Category Archives: Philosophy

The Time for Art Is Now

By Claire Messud

In these relentlessly dark and riven times, I find myself beset by a near ravenous hunger for beauty. My spirit lurches at a line of Shakespeare or Louise Glück—“All fear gives way: the light / Looks after you … ” My eyes linger on the photographs of Nadav Kander, the paintings of Marlene Dumas, the sculptures of Sarah Sze. I reassure myself of the possibility of serenity by recalling Willa Cather’s masterpiece, Death Comes for the Archbishop, or by listening to the extraordinary voice of Hannah Reid, the vocalist of London Grammar. I long for that expansion of my soul.
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We have so much to learn. The ideals that have shaped my entire life thus far have been called into question by the election of this so-called president. They are ideals worth fighting for: a faith, as Martin Luther King assured us, that the long arc of history bends toward justice; that societies have the desire and capacity for improvement; that reflection and communication will foster greater compassion; and a belief that one of the most powerful paths to progress is through art and literature. I have believed in the value of knowledge and of truth. And I have believed that the quality of a life is not measured by money, celebrity, or material goods but by richness of mind, generosity of spirit, and by meaningful human relationships.
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Read the complete essay
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Claire Messud is a recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Author of five previous works of fiction including her most recent novel, The Woman Upstairs, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family.
The Time for Art Is Now

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Pourvou Que Ca Dourve

Robinson Jeffers

Excerpted from In This Wild Water: The Suppressed Poems of Robinson Jeffers by James Shebl:
Pourvou Que Ca DoureStagering Back toward life-pic

Of the excised poems, “Pourvou Que Ca Doure” perhaps demonstrates a higher degree of poetic merit than most of the other poems. The poem brings together The Double Axe themes of civilization decaying and sick,” natural evolution, and a concern for man’s future. Translated from the French, “provided that it lasts,” the title refers to the last line of the poem, “if man’s back holds,” a line that comments of the burden of rampant corruption men have to bear if life is to continue. Jeffers directs us to “look all around” and see that life grows from death. Things are corrupted: science, art, and statecraft are “famous corpses” “stinking.” Yet everything comes from what precedes it, and the new forms evolve from the old – but only if man can live.

 

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By the North Sea

Algernon Charles Swinburne               By the North Sea1

A land that is lonelier than ruin

   A sea that is stranger than death

Far fields that a rose never blew in,

   Wan waste where the winds lack breath;

Waste endless and boundless and flowerless

   But of marsh-blossoms fruitless as free

Where earth lies exhausted, as powerless

           To strive with the sea.
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Far flickers the flight of the swallows,

   Far flutters the weft of the grass

Spun dense over desolate hollows

   More pale than the clouds as they pass

Thick woven as the weft of a witch is

   Round the heart of a thrall that hath sinned,

Whose youth and the wrecks of its riches

           Are waifs on the wind.

 3

The pastures are herdless and sheepless,

   No pasture or shelter for herds :

The wind is relentless and sleepless,

   And restless and songless the birds

Their cries from afar fall breathless,

   Their wings are as lightnings that flee;

For the land has two lords that are deathless:

           Death’s self, and the sea.
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[“By the North Sea”] is an elaborate metaphor for the act of Apollonian creation and the dominance of art over all transiency. (Robert Peters from The Victorian Experience: The Poets).
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Read the complete poem

 

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A SONG OF THE ROSY-CROSS

by W. B. Yeats

A SONG OF THE ROSY-CROSSHe who measures gain and loss,

When he gave to thee the Rose,

Gave to me alone the Cross

Where the blood-red blossom blows

In a wood of dew and moss,

There thy wandering pathway goes,

Mine where waters brood and toss;

Yet one joy have I hid close,

He who measures gain and loss,

When he gave to thee the Rose,

Gave to me alone the Cross.
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N.B.
The spiritual symbol of the Rose in mysticism represents consciousness as matter. Consciousness is symbolized as a flowering process and an unfolding manifestation. The flowering of its petals represents man’s divine inner consciousness being revealed as layers of his being open up to reveal the Divine Inner Self.
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The Rose crucified on the cross is the symbol of the true divinity of humanity. The cross represents the four cardinal points of being in a balanced state. The crossing of the vertical and the horizontal lines represent the conjunction of time and eternity and other opposites. The vertical, being the Spiritual, creative, positive and active aspects of being, and the horizontal, the negative, material and passive aspects. It is at this conjunction point, representing balance and harmony, that the rose flowers and unfolds itself.
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A reminder that we will celebrate the use of the rose as a poetic symbol or metaphor on January 25, 2018. Please bring your own illustration of this for reading and discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.
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Listen to Sharon Shannon & Mike Scott sing and play “A Song Of The Rosy Cross.”

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The More Loving One

By W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
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How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
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Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
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Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
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Auden-3Alexander McCall Smith in his immensely readable book, What W. H. Auden Can Do For You, writes the following about this poem:

“The More Loving One,” written in 1957, can be read at one level as a poignant, but not particularly complicated, reflection on unrequited love. It is considerably more than that, though: it is an acceptance that in the face of meaninglessness or indifference it is still possible to love.

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Choruses from “The Rock”

by T. S. Eliot                  choruses-from-the-rockI

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,

The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.

О perpetual revolution of configured stars,

О perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,

О world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!

The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,

But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

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            I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,

Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.

There I was told: we have too many churches,

And too few chop-houses. There I was told:

Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church

In the place where they work, but where they spend their

           Sundays.
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An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions.

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From “Man and the Echo”

by William Butler Yeats

All that I have said and done,

Now that I am old and ill,

Turns into a question till

I lie awake night after night

And never get the answers right.

Read the complete poem

man-and-the-echoNotes on the mythology behind “Man and the Echo.”

Echo was a nymph who fell in love with Narcissus when she sees him for the first time. Echo reveals herself to Narcissus and he rejects her. Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in a stream, won’t move from his reflection and dies. After his body has wasted away all that is left is a Narcissus flower; a pale flower near the stream.

Echo and Narcissus in the poem could refer to Yeats (Echo) and Maude Gonne (Narcissus) or Yeats (Echo) and Ireland (Narcissus) or Yeats (Echo) and Marguerite (Margot) Ruddock (1907–1951), who used the stage name Margot Collis, an Irish actress, poet and singer. She had a relationship with W. B. Yeats starting in 1934.

“In a cleft that’s christened Alt” is a reference to a hill in Ireland that is supposed to be a Celtic burial ground.

“Echo. Lay down and die,” between stanzas reveals Yeats in conflict with his thoughts.

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Summer Evening: City Centre

By Thomas Kinsella

summer_eveningIn the last light at the end of the Lane

a faint golden haze shimmered.

A cloud of midges, teeming, minute.

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Furious in their generation,

they dance among each other

to keep their place toward night and nothing.

A system of selves consuming itself,

worrying at its own energies;

the outer boundary self-established;

without a centre.

                                            *

There are certain mind-specks active among us,

upsetting their near neighbours,

who seem called upon

to take account of the given conditions

And of their own particular burden.

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Inspected closely,

would these have anything beyond themselves

to occupy them in their confusion?

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She continued:

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‘There is an inadequacy and an imbalance

In the source material.

This is the basis of energy.

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And there is a dysrhythmia in some among you

– the watchful and the partly fulfilled.

A worrying for evidence of purpose.

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This gives no pleasure.

But welcome it if it is offered. Use it

to the full. Trusting there will be

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an easing of the disorder at a time to come.

But content…’

She turned away, her voice tired.

                             ‘…if there is not.’

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from “In Time of War”

by W.H. Auden
in-time-of-war I

     So from the years the gifts were showered; each

     Ran off with his at once into his life:

     Bee took the politics that make a hive,

     Fish swam as fish, peach settled into peach.

 

     And were successful at the first endeavour;

     The hour of birth their only time at college,

     They were content with their precocious knowledge,

     And knew their station and were good for ever.

 

     Till finally there came a childish creature

     On whom the years could model any feature,

     And fake with ease a leopard or a dove;

 

     Who by the lightest wind was changed and shaken,

     And looked for truth and was continually mistaken,

     And envied his few friends and chose his love.
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The theme: Man is a creature who is forever becoming, hardly ever in a state of being. The animal and vegetable world simply is, without ego.

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Can Transcendence Be Taught?

By John Kaag and Clancy Martin

I HAVE, alas! Philosophy,

Medicine, Jurisprudence too,

And to my cost Theology,

With ardent labour, studied through.

And here I stand, with all my lore,

Poor fool, no wiser than before.

can-transcendence-be-taughtFor two professors, the opening words of Goethe’s Faust have always been slightly disturbing, but only recently, as we’ve grown older, have they come to haunt us.
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Faust sits in his dusty library, surrounded by tomes, and laments the utter inadequacy of human knowledge. He was no average scholar but a true savant — a master in the liberal arts of philosophy and theology and the practical arts of jurisprudence and medicine. In the medieval university, those subjects were the culminating moments of a lifetime of study in rhetoric, logic, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
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In other words, Faust knows everything worth knowing. And still, after all his careful bookwork, he arrives at the unsettling realization that none of it has really mattered. His scholarship has done pitifully little to unlock the mystery of human life.

Read the complete article

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