(nucleus and pattern of a World Order...)
I'd like to open this section with several poems that, in different ways, say something about Baha'i Administration the precursor, Baha'is believe, to an eventual World Order, a World Order "the first stirrings" of which, Shoghi Effendi wrote, will appear in the years 1944 to 2044. That Order will "slowly crystallize and radiate its benign influence over the entire planet."
Some poems and an interview will follow. The interview provides, I think, a context to my poetry and this section of my wbsite will close with several poems that, again, make some statement, some comment, about this global, local and regional administrative system that has evolved within the context of and, indeed, are part of the very teachings of this new Faith. The specific organizational framework and principles of administrative operation are part of Baha’i doctrine itself.
A NEW IDEA
"In the late 1910s and into the early 1920s several physicists…..arrived at the basic premises of quantum theory," writes Thomas Jackson Rice, a Professor of English. In 1927 the Copenhagan interpretation of quantum theory was formulated. It maintained that there is no deep reality only a description of it. This deep reality only exists when it is being measured and observed.1 The act of observation affects the nature of what is observed and there are limits to what is observable: this was Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. This was a new idea in physics and it amounted to a different view of reality. During this same period, from the late teens through the twenties into the 1930s a national and international consciousness and practical principles for the implementation of Baha'i Administration and World Order were established as the Baha'i movement became fully organized and unified in doctrinal matters under the authoritative guidance of Shoghi Effendi, the successor to and the sole authorized interpreter of the words of the two 19th century God-men in Baha’i history. This was a new idea in religion and, by 1936, the Baha'i Faith turned its energies toward worldwide expansion.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Thomas Jackson Rice, Joyce, Chaos and Complexity, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1997, p. 152; and 2 Loni Bramson-Lerche, "Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha'i Administrative Order in America: 1922-1936," Studies in Babi & Baha'i History, Vol.1, editor, Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, 1982, p.295.
I think the tree exists even
when noone sees it fall
in the middle of the forest.
But, insofar as this poetry
is concerned, there are limits
to my observation and analysis
and this writing seems to confer
special qualities on the things
of existence, created things,
seems to define the world.
So it was that he gave shape,
form, an architecture to ideas
that had been put down on paper
for decades before: observations
affecting the observed and affecting
the new and wondrous creation.
29 November 2002
A SCANTY TREASURE?
F.W. Dupee writes in his introduction to Henry James's Autobiography that a literary vocation was for James a kind of second birth. This has certainly been true of the literary vocation that has become central to my life by stages: first as a student at school and university in the 1950s and 1960s, then as a teacher and lecturer in the 1970s and 1980s and finally as a writer and poet who wrote a great deal of the time for myself in the 1990s and 2000s, not for academics or students as I had for at least the previous three decades(1962-1992), nor for newspaper & magazine publishers as I had tried both successfully and unsuccessfully for at least a decade by the early 1990s. I had come to what I found to be a highly desireable state of affairs, perhaps a state of self-indulgence, for that was how my wife frequently characterized my daily pursuit of pen and paper in the fin de siecle years and the first years of the new millenium. Writing as I did for myself, due to some inner drive or need, perhaps a result of the zeitgeist of the times, perhaps some element of historical determinism or what others might call fate; perhaps because I saw literary works that I could produce as a way of representing my experience, that of my contemporaries and the human experience of history in all its richness and complexity, its wonder and concrete variety—was more pleasurable than gardening, cooking, sport, watching TV--all popular pastimes of these antideluvian times.
Dupee describes James's literary life as narrow, precarious and ever-anxious. He says James was 'tenderly or humorously at home with his materials.' He says James' Autobiography was 'a delicate enterprise' and 'an important contribution' to 'America's scanty treasure of true autobiography.' These remarks could all be applied to me and my autobiography, at least in part. There is tenderness,delicacy, humour and enterprize here as I write or so it seems to me but, more importantly, there is what the historian Thomas Carlyle said was the chief fact of a man: his religion and the emotional and intellectual states of his experience. This experience is intensely personal and embodied as if it were something that belonged to me. It is, as T.S. Eliot might add, my epitaph. --Ron Price with thanks to Henry James, Autobiography, editor, F.W. Dupee, Princeton UP, 1983(1956), pp.xii-xiv.
The treasure of Baha'i autobiography
is a scanty lot as we head down
the back stretch of this second century.
Perhaps, though, in the many-millioned
archives in pearl-treasured Haifa or in
dusty back rooms of a thousand towns,
where sense and nonsense fill old
cardboard boxes, pile on pile, extra
bonuses are found for those who look
in earnest for the treasure and gold.
Be careful not to falsify or distort the eruptions
of meaning, products of obsessive tendencies,
seductress and deceptive mirrors of reality among
impoverished and circularized correspondence,
the piles of dry and yellowing bones in the yard.
Be warned: there is weariness in what seems
irrelevant detail, sheet upon sheet of printed ink,
great weight of paper, memorabilia,
our lamentably neglectful history, story-telling
and its fragmentary , anarchic confusion.
The historical microscope reveals a million
facts and a swarming mass of causes, often
ambigous, often opaque along a road with tools
that struggle to perform tasks that are beyond
words and interpret character wth single epiphets
in a narrative voice that is one’s own with a
coherence it creates but finds, in the end, that
it cannot plumb motivation nor can it handle all
this divergent, unfocussed paper that fills
the boxes from years and years of meetings.
And so I pass no verdict, but view the evidence,
scholarly, skeptically, sympathetically, hopefully
with an imagination that strives to enlarge the narrow
circle in which nature has confined me with all this
paper and all these words, yet again, yet again.
Be advised: there is emotion in this apparently
aesthetic non-entity, in this expression of whim,
caprice and human tragedy. It came to me after
I had worn my fingers to the uttermost bones
turning the pages, turning the pages and, yet,
I found a new and consecrated joy.
6 October 2002
PLANS IN THE THIRD WAVE
"We are living through the birth pangs of a new civilization whose institutions are not yet in place, but the embryo, the nucleus, the pattern, is here, evolving in the womb of a travalling age for more than 70 years, perhaps, 160 years or even more than 250. A fundamental skill needed by policy makers, politicians, and politically active citizens today--if they really want to know what they are doing--is the ability to distinguish between proposals designed to keep the tottering Second Wave system on life-support from those that spread and smooth our transition to the Third Wave civilization."1 All this work, all the way back to the Ten Year Crusade up to the current Plan, 2001-2006, has been with the aim of building this new civilization by means of working within the Baha'i Administrative framework, the nucleus and pattern of a new Order. An old system has, indeed, been tottering and a new one is being rolled out in its place. The work, I find, over what has been nearly half a century, has been slow, arduous and complex.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 9 October 2002; and 1Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Creating a New Civilization, 1995.
We've been on this third wave,
riding the crest, defining the nest,
describing what's best for the age
from that Revelation that came to
the West with an immense zest in
that quarter century: 1894-19191
due to the work of Him Who had
enjoyed a mystic intercourse with
the Most Perfect Being ever to have
walked on the earth. That first wave,
way back then, when people planted
and stayed; a second wave when
Shaykh Ahmad and industry told
of a new day and now, this third
wave which will end in a new
civilization is the one I've spent
my life working toward as part
of His Order and Plan: with an
intensified intimacy on a road
which has been exhausting, stony,
tortuous and has demanded all I had,
especially the gift of understanding.
1The years from the first Baha'i who came to North America in 1894 to the unveiling of the Tablets of the Divine Plan in 1919.
Ron Price 8 October 2002
SWINGING IT IN
As 'swing'1 was beginning its life in the world of jazz, the foundation, the first form, the first shaping of Baha'i Administration was being completed.2 By 1936 Baha'i Administration was sufficiently well-established for the Baha'i community to set out on its first international teaching Plan. The Plan was in the hands of the North American Baha'is. Some saw jazz as the first new universal style of music contributed by American culture; jazz also provided the first settings in New York, in the USA, where some public places were racially integrated. However one characterizes the early history of jazz, jazz was there in the culture, just beginning; and at the same time Baha'i Administration and the Baha’i community was becoming a well-organized national unit in the fifteen years 1921 to 1936. -Ron Price with thanks to 1"Jazz: The True Welcome," ABC TV: 9:45-10:45 pm, 20 December 2001; 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, Kalimat Press, 1982,pp.255-300.
Some said it was a new way
to experience life, the world,
a new energy, an American
invention, helped people survive
the depression. And it did, it was.
It was more than a New Deal.
As the planet approached the
outer fringes of the most perilous
stage in its existence with a Divine
Plan in its mouth: the initial stage in
America's spiritual destiny,1 FDR
was there with his fireside chats;
Benny Goodman was there with
his swing. The classy Duke Ellington
was there with his jungle music.
Louis Armstrong was improvising in
a way no one had ever heard before.
And the American Baha'i community
was getting ready to accomplish its
preliminary task2 so that a rising
generation, my generation, would
rise and labour to fulfill that destiny
in the next century, my century.3
1 Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America: 1932-1946, Wilmette, p.6.
2ibid.,p.13. That 'preliminary task' was the first Seven Year Plan: 1937-1944.
20 December 2001
During the years 1910 to 1925, from the time 'Abdu'l-Baha left on His western tour to the time the Baha'i Faith had made the "transition from a loosely connected movement to a fully organized one,"(Studies in Babi Baha'i History, Vol.1, pp.255-300) Mary Pickford(1894-1979) was the most popular actress in the movie industry, the first to achieve something more than just transitional fame. She was loved as no other actress had ever been loved. She was America's sweetheart. She tried to have it all; she seemed for a while to indeed have it all but, in the end, she lost it all. By the late 1920s she was an anachronism. When she left the film world she was unable to fill the void in her life that leaving it created. She was the focal point for the entire movie industry from 1910 to 1925. She had the image of a 'miniature girl next door.' She played child and adolescent parts not those of adults. She was not inspiring; rather, she was thoughtful and analytic. She symbolized purity, the child and the madonna. -Ron Price with thanks to Scott Eyman, Mary Pickford, Robson Books Ltd., London, 1988.
How could we compete with this
miniature girl next door who was
America's sweet heart? Well.....
of course, we didn't--not with
the most popular person, then,
in America, the symbol of purity.
We symbolized purity, too, if we
symbolized anything at all in the
public mind of America. Perhaps
we symbolized wisdom and the
father figure leaving the child and
the madonna to Mary Pickford
who had it all, but lost it, fame,
wealth and beauty, all gone with
the years, along with all that film
stock and its chemically unstable
nitrate.....And slowly those loose
pieces of His embryonic System
came together, unobtrusively, in
some spectacular settings around
the world as this System became
established in its own miniature.
3 October 2001
ADJUSTING THE VISION
One of the most striking features of sixteenth century intellectual history is the apparent slowness of Europe in making the mental adjustments required to incorporate America within its field of vision1; and the beginnings of the shift from tradition and revelation to experience as the touchstone of truth.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1J.H. Elliott in An Empire Nowhere: England, America and Literature from Utopia to the Tempest, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992, p.18; and 2 Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity, Harvard UP, 1972.
One of the most tragic features of the first one hundred and fifty years of Baha’i history is the obvious slowness of most of mankind to make the adjustment required to incorporate the Baha’i Faith within their own field of vision.-Ron Price, Baha’i Administration: An Instrument Waiting for A Sick Body Politic, Unpublished Essay, 1996.
They’ve been busy years:
a dieing age that could not
hear the Voice in this manifest
Temple, so fast asleep in dust
and loss, seemingly beyond this
special reflection, immersed in
revolutions of all kinds, millions
dead, hollow men, stuffed men,
dried voices, whispering together,
quiet, often noisy, meaningless,
as wind in dry grass, garbage
and broken glass, the homeless
and starving. So much death
on the land and affluence, stone
images, the twinkle only of fading
states. There was tenderness, love,
kindness and prayers to broken stones
in a multitude of hollow valleys with dying
stars and Kingdoms without eyes falling
into the shadow at this end of the world,
this dark heart of an age, this dark heart
on an age of transition, before the dawn.
16 August 1996
THIS WONDROUS SYSTEM
Talcott Parsons came to see sociology the way I see religion: as the study of integrative institutions and relationships. Of course, there's more we both share in common and points of difference. The comparison and contrast is heuristic. -Ron Price with thanks to Victor Lidz, "The American Value System", Talcott Parsons: Theorist of Modernity, editors Roland Robertson and Bryan Turner, Sage Publications, London, 1991, pp. 22-36.
You were onto something in that
first big book The Structure of
Social Action published the same
year we promulgated that Plan1,
attending as you did the non-rational,
the normative side of action systems,
beginning with purpose and meaning
and a general basis for an integrated,
voluntaristic theory of action to counteract
atomism and Marxism in the thirties, or so
they said to me back in ’63 when I studied
it for the first time at McMaster University.
We were developing our Administration
at the time and, like you, seeing difficulties
as part of an evolutionary process leading to
a greater integration, what we called victory.
We share a great deal in common: our
theoretical position seems just about beyond
the capacity of the ordinary person most of
the time, but that will change eventually.
We both try to bring together the great traditions-
sociological or religious as the case may be- in one
unifed whole...By the time I had joined the great
global undertaking in 1959 you were writing about
American Values2 but never published--and now
you're gone. I'll probably never read it all. We've
grown together you and I and this wondrous System
which you tried to define, which we will slowly bring
into form in this century and the next and the next.
2Parsons wrote 300 pages on American Values in 1958/59.
1 November 1997
RING LARDNER AND THE EVOLUTION OF A NEW ORDER
Ring Lardner* was a popular humorist, the funny-man of the 1920s, an authentic commentator on American society in its frantic flowering. He was the chronicler of a moribund social order, of the diversions of a period bent grimly on pleasure. While he was chronicling the material successes of the wealthiest nation on earth, the Baha’i Cause evolved into a distinctive and well-organized religion under the guidance of Shoghi Effendi. -Ron Price with thanks to Maxwell Geismar, Writers in Crisis: The American Novel 1925-1940, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971, pp.3-36; and Peter Smith, "Reality Magazine: Editorship and Ownership of an American Baha’i Periodical", From Iran East and West: Vol.2, Kalimat Press, 1984, pp. 135-155.
You told of the complacency, Ring*,
that kept a generation, an age, from
getting even close to the new light
that had cast its first rays of Order
over a western sky. You told of a
vanity, of an incapacity to learn,
even survive, as people jumped
into chasms that over-confidence
had hidden, into a narcissism that
closed down the bigger picture,
hid the light of that Order......and
its happening again and again....
You told us of the Jazz Age, its myths
and beliefs, your anger & disillusionment,
your hatred of aggressive American capitalism,
its final covered wagon, camping ground and
an outrageous individualism always covering
the light, the truth, the perennial wisdom of man.
Such an emptiness in your portraits; no deeper
answers found here, no historical perspective,
no spiritual stability. The whole scene was all too
fast, too new, fleeing the Calvanist fires, on a
merry-go-round by the sea and the mountain.
A cultic milieux of religious esotericism
and inclusivism had given us a sense of
being part of a forceful current of social
change not some small religious collectivity,
but slowly organizational exclusivity changed
that ethos. You could say we became
a religion back then, Ring, not just a
spiritual attitude; we acquired a communal
cohesion and distinctiveness, throwing off
an extreme epistomological individualism
and any cult of personality as an undesirable
heterodoxy—I think you could call it, Ring.
4 March 1996
INTERVIEW NUMBER TEN
Questioner/Interviewer(Q):In all the questions and answers over the first nine interviews in the last three years, 1996-1998, I don't think we have discussed any specific poems. I'd like to discuss two or three of your recent poems, how they came about and what they mean.
Price(P): Sure. Lets look at the first three poems in my latest booklet of poetry. I wrote two of these poems yesterday and one this morning. So they are fresh in my mind and will serve our purposes quite adequately. They are all what you might call 'combination pieces'. There is some examination of my own life and values, an examination which helps give my life balance and direction. In the case of "No Starved Soliloquy" and "One Long Eternal Epic," the book by Laurens Van der Post served as the starting point for the inspiration. I was particularly impressed by Van der Post's reference to Carl Jung's stress on a person's story. Since my poetry is heavily, if not entirely, autobiographical and since my own story is often linked to some aspect of the Baha'i Faith and its history and teachings, my own story and the Baha'i epic are what my poetry is all about. So I linked Post, 'Abdu'l-Baha and myself in a triangle of thoughts that became the poem "No Starved Soliloquy."
Van der Post also examined the notion of epic in his book and I have long seen the modern origin and development of the Baha'i Faith in terms of an epic. What I try to do in this poem, "One Long Eternal Epic", is conjoin Homer's epic, the Baha'i epic and my own life. I also bring in some beautiful expressions from the booklet Baha'u'llah by the Baha'i Information Office in New York(1992) and from the Guardian's vision of the future in The Promised Day is Come(1941). What I have produced here is a bit of a pot-pourri, the kind of poem which you might say could be part of the Poundian tradition which brings philosophy, history, indeed a wide range of disciplines and sources into the poetic idiom.
"Jacaranda Blazing" also draws on several sources but originated in a seminal inspiration experienced when I was saying a morning prayer. This was a very emotional experience, however brief, that led to this poem, but it was an emotional experience that was over forty years in the making. In addition, I had wanted to extend Roger White's poem "Drill", a poem I found very moving when I first read it perhaps fifteen years ago. I had reread this poem many times and today I was able to extend this poem in terms of my own experience. I found the experience of writing this poem very satisfying. The words came fast and clean. I also enjoyed integrating some of the words of Baha'u'llah into the poem. I have been reading and memorising His words since at least 1953 and they have become 'old friends' as I say in the poem.
Much more could be said in analysing these three poems, but it would lead to prolixity and I think this is enough to illustrate what is needed for this question.
Q: We've talked about the process of writing poetry before but it is a room, the question of this writing process, that one can enter many times and see different furnishings each time.
P: Some writers write slowly, rewriting, over and over. Some write quickly, rewriting. Perhaps I should rewrite and maybe one day I will take a fresh look at my poems and do a second draft. My attitude at the moment is like that of Robert Duncan in Talking Poetry: Conversations in the Workshop with Contemporary Poets(Lee Bartlett, 1987, p.54.): if I want to revise a poem, I simply write another one. W.B. Yeats says that if he revises a poem it is himself that he is revising. And so he is strongly disinclined to revise poems.(W.B. Yeats: Collected Works in Verse and Prose, Vol.2, Epigraph, 1908). My overall plan which determines much of the process of writing is to integrate the Baha'i historical experience and its teachings, some aspect of life(history, science, philosophy, religion, etc.) from a book I am reading, something I have heard or seen in the print or electronic media, and my own experience. My poetry is an attempt to make one grand synthesis of what strikes me as interesting in life. Each poem is one part in that seemingly endless exercise, endless attempt at synthesis.
What I am doing here is not particularly surprising. I think most Baha'is do this in one way or another all their lives. I just do it quite consciously in writing in poem after poem. I'd like to think this process, what I do in my poetry, may be of some use in triggering the process for others because it is immensely enriching. As far as rewriting is concerned, let me add, that I often change a poem when I’m posting on the internet for the purposes of that website; this did not begin to occur until the early years of the new millennium, at least in and after, say, 2001.
Q: You talked above about writing stories, your story. Why don't you write novels, then?
P: Maybe one day I will, but for the moment poetry seems the right medium for me. Each poem is a story in one way or another, succinct, to the point, intense. That is what I like about poetry: its brevity, concision and its capacity to integrate, synthesise several key ideas and experiences into one whole. My life is like that: something happens, some idea comes along and I want to tie it down, set it into the context of my life. The poem seems just right for this purpose. I have tried writing novels; by 2005 I’d tried a dozen times burt I just could not get going, could not get the fertility. The one occasion in the 12 when I did, when I got to 30 thousand words, it all seemed too much of a strain.I gave up taking my lithium at the time, hoping some increase in fertility would come—and it did. But the emotional impact on my nerves was disorienting, discomfiting to say the least.
Q: One of the central issues for writers is their involvement in social and political issues. Could you comment briefly on your own stance on this complex question?
P: There are dozens of complex social and political issues. The social sciences deal with them in different ways. They are immensely complex, enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life. One can only achieve so much understanding on so many issues. I try to stay completely clear of partisan politics because they tend to muddy the waters, but I try to be as informed as I can within the limitations of my own interests and abilities. An examination of the approximately four thousand poems I have written would reveal a range of comments on a range of issues. Poetry allows one to come at issues in a creative, illuminating, sometimes surprising direction, or indirection.
There has been a stimulating debate in recent years, since the 1980s, in the Baha'i community regarding freedom and authority, the system of review, Baha'i scholarship, freedom of speech, conflict and dissension. I have followed it with interest. In the 1980s I wrote essays more than poetry and I was more directly affected by these issues than I am now. Getting my poetry published has been difficult, seemingly impossible. I have tried to deal with these issues in some of my poems and, at this stage, I am happy to leave my corpus of work in the Baha'i World Centre Library. Perhaps one day, when and if my poetry becomes more what you might call public property, I may have to deal with these issues directly again. I find the contemporary framework of guidance on these issues, beginning on 29 December 1988 and ending with the extracts from letters of the Universal House of Justice published in May 1998, sane and sensible. Like so much of the contemporary social and political landscape and the issues that give that landscape its character and features, the dialogue has become very complex for the average citizen and the average Baha'i. All you can get is a small chunk of the cake. I should add that, with my posting on the internet and the second edition of my website there was an obvious increased engagement with social issues.
Q: What do you see as your chief functions as a poet?
P: I am primarily interested in the transmission of truth, my version of it; for truth is relative. I try to surprise and entertain in the process so that the reader gets some intellectual pleasure from my poems. Most people are non-readers of poetry, but the few that might come my way I'd like to think they may get some payoff, some delight. I'd like to think that this might be true after I'm gone, perhaps moreso, when I've left this mortal coil. Also these times, these three epochs in which I write, are increasingly fragmented and much of what I'm on about is defining the self, the inner person, relating the Cause to life, to the individual. I think this will be an issue, a problem, for some time to come. Most writers and poets today tell their story like a spectator from the privacy of his box. That is certainly true of my poetry. My poetry should be timely for some time to come, I trust. But it is the linking of my story with reality, truth, the great Baha'i epic that will give my poetry longevity, not some obscure event in the corner of the planet, in my head, in my life. A long way down the track my poetry should at least serve as a period piece, as a comment on our times. At least that's how I like to see it.
Q: You are a Baha'i who writes poetry. Does your poetry have any value to the wider society, to Australian culture, to the global culture?
P: Not for the most part since my poetry has a very deep involvement with the culture of the Baha'i Faith: its history, its practices, its teachings. I feel my writing is like the writing of many Jews. It is excessively concerned about the Baha'i experience. Very little of my poetry gets outside this experience, perhaps twenty percent of my poems. My poetry is saturated with Baha'i culture. I think this is natural because the Baha'i Faith is, and has been, coming out of obscurity for several decades and my life has been saturated with the Baha’i experience. The Baha’i Faith has only begun to shed its we and them dichotomy, its exclusivity and concern for conversion; it’s moved into the wider society so to speak and has begun to take on a public identity. Before this, say until the 1980s, it wasjust too small in numbers to have any public influence and much of an identity—outside of Iran anyway. My poetry for the most part is better read by Baha'is; some of it I give to my non-Baha'i friends because the idiom, the conversational tone of these particular poems, is non-sectarian, non-denominational, simply human, part of an emerging global, homogenised, culture.
Q: Franz Kafka used to have a sign above his desk. It had one word on it: Wait! Does this message appeal to you?
P: I like it! I never write, or even try to write, unless an idea, an inspiration, the heat, is under my belly. I get most of my ideas from reading and the rest from experiences: present and past. On days when I'm left to my own resources without interference I usually do three or four hours of reading and writing in the morning, the same in the afternoon and the same in the evening. Nine to twelve hours is a long haul for a day; often I have to settle for five or six. Fatigue and intrusions of various kinds, often prevent the full compliment of hours from becoming a reality.
Q: Would you regard yourself as a polemicist, a moralist, even a publicist?
P: I have spent my adult life involved in controversial discussions as a lecturer and in my efforts to promote the Baha'i teachings. The essence of a polemicist is an involvement in controversy. In the process I have tried to cultivate courtesy and tact, what are today called conflict resolution techniques. I am certainly a moralist in the large sense of trying to say that this is the way the world should be, the way I'd like to see it. I use all my knowledge and skills with language to advocate what I think should be and describe what in fact is. I have little trouble identifying with the term publicist for I have spent all my years, since at least 1962, publicising the Baha'i Faith in any way I could. My poetry is simply an extension of this process.
Q: You seem preoccupied with the concept of time in your poetry. Is this true?
P: In many of my poems this is unquestionably true. I've had this preoccupation with time for as far back as I can remember. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I grew up in the shadow of the bomb, the cold war. Perhaps it was due to the division of my life and history into eras, cycles, ages, epochs, phases, stages and plans as part of the way the Baha'i calendar was articulated. As a teacher/lecturer I was also conscious of time: two hour classes, one hour periods, so many contact hours. All of us in technological society divide our days up into segments: TV and radio programs, leisure time, lunch time, etc., etc. the list is infinite. It's not surprising that my poems reflect this social reality.
Q: Do you see yourself as trying to raise and then answer questions in your poetry?
P: I suppose to some extent I do this. But what I am doing much more is using poetry to discover, to understand, to describe, to bring things together, to juxtapose in order to make statements about life, about history, about the Baha'i Faith. The asking and answering of questions is a bi-product of my other intentions.
Q: Do you have demons behind you and an audience in front of you when you write?
P: I have my several driving forces and a line of thought in each poem; yes, and a certain consciousness of a possible audience. But they act as a backdrop, the mise en scene, the theatrical apparatus if you will. The reason for the stage production, to continue the metaphor here, is an inner compulsion, an inner necessity, to write the play. This is the raison d'etre for the exercise. It would take me some time to attempt to account for that inner compulsion.
Q: We have talked before about philosophical influences on your poetry. Could you continue to expand on this and any intellectual influences generally and specifically?
P: I've mentioned briefly in previous interviews the influence of historians like Gibbon and Toynbee whom I've read a great deal; I have also mentioned Wittgenstein and perhaps one or two sociologists like Weber and Nisbet. I have been influenced by the thinking of many sociologists because I've had to teach sociological theory in the last several years: Durkheim, Toqueville, Simmel, even Parsons, Mills and the interactionist theorists like Thomas and Luckman, Mead, et al. Much of the psychology and cosmogony of my poetry is framed in broadly Aristotelian terms. There is a theology, a Baha'i theology, which must be acknowledged as a major influence on many of my poems. This theology is, as yet, not systematic, but it has several key features, all of which influence my poetry: theophanology, the Baha'i equivalent of Christology, which is the Baha'i approach to prophecy; the concept of the manifestation of God which ties together humankind's religious experience has many affinities with Plato's philosopher-king and a broad Neoplatonism affirmed in Baha'i writings.
The history of philosophy has many other influences besides Plato and Aristotle and Wittgenstein whom I have mentioned. There are influences from literary criticism which I have read a great deal of in the last decade since teaching English literature to high school matriculation students. I have read a great deal of literary analysis of Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and many others. I feel now, after a decade of reading literary criticism, as if I have been swimming in an endless sea. Indeed, the quarter century 1974-1998, has left me swimming in so many intellectual influences that the above summary is, I feel, quite inadequate. Modern philosophy has provided multiple influences from theistic existentialists like Martin Buber to atheistic ones like Neitzsche. Erikson and Piaget, in psychology, have also had much to contribute to the underpinnings of my poetry.
Anyone who examines the pages of my poetry will see many other quite specific influences, too many to mention. I tend to put many of the influences in footnotes to my poems. This should give you a flavour of what has come to influence my poetry.
Q: Walker Percy, an American novelist, said that words undergo a degradation, a deadening, a flattening, an emptying. They wear out, especially religious words like: sin, God, baptism and the like. They have to be rediscovered, he said. That's the job of the writer: the novelist, the poet. What do you think of this idea?
P: Unquestionably true. I think this was one of the reasons I started writing essays and then poems. I found I was beginning to hear words so many times that specific ones tasted stale, sour, distasteful. They felt worn, thin, lifeless, emptied of meaning, words I preferred not to write or say. After forty years of reading Baha'i newsletters and prayers I found I was just looking at the pictures and not experiencing any meaning in the utterances. Certain words like: teaching, deepenings, Feasts, agenda, secretary, committees, so many words really, had died and needed resurrecting. I virtually had to reconstruct my world made as it was, especially for a wordsmith like me, from words.
One thing I noticed during this period of reconstruction was that I began to say Baha'i prayers much more slowly. During private prayer in this period of reconstruction, I usually did not get past the first or second line of a prayer. Prayers became experiences in meditation. The word "God", for example, had become a word which had become divorced from any emotional content. Increasingly I had trouble saying the word without experiencing an emotional undertone, quite often with a lump in my throat.
Surely the whole corpus of the theatre of the absurd is about the death of words. Our chaotic society with its overstimulation, endless excesses and its frenetic passivity inevitably experiences this emptiness and flatness, this death of words and of communication. Yes, Percy was right, beyond doubt.
Percy also talked about the dreariness of life and the need for diversion. Baha'u'llah says 'life is but a show, vain and empty, bearing the mere semblance of reality.' Writing and reading are ways of getting away from that reality, a way of seeing things afresh. One senses one's nothingness, an essential spiritual condition I would argue from a Baha'i perspective; one has, by the time one is my age, died many times and one is more than a little conscious of life, its vanities, and death being only one more dieing, a slipping away.
So, one has nothing to lose, in the day to day round except the delights of solitude and perhaps good health. So I build a wide moat to protect this solitude, although I remain accessible to those who seek me out.
Q: The history of literature: poets and novelists, is littered with sadness, tragedy, crisis, alcoholism, suicide, bitterness. Percy thinks all novelists are miserable. What are your views on this line of thought?
P: There is no doubt that he is partly correct. The history of writers in the modern age is not exactly a happy one. There are so many examples. Colin Wilson tells the story very well and very simply in his The Strength to Dream(Abacus, 1976). But there are some writers who are not essentially melancholy, lonely, depressed, etc. I come across them here in Australia. They may not be cheerful positive thinkers, but they have delightful senses of humour and lightness: David Malouf, David Williamson and Bruce Dawe to name only three. There is a rich vein of humour in Australia, a vein which overcomes the tragic, or at least helps some writers cope with it.
I think that has been my main gain, achievement, really, living here. I have acquired some of this vein of humour without which I might allow my seriousness to take over and slip into the melancholic side of things. I feel quite good most of the time, although until the age of 35 I had to fight what is now called a bi-polar tendency and even into my early 60s I was still battling some of its affects on my emotional life. Don't get me wrong: It’s not all a battle; most of the time my spirits are good. I'd go so far as to say I am a happy person. My Faith asks me to strive, to demonstrate "a fundamentally assured and happy way of life." Except for episodes of ill-health, the problems of employment and marriage that most people have in one way or another and the general trials and tribulations all people face in this earthly life most of my days have been experienced as happy ones. The main contributor to this has been understanding, the achievements of the mind, besides the general bourgeois comforts I've enjoyed and still enjoy.
I think, too, another critical determinant of the pleasure and peace I derive from existence, beside the general Baha'i philosophy and ideology that underpins my life, is the sense of myself as a global citizen. Of course that is an integral part of the Baha'i ethos. But I have lived now in some 25 towns across two continents. My sense of the local has shifted many times, while the sense of the global keeps growing with the years. This moving around has probably reinforced my sense of the global because I never stay long enough in one place to begin to absorb its special stresses and strains; and if I do I've soon left and entered a new time and psychological zone with a different cultural set, so to speak. I live in a state of mild mental excitement most of the time, but it is a relatively laid back state of quiet seriousness as I enter my mid and late fifities with a humorous edge. I prefer to keep my excitements moderate as I get older.
Q: Percy said in an interview in 1981 that people don’t read poetry and that is why he did not write it. Is he right?
P: Generally speaking, yes. I’d say 99 out of a 100 people never read poetry. The poet writes for a coterie. I try to make my poetry conversational in tone, narrative or semi-narrative. I try to use ordinary words. This was the emphasis of Wordsworth, Robert Frost and other greats. Sometimes I achieve this everyday musicality; sometimes I don’t. But, generally, I think my poetry is accessible to those who want to try. Like Frost in his early years, I have made up my mind that popularity will elude me in this life, partly because of what Percy says. Unlike Percy, though, I write from a sense of inner necessity, certainty, an inner ‘moment’ struggling to be expressed. Popularity becomes very much a secondary or non-issue because of this.
Q: What is your attitude to poetry workshops?
P: I don’t think you can really teach the writing of poetry. But you can expose people to ideas, to techniques, to philosophy. These may help the aspiring poet. At the moment these things are all too ‘classroomish’ for me. I’m moving out of that world. Recently I said this to someone who asked me to lead a workshop. I knew I’d enjoy it to some extent. I find good conversation quite stimulating but after thousands of hours of conversation on a thousand topics I feel burnt out, at least singed at the edges. I felt that way by 1992 when I began writing poetry seriously. I found most kinds of conversation tedious by then: so much repitition, very little depth, but I also found other conversation I had had that was long, detailed and deep, was enough to last forever. Trying to get people in groups to ‘go deeper into life’, to ‘understand life’s truth’s’ more than they did, to do one of a hundred things, year after year had tired me out.
I turned to poetry to renew my own being, not renew the being of others. It sounds selfish I know. If it is so be it; I have little interest in helping others learn to write anything. If they learn something from my way of writing poetry well and good, but I don’t aim at that goal.
Q:Robert Frost the famous American poet who died in 1963 said that writing poetry was a way of coping with life. He also said that instinct kept him going, a feeling that he was doing the right thing. Could you comment on these ideas?
P: I’d agree with the general thrust of these remarks. By 1992 I had been worn out from LSA meetings; praying became difficult; community life had dried me out. I had taught in classrooms for twenty-five years and had had enough of that, but had to keep going to pay the bills. I had had a series of failures/tests in life: employment, health, overwork, personalities, marital. I turned to poetry like a baby drinking from those ‘founts of gleaming milk.’ And I’m still drinking.
27 December 1998
SOME COMPANY AROUND THE PLANET
The pioneer was an important part of the Western, a film genre about the period from, say, 1844 to 1894, when the frontier was officially defined several times and eventually closed, when the war with Indians saw years of broken promises, disillusionment and massacre. The Western gave viewers epic mountain vistas, Indian war dances, stagecoach chases, frontiersmen, valiant cavalry, noble Indians, fist fights, shoot outs, ranches and man's best friend, the horse. As Baha'i Administration was finally assuming its first form and shape in the mid-1930s, John Wayne and Randolph Scott emerged and brazenly formulaic productions of Westerns, B Westerns, appeared. Theatres packed with kids in the afternoon and adults in the evening alternately urged on or mocked their film screen heroes. Hollywood studios cranked out Westerns as if from an assembly line.1 In 1953 Hollywood churned out 90 Westerns and, by the 1970s, 10 a year was more than average. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Gary Johnson, "A Review of Westerns," Internet, May 27, 2001.
Suburbia, they used to say, lived imaginatively
in Bonanza Land, or so McLuhan told us,
through our rearview mirrors. You could sort
it out with the quickest draw when Indians were
the bad guys. Things got more complex and
Westerns could not cope. When John Wayne
died in '79 the Western died with him, at least
a lot of it. Their optimism and moralities turned
to muddy realities and the life on the frontier
turned to mud-and-rags, a new despair and
brutal blasts of tainted glory. But for several
decades they helped to usher in a new
organisational form and take a new world
religion right around the planet—but noone
really saw this serendipitous association. 1
1 1932-1963, Gary Johnson, op.cit., during the first three teaching Plans. Johnson says that in the 1950s a new "super Western" with an aesthetic vision of the West filled the screens.
27 May 2001
NO STARVED SOLILOQUY
The key to the human personality is a person's story. It is unique. It is something we grow, live in, live into and through. Our personal meaning is wrapped up in this story. My own particular story is entwined with the great epic story of our age, the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history, the gradual realization of "that Wondrous Vision which constitutes the brightest emanation of Baha'u'llah's Mind and the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization the world has yet seen." Our most important journey is to find, to define, to tell, perhaps to write, our story. Therein, lies the meaning of our lives. -Ron Price with thanks to --1Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, Wilmette, Illinois, 1974(1938), p. 48; and Carl Jung in L. Van der Post, The Voice of the Thunder, Chatto and Windus, 1993, p.174.
This story1 seeks more than archaic expression
of cold, brute sensation, action-dominated fact
or fiction, starved soliloquy and inward vision,
thin arbitrary threads of some bleak curiosity,
more than twists of fantasy, feeling and wonder
in its veins, an adroit and nimble paperchase of
intellect, as if all were mind, divorced from spirit.
You cannot say to me: where has your story gone?
This is a wondrous orchestration where I make myself,
becoming something other than what I am, entwining my
life with His story, thereby, increasing myself and bringing
in, down, out: that rich story, His epic and Vision, into
my life, consecrating the joy of others and arraying those
trees which are the lives of others with fresh leaves, blossoms
and fruits from something within myself: Him standing within.2
1 This 'story' refers to my own story in all its genres Pioneering Over Three Epochs and the great history, what I call an epic here, of the modern faith known as the Baha'i Faith.
2This capitalizing of the word 'Him' is in the same sense that Baha'u'llah uses in His Hidden Words when He writes: "look within thee and thou wilt find Me standing within thee....." It is the indwelling God that is the source.
7 November 1998
ONE LONG ETERNAL EPIC
The only victory in Homer's epic The Odyssey, a story of searching and suffering, is in the making of man and woman as totally themselves and also totally one, with this oneness as totally committed to joining creation on the greatest journey of all towards an awareness which has not yet been achieved on earth. -Laurens Van der Post, The Voice of the Thunder, Chatto and Windus, London, 1993, p.18.
The only victory in this modern epic, this great drama in the world's spiritual history of which I have been a part in various ways since 1953, is in the journey toward increasing manifestations of oneness and awareness, knowledge and virtue, and the eventual destiny of a spiritualized golden age fixed, as it has been, from time immemorial by a loving Creator. -Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, Wilmette, Illinois, Last Page.
A single, evolutionary, unbroken process,
the awakening of the human race, sinews
and spiritual nerves being generated, divine
revelation's key, civilization's motive power.
And, now, a new moral paradigm takes shape,
the world's oneness, the leitmotif of our age,
expressed in an infinity of ways, while the
roots of faith have dried up. I long to be more
conscious, to understand, to find in my innermost
being, a might, a power, an independence that is
born from some eternal Storehouse, an unfailing
continuity, journeying on toward, or from, this
Most Great Prison, part of this new epic being
repeated, recycled in this age with its healing water.1
1 helpful in the construction of this poem was the book Baha'u'llah, Office of Public Information in New York, 1992; and L Van der Post's The Voice of the Thunder, 1993.
7 November 1998
...a Day in which the countenance of the Ancient of Days hath turned towards His holy seat. -Baha'u'llah, Tablet of Carmel.
This morning as I was saying the first two or three lines of one of the morning prayers, a prayer that has become like an old friend after saying it and hearing it said for more than forty years, I felt, nay tasted, the fullest of implications of the term 'the Ancient of Days.' The prayer itself felt 'ancient'; my life felt 'ancient'. I felt a kinship, an intimacy with 'the Ancient of Days', the faintest glimmering of what that phrase implies. This poem was a product of that experience.
Like some old friend, ancient to my soul,
reserved, seen him, just about, on the edge,
before, so many times, tasted him on my tongue,
deep like the sea, or the ocean's abyssal plain,
is always there especially when I call, somehow
I can hear him in my voice as he says look within
thee and thou wilt find Me standing within thee
mighty, powerful and self-subsistent.1 'Tis a
strange concatenation of sound and thought;
it's not as if the angels are all ears, as White
colloquialises,2 but I do feel sometimes the
choking hand of all of life and all its meaning
sifting through his words, as if what is me
and what is it and what is He intertwine in
inextricable mystery and the ordinariness of
my life, sitting in this chair, under the blue
morning sky with the purple jacaranda blazing.
2Roger White, "Drill", The Witness of Pebbles, 1981, p.87.
8 November 1998
AN ECUMENICAL CHURCH...A HOLY SEAT
It was realized by millions of people following different political and religious persuasions that self-realization would only result through realisation of a cohesive collective force.--- Ron Price with thanks to J.L. Salmon, Political Messianism: The Romantic Phase, The History of Totalitarian Democracy, Vol.2, London, Secker and Warburg, 1960, p.22.
A vision of the Unity of Mankind
goes back a long way, but in the
modern age, into the nineteenth
century, in an urge to replace
Christianity with a new creed,
in the ruins of an inherited social
and political structure, in the
desolation of shattered loyalties,
in a profound hankering after
‘the One’, common to the Left
and the Right. But this vision
did not assume the character
of an ecumenical church,
except in an embryonic movement
within Shi’i Islam, now a global religion,
and slowly, over many decades, emerging,
as it has, from an obscurity that has seemed
essential to its vast development and incredible
reach.....visible at long last in that holy seat.1
1 Baha’u’llah, The Tablet of Carmel.
29 January 1999
THE CENTRE AND THE PERIPHERY
Structuralists and post-structuralists are sociologists and/or literary studies specialists. They are interested in examining patterns, systems and structures rather than the text of a book or a specific person. Any narrative they see as a variation on "certain basic universal themes." What is important is ‘the system’ not the author or person. The person is simply a function of the system. The structure of language, the system produces meaning, produces ‘reality’. To the structuralist the system, language, is at the centre not the individual. This set of views and approaches to the study of the written word, reality, life could be useful in the examination of this autobiography, poetic and narrative, especially since it focuses on the system, the centre being the Book—the Baha’i Writings—and the individual being at the periphery, or secondary to the group, a derivative of the paradigmatic framework, as it were.-Ron Price with thanks to J. Derrida, "Structuralism-Post-Structuralism", 17 September 1997, Internet.
This is no pointless egg-headism;
this intellectual movement has
significant, useful things to say
about what is really going on,
about this autobiography. It says:
study the Baha’i system, its patterns,
its structures. Where is Price in all of this?
He’s found in "the universal themes"1
global narrative patterns: a basis for a
common humanity, especially in these
three epochs: 1944-1999.
1J. Derrida, "Structuralism and Post-Structuralism", Internet.
7 November 1999
OVER MANY DECADES AND CENTURIES
While Communism in the USSR was gaining strength in the 1920s and 1930s; while Nazism was also becoming a threatening world force in that same period; while millions of people were losing their lives as a result of the evil and pernicious philosophies underpinning these ideologies, a system was slowly evolving, unbeknownst to most of the world, which was known as Baha’i administration, a model administration for the achievement of the teaching plans that were a product of the initial outline contained in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, plans that would not be set in motion until 1937. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 23 May 1999.
A product of that instrument,1
grown as it was, an offshoot,
a bough, green and verdant,
some said from twin holy trees,
or was it two seas? Slowly and
unobtrusively, a system took form,
a first shaping, intensely, with a
seriousness and purpose, direction
and continuity, along an Iran-Israel-
America axis. It imperceptibly gathered
momentum, came to display a remarkable
potency, began to capture public atttention
with a coherence of vision and activity,
and a chronology of expectations over
many decades and centuries...so they said.
1The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha was the Instrument that established the Administrative Order.
23 May 1999
BY THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH
It is interesting to examine the development of modern astronomy and the development of the Baha’i Faith through its major stages beginning with its forerunners early in the nineteenth century. There is more than a little similarity. We are now faced with a stunning and incredible universe. The Baha’i Faith has also made stunning and incredible developments in its first century and a half. Both worlds, astronomy and the Baha’i Faith, are on the edge of wondrous developments. In both fields it has required immense labor and effort.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 23 January 1999.
While Shaykh Ahmad was preparing the way
for men to find the Gate others were slowly
working out how to track a star before it was
too late.1 By the time They both had passed
this way the limit of glass refractors had been
reached,2 but few had seen these Stars. When
‘Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian came on the
scene, the great reflectors of Their light,
astronomy was putting into operation
giant reflectors3 which helped us get better
and better at mapping the heavens. Now,
slowly, but slowly, we will see the Stars,
quadrillions of small diamonds,4
perfection in a flower and eternity in a
grain of sand, but just by the skin of our teeth.5
1 Astronomers gradually developed this ability in the first half of the 19th century.
2Two giant 40 inch telescopes in the USA date back to the passing of Baha’u’llah according to a Colliers encyclopedia article on the topic.
4In 1968 space-dust drifting among the stars was found to contain these diamonds: Guy Murchie, Seven Mysteries of Life, p.396.
5Kenneth Clark uses this expression for the survival of civilization into the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century. I use it to indicate a similar process repeating itself.
23 January 1999
A DRIVEN MAN
An artist is a driven man and the greater his work the more universal and true is its content. --Eugenio Mondale in The Poet’s Work, Reginald Gibbons, editor, p.70; and John Press, The Fire and the Fountain, University Paperbacks, Barnes and Noble, NY, p.34.
There’s always been the work.
How could you read their letters
and not see the work set out
before you for your life. And now
this work, quite precise in its poetic
telling, in its historical sense, needs to
be given the context of my life, so that
seriousness and lightness, victory and loss,
love and sadness, coming and going, can
all blend and fold into the one great portrait
that is my life. For if my life is not great,
even in its silence, not happy, even in its
sadness, however driven or not driven,
conscious as I am that this life is just
a semblance of reality,
then the work is hardly worth doing.
But do remember that you can’t expect
to go through it all without getting to the
end of your tether, to earn the seeds of
a consecrated joy requires all you have.*
* this poem was written at the home of Roman and Soraya Majidi in Albany, a community that had grown, after more than forty years of having a Baha’i presence, to 14 Baha’is when my wife and I passed through it in July of 1999
16 July 1999
THE YEARS BEFORE THE LESSER PEACE
My pioneering days began the year Marshall McLuhan pegged the phrase ‘global village’ in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy. This was 1962, the year before the Kennedy assassination and Viet-Nam, the living-room war. This pioneering venture began about ten months before the first election of the Universal House of Justice. The Lesser Peace seemed to loom on the horizon, on the horizon of our days, then and now, always it loomed. -Ron Price, "A Reflection on the Years Before the Lesser Peace", Unpubished Essay.
From 1988 to 1993 I taught a course in ancient history: Greece in the fifth century BC and Rome from 133 BC to 14 AD. I was enthralled by the many parallels between our own age and these two ancient societies. This poem is a reflection on one of the many points of comparison.-Ron Price, 4 October, 12:10 pm, Rivervale, WA.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the days
before a latter-day Pentecontaetia1,
a modern half-century: on the gentle side,
crazy days, decades of slow building,
burning, some staggering burgeoning,
hot tears of light amidst a sea of darkness
in this Formative Age, an age amusing itself
to death on rehearsed spontaneity and
immense triviality, some long night before
the dawn, on the brink, years of the tempest
with bleeding humanity brought to its knees
in a common remedial effort, a new spiritual
and moral attitude, some collective identification
with catastrophe, shock and trauma contained in
obsessions: Liz, Marilyn and Elvis and anchor men
with Oprah Winfrey, ET Shwarznegger, monopoly,
scrabble and Sylvia Plath blowing it all away just
before the House was elected, an apex crowning
a new Order growing slowly, unobtrusively amidst
the detritus and exploding knowledge of this latter age:
these years within, in, before and during the Lesser Peace.
1The term given to the period 479 to 435 BC. During these years Athens laid the foundation for her superior strength in Greece. (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Penguin, 1972, p.87.) The days before this Pentecontaetia, it could be argued, was the century or more after 594 BC when Solon was appointed mediator in Athens.
This modern period, this modern century or so, preceding the Pentecontaetia could be seen as a hundred year period, or more, beginning in, say, 1937 when the international teaching campaign was launched, 1921 when the Guardian began to create the instrument of the Administrative Order, 1912 when ‘Abdu’l-Baha came West or, indeed, 1892 when Baha’u’llah passed away. I’m going to choose 1944 to 2044, the second century of Baha’i experience when the first stirrings of a World Order, which this Baha’i Administration is but the precursor, crystallize and radiate over the planet.
These were the years before the Lesser Peace and the years, arguably, when a modern Pentecontaetia began.
4 October 1996
It is a stupendous paradox that a god does not only fail to protect his chosen people against its enemies but allows them to fail....yet is worshipped only the more ardently. This is unexampled in history and is only to be explained by the powerful prestige of a prophetic message.. -Max Weber, Ancient Judaism, The Free Press, Glencoe, 1952, p. 364.
It was the very instability and incoherence of Greek political institutions during the Mycenean and Dark Ages, 1600 to 800 BC, that led to a political evolution which was denied to other cultures. -Anthony Andrewes, Greek Society, Penguin, Melbourne, 1987, p.xxiii.
The process whereby its unsuspected benefits were to be manifested to the eyes of men was slow, painfully slow, and was characterized, as indeed the history of His Faith from its inception to the present day demonstrates, by a number of crises which at times threatened to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered. -Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, USA, 1957, p.111.
You came from the plains and the mountains
with nearby river civilizations to fertilise your soil.
Perhaps you went into Egypt back when horse
and chariot were first used in warfare1 and lived
for half a millennium there. Then your lands slipped
out of Egyptian rule, you left for Canaan and fought
as an armed assembly with the Philistines, Midianites,
Moabites, Ammonites, Aramaeans. And you fought
among yourselves in your tribal and family groups
until the United Monarchy under Saul, David and
Solomon(ca 1030-930 BC). It had been a long journey.
Things fell apart again and tensions with the nomadic
Bedouins continued a political and economic warfare.
Extended kinship groups and warriors quibbled and
quarrelled for land and equipment. Rural herdsmen
and the settled, urban population had sharp clashes
as did stock-breeders and peasants in lasting antagonisms.
Gradually agriculture replaced peasantry, herdsmen and
artisans. Town life took the place of the country and with
the towns the urban landlords and Kings replaced the power
of tribal chieftans. It was not without a long struggle.
Under Solomon(971-932) this ancient Jewish state
began to take its part on the world political stage
as a kind of oriental despotism like Egypt with a
central administration and an all-powerful king.
For the next four hundred years(922-538)
Israel took part in a series of political and military
catastrophes ending in the Babylonian captivity
and a diaspora. During these long years the oracles
of classical prophecy expressed the terror of the
Assyrians, the time honoured ‘law’ of the confederate
tribes, the voice of doom and righteousness and their
utopian vision. They made the moral precepts of
everyday life a duty and the direction of society
intimately connected with a way of life in a spirit
on constant expectation and the powerful prestige
of a prophetic message. And so it was that prophets,
psalmists, sages and priests inculcated the Torah for
generations, mostly without success until the Judean
theocratic state in the fifth century BC gave a definite
direction to Jewish history through that Torah.
A common, universal way of life emerged in this
Hebrew Commonwealth as Greece emerged into
its golden age after its long and formative age.
26 July 1996