Musings on the Self

XII
What am I, Life? A thing of watery salt
Held in cohesion by unresting cells
Which work they know not why, which never halt,
Myself unwitting where their master dwells.
I do not bid them, yet they toil, they spin;
A world which uses me as I use them,
Nor di I know which end or which begin,
Nor which to praise, which pamper, which condemn.
So, like a marvel in a mavel set,
I answer to the vast, as wave by wave
The sea of air goes over, dry or wet,
Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave,
Or the great sun comes north, this myriad I
Tingles, not knowing how, yet wondering why.

XIII
If i could get within this changing I,
This ever altering thing which yet persists,
Keeping the features it is reckoned by,
While each component atom breaks or twists;
If, wandering past strange groups of shifting forms,
Cells at their hidden marvels hard at work,
Pale from much toil, or red from sudden storms,
I might attain to where the Rulers lurk;
If, pressing past the guards in those grey gates,
The brain’s most folded, intertwisted shell,
I might attain to that which alters fates,
The King, the supreme self, the Master Cell;
Then, on Man’s earthly peak, I might behold
The unearthly self beyond unguessed, untold.

IV
What is this atom which contains the whole,
This miracle which needs adjuncts so strange,
This, which imagined God and is the soul,
The steady star persisting amid change?
What waste, the smallness of such power should need
Such clumsy tools so easy to destroy,
Such wasteful servants difficult to feed,
Such indirect dark avenues to joy.
Why, if its business is not mainly earth,
Should it demand such heavy chains to sense?
A heavenly thing demands a swifter birth,
A quicker hand to act intelligence;
An earthly thing were better like the rose,
At peace with clay from which its beauty grows.

John Masefield, born this day in 1878

Ape With Skull by Hugo Rheinhold

 

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Different, and luckier

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

— Walt Whitman, 199 years old today

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The Box

Once upon a time, in the land of Hush-A-Bye,
Around about the wondrous days of yore,
They came across a kind of box
Bound up with chains and locked with locks
And labeled “Kindly do not touch; it’s war.”
A decree was issued round about, and all with a flourish and a shout
And a gaily colored mascot tripping lightly on before.
Don’t fiddle with this deadly box, Or break the chains, or pick the locks.
And please don’t ever play about with war.

Addie Hirschten, Oil on Canvas, 2012

The children understood. Children happen to be good
And they were just as good around the time of yore.
They didn’t try to pick the locks Or break into that deadly box.
They never tried to play about with war.
Mommies didn’t either; sisters, aunts, grannies neither
’Cause they were quiet, and sweet, and pretty
In those wondrous days of yore.
Well, very much the same as now,
And not the ones to blame somehow
For opening up that deadly box of war.

But someone did. Someone battered in the lid
And spilled the insides out across the floor.
A kind of bouncy, bumpy ball made up of guns and flags
And all the tears, and horror, and death that comes with war.
It bounced right out and went bashing all about,
Bumping into everything in store.  And what was sad and most unfair
Was that it didn’t really seem to care
Much who it bumped, or why, or what, or for.
It bumped the children mainly. And I’ll tell you this quite plainly,
It bumps them every day and more, and more,
And leaves them dead, and burned, and dying
Thousands of them sick and crying.
’Cause when it bumps, it’s really very sore.

Now there’s a way to stop the ball. It isn’t difficult at all.
All it takes is wisdom, and I’m absolutely sure
That we can get it back into the box, And bind the chains, and lock the locks.
But no one seems to want to save the children anymore.
Well, that’s the way it all appears, ’cause it’s been bouncing round for years and years
In spite of all the wisdom wizzed since those wondrous days of yore
And the time they came across the box,
Bound up with chains and locked with locks,
And labeled “Kindly do not touch; it’s war.”

— Lascelles Abercrombie

Pledge of Allegience

I bow to the lark and its tiny lifted silhouette, fluttering before infinity.
I promise myself to the mountain and to the foundation from which my future comes.
I make my vow to the stream flowing beneath, and to the water, falling toward all thirst,
and I pledge myself to the sea to which it goes and to the mercy of my disappearance.

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And though I may be left alone or abandoned by the unyielding present or orphaned in some far unspoken place,
I will speak with a voice of loyalty and faith to the far shore where everything turns to arrival,
if only in the sound of falling waves,
and I will listen with sincere and attentive eyes and ears for a final invitation,
so that I can be that note half-heard in the flying lark song,
or that tint on a far mountain brushed with the subtle grey of dawn,
even a river gone by still looking as if it hasn’t,
or an ocean heard only as the sound of waves falling and falling,
and falling, my eyes closing with them into some undeserved nothing,
even as they give up their strength on the sand.

~ David Whyte  (Pilgrim)

Missive from the Other Side

Jane Kenyon, born this day in 1947, never made it to her 48th birthday.  Still, she writes to let us know what we can expect.

I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

Jane Kenyon

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Duality Paradox

All knowledge draws from two resources,
____science and the heart.
They both speak true, but quietly,
____to those who deep attend.
To weave two tales in one design,
____philosophy and art
Pursue the sacred mystery
____in quest that knows no end.

Never count on miracles,
____but know that they are real.
Pray for aid, but not confined
____to forms you understand.
Guard your mortal body well,
____but know that you can heal;
Work as though you had no help,
____and help you’ll find, unplanned.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Duality Paradox

Never count on miracles,
but know that they are real.
Pray for aid, but not confined
to forms we understand.
Guard your mortal body well,
but know that it can heal;
Work as though we had no help,
and help we’ll find, unplanned.

Logic with empirical
support is the foundation
«Le couer a ses raisons, qu la
raison ne connait point.»
Schemes of mice and men can ne’er
suffice for our salvation
Steer from danger, then let go:
«L’on crée ce que l’on craint.»

Of all our means to know what’s true,
dear science is the best–
Yet all the answers science yields
won’t fill a thimble’s hollow.
We’ll never know the limits of
our knowledge till we test
And question, question everything–
then follow, follow, follow…

— Josh Mitteldorf

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