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come, and take choice of all my library, and so beguile thy sorrow
A library of wisdom is more precious than all wealth, and all desirable things cannot be compared to it. Plato
Of all human pursuits wisdom is the more perfect, the more sublime, the more useful, the more agreeable. Thomas Aquinas
All that we have read and learned, all that has occupied and interested us in the thoughts and deeds of men... constitutes a spiritual society of which we can never be deprived, for it rests in the heart and soul of the man who has acquired it. Philip Hamilton
If minds are truly alive they will seek out [a wisdom-library, for such is] the human race recounting its memorable experiences, confronting its problems, searching for solutions, drawing the blueprints of its futures. Harry Overstreet
the only jewel to carry beyond the grave
The only true equalisers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth which will not decay is knowledge; the only jewel which you can carry beyond the grave is wisdom. J.A. Langford
These are the reasons for which a man can be confident about the fate of his soul, as long as in life he has devoted himself to the pleasures of acquiring knowledge with self-control, goodness, courage, liberality, and truth. Socrates’ last words in Phaedo
Come, and take choice of all my library, and so beguile thy sorrow. Shakespeare
|“The only real revolution is the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character; the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints." Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History
|"Give me thine hand. I believe, someone has said, in the beloved community and in the spirit which makes it beloved and in the communion of all who, in will and deed, are its members. I see no such ideal community as yet, but my rule in life is this: Act so as to hasten its coming. Give me thine hand.” John Wesley
"well, ain't dat sweet, kinda gets ya right here"
"I've become the prairie"
(October 8, 2008) British historian Kenneth Clark's Civilisation - a survey of history by reviewing its art - thinks out loud about the effect on the human spirit of imperialistic architecture; of colossal palaces and gilt-edged villas; of the oppressive, swooningly sensuous, even weaponized, beauty of Bernini's Papal Rome, "calculated to overwhelm and intimidate"; of the emotional appeal of baroque ultra-grand staircases and rococo receiving rooms; of the visual exuberance of French and English nobles' ostentatious estates.
And the historian concludes that this "sense of grandeur is no doubt a human instinct, but, carried too far, it becomes inhuman. I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room."
There are no enormous rooms where I am right now; here, on this bereft dirt-byway, which, since ancient times, connected Grandpa's farm to Uncle Joe's. I have traveled to some of the "grandeur" spoken of by Clark, and now, well removed from that dehumanizing excess, my spirit lifts as I understand perfectly the venerable historian's doubts regarding a single worthwhile thought ever having been conceived in a monstrous room.
Some might contend that this forlorn North Dakota cow-path, adorned in muted earth-tones preceding winter, bisects the middle of nowhere; actually, it's downtown on a Saturday night, the main drag of the universe, where Clark said it's all happening... a place of exhilarating personal freedom and solitude... where the mind, in communion with the prairie, unhampered by the madding clatter of an ephemeral world, far from its meretricious and vulgar petition, can experience an intoxicating sense of privacy and aloneness, good company with one's own person.
This, and places like it, I shall often visit for the next million years and beyond. However, there is something missing here for me... Simkan, my noble Arabian-Palomino... two horses, really; and mainly, a friend to share all this.
(October 31, 2016) Victory "over human limitation is not something that can be programmed by science … It comes from the vital energies of masses of men sweating within the nightmare of creation … The most that anyone can do is to fashion something - an object or ourselves - and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the Life Force." Dr. Ernest Becker
Our time on this planet, more or less, is a disaster for everyone; as Dr. Becker has it, a “sweating within the nightmare of creation.” Sooner or later, everyone sleeps alone, everyone loses someone, everyone walks the solitary path.
|“A hand for each hand was the plan for the world, why don’t my fingers reach? Millions of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach? Where is the voice to answer mine back? Where are two shoes that click to my clack? I’m all alone in the world!”
And how shall we then live and give meaning to this pandemic bereftness? By “fashioning something,” he says. And what sort of fashioning artist shall we become? A gifted few might honor the "Life Force" by producing a beautiful “object”; all, however, are called upon to create the ultimate masterpiece – “ourselves,” our true selves.
We pause to marvel that we, “ourselves,” the sacred self as “offering,” might be cast “into the confusion.” But, in a cynical and inhospitable world where truth, like Hypatia, has fallen in the streets, brutalized and violated by the mob, we might wonder, what is the value of one good example against a rising tide of fear, craving, and illusion?
The great souls of history teach us that, even in times of extremity and privation, when all seems lost but a doubtful tomorrow, a human being retains one inalienable freedom, a claim to veritable godhood: the ability to choose, in the midst of crisis and chaos, one’s attitude toward suffering - "the last freedom," as Dr. Frankl called it. Fortitude as this invites a hidden and unexpected benefit. Suffering endured with equanimous and undespairing mind summons to itself an endowment of what will yet become an astonishing heightened capacity to experience joy, wonder and bliss.
In the meantime, people react differently to injustice: some become saints while others become swine. It’s part of the self-fashioning process, artistry of the highest sort; as, by design or default, we all "drop an offering into the confusion," the endless nightmare of this mortal existence.
But if we lament that our present "offering" issues as base rather than precious metal, not to worry, we always get another alchemical chance to turn lead into gold, to refashion ourselves as fully human; indeed, (as I was once encouraged) as many chances as we need to get it right.
apotheosis: an inexhaustible capacity; no discernible limit to human potential; expansive horizon, as far as the eye can see, and beyond
In a letter to a friend, I contended that “I’ve become the prairie.” It wasn’t always so. I exaggerate but little to say that it took me virtually all of my life to grow up. In my youth, a time of shocking unawareness, I conceded deference to those who -- like the Wizard, merchandizing his people, fulminating behind a curtain with smoke-and-mirrors -- postured authority over my life but, in fact, had absolutely none.
When eyes finally opened, however, I left behind the inculcated illusions of limitation offered by Dear Leaders and, in spirit and heart, became the prairie. Its magical panorama of endless horizon -- unbounded, untrammeled, unfettered -- symbolizes, for me, a sacred autonomy, an invitation to full humanity, an infinite human capacity -- vast, wide open, without discernible limit -- the wondrous destiny of every creature "made in the image."
The dramatic unfolding of the "inner riches," we must note, will not occur in this world but awaits the next. What matters now, as we learn from Van Gogh, is the childlike wonderment, a quiet perception of the beauty and sublimity of one’s own soul; what matters now is to be in the existential flow, an “open channel” to higher creativity’s measureless evolvement to come; what matters now is the state of consciousness we bring to whatever we do. In all this, as we quiet the chattering egoic mind and free ourselves from daily fear and guilt, as we become "present" to our true selves, we enter a readiness to engage the tremendous opportunities about to engulf us, just one missed heartbeat away.
For the little boy sorrowing in the corner, this view is sometimes too high to reach. He represents EveryPerson - you and me - a beleaguered pilgrim, "all alone in the world," making his way through a foreign land. He has lost someone, that one voice, he says, meant to “answer mine back,” that hand, perfectly designed to complete his own. Right now, he’s somewhat inconsolable having lost his reason to “stay alive for”; and, without this “secret fire,” he’s not so interested in developing himself. Why would he want to? his grieving mind asks.
It will not always be so. The good news is that our time in this world, this “sweating within the nightmare of creation,” comes with an expiration date. In one missed heartbeat, all of the current scenery and stage-props, along with unsavory thespian characters, will be gone, forever. We will enter a new phase of our eternal lives, with closest friends and dearest ones, those lost on our pilgrimage, returned to rightful owners. This, indeed, "was the plan for the world” – a sentiment alluded to by Jesus' phrase “from the beginning”; that is, the original, ultimate plan of God, as opposed to a current, provisional plan, meant to address temporary exigencies related to our present lack of maturity.
In that coming day of “knowing as we are known,” eyes will finally open, and we will enter a mystical realization of all that we are, all that we were meant to be, the unfathomable treasure-trove of inherent ability. This shattering discovery will occupy our studied focus and happiness -- the joy of simply being alive -- for a very long time to come; with a "secret fire" providing motivation to thus engage.
There’s much inherent ability to unpack, to manifest, in this blossoming of personhood. God needed to invent eternity for sufficient time to mine, to bring to the surface of reality, the latent treasures of the sacred inner self. Would that we all might become the unbounded prairie.
Also worth mentioning - walking the magical prairie is a very good place to reclaim that "hand for each hand," that "voice" meant to "answer mine back."
facing a flat landscape, overwhelmed by eternity, wishing "so much that others could see what I see"
“When facing a flat landscape, I see nothing but eternity. Am I the only one to see it? I want so much to share what I see.” Vincent Van Gogh
charting the unknown possibilities of existence
swan rising in dazzling sunlight:
becoming who you were meant to be
the pale blue dot
"The Pale Blue Dot"
a photo of Earth, February 14, 1990,
by Voyager I, 4 billion miles from home
history's sordid drama played out on a single pixel of light, a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam
“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
rivers of blood, momentary masters of a dot-fraction
“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light."
Dr. Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future
Editor’s note: In 2019, travelling at 38,000 mph, Voyager I finds itself nearly 14 billion miles from Earth. Now sailing outside our Sun's neighborhood, it's enroute to another star-system; eta, 40,000 years. Launched in 1977, this spacecraft may yet become the last vestige of physical evidence that Earthlings ever existed. The “aliens” out there don’t seem too eager to make contact with us. As one Summerland dweller wryly commented via Leslie Flint, “They probably don’t want to contaminate themselves.”
I always held you longer...
|"We trespassed, field to field; you, glad of my arms each time a fence challenged us; I, always held you longer than it took to help you over." Walter Benton, This Is My Beloved
oh, beloved, how much I lost in losing you, only God knows; I just wanted you, and nothing from you
the Flower of Life pendant
Heloise’s love-letter to the religiously-fearful Peter: “You know, beloved … how much I lost in [losing] you… Never, God knows, did I seek anything in you, except yourself; I wanted only you, nothing of yours... I would have had no hesitation, God knows, in following you, or going ahead, at your bidding, into Hell itself."
my heart, without you, I learned too late, is nowhere, and now, without you, cannot exist
"My heart was not in me but with you, and now, even more, if it is not with you, it is nowhere; truly, without you, it cannot exist… farewell, my Only Love.”
I ran to the one whom my soul loves, held him tightly in my arms, and would not let him go
oh, the joy
"I will rise now in the night and seek the one whom my soul loves. I sought him but found him not. Breathlessly, I implored the watchman of the street, 'Oh, have you seen him, have you seen the one whom my soul loves?' But I found him not. I continued searching, desperately searching, in the night; then, finally - oh, the joy! - my eyes met the one whom my soul loves. I ran to him, held him tightly in my arms, and would not let him go." Song Of Solomon
what we stay alive for
to remain steadfast in belief, despite the sorrows of this world - the missteps of youth, the squandered opportunity, the unprepared heart, the puerile torpor of mind - that love endures, and still lives, beneath the rubble of the lost years; moreover, to trust, though it delay for a “thousand summers,” that Heaven's gift will finally arrive;
to surrender to Rilke’s dictum, that, no matter how much one has lost in life -- the disastrous illusions, the mistaken identities, the false starts, the unrecognized savior, the unanswered invitation -- no matter how unlikely it might seem, a genuine love “is being stored up for us like an inheritance”; that, it is our destiny to find love, that God created us to live in soul-completing union with a sacred beloved; and, therefore, we must live life accordingly, mindful of the blessing to come;
to wait, to save and consecrate oneself, for heaven-arranged relationship, for eternal holy romance, the ardent and deepest nexus of mind touching mind; to be known as one knows oneself; as the poet has it, “the great relief of having you to talk to”; but, even more, the utterly great relief of escaping the prison of one's numbing aloneness;
to stand unguardedly in the open sunny air without repressing one's spirit, the true nakedness; to make oneself vulnerable, daring to reveal and risking one's dignity, speaking right out loud, admitting to hidden wishes, the unanswered prayers; but now, after so long a time, long after reasonable expectation of favorable outcome, when only the foolish would dare to hope, as returning from the dead, dreams transform, soul pledges manifest, one's unpublished confidences vivify and embody, as the celestial beloved;
to be accepted and desired, for what one is, the true inner person, without make-up, mask, or role-playing; a whispered yearning to be cherished and treasured, and this, as per Elizabeth, “not for a reason”; to offer love and be loved, without fear of loss or threat of rejection; to luxuriate in the safety and heart-comfort of mutual exclusivity, a secret-garden delight of darling companionship;
to perceive, with certainty, that one has finally found the other half, that hoped-and-dreamed-for "better half," of one's being, the one to “go through time with,” to adventure, to enjoy and explore all that the universe has to offer; however, until then...
to refuse to become disillusioned with the never-ending nightmare, the interminable waiting; but, with fortitude, to honor the difficult lessons God requires of us; and yet, in so doing, in the midst of emotional chaos, to sense that “somewhere out there” is an "opposite-sameness" created as specific answer to private and unspoken longings, a living enfleshment of one's unique and precise definitions of elation and contentment; to enter clarity that "made in the image" means "custom-crafted"; that is, when she comes, she will be perfect - perfect for you.
to receive as tremendous gift from a destined dearest, not just ordinary creature-comfort and bio-thrill, but, as "The Wedding Song" has it, that most rare commodity of the soul – “something never seen before” -- exulting joy and extreme delight, the utter familiarity, the sense of coming home, the "soulmate, myself," the ecstasy of a certain individual rejoicing in and affirming one's very existence;
to discover, in perpetual astonishment, that the centuries-debated purpose of life, even, the chief constituent of Heavenly felicity, plus the essence of Divinity's secret mind, finds focalization, centers upon, one particular girl; to realize, with unbroken wonderment, that "existential meaning" has a face, mesmerizing and captivating; she reveals, as no other spiritual pedagogue, the hidden countenance of God;
yes, the very nature of reality itself, the quantum underpinnings, becomes transformed; one's spirit is jettisoned into higher orbit and suffers evolvement, even against one's will; more, the once-bleak landscape of one's existence now shimmers with undercurrent of undefined celebration; everything seems to glisten in her presence, a hint of sparkle invades one's head, especially when she smiles - as the radiant visage of the goddess sets the heavens ablaze, upstaging a jealous Sun;
ancient prophesies served as herald of this marvel; for, with the advent of God's salvation of the heart, all things are reborn and sanctified; Love Personified now dwells among mortals; the beatific-vision prophecy is fulfilled with her "made in the image" glory; the abandoned future is redeemed and rescued, the sorrowful past is made whole and given meaning, and the eternal present moment issues as the ever-flowing artesian spring, the living waters, of refreshment and consummate joy...
... just to know her, simply to be with her, solely to share life with her... it's what we stay alive for
Tom Schulman: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
what is it to live but to feel the life in you, all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully
Elizabeth's love letter to Robert, March 20, 1845: “You seem to have drunken of the cup of life full, with the sun shining on it. I have lived only inwardly; or with sorrow, for a strong emotion. Before this seclusion of my illness, I was secluded still … I grew up in the country – had no social opportunities, had my heart in books and poetry…
my life, drooping toward the ground like an untrained honeysuckle
"My sympathies drooped toward the ground like an untrained honeysuckle… It was a lonely life... Books and dreams are what I lived in… And so time passes and passed – and afterwards, when my illness came, I seemed to stand at the edge of the world with all done … I turned to thinking with some bitterness that I had stood blind in the temple [of life] I was about to leave – that I had seen no Human nature, that my brothers and sisters of the earth were [mere] names to me, that I had beheld no great mountain or river, nothing in fact… I am, in a manner, as a blind poet… how willingly I would as a poet exchange some of this lumbering, ponderous, helpless knowledge of books, for some experience of life and man… What is to live? Not to eat and drink and breathe, -- but to feel the life in you, down all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully.”
I began to believe in us, our love, only when you said, from that first moment, that you cared for me 'not for a reason' - then I knew
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, November 15, 1845
"Shall I tell you… The first moments in which I seemed to admit to myself in a flash of lightning the possibility of your affection for me being more than dreamwork… the first moment was that when you intimated (as you have done since repeatedly) that you cared for me not for a reason, but because you cared for me.
not for a reason
"Now such a “parceque” [a “because”] which reasonable people would take to be irrational, was just the only one fitted to the uses of my understanding on the particular question we were upon… do you see? If a fact includes its own cause… why there it stands for ever – one of the “earth’s immortalities” – as long as it includes it. And when unreasonableness [a sardonic reference in that true love is not founded upon ostensible reason] stands for a reason, it is a promising state of things…"
wilderness without blossoming rose, lampless dungeon, despair's black gaping hole; but then, pinnacle of mountain, the silver flooding, of your coming
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, January 10, 1846: "It seems to me... that no man was to any woman what you are to me -- the fullness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy [that is, in contrast to her previous most lonely and empty life]… and only I know what was behind – the long wilderness without the blossoming rose… and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding… I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve – not you – but my own fate. Was ever anyone taken from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning around and the heart turning faint, as mine do?
how shall I ever prove what my heart is to you, how will you ever see it as I feel it
"And you love me more, you say! – Shall I thank you or God? Both – indeed – as there is no possible return from me [in terms of repayment] to either of you. I thank you as the unworthy may … and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you? how will you ever see it as I feel it? I ask myself in vain."
Editor’s note: We gasp in astonishment at the beauty of The Great Poetess’s testimony, a startling and vivid display of words-as-imagery pressed into Love's service.
before I knew you, what was I and where, what was the world to me and the meaning of life
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, February 24, 1846: “I am living for you now. And before I knew you, what was I and where? What was the world to me … and the meaning of life? … Then, when you came, you never went away…
frightened of your power over me
"Do you know that … I was frightened of you? … I felt as if you had a power over me and meant to use it, and that I could not breathe or speak very differently from what you chose to make me. As to my thoughts … you read them as you read the newspaper – examined them, and fastened them down, writhing under your long entomological pins [that is, like an insect pinned to a chart for study]. But the power was used upon me – and I saw … very early … that you had come here to love whomever you should find [no matter my faults or imperfections, as you loved these, too; you loved me "not for a reason"; further, my early attempts at self-effacement and deflecting your love] had just operated in making you more determined [to reach me]…
nothing has humbled me so much as your love, like God's own love, making the receivers of it kneelers
"But I may say before God and you, that of all the events of my life, inclusive of its afflictions, nothing has humbled me so much as your love [which] has been to me like God’s own love, [making] the receivers of it kneelers.”
how can it make me happy, such a thing as my life, it never made me happy, without you
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, May 20, 1846: "... while the heart beats, which beats for you… my life, it is yours, as this year has been yours. But how can it make me happy, such a thing as my life? There, I wonder still. It never made me happy, without you.”
Editor's note: During the last 20 years, the construction of Word Gems, I have reviewed the literary work of scores or hundreds of the great female thinkers of history. Among this pantheon, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Heloise of Argenteuil, and Abigail Adams I count as most wise and, indeed, most felicitously and passionately articulate.
But, within the realm of authentic romance, though we mourn with Heloise and her "how much I have lost, beloved, in losing you," we must offer some small measure of deference, I think, to Elizabeth, the great artist and sage, the great wordsmith and evangelist of life and love.
Her fervent assertions, an outpouring of innermost being, "while the heart beats, which beats for you" and "how can it make me happy, such a thing as my life, it never made me happy without you," strike at the depths of our humanity, "what we stay alive for"; or, as Elizabeth, the once "drooping untrained honeysuckle," announced to Robert, "I am living for you now."
Is there another reason?