awake or she arose and slept at once. In short once again for Rilke death and life are ultimately the same and he can sing this power of Hades/Orpheus to make it so.

Sonnet 15 which is one of the most eccentric and confusing may be one of the most typical and closest to what the poet felt, meant and taught. It begins “Wait…that tastes good….it’s already in flight”. It then encourages the girls to dance the taste of the fruit they have experienced. “Dance the orange” which it is declared is something they have possessed but which has been converted into them and therefore they can dance it. They can create a relationship to the rind and to the juice in the orange.

In the first poem of the second half of the collection “the open” is stressed’ “World space in pure/Interchange with our own being”. It’s a counterpoise within which the poet is happening rhythmically. He asks the air if it realizes how many of the places within it have already been in him. Many winds have been like his sons and they are like a leaf containing his words. The earth also contains all and by the end of the collection everything is flowing into everything else. The last lines are

Say to the still earth: I flow

To the rapid water: I   am

Overall Rilke seems to be saying in the Sonnets that all life is composed of energies, hence rhythm. This fact automatically supplies Orpheus and his disciples, the poets and musicians, some higher understanding; but at the same time it is at least implied that the organizational power of death/Hades is what most makes sense of the life which must be grasped as a whole. There is a sort of refusal of negativity, an optimism based on an idea of the Elegies that “our life is spent in changing”, which is almost ultra-Sagittarian (the sign is “mutable”) and philosophical though not necessarily convincing as philosophy. The sound of it is better than the sense, and if Rilke is “In the Image of Orpheus” according to Polikoff, less positively his message is simply that of Death and Hades.

I could be accused of religious prejudice here, but not only has one of the few guides to meaning in the Sonnets Rilke ever gave (to a Polish translator) declared one should perceive nothing Christian about afterlife etc in them because he is ever more departed from any Christian ideas, haven’t the Sonnets as good as declared the poet’s overriding attachment is to Hades and to a god of death rather than life? In Sonnet 13 of Part 2 we are advised to “ Be ever dead in Eurydice [i.e.the one whom Hades claimed and took back]….. know the condition/Of not-being , the infinite ground of your deep vibration”. This seems to give the last word to darkness and death as existence-controlling and is even the core message of a wonderfully gifted poet of a vision strange and limited and with psychological effects that came back to bite him. The poetry offers a special experience and in especially the Elegies marks a defining moment for the modern in art. However it is surely a great contemporary error to treat Rilke as any kind of life guru.

 

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
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