Monthly Archives: February 2013

The math of love

We are more alive in the invisible than the visible.
There, the pluses and minuses of our hopes give more and take less
than in the physical, where divisions alone strive to define us.
Between every two points, we covenant, there is yet another:
To bite ’em, so proceed ad infinitum, as Swift said.

So let us do just that, and bite ’em, the possibilities, I mean:
hearts can be broken with a smile, yes,
but in all our joys, all our futures are co-equal with the past.

So where does that put us? On some rising hope, I suppose,
back in the invisible from whence we started
perfectly, long, long ago. Remember?
You can never go anywhere you haven’t been before.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political essayist, poet and cleric. His most famous work is Gulliver’s Travels. The full text of the poem is from Poetry, a Rhapsody:

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.

Not only is the verse fun and wonderfully satirical, but it comes from a particular perspective, a time when the art of science was awakening and when wonderful things that we take for granted today were first being discovered. Also,  note the 400 year pronunciation shift: in Swift’s time the word “flea” would have been pronounced “flay” and would have rhymed with “prey.”

In mathematics, the concept of infinity occurs often, most notably in number theory. For example, mathematics holds that there is no smallest negative number and no largest positive number. Moreover, between any two numbers there is always another. This I compare to, and is paralleled with, the Knowledge of God: infinitely broad, yet infinitely deep.

This thought, in turn, got me to thinking of the concept of love, and, well, as you can see…so proceed ad infinitum.

Thank you for reading The math of love. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Atomicly

I thought You wanted the full flash
of the fission of my pride—
the alpha crush of will
and the gamma burst of greed,
those half lives of self-deception and conceit.
What You wanted was our fusion.

I didn’t mean it to be when I started it, but this poem ended up being an homage to a quotation from a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore, the brilliant and great Indian poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. It is from his book Fireflies, published in 1928:

While God waits for his temple to be built of love, men bring stones.

Lyn, my incredibly tasteful wife (in all things but john) bought me a small framed calligraphy collage of the quote and it hangs over my desk. It is a beautifully crafted piece, but does not, sadly enough, give any reference to its authorship—a tragedy really, as memory of such a writer should not slip from our conscience. (Thank heavens for the Internet.)

While my poem takes a more personal approach, my own assessment is that it is overlong, clumsy and a country bumpkin when compared to the pithy, terse and emotionally explosive Tagore poem. But on the other hand, there really is no comparison between the two, only admiration of mine for a master at his craft.

Thank you for reading Atomicly. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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The knowledge of graves

Quddús, the Forever Youth laughs:
“So along came they
to tear down My grave
and Me up along with it.
I wish I had a hundred such plots
so that they could desecrate them all.
I’d say, ‘Look, there’s the hundred and first!’
and off they’d scurry to dig that one up too.”
And then He laughs again.

But I know that place whereof He speaks.
It is a place of mystery
yet a spot of sweet clarity,
the conundrum at the crux of a knot.
There the worldly are lost,
the dead live on,
and the living, while living, are yet dead.
It whispers: how do I empty the blood
from my veins so that His flows there, instead?

Quddús is one of the Letters of the Living, a group of 18 individuals who were the first to believe in the Báb, the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith. Their role in the history of the Bahá’í Faith is somewhat analogous to the role of the Apostles of Jesus Christ in the history of Christianity.

Quddús was both the last and the youngest of the Letters of the Living, but not withstanding this is one of the most heralded because of His erudition, faith, leadership and courage. He was martyred at Shaykh Tabarsi, a small fort in the state of Mazandarin in Iran, where a small handful of untrained people—clerics and students for the most part—held off a regiment of crack troops under the most dire of situations for months, only to be betrayed at the end by promises of safety.

Special prayers of visitation are revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, for recitation when visiting the Grave of Quddús. Unfortunately in 2004, this Site was desecrated and destroyed by the Iranian government, an early step in their campaign that blossomed to further persecute the Bahá’í Faith in that sad state. While the Bahá’ís the world around were shocked and saddened by this sacrilegious and disgusting act, a small part of me was amazed that after 150 years Quddús still had the power to cause the authorities fear.

Thank you for reading The Knowledge of Graves. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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In ev’ry degree

I am set a sail upon this passage
my canvases full billowed, taut and tight,
swift breath compelling me on my voyage
as I fly along with no land in sight.
Bright, sun-water gems explode at my prow
and jauntily, I, on this roiling sea,
chant loud my gladsome sailor’s song to plow
true on my compass in ev’ry degree.
O do not deny me this lusty wind
which sets me free to stand this course unfurled,
for like all true lovers I am destined
to seek the unknown limits of this world.
Fix me you ever-changing, changeless sea,
heart-a-throb, I sail, straight into thy lee!

Writing sonnets is hard stuff. The structure is tight: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, patterned rhyming, ending with a rhyming couplet. But while the rhyming is hard, the iambic pentameter is harder and saying something meaningful is the hardest.

Thank you for reading In ev’ry degree. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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In the war of my own succession

Corpr’l John’s the name
and I’m a whirlygig of fame.
I’ve fought right well and grabbed the pearl
I’m now a great big bloody earl!
But what?! (You don’t?) You don’t agree?
But even I (even I!) have heard of me!
Well now, ain’t that me up on m’own petards then?

This poem is a commentary on fame by poking a little humor at a great man. The War of the Spanish Succession was waged in the early 1700s across the Low Countries of Europe between France and the rest of Europe over the right to control the Spanish succession. It is the war that saw England, already emergent as a sea power, emerge as a land power with a dominating voice in European diplomacy, thus firmly setting itself on the path of Empire.

The British success was solely due to one man, John Churchill (ancestor of Winston Churchill), 1st Duke of Marlborough and Prince of Mindelheim, who not only lead the allied armies in a series of brilliant land campaigns but was also known for his skillful diplomacy.  Such was his success that he was first made an Earl and then a Duke and then a Prince of the realm. Not too bad for the poor cousin of an impoverished branch of an old Irish family who had grown up on the handouts of relatives.

But fame is so fleeting, isn’t it? Famous in his day and affectionately called Corporal John by his men, the Duke of Marlborough is today a man known to historians only.

petard, by the way, was a small bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. The term “hoisted on your own petard” came to mean “caught up in your own stratagems and deceits.”

Thank you for reading In the war of my own succession. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Keeping count

We marched along in serried lines,
my sister’s arm locked with mine, mine locked with my brother’s.
We did not hesitate or consider the end,
did not question, did not stumble, did not halt
until the doing was done. Instead, we sung.
And while they broke so many of us that only God could keep count
they could not break us apart, although they did not want for the trying.
I do not now recall the edge of the knife, the blunt of the blow
or the sear of the hot glowing iron. Now I recall only
how proudly they stood, how joyfully they fell, how beautiful they lay in repose.

Hear me: there is always a debt to be paid
for night to call night and weeping to beg hurry the dawn.
How many tears must in the end fall?
I do not know.
Of this too, only God can keep count.

This poem is based on a verse from the Qur’án, 1, 61:4, Surat Aş-Şaf  (The Ranks):

Verily God loveth those who, as though they were a solid wall, do battle for His Cause in serried lines!

When asked about this verse,`Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith (`Abdu’l-Bahá was also the Head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1892 until His passing in 1921) said:

O ye beloved of the Lord! This day is the day of union, the day of the ingathering of all mankind. Note that He saith ‘in serried lines’—meaning crowded and pressed together, one locked to the next, each supporting his fellows. To do battle, as stated in the sacred verse, doth not, in this greatest of all dispensations, mean to go forth with sword and spear, with lance and piercing arrow—but rather weaponed with pure intent, with righteous motives, with counsels helpful and effective, with godly attributes, with deeds pleasing to the Almighty, with the qualities of heaven. It signifieth education for all mankind, guidance for all men, the spreading far and wide of the sweet savors of the spirit, the promulgation of God’s proofs, the setting forth of arguments conclusive and divine, the doing of charitable deeds.

Bolding by me. The poem refers to the Dawnbreakers, those early blessed souls who shed their blood, rather than recant their faith, at the first light of the dawn of a new Messenger from God.

I should note that although the Bahá’í Faith is an independent religion with its own Writings, many Bahá’ís, and especially those of the early years, were originally Muslim, and questions on the meaning of the Qur’án were often asked. Bahá’ís believe that the  Qur’án, like the Bible, is the revealed Word of God and expresses the eternal spiritual truths of God. However, the  Qur’án, like the Bible, can often be misconstrued by the ignorant and perverse to support the most terrible of acts. That is why I so love `Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanation of this verse. At first glance the verse seems to support violence and war, yet, when He interprets it spiritually, its meaning is light upon light.

Thank you for reading Keeping count. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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I remember him best shyly smiling

Another good man has gone
to his good grave, his dim days
dim now no more. Below the blue sky
the green bush trims the stream
while the water shushes over
the old dam. In the cool shadows
fat speckled trout glide to and fro
and hide from us just beneath the foam.
We do not fish, not here, not anymore,
that world is long gone and so nearly
too are we. But he is still there,
of this I am sure, waiting and smiling
and fishing evermore, he is there—
I am sure.

This poem is dedicated to Mark Higgins, my father’s dearest friend who died in April, 2007;  he was 81 years old.

When I was growing up Mark was very much an uncle to me and I loved him very much. He was a quiet, sweet, gentle man, a logger by trade who was happiest in the woods, fishing, hunting and trapping. He built his own home in the forest and logged his own firewood, as well as fish for his winter supply of cod which he would split, salt and dry. One of the happiest memories I have is accompanying my father and Mark on just such a late summer fishing trip and working myself exhausted catching enough fish to make him proud.

Mark and my father spent much time together over the years. They were both humble, quiet, Godly men. They were human, of course and could and did laugh and shout and have fun, and Lord knows the two of them could enjoy a drink, or many. But in the end they were both most comfortable in each other’s company because they both loved the quiet of the woods, the hushed sound of their own conversation and the simple joy of being with a friend that they could trust and in whom they could believe in and depend on.

I believe there is a special world after this one and a person as special as Mark is there for his just reward. I imagine him waiting for us by my favorite fishing spot, not catching the “big ones” but just waiting there, saving the big ones for me.

Thank you for reading I remember him best shyly smiling. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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