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Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #2–the Underground Man, Prufrock and Other Thoughts.

I’d been wanting to make my next “Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling” post a post about the connection between a story in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Kierkegaard’s pseudonym, Johannes de Silentio, in Fear and Trembling, but it’s been a stressful and busy month and I haven’t yet been able to afford the time. So instead, I thought I’d blog about this quote that made me laugh out loud:

IMG_0788“The slaves of misery, the frogs in life’s swamp naturally exclaim: ‘Such love is foolishness: the rich brewer’s widow is just as good and sound a match.’ Let them croak away undisturbed in the swamp. “
–Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

It’s been a very pleasant surprise discovering Kierkegaard’s sense of humour, especially, his way of addressing and countering those he’s opposing. The above quote is a perfect example. It reminds me a lot of the way Dostoevsky has the Underground Man address and dismiss his naysayers in Notes From Underground. The Underground Man is, of course, far more acerbic and arrogant; Johanne de Silentio is definitely more humble and benign. Nonetheless, I can’t help but see similarities between them when it comes to addressing the opposition. 🙂

Something else I’ve been surprised to discover (though it may be too early for me to really judge properly, as I am still only a bit over halfway through) is how Fear and Trembling seems to be just as much about Kierkegaard’s regret regarding his lack of faith for, and the resulting loss of, his relationship with Regine as it is about the faith of Abraham in being willing to sacrifice Isaac. Going into it, I knew there was going to be a knight of faith and a knight of infinite resignation (hopefully, more on them another time), but I had no idea they were both hopeless romantics.

IMG_0791[1]And yet it must be glorious to get the princess…”
–Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Footnote “50”  (in the above, second to last, paragraph) says:

“Kierkegaard writes in his journals (Papirer IV, A 107): ‘If I had had faith I would have stayed with Regine’ The entry is dated 17 May 1843.”
–Alastair Hannay, Fear and Trembling

I might expand on this further at some point, but reading this section I was reminded a lot of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock and John Greenleaf Whittier’s saddest of all sad words:

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'”
–John Greenleaf Whittier “Maud Muller

Sad stuff. 😦 But it’s definitely not all heartbreak and “What if?” There’s been plenty about faith and sacrifice (though mostly faith) that I’ve been reevaluating and pondering, and an equal amount of stuff I’ve been perplexed with, and a whole lot of other unexpected stuff that Kierkegaard’s surprised me with. I’m looking forward to what’s to come. 🙂

This is another one of those books that I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of in my understanding of it. It’s definitely a book I’m going to have to keep coming back to in order to really understand. Luckily, Kierkegaard is a brilliant writer and thinker; he’s one of those minds you can visit over and over again and never tire of.

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“The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

IMG_0298rs“There are lovers content with longing.
I’m not one of them.”
-Rumi

I came across the above Rumi quote, for the first time, today. I love it and I think it could serve as an epigram for another poem I recently came across called “The Invitation” by a Canadian poet, I’d never heard of before, named Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Thankfully, I heard the poem first, then discovered the poet, not vice versa, as (at least, at first glance) I would normally have been disinclined to give a poet with a name like “Mountain Dreamer” a chance. (Yes, unfortunately, I’m that kind of person.)

It’s always a joy to happen upon something that seems to articulate the jumble of emotions, thoughts and things you’ve been feeling and thinking and learning and attempting to live out. It’s like coming across a little embodiment of your soul and, simultaneously, discovering that you are not alone, that someone else (a much more articulated someone else 🙂 ) sees and shares the same truth as you. That’s pretty much how I feel about “The Invitation”.

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The Invitation
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know 
if you will risk 
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are 
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you 
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know 
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone 
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation
published by HarperONE, San Francisco,
1999 All rights reserved

I think I can resonate with just about everything Ms. Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, aside, perhaps, from:

“It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.”

If you are telling me a story about you, it is of great interest to me that it be true, unless it’s not meant to be a true story.

Another thing I don’t quite understand is how being faithless equals being trustworthy.

“I want to know…If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.”

There is a time for faith and a time for doubt. Perhaps she’s saying you have to be honest enough with yourself to admit you are faithless, when you lack the faith–i.e., you are trustworthy if you can be honest about being faithless. If that were the case, I’d definitely agree with her. (If you, dear reader, thinks she is perhaps saying something else and would like to enlighten me, I’d gladly welcome your opinion.)

On the whole, I think this poem embodies what it means to be brave and accept the invitation to life, wholeheartedly, embracing the joy, the sorrow, the success, the failure, the fragility, the hope, the beauty, the bruises, the betrayals, the dreams, the desires, the disappointment, the darkness, the light, the love, the pain, the magic, the madness, the mystery, the grace–embracing it all. It’s about accepting the invitation to be–to be authentic, vulnerable, honest and fully present in one’s own life. It’s a challenge to be courageous enough to love fully and face your fears, to move forward with eyes and heart open wide, to dare to become who you truly are.

I try constantly and I fail a lot. It’s not easy, but I keep trying. I’ve accepted the invitation and it’s who I’m determined to be or die trying. 🙂

Ps. Immediately after posting this, I just realised the answer to my own question regarding “faithless and therefore trustworthy.” (I could just erase that whole part, but I thought I’d leave it and add this on the chance that it may help someone who may be perplexed as I was.) The key is in the preceding lines:

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

You lose the faith of someone else “to be true to yourself”. You become faithless, because you’ve lost the faith someone had in you and “bear the accusation of betrayal”, in order that you might “not betray your own soul”; therefore you are trustworthy. It’s brilliant! 😀

I Said to My Soul, Be Still…

I was reading T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets today when this section from “East Coker” hit me right in the heart like a jolt from a defibrillator.

On it’s own, it’s an amazing and brilliant passage. But, in addition to that, it pretty much sums up everything I’m going through and everything I need to hear right now.

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                        You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”

I can remember thinking, when I read it the first time, that this was a brilliant and deep passage, but it didn’t quite jump out at me. I guess I didn’t need it as much then. This time, reading it was like being resuscitated. Everything about it is perfect for me, at this very moment. It’s as if it were written just for me.

I’ve been learning to be still and sit with the discomfort, but it isn’t easy and I still needed someone to “say it again.” Who better to have say it than the supreme T. S. Eliot? 🙂

What I’m Reading #10

After my last frustrating experience photographing a year’s worth of reading, I figure it’s probably a better idea to get back to doing my What I’m Reading posts more regularly. 🙂

Here’s a look at what I’ve read, so far, in 2017.DSC_8949rs

  1. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
  4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  5. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  6. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  8. Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (four out of six of the St. Petersburg Tales), Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  9. Oddkins by Dean R. Koontz
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir (Not pictured because I borrowed it from a friend)
  11. Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons (Not pictured; I listened to the audiobook)

I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding Nikolai Gogol’s works; I’m not exactly sure how to count or list them, as his tales are collected/listed differently depending on the publisher. I think I’ll just wait until I’ve finished reading the other two St. Petersburg Tales and then count all of them as one book. In that case, so far, I’ve finished reading ten books this year (1/3 of the way through my reading goal for the year, yay! 🙂 ). All of them were great reads, though I’ve only managed to blog about one. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get around to blogging about a few more of them.

These are the books I’m currently reading.DSC_8974rs

How to be Decadent by George Mikes
I and Thou by Martin Buber, Ronald Gregor Smith (Translator)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition / 1st Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor)
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright

For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I’ll be meeting up with a friend this Sunday to discuss it, so I’ve been using that as impetus to really dig in and finish all the critical essays and background information included in my Norton Critical Edition. In addition to that, I’ve also been re-reading Notes from Underground for the second and third time simultaneously. (As you can see I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂 ) I’m actually not exactly sure how you would count it, as I’m reading two different translations simultaneously (i.e. I finish a chapter in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and then I read Michael R. Katz’s translation of the same chapter). I don’t think I could manage to pull off this kind of simultaneous reading with any other book, but Notes from Underground is short enough and such brilliant piece of work, I’m finding it’s actually a really interesting way to read it. 🙂

I’ve been slowly making my way through George Mikes’ How to be Decadent and Martin Buber’s I and Thou for about a year now. I actually started reading Buber’s I and Thou last May, but it was a tough read and hard to follow. I only got about 20 pages in before I put it down. I figured maybe it was problem with Ronald Smith’s translation and decided to wait till I could get my hands on a Walter Kaufmann translation instead. But, recently, I came across a few paragraphs from I and Thou that I really liked that turned out to be a section from the Ronald Smith translation just a few pages down from where I left off. So I figured maybe I’d just stopped before the good stuff, and decided to have another go at it. I’ll still likely still buy the Kaufmann translation, eventually, but I’m gonna give Ronald Smith another go and we’ll see how that turns out.

N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is a tome I’ve been meaning to read for nearly a decade now. I finally bought a copy as a sort of Christmas present to myself last year and figured I’d make it my Lent reading project this year. Unfortunately, that plan got hijacked, by my Notes from Underground reading project. Still, I’ve been slowly chugging along at it. I’m only 50 pages in, so there’s no way I’m gonna finish it by Easter, but I’m determined to slowly make my way through it this year.

I haven’t started reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler or the last two of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, but they’re up next, after I’m finished with Notes from Underground.

Aside from those books, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hoping to dig into some of the poetry of my two favourite poets T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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I especially want to focus on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and possibly “Ash Wedsnesday”. But definitely Four Quartets, which I think is the best of T. S. Eliot’s best. I’ve been wanting to really dig into to it ever since I read it for the first time in November, 2015.

It’s such a deep and profound and beautiful and perfect collection of poetry, I think I could explore and meditate on it for a lifetime and still have more to discover and explore. I feel like it will take me years to even begin to scratch the surface of it’s depth, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards that this next month. 🙂

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

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[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] is probably the first E.E. Cummings poem I ever came across. I fell in love with it then. It’s so beautiful and effortless, simple and deep. I think it’s one of the most romantic of all poems and superlative in it’s embodiment and encapsulation of love’s transcendent power.

It’s always been one of my favorites. I had a hard time not including it in my Poetry Month Celebration blog post, last year, but I’d limited myself to only choosing one of my favorite poems from each of my favorite poets, so I went with [love is more thicker than forget]. I figured it was a lesser known poem.

Then, in May, I came across this video. It’s one of the best analyses of a poem, I’ve ever come across. It may seem a little long, but it’s well worth the time.


It starts off with a recording of Cummings, himself, reading the poem and then goes on to  analyse the poem and how it relates to Cummings and his poetry in a broader sense. It’s fascinating, especially the part where it shows how brilliantly Cummings used parentheses to overlap and add another level of depth to the poem and, also, where it touches on Cummings’ views on love and truth and how they can only be “known” by being experienced.

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“…Cummings believes that truth and poetry and love cannot be comprehended, only experienced. With his poetry and all it’s intense experimentation, he attempts to short circuit our impulse toward knowing so that we might experience language anew.”

I think Cummings certainly found a way to allow the reader to experience the beauty of “truth and poetry and love” through this poem.

This video definitely gave me a much deeper appreciation for this poem and for Cummings’ poetry, in general, and I’ve been wanting to blog about it for almost a year now. I figure, with yesterday being Valentine’s Day, today is a good day to. 🙂

Poetry Month Celebration

Because it’s always lovely to get a good poem recommendation.

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A little while ago, I discovered (via The Golden Echo) that April is National Poetry Month and that there’s a tag (via The Edge of the Precipice) to help us celebrate. It looked like fun and I wanted to participate. So I sat down to write this post and then realised National Poetry Month might just be an American thing and I might need an I’m-not-American-so-I-don’t-officially-qualify-but-I’m-celebrating-anyway disclaimer. I decided to check with Google and discovered that, as of 1999, National Poetry Month is also celebrated in Canada every April, so I can officially celebrate. Thanks, Wikipedia. 🙂

–The Questions–

What are some poems you like?

I’ll keep this to one poem per poet, even though it’s difficult when it comes to E. E. Cummings, and especially difficult when it comes to  T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. These are some favorites that immediately come to mind.

Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare
The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath
[love is more thicker than forget] by E. E. Cummings

It’s funny, I just noticed several happy coincidences between these titles. There seems to be some sort of trend of three: three of these titles include the word “love”; three start with the word “the”; three have a version of the word “song” in the title.  🙂

What are some poems you dislike?

I don’t usually finish poems that don’t interest me. If I do, I tend to immediately forget them, so it’s a bit difficult to name names. However, (and this may make me seem like a philistine) there is one poem I’m not very keen on: Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken“.

My problem isn’t really with the poem itself, but more with it being ‘the [poem] not taken’ in context by so many people. As I’ve said in another post, it bothers me when things get taken out of context and given a meaning that is not even close to (or the opposite of) what the author was actually saying. The popularity of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” seems to lie in the fact that most people only, or mainly, remember the last three lines and forget the last two lines of the second stanza, as well as the first two lines of the last stanza.

Are there any poets whose work you especially enjoy?  If so, who are they?

T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. E. E. Cummings interests me greatly, but I can’t really say I’ve read enough of his poetry to put him in that “special” category.

Do you write poetry?

Maybe.

Have you ever memorized a poem?

Yes. Most recently, T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Last year, in September, I started memorizing T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, but got busy and forgot about it…this is a good reminder.

One of these days, I hope to memorize “The Waste Land” and all four poems in Four Quartets. (If I had enough time I’d probably memorize most of T. S. Eliot’s poetry 🙂 .) I would also like to, someday, have memorized all six poems I mentioned in reply to the first question. One down, five to go. 🙂

Do you prefer poetry that rhymes and had a strict meter, or free verse?  Or do you like both? Do you have any particular poetry movements you’re fond of?  (Beat poets, Romanticism, Fireside poets, etc?)

I don’t have a particular preference.  For me, it isn’t at all about form, it’s all about what the poet is saying. I think good poetry happens when the poet says something, not just because he can, but because he has to. There’s this great quote by Robert Frost that goes:

“A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.”
–Robert Frost, letter to Louis Untermeyer (1 January 1916)

A good poem is something that says ‘just what I mean’; it’s an expression of emotions and truth in a way that you never knew you’ve always wanted to say; it’s about using words to paint a magnificent scene (be it glorious or tragic) that everyone knows, but no one has quite seen before. A good poem happens when raw, honest, beautiful, terrible feelings and thoughts find the right words to embody them. As a result, a good poem makes you think. A good poem makes you feel something.

———

Well, that was fun. To be honest, when I started this post, aside from my great love for T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins, I didn’t think I was a poetry fan per se. Now that I’ve finished, I realise I’m more of a poetry fan than I thought. 🙂

Do you have any favorite poets or poems? Any poems or poets you especially dislike? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Gerard Manley Hopkins–Easter

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Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

I never thought I’d come across a poet I liked as much as T. S. Eliot, but I have. His name is Gerard Manley Hopkins and the more I read him, the more I’m struck by his brilliance. I’ve been meaning to blog about him for two years now, so I suppose this Easter is a good place to start.

This isn’t, by far, my favorite Hopkins poem, but it’s probably my favorite Easter poem. I think it perfectly sums up the joy, hope, happiness and celebration of Easter. Hopkins is especially good at evoking emotions, be they jubilant or despondent. In this case, you can feel the jubilation in every stanza and the imagery is splendid.

Easter

Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.

Build His church and deck His shrine,
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine—
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?

Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.

Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.

Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer, and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls always
Make each morn an Easter Day.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

Happy Easter! 🙂