There are now over twenty interviews that provide an analytical perspective on this poetry. Most of them are not yet on the Web at this site or at the other sites at which I have registered. Here is one interview that makes some reference to 'history' and 'society' and so I have included it as part of the introduction to this section. But first some poems that have a historical theme, that draw on a compelling vision and a dogma of such magnitude and emotional potency that the multitudinous movements of history are reduced to a single, divinely inspired current, a current that is set in a context of infinite complexity, wonder and mystery, at least for me, if not for all the readers at this website. I make many an attempt at meticulous plotting and an evocative use of words, like a huge theological poem, but a strong sense of my limitations as both a person and as a poet convinces me that only an infinitessimal degree of the meticulous, only a minute aspect of the evocative and some dabbling in aspects of the theological will ever be explored by me in either my poetry or my life. The field is too vast, the subject matter too profound and the limits of my capacity too circumscribed to ever plumb more than the shallows much less the depths of the realities of existence. But one can play on the edges of these shallows.
History is not just a pile of facts, something dressed up for the movies or a story in a book. It functions like the potter's clay and has a genuine significance for our lives when its facts live in the present through the meaning they bring to the present, through how they illumine the present. It is this sense of history that makes it, what Canadian historian John Rolston Saul calls, reality. History is the product of how we handle this reality.1 It is this sense of history, among several other essential senses of that discipline, that inhabits my poetry in a complex set of ways. -Ron Price with thanks to John Rolston Saul, Reflections on a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century, Penguin, Toronto, 1998, pp. 499-504.
Here was a bit of history,
came across it the other day
in a bookshop: some letters,
letters written by Van Gogh.
He was writing about his
ultimate goal and feeling
that he was on the right
he was---so convinced
that he paid little attention
to what people said of him.
He painted what he felt
and felt what he painted.
This is my story, too, of
few people say anything
about my poetry and I
never know if I am exactly
on track, if I write precisely
the best, the most apt that
can be written. But I fit my
emotions around my assumptions:
that this poetry is at the core of my life,
that it expresses my essential relationships
with so much that I know and love--and then
I write—this is my faith; this is some of my faith.
-Ron Price 14/3/02.
Perhaps I will get around to reading Manning Clark's History of Australia: Volumes 1-6 in the latter years of my late adulthood, the years 60 to 80. It is still too much for me in 2002, the last years of my middle adulthood. Clark’s work is just too detailed an historical account for someone like me who likes a general picture and has so much that he wants to read from an immensely burgeoning world of print. But I have found some of the things Clark says provide useful ways of putting my task as a poet in perspective. I try to say, in my poetry, 'what the heart doth say' about one of the great passions of my life--the complex interrelationships between my society, my religion and my own experience. My poetry attempts to describe the experience of one man pioneering a new Faith across two continents over four epochs of the first century of the Formative Age. Here, in what has become a massive poetic opus, is a putting into words of what one man saw when he opened a window on his experience, richly coloured as it was by his religion and the story of his society. I have, like Clark and Thomas Hardy before me, watched "that pattern among general things" which my idiosyncrasy moves me to observe.-Ron Price with thanks to Manning Clark, A History of Australia: Vol. 3 and 6, Preface, 1973 and 1987.
We pay a terrible price for our fatal flaws---
as you put it when you were finishing up
your great work. The one precious gift we
need is to read the direction of the river of life
and I have poured much into that long river.
I have poured my life into this 'holy crusade.'
It has fortified my days, but left me worn at
the edges as the light was finally installed on
the hill in the Vineyard of the Lord up there.
It wasn't, as Clark concluded, that no one knew
the direction of the river or had anything to say.1
Too many people thought that they knew and
even more had something to say, far too much.
If I did not have the aid of those Men of Baha,
I would long ago have drowned in that blood-
dimmed tide of passionate intensity2 and endless,
absolutely endless, opinions, coming daily, daily.
1Clark, Vol.6, op.cit., p.500: written on or about May 13th 1987.
2W.B. Yeats: in his famous prophetic poem.
22 February 2002
PRESERVED FOR POSTERITY
One of the founding fathers of history writing, Thucydides, said that his work was not written "to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession of all time."1 My poetry is certainly not written "to win the applause of the moment." Applause rarely falls on poets in this or any age. In this age, too, we suffer a surfeit of poets; indeed there is a burgeoning of poets as there is a burgeoning of so many things as the world explodes with information, knowledge, ideas, inventions and events. I write largely to please myself and, if it pleases a coterie of others, so much the better. But, as far as my poetry being "a possession of all time," I am inclined to think that is not likely of my work. In his Sonnet 65 Shakespeare wrote that through his poetry and its "black ink" his love would shine brightly in years to come. I find it difficult to see this ever eventuating with my poetry in the long course of time. The form and content of my writing provides a personal and literary backdrop for some of the events of these epochs to be preserved for a posterity that I can scarcely imagine. So was this true of Thucydides' history.2 Thucydides' work endured over the centuries. If mine does, it will only be because it became associated with the cultural memory of an emerging world religion during a climacteric of history.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: Book I, 22; and 2Mark Rutkus, "Thucydides and the Writing of History," Internet, 20 February 2002.
How can these non-events, this nothing
happening, this no-interest here for many
a long year, constitute anything one could
call history? But then, if history is a method
of analysis and interpretation; if the storage
and transmission of cultural memory is partly
linked to the poetic writing of an insignificant
prime mover of this story, this creator of the
story, then we could have some very useful
writing here in this massive opus-epic.
If this poetry, like history, is about high
seriousness; if human personality is the
subject of history; if concentrated expression
is the vehicle for my story; then this poetic,
this fin de siecle creation which began after
the two holy years1 and crossed the bridge
into this new millennium, may be judged
useful by those who want to know the truth.'2
1 1952-53 and 1992-93.
2Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, i.22.4.
21 February 2002
Between 29 and 19 BC, what was the first years of the Roman Empire,Virgil wrote his Aeneid, his life's tour de force. The main character in the Aeneid was Aeneas. Aeneas was the embodiment of Roman ideals and he moved across the world toward what was then the unfolding destiny of a newly created Roman Empire. Virgil wrote about the materialism of Rome and how it brought a spiritual chaos. One of the preoccupations of Virgil in his Aeneid was the unity of Roman society and the need of this Empire for insight into its human predicament. Within less than two decades of Virgil completing his work, a Force came into the world that would pick up the pieces of a Roman Empire that fell into pieces four centuries later and carry the soul of Western society for at least a millennium.-R Price with thanks to J.K. Newman, The Classical Epic Tradition, Univ. of Wisconson Press, 1986, p.134.
Between 1987 and 2007, at the time when the Baha'i Faith was continuing its rise from obscurity in the global community with the completion of its world centre on Mt. Carmel, Price wrote his epic Pioneering Over Four Epochs. He wrote about his own experience and his movements across a portion of the world within the context of the unfolding destiny of a new Faith. He liked to think he was the embodiment of Baha'i ideals, but he was more conscious of his inadequacies. 'Abdul-Baha fulfilled the role of embodiment of Baha'i ideals, par excellence, in Price's poetic. Price wrote about his experience and the experience of his community in 'the dark heart of the age of transition', a period that occupied all his pioneering life: 1962-2007. He wrote about the spiritual chaos of this dark heart before a dawn which was gradually approaching. Unity, the oneness of humankind, was at the centre of his poetic opus. Price saw his poetry as one of a multitude of sources of insight, one he had difficulty evaluating, into the predicament that faced humanity. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 23 February 2002, updated 18 September 2007.
He1 was acquiring a divine afflatus,
this prince of peace who had brought
an end to the terror that was Roman
history in that horrific first century BC.
They2 had acquired a divine afflatus
from the Prince of Peace Who announced
the moribund nature of all political and religious
orthodoxies in this time of the end, this end time—
an end-time which was a new beginning, a spring-
time for a spiritual sovereignity3 over all that is in
heaven and earth, all that is above and below
and all that is between in life’s endless interstices.
1Augustus: the first emperor of the Roman Empire: 31 BC to 14 AD
2The Universal House of Justice
3Baha'u'llah, The Book of Certitude, Wilmette, 1950(1931), p.107.
23 February 2002
HISTORY IN MEN'S LIVES
The opening line in this poem is taken from Shakespeare's Henry 4th Part 2. (III,I,80) This line could be the motto, the keynote in the theme song, of my entire poetic work. For my poetry is about my society's history, my religion's history and the history in one man's life, my own personal history written in an integrated prose-poetic dialogue. This poem takes the theme Shakespeare is dealing with in this particular section of his play and turns it to my own personal needs, aspirations and directions so that I can express the purposes of my life and my poetry more perfectly, concisely, effectively. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 13 February 2002.
There is a history in all men's lives.
In what seems but weak beginnings
the seed of a certain greatness lies.
And so I write this history here
describing these seemingly weak
and fragile stops and starts.
Treasured is the cutting edge
of greatness carved out sharply
in that tapestry of beauty on that
sweet and sacred mount. For it is
here, for me, where this history finds
its apotheosis. There is apotheosis, too,
in the small details I have recounted in
this long poetic, written after those holy
years,1 after that auspicious juncture when
a new wind ventilated my mind and my soul
enjoyed a rendezvous with its Maker
quite unbeknownst to my conscious mind.
Still I fell again and again, for the road is long,
stoney and tortuous and loss and failure are part
of any greatness. If this were not so the burden
would be unbearable. Such is the mystery of
these instruments of redemption I believe in.
11952/3 and 1992/3.
12 February 2002
Gibbon wrote, he said, about what was perhaps "the greatest and most aweful scene in the history of mankind." In this poetic-epic I write about what surely is an even more aweful scene in humankind's history. I write about the variations on a single theme, discord and harmony, the yin and yang of historical polarities in the macrocosm and the microcosm of my own life and the life of my community, my society rotating, synchronizing, as it all does around a Movement that claims to be the emerging world religion on the planet Earth at a climacteric in history which, I see, as unquestionably the most aweful in the history of our species.
Gibbon excludes the history of art, science and literature in his immense survey of the victory of barbarism and religion. In this work of mine, I exclude a great deal. For in these years of the great burgeoning, since the passing of Baha'u'llah, it has become impossible to even read all the material on even one part of the story. Toynbee describes the experience of Lord Acton who tried to write a history of liberty but, in trying to read all the relevant print, never wrote the book. As Leonardo da Vinci advises, though, I trust I have eschewed "a line of study in which the work done dies together with the worker."1 But I am also aware, as Lucretius notes, that my work may come to an end and the future may come to see what I write as nothing,2 or, as Shakespeare puts it more colourfully, what I write may die with my bones. And so, although like Gibbon I leave much out in this study, I see what I write as part of my task to execute, within the time that God allots to me on Earth, a mission to do God's will by working in these early decades of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. I see this thing that I do, as the poet Robert Browning once wrote with a note of God-fearing humility, as something done by someone who:
........seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it.
The secret of writing history, then, is a little like the secret of sketching and that is to know what to leave out. I'm not so sure I have done that well in following this principle of sketching.
1Leonardo da Vinci, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Vol II, editor, J.P. Richter, OUP, 1939, p.244,
2Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, Vook III, line971.
INTERVIEW NUMBER SEVENTEEN
Carlyle, the British historian, says that no great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men. What are your views on this concept?
One can not ignore the role of great men and great women but, if anything, this poetry is a testimony to the contribution of the not-so-great. One of the poems(see below) in this collection, a collection I have entitled Cascading Down after "15 small pools of water in the centre of the two sets of stairs leading from the Entrance Plaza to Terrace one."(Baha'i Canada, Baha, BE 156, p.5), answers this question in part. I refer you to that poem: "At Speed and in the Darkness Before the Dawn" in which I have drawn heavily on J. Harrison's book The Common People. Obviously, Baha'i history has great souls. Our history is a documentary to them; but it is also a history of the ordinarily ordinary and a greatness that comes from the humble and the unrecognised. This poetry is as much a tribute to this latter category, as the former. I see myself, in some ways, as a symbol of the ordinary.
I: Is there much in your poetry about your family history and its relationship with the Cause?
P: The first two poems in the collection of poetry I sent to the World Centre were written in the first week of September 1992. They were addressed to my mother who passed away in 1978. She started investigating the Baha'i Faith in 1953. One of the poems in this collection was inspired by my grandfather's autobiography, A.J. Cornfield's Story, about his early life from 1872 to 1901. I refer you to this poem: "1953: A Turning Point in History" (see below)to partly answer this question. There are, of course, many other poems that involve my family history. It is impossible to separate family history from one's autobiography, whether that autobiography is poetic narrative or simple narrative prose. I know nothing at all of my family history before 1872 and have not, as yet, written any poetry about these earliest years of my family during the same years as those of the Heroic Age of the Baha'i Faith. Something may come up that is based on history in Wales, England and France. Time will tell. We could hold a separate interview on the influences of family; I have referred to some of them in the first eleven interviews. But I think this is enough for now.
I: Have you written many poems about specific contemporary events in the political, social, economic and historical worlds?
P: Only very occasionally. I think there are a number of complex interacting factors that, for various reasons, make writing poetry about "the news" difficult. There is something about "the news" that has an air of fantasy, of make-believe, of manufacturing, of simple transience on the one hand and an air of quite pervasive complexity on the other. There is also the problem of making sense of the recent past. Kosovo or East Timor are good examples, to chose two from a potential multitude. There is also the problem of current affairs being a mix of the tragic, the trivial, the serious and the funny all rolled into one ball. You really have to give the issue a great deal of time to unravel the complexity. There is just so much going on that the mind is on overload most of the time but not in a conscious sense, a sense that recognizes the weight and complexity of it all. Getting a precise knowledge seems just about impossible except for the specialist.
There is, in addition, no cultural and classical consensus any more and there hasn't been, perhaps since the beginning of the Formative Age in 1921, perhaps since the 1950's and the onset of postmodernism; so what the individual gets is an enormous plethora of opinions, a pastiche, incoherence, with little sense of overview. As the French sociologist/philosopher Jean Baudrillard puts it: it has became very difficult to plot reality, or even get a sense of who you are. Any poems I do write in this area of social analysis tend to be 'big picture', 'whole culture', 'wide angle' stuff.
I: Do you think the fact that your poetry deals with the big picture and not with specific social problems is partly a reflection of the nature of your religion?
P: Unquestionably! So many of the problems in the world possess an immense complexity, as I have just pointed out. The Baha'i Faith offers helpful perspectives on many of the problems; indeed I would go so far as to say it has "the answers." But neither I nor the Baha'is are pretentious enough, or naive enough, to think we can sort out all the problems humanity faces like some sort of magician with 'the answer' to all the world's problems. Any Baha'i who makes such a claim really sees the issues far too simplistically and is just not aware of the tremendous complexity of things, or brings to the issues a mind-set that has grown up on what Bahiyyih Nakjavani calls 'Baha'i Fundamentalism.'
Such people have no idea of "what a massive dose of truth", as 'Abdu'l-Baha puts it, which "must be administered to heal this chronic old disease"(Secret of Divine Civilization, p.43) at the heart of civilization. There are no simple answers to the problems we face. The Baha'i Faith has the key to the puzzle, the riddle, of history and society. It is a genuine resolution to the thorny problems we face, but humanity it would appear must come to it slowly, little by little, in a similar way that Roman/European civilization gradually came to Christinaity.
My poetry approaches the world and its problems obliquely, sensitively, with some understanding, I hope, of this complexity, but also, I like to think, with a degree of humility in the face of it. But I certainly don't think either I or my religion have the answer, presto, to all the thorny and difficult problems bedevilling the world.
I: I understand you have just retired from teaching. What is the experience like thusfar, in the first two-and-a-half years of your retirement?
P: Yes it will soon be three years since I left the classroom. I'm in what you might call the honeymoon period of retirement. The first thing I notice is that I've slowed down. I wrote a poem this morning about the hibiscus. The poem would not have been written under normal circumstances because I needed to be in low gear, enough to stop and have a good look, especially standing out in the rain trying to write the poem. I get a good forty minutes of brisk walking in every day. I've never been able to do that before. I'm also getting to know my wife again after years of running past her on my way to work, meetings, or something that I had to do. We have also moved to Tasmania and into a small Baha'i commujity and so there are not the demands made on my time for various social and community responsibilities in the larger Baha'i community where we used to live. I'm still writing about two poems a day, though. That has not changed.
I: Spike Milligan says his father said that he would rather tell him stories about himself that were exciting but a lie, than tell him stories that were boring but true. For some of us the incurable romantic never dies. Is there any of this romanticism in your poetry?
P: My mother used to say to me, I remember, back in the early 1960s before I went pioneering, that the Baha'i Faith was a good religion for me because of the strong element of the theatre in its framework of activities. The social dimension of life inevitably involves a certain theatricality. As I said, too, in my introduction to Roger White's Occasions of Grace there is in the Baha'i ethos, at least there is for me, a stong element of the cry of all Romantic artists since the industrial revolution: I don't want comfort; I want God; I want poetry; I want real danger; I want freedom; I want goodness; I want sin. Well, I'm not so sure about the real danger any more; enough sin seems to come my way as a result of deeds of omission or commission; and I do like my bourgeois comforts. So I suppose I'm just a part Romantic keeping these things in mind.
I would like to say something about that boredom issue, though. I think much of my poetry and prose will simply not be of much interest to many a person who comes across it. It will, to put it simply, bore them. For these people I think it is best to leave my poetry, my writing, out of their experience. In all likelihood such people will gain nothing from my work. They are better advised to seek stimulation and meaning elsewhere. I say this as a result of my experience as a teacher for three decades and meeting thousands of people outside the classroom since my working life began over forty years ago. My writing is not on their radar and will never be on it.
I: The Australian historian Manning Clark says that history is a comforter, along with the arts like poetry, the humanities and social sciences in general. They make both living and dieing more bearable. Where does your poetry fit into this perspective of Manning Clark?
P: I'd like to think that through both the autobiographical and analytical nature of my poetry, my prose-poems, people will find some intellectual stimulation. I have been seeking such a stimulation for myself all my life, at least since my late teens. I use a lot of material in my poetry that comes from history. The comfort of my poetry is in the stimulation, the meaning. This increase in meaning, this stimulation, when it is found, makes both living and dieing more bearable, to use Clark's term. Obviously everything you write does not achieve this lofty goal. You win some and lose some. A chap I met today when I was out for my walk will not be helped by my poetry for he will never read it.
31 August 2001
I entered university in September 1963 at the age of nineteen. We were then on the threshold of the second epoch of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Divine Plan and the third epoch of the Formative Age. On 15 September 1963, a week before I started classes at university, four teenage girls were killed in the basement bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama.1 Birmingham had been the focal point of the civil rights struggle in 1963. In some ways '63 was a year of triumph for civil rights in the USA, particularly with the march on Washington of a quarter of a million people on 28 August 1963. For the Baha'is it was a year in which "vast spiritual powers" were released as a result of "the emergence of the Universal House of Justice."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1"Four Little Girls," ABC TV, 10:50-12:45 am, 30 January 2002; and 2The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Wilmette, 1969, p.7.
I was just finishing up at the Firestone Tire
and Rubber Company that September,
had no idea about epochs and ages
and Birmingham was a long way away
from my world in the autumn days of ’63.
Those vast spiritual powers helped me
survive that year and get me through
the start of that traumatic university
depression-bi-polar disorder with my life
and grades intact—or so I hypothesize.
Those vast spiritual powers released that year—
perhaps--led to a fresh impulse, an unfoldment
of civil rights and engendered that calamity
in Birmingham in September.
For a process had been set in motion
some hundred years before that would
result in the liberal effusion of celestial grace
and a march of compelling, universal victories.1
1 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, Wilmette, 1957, p. xiii.
30 January 2002
Political stability and the survival of civilization depended on an effective autocracy. This truth was not accepted by the senatorial class until the reign of Trajan in the late first century AD. -Ronald Martin, Tacitus, Bristol Classical Press, 1994, London, p.242.
And as we head through the centre of
a Voice speaks to help us survive
by the skin of our teeth1.
It spoke, then, at the beginning of Empire2 ,
as It speaks now at the start of global Order,
in the midst of tempest,
in our darkest incoherence this ocean speaks,
winning its way into the hearts of people
who go about, quietly and obscurely,
to bring about a new Kingdom everywhere
as governments collapse, anarchy increases,
complexity bites into the acid tendrils
of the mind and individuals are easily overwhelmed
by incomprehensible mysteries and boredom.
Our days have long been troublesome,
as they were then in those early days of Empire
when He spoke; our great body has been invaded
by open violence and slow decay
while a pure and humble religion, yet again,
insinuates itself into the minds of men,
lowly erects a place of honour
on a mountain square, its handiwork
and wisdom to adore.
17 November 1996
1Kenneth Clark, Civilization, Penguin, 1969, p.28.
2the Roman Empire began in 31 BC with the emperor Octavian.
For the last two days I have been immersed in a literary biography of W.H. Auden. Auden is arguably the most written about poet of the last century. Feeling intensely and with such an intelligence, he suffered, but there was consolation and some, if not most, of this consolation was found for him in the reflective art of poetry. For what matters to poets, and equally to the rest of humanity, is not so much what happened to them and us, but what they make of what happened. Auden's thoughts about the Roman Empire mirrored my own after teaching Roman history several times in the early 1990s. I will quote Auden's words here:
To all of us, I believe, in the middle of the twentieth century, the Roman Empire is like a mirror in which we see reflected the brutal, vulgar, powerful yet despairing image of our own technological civilization, an imperium which now covers the entire globe....What fascinates and terrifies us about the Roman Empire is not that it finally collapsed, but that it managed to last for five centuries without creativity, warmth or hope. -Ron Price with thanks to W.H. Auden in Auden, Richard Davenport-Hines, Minerva, NY, 1996, p.282.
when he heard you had gone
to that place which, if it existed,
you said would certainly be
utterly different than this.
And God would reduce us,
in that awesome hour,
you said, to tears of shame,
reciting to us, by heart,
those poems we would have written,
if we had freed ourselves from our
idle fancies and vain imaginations.
Meanwhile we live through
our own centuries of decline.
Very few study Rome any more
and how that mirror showed us
a despairing image of ourselves,
our own time, today, now—even
then it is through a mirror darkly.
10 October 2001
This poetry is by one of those who, were it not for his writing, would probably be left out of history, one of the seventy to ninety percent of the population(if not higher) who are neither rich, nor influential, not one of the major players on the stage, not famous as a writer or artist, just one of the many threads in the warp and weft that make up the Baha’i community, who strove within the limits of his incapacity while he was alive to spread the Baha’i teachings among his contemporaries and to be an example of its teachings.
This document, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, in its many genres, may be useful in describing and reconstructing on the literary stage of my time the lives of the people who were my contemporaries in the last three quarters of the first century of the Formative Age. There has been, throughout history, a literary inarticulateness on the part of the many that usually results in a shortage of community records. It results, too, from an inability to write, a lack of interest in leaving any record, a view that history is made by people in or with power, a perception that one’s life is unimportant, insignificant. In addition, people’s lives, at least in these epochs in which I have lived and had my being became occupied with so many things. My time is an antediluvian one, that is an age before the flood. It has also become, as I see it anyway, perhaps since the assassination of Kennedy in 1963 and that "blissful consummation" announced by the prophet Daniel, the age of the flood.
This lack of of a written account by ordinary individuals about their lives and times and the record of the rise of a new religion in our midst is being remedied, clearly remedied in our ‘paper age’, this ‘age of analysis’ with seemingly endless correspondence, computers, cassette and video tape. But the task of recreating our present age and how it felt to live in these times to those living in them may not be as easy to achieve as one might think. Individual statements, autobiographies, especially from the ordinary believer who lacks fame, rank, status or wealth are not among the sort of books that publishers seriously entertain for their markets. So, there is little payoff, so to speak, in putting your story down on paper, if you are one of the ordinary ‘blokes.’ Whatever is written of this nature seems to achieve its usefulness decades, if not centuries, later, when the history of the period in question is written.
Future historians must construct the pattern of our time through selection, suggestion and implication. Often the further historians get away from the period about which they are writing, the better they will be able to write about it. I trust what historians and sociologists find here will be of some use. Such, indeed, is one of my many motivations for wanting to put words on paper. -Ron Price with thanks to J.F.C. Harrison, The Common People: A History from the Norman Conquest to the Present, Flamingo Paperbacks, London, 1984, Introduction.
Seeing how long it has taken
for the writings, diaries, letters,
poetry and historical records
of our first century to get published,
I bequeath this my magnum opus
to posterity, testifying as I do
to the complexity of the task
for an ordinary believer,
an international and homefront pioneer
in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th epochs,
to recount in some meaningful way
the endless flux of events
that make up his Baha’i experience
and that of his fellows
over four decades or more in this century.
It seems, as I look back over all these years
in the field, like I have spun a thin tissue,
a web, across two continents, from pole to pole,
in this darkness before the dawn,
by some instinctual force, some feeling,
with the mind on all-ahead-full, always running,
a new rung every second,
making one of a thousand designs:
the funnel, orb, dome, bowl, tub or purse.1
Using the same principles and materials,
forms that will evolve over generations
perhaps millennia or more. And here I am,
right at the start, in the first quarter-century
in nearly all the communities I have lived.2
10 May 1999
1Guy Murchie describes the variety of webs spiders weave at speed "in the darkness before the dawn."(Seven Mysteries of Life, p.250.)
2Except Toronto Ontario, where I lived for a few months in 1969 and which had had a Baha’i community for more than half a century, all the communities I worked in, about two dozen, were in the first twenty-five years of their Baha’i experience, as far as I know.
1953: A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY
The closing chapters of Thomas Hardy’s autobiography The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, published in 1930, were left to Hardy’s second wife, Florence, to write. She did some editing of the early chapters. She deleted Hardy’s frequent vicious attacks on the reviewers who had been vicious in their attacks on him. She also cut out some descriptions of society-people Hardy had met in London. She also used her red pencil in some of Hardy’s references to Emma, his first wife. Jealousy seems to have played a part here. We now have, though, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, edited by Michael Millgate who makes a convincing attempt to restore Hardy’s original text. (James Gibson, Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life, MacMillan Press, London, 1996, p. 176)
As Harold H. Cornfield, my uncle, explains in his Foreward to my grandfather’s account, A.J. Cornfield’s Story, written about 1921-3, the content of the existing typed copy "is correct." 1 The kind of problem referred to above in relation to Hardy’s autobiography is not present in the only completed autobiography(my grandfather’s: 1872-1901) in my family.
This autobiography of my grandfather
goes back a long way,
sort of fleshes things out in our family
back to, what, 1872, or thereabouts?
This kind man’s work,
at the outset of the Formative Age,
with his seal of good-housekeeping
in a Foreward in 1953,
the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth,
serves as a foundation for my
Pioneering Over Three Epochs
which starts in 1953
when a new Age began for my family
at what was a turning point
in American Baha’i history.2
I was, then, nine.
1Harold H. Cornfield, A. J. Cornfield’s Story, pp.i-ii.
2Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith: Messages to America: 1947-1957, Wilmette, 1965, a letter 18 July 1953, pp.110-122.
13 May 1999
There can be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in....bringing under their rule the whole of the inhabited world. -Polybius, Histories, 1.1.5.
Between 220 BC and 168 BC the whole world fell under the undisputed ascendancy of Rome....It was a phenomena unprecedented in the annals of the European theatre of civilization. -Polybius in Study of History: Vol.3, Arnold Toynbee, Oxford UP, 1954, p.313.
Roman history is still too much like a great endless jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing.
-Keith Richardson, Daggars in the Forum: The Revolutionary Lives and Violent Times of the Gracchi Brothers, Cassell, London, 1976, p.xi.
The world empire of Rome was a negative phenomenon: the result....of an absense of resistance....It would be quite untrue to say that the Romans conquered the world. They merely took possession of something that was lying about for anyone to pick up.-Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, Vol.1, 1920, p.51.
The Baha'i World Order also grew like a great endless jigsaw puzzle. Although most of the pieces were still missing after the passing of a little more than a century and a half, the grand architectural shape was there. The pieces of the immense labyrinth would come together over time. Its undisputed sovereignity would be established, an unprecedented phenomena in the history of civilization on the planet, in the coming centuries. The process would be, for the most part, a positive one. There would be an immense resistance, in some places cruel and insidious, from foes now impossible to predict. But the unity, built up over several centuries, would be impossible to resist. The divisions of the 'tribes of the defeated'1 would lead, in the end, only to confusion. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, 1974(1938), p.17.
Well, you could say the pieces
were, for the most part, all there.
It only required the masses to enter.
The Arc had been built and now
the animals had to come in: by ones,
by twos, by threes, by more and more.
Unity was in fact,
the major accomplishment
of the first century-and-a-half.
The most perfect Being
ever to walk on the earth
had come and gone
and His charismatic Force
had been fully institutionalized.
The vineyard of the Lord was ready
and they waited all around the planet
for people to come in to the garden.
They waited to take possession
of something that had been lying
in wait, to be picked up, for decades;
for civilization had long lost its soul
and this small, peripheral fluctuation
would soon be amplified in this global,
complex, dynamic and unstable system,
loading the dice of change toward an
undisputed and planetary sovereignity.
15 October 2001
AND THEN THERE WAS LIGHT
About eleven weeks after the Opening of the Terraces on Mt. Carmel, in early August 2001, astrophysicists discovered when the first light occurred in the universe. It was about 900 million years after the Big Bang and the discovery came about by examining a quasar. For those first 900 million years after the Big Bang all was darkness. Can we conclude that it takes time for the light to come out of the darkness?-Ron Price with thanks to "Catalyst," ABC TV, 16 August 2001, 8:30-9:00 pm.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehendeth it not.1
-at least not yet during this modern tempest.
One day the world will see this light
shining through our universe, our earth,
and we will comprehend it sufficiently
to bring us a new tranquillity, peace
and unity, a power we have never known,
a power where community feeling will
triumph over all opposition, imbued
with a new vision, a new ideology,
a new morality, a unified Weltanschauung,
a strong consensus omnium to overcome
antisocial dispositions preponderant in
this world and its endless multipicity
of non-obligatory opinions.2
2Udo Schaefer, The Imperishable Dominion, George Ronald, Oxford, 1983, p.83.
16 August 2001
This is the second of two poems written as a meditation on Che Guevara, the Argentinian who became a famous revolutionary in Cuba in the early 1960s with Fidel Castro. This meditation also examines, briefly and succinctly, as poetry does so well, the nature of the war, the battle, the revolution, that is the experience of one international pioneer in the Baha'i community in this first century of the Formative Age. We all fight such different battles and, inevitably, we fight them alone. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 25 May 1999.
My task was to acquire the gun and the sword
of a virtuous character and, like you,1
I will give all I have to get it.2 I've got a vision
of where I'm going in much more detail than
you ever had. But the blood I give is sucked out
drop by drop, unseen, unknown, undiscussed.
No overthrow of regimes in my war, no planned
takeovers, no coups, no training in the techniques
of revolution, no guerilla warfare, no tracking through
the jungle but, in the end, an attack on the armies
of the world, their right and left wings, the legions
of all the nations, carrying the attack to the centre
of the powers of the earth and one day I, too,
will die in a town having given my soul for a Cause,
my portion of weeping and my endless words which
like a deadly poison accompany me in this arid exile.3
25 May 1999
1Che Guevara, revolutionary hero of guerilla warfare in Cuba in the early 1960s.
2He was killed in 1967 in Bolivia, by Bolivian troops, trying to initiate the global revolution which he believed in and which he hoped would begin for Latin America in Bolivia. He became a martyr to left-wing students in many nations.
3there are aspects of the experience that are rich and rewarding; and others which are arid and discouraging.
Atlantic Productions put a program together on Channel 4 TV in the USA in 1995. It was televised in Australia on SBS in May 1999. It was about Che Guevara, the revolutionary leader in Cuba in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was during this same period that I had just joined the Baha'i Faith as a youth. Watching this visual biography of Guevara got me to thinking about the nature of the revolutionary process that I was involved with as a Baha'i. This poem explores this contrast.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 25 May 1999.
You saw revolution so differently than I
who was soaking up a spiritual style,
that would keep me busy all my life.
No guns, no uniforms and a different myth
than the one they built out of you and your days.
A hero, you were, during my earliest days
within another Movement: 1959-1967.1
By 19672 you were dead in Bolivia
and your world-revolutionary hopes were gone.
I was getting ready for the first phase of a push
into pioneering, as we called it, among Eskimos.
Perhaps you were one of the first losses for
a counter-culture that would have to get used to
losing; and I was just one of the seemingly infinite
small steps for a new political Order that was just
sticking its head for the first time above the ground.
25 May 1999
1these were my first years as a Baha'i in Canada, years when the Baha'i Cause went through a critical phase: completing the second epoch of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Divine Plan and the opening years of the third epoch-of a 'long revolution.'
2Che Guevara helped Fidel Castro overthrow the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959. He was shot in 1967 in Bolivia after less than ten years of 'revolutionary activities.'
Arnold Toynbee argues in his Study of History Vol.2 that new ground acts as a stimulus. Adam and Eve leaving the garden gave birth in their new location to the fathers of an agricultural and pastoral civilization. Moses and the Children of Israel gave birth, through their exodus from Egypt, to the foundations of Syriac civilization in the Promised Land. Baha'u'llah, through his exile from Iran, laid the foundations for the most sublime and majestic spectacle in the world.1 The stimulus of new ground and the stimulus of blows, themes that Toynbee pursues in his Study, were both conducive to the transformation of first, the Babi, and then, the Baha'i Faiths. -Ron Price with thanks to J.E. Esslemont in Door of Hope, David S. Ruhe, 1983, p.135.
Could anything come out of Haifa?
It might be asked. Something that
would enchant the eye from air, sea
and plain: can we find it here, on this
rocky hill, Carmel’s bony spine?
It was not easy: hard was the ground,
barren, difficult to cultivate, hardly known
even in Herodotus' time,1 among the most
uninviting of the uninviting plots around.
A divine inspiration made this place,
to those who came near a means of grace,
as far back as Moses' time and then, now,
in more recent time, after nearly blasting
them out of existence and blowing them
to the edge of the Mediterranean He has
given them a place of beauty that grows
in the soil of martyr's blood and toil.
She is all loveliness now and an exquisite
power she will wield as she disregulates
the world's ordered ways, as she has mine.2
1 Toynbee says that the Greek historian Herodotus did not know of the land of Israel even in 440 BC.
2Roger White, "Artefact," The Witness of Pebbles, p.97.
24 June 2001
Outside of George Town in northern Tasmania is a place called Bell Buoy Beach. It is a beautiful beach which most of the time you can have entirely to yourself. In the late 1980s and 1990s some houses were built here. Matthew Flinders sighted it in 1798, the first contact by 'white civilization' in this region. Now just 200 years later: here I stand.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
for the first two centuries
after Matthew Flinders*
while Napoleon was pursuing his greatness
and Shaykh Ahmad had started
on his road to mujtahid.
This new road in this new century
will insinuate itself into these green
hills and beaches, these houses
and farms where the wind blows
forever at the end of this old river**
where different traces will be left
behind than Flinders left, traces
that, it is said, will last forever.
19 August 1999
* Matthew Flinders explored the end of theTamar River in 1798.
** the Tamar River.
Jacob Burckhardt's aim in his Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was to define the attitude of men as they confronted the world, to describe the renewal of human consciousness and life and the positive spirit that guaranteed the flowering of the gifts and capacities of human beings and, in the process, to tell of the origins of our civilization and the genesis of modern man. The people of fourteenth and fifteenth century Italy exercised their judgment in conditions very similar to our own. What mattered to Burckhardt was autobiographies and the signatures of various artists. This signature was expressed in the individual uniqueness of each artist, in the artist's quite precise definition of his point of view, in what distinguished each artist from his contemporaries and in the artist's seeing the world with new eyes. The model and framework of life in which this process took form was antiquity. The model was protean and it did not exist in isolation, but only as part of a whole. The battle with reality, the philosophical context for the whole exercise, was conducted within the active unit of humanism.-Ron Price with thanks to Robert Klein, Form and Meaning: Essays on the Renaissance and Modern Art, The Viking Press, NY, 1979(1970), pp. 25-42.
Jacob, you would have found
this poetic useful, the quite precise
definition of perspective and purpose:
autobiographical signature for history's
story, one day writ large, using a model
and framework, protean as well, but not
linked to antiquity. This one is part of a
whole, part of an active unit, linked to
jewel-like thoughts cast out of the mind
of a man to admonish and counsel men:
'twas God's mysterious, spontaneous and
unknowable artistry. 'Twas His genius.....
23 November 1999
In 1877 Auguste Rodin, the revolutionary French sculptor, exhibited his first work. It was titled The Vanquished. That same year Baha'u'llah was transferred from the prison-city of Akka to the Mansion of Mazra'ih, 12 kilometres from Akka. It had been the intention of Sultan 'Abdu'l-'Aziz to vanquish Baha'u'llah, to banish Him in the greatest abasement, to destroy Him. In reality, that prison was the means of His glory and of the development of the Cause. Just who The Vanquished were, then, became obvious by 1877. The sculptor, who made a revolutionary break with artistic tradition, had portrayed the spirit of disillusionment in the hearts of the youth of France, a spirit also felt by the enemies of the Cause, for obviously different reasons. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
Your1 flesh could mirror the spirit
and a limitless world of feeling,
preserving life's inner mystery,
building bridges between the inner
and outer life of man and responding
to the problems of the times.
I like to see that piece, The Vanquished,
your first, as symbolic of His victory,
His release to that upper floor, with its
nearby balcony, at the Mansion of Mazra'ih,
overlooking beautiful, quiet countryside,
north of Akka, a turning point in the fortunes
of His Ministry. The sweetness of His melody
attracted the hearts of all men. Thus have the
mysteries of the Revelation of God been decreed
by virtue of the Will of Him Who is the Source
of power and wisdom....unto all eternity.....2
1In the hands of this sculptor life was infused into bronze shapes.
2Baha'u'llah, Baha'i Prayers, USA, 1985, frontpage.