Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Advertisement For Poetry

Shakespeare's sonnet 23 is an advertisement for poetry:

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burden of mine own love's might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.

When it comes to love, it's easy for us to foul it up. Meeting someone face-to-face we can say the wrong things or nothing at all; we can do the wrong things or nothing at all, overwhelmed by our own passion. Writing, though is a considered art and perhaps a surer one; and poets spend much of their art considering love. For poets, love is "not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience" (Arendt); sonnet 23, properly understood, is therefore a key to unlocking all of Shakespeare's art: even those sonnets that aren't specifically about love dwell on the living intensity of human experience, the practice of 'living in the moment'.
   In his closing couplet, the poet reminds us that eyes can 'hear'; poets also know that face-to-face eyes can do other things too:

                                                      15th March

                                          When I left that building

                                          I didn't expect to see you

                                          sitting outside on the wall.

                                          Our eyes continued the interest

                                          they've shown for some weeks now.

                                          We talked.

                                          Friends noticed us talking.

                                          We talked.

                                          Friends commented on our talking.

                                          We talked.

                                          And our eyes began to kiss.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

a slave's biography

Amongst the many books available now for free download on the net are the harrowing biographies/ autobiographies of slaves published during the 19th Century. The following is from the autobiography of a woman:

"children were exhibited on a table, that they might be seen by the company, which was very large. There could not have been a finer subject for an able painter than this unhappy group. The tears, the anxiety, the anguish of the mother, while she met the gaze of the multitude, eyed the different countenances of the bidders, or cast a heart-rending look upon the children; and the simplicity and touching sorrow of the young ones, while they clung to their distracted parent, wiping their eyes, and half concealing their faces,--contrasted with the marked insensibility and jocular countenances of the spectators and purchasers,--furnished a striking commentary on the miseries of slavery, and its debasing effects upon the hearts of its abettors. While the woman was in this distressed situation she was asked, 'Can you feed sheep?' Her reply was so indistinct that it escaped me; but it was probably in the negative, for her purchaser rejoined, in a loud and harsh voice, 'Then I will teach you with the sjamboc,'."

The appearance of an Afrikaans word ('sjamboc') in this narrative is striking (pun not intended); the complete book is available from manybooks.net: 'The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince'.
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True love

The characteristics of true love are outlined in sonnet 116; the poet declares true love to be constant, unafraid of the present or the future, a guide, and not subject to time.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I remember well the hour that my mother died. She was sixty years old, in a hospice, and for some time had been daily losing her fight against cancer. I arrived at the hospice perhaps 10 minutes after she died, and embraced my father. He looked at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, 'I loved that girl.' The words struck me: sixty years old, and still a girl: indeed love 'alters not... even to the edge of doom'.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

The Head and the Heart

The war between the head and the heart is the concern of Shakespeare's sonnet 141. Does being in love make sense? Does love make you happy? The poet, in his clear-headed moments, doesn't even like the lady but, sick with desire, he is obsessed with her. Once again, love is a 'plague', a fever, an illness that brings 'pain'. He is in fact so sick that the pain itself has become a pleasure.

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unsway'd the likeness of a man,
Thy proud hearts slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

I was in a bar recently with a friend who was complaining that he didn't want to spend much money and that he was 'on a mission' to control his spending. Ten minutes later, a well-endowed and deliberately under-dressed pretty young woman entered the bar and caught the attention of my friend.
   'This will cost you,' I said.
   'And I'll regret it,' he replied.
During the next two hours or so my friend emptied his pockets for her and the following day he did indeed regret it. There it was, right there--the war between the head and the heart.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

In praise of procreation

Shakespeare's second sonnet is a paean that praises procreation as a preserver of beauty:

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

This explains in part why parents rejoice in their offspring and why we are so happy for our new-parent friends. We think of our loved ones, who, like us, are showing signs of life's wear and tear, and then look at their sons and daughters (the 'treasure of [their] lusty days') and say, 'how cute!' In a very real sense, since cell replaces cell all down our ancestral line, procreation ensures that our 'eternal summer shall not fade'.

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Why we still read the Sonnets

Why are Shakespeare's Sonnets still worth reading? Simply because they are so well written. Yes, they still have the power to move us with their human concerns; but where does that power come from? It comes from the writing. Almost anyone can write of human concerns, but not everyone will want to read, or can derive pleasure from, what that anyone has written.

In Shakespeare's Sonnets we find the whole range of human emotions and a poet who has the skill to memorably express them. And so these sonnets become our own. One day, a friend very close to me hurt me badly; she later asked if I could possibly forgive her. I found myself quoting from one of the sonnets, "'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove'; of course I forgive you." These poems are still worth reading because they still work.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tonglen training

I found the following useful tract on www.kagyu.org; it has similarities to the practice of sending zors, and what I call sacred smooches:

"The traditional mind training practice of Tonglen, or the "sending and receiving" practice.


In the sending and receiving practice, the mind is trained in a meditative way, with a basic understanding of the friendship and the goodness that could be brought about. There is also a sense of responsibility towards eliminating the sufferings and the confusions of others. To begin with, we sit in the formal meditation position and follow the breath. With the outgoing breath, we send out towards all beings whatever goodness, health, and wholesome situation we have. As a result, all beings radiate with goodness, health and well-being, creating an environment of richness and sanity. You can also be more specific, sending out joy and health to a particular being, such as your mother or the person for whom you have the greatest concern. Whatever seems appropriate is fine. Then, while remaining confident in your ability to accommodate the negativities of others, you take in with the incoming breath all the confusion, limitations, and sufferings of other beings.

Working with the breath in this way, you train the mind by offering others all the wakefulness you have, and by taking all the confusion and paranoia of others on yourself. It is as if a bright light were going out with the breath towards all beings, representing your good and wholesome qualities. With the incoming breath, it is as if the embodiment of all suffering were coming towards you, which you then gladly take in. This giving and taking is, in a sense, what we have been trying to do in the practice all along, but up to this point we have not been able to generate true compassion or cut through the ego-clinging. On the contrary, everything has been for the purpose of self-gratification, for protection and security, and has only resulted in greater dissatisfaction. This is why it is necessary to change your attitude and the way you relate to the world at large.


Through this practice, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and let go of our clinging, loosening the state of fixation while also generating compassion towards others. Nurturing this attitude in our minds is important, because, although we often do some sort of giving and receiving, it is always incomplete because of the self aggrandizement we seek and the doubts and expectations we have. One moment we will be glowing with a bright smile, and the next moment we will be completely frozen, because we have not been properly trained.

To that end, a vital meditation practice will be consistent and will incorporate the Tonglen discipline of sending and receiving. It will also bring positive effects into post-meditation situations. If you understand and take your responsibilities sincerely, and meditate consistently, it is entirely possible that you will have the ability to produce these effects. You will feel that everyone, no matter who they are, is actually quite friendly and amiable, and that no one intentionally means to do harm. You will begin to understand that there may be great confusion in the surrounding world, but there is also some capacity for friendship. Whatever dissonance is taking place will not be seen as intentional, but will be recognized as a result of the confusion and limitations beings suffer, and this will only inspire you to take on even more responsibility. Furthermore, in all activities you will generate kindness, tenderness, and compassion; you will speak gentle and kind words accompanied by comforting body gestures. You will be constantly giving of yourself to others. There will be no sense of self-concern or selfish pride because you will identify with the responsibilities you have taken.


There may be situations where kindness shown towards beings who cannot appreciate it, will result in projections of further confusion. However, because of intensive meditation, and because of the understanding that has been developed, you will be able to accommodate that neurosis and perceive its unintentional nature. In this state of compassion, there is a sincere desire to benefit others however we can. Because of these sane intentions and activities, there will be a great deal of inner and spiritual development. Outwardly, you become a very decent, responsible, genial person.

We like to talk about the possibilities of a sane society where everyone is responsible and can generate a friendly environment and live in a dignified, or uplifted, manner. This is definitely possible in the ordinary world, as well as in terms of the spiritual realm and the experience of bodhisattva realization. It is not something out there beyond reach; instead, it is an inherent quality that is as close as home. It is simply a question of some work and integration. If you could become truly responsible for yourself and for others, if you could become responsible for your total liberation, then you could make a tremendous contribution to creating a very dignified and sane society. This is what the Tonglen training can bring into the world."

Taken from a transcript of a teaching given at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. The transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.
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Sacred Smooches

Sacred Smooches are unpredictable: sometimes there's a rush & a fizz & a whizz but othertimes they just float & take their own sweet time; some sizzle & explode their joy; others are subtle in the ways they work. Think of them as karma bombs, not prayers but active, hovering and moving positive thought energy that you send out like a letter to a specific addressee; you always know when they arrive, & they're out there and they work; I know because I've sent them. You centre yourself, open the hand of thought, focus on being in the moment, select the action and then send the smooch. When a smooch has done it's work, you will know.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008


From the high school
of love
you matriculated;
from the university
of love
you graduated;
then you turned your skills
on me:
of all the misses
I've kissed,
it's your kisses
I most miss,
their moist memories
lingering on my lips

like the urgent taste of salt
on a hot
plate of chips.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Advice for parents & other readings...

I've been discovering some of the thousands of books--wonderful, hilarious and etc, etc--available free online or for download from Project Gutenberg [www.gutenberg.org]. Amongst them is a little 1922 book by Henry Stanton giving advice for parents. It includes such gems as these: (for parents of boys) "The use of alcohol, coffee and tea by children tends to weaken their sexual organs." In the same book, when discussing the bringing up of girls, he advises us: "Girls who have formed vicious habits are apt to indulge in the practice of self-abuse at night when going to bed. If there is cause for suspicion, the bedclothes should be quickly and suddenly thrown off under some pretense. " This instruction would really be a wow in our day and age ;-).
I discovered too a truly bad but compulsively readable western about a 'hero' called 'Wild West'  (I kid you not) whose sole object in life seems to be to provoke 'bad men' so that he can show them how good he is with a gun; a story about a spaceman who fell in love with an alien kind of octopus; and the usual assortment of boys' adventure stories set in Africa or some other 'wild and exotic' locale. PG is a wonderful resource and I'm still investigating...
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Noises for the Leg

Having just posted a copy of Smith's 'Stupendous leg' I am reminded that the Bonzo Dog Band released 'Noises for the Leg' on their 'Keynsham' LP c.1969. This looks like a promising thread...
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Stupendous Leg

Most literate persons are aware of Shelley's poem, 'Ozymandias', a staple of English Literature; how many have ever heard of Shelley's friend W Horace Smith, and his sonnet, 'On a stupendous leg'? I just discovered it; here it is:

On a Stupendous Leg of Granite

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows: -
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." - The City's gone, -
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Good stuff, eh?
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rising from the dark

Just knowing that someone, somewhere in the world, loves you unconditionally is enough--even if you are seldom together. Everyone needs at least one special person/ soulmate in order to rise to the challenge to become fully human; those who know no love are those who crawl on all fours, cough, and live unseeing in the bright lights of the world's deepening dark.
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Removing my shoes
I enter your sanctuary:
perspiration swirls sweet
on the air like incense;
the choir stomps Alleluias;
the Gates of Heaven beckon;
and our communion
flows like the finest wine.
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Sakhile Live in Swaziland

https://www.mixcloud.com/ken-rowley/african-jazz-7-sakhile-live-in-swaziland-december-1987/ For me the best South African band of al...