8. THE BAB
I have written many poems, inspired as I was by many facets of the Bab’s life. Some of them are found below; the rest are available at the Baha’i World Centre Library.
My Revelation is indeed far more bewildering than that of Muhammad...if thou dost but pause to reflect upon the days of God. -The Bab, Selections, 1976, p.139.
As I stood staring at this Antipodean river and its nearby countryside, where the modern Western civilization in which I lived and moved and had my being was fast becoming part and parcel of a complex global civilization and humankind a planetized species, I had an experience which was the counterpart, on the psychic plane, of an aeroplane's sudden deep drop when it falls into an air-pocket. To that spot where Mulla Hasayn talked with the Bab I was suddenly carried down in a time-pocket from this day in the second year of the third millennium A.D. to the fourth year of the fourth decade of the nineteenth century in which history, in that room, on May 23rd at eleven minutes after sunset, had entered and completed another stage with the onset of the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets. -Ron Price with thanks to Arnold Toynbee and an experience he had on March 19th, 1912.
So began a grinding, grinding
in the mill of that Holy Seed---
of infinite preciousness,
of incalculable potentialities---
yielding that oil first lighted
in that sombre, black pit.
And so, too, here on the river
another grinding, crushing
of a far-less God-imbued kernel
on the anvil of adversity,
as global civilization marched
on its relentless course
and I, too, relentlessly marched on
even with the burden of my sin
as my heart melted within me
and as the radiance of a still
infant Faith spread over the earth.
10 March 2002
The Baha'i Cause has a World Centre in Haifa, but around this centre is an immense network which participates in so many different ways in this Centre. You don't really have to live and work in that Centre to be part of it, although obviously one's participation in the physicality of that Centre from a distance is not the same as actually being there. The unquestioned center of the Baha'i World Faith is PO Box 155 Haifa Israel 30 001or, more especially, the holy dust of the Bab and Baha'u'llah in Their respective shrines. That unique centrality will never end. As the phenomenal world we live and participate in becomes more and more global, as the local and habitual settings in which we physically move are experienced as only part of that phenomenal world, as distance intrudes into local activities overcoming some of its tyranny, that centrality will become even deeper and more pervasive.
We must resolve various dilemmas, though, if we are to preserve a coherent narrative of self-identity in relation to this phenomenal world. This poem is about the resolution of these dilemmas. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford UP, 1991, pp.187-201.
The one and the many,
integration and fragmentation,
bringing it together
and splitting things apart,
bridging the gap,
bridging the gap
in a drama, the role,
that I and others expect
me to be as I participate
in the necessary creation
of this special ideological
culture and my world.
And so I put fantasy, make-believe,
theatre, game-playing, models, plans
and images into a great mix, a repertoire,
to be ready for any contingency,
limit any engulfment,
being overwhelmed by
not haunted, but see it
as a natural state
and so slowly make a new world,
where orchestration, dominance,
is limited as I try to balance
10 October 2000
ONE HAD TINTED CRIMSON
In the year after the Bab was martyrd Herman Melville published Moby Dick. Some have regarded this book as the greatest work in American fiction. Melville began writing this book in the late 1840s, perhaps 1849 at the earliest. He said he loved all men who dived. Any fish could swim near the surface, but it took a great whale to go down five miles. Melville also thought that comfortable beliefs needed to be discarded. He could not himself believe and he was uncomfortable in his disbelief. -Ron Price, a summary of an essay and an encyclopedia article on Melville.
Melville must be henceforth numbered in the company of the incorrigibles who occasionally tantalize us with indications of genius.....Melville has succeeded in investing objects.....with an absorbing fascination...Moby Dick is not a mere tale of adventure, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds.-Henry F. Chorley, in London Athenaeum, 25 October 1851; and London John Bull, 25 October 1851.
My Revelation is indeed far more bewildering than that of Muhammad....how strange that a person brought up among the people of Persia should be empowered by God....and be enabled to spontaneously reveal verses far more rapidly than anyone.... -The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, p.139.
They both went down deep
into the ocean of mystery,
some mystic intercourse
had possessed them
with subtle and penetrating grandeurs,
a whole way of life in their words,
a certain eccentricity of style,
an object of ridicule,
a kind of old extravagance,
the transcendental tendency of the age.
But One had musk-scented breaths...
written beyond the impenetrable
veil of concealment...
oceans of divine elixir,
tinted crimson with the essence of existence...
Arks of ruby, tender....
wherein none shall sail but
the people of Baha...1
----Ron Price 18 February 1999
1The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, pp.57-8.
As I do a little editing to this site on 30 May 2007, I have now written some 60 booklets ofpoetry and over 6000 poems. Each booklet has an introduction. The following is the introduction to booklet number 38.
INTRODUCTION TO BOOKLET NUMBER 387
I have written before, in the introductions to previous booklets as early as 1995, of the influence of Wordsworth on my poetry.1 The autobiographical nature of his poetry, especially in his The Prelude; the strong tendency of Wordsworth to shape his memories, his daily life and use poetry as a medium for wrestling with his conception of life, his destiny and his society; the feeling he had, as early as 1799, if not earlier, that he had been called to being a poet: these aspects of his writing and these sentiments find echoes in my own experience and my own poetry. The process seemed to begin, for Wordsworth, in his teens; whereas the process did not really begin for me until my forties.
I was approaching my mid-fifties before I felt a strong sense of a poetic calling and I was fifty-five before I found my Grasmere, the place where I could concentrate as fully as possible on writing poetry, as Wordsworth did in the late 1790s. Wordsworth had his sister Dorothy for companionship, as his helpmate. I had my wife, Chris. As Wordsworth put it in his poem Home At Grasmere:
Where my footsteps turned
Her voice was like a hidden Bird that sang;
The thought of her was like a flash of light
Or an unseen companionship, a breath
Of fragrance independent of the wind...
I could put it in similar tones. There has been a sharing of solitude, as Ortega y Gasset described marriage, "an unseen companionship ....independent as the wind." She was a gentle, "hidden Bird" who was always busy with one thing or another in her own world of the garden, the artistic side of life in: pottery, art or arranging the domestic side of life in our home. Not that our relationship was without its tensions from time to time.(1.1) I often felt it was like the tension in violin strings that, when tuned, produced beautiful music but, sometimes, were sadly out of tune and a terrible strained noise resulted.
This booklet of poetry, then, is the first from my Grasmere in George Town Tasmania. It is my hope that this place will become what Grasmere was for Wordsworth: "the choice of the whole heart."2 It is my hope that it will come to serve, down the remaining years of my days, as the base for whatever future work I would do, the home from which I might fly to serve in other places. As I approach the age of sixty it seems wise to have a fixed point of residence, at last. By the time Wordsworth went to live in Grasmere he had been writing for sixteen years. I had been writing poetry for nineteen, but only seriously for seven. Any meaningful sense of a poetic calling was for me very slow in coming. I was nearly fifty-five. Wordsworth was in his late twenties.
"Through memory nothing is really lost and change yields abundant recompense" Wordsworth once wrote. It had been my experience, through writing poetry, that my years as a pioneer and travel teacher were yielding an abundant recompense through the aid of memory’s enriching assistance. Poetry seemed to give me an enlargement of my capacity to know and understand my experience. It seemed to increase my consciousness, its scope and range, as if my being was being added to in a mysterious way. Perhaps this was because poetry was not unlike prayer which,‘Abdu’l-Baha informes us, increases our capacity.
In addition, I wanted to convey my story in more meaningful ways than the narrative that I had sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library as early as 1993. Poetry provided that medium. It seemed to increase the very meaning of the world, its metaphysical, its philosophical, substance. A passion for a synoptic view of the world, as A.D. Hope put it, makes the writing of "the slightest of poems on the most particular of themes" 3 a reflection of this ruling passion, often quite undeliberately.
It had become my view, more strongly than ever by 1999, that any interpretive analysis of one’s life was inevitably incomplete and uncertain. Wordsworth had felt the same two hundred years before. This was not an uncommon conclusion of millions of human beings regarding the human condition and their part in it. Wordsworth spoke of the blessedness of "that dawn". I speak of certain "traces of light" which this century has left behind, suffusing our age with their ennobling influences. The slow evolution of the last two centuries and that earliest dawn has seen an effloresence, an explosion, of light in this Cause and in the world. And now a tapestry of beauty has been erected for the world on Mt. Carmel. In the midst of a storm-tossed planet those first glimmerings of Wordsworth’s day have become the dawn of a new day, a dawn with both a wondrous light and with nearly unendurable difficulties for humankind.
By 1992 I had come to search for a form of expression that would be equal to the intensity of my beliefs, my commitment and the feelings and thoughts that were at the centre of my life. As a pioneer and travel teacher over three epochs I had contributed to the development of the Baha’i community in some two dozen towns and cities. In the process, by 1992, I had worn myself somewhat thin. This was the reason for my Grasmere, for my early retirement. The awe and reverence, too, that I felt for the developments on Mt. Carmel also needed to be given a specific point of outlet. Poetry celebrated and described what was clearly a range of emotional and intellectual responses to these developments in my own being.
The body of poetry that I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library, some two million words in nearly forty booklets, provides a high degree of specificity regarding my life, my religion and my society as it goes through a crucial stage of its transition. Wordsworth’s life is indistinct, although his poem The Prelude goes a long way toward that end. What he actually thought, felt and did are knowable only in part and that, mainly, in retospect. I trust that this is not the case with myself. Wordsworth may have been "eloquently unspecific", but I have registered a high degree of specificity through the interplay of past, present and future in a mix of juxtapositions and interrelations in poem after poem: the negative and the positive and the repetition of themes, topics, subjects. I record my spiritual journey, as Wordsworth did, in its many stages: crisis, grace, calamity, march, victory, awakening, recovery, maturity, et cetera. But the record of this journey is not sequential; the record is cast in an immense ocean of words.
Stephen Gill describes both Wordsworth and Coleridge as "solitary beings, dwelling calmly in the immensity of their own thoughts."4 This certainly would describe me increasingly as I have come to focus more sharply on my writing and less on my career, less on the social dimension of day-to-day life and my Baha’i community activities which had come to wear me out by my early fifties I began to apply, as much as wisdom dictated and my energies allowed, the words from the Ridván message of 1990 "each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing."
As the years flowed on from 1992 to 1999, I sensed an increasing direction and purpose. It was my hope that this directedness would continue. Like Wordsworth, an industrious and active man who tended to overexert himself, I had a similar proclivity. By the time I arrived at my Grasmere, I felt tired, weary and complained of psychological fatigue; in fact, several days before moving into my new home the tests of life had become so great that I nearly abandoned the project altogether. I knew, though, as a basic first principle almost, that "with fire We test the gold." Sometimes the fires were just too much. Time tended to cool the heat and I would now enjoy some time in my own Sulaymaniyyih, my own Switzerland, my own retreat where I could refresh my timbers.
Wordsworth had responded in 1799 to the creative impulse of the hour with abundantly rich poetry. I responded to the creative impulse I felt in the new developments on Mt. Carmel. I felt a new imaginative power, although occasionally I had feelings of utter helplessness, exhaustion, fear and frustration. The years of writing all this poetry had not been easy ones. But I felt stirred on to write and write and write. I knew I could not counteract the forces of disintegration in my society solely through my poetry. These forces in the dark heart of an age of transition needed more pens than mine to bring about their resolution. Indeed more than pens were required. I would play my part, however small, in binding together human society through the passion and knowledge that was expressed, reflected through my poetry. The poetry was not an end in itself but, rather, an adjunct of my service to others who come upon it and a mere reflection in my mirror of the Light of the Sun, so to speak. Wordsworth felt a great potential of his poetry to be a force for good but with the years he became more pessimistic and more withdrawn and only too aware that he was a part of a moribund order. His Prelude was a prelude to a secular age, while I see my work in quite optimistic terms as a prelude to a spiritual one and a new ordering of society.
I had come to see myself or, more accurately, my writing, as chronicler, preserver, comforter, moral guide, provocateur, futurologist and mediator. Much of my prose-poetry has that similar matter-of-factness and that strong predilection for narrative form that Wordsworth’s poetry possessed. He felt he occupied these roles in the "busy solitude of his own heart."5 This same feeling inhabits my being as I write in these early years of my retirement in my Grasmere. Both Wordsworth and I felt the same way about friends. Although I felt I had acquired thousands over my lifetime, I had gained a different understanding in my latter years, an understanding which viewed friendship as something that arose serendipitously and thrived, died or continued in so many different forms like the wild flowers, ferns, reeds, grasses, sedges, weeds, thistles and trees among nature’s fields, mountains and varied zones of vegetation. Sometimes human contact was cramping, strangling and stifling and at other times fertile, blossoming, indeed, joyful.
It was my hope, as it was Wordsworth’s, that my poetry could rectify the feelings of readers, give them new conceptions of feeling, render their feelings more sane, more pure and more permanent, but there were so many other media and resources for individuals to achieve these ends in society. My own work was but one of many a dazzling and attractive diversity in the quotidian world. Wordsworth thought that one day he would offer the world his great philosophical poem. This remained his last and his highest aspiration.6 Although this was not my aspiration I did like to think that for the critical foundation years of this new Order of society, which I saw take a more specific form during three epochs of the Formative Age, my poetry could come to serve as a useful resource for future readers wanting to gain a better understanding of what went on in these times and how pioneers, overseas pioneers especially, accomplished what they did.
Like Wordsworth, who two hundred years before as the dawn of the dawn of this new age took possession of his own past, ordered his memories and celebrated the powers which had shaped him to be a poet, I found myself in a similar position in relation to my poetry. There was, for me, that serenity, that sense of harmony and a deep power of joy that had been part of Wordsworth’s poetic experience and which Wordsworth expressed quintessentially in a passage in his ‘Tintern Abbey’ referring to:
....that blessed mood
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened: that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy
We see into the life of things.
Both Wordsworth and I gave vent to a melancholy, a sadness and a despondency which came into our lives on occasion, sent by the hand of Destiny as it seemed or which resulted from our own inadequacies. Sometimes these saddened moments in time seemed part of a process which Wordsworth might have discussed in what we could call his "poetry of affections," affections in objects which we might fear or weep to lose. The sources of these sad moments were often quite obvious, but sometimes the sources were so obscure as to force us back onto those myserious dispensations of a watchful Providence, of fate, of circumstance or of sheer thought in order to find explanations and understandings. These processes occupied us in our poetry and occupied the centre of our lives, mine as early as 1962 when my pioneer life began or even earlier in my late childhood or early-to-mid-teens before I wrote any poetry at all.
1Emerald Green and Vista of Splendour
1.1I have described my wife in many ways in my poetry. Our life, on the whole, has been a peaceful one punctuated by the occasional and, I always found, distressing argument.
2Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life, Oxford UP, NY, 1980, p.182.
3A.D. Hope, The New Cratylus: Notes on the Craft of Poetry, Oxford UP, Melbourne, 1979, p.174.
4ibid., p. 122.
7. This essay served as the introduction to my 38th booklet of poetry sent to the BWCL in 1999. I sent some 5000 poems to the Baha'i World Centre Library, poems written from 1987 to 2000, during the time when the Arc was being built. I slightly revised this essay on the last day of September 2007.
THE MAGIC SUMMER OF '44
In August 1844 Karl Marx published his first major writings The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. They were fully translated into English the year I became a Baha'i, 1959.1 While Marx was writing these Manuscripts in May 1844, the Bab, Who styled Himself the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things, wrote verses of His Qayyumu'l-Asma thus initiating the "most spectacular...most tragic...most eventful period of the first Baha'i century."2 The first book of His writings in English was available in 1976. -Ron Price with thanks to Christopher Phelps, "Commemorating 1844--Why Marx Still Matters," New Politics, Vol.5 No.2, Winter 1995; and Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 1957, pp.3-6.
It was magic that summer of '44,
an irradiation of incandescent light
that will never fade, a splendour
that will never be obscured,
the dawn of an Age had broken,
elders clothed in white raiment
and crowned in gold, a company
of angels scattered far and wide.
Ridiculed and pilloried, both men
were: impractical, unrealistic,
heretical, evil whisperers.
No anniversary exists now
for Marx and his works,
no special issues of journals,
no conferences. Who will visit
his gravesite in this postmodern
world of Homer Simpson,
Walt Disney and the fast-flowing
river of torrential history?
As we all draw nearer to the glorious spirit
of Him Who was the Herald of our Faith
and the Bearer of an independent Revelation
and the vastness of His writings which we celebrate
every year, especially His Qayyumu'l-Asma, written
less than 100 days before Marx's first Manuscripts
first saw the light of day.....were they generated by
that Primal Point? Were they?
Ron Price 27 October 2001
THE PORTRAIT AND THE MAN
After a lifetime of reading about the Bab, hearing stories about him and believing Him and His teachings to be at the core of my life, what could I say that would attempt to encapsulate this my experience of the Bab? -Ron Price, 2:15 PM, 27 December 1995, Rivervale, Western Australia.
Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on the right, on the left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p.172
Thank you Aqa-Bala Big,* or
should I say Prince Malik Qasim
for the only portrait of the Bab
we have. Done just before His
public declaration in Tabriz and
His: I am, I am the Promised One!
This soul of the great ether who
could do anything he wanted, this
Mihdi, this Master Hero, this
Primal Point, this spellbinder,
this Mystery, Morn of Truth,
Harbinger of the Most Great Light,
the Mystic Fane, the Source of light
that shone on Mount Sinai, Whose
fire glowed in the Burning Bush,
the Forerunner of the Ancient Beauty.
The portrait of this mild and delicate
looking man, small in stature and fair,
can be seen in the Archives Building.
I am longing to draw near to Your
glorious spirit and Your bewildering
and wondrous revelation, to be admitted
to the gardens of Your Paradise
and that fitting silence You request:
the only true revolutionary of the last
two centuries of our age of modernity.
* He was the chief painter of the governor and was asked by the governor to paint the Bab’s portrait.
27 December 1995
THE GREAT TURNING POINT
Jeffery Berman writes about the artists of the Victorian period who longed for a brighter vision but gradually a life-weariness dimmed their energies1, a melancholia that longed for release saddened their aspect, a congenital exhaustion sapped their enthusiasms, a joyless limbo filled their worlds, a bleak self-destructiveness coloured their landscape. Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, Tennyson, Arnold, Hardy, among others, all gave to the twentieth century an ever-darkening mirror into which to peer. These writers all saw below the "landscape of false confidence." They saw the "deep despair...and spiritual gloom."2 Many twentieth century artists, looking into that mirror, saw the same darkness: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemmingway, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, the list of the most conspicuous suicides is long.
Humanity still lives, even after the most turbulent century in history, in that landscape of false confidence, still believes that "through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances" it will be "possible to bend the conditions of human life into conformity with prevailing human desires."3 This prose-poem, what I call a vahid of 19 lines, is partly a response to the new book Century of Light. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Jeffery Berman, Joseph Conrad:Writing as Rescue, Astra Books, NY, 1977, p.13; and 2 Century of Light, The Universal House of Justice, 2001, p.7; and 3 ibid.,p.ii.
I create, here, because I must.
For I have become a voice,
silence is death
and the dark horrors of life
seem, for the most part,
behind me, if not for society.
It's tiring, yes, exhausting.
There is loss of life,
obsessive trance-like repititions,
but it sustains me,
is a contemplative recreation,
an adventure in turbulence,
emotion in tranquillity,
the latest chapter
in a lifelong battle
to persevere and understand
the great turning point1
of this last century and beyond.
23 May 2001
STANDING AT THE GATE
Even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist. A wonderful living side by side grows up, I find, but still there is that distance which, as Rilke says, we must learn to love as we stand at the gate of each other's solitude. -Ron Price with thanks to Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters:1892-1910, W.W. Norton, 1945, pp.57-8.
It is wonderful
as I stand at the gate,
but it is difficult, too,
for loving is difficult
even in this quiet house
under the wide skies of solitude
as our voices pass: tender, lightly, familiar.
There has been so much of a deep wanting
from year to year and it finds its home
by this river protected for deep and important things,
for the best that is in me,
for time's journey
to that fruit of holiness
on the tree of wondrous glory.1
1 Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words, Arabic, Number 67.
9 May 200
LUMINOSITY AND STRUCTURED FORMS
In the 1920s and 1930s astronomy established the universe as vast, expanding, uniform and homogeneous, a place where consistency rules. The period 1922 to 1936 was the most creative in any astronomer’s life since Galileo.1 The galaxies were revealed as an ordered sequence of structured forms. It was during this same period that the model for Baha’i administration was given its initial shaping. It evolved during this period "to the point where Shoghi Effendi could feel confident to turn the energies of the community toward worldwide expansion."2 -Ron Price with thanks to Gale Christianson, Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae, Frarrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1995, p.247; and 2 Loni Bramson-Lerche, "Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha’i Administrative Order in America: 1922-1936", Studies in Babi and Baha’i History, Vol.1, editor Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, 1982, pp.255-300.
We also found the structure of the atom
while he was setting down
the great, the grand design.1
We were discovering the evolution
of matter into more complex forms
as the sum of Baha’i experience
was being fused in this offspring
of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretive mind,
this co-sharer in the genius of interpretation
which unified thoughts in the essentials of faith
as he forged a community,
built an administration
that would be an ordered sequence
of structured forms, members of a single family,
the luminosity of each directly related to its maturity.2
28 May 1999
2The very structure of the universe and the structure of Baha’i administration seem to have a remarkable similarity as first described by Edwin Hubble and others in the 1920s and 1930s.
23 October 1999
A LONG ROAD: 1959-1999
It has been Solzhenitsyn’s fate to embrace almost all of his country’s experience in the twentieth century and especially The Gulag Archipelago, Stalin’s death camps. The first idea for this book and the research began in 1959, his annus mirabilis. It was eventually published in English in 1974. I had joined the Baha’i Faith in that same year of 1959 in Canada and, by 1974, I was living in Tasmania, a pioneer outpost about as far from my home as possible.
The Gulag Archipelago was "the most powerful single indictment of a political regime to be levelled in modern times."1 By 1989 that regime had collapsed after some seventy-two years in existence. The other major global system, democracy, with its complex history going back arguably to the Magna Carta in 1215, or to Greek democracy in 508 BC or perhaps 461 BC in Athens, was, as the Austrian statesman Joseph Schumpeter defined it, "the surrogate faith of intellectuals deprived of religion."2
Price had come into the Baha’i administrative system in 1959, only twenty-two years after it had been given its initial shaping(i.e.1937); and after forty years of working within it and watching its development, at a period which had witnessed startling changes in the world and had plunged that world into confusion with a certain derangement in people’s personal lives and a consequent "loss of the fulness of the inner life,"3 he did not experience the debilitating emotions resulting from social breakdown and the lack of significant response to the teachings. Rather he awaited the increasing disintegration as the only hope for the real growth and receptivity to the teachings of his Faith.4 -Ron Price with thanks to 1D.M. Thomas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life, St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1998, p.446; 2 ibid., p.500; 3 Universal House of Justice, November 1992, p.3 and 4 Universal House of Justice, Letter to the NSA of the USA, 19 May 1994.
It’s been a busy forty years,
a sytem ending and another
fately abused as a new one,
born and formed just the
other day, heads into the
last half of its first century.1
It will take a hundred years,
we are told, before its treasures
of hidden wisdom2 are revealed
and, in the meantime, we are
faced with more of the enigmas,
contradictions, the slow road,
stoney, arduous, uphill to our
sacred mount, our holy seat.
6 June 1999
1It headed into the second half of its first century in 1987.
2Shoghi Effendi, 30 March 1930.
It was the end of September 1846 as He passed through the Allah-u-Akbar Gate...the Bab knew it was the ending of the first phase of his meteoric mission. -David S. Ruhe, Robe of Light: The Persian Years of the Supreme Prophet Baha’u’llah: 1817-1953, George Ronald, Oxford, 1994, p.74.
Perhaps it was the explosive epidemic
that saved You to continue what was
an intensifying series of sorrows and
disappointments beyond that northern
gate of Shiraz where You paused to
look back at that beautiful bowl valley
with its cyprus trees and azure-tiled domes
where Hafiz and Sadi were now a memory
along with the ruins of Persepolis and its
ancient imperial splendour where You
would soon pass by.
Discouragements and disasters succeeded
one another in bewildering rapidity,
sapping the vitality and dimming the hopes
of Your stoutest supporters. This Gate in 1846
was just the start: the start of what seems
a recital of reverses, massacres and humiliations.
Your plans and conceptions were
beginning to look foredoomed to failure:
the appearance of colossal disaster was
slowly setting in, the saddest and most
fruitless campaign--plunged in an abyss of darkness.
As You left Your wife, never to see her again,
never to see Your home, as You passed through
this Allah-u-Akbar Gate in its rocky pass
on Your way to Isfahan, You knew Your faith
was passing through the fiery tests of
a phase of transition that was to carry it
on its path to a high destiny, more glorious
than anything since its birth and to periods
of utter futility and despondency.
Oh northern gate of Shiraz!
You hold the promise of things unseen,
laden as you are with that weighty Book,
in your arches, towers and balustrades
and of an earthquake of anguish.
Just a point in time, passing as You did,
from the home of Your birth to a new Home
where Your Dust would kindle a fire
that would lead all people through
the Gate to the Promise of All Ages.
25 June 1995
A FORTRESS FOR WELL-BEING
Many people visit others out of a desire to have company, be sociable, pass the time, etcetera. Many others, at the other end of the social spectrum, are lonely and in need of company. Another group of people don’t want any company and are happy with their own. Working out your own ‘sociability index’ is important to your peace of mind, sense of social tranquillity and personal integrity. -Ron Price with thanks to George Simmel in The Sociological Tradition, Robert Nisbet, Heinemann, 1966, p.308.
I think if I had a free and healthy and lasting organization of heart and lungs as strong as an ox’s so as to bear unhurt the shock of extreme thought and sensation without weariness, I could pass my life very nearly alone, though it should last eighty years. -John Keats, In a letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, 24 August 1819.
Give me a call sometime;
didn’t I tell you:
the greatest journey in life is to relieve
the sorrow-laden heart.1
If you’re ever feeling a little low,
drop in, no need to give me a call,
unless you want.
I find when I say this not many drop in,
so don’t get the idea that you are imposing
on my time. I’m not the most popular fellow
with everyone and their dog dropping in.
My wife keeps my spirits pretty good,
quite an understanding lady really
and I find I can talk to my son,
like a friend, when sadness visits me.
So we’ve got what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called
a fortress for well-being2 here,
a safe haven, a quiet place,
a silent garden where only birds
and blowing branches can he heard.
Can I say a wave of tenderness is here?
Mostly. There are barriers here
which we do not pass:
each in separate solitudes,
in separate rooms much of the time,
You will find greater and lesser pearls
in the corners of our rooms,
in our garden and hidden away
in shallow seas and rivulettes
that run through our lives.
Set free in a diamond studded array,
kept secret mostly, modestly arranged,
for God hath set all things free
from one another
that they may be sustained
by Him alone,
and nothing in the heavens
or in the earth, but God,sustains them.3
1‘Abdu’l-Baha, source not known
2other quotations from marriage prayers
3The Bab, from His Tablet El Kadir(The Mighty)
29 December 1995
THE FLOWERING OF SEEDS
In 1909 William Carlos Williams started writing poetry like Keats. In the same year the body of the Bab was placed in a marble sarcophagus in Haifa Israel. So began a fascinating journey of a quintessential American poet and so ended another of risks and perils to enshrine a precious Trust in Its home in the Holy Land. -ABC, Sunday Afternoon: WCW, 25 June 1995 and Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp.274-275.
You gave us something new:
a new poetry for everyman,
for what he did, words-these
were the units, real, concrete,
anything felt, anything amusing
makes poetry, you said.
You celebrated the new,
(logical for a pediatrition)
contemplated your loneliness,
your world, your life and ours.
And you did all this just as
a new Order was breaking
onto the world, unbeknownst
to most, perhaps symbolized
when He came to America
in 1912 as you were starting
to run from the old to a new voice,
as another new Voice was breaking
out unobtrusively in the mid-most
heart of a new world, Chicago.
And now in the midst of that other
Old world, the Voice reposes on
the Isle of Faithfulness, having been
carried ever so surreptitiously to that
Mount where mystic influence now radiates
for our handiwork and wisdom to adore.
A new loveliness seemed to burst out
over the arts, raining down, raining down
as an old world died with blood pouring
out in buckets, as if history was expiring
her last breath at Verdun and the Somme.
Now a beauty, only just seen, can be starred at,
leaned on, from above, below, kissed on those
ever-sleeping lips, hidden now beneath a Dust
of magic Light. A beauty, crystal-concentrate,
light in an old spiritual place--you can’t miss it,
no one misses it who goes there. Has a grace
so contained as to pose no threat. Has a touch
of Marxism, a little of the green, a flavour of the
liberal and a cup of tradition: something in it for
everyone, two-bob each way, some might say.
The Age has not figured Her out, perhaps,
deserves Her not, but needs Her in these
troublesome days of plague-swept streets,
chilled hearts and utter unbelieveable complexity.
25 June 1995
POET OF REMEMBRANCE
Indeed shouldst Thou desire to confer blessing upon a servant Thou wouldst blot out from the realm of his heart every mention or disposition except Thine Own mention; and shouldst Thou ordain evil for a servant by reason of that which his hands have unjustly wrought before Thy face, Thou wouldst test him with the benfits of this world and of the next that he might become preoccupied therewith and forget Thy remembrance. -The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, US, 1985, p.151.
Poet of remembrance, you will not
even weap to know that your lifetime
harvests have been dried and burned:
this vast sea of belief and knowledge
devoured by slow fire. Your childhood,
youth and friendship-that jewel of understanding
that graced your life-love’s first glow, matured
with the seasons, fled like sweet dreams,
leaving but a memory, some light, some candle,
that went out and new preoccupations, enough
to fill a world and another world, perhaps forever,
God knows! For so long was I consecrated, close
to Thee, but some crisis devastated me and, would
I but wait, some mysterious power would unfold,
like a fresh flower in all its bloom--and then some
great calamity and then a victory, at last a victory
found in the hole, the gloom, the pestilential place.
I know now, too well, that pit of hell and I do not
endure it with the courage, the little courage, I once
could tell. And so I wait and sit and listen for the
moments in time when Your effusion of celestial
grace will speed me on to march and win the
victories that have always lied, far ahead
beyond the darkness wherein I lie and die and
find a newborn joy beyond any I have known.
So was this the case with Him and the agony
He felt, the unceasing afflictions; but a blissful
joy was His, some ineffable gladness in His
solitude, oblivious to the world
and all that is therein.
The city is the embodiment of nightmare, of terrible visions, of some blank and dead spirit. Dostoevsky describes this urban jungle in a style full of life’s immediacy and authenticity, with a sense of the vastness and indeterminacy of human motivation. His writing career began after he gave up his ‘dull as potatoes’ military career in 1844. -Malcohm Bradbury on ‘Dostoevsky’, The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria, 1989, pp.27-52.
Attainment unto this City quencheth thirst without water, and kindleth the love of God without fire. -Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, USA, 1952, p.269.
It was a year when careers took epochal shifts:
exploring darkness and light, old crimes and new
punishments,books, so many new books, that would
change the face of fiction and the world’s spiritual
sensibility forever. Tragic figures, so very tragic, but
ultimately an exploration of the inner man that the world
had never seen: Worship thou God in such wise that
if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in
thine adoration would be produced.*
Different cities found expression under your pens:
heavenly and earthly, earthly and earthly where,
at last, the Mystic Herald, bearing the joyful
tidings of the Spirit, shine(s) forth from the
City of God,** from Your book, like some
trumpet-blast of knowledge, resplendent as the
morn, awakening hearts from the slumber of
frenetic passivity. And this city of multiforms
is taking shape up there, over there, like a
pregnant mountain and in a thousand other
places, slowly, gradually, confering new life
on seekers as they penetrate the hidden
mysteries of the soul and inhale the fragrances
of a new morning in some wondrous utterances
in which the channels of their souls are cleansed
by new perfumes.***
27 October 1995
* The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p.77.
** Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p.267.
***Dostoevsky wrote many books before he died in 1881.
The Bab and Baha’u’llah wrote a massive number of books before Baha’u’llah’s death in 1892.
THE SOURCE OF CALM
Through every human being, unique space, intimate space, opens up to the world. For some, this space produces poetry, is poetry, produces a nest for dreaming, a shelter for imagining that is not accessible to investigation and can scarcely be analysed. Sometimes poetry seems to give out waves of calm into this space. These waves seem to be, partly at least, an emergence of being itself, the result of years of contemplation of the world’s immensity. -Ron Price with appreciation to Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places, Beacon Press, Boston, 1994.
From whence cometh the calm?
Perhaps some profound knowing
that He ordaineth my movements
throughout the day-time and in the
night season1; perhaps the endless
study of this immensity and a "here
am I, here am I" which Thy chosen
ones have uttered since time immemorial.
Perhaps it is a renewal that takes place
in the act of self-reflecting in a hall of
mirrors with a mind so stocked that an
overflowing of words like the rush of
water in a stream giving release, release
and the freshest trickle of cool music.
Perhaps because I do this for God.
10 December 1996
1The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, p. 131.
THE NEW JACOB’S LADDER
The Book of Genesis derives the word Babel from balal, confusion, but Babel actually means what Jacob called the place of his vision, the gate of God.1 Jacob’s ladder, or staircase, which in the imagery of the Judaeo-Christain tradition has come to be associated with reaching a higher state of existence than the ordinary one, is sometimes associated with a mountain or a tree, the world tree, the axis mundi, connecting heaven and earth. Indeed, the imagery of ladders, stairs, mountains and trees is almost universal. But humans must climb if they want to ascend; they cannot fly. -Ron Price with thanks to Northrop Frye, The Eternal Act of Creation: Essays, 1979 to 1990, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1993, pp.38-39.
The mystic has always been attracted to ladders,
staircases: the imagery is compelling. Here is my
historical panegyric leading to this gate of God1.
There were winding stairs in Solomon’s temple,
with its three stories; Persian temples with seven
stories and seven flights of steps for the seven
planets; they say the bride of the god was laid
at the top; Danae was shut up in a temple and
impregnated with a shower of gold by Zeus; in
Egypt the pharoah ascended a stairway after his
death; here he met Osiris ‘the god at the top of
the staircase’. In Dante there is a seven story
mountain which Dante climbs and at the top
meets Beatrice who symbolises divine grace;
then there is another seven stories and at the
top we see Jacob’s ladder again-going down-
but none of this would be present without divine
power, God’s love: it is all built by God, beginning
in heaven. In Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Joyce and many
others the ladder2 continued and we have now, in this
apotheosis on Mount Carmel, a scale, a comely
proportion and method with everything in this
gigantic enterprise having some trans-historical
meaning in a great new chain of being from chaos to
God, the great sea of life, from the Dot to the Circles,
from anarchy and savagery to a great structure of
authority, obedience from within and protection from
without-that great feudal principle preserved forever-
in a significantly altered form. So is this ladder: now
terraces, eighteen with more steps than you can count,
a task of such urgency, complexity and sheer titanic
power as to challenge the spirited paintings of animals
in caves in Paleolithic times, animals which were extensions
of human consciousness: the beauty created is eternal
as the traffic on Jacob’s ladder, the communication
between God and man, is eternal.
9 October 1996
1The Bab means ‘gate of God’.
2In Latin ‘ladder’ is scala. This extends the image of ladder to ‘scale’ or ‘measurement by degrees’.
9 October 1996
Well, now, have you ever seen such pomegranates! -Roger White, "A Crimson Rain", Another Song Another Season, p.82.
..the persecutions in Yazd(1903) reached such horrifying proportions which had not been seen since the aftermath of the attempt on the life of the Shah in 1852. -Moojan Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions: 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, George Ronald, oxford, 1981, p.373.
Well, now, have you ever seen such pomegranates!
So large and red, and tangy, but not bitter, not bitter.
These lush, full, ready to eat gems of delight: come of age,
you might say, many generations, perhaps, in Yazd where
the water was watered, the air was perfumed, with the
life-blood of other full fruits picked for death, early, too early.
Gone soil-deep, earth-bound, down-in, waiting for time to bring
cross-fertilization, real-rich, sweet-taste, full-flesh, flowering-fruit,
blood-red-now for us here, to fruition, fullness of time, at last, far,
so far, from those unseemly passions in that dry-dock town of Persia,
where an old Faith was violated by a seeming madness: heads rolled,
throats opened, mutilations, tongues cut out, beards were tinged red
and reasonable men despaired.
5 April 1996
...the fullness of poetry-poetry alone, which never imprisons itself in any one thing or group of things, but spreads itself throughout the cosmos. -Benedetto Croce, The Poetry of Dante, Paul P. Appel, Pub., Mamaroneck, NY, 1971, p.254.
The two and thirty palaces to which
I turn my eye now filled with this pantheon
of people who once inhabited earth and sky,
laid out in concentric circles seeming fit for
this exercise in partly holy writ. Where to put
this God-intoxicated host, on this otherwordly
map like some eternal ghost, will require an
exercise of great feat which I will indulge in
from this seat for a short time unless some
spirits grab and take me far into some
labyrinth and stab me with their immortal
coil, boiling over with their spiritual oil:
we shall see what transpires in this rich soil.
At the centre we seem to find Baha’u’llah
and around this Point revolves the Bab,
while in some innermost circle is ‘Abdu’l-Baha
and the Guardian, all in a blaze of light
that makes their visages indistinguishable
to this casual passer-by who has merely placed
them in his inner eye. Perhaps he’d add Quddus
and Mulla Husayn, those Letters of the Living,
Martha Root, departed Hands in the next concentric
circle, like some place, some holy of holies and
then, surrounding this tabernacle of light, I saw
verdant gardens with fruits of communion and
blossoms beside some orient lights of yearning
and souls, indeed, shaking as if flashing, being drawn
away from their earthly homeland in their alabaster
chambers to their heavenly abode near this Centre
of Realities with the wind of certitude blowing over
the garden of their beings.
12 January 1996
AFTER THE BOMB
Price’s intention has rarely been the statement of visionary experience, although he tries to incorporate some of it in his poetry. Rather, his is a dogged probing of all the routine business of life in search of the real, the quick, the marrow, in all its detail, its texture, its meaning and an attempt to intertwine this quotidian world with the visionary. In this way he attempts to make poetic conquests in the many categories of the prosaic. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, May 30, 1996.
A vast aggregate of our experience is: dismissed, buried in the inner recesses of awareness below the conscious level, reduced to a few functional impressions, out of touch with our feelings. Lyric poetry is written as a response to this reality. It seeks to describe intense but transient sensations and emotions. It seeks to suspend parts of our primary experience for a moment in time to be savoured and relished.-Yohma Gray, "The Poetry of Louis Simpson", Poets in Progress, Northwestern UP, 1967, pp.227-50.
It’s gone now, so much of today,
yesterday, all days and their millions
of bits of time and stuff, buried
in the inner recesses of my mind.
Then, I mainline, direct line,
straight line, back to yesterday,
yesteryear, back to Jill Smith’s
blond hair, with a face more beautiful
than anything I had known;
the coloured maple leaves in October
on the driveway, their last dance before
winter’s chill, kill; the music of the crickets
on hot July evenings, sweet warm sounds
after a scorcher. All of this in 1950 when
I was only six in the aftermath of the bomb.
There was so much more happening that
I did not know then-the Commemoration
of the Centenary of the grinding in the mill
of adversity, the martyrdom of the Bab,
that Holy Seed of infinite preciousness,
which I can savour now, taste its crushing oil,
see sparks ignited to outdance those crickets,
with greater colour and beauty than all that
I knew that summer back then after the bomb.
30 May 1996