18. CONTEMPORARY

HISTORY

For the purpose of this part of my website, devoted as it is to ‘contemporary history,’ I shall define contemporary history in several ways, from several persepctives. Firstly, it is often seen as that part of the human experience after the French Revolution of 1789 or the several revolutions in the last half the the eighteenth century. If I were to define 'contemporary history' in terms of Baha'i experience I would begin with the birth of Shaykh Ahmad in 1753. The first decades of the Industrial Revolution(1759-1789), the American Revolution(1775-1783) and, in England, the agricultural revolution all both took place in the period after the birth of Shaykh Ahmad and began before the French revolution in 1789 and continued as processes after. For various reasons, the substance of my prose and poetry at this part of my site, deals generally with issues, experiences and events from the period 1750 to 2000. The last half of the eighteenth century, then, serves as the beginning of modern history.

At the same time as I define contemporary history in this way, some of the poetry in this section deals with 'contemproary' events that are (a) personal and/or (b) part of the history of the Baha'i Faith. I see this term CONTEMPORARY HISTORY in a very wide context. I shall introduce this section with six poems having some historical theme from these last 250 years and with an essay from my collection of unpublished essays.

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A WAR TO END WARS

David Kennedy, Professor of History at Stamford University, gave a lecture in October 2001 at La Trobe University in Australia. It was entitled Key American Strategic Decisions in WW21. In that lecture he emphasized the transformative effects of WW2 on America, a transformation from being a nation of poverty and unemplyment in 1940, to being the most prosperous nation on earth in 1945. This entire event, WW2, occurred during the first stage, 1937-1944 and 1944-1946, of the implementation of the Divine Plan, 'the weightiest spiritual enterprize launched in recorded history.'2-Ron Price with thanks to 1ABC Radio National, "Background Briefing," 9:00-10:00 am, 30 December 2001; and 2Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965, p.43.

Those fate-laden years,1

when the war to end wars ended

did indeed set the stage,

a new one was just beginning:

for the initial clash of that army of light.

I have lived my life in the context

of the forces of darkness of this war

and identified myself in this titanic enterprise

with those forces to capture the cities

of the hearts of men since I was young,

43 years ago, when the Kingdom of God on earth

was just beginning and that prelude

which he called entry-by-troops

sounded the signal for a spiritual conquest

of the planet and its mass conversion

in the century-centuries-to come.

Spiritual battalions were moving into position

driven by forces its prosecutors

could not hope to properly assess.

Yes, yes, those were fate-laden years

when the process of entry by troops,

saw but modest beginnings to a long-awaited

mass conversion and toilsome labours had begun

with richly deserved rewards, with their vista

of alluring, yet hazy and entrancing, musical notes,

as far as the fringes of a Golden Age.

 

Those fate-laden years

and their devastating conflict,

the darkest in history,

called for a Physician

which only this Plan,

this gigantic movement

and its unsleeping Pilot,

its Charterer and Founder,

its Bestower of that primacy

which is the hallmark of their destiny

could administer and remedy.2

 

1 The war years: 1939-1945

2 Citadel of Faith, pp. 21-22.

Ron Price

30 December 2001

 EMERGING

How and what a person writes is one way of measuring someone's true personality. "Little by little" writes Gustave de Beaumont in his analysis of the historian and sociologist Alexis de Toqueville(1805-1859), "his true personality began to emerge in his account of his travels."1 I feel the same is true of my poetry and essays: little by little my personality began to emerge throughout the years 1980 to 1992. Then, during the next nine years, 1992 to 2001, I found myself able to use language to open up a multiplication of meanings. I also found that no single perspective was adequate to the immense task facing the Baha'i who would understand the complexity of the issues of these several epochs.

Certain events give writers the sense, the tone, the texture, of the age they live in. Price grew up in the shadow of the bomb, the first stage of the nuclear age(1945-1962). Then, space exploration, beginning in its first decade 1959-1969; the Viet Nam War, the first TV war, civil rights and the assassination of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King--all these events before he was twenty-five--coming in quick succession after two world wars in the previous two epochs, put the stamp of instability on his times, gave him the sense that his was a new age and one with a dark heart.

"The problem that would become central to Toqueville's entire thought was the substitution of a democratic world for the aristocratic world."2 The central problem of the age for Price was the insensible decline of democracy in an anarchous and globalizing age. This decline he could see in his study of history, an endless succession of engagements with a past, and his study of politics, an endless succession of processes in a present, during which the dramatis personae in both fields were never fully able to fathom, control and command events.3 -Ron Price with thanks to Andre Jardin, Toqueville: A Biography, Peter Halban, London, 1988, 1p.71 and 2p.62; and 3 J.W. Swain, Edward Gibbon the Historian, MacMillan, London, 1966, p.70.

I can not record the transactions

of these days for the instruction

of the future; nor can I tell

of the latent causes of decay,

the slow and secret poison

in the long and slow decline

of a civilization that came

into the nineteenth century

when They brought to all

the Bridge which is sharper

than the sword and finer

than a hair.1 And so now

we watch the darkest hours

before the dawn and wonder,

in our puzzled wonder.

 

1 The Bab, Selections, p.96.

Ron Price

20 July 2001

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THAT OLD WORKHORSE 'RELIGION'

In the mid sixties I took an elective unit at university, while I was studying history and philosophy; it was in comparative religion. According to Carl Raschke in his article "Theorizing Religion at the turn of the Millennium," the study of religion only emerged as an academic field at universities in the late 1960s. After thirty years as an academic subject the field is now going through a crisis. Arising out of confessional and sectarian approaches to religion, out of comparativism and classical anthropology, out of the writings of Paul Tillich, Mircea Eliade and Clifford Geertz it was fuelled by the New Age movement and its curious contemporary syncretism. The study of religion has been a consortium of disparate intellectual agendas responding to an historically contingent set of market conditions. Now, Raschke states, after being sustained for all the years of my post-graduate life, 1967 to 2001, the academic study of religion cannot survive without sweeping changes. -Ron Price with thanks to Carl Raschke, Internet, 25 November 2001.

 

I got in early back then

as the study of religion

was finally respectable,

religious pluralism

at last a commitment,

but covert faith agendas

still competed with

scientific rigour.

 

Christianity was still

number one in this course,

as obvious as the nose on your face;

the guy who taught it

was a committed Christian

from the word go,

although he was a nice chap.

 

Deregulating the market,

opening up to global competition,

the praxis and exposure

to a varied theological espousal

got off the ground,

but you had to watch for

that hidden confessional curriculum.

 

Then, there was that sweeping

efflorescence of definition;

an undemarcated topography

requiring a whole new direction

for that old workhorse 'religion.'

 

Always there would be questions,

always an angst for meanings,

always a totality of experience,

the aura, the patina, the introspection,

always the need for redemption,

always a resurrection of memory,

always the mythic and the mystical.

always there would be the need for limits.

 

Ron Price

16 November 2001

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THE SOUND OF THE RHYTHM OF A SINGLE FOOT

At some time during the Seven(1979-1986) or the Six(1986-1992) Year Plans I recall a sentence or two of the Universal House of Justice in the Australian Baha’i Bulletin requesting Baha’is to respond to the criticism of some observers of the Cause that His world Order was but another in a long line of ‘total institutions,’ another belief system with its single formula to meet the diverse ends of humankind and account for everything that exists by means of a single description and explanatory system, a system that demands conformity to prescribed norms--in a word--obedience. This poem is an attempt to make a brief response to this request of the House of Justice. It is also an attempt to answer the concerns of Isaiah Berlin in a similar vein: the use and abuse of authority. -Ron Price with thanks to Leon Wieseltier, "When a Sage Dies, All Are His Kin: Isaiah Berlin: 1909-1997," The New Republic, 12 January 1997, on The Internet, pp.1-7.

 

He feared the power of the mind

to unify, thinking that unity

was sameness, the sound

of the rhythm of a single foot,(1)

harmony passing into unison....

and so do we all fear, fear,

after the horrors of that century

and its Hitlers, Stalins and Pol Pots.

 

He feared that freedom---

nothing more magnificent really

than the right to be left alone---

was under attack. Authority,

he thought, must be legitimate

and here, here on this hill it is,

in this institutionalization of charisma,

with rational-legal pillars

and a divine afflatus.

 

Here, too, individuals are not made

to sacrifice their own patterns of life,

or their privacy, their private worlds,

to deny what they know to be true,

for in our thought and reflection

we are and must be free.(2)

 

(1) Aristotle in Twilight of Authority, Robert Nisbet, Heineman, London, 1975, p.286.

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, Wilmette, 1980, p.40.

 

Ron Price

27 November 2001

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DEFINING MYSELF BACK THEN

The year after I became a Baha'i, Sidney Poitier acted in the first negro film about a negro family. The film was called A Raisin in the Sun. The year after my pioneering experience began in 1962, Poitier appeared in the film Lilies of the Field. The year I left home to live among the Eskimo, 1967, Poitier appeared in three films: In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner and To Sir With Love. Poitier was to the film industry what Jackie Robinson was to baseball. These were the years of the Civil Rights marches and people came back from these marches wanting to change the world. Race had been on the American agenda before the sixties. But there is no question that a new wind began to blow in these years when I was first a Baha'i and pioneering; former social and political certainties finally cracked or disappeared. A new self-consciousness about historical identity set in.1 -Ron Price with thanks to "Famous Faces: Sidney Poitier," ABC TV, 9:30-10:30 pm, 28 September 2001; and 1 Rick Perlstein, "Who Owns the Sixties?" Lingua Franca, Vol.6, No.4, 1996.

There was a feeling we were acting

in history--the feeling hit me big in,

what was it, '65, and it stayed

with me for these thirty-six years.

 

These years saw:

the rise of the new right,

the rise of the new left

and the rapid expansion

of an emerging world religion

with the future in its bones.

 

These memories possess me now

as if in a lover's embrace

and, for the most part,

no one touches them.

They are like a private place

of self-regeneration so powerful

they have become a constituent part

of my current and active identity.

 

I defined myself back then,

slowly, thanks to: the Dixons,

Doug, Nancy, Jamie and Gale

gee, there are too many to mention,

in lounge rooms, with prayer books,

at meetings and in bell-bottoms---

while Sidney was defining things too.

 

Ron Price

28 September 2001

HERE IS A RECORD 

"The truth is that history, as we commonly conceive it, is not what happened," writes David Malouf, "but what gets saved, recorded and told." Most of what happens in life never gets recorded because it is too common, too repetitious. That is true not only of the larger processes and events in history but also in our own personal lives. Malouf states that we must "possess our worlds imaginatively, take them into our consciousness, and here give them new life." We must imprint our worlds on our inward eye, feel them along our pulse. One way to deal with the sterility, the emptiness, or the randomness, the sheer pervasiveness and complexity of external life is to make it into a story, impose a shape onto it, take the outer world in, make subtle adjustments, give of yourself and write what you see and hear in your own heart. -Ron Price with thanks to David Malouf, Boyer Lectures, 1998.

I'm telling you what I feel

about the impact of all this--

history, my life and society--

and it is no easy process,

to know what you feel

and put it into words.1

If you don't feel anything

about this story, yours and

this massive new epic, then--

there's no story to tell.

1. D.H. Lawrence in The Pelican Guide to English Literature: The Modern Age, 3rd edition, Penguin, 1973, p.391.

 Ron Price

14 September 2001

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OLD FRIENDS: A COMMENT ON ARNOLD TOYNBEE'S 'AS STUDY OF HISTORY'

It was thirty years ago, in 1964, that I bought the ten volumes of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Every once in a while I get some time to dip into these volumes, or some commentary on them. Although reading Toynbee is a solid intellectual exercise, not unlike Edward Gibbon who served as his model, he comes closest to providing some perspective on history that seems to be written by a Baha’i. The very fact that he considers the Baha’i Faith one of the two religions of western civilization(Vol.7B, p.771) is enough to give him an honoured place in my pantheon of important historians.

I find, though, that Toynbee is not easy to read. In fact, it took me at least two decades(1964-1984) to be able to read more than a few pages at a time. His writing, like Gibbon's, like Shoghi Effendi's, requires a good deal of exposure in order to acquire the tastes of appreciation. I’m sure the Guardian would have loved him, as he loved Gibbon. Sadly, after 1921, Shoghi Effendi was so swamped with work he had little time to develop his literary and scholarly interests in the social sciences and the humanities. Toynbee began his Study of History the same year the Guardian come into office and finished his final Reconsiderations in 1961. The eleven volumes were the tour de force of his life.

There is something majesterial about this work of erudition. I think it is more than a coincidence that it was written just as the first shaping of the World Order, known as Baha'i Administration, was being designed for use in an expanding Baha'i community. It is impossible for the amateur to assess Toynbee’s work, just as it is impossible to truely appreciate this embryonic World Order without some experience working in it.. When the Kingdom of God on Earth began in 1953 Arnold Toynbee was just finishing Vol.10. It was as if this Kingdom had been given a fitting history in which to cloth It and give It a context. At the centre of Tonybee’s thesis is the global imperative of humankind to federate. Our survival depends on it. History, as the relationship between God and man, found its raison d’etre in the higher religions. They played a critical role in the story of humankind: so goes the thesis of Arnold Toynbee.

I have observed three reactions to Toynbee over the years. The most common one by far is: "who is he?" To most of the post-war generations Toynbee got lost in a sea of print. He is a heavy dude, not the sort of chap you take to bed for a light night cap. Others have heard of him but, like the Guardian's writings, difficult to integrate with life and its busy highways and byways. A third group finds him wonderfully stimulating. For me, he is quintessentially the Baha’i historian-if we needed one-and we do. The story of the human experience in history is immensely complex and Toynbee gives one a flavour of this complexity. This third group, also contains a sub-group which has found the time to read Toynbee, but disagrees with just about all his major assumptions. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl is in this group.

In 1955, in responding to a range of criticisms of his work in The History of Ideas, one of the many journals in the social sciences, Toynbee said he was ‘studying history’. One of the many charges that Toynbee responded to was that he was unconventional and had tried to write about too much. In closing his brief response of less than a page Toynbee said he felt like a minor poet, a minor historian. He has given us a lifetime of reading. Given his global perspective, the similarity of assumptions and the rich diversity iof his work, he may come to occupy an important position at some future time, perhaps after these troubled times become more peaceful and we develop a more literate and cultured sensibility.

In the meantime I will continue to dip into the pages of his works from time to time. A second thirty years would do me fine. We still await that federation which Toynbee hoped for but was not convinced he, or we, would ever see. A certain pertinacity, persistence, determination is required in taking Toynbee along for a ride. An elan vital, an intellectual energy and interest, is crucial to overcome incipient fatigue, concentration’s lapses and one’s own sheer ignorance. If one stays with him, like the Guardian, he becomes part of one’s own backbone. He occupies several essential strands in my intellectual make-up. His paperback volumes are getting warn. Back in the early 1960s they cost three or four dollars a volume. They have become old friends.

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POETIC INFLUENCES IN HISTORY

In 1955, Arnold Toynbee responded to the critique of his work in the journal of The History of Ideas. In that response he said he would "rather be called a minor poet than minor prophet." Edward Fliess had already called Toynbee a poet in his review in that same journal. Toynbee's A Study of History was, Fliess wrote, "a huge theological poem in prose." Toynbee's work is closer to the realm of belles-lettres; it possesses the rhythms of the King James Bible. Such erudition as Toynbee possesses in Milton's time found an outlet in poetry, according to Fleiss. Now it must do so in prose. Toybee is, in Fleiss's view, a Milton in prose "dominated by the conception of St. Augustine's City of God. It is not just a work of history; nor is it just a poem. -Ron Price with thanks to The Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.16, 1955, pp.275-280.

It would be another nine years

before you came into my life

at the McMaster University

bookstore in those days

when you could afford a book.1

 

Little did I know that buried

in your immense erudition

was a poetry in whose waters

I bathed for nearly thirty years

before I found my own waters.2

 

Is it because of you

that my poetry is as much

history as it is poetry?

What has brought these words

at this fin de siecle? At this

climacteric of history?

1 I bought the 10 volumes of Toynbee's A Study of History in 1964.

2 I see now, in retrospect, that 1992 was the beginning of my serious work as yet another 'minor poet,' much more minor than Toynbee, perhaps in the school of Roger White's progeny but without his brilliant wordsmithing or his humour.

Ron Price

5 August 2001

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EXHAUSTED

In the first forty years of the response to the Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1919 to 1959, Alexander Solzhenitysn estimated that 66 million people were killed in the Soviet Union. During this time the Baha'i Faith expanded from about 100,000 to nearly 400,000. Many intellectuals in the West were seduced by the apparent attractions of the Soviet system during these years. They were years of the slow growth of a prophetic message and the laying of the foundation of a system of Baha'i Administration. By the time I became a Baha'i, by that year 1959, forty years after those Tablets were unveiled in New York, the Baha'i system had spread around the world: quietly, unobtrusively, hardly attracting the attention of humankind much at all. -Ron Price with thanks to Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 2 August 2001.

 

It seems to take the death of millions

to exhaust the ideological upheavals

that have convulsed our world

and still the show goes on

as the people and their institutions

respectfully and not-so-respectfully

sink into utter oblivion.

It's the story of the last century or two.

 

Our needs have been deep

and our global society

has slowly emerged

before our waking eyes,

amidst a magnitude of ruin

that is incalculable

and a catalogue of horrors

darker and more turbulent

than at any time in history,

but still humans think

they can bend their days

into conformity with their desires.

 

Slowly, oh so slowly, too slowly,

the entire panorama

of humanity's spiritual development

is coming to be seen

as a single process.1

 

1 This poem has drawn on The Universal House of Justice's book The Century of Light and Office of Public Information's book Baha'u'llah for some of its material.

Ron Price

2 August 2001

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WRITING HISTORY IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY

AND WESTERN AUSTRALIA

In 1982 I moved to the Northern Territory and began to write a history of the Baha'i experience in the NT and northern WA, a history going back to 1947. What follows is a brief part of the Preface to that history which, as yet, is not published, although it appeared in a series of articles in the newsletter of the Regional Council of the NT, Northern Lights: 2001-2003.

PREFACE

Since we do not really know when that medical aid sargeant, Alex McLeod, gave out Baha’i pamphlets in Darwin in the late 1940s; since it could have been as early as 1946 or 1947, then this history of the Baha’i community in the north and west of Australia is now in, or it approaches in the next year, its fiftieth year. The contents of this essay cover the period 1946 to 1996, depending of course on how one defines this beginning of Baha’i history in that remote region.

Since leaving the northwest and the north of Australia in late 1987, I have done little to continue writing the history of the north that was my interest from 1982 to 1987. What is contained here is largely the third draft of that history which I finished about six months after moving to Perth. I have made a few cosmetic adjustments to that third draft and added an addendum for the period up to 1996 to complete the fifty years.

In 1991 and 1992 I sent all of my notes, gathered in the north and in the first three years here in Perth, to the LSA of the Baha’is of Darwin. I slowly pulled myself away from writing this history. It is quite unlikely that it will be published in my lifetime. I see it, rather, as a resource base for future Baha’i historians and people who are interested in reading the story. In 1996, I asked the LSA of South Perth to keep a copy of this slightly revised third draft and addendum in their archive. If I am able to pull myself away from this history completely, this ‘first fifty years’ should be my last contribution to the history in this part of Australia.

"The bush" in Australia leans toward the "desert" and absorbs some of its meaning. There are, then, many words for this vast tract of land, some four million square miles that cover the base of this history: semi-desert, savanna, outback, elemental wilderness, even terra nullius. In recent years it has been popularized, the values of the bush that is, in films such as Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, Breaker Morant, Gallipoli. For a century painters have developed a distinctively Australian style to capture its beauty, its silent eloquence and its vast emptiness: Russell Drysdale, Sydney Nolan, William Dobel and Albert Namatjira.

The half-desert country in this particular history, where the Baha’i Faith spread in the years 1947 to 1997(or 1946 to 1996 depending on how the historian wants to define the first fifty years), has affected the imagination of Australians in much the same way as the sea has affected the British. It certainly affected mine. I think that is why I have had trouble disengaging myself from writing this history, even though my heart has not been in the writing of this history really since I left the north nine years ago.

I leave this history, then, to pens more capable than mine, with enthusiasms and energies that can be channelled into what I’m confident will be a compelling second half century of Baha’i history. Hayden Williams1 wrote in one of his poems that the great Australian outback was "a lonely place unvisited, longing to be filled." Let us now see what those mysterious dispensations of Providence will bring to what that explorer and author, Ernest Favenc, called "that arid desert parched beneath a rainless sky."2

1 Hayden Williams, "Island Half-discovered’, quoted in Pilgrim Through This Barren Land, Cavan Brown, Albatross Books Pty. Ltd., Sutherland, NSW, 1991, p. 23.

2ibid., p.24.

Ron Price

15 December 1996

* My History of the NT and North of WA: 1947-1997 has now gone through three unpublished editions of about 25,000 words each. From 2000 to 2002 some twenty-five instalments of this history, reworked into 200 word segments, appeared in Northern Lights, published by the RTC of the Baha'is of the NT.

THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS

John Adams, the second president of the United States, died in 1826. So, too, did Thomas Jefferson, the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence. So,too, did Shaykh Ahmad that "luminous Star of Divine Guidance" and great precursor of the Bab. The United States had been independent for fifty years by 1826. Adams was the first to write a modern constitution. He believed that "laws not men" held a society together. His vigorous mind was fully occupied in his years of retirement, 1801 to 1826, and so, writes a biographer, his final years were happy, well-oriented ones in which he remained engrossed in his intellectual interests. Shaykh Ahmad's powers were also "untouched by advancing years."1 -Ron Price with thanks to George Mowry, Colliers Encyclopedia, Vol.1, p.107 and H.M. Balyuzi, The Bab, George Ronald, Oxford, 1973, p.2.

 

Two systems were just being born

in those years1

while you2 were announcing

the near advent of the Deliverer

of the Latter Days,

with your unerring vision,

your fixed purpose,

your sublime detachment.

 

You both had your anguish

in those years at the start

when that new democracy

was taking root across the sea,

when that democratic theocracy

had its first seeds sown

by that disseminator of truth

before he yielded his spirit to God.3

 

1 Jefferson and Ahmad: 1776 to 1826(d.)

2 Shaykh Ahmad

3 In 1826, Nabil's Narrative, p.9.

Ron Price

6 July 2001

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PLAYING IT RIGHT

August was a very important month back in '62. I finished my summer job, my last in the small town of Burlington, with the Dundas Slot Machine Company. I pitched my final game with the Burlington Juvenile All-Stars. I went to my first Baha'i summer camp in northern Ontario at a place called Kashabog; and I pioneered, with my parents, to the nearby town of Dundas. Out on the periphery of my life, hardly touching the surface of my existence at the time, Marilyn Monroe died from what we now know was a murder, in which the president and the attorney general, John and Robert Kennedy, were implicated. Her death was not a suicide, the view that was then promoted by 'the police and the state authorities.'. This real cause of Monroe's death remained a state secret until the 1990s. I, too, back in the summer of 1962, had my own secret. -Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, "Famous Faces: Marilyn-The Ultimate Investigation," 9:30-10:25 pm, 6 July, 2001.

While I was getting ready

to pitch my last game of baseball

Marilyn Monroe died

from what would now appear

to be murder,

the truth so blatantly concealed,

while I, too, on the eve

of my pioneering venture

had my own blatant secret,

unrevealed to the small town boys

friends I had known for years

and played with all my life.

 

We all have concealed truths,

as our hot Augusts go buzzing by

in all their heat1 and perplexity

and dark nights hide secrets:

state security risks

and private security-fears

that are never ever known.

 

No police came in to hush mine up,

for I was the choreographer

of the whole scene;

I directed the whole operation,

the script, flawed and plausible,

was all mine--

if I just played it right,

and I did:

but now I'm not so sure.

1 cold, if you live in the southern hemisphere

 

Ron Price

6 July 2001

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MAKING HISTORY

Thus the world and man reveal themselves by undertakings. And all the undertakings we might speak of reduce themselves to a single one, that of making history. The writer’s task is to communicate better values and to impel us to live in the direction of those values. -Patricia Yaeger, Honey-Mad Women: Emancipatory Strategies in Women’s Writing, Columbia UP, 1988, NY, p.248.

 

And we are making history,

in these lounge rooms and halls,

over a thousand cups of tea

and endless ‘allah’u’abhas’,

where chronic and committed rapture

dries out beside this lean provision

of devotion which seems to feed

on the heart’s thin soil.

A lifetime is a long voyage,

the rains unreasonable,

the wait for the living twig and dove

long, unbelieveably long.

But there is sun, too, and white clouds

across the horizon of eternity

telling of some undiscovered country

and a drama, the greatest drama

in history’s complex and chequered path.

 

Ron Price

1 October 1996

___________________ 

NARROW HISTORY

The popularity of a product, an item of culture, is not related to its quality or its truth, its beauty or its spirituality. The sense of reality, realness, quality, in the world for many individuals, especially the artists, is related to creativity, to generativity, a voice that is uniquely one’s own, that has the stamp of one’s inner voice or self and that is part of a community. This is particularly true for the Baha’i who is also an artist. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert McDowell, editor, Poetry After Modernism, Story Line Press, 1991.

Feminist views of "history" support "anecdote as authority" since history has so largely ignored and distorted women’s lives and work. Women must learn to speak again starting with I, with we. -ibid., pp.175-76.

......the poem here has got lost......1

1 Some poems get lost, some are not finished, some sit in a file waiting for completion....

_____________________ 

THE HEART OF HISTORY IN AN AGE OF EXTREMES

This morning on ABC Radio National I heard an interview with a Professor of Politics from La Trobe University. He was talking about Eric Hobsbaum’s new book The Age of Extremes: 1914 to 1991(quoted at the beginning of the Century of Light). His analysis of the twentieth century was a useful one to a pioneer like myself who had grown up, according to Hobsbaum, in the period of the greatest prosperity and advancement in material conditions in the history of humankind: 1945-1970, but had seen a decline in traditional religion as the main psychological support structure for human beings in the West, in and after the 1960s; and the collapse of socialism/communism as a hope for civilization. This poem tries to place Hobsbaum’s analysis in the context of my pioneer life(1962-1999) and some of the Guardian’s perspectives on history beginning in the second epoch of the Formative Age, in 1944.-R Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript,’99.

 

I’d made contact with

what seemed like

an unrevolutionary

revolutionary Force

in the midst of an age

of prosperity, an epoch,

among the earliest,

in the morning of my life,

epochs which would

stretch to the fringes

of a Golden Age.

But meanwhile,

as part of that long history

of infinite toil,

I would forge a pioneer experience

in these days before the Lesser Peace,

with the hosts on high demonstrating

the irresistable force of their might

in ways that I could not see

or comprehend, but which,

when looking back

over these past forty years,

have seen the vanguard

of the torchbearers of a world

redeeming civilization...

inaugurating the systematic

conquest1 of the planet,

the first stirrings of a

spiritual revolution.

That, Eric, is at the heart of history

in this Age of Extremes.

Ron Price

9 December 1999

1 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, USA, 1965, pp. 21-27.

__________________________

WALDO

...He alone is an artist whose hands can execute perfectly what his mind has conceived...an artist spends himself, like the crayon in his hand until he is gone...Writing is like shooting...success depends on the aim not the means. Look on your mark not on your arrow....growth is the constant effort of the soul to find outside itself that which is within...as a man chooseth so is he...a man is a method...a selecting principle...our own life is the text of history and books are the commentary...-Ralph Waldo Emerson in Emerson: The Mind on Fire, Robert D. Richardson, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995.

 

It was a pleasure spending an evening

with you Waldo. Yes married and chained

for eternity would be frightful if we could

not share truth together. It has taken me

a lifetime, it seems, to learn to share bodies

and minds, truths and beauties,

surely some souls are worth

going the distance with, Waldo?

 

Yes, art is a process and the poem

marks some ossification, some end,

some death; poetry is a process

that produces the poems;

it is in the world and I catch it.

The fire within may be modest,

but it is sufficient and excells

any impossible promise,

any awakened expectations

brought by fame and its ploughing-of-the-air.

 

And so the beads of my life are strung defining

the who that I am, aroused by this writing.

And I shall go on with this fire within

which burns with a white heat,

but always more, more, always more,

always deeper, higher, richer, more profound:

all in the name of principle, Cause,

emerging world religion

and an emotional intensity

born of some finger-mark

of beauty and insight.

Ron Price

21 October 1995

______________________

WAFTING, AT LAST, OVER ALL CREATED THINGS

The transition from a loosely connected movement to a fully organized one can be said to have ended in 1925....But by 1936 the National Assembly...the national committees and Local Spiritual Asemblies were sufficiently strong to come together for the prosecution of an international missionary program.-Loni Bramson-Lerche, "Development of Baha’i Administration", Studies In Babi and Baha’i History, Vol.1, Moojan Momen, editor, Kalimat Press, 1982, pp.258-275.

About 5 in 1000 went to university that year

and most people in the UK ate bread, margarine,

dripping, tea and a little condensed milk

if they were lucky, with tragedy staring

many of the working class in the face,

as conditions slowly rose for most.

The form and pattern slowly set

for a new World Order;

a massive turbulence rose over Europe;

a sense of crisis became endemic

and a reactionary conservatism

gripped people everywhere:

the roaring twenties gave way

to a mythologized hungry thirties

and its equally mythologized Auden generation.

 

We went to two billion during that decade

as an Administrative Order

served to unify and propagate

the fragrances of mercy wafting,

at last, over all created things.

Ron Price

11 October 1995

 _________________________

TRACES THAT SHALL LAST FOREVER

....The writing itself...I just have to keep going until I finally make something out of it. I don’t know what that something is going to be, but the process is one through which I make a good part of my own experience meaningful. I don’t mean in any easy autobiographical sense, but the matter of drawing actual experience, thought, and emotion together in a way that creates an artifact through which I can reach other people...I regard this as a very serious...sacred...function of the writer....the problem is one of being able to receive from my work that sense of tension, that sense of high purpose being realized, that keeps me going.-Ralph Ellison in "A Completion of Personality: A Talk With Ralph Ellison", John Hersey in Speaking For You: The Vision of Ralph Ellison, Kimberly Benston, editor, Howard UP, Washington, D.C.,1987, p.291.

Tension and sense of higher purpose

underlies the whole sacred enterprise

and sometimes autobiographically easy

as it flows down onto the paper like

an ooze of oil crushed and uncrushed.

Meaning unfolds as the words move,

drawing me, the world, experience,

thought, emotion, God--into one

mysteriously interlinked mix in

these epochal years of the first half

century of the tenth stage of history,

leaving traces that shall last forever

engaged in the most meritorious of deeds,*

bearing, if possible, that chalice of pure light.

Ron Price

5 October 1995

*Ridvan Message, 1995.

__________________________

THE FLOWERING OF SEEDS

In 1909 William Carlos Williams started with writing poetry like Keats and the body of the Bab was placed in a marble sarcophagus in Haifa Israel. So began a fascinating journey of a quintessential American poet and so ended another of risks and perils to enshrine a precious Trust in Its home in the Holy Land. -ABC, Sunday Afternoon: WCW, 25 June 1995 and Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp.274-275.

 

You gave us something new:

a new poetry for everyman,

for what he did, words-

these were the units, real, concrete,

anything felt, anything amusing

makes poetry, you said.

You celebrated the new,

(logical for a pediatrition)

contemplated your loneliness,

your world and ourS.

 

And you did all this just

as a new Order was breaking

onto the world, unbeknownst

to most, perhaps symbolized

when He came to America

in 1912 as you were starting

to run from the Old to a new voice,

as another new Voice was breaking out

unobtrusively in the mid-most heart

of a new world, Chicago.

 

And now in the midst of that other

Old world, the Voice reposes

on the Isle of Faithfulness,

having been carried ever so

surreptitiously to that Mount

where mystic influence now radiates

for our handiwork and wisdom to adore.

 

A new loveliness seemed to burst out

over the arts, raining down, raining down

as an old world died with blood pouring

out in buckets, as if history was expiring

her last breath, perhaps at Verdun and the Somme.

 

Now a beauty, only just seen, can be starred at,

leaned on, from above, below, kissed

on those ever-sleeping lips, hidden now

beneath a Dust of magic Light.

A beauty, crystal-concentrate, light

in an old spiritual place--you can’t miss it,

no one misses it who goes there.

Has a grace so contained as to pose no threat.

Has a touch of Marxism, a little of the green,

a flavour of the liberal and a cup of tradition:

something in it for everyone,

two-bob each way, some might say.

The Age has not figured Her out, perhaps,

deserves Her not, but needs Her in these

troublesome days of plague-swept streets,

chilled hearts and utter unbelieveable complexity.

Ron Price

25 June 1995

_________________________

OPENING UP QUESTIONS

Pound...presents us with a paradigm of the relation of poetic form to ideology and of modern poetry’s relation to history. -Peter Brooker, A Student’s Guide to the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound, Faber and Faber, London, 1979, p.227.

Seventy years of writing The Cantos and 800 pages later

he has produced this paradigm of paradigms.

Personally, I find Toynbee’s poetic form more fertile

to state my relation of poetry to history

within some paradigmatic setting,

with the notion of oneness in its central place,

the single motif threading its way through

the wondrous, mysterious movement of history as:

vision, principle, dogma, emotionally potent concept

whose time has come in an infinitely complex

and intangible process, meticulously plotted, perplexing,

a posteriori, a priori, evocatively worded, technically superb

in a magnum opus too big for most: painting the whole canvas

of history...a huge theological poem in prose,

a director setting all of history in motion with

its appearances, masks, observations, images,

immensity and wonder where historical certainty

is found within an endlessly deferred and supremely

complex matrix whose end hath no end:

sceptical, scholarly, imaginative, sympathetic,

opening up questions not closing them down.

Ron Price

21 October 1995

____________________

TESTING THE BEST

The Book of Daniel was composed about the year 165 BC. Chapter VII was one of the earliest visions or dreams of an apocalyptic nature, composed during the Maccabean revolt of the Jews against the Greeks. There are four beasts in the vision, symbolic of four world powers who would rule in Israel until the time of the end: Seleucid-Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Western.-With thanks to Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, Granada Publishing Co., 1970(1957), London, for a helpful overview of millennarianism over two millennia.

 

All these biblical verses are so arguable,

aren’t they Norman? The four beasts

have been given such different names

as men have sought the millenium,

the time of the end, a golden age,

a messianic kingdom, the last days.

 

He would come, it said in Daniel,

with the clouds of heaven,

and to the Ancient of Days...

And there was given him

dominion, and glory,

a kingdom, that all peoples,

nations and languages

should serve him.*

 

This is no phantasy

some obscure revolutionary

eschatology-although

it has been since 165 BC-

this is the New Jerusalem,

the kingdom of the saints,

the beginning of the kingdom

of God on earth,

millennarianism’s true home,

after such a tortured road,

most people got lost by the wayside.

Absorbed in some tradition or heresy,

cult, sect, ism or wasm:

egalitarian, communistic,

self-immolating, peasant revolt,

urban insurrection, all elaborating,

interpreting, vulgarizing

the apocalyptic lore to transform

and save history, in cataclysm,

in quasi-religious salvationism,

deviant medieval mysticism,

self-divinization and anarchism

in secular dress: it is not surprising

you missed it since it grew up quietly

in an orgy of violence and complexity

that would test the best as it still is doing.

 

Ron Price

26 September 1995

*The Bible, Book of Daniel, Chapter VII, verses 2 to 14.

___________________________

THE NINTH STAGE OF HISTORY’S DEEPEST SURGE

There comes a time in the career of a great poet when he ceases to take pleasure in rhyming "mountain with "fountain"...and the corresponding banalities. -Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance, New Directions Books, NY, 1910, p.50.

...Mexico City Blues contains references to events in Kerouac’s life, and this....makes autobiography one of the most important themes in the poem...the autobiography in the poem is very carefully developed. -James T. Jones, A Map of Mexico City Blues: Jack Kerouac as Poet, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 1992, p.33.

There seemed to be an autobiographical surge

back then when the Kingdom of God on Earth

was getting its kick-start and the ninth stage

of history was beginning, Truth, the inner man,

the inner life, and over and over they looked:

some found Him standing within themselves

mighty, powerful and self-subsistent.

 

Passion for self-revelation, the Confessional Poets,

a religious bent, a spontaneity, a sincerity,

to put on paper what They saw, loved, hated,

felt, an obsessive contemporaneity,

a certain bohemian tendency, honesty,

suicide, madness, a serious game

for intellectuals, while everyone else

was watching baseball, gardening

and/or trying to figure out the coldwar.

 

I don’t think many really found Him

standing within themselves,

but a very precious few

went all around the world-

over one hundred countries-

because they’d heard Something inside,

some Voice calling to them

from their deepest selves.

 

Ron Price

3 October 1995

____________________

OUR NEW HOME

We have here a centre of gravity, some ideal of the rounded fullness of life in all its variety, a normality, a natural condition in which men can feel easy and at home. There is something trusted and familiar here, an inner battle but not a man divided against himself, or against others, or against nature. There is skepticism here, deep and pervasive, necessary, a collirium. There is a single doctrine, a coherent conceptual schema which explains life and offers solutions to the human condition in all its staggering complexity. We have here a high idealism. We have a new, richer, deeper form of collective self-knowledge of what men are and can be. It is a branching out in a new direction, tidy in some ways, messy in others, still hesitant. It is not random, haphazard or chaotic, but there is tragedy here and a solemnity beneath the joy. There are many burning issues, but within a framework of conception, of definition, of order, of choice. There is something complete and cogent, growing and illuminated by a half-light, formidable and massive, yet unobtrusive and a symptom of a basic sanity in our time. -Ron Price with apprecation to Roger Hausheer for his Introduction to Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas-Isaiah Berlin, Hogarth Press, London, 1979, pp.13-53.

 

Here is a vision so novel,

so complex; here am I

spellbound in its grip,

in its constellation of forces,

in its richly suggestive doors

of perception, engendering

a perspective for what is

distinctive here, re-examining

the bases of modernity and

an underlying philosophy.

 

How can one sharply, succinctly,

say what is distinctive here?

Reason and revelation in an embrace

the like of which the world has never seen.

A vision of the world, unique, sublime,

relative to our age, in the words of

an incomparable, brilliant writer

now witnessing the triumph of civility

and we watch good men being made,

albeit slowly, in institutions, at last,

blessed, in a modern oasis

amidst a sea of aridity, imprecision,

suspicion, technical virtuosity, conformity,

monotony, military-industrial complexes,

bureaucracy and a craving

for a new Gemeinschaft.

 

The crooked timber of humanity

is being made straight before our eyes

in an amazingly complex process

while the heavy weight of recent

centuries of nationalism at last

is loosened while we find a true

international friend in our home.

Ron Price

1 December 1995

_____________________

 FRIENDS

The practice of poetry is therapeutic; through rhythmic cadence and recurrent rhyme the poet is able to subdue hurtful experiences and transform even the most painful of subjects into a soothing nostrum for the human mind. -Stephen Gurney, British Poetry in the Nineteenth Century, Twayne Publishers, NY, 1993, p.182.

I’ve stopped reaching for the cigarette

thanks to an anti-smoking campaign

that found me reading no-smoking signs

even in the loo.

 

Most of my big decisions

were made with cigarettes,

even before-and-after love-making,

but not any more.

 

So much slips into history.

I wonder what happened to Karen,

Carol, Susan, so many of those cute girls

I used to look at as the puberty pickle

awakened me to a new story written then,

and now, in soft curves, curls and excitements

that went nowhere, except into the control

of carnal desires and an aesthetic

developing with infinite slowness.

Some things are harder to give up,

to work on and at.

 

I never had to worry about booze and drugs:

no enticement there,

but if I had to give up books and poetry

I’d miss a gentle intoxication

that has become a dizzying whirl,

a certain madness and a replacement

for friends.

 

Ron Price

10 July 1995

__________________________

DOMESTICATION

Since I went pioneering in 1962 there has been what Robert Bly calls "a domestication of poetry". "That’s one metaphor" says Bly "to explain the amazing tameness of the sixty to eighty volumes of poetry published each year, compared with the compacted energy" of the poetry that came from the "wild knots of energy" of the poetry going back at least to the 1920s. --Robert Bly, "Knots of Wild Energy: An Interview With Wayne Dodd", American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity, Harper and Row, NY, 1990, p.300.

We have never before faced what it’s like in the culture when hundreds of people want to write poetry and want to be instructed in it...We know how to instruct a hundred engineers, or computer technicians...We don’t know how to instruct in the area of poetry. -Robert Bly, ibid., p.318.

 

Such a burgeoning, multiplicity,

everything happening at once.

But, you know Robert, I’ve met

a lot of engineers who aren’t too

happy with their instruction.

We’ve got much to work out in this

incredible planetary fertilization,

bifurcated merging, cross-fertilization,

exploding tempest, increased intensity,

desperately troubling times. Wondrous

leaps and thrusts cross-firing: leaving

people bewildered, agonized and helpless.

 

Those knots of wild energy, we had them too,

as the great Order began to form back then

in the first two epochs of this Formative Age:

(1921-1962)

Our earliest pioneers had what you might call

a conflagrant holy urgency. I came in on the firey

end of that ninth stage of history and caught the

comet’s burning ice and after thirty years I try

to translate it into a poetry of dazzling prospects,

a poetry of two more epochs. Is it wild, Robert?

Is it wild? I was wild; I was. I, too, have been

domesticated.

Ron Price

16 October 1995

Thus endeth the lesson!