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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 but swooning sensuous beauty of Bernini's Papal Rome; 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 he 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 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 any one of us 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." Ernest Becker
Our time on this planet, more or less, is a disaster for everyone – a “sweating within the nightmare of creation.” And how shall we then live and give meaning to this orchestrated chaos? By “fashioning something.” And what sort of fashioning artist shall we become? A gifted few might honor the "life force" by producing beautiful “objects”; all, however, are called upon to create the ultimate masterpiece – “ourselves,” our true selves.
Personal choices, decision by decision, sculpt and mold the inner person. Shall we allow fear, guilt, and servility to lead us? – or will we finally perceive that “still small voice” within, ever beckoning us to sacred maturity, rightful destiny, and heroic altruism?
The great souls of history teach us that, even in times of extremity and privation, when all is lost except tomorrow, a human being retains one inalienable freedom: the ability to choose one’s attitude toward suffering, life, and the future. 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."
But if we lament that our gift today 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. 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 inculcated illusions of limitation 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."
Its dramatic unfolding, we must note, will not occur in this world but awaits the next. What matters now is to be in the existential flow, the positive expectation of measureless evolvement and a casting aside of fear-based cultish constraint.
This mystical realization of all that we are, all that we might become, the unfathomable treasure-trove of inherent ability, will occupy our studied focus and our happiness -- the joy of simply being alive -- for a very long time to come.
There’s much to unpack, to manifest. God needed to invent eternity for sufficient time to mine, to bring to the surface of reality, the hidden riches of the sacred inner person. Would that we all might become the prairie.
swan rising in dazzling sunlight:
becoming a better person
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 stage of a single pixel of light
“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 1977, this spacecraft may yet become the last vestige of physical evidence that Earthlings ever existed.
|"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, how much I lost in losing you, only God knows
the Flower of Life pendant
Heloise’s love-letter to the indecisive Peter: “You know, beloved … how much I have 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, to Hell itself. 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 him, held him tightly in my arms, and would not let him go
"I will rise now in the night and seek The One whom my soul loves. I sought him, but I 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, 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, that love is real, and still lives; moreover, though it delay for a “thousand summers,” to trust that the true love 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 -- 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 to consecrate oneself, for heaven-arranged relationship, for eternal holy romance, the ardent and deepest nexus of mind touching mind: as the poet has it, “the great relief of having you to talk to”; but more, the utterly great relief of escaping the prison of one's aloneness;
to stand unguardedly in the open sunny air without repressing one's spirit, the true nakedness; to make oneself vulnerable, daring to reveal, risking one's dignity, speaking right out loud, admitting to one's hidden wishes, the unanswered prayers; but now, after so long a time, as returning from the dead, dreams transform, soul pledges manifest, one's unpublished confidences 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, “not for a reason”; to offer love and be loved, without fear of loss or threat of rejection; to luxuriate in the safety of mutual exclusivity, a secret garden 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 this 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"; 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 that most rare commodity of the soul – “something never seen before” -- exulting joy and extreme delight, the "utter familiarity," the "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 mystery of Divinity's secret mind, finds focalization, centers upon, one particular girl; to realize, with unbroken wonderment, that, "existential meaning" has a face, mesmerizingly beautiful; she reveals, as no other spiritual teacher, the hidden visage of God;
yes, reality itself now becomes transformed, flows with undercurrent of undefined celebration, an ethereal happiness "just because"; everything seems to glisten in her presence, stardust fills the air when she's near, and the radiant smile of the goddess sets the heavens ablaze;
ancient prophesies served as herald of this marvel: for, with the advent of true love, all things become new and sanctified, the future is vivified and blessed, the past is healed and given meaning, and the eternal present moment issues as habitation of 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.”
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, 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, we must offer some deference, I think, to Elizabeth, the great artist and sage, the great wordsmith and evangelist of life and love. Her fervent assertion, "while the heart beats, which beats for you," strikes at the depths of our humanity, "what we stay alive for."