Tag Archives: humility

Hamlet

And then there was Hamlet,
correct when he was wrong,
wrong when he was correct
and slipping beyond his decisions:
I surrender, therefore I am—
that’s the rub of it.

This is the third—and with a sigh of relief, you say—last of three poems in my “Keep on thinking” series inspired by contemplation of the famous, “I think, therefore I am.” philosophical postulate. The first poem in the series is Philosophy, and the second poem in the series is Overrated.

The poem refers to the most famous of William Shakespeare’s soliloquies, the opening of  Act 3 scene 1 in Hamlet, the lines of which are said by the main character as he enters the stage:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub…

It is, of course, sheer hubris to link to anything written by Shakespeare, let alone perhaps one of his best works, but if one is going to be utterly rude and hitch one’s wagon to a star, make it a bright star, say I!

Thank you so much for reading Hamlet. 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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Thinking

Descartes said, I think, therefore I am.
It follows then, that when I am not, I will no longer.
In truth, it’s long been overrated.

This is the second of three poems in my “Keep on thinking” series, inspired by contemplation of the famous, “I think, therefore I am.” philosophical postulate. The first poem in the series is Philosophy, and the third is Hamlet.

The poem hinges on a bit of a double entendre, which, to be honest, I am a little proud of. Both, however are serious suggestions  for reasons already outlined in my first post.

In the last line, “the idea” can refer to the noun, in the sense that “these things we call ‘ideas’ have long been overrated.” And, of course, it can also mean that the idea of ‘I think, therefore I am.’ is overrated. It’s your choice on how to read the poem: the one, the other, or both.

In any case, have fun doing so!

Thank you so much for reading Thinking. 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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Philosophy

René Descartes said, I think, therefore I am.
It follows then, When I cannot, I am no longer.

This, then, is good, for it is our final act, our last submission.
It is when we—at our end—learn to be what we should most be,
but seldom are, that for which we are unique.

For we are the ones who know that we know what we know
and what we do not. (Or at least we think we do.)
And yet, even in thinking this, we persist in the sweetest of our vanities…
thoughts come, thoughts go, patterns build and patterns fall
but fools we, we live on in pure free-fall,
caught in the folly of free thought,
me and mine alone.
Therefore, I.

“The story,” as Tolkien said, “grew in the telling.” This is the first of three poems inspired by contemplation of the famous, “I think, therefore I am.” philosophical postulate, my “Keep on Thinking” series, as it were. (The second is Overrated, and the third is Hamlet.)

The genesis of the poem was the realization that thinking is a biological based process; when the soul/mind linkage is severed, what then does one do in the next world? And what does that say about life beyond this one?

Frankly, I don’t know. It is hard, if not impossible, for a physically bound construct, even one which is spiritual in its most basic reality, to conceive of the conditions of the next world, one that is beyond the physical one. We just don’t have the capacity. And surely anything we can conceive is merely our imagination and again—this is an imagination tainted with only experience in the physical realm. Hardly something to be trusted in its prognostications.

Having decided that one cannot think of what it is like to not think, I started to question the whole concept of thinking at all. If it is something that we cannot take to the next world, can we not then decide that giving up our thoughts, as we approach the meaning and the existence of that final door and what is beyond it, is a good thing?

We are, in the end, sadly ever so attached and proud of our ability to think. But it has become, in the 20th century and beyond, and in our hubris, something that we are too proud of, too much in love with, too assured that it is ours, ours, ours, and ours, ours, ours alone. Little do we think, as wonderful as it is, from whence our ability to think and to reason comes from. We think that in developing it we own it, that it is ours, we can do with it what we want, when the truth is that our capacity to think is an inherent part of us and a gift of our very nature.

But then to counter this this comes the epitome of the self-centered approach: to think away the Source of our ability to think, to decide that in fact it is the random gift of a benevolent universe (or random luck, take your pick) and therefore, to decide, if there be gods in this universe at all, then it is we. No, sorry, that’s not for me.

Thank you so much for reading Philosophy. 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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Every truth

How much movement is there
in the stillness of a heron?
How much movement in the water below?
Heron and fish—stillness and movement,
how these lovers lead the other
in their perfect little dance
of need and surrender.

Listen, this is true:
I have sat praying,
knowing that anything I desired
could be mine,
if only I would deign not to wish it;
every truth is a paradox,
but no truth is a lie.

I drive an hour each day to and from work, with much of the journey being through rural Connecticut. There is one small lake that I pass that, for an entire season, an egret was using for its nesting and feeding. Every day I would look to catch a glimpse of it fishing and often reflected on its sense of patience and purpose. And while that scene and my meditations are the obvious source for the first part of the poem, the source for the second part is more difficult to explain.

Prayer is transformative, a creative act by and for the person saying the prayer. It is not that it is wrong to say a prayer asking for a specific outcome; it is wrong to say a prayer that is contingent on a specific outcome. God tests mankind, not the other way around. The more of the sense of control over our lives that we give up, the more we are actually in control of what matters in our lives.

And while that is a paradox, it is, I think, no lie.

Thank you so much for reading Every truth. 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 exile

I wish to God I knew where I was.
Not the Black Place—although my desires often blind me;
not the Ancient Place—even though I age faster every day;
not the Fearless Place—where courage cannot take me;
nor even the Remote Place—despite anger chaining me afar.

And certainly it is not the Most Great Place,
whereby I do not mean the cell that was cleaned,
painted and aired…
I’ve been there and only felt Your presence dimly.
No, I mean the Other Spot,
the Prison where Your companions go,
still, even to this day,
but outside which I sit, yearning,
hoping to find the way.

Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was, for the forty plus years of His Ministry, and until His passing, a prisoner and an exile, first at the mercy of the Iranian government, and then under the ever more fearful eye of the waning Ottoman Empire. The story of His successive banishments under these twin ruling powers is the historical backdrop of this poem.

It commences in 1852, with Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál, literally the Black Pit (the Black Place of the poem) a loathsome and disgusting jail converted from an abandoned water reservoir. Released in 1853, He, despite being sick and in poor health, was exiled with His Family from Iran to Baghdad (the Ancient Place of the poem) and then called on to Constantinople in 1863. In the poem, Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire—and now Istanbul—is referred to as the Fearless Place because it was here that Bahá’u’lláh resolutely refused to curry favor and beg for sympathy with the government officials of the Empire, as was expected of all prisoners. Instead He stated that He had put His faith in God and trusted in Him, further stating that nothing any man could do could curtail or thwart the Will of God.

As a result of this stance, Bahá’u’lláh and His family were further exiled to Adrianople and arrived there in the waning days of 1863. Adrianople—now Edirne—is one of the remotest parts of Turkey in what is actually Europe, and is referred to in the poem as the Remote Place, the furthest point from His home of Tehran that Bahá’u’lláh would travel.

But the most difficult place of His exile was set in 1868 when He and His entourage were forced to relocate to ‘Akká, in what is now Israel, a penal colony and known at the time for its pestilential airs and filthy conditions. Upon arrival there Bahá’u’lláh designated the prison where they were incarcerated as the Most Great Prison (the Most Great Place of the poem); it was in this city, and despite the loathsome conditions under which they lived, that His Mission reached its zenith. Bahá’u’lláh officially remained a prisoner until His death in 1892. However, after years of His living among the local populace, such was the admiration that was esteemed to Him that He was, by then, able to rent a home in the countryside and be surrounded by the gardens and verdure He loved most.

The last place mentioned in the poem, the “Other Place” is harder to describe. In one of His prayers revealed specifically for the Fast, Bahá’u’lláh first talks of ‘Thine ardent lovers…they who have been so inebriated with the wine of Thy manifold wisdom that they forsake their couches in their longing to celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy virtues, and flee from sleep in their eagerness to approach Thy presence and partake of Thy bounty.’ Later He goes on to say, ‘These are Thy servants, O my Lord, who have entered with Thee in this, the Most Great Prison, who have kept the fast…’

On the face of it, this prayer was written when Bahá’u’lláh was, with His companions, incarcerated in the prison in ‘Akká and He is extolling their fortitude and grace. But there is much more, I think, to this prayer then this single face.

The prayers of Bahá’u’lláh were written for all peoples of all times, and so as I was reading this prayer, I felt that there must be a dimension of the words that went beyond referencing a purely physical spot at a specific point in time. In the end, I came to believe that it is possibly for anyone today, who approaches the Fast with a sufficient degree of humility and submission, to meet with Bahá’u’lláh in a spiritual ‘Most Great Prison’, a place where one is held captive not by chains, but by love, to become, in effect, out of devotion to Him, a thrall to His Will. The irony of this is deliciously sweet to a poet: to find the true freedom of love is to yield the bondage of will.

Or so I think; for while I can believe in such an “Other Place” I have never been there except for a few fleeting minutes. But, if you will, please forgive an old poet his chance to dream…

Thank you so much for reading in exile. 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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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 fission of my pride—
the alpha crush of will
and the gamma burst of greed,
those half-lives of ego 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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Louder

This do I swear:
that if at this very moment
You were to reach out with Your hand
and still my beating heart,
louder would it pound in Your heaven!

I wrote this poem in March, 1982, while en route to Rwanda from my home in Canada. I was making my way through England, Israel and Kenya to move to Africa to teach the Bahá’í Faith—to go, as it is said in my religion, “pioneering.”

I was, unfortunately, incredibly ill at the time. What started out as a small headache as I took off on the first leg of the trip quickly blossomed into a high fever and heavy chest infection; I ended up being very sick for a full week and still quite weak for longer after that. Thank heavens I was not superstitious!

Did my illness have anything to do with this poem? If it did, I wish I could get sick like that more often. Happiness is a characteristic of the body, but joy is a characteristic of the soul and on that journey, despite my illness, I was joyous!

It was, I have no doubt, the finest moment of my life and a time and a memory I will always treasure. Thank God for allowing me that moment.

Thank you for reading Louder. 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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If you are reading this, then…

No cause is without its innocents,
its families loved and lost,
no truth lacks its heroes
nor doom denied its cost.

I don’t ask why, but how,
not where, but when,
for surely the irony of it
will break you:
brutal and bloody or
slow and steady,
yet gladsome all the same.
Who?

Truth be told, we are such pity inspiring creatures. So easy to hurt and to damage, so fast to fall when struck, so quick to damage when hurt. And we are so finely interconnected that when one is felled, the pain radiates outward like ripples in a pool, affecting all those who love the stricken.

Go to any Amnesty International meeting. There you will hear the heartbreaking stories of the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience who are held, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed for their beliefs. There you will imagine how their families feel, how they live in fear and horror every day of their lives. My religion, the Bahá’í Faith, has not escaped this. There are, right now in Iran, nearly 100 of my fellow co-religionists in jail for no other reason than their religion.

And yet all these prisoners of conscience do it. Why? Surely there is nothing easier then recanting a belief, especially with your freedom or life being risked. But yet they hold fast and in the end, it is you and me who reap the reward for their strength and determination.

What is “sacrifice”? Surely it is to give up something of greater value for something of lesser value. But what if that act returns more than what was given up? What if it returns oceans of grace, mountains of love and an eternal sense of felicity? And not just to the recipient, but to the whole world? Is it still “sacrifice” or something far greater?

We must be diligent in our memory of the world’s prisoners of conscience and in our appreciation and understanding of their gift. And we must understand that it is they who change the world and make it into a better place. Them. Only them.

Thank you for reading If you are reading this, then…. 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 next after another

On the darksome trail of this black ledge
I am blind,
but that is what I feel, isn’t it—
the next step?

If on the rough scrabble shale
I slip and fall,
that is what I bleed, isn’t it—
the step back?

I am as lost on this path
as I am bound to it,
but that is what I am, isn’t it—
the lockstep?

Against the cliffs my noise-some heart
echoes wrongly,
but that is what I hear, isn’t it—
the step up?

And now? Now I’m just tired
‘either/or’ ‘stop/go’
but that is what this is, isn’t it—
the final step?

My wife and I were driving to a Bahá’í conference when I noticed a hand painted sign off to the side of the road which said “Black Ledge” and an arrow pointing off in a direction. It was both incongruous and odd; why would anyone point to a black ledge?

It struck a chord with me and I linked it up with a conversation I had previously had with my dearest friend and brother-in-heart, Sam, about service to humanity. Such service is an essential aspect of being human and yet it is not easy, nor does one pursue it without pitfalls and aches. Moreover, it can be wearisome and tiring, not the least of which because it can often fall on deaf ears and cold hearts. Yet, still it is important to continue and pursue such work, because you do it not just for the recipients, but for yourself, to learn humility and patience.

To learn humility and patience. That is my dear Sam in a nutshell.

Thank you for reading The next after another. 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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