The following letter and poems place the concept of war, the kind of war I have fought ‘pioneerng over four epochs’, in a different perspective than the normal one with guns and uniforms. The kind of war that Henry Miller describes in his analysis of WW31 is the mental, the psychological one that Shoghi Effendi mentions on the first page of his Letters to Australia and New Zealand. I shall open with several poems, followed by a letter and then conclude with more poems.---Henry Miller in 1Phoenix and the Ashes, George Ronald, Oxford, Geoffrey Nash, 1984, p.55.
"The idea of modern total war," writes sociologist Robert Nisbet, "was born in the famous decree of the National Convention, August 23, 1793." This decree resulted in the creation of a mass army, a citizen army, the first in human history in France. Karl von Clausewitz's book On War followed forty years after. Clausewitz wrote, according to Nisbet, "the single most influential book written in modern times on war" in the years 1817 to 1827. On War, a book on strategy and tactics, on the philosophy of war and the relation between society and the individual, was begun one hundred years before another book on war, a spiritual war, The Tablets of the Divine Plan. In 1793, too, Shaykh Ahmad left his home in Bahrain to begin the process of that spiritual, that total war, a war of quite a different character, characterized in those Tablets by what you might call 'a military metaphor.'-Ron Price with thanks to Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought, Heinemann, London, 1973, p.70.
Sharper than blades of steel
and hotter than summer heat,
placed somewhere inside,
pervasive, subtle, natural
as the weather, unassuming,
unobtrusive, you'd never know
or guess that this was war.
Reposing on that green,
Isle of Faithfulness
in that place of honour
in the central square,
a crystal concentrate
of exquiste power---
slowly the people came,
citizens from everywhere,
feeling its intolerable beauty,
growing accustomed to its ways.
This was no temperate, limited
engagement, no indecisive contest,
a gentle war, silent, you would not
have called it war or death, but life,
ideal forces, lordly confirmations,
rushing from hidden ramparts,
razed to the ground,
the lines of the legions
Ron Price 1 October 2002
THE TUGS HAVE LEFT
In the first months of my pioneering experience, September to December 1962, I seemed to gravitate to solitude and introspection. There has been a vein of this tendency to the private throughout these past forty years. And now that I am retired from the world of employment, have far less community responsibilities than in earlier years and have developed a proclivity for writing poetry, I can give this predisposition to the solitary a full run with rich inner satisfactions. This morning I was reading about John Keats, Robert Owen and 'the war poets' and their propensity for isolation from other men. The feeling of great fellowship with the poets of history was a strong part of their inner attitude. Keats, some say, was burnt up by his own imagination; Owen was destroyed by war; Hardy had lost the little optimism he had when young, by the time he was able to devote himself to poetry. Classical culture and Christianity were not enough for these poets, not enough to build their poetic philosophy upon. Many of these war poets died young. Many required a period of study, intercourse with kindred spirits and isolation. I have had my study, my intercourse with the poets of old and with everyday man; and I have had my isolation: now it is my pleasure to write. As Owen said in a letter to his mother: The tugs have left me. I feel a great swelling of the open sea taking my galleon. It's about time after forty years of pioneering. -Ron Price, Notes on the War Poets, Thornlie Campus SEMC, Thornlie WA, 1994.
It has been more than 85 years
since He raised the call to war,
the greatest spiritual battle
in the history of the planet,
recreating the roots of faith
without which civilization
can not endure: regeneration.
Curiously, the guns rang out,
judgement-day had arrived,
as He set down that Plan
for the conquest of the world.
Dawn was theirs, then, and sunset
and all the colours of the earth.
Dawn was ours, too, in Plan
after Plan as we wafted
His fragrances of mercy
over all created things.1
We left a white unbroken glory,
a gathered radiance, a width,
a shining peace under the night.2
We left it amidst our ordinariness,
our humanness, our cups of tea
and our striving to connect.
Always there was that striving
and it seemed so slow,
the battle far too prolonged3
for it was our life.
1Baha'u'llah, Tablet of Carmel
2Rupert Brooke, "From 1914."
3Roger White, "Lines from a Battlefield," Another Song Another Season, 1979, p.112.
17 March 2002
A UNIFIED VISION
Price felt compelled in his quest for personal wholeness and a unified artistic vision to come to terms with those crises and calamities which, from a Baha'i perspective, were inevitable parts of his life and with the struggles and strains which both he and his community experienced and which, from time to time, 'threatened to arrest its unfoldment' and 'blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered.'1 Given that a social and psychological tempest had been blowing for more than a century and a half; and given that that tempest was both unprecedented in its violence and unpredictable in its effects on the one hand and was gripping all of humanity in the clutches of its devastating power on the other, Price's quest was one all Baha'is were engaged in during these epochs. This quest for wholeness or integration was as much a goal as a battle, a balancing act, a perpetually unstable reconciliation of forces. Ultimately all the battles of life were within and, perhaps, this tension, this conflict, is the first law of human psychic life.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, Wilmette, 1957, p.111; and 2Charles Fair, The New Nonsense: The End of the Rational Consensus, Harper and Row, 1974, p.45.
In spite of all this autobiographical
and apparent self-assertion
which might ultimately
be not only irrelevant
and downright embarrassing,
but ultimately alien
to what I seek to achieve-----1
I seek to manifest a truth,
provide insight into reality,
find a pearl from the ocean
of a new Revelation
and explore a common life,
a harmonizing in contrariety,
a unity in divergence-----
self, yes, the one turned,
mirror-like, to that rare Presence.
'Oft-timed rehearsed petitioner,
I tell of us all,
all of us deft practitioners2
who strive with our
protocols of piety
stranded, as we are,
on uncertainty's shore.
closer to an ocean of certitude
than our life's vein.
1Ludwig Tuman, Mirror of the Divine, GR, 1993, p.116.
2Roger White, The Witness of Pebbles, GR, 1981, p.81.--Ron Price 4/2/02.
There is a monotony, a repetition, to life, to nature, as the poet Guillaume Apollinaire once wrote. It is part of what might be called "the unpleasant aspects of life."1 It needs to be given the clothing of meaning, purpose, activity for the inner and outer man. Part of this clothing is the plotting, the description, the characterization, the analysis, of the epoch. This is partly the function of art, partly religion. This is the purpose of the creative and performing arts and the efforts of individual pioneers in their several fields. No matter how beautiful and extensive the clothing of the vision, for the Baha'i artist it is, in some ways, a burden, since it is not in sync with others. It is accompanied by an inner turmoil and a degree of fragmentation of being, a fragmentation bordering on utter existential confusion at times.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Baha'u'llah, Tablets, Haifa, 1978, p.175; and 2Anne Atkinson, "The Dilemma of the Artist," The Creative Circle, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1989, p.67.
You go from weariness to desire
and back and forth again
and you stand alone for years
on a path no one else has gone,
or so it often seems,
as you enter into the abyss
of yourself with that reckless
courage, you find a depth
of identity and understanding,
part of the cultivation of your soul.
And there is an aching, an angst,
that takes you deeper,
plays with light and shadow,
turmoil and resolution,
but mostly you know of
a spiritual longing to create,
a sense of being 'called up.'
20 January 2002
ONE BATTLE BEGINS
A sequence of poems, especially a sequence that now approaches six thousand, over two million words, and deals ostensibly with the three epochs of the Formative Age beginning in 1944, should deal from time to time with issues that relate to genre, to the relations between the sexes, to a theme that has had significant prominence during this half-century, during what came to be called the "second wave" of feminism and would continue beyond into many other "waves." It is not my intention to give even a brief summary of the history of feminism here; that is done admirably elsewhere in many texts in sociology and history and examinations of feminism and gender relations. But gender relations, issues of masculinity and femininity, sex and marriage, have been central to my own experience of life and the experience of Baha’is in their communities. The following poem makes some personal statement about these issues, my experience and that of my contemporaries . There has certainly been an element of war, a war in this gender divide, a war that has had a greater impact on me than any of the contemporary wars in the last half of the 20th century that filled the print and electronic media. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 2000.
There has always been an emotional tension,
god, right back to grade one when I was six
and the prettiest things in the world
sat behind me in school and I wondered
what was under the soft white cloth
under their dresses which I could see
by turning my head at a certain angle
with little effort: attraction and repulsion
learning slowly custody of my eyes
like some kind of photographic emulsion.
Was this the first sign of a burgeoning
and gentle masculinity, right-there-at-the-start,
a threatening, mysterious and attractive,
but-not-attractive attraction which reared
its penetrating, not-so-modest, head,
revealing a naturalness, an emotional insecurity,
an unease, an ambivalence; and exposing
both capacity and incapacity to deal with
an emerging tension that threatened, over time,
to tear me apart?
Was this force socially constructed?
Was it sustained, over time,
by varying degrees of relationship?
Was it threatened by female assertion
of a newly-emergent autonomy?1
Who was this source of pleasure,
this instrument, this mystic virgin,
this fertile mother, this friend,
this companion, this partner, this lover
that I reconstruct in my mind’s eye
in images from blank nothingness,
to warm and inner white, to erotic
richness that reflect my dependency?
With love came faith’s bricks and planks
and rusted nails that wound;
with love has come spare plan of gold,
a vein thin and long. I lost and found my
self-control and lost again in blunder.
I’m not sure I will ever keep it in its place
within my mind of wonder. Some jihad may
control this force but jihads aren’t for plunder.
As the struggle for the rise of the World Administrative Centre began in 1951, my own battle began, fought in the confines of my brain for, it would appear, the remaining years of my life.
19 April 2000
THE NEW-OLD WAR
86 Fitzroy Road
25 December 1998
Dear Universal House of Justice
This is a letter I will probably never mail(and I never did) but I must write it anyway to get a few things off my chest. I suppose what I write was precipitated by watching a recent movie Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks. The movie showed, possibly better than any has since movies started their journey a hundred years ago, the horror of war. With the aid of the best in sound technology and cinematography and a gripping storyline the eyes, the ears and the emotions were mixed and stirred as they never have before in a war movie. As is so often the case with film, description was wonderful; analysis was lacking. The audience was left, as it so often is, to figure out the whys and wherefores.
This letter, as a result of the intensity and emotion of the film, may be equally intense, overly emotive, over-the-top as they say in Australia. But I trust this letter will convey a slice of truth as did the movie. Some notes, some musical themes, in this poetic autobiography that I send in the form of booklets of poetry like this one, are created and played for the listening ear of a future reader whom I have in my mind’s eye. And that is an essential part of this poetic opus: finding reflections of myself, my religion, the realities of life, everywhere I turn and conveying them in print.(J. Hatcher, George Ronald, 1984) Here a future reader will find impressions of the battle from an individual soldier during the earliest years of the tenth stage of history, 1963-1998.
We all know about the terrors of war, we citizens of the emerging global civilization. These sorts of wars have an enemy, guns, swords, uniforms, bullets, tanks, aeroplanes, all sorts of military paraphernalia. As far back as civilization goes wars were obvious, blatant, clear-cut, although often complex in their logistics and battle plans as well as other features of what were often long and tortured affairs.
But the battle, the war, of which I write and which we are all engaged in this final stage of history is not in this category, not based on military materiel. It involves a destruction far more drastic and terrible than any of the ones I have described briefly above. This battle does not have a ‘front’, as the wars had which we are used to describing in this century, or in those more limited engagements of previous and recent centuries. The battle now is everywhere and it is often, usually, not visible to the senses. Sometimes, of course, it is visible. Sometimes people die in one of literally hundreds of ways from one of thousands of causes. But most of the deaths are spiritual and most of the battles not visible to the outward senses by, say, interested observers.
One of the reasons I will never send this letter is that my own particular battle is just one of millions now. Mine is really no worse or no better than most of the others; or to put it more accurately, it is difficult to measure, to quantify, the individual soul’s battle. There are marginal and sometimes extreme differences from person to person, of course, but they are impossible to judge or place in any hierarchy. If some of these individual ‘battlers’, as they are called in Australia, ever wrote to you about their battle, their story would be different than mine: we all have different battles. But these battles, these post-modern wars, are infinitely more complex than those of yesteryear. Many people would not even begin to see their lives in these quasi-militaristic terms, as days lived in a war zone on many fronts. They would simply not use the language of war. They see life as a game, as theatre, an exercise in winning and losing, a play on a stage. Some would see it filled with meaning and others with no meaning. But either way, the notion of life as a war, as a battle, would be foreign to them. This is partly due to the seductive, insinuating nature of the process.
But it is not foreign to me and this is what I write about in this letter. This letter will serve as a representative of one that I’m sure millions might write, millions of often stoic souls who battle on and on year after year each fighting in their own way for the truths they have espoused. I tire of this old-born war. After thirty-six years of pioneering, three years of getting ready for it and six years of watching it from the sidelines back in the 1950s, I think I have dried out. Like this dry dog-biscuit of a land, Australia, I have had all my juices sucked out. I feel as if I have lived life to the full, recognised and embraced the ocean of this Cause and thrown my whole life into its service.
I have drowned.1 My imperfections, as long as your arm and nurtured over many years, do not appear as epically egregious as once they did. The angels, I imagine, yawn at their mention and my sense of shame in all likelihood bores these angels to death, although it probably protects me still from even more shame. My suffering, now and over the years, is so ordinary, banal, trivial. However much it has made me the man I am, it seems to have lost its currency, its flavour, its spice, its enriching function, beyond a certain minimal function. And so I, a sorry soldier, with my camp in ruins, speak from a weariness of battle far prolonged, as a bird weary of flight. The shining names of others on scattered tombs no longer appears as radiant, as they once did. They have become overly familiar and not as sweet as their remembrance once was. A legion stretching to horizon’s end, they have, I trust, by now entered the Garden of Paradise, they who are champions of the Peerless One.
But all is not a sad tale. I find aspects of this war, this set of endless skirmishes and engagements, enchanting in some ways. I have even become enamoured of some of the very intransigence of the enemy’s army. Their implacability, their very immoveability, is an aphrodisiac, though fatigue makes me call truce each day. I make my own noose each day out of my failings and I stroke the face of the traitor: for how can one describe one’s infinite failings which one lives with so finitely year-after-year? I seem to love the enemy and seek the Friend. The joy I possess is an inward one and it is difficult to share except indirectly. That is why I write so much poetry. It is as if I write it to my Lord, for the world does not seem to want to listen, or to write to me: nor would I want it to most of the time.
And what is this war-like tempest that blows year after year tearing down the very foundations of the earth with its subtle and not-so-subtle terror? What is this mighty wind of battle whose origins I can neither perceive nor probe? What is this rampant force that silently fills my ears with jingles, the Ten Top Tunes, the most wonderful classics, sports highlights and tinkling trivialities as millions die in the blazing cross-fires of life on battlefields that have no guns, trenches or signs of military might? As I feast on the fleeting and the false I am delivered from greatness. I endlessly magnify the mediocre, the ignorant and the second rate. The very complexity of it all makes it difficult to define the excellent. In these early years of this tenth stage of history, as the Guardian defined the years after 1963, a great maelstrom blows and blows.
My trouble, indeed society’s, seems rooted in our souls and, however much analysis we pour unto our problems, the answers elude us. For they are immensely complex both for those of us who are the promoters of this Cause and those billions of souls who will one day embrace its message. For there are a million questions in this complex jungle of modern life.
Some of the ocean’s turbulence I can no longer face. I have swum in its pearl-promising waves before. I know of the adventurous excitements and the wet dangers. I want to turn back now to a sun-warmed sand and leave the waves for another day, a future time. I can not swim in some of these great pools any longer; the poisoning stone fish frighten me. I feel like a frightened bird who has torn his pinion and bloodied his head. I want to go home and ‘neath the shade of protecting wings I want to nestle forever. The sea always asks more and in some of these watery escapades, in some of these wild and mounting waters, I no longer want to sail. I can no longer even look upon the frothed treachery that laps on some of the sea’s shores. I say prayers now, but only lines, never finishing.
My prayer book feels like an overworked horse that I must leave alone to rest out in the pasture. I tire of the language, the words used year after year to say and do what must be done year after year, again and again. For what we must do seems to repeat itself again and again. The same story is told over and over in its labyrinthine forms, unvarying. Now I face the long wait for the salient dove to bring that living twig. Devotion feels like a lean provision for this journey now. This devotion brought me far and now I must go the distance on the heart’s thin soil with a fatigue whose name is so ancient as to have no name.2
For many years I have identified intimately with the Guardian who, by at least the 1940s, was worn out from the burden of his labours. But he carried on until his passing in 1957 at the age of 60. Of course, I carry my own burden, much smaller than Shoghi Effendi’s. I am currently making some adjustments in my employment and residence in order to carry this burden more effectively into the future. Life seems to be a series of such adjustments until the Lord relieves one of the burden and its accompanying weight, responsibility, pleasures and joys.
I feel He has given it all to me. I have been blest with the ocean, but I must swim alone in the sea. Always there is "the work" upon which to expend my energy. This "work" I feel is partly my reward for coming this far in the battle. This is the deepening, the understanding, the insight, the sweeter pleasures, the joyous even tearful end of things. It is an end that possibly, probably, would not have come had there been no war. For war is productive of much good and my days have tasted a sweet new life, a spiritual springtime filled with the fresh leaves, blossoms and fruits of a consecrated joy. Had there been no war there would not have been this consecrated joy. I no longer have to do everything, as once I did; I can and do find joy in some of the work. I have found my corner where I can watch the tempest blow, where I can deal with a manageable chunk of the war. But from some of the action, some of the fronts on which the war is being waged, I must retire.
Swift would I be, though, Lord, if Thou wouldst but call, for You are my aim, my hope, my all. I have chosen death, Lord. In this old-new born war I know there is no escape. I’ve seen my candles fail, my petals rust. But I have found a golden seam of joy, consecrated joy, seemingly imperishable joy. This inner brightness, inner light, can be found in my poetry, along with the rusted petals, the failed candles and the story of my retirement from some of the battlegrounds.
1 Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Four On An Island, George Ronald, Oxford, 1983, p.41.
2Roger White, The Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981: several poems.
25 December 1998
THE WAR TO END ALL WARS
With the discovery of the atomic bomb and increasingly advanced forms of technology the nature of war has been transformed. But the war we all face at the individual level is a more massive and complex war than any ever fought in history. And it has few of the overt signs of traditional warfare. -Ron Price,Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 10 January 1999.
They were trying to make a bomb-
a bomb that would shake the world
as the first century of this new era
came to a close.1 My days, too, began
in those world reverberating times when
we found so much power that the world
would never be the same again. But......
the power was not in the bomb as much
as it was in a spiritual force that had begun
its unobtrusive spread over the planet. And
went on over further epochs as I began my
spread over the last nine years of the eighth,
all of the ninth and the first decades of the
tenth-the end stage-of history.
For it was the end, the beginning of the end
or, perhaps, the end of the beginning of the
greatest drama in the world’s spiritual history.
We were ready, at long last, for the inception
of the Kingdom of God on earth2 amidst blood,
sweat and tears, more pain than humankind had
ever seen, and the cleansing winds of God.
For the war to end all wars had come
and it was nothing like the rest.
It would blow our souls in Thy Kingdom come
while we all pursued each one our quest.
21953: after four decades of two world wars, the evils of Stalinism and more deaths from various forms of violence than in all of history.
10 January 1999
Army life is not an individual’s life but nevertheless its essential loneliness in the crowd of strange faces is making me more of an individual, driving my thoughts into deeper, rarer places than they have visited before. It is worse for the spirit to be dreary than endangered, that boredom is more dangerous than bombs. The desert, where much of the war was fought, was both temptation and spiritual test....The desert so saturates consciousness that it makes the mind as sterile as itself. Here there is nothing for the senses to rest or distract the eye....The desert was ideal for war because war could so fully take it over on its illimitable ocean of rock and sand. -Adam Piette, Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry 1939-1945, Papermac, London, 1995.
There is no loneliness here in this war:
too busy, peopled-out,
prefer my own company, thanks.
A dreariness has entered, no sterility,
but a consciousness so saturated
with the analysis and the events of our time,
thoughts driven deeper, into rarer places
than they have visited before.
Yes, temptation and spiritual test
on a long, tortuous and stoney road,
a road that is all there is, that fills the horizon,
where I see loss and failure, crisis and calamity,
victory, grace, unfoldment in an endless war,
that is slow seduction, strenuous, peristent
against my own instincts, natural inclinations
and the world’s allurements and trivialities.
9 June 1996
When the destruction brought about by the Second World War is complete another kind of destruction will set in. And it will be far more drastic, far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble.-Henry Miller in The Phoenix and the Ashes, Geoffrey Nash, George Ronald, Oxford, 1984, p.55.
Some of Carl Von Clausewitz’s(1817-1828) observations On War have applied in this new ‘far more drastic, far more terrible’ destruction. Some military strategists argue that his was the first written effort to systematize the principles of conflict. His essays appeared from 1817 to 1828 and were published in On War(Princeton UP, 1976). He said "everything in strategy is simple but not easy"(p.656) and "there is no higher or simpler law...than keeping one’s forces concentrated."(p.664). Both principles apply in this new style of war, but I must add the caveat that ‘forces’ are those that operate in the private theatre of one’s inner life. Here: prayer, higher powers, detachment and character, not sheer numbers of troops, except in small concentrations of, say, nine to fifteen determine success in battle. -Ron Price, comment on Clausewitz’s On War.
After what we thought of as a superficial propriety
was given a good hard kick in the teeth
by raucous rock-and-roll
which woke us up from our day dream
of Mr Clean, Doris Day, General Ike,
with no negroes nor genitalia.....
the war started.
I had just moved to Dundas at the time;
I call it pioneering now; that was in ‘62
and the battle has been on ever since:
running across two continents,
caught in cross-fires
that left me bleeding raw,
wounded, slowly recovered,
found the right prophylactic,
taking it slowly now, walking,
hands in my pockets,
watching the fires burning,
harrowing up the souls of billions
in an orgy of violence, complexity,
and often silent agony.
13 January 1996
WHEN IS A FINAL BATTLE NOT A FINAL BATTLE?
.................WHEN IT IS A PROCESS
The Torah became the final source of every Jewish norm and practice...This enthronement of the Torah in the mind and heart of the people....saved Judaism from becoming a mere priestly religion....and made it one embracing all life and action...Thus originated the Judean theocratic state in the fifth century BC.-Isodore Epstein, Judaism, Penguin, 1959(1050), p.85.
According to one, more complex, view
Canaan was conquered over many generations,
not in three campaigns led by Joshua,
with her rivals all in-and-around that dry hill country:
desert-born, hard-trained, confederate tribes and judges
in the 12th and 11th centuries BC until the final battle
of Megiddo established their supremacy in Israel.1
Over three millennia later the same hill of Megiddo
was obscurely weaving its way over many generations,
still slightly jutting out into the sea,
like some thief in the night
with battles of a different nature
in the 19th and 20th centuries AD
until some final hour and day and year
when another theocratic state would arise
out of different priests, psalmists and sages
inculcating the sublime teachings of a new Torah
in a new age, a Kingdom of God, just now begun.
31 December 1996
1 Modern archaeology and biblical criticism raises many questions about the battles for the conquest of Canaan, even questions about the very existence of Joshua.
The men and women born between 1890 and 1900 in England had their lives overtaken by world events in the twentieth century. By 1960, when these people would have been in their sixties, they were either maimed or emotionally exhausted. The rest were dead. -Spoken by an American who visited the UK between 1958 to 1962 on The Science Show, ABC Radio, 18 January, 1997, 12:50 to 1:30 pm.
You made it through those two wars
with your body still functioning,
your emotions lacerated to the bone
by the time I was in my teens in Canada.
I did not know you at all,
but my tired father1
I watched fall asleep over the newspaper
and eventually over life
with a ‘thank God that’s over with.’
Overtaken by history with every last drop
sucked out by that tempest of the time
and the effects of that residue of ego
that still burned when I was young,
too sharply I always thought.
Oh, how we misjudge,
especially the ones we could love,
never really understanding
the what, the why and the wherefore
as we grow and play baseball and fall in love
and then go through a different sucking process,
in a different war, this one without a name,
this one with the dead hoping that
they may come out of their sepulchers
and rush forth toward that true Source
of light and life for Whom this battle rages
until sweet death’s final call.
19 January 1997
1My father, Fred Price, was born in Wales in 1895 and came to America some time after World War I, I believe.
LINES FROM ANOTHER BATTLEFIELD
Come let me fete you, beloved foe,
for I tire of this old-born war.
-Roger White, "Lines from a Battlefield", Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, p.111.
I don’t know if I can stand
any more of those meetings.
I’m sure habit and obligation
will see me through a goodly number more.
My heart has been telling me
to give them a miss,
but my wife keeps persuading me
and back I come for more punishment.
I don’t know where those olden goldies
get the enthusiasm to keep it up year after year
until they drop, never missing a meeting,
always there even if they’re not wanted:
the sense of duty writ large.
Are they bored with their home life?
Trying to get away from their wife and kids?
What drives a man to attend the same meeting,
to talk about the same things,
with a predictable conversational line
as plain as the nose on your face,
in lounge room after lounge room,
year after year, decade after decade:
loneliness, a subtle and precarious superiority,
a traffic in ingratitude
which becomes an invisible support;
knows the lines to be inserted at the right time
like some domestic theatre;
is it a conviction of achievement,
an investment of too many years to give up now?
I don’t know,
but they don’t drive me any more.
Somehow, somewhere, a distaste has settled on my tongue
and something sweet and scented has acquired a sour taste,
like a marriage that had gone on the rails,
a friendship that had ended,
actions that had become pantomimes,
unctuous pieties and amorphous platitudes
essential for the dramaturgical scene
but you can feel they are not you,
like cold ice, flabby parody of an elation,
an enthusiasm you just don’t have any more,
not that type anyway.
I feel like I am stalked by strangulating shadows
that menace from the corners of my room.
I imagine angels weeping in the engulfing silence of my mind.
From time to time I feel like a frightened bird fluttering in its cage.
It is a grief so ancient as to have no name in this dimming light.
I am estranged from excellence.
My pitiable trophies-minor virtues garnered in a sweeter time-
are trivialised making the seraphim yawn at their mention.
My shame will not arrest the sun’s climb, will not topple a city,
nor be more than some ordinary suffering.
I trust it is joy that will be remembered
in heaven, consecrated joy:
its leaves, its blossoms its fruits,
those tears I tasted in my garden?
And so my faith strains feebly against the unbelieving night
and I feel alienated from some of these celestial concerns,
my heart heavy, I am unmoved by flowers.
Why is it I love the enemy and seek the Friend?
Why do I yearn to take my flight
and I am yet so young?
---Ron Price 16/1/98
LITTLE DID I KNOW, THEN
In the 1950s, when I first came in contact with the Baha'i Faith, there was a gradual lifting of sexual taboos. The first issue of Playboy was published in December 1953. Work on this first issue was well under way when, on November 11th, 1953, Shoghi Effendi announced to the Baha'i world that in the previous three weeks some twenty-one virgin areas of the globe had witnessed the planting of the banner of God's triumphant Faith. In the summer before, in July 1953, when I was nine, the Guardian wrote his famous letter to the American Baha'is A Turning Point in American Baha'i History. Playboy was in the initial planning stages at this point in time. In the next ten years a whole structure of moral values, which had been under seige at least since WW1, underwent a crisis of extreme seriousness, "a seriousness which to the superficial observer" wrote Shoghi Effendi, was "liable to be dangeriously underestimated."-Ron Price with thanks to Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965, p.124.
Little did I know back then
when I was nine and just
starting my baseball career
that a cancer was gripping
the little world I knew so well
beside Lake Ontario and
that big city of steel nextdoor.
Little did I know that that war,
ending as I was born
was but a foretaste which
this cancer, this consuming fire,
this tempest would wreak
on my world with an inevitability
I could do absolutely nothing about.
Little did I know then that
a catastrophe of undreamed-of
proportions with consequences
I would see during all the years
of my life with tribulations
that would, in the end, weld
my world together around
propelling forces, mysteriously
guiding the operations of the
fairest fruit of the fairest religion
the world had yet seen.
October 29, 2003
THE ETERNAL RETURN
In Baha’i philosophy and teachings there is an element of what Nietzsche called ‘eternal recurrence.’ It’s not quite the same as "the theory that everything that ever has been or ever will be is cycling through history in a loop," as Megan Shaw defined eternal recurrence in her article on the Eternal Return of the Jedi.1 Nor is the concept of eternal recurrence the same as assimilating all of known and unknown history into some One scheme, as say Joseph Campbell appears to do in his study of mythology or as George Lucas with his three films on Star Wars. At least that is not my understanding of the Baha’i philosophical and historical schemata. -Ron Price with thanks to Megan Shaw, "Eternal Return of the Jedi: The Phantom Menace Approaches," Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, Issue #43, April 1999.
The whole thing is far too complex
to reduce to some visual simplicity
or even some masterful total vision
where everything becomes subsumed
into One enormous, but painstaking
inclusion of all of reality, known
and unknown throughout all time.
Still, there’s a richly rewarding
the unity of the race of man...
biology and also spiritual history
like a single symphony1 for some who try.
For there is pattern, plot, rhythm,
order and harmonies2 in all
this flotsam and jetsam,
all this staggeringly complex
phenomenological reality before us.
1Joseph Campbell,"On Completion of the Masks of God," Creative Mythology, Viking Press, 1968, Frontispiece. Campbell began this work in 1956.
2H.A.L. Fisher, "Preface," A Study of History, Fontana Press, 1973(1935).
11 August 2003
Without life's struggle and its sharp edges, there would often be no poetry. Paglia writes about this in her analysis of Emily Dickinson and her poetry. Dickinson's struggle, Paglia writes, is with God and with society.1 The following poem takes the theme of struggle from Dickinson's poem number 928 and turns it into a product of my own experience, understanding and struggle. My poetry, without doubt, profits from the great disparity between the Baha'i ideals and practice both personal and community, on the one hand, and between the immense beauty and complexity of this religion I have been associated with for over forty years and the discouragingly meagre response of my society. I have whisked this discouragement and disillusionment into abstract poetic and not-so-abstract poetry. I whisk it, not into the frigid, godless universe that the great poet Wallace Stevens conceived it, nor into the empty and absurd one as Kafka defined it. I whisked these and other tensions of life into a form that Baha'is all around the world are creating--a new world Order. I try to sort it all out drawing on "new faculties"2 created by the writings of Baha'i Scripture. While I do this whisking, I sometimes feel a great weight and a fatigue and sometimes feel a sense of wonder and awe. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Vinatge Books, NY, 1991, p.653; and 2 Horace Holley quoted in The Ocea of His Words, John Hatcher, Wilmette, 1997, p.3.
The heart sits quietly on the shore
just above the waves.
Sometimes it's calm; it does not stir.
There is a peace it saves.
It saves that peace for troubled times
when devastation hits the heart
and then one waits mysteriously
for that divine power to impart.1
With this aid one reconstructs
that place along the shore.
To heal a heart convulsed,
is often like trying to win a war.
Often on one's journey long
a tempest violence heaves,
demolishing all calm walls
like a pile of wind-blown leaves.
1Shoghi Effendi, God Pass by, Introduction.
24 February 2002
A FORMATIVE AGE
The highly varied social, intellectual, psychological, partisanly apolitical and artistic atmosphere of the Baha'i community deeply influenced Price and thousands of other Baha'is of artistic sensibility in the four epochs during which his pioneering story had its origins and development. Price's poetry was not as conscientiously and systematically topographical as, say, the topography in Joyce's novel Ulysses. In Ulysses Joyce recreates the Dublin of 1904 drawing on his own lively memory of that city where he was born, grew up and spent his youth.
There are evocations of many of the places, many of the Baha'i communities and many of the experiences in those places which possess a vividness and particularity. From Price's perspective these evocations were simply more diverse, covered more territory than one city, more people than those in the one locale, the one landscape and possessed a wider framework of history and geography than that in Joyce's work. Then, too, Price's work was not part of a heroic age of literature, as some argue Joyce's work was, as far as Ireland and especially Dublin was concerned; rather it was part, as Price saw it anyway, of a formative age. As the four epochs, which were the background for much of Price's work, went on Price was drawn more and more to a comparison of his age with the formative age of Greek institutions down to, say, 800 BC, far back in another heroic and formative period of history.-Ron Price with thanks to David Daiches and John Flower, Literary Landscapes of the British Isles: A Narrative Atlas, Paddington Press Ltd., NY, 1979, pp. 214-234.
Anthony Andrewes argues that it was the very "instability and incoherence of Greek political institutions that led to a political evolution which was denied to other cultures."1 A common culture spread through Greece from 1600 to 1400 BC. There was what Bury and Meiggs called a "cultural quickening;"2 there was a fusion of Greek and pre-Greek culture. Much of the heroic period was warlike and unstable. The Iliad and the Odyssey contain many echoes of this warlike age. In the years 1200 to 800 BC there was a veritable "inner explosion"3 on Greek soil. -Ron Price with thanks to 1A. Andrewes, Greek Society, Penguin: Melbourne, 1987, p.xxiii; 2J.B. Bury and R. Meiggs, A History of Greece, MacMillan, Melbourne, 1986, p.7; and 3Ted Hughes, Myth and Education: The Symbolic Order, editor, Peter Abbs, The Falmer Press, NY, 1989, p.162.
Methinks I have been part
of another inner explosion,
a cultural quickening,
with echoes from a heroic age,
with instability and incoherence
the order of the bloody day,
and bloody it has been,
millions dead, dead, dead,
all over the place right
from the birth of those
Tablets of the Divine Plan.
Did He know that this Order
would be born in yet more
blood, sweat and tears? ------Ron Price 22 June 2003
In the three decades beginning about the time of the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 poets have struggled to reconnect their poetry to larger historical forces by locating their lives at the intersection of private and public history.1 In the following poem I do this 'connecting.' History has the quality of being present, of vibrating in the now time, of animating my heart and mind even as it is animated by the experiental forces I have to deal with in my life.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Kevin Stein, Private Poets, Worldly Acts, Ohio University Press, 1996, p.19.
Your extremities pushed
to the edge,
as you so often were,
back then at a time
which many of us
came to see as
the somnambulent fifties.
That may just help
pull me through,
all your battles,
as I go, again and again
to my limits, today,
tomorrow, last year,
so slow to learn,
the road so long,
so tortuous, slippery.
But not always,
for there is, too,
where I can go on living
with my customary
joy and delight.
These sticky patches,
of events making me,
marking me, telling
who I am at any time.
These thorny little knots,
which keep coming at me
like some destiny,
something that just seems
beyond my learning.
It was like that for you, Dad.
I remember it so well
more than forty years ago
before you died in bed
two years after the apex
was finally installed
in that new religion
and thirteen years before
mother died in the bath-tub.
In ended at last, for you,
written in the cards
were there song-birds Dad?
Were you freed of those extremities,
freed of those knots and crosses?
Were you rewarded for
those who endure with patience?
19 June 2003
RENEWAL AND RELEASE
There is much in the Baha’i Cause that gives to me a sense of moving beauty. This Cause also generates a thirst to seize all that feeds it. It has been a source, perhaps the primary source, of my restlessness and, to an extent I have never been able to measure or to define, of an ultimate sensual pleasure. It has generated an obsession and been the basis of a feeling that is always with me, a feeling of a task unfulfilled. Throughout my life as a Baha’i I have been periodically warn-out, exhausted. Always a renewal has come and it is this renewal that has given me the assurance of perpetuity of all things. This world seems to be, in both my inner and private life, and in the great processes of nature and of life, rooted in a movement back and forth towards a great, an unimaginable close. I have recorded this movement in my autobiography. I have recorded my bewilderment, my sense of the incomprehensible mystery of it all, my sense of confusion and the anxiety and pain of life as well as its joy and ecstasy. I have described many Ron Prices: tender and tough, simple and complex, depressed and joyous, extrovert and introvert and a dozen other personality polarities. I have had a spiritual appetite as well as a material, a sensual, a physical one.-Ron Price with thanks to Marcel Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, pp.ix-x.
A raging appetite, sometimes,
part of a physical response
upon a spirit
too thirsty for ideas.
For desire is everything
and joy is the moment
it possesses you:
perhaps this is love.
You return to solitude
and thought, leaving
the clutter and obstruction
of so much that is out there:
and an irresistable, quiet,
towards something higher.
Death does not haunt me,
but passion has not subsided
and tranquillity, therefore,
is only partial. Creativity,
though, has come at last
after thirty years of life’s
cocoon of battle keeping,
as it did, my head down.
Now passion is unrestrained
and it fills so much of life
for it is art; it nourishes
and brings beauty, partakes
of vision and dream and brings
a release that is also peace.
9 May 2003
The words of American writer Thomas Wolfe in the 1920s in relation to his book Look Homeward Angel could very well be applied to my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Wolfe wrote: "I have never called my book a novel. To me it is a book such as all men may have in them. It is a book made out of my life, and it represents my vision of life..."1 Whereas Wolfe’s book and his vision was put down at the age of twenty, mine was defined more precisely and in great detail closer to the age of sixty. -Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Wolfe in American Literature Since 1900, editor, Marcus Cunliffe, Sphere Books, London, 1975, p.55.
What have we here:
for a life, my life,
which would have been buried,
private, individual, inner,
concrete and subtle.
In a world overwhelmed
by the accelerating pace
at this climacteric of history,
I have set it down, my days,
avoiding petty animosities,
brash narcissistic confidence
and its arrogant, unattractive
Here is a document
to be judged only by its art,
not how many home runs I hit,
how many letters I wrote,
how successful or unsuccessful
I have been as a teacher over
what feels like several epochs.
As Hemmingway said back in ’37,
as that war was hotting up:
a man alone aint got no bloody chance;
and as Scott Fitzgerald said
in that same year that Picasso
launched his Guernica,1
rigorous selection was required
by putter-inners like me;2
seven-eighths of the iceberg
is still below the water.
1Perhaps the most famous painting of the century was completed in April 1937.
2Dennis Welland, "The Language of American Fiction Between the Wars," American Literature Since 1900, Sphere Books, London, `1975, pp.48-55.
9 May 2003
COMING OF AGE
The lesson of the Baha’i Faith for the creative artist was a simple one, at least that was how I saw it in the opening years of the new millennium. Get on the one world train! The writing of Baha’is had slowly been coming of age, for perhaps several generations, perhaps as far back as the opening of the first epoch of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan in 1937. There was an increasing receptivity to the work of the artistic community all over the Baha’i world. This receptivity, this favourable climate to the emergence of artists, was not always to their comfort. Some were never comfortable, for example, with the requirement of the process of review. But the minds of Baha’is who were writers were characteristically progressive in temper and tolerated, even they did not like, the literary experiments, the innovations, of their generation. Insensibly there had developed, especially since the 1980s, completely fresh opportunities for the living of the intellectual life in the general Baha’i community. The arts and artists in the Baha’i community were increasingly being pushed on all the continents of the globe in the direction of a moderate, tempered and courteous language.1 This kind of language was not easy to achieve, given the general tendencies in society toward dissent, the increasingly adversarial nature of culture, the disenchantment of those spokesmen and analysts of culture with culture itself and the fact that so much of the whole way of life was based on criticism.2 -Ron Price with thanks to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, "Extracts from the Baha’i Writings on the Subject of Writers and Writing," Baha’i Canada, August 2000, p.17; and Peter Gay, Freud, Jews and Other Germans: Masters and Victims of Modernist Culture, Oxford UP, NY, ‘78
A cohesion had been developing,
a generation, an ambiguity,
a beginning, a concentration,
different literary impulses,
cosmopolitan and native inheritance;
a temper was changing,
but so complex, reaching back
all over the place
and into new technicalities,
and a million subjects abounding.
Is this the locality,
the place of prophecy,
of the forces of things to come?
Were those twenty years wasted
at the start of this tenth stage of history?1
It just took so long to put down
the real thing, the motion and the fact.2
1 T.S. Eliot wrote about his wasted years: 1919-1939 in American Literature Since 1900, editor, Marcus Cunliffe, Sphere Books, London, 1975, p.48. Mine: 1962-1982.
2Ernest Hemmingway, Death in the Afternoon, 1932.
8 May 2003
A NOTE FOR FREEDOM--and Joy
In 1953, at the outset of the Kingdom of God on earth, as 'Abdu'l-Baha informs us in God Passes by,1 Ray Bradbury published his book Fahrenheit 451. It is Bradbury's compelling and classic novel of censorship and defiance. The book was a timely warning against the anti-Communist hysteria and the fear of totalitarianism that then gripped the USA. In 1966 the book was made into a movie which was not considered successful. From time to time a criticism of the Baha'i Faith is made accusing this new world Faith of totalitarian leanings. Anyone who has worked in this Cause for a significant length of time knows that such a criticism is difficult to believe and understand, impossible to countenance.-Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, p.351.
This is the religion of the inner-life,1
the religion of the book par excellence.
It is here that we are born and die.
It is here where the passionate will
to understand is found
and a deep tempering process
takes place--called life.
It is natural to sometimes feel
defeated by the chaos of names
that floats around inside us
and is part of our daily diet.2
Now, though, that I have
tasted liberally of despair
from its empty-boned,
bleached skull with its
large and hollowed-eyes......
the time has come for life's
symphony of joy,
its myriad notes,
its exquisite celebratory joy,
born of solemn consciousness,
deep reflection and contemplation,
awe and a thankful gladness.
For the exceptional and glorious
stage of humanity's spiritual
evolution3 has become
so very very plain.
1Robert Hughes, in his analysis of German art in the thirties pointed out how totalitarian regimes do not allow for an inner life. There is no inwardness in that world.(Robert Hughes, "Degenerate Art," ABC TV, 11:15-12;10 am, 24/2/03.
2Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt:For Love of the World, Yale UP, London, 1982, p. 196. 3 The Universal House of Justice, Letter April 3 1991.
Ron Price 27 February 2003
End of Story!