Full Moon

there is a 
moon sole 
in the blue 
night 

             amorous of waters 
tremulous, 
blinded with silence the 
undulous heaven yearns where 

in tense starlessness 
anoint with ardor 
the yellow lover 

stands in the dumb dark 
svelte 
and 
urgent 

           (again 
love i slowly 
gather 
of thy languorous mouth the 

thrilling 
flower)

— e. e. cummings

 

Limitation

The poet who commits to fourteen lines
Finds focus and a certain inspiration,
While words that don’t conduce his destination
Can have no place in sonnet’s strict confines.

A marriage, or a pledge made to a child
Can focus life, as poems focus art
A parent pares all that cannot be part
Of life that son and daughter have beguiled

He feels he’s both the finder and the found;
His yoke is tight, but surely it is his.
He bucks and starts, acknowledging what is
His lot and manifest, to which he’s bound.

The sum of his creation stands or falls
On what transpires within these prison walls.

— JJM = #60 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

Iching60

Sometimes

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions
that have no right
to go away.

~ David Whyte ~

The Wellfleet Whale

It was the tag-end of summer.
From the harbor’s mouth
you coasted into sight,
flashing news of your advent,
the crescent of your dorsal fin
clipping the diamond surface.
We cheered at the sign of your greatness
when the black barrel of your head
erupted, ramming the water,
and you flowered for us
in the jet of your spouting.

All afternoon you swam
tirelessly round the bay,
with such an easy motion,
the slightes downbeat of your tail,
an almost imperceptible undulation of your flippers,
you seemed like something poured,
not driven; you seemed to marry grace with power.
And when you bounded into air,
slapping your flukes,
we thrilled to look upon
pure energy incarnate
as nobility of form.
You seemed to ask of us
not sympathy, or love,
or understanding, but awe and wonder.

That night we watched you
swimming in the moon.
Your back was molten silver.
We guessed your silent passage
by the phosphorescence in your wake
At dawn we found you straned on the rocks.

There came a boy and a man
and yet other men running, and two
schoolgirls in yellow halters
and a housewife bedecked
with curlers, and whole families in beach
buggies with assorted yelping dogs.
The tide was almost out.
We could walk around you,
as you heaved deeper into the shoal,
crushed by your own weight,
collapsing into yourself,
your flippers and your flukes
quivering, your blowhole
spasmodically bubbling, roaring.
In the pit of your gaping mouth
you bared your fringework of baleen,
a thicket of horned bristles.
When the Curator of Mammals
arrived from Boston
to take samples of your blood
you were already oozing from below.
Somebody had carved his initials
in your flank. Hunters of souvenirs
had peeled off strips of your skin,
a membrane thin as paper.
You were blistered and cracked by the sun.
The gulls had been pecking at you.
The sound you made was a hoarse and fitful bleating.
What drew us, like a magnet, to your dying?
You made a bond between us,
the keepers of the nightfall watch,
who gathered in a ring around you,
boozing in the bonfire light.
Toward dawn we shared with you
your hour of desolation,
the huge lingering passion
of your unearthly outcry,
as you swung your blind head toward us and laboriously opened
a bloodshot, glistening eye,
in whch we swam with terror and recognition.


Master of the whale-roads,
let the white wings of the gulls
spread out their cover.
You have become like us,
disgraced and mortal.

Stanley Kunitz, born this day in 1905

 

Last missive from JSB

There’s a legend that tells of Bach on his deathbed, dying from a failed operation that was supposed to restore his sight. He dictates note by note to his son-in-law, “Vor deinem Thron tret ich hiermit”, “Today, I approach thy throne”.

One of Bach’s signature compositional forms is the chorale. He composed 350 chorales, each 4 or 6 lines harmonized in 4 parts. They are interspersed in his oratorios and cantatas as stand-alone prayers or as morality texts that condense the message of his story.

His last work is not a chorale, but a take-off on a chorale, called a chorale prelude. He takes the four lines of the chorale, and constructs a miniature contrapuntal piece on each of them separately.

Listen here to my own piano performance of Bach’s last work.

Johann Sebastian Bach died on this day in the year 1750. His style of composition is so intricate that musicians ever since have stood in awe and wonder, where could it have come from. The mathematical constraints on fugal composition are so severe, that only a few others have produced occasional works in this form. For Bach, fugues seem to flow through him, and they are not only mathematically perfect but emotionally satisfying with a huge variety of messages and moods.

For your average musical genius to compose a piece like Vor Deinem Thron would require many hours and days of poring over the score, rearranging notes and voices to make it work out right. It came through Bach as a completed whole that appeared in his head, in sharp enough focus that he could dictate the score, note by note.

Here is a vocal arrangement of the same music:

Thinking with the Heart

We think the world would be saved if only we could generate larger quantities of goodwill and tolerance. That’s false. What will save the world is not goodwill and tolerance but clear thinking. Of what use is it to be tolerant of others if you are convinced that you are right and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong? That isn’t tolerance but condescension. That leads not to union of hearts but to division, because you are one up and the others one down. A position that can only lead to a sense of superiority on your part and resentment on your neighbor’s, thereby breeding further intolerance.

True tolerance only arises from a keen awareness of the abysmal ignorance of everyone regarding deep truth. For truth is essentially mystery. The mind can sense but cannot grasp it, much less formulate it. Our beliefs can point to it but cannot put it into words. In spite of this, people talk glowingly about the value of dialogue which at worst is a camouflaged attempt to convince the other person of the rightness of your position and at best will prevent you from becoming a frog in the well who thinks that his well is the only world there is.

What happens when frogs from different wells assemble to dialogue about their convictions and experiences? Their horizons widen to include the existence of wells other than their own. But they still have no suspicion of the existence of the ocean of truth that cannot be confined within the walls of conceptual wells. And our poor frogs continue to be divided and to speak in terms of yours and mine, your experience, your convictions, your ideology and mine. The sharing of formulas does not enrich the sharers, for formulas like the walls of wells divide; only the unrestricted ocean unites. But to arrive at this ocean of truth that is unbounded by formulas, it is essential to have the gift of clear thinking. And clear thinking is the thinking we do with our hearts.

— Anthony de Mello, from The Way to Love

Plants are people, too

Stefano Mancuso studies what was once considered laughable – the intelligence and behaviour of plants. Mancuso’s lab started work in 2005. “We were interested in problems that were, until that moment, just related to animals, like intelligence and even behaviour,” he says. At the time, it was “almost forbidden” to talk about behaviour in plants. But “we study how plants are able to solve problems, how they memorise, how they communicate, how they have their social life and things like that”. One of the most controversial aspects of Mancuso’s work is the idea of plant consciousness. “Let’s use another term,” Mancuso suggests. “Consciousness is a little bit tricky. Let’s talk about awareness. Plants are perfectly aware of themselves.” A simple example is when one plant overshadows another – the shaded plant will grow faster to reach the light. But when you look into the crown of a tree, all the shoots are heavily shaded. They do not grow fast because they know that they are shaded by part of themselves. “So they have a perfect image of themselves and of the outside,” says Mancuso. Far from being silent and passive, plants are social and communicative, above ground and beneath, through their roots and fungal networks. They are adept at detecting subtle electromagnetic fields generated by other life forms. They use chemicals and scents to warn each other of danger. When corn is nibbled by caterpillars … the plant emits a chemical distress signal that lures parasitic wasps to exterminate the caterpillars.

— read more from The Guardian

Social Systems as Quantum Systems

Quantum mechanics is almost always described in terms of single particle states. An experiment measures something about one particle, and then the particle is known to be in the quantum state associated with that measurement.

It is allowed to measure something about an aggregate of many particles. In fact that is the rule, rather than the exception. When we hear about quantum physics, we seldom hear about many-particle states (there are exceptions, e.g., lasers). The reason is not that they are rare but that the equations are too complicated to solve, even for a few particles, let alone for the huge number of particles in a macroscopic object.

It has been a favorite idea of mine that life functions as a quantum system with an observer on the inside. My consciousness plays the role of the experimenter, constantly monitoring the state of the system as a whole, thereby keeping it alive. “Alive” is a quantum state.

Alex Wendt is a step ahead of me. He says that not just single brains but whole social systems can be in a quantum state.