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I love walking. I love poetry. Here is a poem by Rumi that seems to be about walking, but it is not really about walking. I read it today while I was walking through the woods. There really are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī known popularly simply as Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), was a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has become a popular and best-selling poet in the United States.
After some days away from Paradelle, television news and the Net, I have returned. Was it the cleansing that being offline might provide, as I had written about earlier? Yes, though even on a literal faraway island, news creeps in on you. Perhaps, I needed a deserted island. Still, my sleep changed for the better and my mind turned to things too often pushed aside (poetry, sketching, mindful and mindless meditation) for more “serious” matters.
I had some posts that were in the queue for this first weekend back in Paradelle, so they will go off into the universe of bits floating in a cloud. But the important thing for me this weekend is trying to keep that clear horizon clear?
The Dodge Foundation has run a program for many years of poetry as renewal that they call “Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain.” The title comes from a short poem by Robert Frost.
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
Though I don’t have a literal pasture spring to clean out for the new season, I did clear away some leaves from the garden yesterday on a warm, sunny, breezy day here in Paradelle. Today it is snowing. And next week even more snow predicted.
After you clear away what is blocking you, how do you keep the path clear?
Frost used that poem as the introduction to his 1915 collection, North of Boston. (The book is in the public domain now and you can read the poems online.) I think of the poem as a statement of intent. Frost wants these poems to move away the leaves that might block a reader’s perception. As the water clears, you can move further into the collection. Like the little calf that is also being cleaned by its mother, we can totter ahead.
In this time before spring when the weather reminds us of both the recent past and the coming days too, it is a good time to think about many kinds of rebirth and renewal. It’s a better time for new resolutions for the year than January first.
I am going to try to tend the fountain and keep what has cleared for me open and moving ahead. You come too.
I was never comfortable with the expression “passed away” to mean that someone had died.
I know that many people consider “passed away” as gentler and less cold than “died.” It feels too politically correct, and more of the general problem many people have with facing up to hard facts and difficult situations and delaying as long as possible.
This was a week of upheaval in the United States with the Presidential election finally occurring and the selection of Donald Trump.
And Leonard Cohen died.
I was reading articles about him last night and it most said he passed away quietly at home. He was 82 and had suffered from cancer and knew he was close to death. His son said that he was writing until the end.
I knew Leonard Cohen first as a poet back in the late 1960s. I have a very strong memory of him coming up in a discussion in a English class at Rutgers College. One of my fellow English majors in an honors literature class said that Cohen was his favorite poet. The professor said that Cohen was a songwriter, not a poet. Most of the class did not agree with the professor.
That kind of divide came up recently again when Bob Dylan was given the Nobel Prize in Literature. Is he a poet, or a songwriter? Can you be both? Does it matter?
Leonard Cohen was a poet, a songwriter, a performer and a novelist. At the time of his death,he was certainly best known for his music. Whether it was his “Hallelujah,” ”Suzanne” or “Bird on a Wire,” his songs really have attached themselves to people.
Like a bird on a wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried in my way to be free.
I discovered that he was an aspiring Zen monk, though he downplayed his own success on that path.
He was painfully shy and did not like being on stage. I read that he quit halfway through his first public performance, and that fear continued until the end. He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol unsuccessfully. Perhaps, Zen was an alternative.
Listening to a special edition of The New Yorker Radio podcast that is the last interview with him, they speak of him as “a poet in the vein of Allen Ginsberg or Frank O’Hara,” especially before he released his first album in 1967. In this last gentle interview with David Remnick from this past summer at his home in Los Angeles, Cohen said “I’m ready to die.”
It connected with me that Cohen said “I like to tie up the strings. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order is, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities and the benefits of it are incalculable.”
If you read some of Stranger Music, his selected poems and songs, I would be curious to know if you saw a real difference between the poems and the songs there.
I liked his earliest songs best. They are mostly sad, simple, acoustic songs. I confess that in college I listened to that first album as both a way to deal with depression and as a way to go deeper into depression. Like drinking booze, it didn’t help with depression and, in some way that I still don’t understand, I sometimes wanted to go deeper. Maybe as an English major who wanted to be a writer, I saw depression, booze and drugs as some kind of Romantic, artistic path. It was part of the biographies of many of my favorite writers and artists. In Cohen’s words, “You want to go darker.”
Listening to that podcast, I’m still not sure that Cohen would tell me that attitude was right or wrong.
His words about setting your house in order and being ready to die make me think that in his case he did pass away. Perhaps that is the correct usage of that phrase. When someone dies a violent death, no one says that she “passed away.” I suppose that some people are “deceased,” “expired,” “have departed this life,” or just plain dead. I hope that you and I have the chance to put our house in order before we pass away.
One of the “haiku” from his old poetry collection The Spice-Box of Earth is:
and a deeper silence
when the crickets
Leonard Cohen has passed away.
Stock-still I stand,
And him I see
I don’t think most people would associate this short, light poem with the novelist Herman Melville, its author. I like Melville’s writing. A lot of people don’t. Generally, he is not an easy read. He gets praise for Moby Dick, but even that novel was a commercial failure in his time.
He had some early success with his tales of sailing and exotic natives on distant islands. But every succeeding book seemed to sell less and finally with the publication of the satiric Pierre in 1852, it must have seemed like the end for him. The fame would come after his death.
He never stopped writing. He still got published – a Revolutionary War novel, Israel Potter, a few years later and stories in magazines. Some of those late stories are still read today (“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” “The Encantadas,” and “Benito Cereno.” These and three other stories were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. sales were poor.
He had been friends with fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne when moved his family to Arrowhead, a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1850. My reading of that relationship is that Melville considered Hawthorne a close friend, but Hawthorne didn’t see it as being very close. He dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne. They met up again in 1857 when he was in England.
Melville made a tour of the Near East. He had The Confidence-Man, a novel I like, published in 1857, and that was the last prose work he published during his lifetime.
He moved to New York. He took a regular job as a Customs Inspector. He wrote poetry. A few books of it were published. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War was about the morality of war, particularly the Civil War, and his trip to the Holy Land inspired the poems in Clarel. The latter was a metaphysical epic. I find most of the poetry impenetrable and not enjoyable – and I am not the average reader because I actually read books of poetry.
“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme,” Melville, Moby-Dick
When Herman Melville died, on September 28th, 1891, he was working on that small chipmunk poem above. He had spent the last 25 years being a private citizen. And he wrote poems. But he was a commercial failure as a poet.
As he got older, he went from mighty themes and grand language to simplicity.
Through an orchard I follow
Two children in glee.
From an apple-tree’s hollow
They startle the bee.
Melville was 72 and pretty much anonymous when he died in Manhattan. But I would like to believe that in his simple poems in the last years, he found some peace. No need to publish. No big themes.
Six days a week, he walked west across lower Manhattan to his job along the Hudson River (then known as the North River) to earn a fixed salary of four dollars a day. He walked home in the evening, and after dinner, wrote poems.
Soft as the morning
When South winds blow,
Sweet as peach-orchards
When blossoms are seen,
Pure as a fresco
Of roses and snow,
Or an opal serene.
On a chilly, rainy, autumn day like today in 2001, I tried walking Melville’s New York City. I was going through a pretty bad depression. Unfortunately, in that state of mind, people often drag themselves deeper. I don’t know why I thought that walking by the bay at the Battery I might commune with the spirits of Melville or Walt Whitman and that would somehow make things better.
I stopped at Trinity Church in the neighborhood of Bartleby’s Wall Street. It was empty and cold.
I walked past 97 Nassau Street where Melville had frequented Gowan’s Antiquarian Bookstore. It is supposed that he “probably exchanged pleasantries with Edgar Allan Poe, whom he had met through their mutual editor. On one visit, Melville bought an edition of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy which, he discovered at a later time, had once belonged to his father’s library.”
Melancholy – that feeling of pensive sadness, with no obvious cause. Melville knew it too. He may have written through it sometimes.
Ah, Love, when life closes,
Dying the death of the just,
May we vie with Hearth-Roses,
Smelling sweet in our dust.
When he died, there were several dozen unpublished poems on his desk. They are about roses and irises, bluebirds and chipmunks, the Berkshires and dreams.They have been published as Weeds and Wildings, with a Rose or Two.
I suspect critics would not think much of these last poems. I suspect that Melville didn’t care.
If non-science people have heard of one modern theory of physics, it is likely to be that of relativity. In 1905, Albert Einstein determined that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers, and that the speed of light in a vacuum was independent of the motion of all observers. This was the theory of special relativity. Einstein then spent ten years trying to include acceleration in the theory and published his theory of general relativity in 1915. In it, he determined that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity.
One hundred years later, Sarah Howe wrote a sonnet titled “Relativity” for a commission by Britain’s National Poetry Day. It was to be a poem on light. She wrote, paradoxically, about its absence. The poem is about black holes and is dedicated to Stephen Hawking. It begins:
When we wake up brushed by panic in the dark
our pupils grope for the shape of things we know.
That is the light we know in our world of gravity. She is also writing about light at the level of quantum physics where photons behave like particles and also as waves in a mysterious duality. Howe has said of the poem that she was also thinking about how scientist Galileo and poet Milton in their blindness “came to rely on other sorts of eyes.”
Last November was the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein unveiling the key equations of general relativity, which he did in four lectures at the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and by the end of the month, he had arrived at the ten equations that physicists still use today.
One of his theories was of “spacetime.” Einstein’s theory viewed space and time not as two separate elements, but interwoven. A change in one produces an effect on the other. (His former professor, Hermann Minkowski actually came up with the space-time continuum but Einstein elaborated on it.
One of the parts of this that you may have heard of is that as the rate of speed goes up, the rate of time must go down and vice versa. For an object moving slowly through space, time is passing quickly and for an object moving at a very high rate of speed, time actually slows down. It is not something that we can observe firsthand, and since we don’t get to travel at anything close to the speed of light, we don’t “go back in time.”
But the theory has been tested many times in experiments sending the most accurate atomic clocks for orbits in rockets, and when they return to Earth the clocks on the rockets are just slightly behind their earthly counterparts.
He also theorized that light curves because gravity pulls at the fabric of spacetime. Einstein thought that curve should be visible during an eclipse, and in 1919, photographs of a solar eclipse proved that the deflection of the sunlight matched Einstein’s prediction.
Isaac Newton had said that gravity was a universal force always pulling on one body on another. We learned that in school and plenty of people know only that about gravity. Einstein argued that there was no “force” of gravity at all.
His concept of space and time is often compared to a stretched fabric or trampoline that can warp and bend because of the presence of massive objects, like our sun. Objects like Earth or us on it move as straight as they can, flowing through curved space-time.
If you are curious about how politics also shaped Einstein’s theory of general relativity, check out this article from nytimes.com
Synchronicity – that concept that was first explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung – visited me recently. I keep a small notebook of ideas for poems. Some entries are just titles. Last week, I was paging through them and came across “The Museum of Broken Relationships” which I scribbled on a page back in 2014. Good title, I thought.
I went to my online collection of ronka poems that I keep adding to, and wrote a poem to that title:
The suggested donation to enter is expensive.
Each of us has our own gallery.
Mine is dark. Poorly lit. That’s intentional.
Letters, drawings, paintings, postcards, photographs – many poems.
It’s okay to touch. No one cares.
I always add an image to the poems and did a search on that title and was surprised to find that such a museum opened this month in Los Angeles.
Carl Jung defined synchronicity as the idea that holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related. I’m not sure of the meaning here, but it does seem meaningful. Like interpreting a dream, I started considering possibilities. I was recently sifting through a box of old letter and emails I had saved. Some could be considered “love letters.” As someone married for three decades, I wondered to myself the wisdom or lack thereof in keeping these combustible pieces of paper.
Maybe I can donate them.
The actual Museum of Broken Relationships grew from a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their remaining ruins.
It started in Croatia in 2006 with an artist ex-couple and became a permanent museum in Zagreb in 2010. This new Los Angeles location opened this month.
You can donate an exhibit along with a title, the duration/dates of the relationship, city/country of origin and an accompanying story. Your personal information remains with the staff, so your exhibit is anonymous. (they do need your full name and a signature to show that you give consent to unlimited display and potential reproduction and publication of your donation on all museum material.)
Our collection has no restrictions. It might be a single object – a letter, a photograph – or several items, or a video or audio. I’ve got a mix tape somewhere that chronicles one relationship’s end with songs and narration. It might be therapeutic to write the stories of failed relationships.
Chances are the museum will accept your donation as part of their, but whether it ends up in an exhibit, traveling displays, catalogues or other museum publications is not guaranteed.
We all have small museums, virtual and actual, of broken relationships. Sometimes we hang on to the exhibits even though seeing them is unpleasant. Reminders are important. Lessons learned. Roads taken.
Don’t want to donate to the actual museum? Consider leaving an exhibit as a comment here. Tell us the object(s) and give us the story.