What follows in this section is an introduction to one of my 52 booklets of poetry. But first some poems on mythology:
"Each individual," write Joseph Campbell, "is the centre of a mythology of his own, of which his own intelligble character is the Incarnate God, so to say, whom his empirically questing consciousness is to find."1 For Baha'is, it seems to me, this Incarnate God is the God within "mighty, powerful and self-subsistent." It is the "know thyself," from Delphi. This centre of mythology is also an unfolding of convictions derived from the effects and expression of experience, the imprintings of infancy and our peculiar and private worlds. This is what Campbell calls our "mythogenic zone." It is our interior life and its communication with others. The poem below explores the negative side of the process across our global society. -Ron Price with thanks to Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Viking Press, 1968, p. 93.
This poetic writing aims
to let the Word resound
behind words1 seemingly
endless words where
my mythogenic zone
is especially informed
by the metaphorical nature
of all of physical reality,
Baha'i history no less
and lived experience.
My innermost need
to express has its place
in my shaping of self
in my particular form
And a growing impoverishment
of symbols, spiritual poverty,
symbol-lessness fills the land,
liquidating our past,
with bleak substitutes.
A bland barrenness reaches
all the way to the stars
and history becomes a nightmare
of complex, anarchic confusion,
uninterpreted, unassimilated, alien,
and: a Waste Land fills their place.
2Frederick Neitzsche wrote that "for art to exist there is a physiological prerequisite: intoxication." Twilight of the Idols, quoted in Campbell, p.355.
10 February 2002
POETRY AS HISTORY
The following definitions or conceptions of history enable the reader of my poetry to see it as history. Benedetto Croce wrote that "all history is contemporary history." Given the very contemporary quality to nearly everything I write the reader can not help but taste some of history's story here. Jacob Burkhardt saw history as "contemplation based on sources." This comes even closer to a view of history that encompases my poetry. C.J. Renier saw history as "the experience of men" and R.G. Collingwood saw is as "the history of thought." Leopold von Ranke said "history is concerned with things as they really happened; whereas Toynbee said it was "a search for light on the nature and destiny of man." So much of my poetic opus can be seen in the light of these views of history: my poetry, then, is history in addition to being many other things. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 28 March 2001.
In these thousands of poems
there is but one poem-the search
for what is fundamental,
enduring and essential in my life,
life, experience and understanding
of society, religion and myself.
There is surprise in my words
and I find out what I think
on my pilgrimage toward all
that is eschatological,
toward the discovery of truth
and the production of knowledge.
For I deal with the peculiarities
of my time, place and character
and I transcend these restrictions
only with reference to His sweet-
scented steams and the tasting of
fruits of the tree of His being.
And so I connect a life of facts
with a system of reality making
history speak through me,
somewhat of a craft,
my part of world history.2
1 This view of history was challenged at about the time the Guardian died. See Geoffrey Barraclough, Main Trends in History, Holmis & Meier Pub., NY, 1978.
2First mentioned by the Dutch historian Huzinga in 1936, just as Baha'i administration completed its first shaping in the USA for global use.
29 March 2001
SERVING ALL OF HISTORY
God made a promise to Noah and his salvaged crew that "the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh."(Genesis 9:8-17) This belief can be part of a foundation for the ultimate survival of the species. It can serve to inform the basis of Baha’i belief in the future, should such an reference be useful to the discussion. A society may break down, as Toynbee believes ours has done(Study of History, Vol.8, 1954, p.625), and as the Baha’i teachings assume ours has done in their discussion of the twin processes of integration and disintegration found in the writings of the Guardian. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 15 June 2000.
Can we go back to Noah to understand
the future of our time? Religious history
is metaphorical in nature
whether the events happened or not;
whether they are mythological
or facts of history. So...
Noah has something to say
to our generation, our days.
His life, his needs, served
all of human history as, hopefully,
also will our deeds. As dark as
the flood will be, there shall be life.
15 June 2000
THE SHAPE OF HISTORY
History is an entity producing meaning; it imposes meaning on the past and hence the present. It involves a way of describing facts that supports or sanctions one way or mode of explaining those facts rather than some other way; that is, it is teleological. It makes sense of the past in a certain way by selecting and positioning facts. Institutional and ideological analysis, including the analysis of the act of writing itself, are part of the writing of history. The shape of history is in the system within which history is written as much as the facts. -Ron Price with thanks to Linda Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction, Routledge, NY, 1988, pp.87-101.
New poetry often has more
in common with modern music
and art than the poetry of the
past1 with genre borders so
fluid that we need not fixed
definitions but a poetics of
open, ever-changing, theoretical
structures, a typology of discourse,
poetic moments everywhere made,
discovered, linked to history's world
of excavation and meaning, taking the
past, remembering it, creating it anew,
waking me up with a telescopic lens,
magnifying my experience, my life.
1Theodore Ziolkowski, "Toward a Post-Modern Aesthetics?" Mosaic, Vol.2, No.4, pp.112-119. 27 July 1998
MYSTIC POETRY AND MYTH
Many myths inform the mysticism of twentieth century poets. The mythic formulations, usually incomplete, sometimes highly articulated, present in hints and fragments, sketchy and partially defined, often contradictory, far from systematic in any sense, seem designed only for the fleeting moment and are a marriage with nothingness, as Anthony Libby puts it. Present time in these mythic poetic forms often seeks a steady stream of correspondences back into the past and new types of revelation, for the most part, without any sense of a commitment to a religious tradition. The past that is created operates like a skeleton just under the skin. It is clear, again and again in twentieth century poetry, that the time has past for any common belief for all poets. There is often a sense of a visionary unity, an apocalyptic union of subject and object, where true perception is visionary and the spiritual world is embedded in the physical.1 There is a sense of a "nameless religious experience,"2 of identification with beautiful things and of alternation between revelation in the context of deep struggle and dark night and a vision of peaceful immanent union. There is, too, an immersion in the flow of existence, of corporeal reality, an eternity within time, "something new and newly come to the deep dreams of our deepest poets"3 which makes its appearance in modern poetry and a destination beyond ourselves in the field of otherness. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Bly in Mythologies of Nothing: Mystical Death in American Poetry: 1940-1970, Anthony Libby, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1984, p.154; Robert Lowell, ibid., p.97; and ibid., p.123.
Here is a mystic poetry
with a supporting myth,
both apocalyptic and Edenic,
rooted in the everyday,
in history, in the totality
of existence, but taking
me beyond the limits of
language and experience.
I have here a tune
beyond me and yet me,
embodying another world,
yet closer than my life vein,
this world embedded in another world,
an intimately distant spiritual flow
which speaks constantly to me
and finds a small answering sound
in this poetry. Capturing,
what is far away, in celebration,
the transient yet eternal,
the contingent yet absolute,
as far as it is able, the uncapturable,
altering and heightening my vision
of everything, things seen and unseen,
nothingness and every atom in existence.
...............Ron Price 25 February 2000
What we see here in Price's poetry is a new myth in the very process of its application to a life. What we have here is a giving of sense, on virtually a daily basis, to the apparently random, often vain and empty, and frequently trivial landscape of activity in our age. What we have here is an attempt to give pattern, order and form and even a mythic function to this trivial and so often disorganized and disorienting existence, to the immense panorama of contemporary history. What we have are the layers of a life: the dense detail of daily existence; the social and historical landscape in the context of a new religion and a new religion in the context of the social and historical landscape; a transcendental Revelation in juxtaposition with a man's days, intensely human, very direct, very ordinary. What we have here is a sense of self-creation and a more than ordinary examination of his own consciousness, his place and the place of his religion in modern society.
Price travelled through lands of sometimes painful and tedious everydayness as well as rich sensation and intellectual stimulation, very much the normal range of a human life, but here made articulate. His poetry was the product of another self than the one he presented in everyday life, a self created, recreated, reconstructed, in the depths of his being. The centre of his poetry was this self around which many-layered life flowed. -Ron Price with thanks to Malcohm Bradbury, The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, Secker and Warburg, London, 1988.
The man who experiences
and the mind which creates:
two different worlds,
locked in symbiosis together,
occupying one's days,
like two lives,
lived in never-ending juxtaposition.
Alertness, vividness, analytic power,
effort to shape and form,
always a bridge between memory and now,
an ubiquitous amassing,
recollected and reexperienced sensations,
one down deep which few, if any, see
unless they read this poetic creation
of the inner life
wherein I can understand quite differently,
someone else, not the everyday self.
6 July 1999
Hart Crane’s mind, grown strong, sought a poetic principle to integrate the exuberant flood of his impressions...The poems of Hart Crane are facets of a single vision; they refer to a central imagination, a single evaluating power, which is at once the motive of the poetry and the form of its realization...the poet must create order from the chaos with which his associative genius overwhelms him.....necessity, day after tomorrow, will drive men to think personally, poetically, cosmically in order that their survival may have meaning....when that time comes, the message of The Bridge will be taken for granted. -Waldo Frank, Introduction to Hart Crane’s Poem: The Bridge, 1932.
Not many read your poem now, Hart.
Was that why you threw yourself into the sea?
Or was it your organic unity with life?
You already were one with the sea anyway.
As Waldo said: traditional images,
civilization, symbols, were gone
and you, as mystic, were out on
uncharted waters back then in the ‘20s.
As you wrote White Buildings and
The Bridge a new symbol system,
myth, cosmology, was being born
and defined in a new order, just
getting fine tuned before the global
launch, before your global launch
before noon in those warm waters
when you became one with death.
If you could have seen it Hart!
This is the bridge that will carry
us into the new age beyond with
white buildings, oh so white and new
and shining on a hill: the Greeks
would have loved it Hart, the apotheosis
of the whole western tradition with
a vision to take us there, to take us
where we’re going.
This is not about cinemas, bridges,
subways, girders, traffic lights, but
some immaculate sigh of stars, condensing
eternity and lifting night into our arms.
We’re bringing back more than Cathay
this time; this time the world, this time
the Sun in all its splendour. Another Genoa
and a new world waiting for dawn to clear
this new frontier and the drama of a
spiritual conquest not ever yet seen.
It seems the fire’s been modulated, thusfar;
the pearls whisper in our hands and gold
silently accumulates in the coffers as the
land is slowly being cleared for the long war.
Burning blue, the sky, calls the whiteness
and the green to dance below and gleam
like some team with sapphire streams.
We can see the shore more clearly now;
it beckons but with such complexity
and we have tried these pearl-promising waves
before and we guess their wet danger
in the kingdoms there and in our naked heart
where the tongue of fire has burnt me,
it seems nearly to my death.
For I’ve been on the pioneer side of things
these many years, since before they put
the apex in where the countenance of
the Ancient of Days hath turned towards
His holy seat. How many times I’ve turned
back spent to the sun-warmed sand. Anguished,
alone, burnt-out, needing to rebuild, I could not
see those white buildings or the bridge quite as
clearly, nor could you, Hart, nor could you.
26 September 1995
INTRODUCTION TO ONE OF MY 52 BOOKLETS OF POETRY
Autobiography gives us access to the brain which is wider than the sky.-Emily Dickinson in The Private Self, S. Benstock, Routledge, London, 1988, p.300.
This collection of poetry, centered as it is in autobiography, Baha’i history and contemporary developments in the Baha’i World especially the Mount Carmel Projects, attempts to explore the whole question of inner life and private character. This exploration is a feature of the entire corpus of my poetry, not just this small volume. I would like to make a few comments on this theme of the inner life in this introduction. I trust these comments will help place this theme, one that pervades my poetry, in a useful context.
There is something about the inner life, perhaps it is the God within, that is characterized by an inexpugnable inner otherness. Tranquillity and a sense of oneness with oneself is, for various reasons, attainable only in part. It is impossible to get a perfect identity between the observing "I" and the observed "me’. This inner division is part of the real battle of life-with oneself. Perhaps this division, this ooerness, is part of what Baha’u’llah means when He says in the Hidden Words that:
Ye shall be hindered from loving Me
and souls shall be perturbed as they
make mention of Me. For minds can
not grasp Me nor hearts contain Me.1
Although there is clearly a thread of continuity from moment to moment in life, there is also what one could call a multiplicity of selves during these same moments. This poetry is a single opus, but the self that it deals with is no single opus; rather it is many-sided, many-faceted, many-selved. We are more conscious of the continuities but the discontinuities, the changes, are what make life rich and alive.
There is self-portraiture here; there is Baha’i history here. But the description of both is difficult. They are easier to talk about than to write about. Writing tends to fix things, life, into a position. That is one of the reasons why I have come to enjoy the expansiveness and flexibility of poetry. It approaches the liveliness of speech. I find my understanding of both myself and the history of this new world Faith achieves a form, its first real form, in a lively and serendipitous fashion when it is exhibited in writing. "By showing ourselves" says Michael Montaigne in discussing his own autobiography, "we lose part of what we are, we expose ourselves to risk, we entrust ourselves to the safekeeping of others..."2 In this subtle process of losing myself, I find I discover another person when I write. Someone emerges. It is as if I could truely say:
Turn thy sight unto thyself that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.3
Well, I feel a little presumptuous in saying that I see God within. It is more accurate to say I see some new self, perhaps it is the God within, or the absence of the God within. There is an emergent quality in this poetry which makes me feel like there is another person among the pages. There seems to be more than the record of an ordinary life here in the pages of this poetry, more than a common and private set of days. Something adds on, adds up, as a result of inward reflection, of approaching this inner life and private character. One can’t be sure just what it is. It’s partly a surprise element. Chance encounter, the occasional poem, may reveal more than a systematic search of all the poetry. Inner knowledge, it would appear, is in many ways the elusive goal on an interminable pursuit. The true self, the inner truth, partly eludes, it would seem, the introspective gaze. This inner world is simply impossible to grasp to the full. It’s like trying to grasp a boiling sea, an ocean in storm. The innermost folds, the waves, the brilliant sun on the surface, hide opaque depths, innumerable flutterings of seen and unseen aquatic life, astonishing complexity, mystery and simple H20.
Montaigne thought that if "we make ourselves at home with the thought of death....we bestow coherence upon what is otherwise ‘but patchwork and motley’"4. The Baha’i writings have a great deal to say about death and what they say is, on the whole, very encouraging. I have found myself, as the years of my middle age have gone on, quite attracted to the notion of death. It exercises no tyranny over me, but rather it invites me into what has been called ‘the undiscovered country’ where days of blissful joy are "assuredly in store for me. For Baha’u’llah transmuted His tribulations into instruments of redemption, as the Universal House of Justice expressed one of the essential functions of this latest manifestation of God.5 It is here in this passing of the soul, this world eternal, that my full identity is to be found. It is here that the goal of my life finds its apotheosis.
Life here offers only change, a discontinuous series of instants, which I tell of in my poetry as honestly and accurately as possible. Stability and permanence are not part of this earthly heritage. Life seems so quintessentially flighty and erratic that it is impossible to know yourself or to be known. The Baha’i Writings give me a framework for at least a partial knowing. As I attempt to record my life in poetry and other genres, my inner land oscillates between presence and absense. Life seems at best reverie, dream, fantasy, illusion where one lives in silent loyalty to oneself; and at worst a living according to the needs and wants of others and the appearances required by circumstance. The wise man seems to know how to be alone in a crowd and surrounded by company in solitude. This polarity, this dichotomy between private and public, is one which, if we deal with it effectively, brings us much inner peace. Facing the universe and the mystery of God human beings know how to face society and themselves through the guiding hand of what Baha’is call the Covenant. This is what I try to convey in my poetry.
My poetry tells of an inner mind which never stops, which aspires to go beyond its strength, reaching out for life, for my soul. This reaching out process is what brings life to the poetry. In the right company it comes alive, for it is so very suited to communication. This poetry also speaks of pleasure and tranquillity for happiness is found in these regions. It seems to me that I have established in my life, through the grace of God, "bases for human happiness". I have created and promoted "new instrumentalities"6 toward producing happiness. There is no question that, as the years have gone on in my life, a deep and abiding happiness has been given to me. It has not been without a great deal of suffering in my early adulthood and an acceptance of what Baha’u’llah calls the "burden of sin" and the destructive effects of my own heedlessness.7
"Every movement reveals us", says Montaigne.8 Everyone of my poems reveals me. The me that is revealed is to be found in the striving, in the failure, in a region that exists within the poetry, in the interplay of different tendencies that war within me in the endless moments that make up my life. The war is often quiet, often it deals with trivialities and various alluring delights. Often, too, I wonder if, in fact, I will ever win the war. The result, I trust, is that the reader will find an aesthetic arrangement of flowers here, an imaginative organization of my experience for aesthetic, intellectual and moral purposes, a sort of reality testing of my life and of the multiplicity of my persona, my inner selves. Of course a public self is also described here, like some kind of vehicle, stage setting for the real action which goes on inside. This setting is made up of a historical and cultural mise-en-scene, the sky as Emily Dickinson put it, against which the soul moves and has its being.
The Mt Carmel Projects provide a backdrop for this poetry, a quintessential backdrop, without which it is unlikely that any of this poetry would have been forwarded to the Baha’i World Centre Library. There are unique significances associated with these remarkably dynamic days, days which are chaging the Baha’i community forever. The poetry here is the response of but one of the Baha’is in the world who writes poetry. At one level it is a useful historical document. At another level it is simply a gift, a measure of inspiration and love for the Blessed Beauty Who has filled our souls with His revivifying breath and transmuted His tribulations into instruments of our redemption.
1 Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words.
2Jean Starobinski, Montaign in Motion, trans., Arthur Goldhammer, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984, p.33.
3Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words.
4Starobinski, op.cit., p. 73.
5Universal House of Justice, 28 May 1992.
6‘Abdu’l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p.3.
7Baha’u’llah, Long Obligatory Prayer.
8Starobinski, op.cit., p.222.
11 October 1996
Myth works when you know what it is about, when it says something to you because it says something about you. We must become mythic as a species if we are to survive. The great individuation of cultures each based on their myths must lead, through an emphasis on their similarities, to a planetization of mankind. For all things are one; the hero has a thousand faces, a unity in diversity. Myth is like a force field; it unfolds and calls forth our own special genius and is the basis of our understanding of our world, ourselves and our own transformation through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations.-Robert Siegel discussing Joseph Campbell on "The Spirit of Things", ABC Radio National, 17 January 1999, 6:05-7:00 pm.
You popularized an attitude, an understanding,
of myth with a remarkable consistency
with that universal myth
that has captured my heart and mind
in this post-war world1.
I have been redesigning, retooling this protean self
and losing myself, giving myself, expanding myself
around this mythic base, this essence, this core,
where a yearning, pathos, has produced a sweetness,
dulce, settling in, an abundance scooped up, an updraft,
scooped up, with a bliss quotient that is inestimable,
indefinable. But there is always the work, the giving,
always more, a doubling of effort, a fatigue, a mystery,
a sadness, a tension, a working out of the myth in my
own life, in its individuality and its collective identity.
17 January 1999
1 Joseph Campbell is the great popularizer of myth in the post-war period, beginning with his first book The Hero With a Thousand Faces(1949). There are many similarities between Campbell and the Baha’i concept of myth, certainly a great deal that has been useful to me.
A CHAOS OF NAMES AND FACES
A mode of life devoid of collective myths is scarcely bearable. -Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1935, p.31.
We have a thousand, a thousand million,
myths now, Karl; everyone and his dog
is into making their own from a hundred
billion sources: it’s part of the intellectual
restiveness of our age. The meaning of God,
man, life, despair and loneliness are not agreed
upon and, it would seem, people mind not; while
the truely real seems to take place almost unnoticed
and is, to begin with, lonely and dispersed
and the truely cultivated know how to choose
their company among people, things and thoughts
with a passionate will to understand,
a deep tempering process,
that either kills you or makes you stronger
and gives you a home among your dreams
in a chaos of names and faces.
3 January 1997
NEW MYTH, METAPHOR AND CONFIRMATION
I am constantly remaking my private, sometimes obscure and difficult, world by relating it to an organic whole,a whole that is amorphous, heterogeneous and contradictory. I see my poetry as Platonic, a basis for action and to a degree didactic. I also see it as imaginative, a basis for contemplation. But either way it serves as a process for the organization of experience, the simplification of the complexity of life, the conveyance of life's subtleties. If I lose or limit my audience it is due to the nature of my poetry not some personal snobbery. -Ron Price with thanks to Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry and the Tradition, Galaxy Books, 1965(1939), pp.1-59.
W.H. Auden's poetry weakened as he tried to rely upon an external framework-a doctrine or idelogy but, still, his best work revolved around one rather narrow theme and structure. R.F. Price's poetry is built on a spiritual framework, a set of spiritual themes. That is both its strength and its weakness, depending on your perspective. -Ron Price and Cleanth Brooks, ibid., p. 126 and 135.
Privacy and obscurity are inevitable
adjuncts to one's life, one's thought,
one's social being: elusiveness,
intricacy, incongruity of connection
as we walk around in the essential
isolation of our chambers, reaching
out with words to bind and hold, as
best we can, the moment in all its
delight and tension. But now, for us,
this new myth, not merely private fiction,
not just conviction immediate, direct,
overwhelming, but energetic metaphor,
artist working in the service of a cause,
a sensibility fortified with principles,
at the mercy of certain spiritual axioms,
sustains my days with a focus and affirmation
that brightens my expectations of a rich
confirmation of my actions in these fate-laden
days of history and their recurrent turbulence.1
9 May 1998
1This 19 line poetic form I have in the last year termed a vahid.
A ROAD MAP
From 1959 to 1968, in the first nine years I was a Baha'i, Joseph Campbell published his four volume study of mythology The Masks of God. He said he found the process a richly rewarding enterprise and it confirmed his long entertained view that there was a unity to the human race. He said this unity has unfolded in the manner of a single symphony and that it is now advancing to some kind of mighty climax out of which the next great movement will emerge. He wrote that the study of myth inspired poetry, that is helped people see their lives as a poem and themselves as participants in that poem. Twenty years later, in the late 1980s, a book and a six hour series of interviews with Joseph Campbell was produced for television on "the power of myth." I have tried to convey some of Campbell's ideas in the following poem, a vahid. My own poetic opus draws on Campbell's study of myth and a multitude of other sources.-Ron Price with thanks to Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Frontpage.
To find the point of wisdom
is, for each of us,
the prime question of our time.
From then on its an adventure
following a road map
to and in the inner life
where His word, His myth,
His history as metaphor,
will help us to take
the greatest leap forward ever,
with an experience of meaning,
an inner meaning to outer events.
For it is all one great meditation,
one great connection with the planet
in these dark times
where the eye has begun to see,
eternity unfolds in front of us
in His sweet-scented streams
and our souls rise up like the evening star
and will one day join all the other stars
in a blaze of glory.
27 February 2001
Distinctive voice is inseparable from distinctive substance...we will feel, as we read, a sense that the poet was not wed to any one outcome....the reader is freely invited to recreate in his own mind....the true has about it an air of mystery or inexplicability ........the subject of a serious poet must be a life with a leaning, life with a tendency to shape itself... -Louise Gluck, "Against Sincerity", Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry, Ecco Press, Hopewell, N.J., 1994.
Every atom in existence is distinctive
especially these Hanging Gardens:
we’ve got distinctive substance here
and some of us have been waiting
a long time-try forty years-for this
apotheosis of the Ancient of Days
in a holy seat, at last a genuinely
holy seat in a world of seats, seemingly
endless seats: the light of the countenance
of God, the Ruler of the Kingdom of Names
and Fashioner of the heavens hath been
lifted upon thee.*
Here is a world where affliction is married
to ecstasy, suffering defined with virtuosity,
colour mounts on colour, temperatures mix
and pure gold comes from the alchemist,
pure fire, pure spiritual energy so that:
my pages stain with apple-green;
my letters are written in chrysolite;
words find marble, gates and shrines
embedded in diamonds and amethyst.
What is this molton gold, ink burnt
grey, revelation writing? ....cheering
thine eyes and those of all creation,
and filling with delight all things
visible and invisible.* Yes and no,
always, it seems, yes and no.
Conflagrant worlds interacting:
the myth is tragic here. A grandeur
that is magnetic, but even here,
the meaning must be found.
Can you see the scars, the evidence:
there’s been emotion here to the
essence of our hearts. I try to name,
localize, master, define that scar,
but it is beyond my pen, beyond the
poignant inadequacy of my strategems.
No response of mine goes deep enough.
This poetry of functional simplicity
will never reach Zion, the City of God,
but I will try: May my life be a sacrifice
to Thee, inasmuch as Thou hast
fixed Thy gaze upon me,
hast bestowed upon me Thy bounty,
and hast directed toward me Thy steps.*
* Tablet of Carmel
The writer, unable to chose his language, can no more choose his style, this necessity of his mood, this rage within him, this tumult or this tension, slowness or speed, which comes to him from a deep intimacy with himself, about which he knows almost nothing, and which give his language as distinctive an accent as his own recognizable demeanour gives his face....a language inseparable from our secret depths, that which, therefore, should be closest to us, is also what is least accessible to us...to encounter and then to silence the empty depths of ceaseless speech...of uninterrupted poetry. -Maurice Blanchot, The Blanchot Reader, editor: Michael Holland, Blackwell, Oxford, 1995, pp.146-149.
The revolution has come: the break!
It twists and turns
in metaphorical equivalents
at special times, at any time
it seems appropriate;
for the whole history has,
what shall we call it,
This is the new myth!
The end of history has arrived!
Yes, this is the eternal Return
and world shaking, world reverberating
institutions have come, born, growing
in a majestic process launched in 1953
within a rhythmic life pattern
of fundamental happiness
which itself contains anxiety and grief
and a time for healing in those secret depths
of ceaseless speech and what seems to be
7 December 1995
sub specie pioneeringi
Price knew he did not need to construct a new mythic base to replace the symbolic base of Western culture that had existed in Christianity. His religion provided that new mythic base, that new metaphysical frame for his vision, that new metaphorical basis of spiritual reality. His poetry helped provide him with a channel to express his awakened intellectual faculties, his enlarged aesthetic appreciation and his unseen intimations of immortality. His poetry tried to embrace a language appropriate to these intimations; it tried to be an extended meditation on reality, the reality of history and the reality of his own story.
- Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, June 5, 1996.
Have my days of dramatic adventure finished?
All those towns and people and that excitement
sub specie pioneeringi? Age, these late years of
middle adulthood, has left me flat but still playing
the game sub specie aeternitatis. I felt tears come
to my eyes last night when she read about the poet
‘Aqa Muhammad-Ibrahim, but no similar tears came
when I reflected on the burden of my sins. I once
thought I could pray and, by God, I did; as long, as
intense as any man, but it seems like a new road now,
one carved in bone with a delirium of fever in a place
that I call home, although my words often chill or burn
me, usually when alone. As I try to tell of this story, its con-
figuration, the way meaning plays, my vulnerability: I wonder.
5 June 1996
Here is marble to the touch, but not to the heart. In its faultless excellence it possesses a certain self-sufficiency. In its beauty it is raised above the frailties of human passion and suffering. As a symbol of power, authority and justice it is an expression of the religion of humanity and the concept that beauty is truth and truth beauty. -Ron Price with appreciation to David Bromwich, Hazlitt: The Mind of A Critic, Chapter XI, Keats, Oxford UP, NY, 1983
Here is Grecian grandeur and my spirit rises
after weighing heavily as in some unwilling sleep,
after some ungodly hardships now gone,
substance of a century-and-a-half of incubation
and afflorescence, thou bridegroom ready for
the marriage of beauty and majesty, truth and justice,
silence and eloquence, whose fluted columns play
melodies sweeter to my spirit, lifting up my soul.
Fair youth, beneath the cypress trees, whose
fragrances of feeling open worlds of meaning.
Your ancient beauty emerges, adds up, unfolds
all of Greco-Roman civilization in a Hebraic place
to pipe songs forever new, forever young, warm,
to bring us safety, order and a pleasure on our
panting selves, breathing human passion. You
cool our burning foreheads and parching tongues.
You will bring your long and influential shadow
to our little towns near the sea, our cities in the mountains.
The villages which flood this world now endlessly
will come to breath your splendid symmetry and
your overwhelming moral and aesthetic superiority.
You will stifle damaging criticism as you come
to live in an all-embracing cordon sanitaire, with
architecture’s first heart-transplant fully in place.
As we make the intellectual breakthrough from
archaism to a full rationality in several generations,
you will come to symbolize no parochial patriotism
but a planetary fraternity, a reborn charismatic aura,
a reborn vision of oneness, of dynamic unity, housing
a new myth, inspiring a single aim-the oneness of humanity-
the product of a people and an epoch as transient as
the everyday life which is slowly harmonizing to your
22 January 1996
Reportage provides modern man, too, with a release from his trivial routines, and a habitual illusion of communication with a reality greater than himself. In all these ways religion suggests itself as the likeliest substitute pre-modern man could have found for reportage, at any rate in the West. -John Carey, Introduction, The Faber Book of Reportage, Faber and Faber, London, 1987.
The crossover from religion to the expressive arts...in the problem of dealing with restraints on impulse;...the coming to consciousness...of nihilism...the growth of the idea of a radical individualism in the economy and the polity, and of an unrestrained self in culture are part of a Great Profanation which has been in evidence since about 1575 to 1625 AD. -Daniel Bell, "The Return of the Sacred? The Argument on the Future of Religion", Hobhouse Memorial Lecture, 1977.
And some, millions, hundreds of millions,
would like some order, some mythic-totality,
coherence, in all this information chaos,
this disenchanted, de-magicified world,
that deals with existential questions, modernity
with that same coherence, so that they can
wear a cold mask in the morning and
explore subterranean rivers at night
always feeding springs of a spiritual appetite,
of eschatological hopes for a leap into the Kingdom
and some silence of oneness,
a silence of solemn consciousness
born of some shared experience
and wellspring of a redemptive,
consecrated, unifying joy,
far, far, above the grey morning’s
Sensibility is the disciplining, the discipline of the emotional life, the defining as precisely as one can of the chaos, the mess, the mass, of feelings. Put another way, sensibility is the reservoire, the collection, the stock of a poet’s feelings and perceptions, memories and imaginations in their various stages of organization. It is the skill of responding with sense, with sanity, with an articulate wealth as a result of reflection. Again, sensibility is the process of being carried forward by curiosity and the pleasureable activity of the mind excited by the attraction of our infinite journey. -Ron Price with appreciation to S.T.Coleridge, R. P. Blackmur and Emerson in several sources.
You get some better feeling for reality,
for the personality of the past, the now,
the when, the then, for living, through
a unifying myth, through making the
unknown shine, through pollination and
cross-pollination, through organizing
what touches us deeply, recovering
underlying meaning, the moment’s scent,
the pulsations of the world, the poetry of
the universe. Perhaps, this poetic novitiate
will move insensibly to consummate artistry*
as the evening of life becomes more solemn
and serene and laughter touches the chaos with
an enchanting lightness, a token of virtue.
13 April 1996
*With the completion of Endymion on 28 November 1817 Keats, with a little more than three years to live, completes his poetic novitiate and begins to compose works of such authoritative power and consummate artistry that critics have had to go back to Shakespeare to find comparisons worthy of their company. -Stephen Gurney, British Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, 1993, p.111.
* It would be presumptuous to compare myself with the greatest poets of the English speaking world but, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani puts it, "greatness rests not in ourselves as much as in our ability and desire to circle around the great"(1) or, as Baha’u’llah puts it, "the greatness of those who while living or after death have circled round them."(2) Baha’u’llah is here referring to a blessed company of souls around which we can circle. One’s ability to circle around such souls is difficult to define but the desire to do so can be cultivated.
(1) Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, "Artist, Seeker and Seer", Baha’i Studies, Vol.10, p.19.
(2) Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p.84.
NO CINDERELLA STORY
The centre has not been lost because it never really existed; it was only a fallacious structuring principle. It would appear that, for various reasons, it was not important in previous religious dispensations that there be an agreed on centre that was free from serious schizmatic cleavages. -Ron Price with thanks to Frederick Glaysher, "Re-Centring: The Turning of the Tide and Robert Hayden", World Order, Vol.17, No.4, p.9.
There is this independent investigation of truth,
some free zone, inside, not society, others, them,
could call it poetry, the mind of man, pristine
singleness, as He said "Before all else, God
created the mind."* You are lifted up by its
invention, like some other nature, than nature,
freely ranging over all existence, embellishing
with ever-varying splendours, some new and
wonderful configurations, some godlike impulses,
some divinely-kindled fire, emanations, just a leap
in the dark, some distillation of meaning, some
delightful possibility, some meddling with language,
some radical rearranging of the familiar, affirming and
sustaining it bring us a quiet joy. This is not just a
Cinderella story; this is an attempt to define the new epic,
to tell of the new story, the new myth, metaphor, for the
whole, the oneness, the restoration of archaic mysteries
before our very intellectual eyes, true theodicy, some
imminence of rebirth during our disastrous quest for
meaning, our long wait for the wasteland to bloom.
This is a poetry that descends from the past, ascends
to the future and takes the present perception like
some training ground with every atom in existence,
as if the whole world existed to be put in a book,
to be tasted, or set on fire like some burning mirage
in the desert, seen differently through the diamond’s
many sides, telling me of meaning and meaninglessness.
27 May 1996
*Islamic tradition quoted on page 1 of The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Baha.
SAVIOURS: 1953 NOT 1933
The death of God in the eighteenth century sent many people in search of focuses for collective identity....a substitute for church was the nation.-J.L. Salmon, The Myth of the Nation and the Vision of Revolution: The Origins of Ideological Polarisation in the Twentieth Century, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1980.
A profound hankering after the One is common to both the Left and the Right. -J.L. Salmon, Political Messianism: The Romantic Phase-The History of Totalitarian Democracy, Vol.1, Secker and Warburg, London, 1960, p.510.
Singly and alone he will attack the armies of the world, defeat the right and left wings of the hosts of all the countries, break through the lines of the legions of all the nations and carry his attack to the very centre of the powers of the earth. -‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, p.48.
The one thousand years began its
progression somewhat unobtrusively
by touches of intricate tracery and
elaborate ornamentation, perhaps
those first drawn on the sand of the
seashore by Louis Bourgeois, or the
first movement of earth by ‘Abdu’l-
Baha, or the flash of inspiration that
gave Louis the dome of that Temple,
that great bell of the most beautiful
building in the world, opened in Chicago
in 1953. By then, the thousand year Reich
had begun and ended and its unspeakable
language of holocaust: a saviour-in-a-hurry,
unanimous consent imposed by force, a vision
of eventual triumph, fitting an imaginary man
into an artificially contrived social harmony,
source and motive of contradictions, paradoxes,
casuistry, hypocrisy, ruse and tyranny.
18 August 1996
GUIDELINES FOR PROTEUS
We must be like the mythic god Proteus who eludes tragedy, chronic frustration, remorse and despair by changing form. This form is an inner form or quality that deals with existential questions of how to live, what to do, who am I, etc. Proteus needs to be constantly replenished to achieve a constitutional optimism, a direction and redirection, a new creative impetus to a person’s life and work, love and meaning. One possible paradigm for this renewal, this contemporary guideline for dear old Proteus, can be found in Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys and Four Valleys. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Milder, Reimagining Thoreau, Cambridge UP, NY, 1995, p.xii.
So, dear Proteus, let me try to summarize
a book of some special guidance for us here.
This is difficult to do, mind you, in the space
of ten lines or so, but you can go along way
on a pithy phrase or two: so I shall try. Take
leave of yourself; don’t be downhearted; work
hard; seek fellowship; expect difficulties; turn
inward, but know that this inner land is not real;
seek the assistance of the departed, do not stray
far from this jewelled wisdom of the lucid Faith;
pray; destroy your animal self, as far as you can;
seek the God within, this book of your own self.
15 June 1996
NOW WE’RE READY, MR POPE
With public poetry which sets out to record, confront, and influence the external world, one must ask what is the structure of society the poet is dealing with; where does the poet stand in relation to the world of politics, religion and the broad base of values and beliefs; what channels of communication and social definition are available to the poet; in what ways is social change affecting his position and his poetic response to society and how does the personal and professional life of the poet affect his place in the poetic order and in the wider flux of life in society. -Ron Price with thanks to Isabel Rivers, The Poetry of Conservatism: 1600-1745, A Study of Poets and Public Affairs from Jonson to Pope, Rivers Press, Cambridge, 1973, p.ix.
An understanding of disorder,
images of the ideal,
essential for the public poet
who must state truths
which are perennial
but not archaic,
whose poetry flows
from some core of goodness
and its relationship to a vast complex
of processes within which
he constantly tries to define
and so create himself.
Dedication and training
can not be avoided,
nor the workings of time
and providence which are only partly
comprehensible as these "last days" spin
their unpredictable way through the cosmos
of our days and this new myth and metaphor
is given the living tissue of vision in a synthesis
that is poetry-my poetry- and a unity within the
most ambitious ethical system on earth:
Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised
But as the world, harmoniously confused.
Where order in variety we see,
And where, though all things differ, all agree.1
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace
This country next, and next all human race.2
Such were the fine sentiments then in this early
modern age; now we’re ready, finally, to free the cage.
22 October 1996
1Isabel Rivers quotes Alexander Pope, The Poetry of Conservatism, p.178.
Giving oneself, expressing oneself, can be made into an end in itself depending on the goal, the object of expression. The Greek goddess Clytie persisted daily, year in and year out, in her love of Apollo. Apollo, the sun god, never returned her love but the gods, in their pity for her, changed her into a sunflower. Now, a fit symbol of constancy, she follows with upturned face his journey across the sky. -Ron Price with thanks to H.A. Guerber, Greece and Rome: Myths and Legends, Chancellor Press, London, 1995(1907), p. 72.
The heart that has truely loved never forgets
but truely loves well past the close of debts.
And in some undiscovered country, land,
finds some symbol, mystery, hand, and
on new lips and hair of gold a love is
found so sweet to hold, as if it was like
yesteryear, only richer to the taste and tear.
For persistence in love is never lost, though
it may for atime be paid for at great cost.
One day the soul will find its Centre and
turn forever as it was meant or were.
1 December 1996
The dream-web of myth has fallen away; modern man has emerged from ancient consciousness like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn. The great coordinating mythologies of the past are now known as lies. The problem today is one of rendering the modern world spiritually significant. A transmutation of the whole social world is necessary so that through every detail of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is effective in all of us may be somehow made known to consciousness. -With apprecation to Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Princeton UP, 1949, NY, pp.387-389.
This vitalizing image of my universal god
that fills every atom of existence with a
richly allusive, poetic imagery, a metaphor,
a drama, for my path of spirituality, with
this man-god, this life, these words, at one
remove from what I see here, unlocking a
meaning, I must turn the key to open the
door of an autonomy of spirit in this world
of people and, like the butterfly, fly free
and light to suck yet again the nectar of
life on a flight-path carved out by destiny,
biology and fate: slowly, meticulously,
wittingly, methodically, until death removes
the colour, the form and the dance of life.
30 September 1996
Poems aren’t made of beautiful thoughts; poems are machines made out of words.
-William Carlos Wiliams, found on The Internet.
I have long wanted to try to summarize Iranian history in a poem. I have read about Iran and talked about it for years, as one inevitably does, being a member of a religion with its origin in Iran. Not being a specialist, a historian, or even someone particularly versed in that history, I have tried to take what I know and forge this knowledge into some expression, some machine, that puts the nearly three millennia of its history into focus, at least an initial focus for future revision and elaboration. The exercise is not unlike making a ‘machine’: to forge 3000 years into twenty-five lines is indeed a machine-like exercise. The exercise is impossible artistically-aesthetically; it needs the efficiency of a machine to make such a coldly efficient, but somewhat crude, attempt. -Ron Price, 4:15 pm, 9 January 1996, Rivervale, WA.
Your civilization, culture, nation,
has been nibbling at other civilizations
for millennia(or been nibbled), as far back
as the Assyrians some 2700 years ago and
before then beyond Turkestan or the Caucasus.
Your first dynasty of kings, the Achaemenid,
had its origin in a semi-mythical king nurtured
by an eagle. But then you conquered(no nibble)
all the four great powers of the middle east:
Egypt, Babylonia, Media and Lydia.
You provided, under Cyrus, a unifying empire
and you gave peace to Western Asia for 200
years(550-350 BC), before the Seleucids and
the Sassanians ruled you and then another
story begins under the Arabs and Byzantines.
And on-and-on past: Turks, Mongols, Safavids
Qajars and Pahlavi: long, tortured centuries,
until you produced a King of Kings Whom
you exiled to that once great city, Baghdad
and then to Constantinople, the end of the jetty.*
Installing Him in that prison city Akka
to finish out His days, you seemed to lose
all greatness. Cyrus’ old dream of unity
will be realized in your lands. Billions
will come to you, revering His sacred places.
Some mythological-metaphorical eagle
will again ensure your greatness, nurturing,
as he has, the origins of a spiritual dynasty
that will last half a million years over the
entire surface of the Earth: O Persia!
Behold and wonder!
9 January 1996
* Constantinople is sometimes referred to as the end of the ‘jetty’ of Western Asia.
Modern Turkey, as you can see on a map, sticks out like a jetty from the continental landmass of Asia.
The structure of history is not to be found in logic or mythology, but in language and in the complex web by which language is involved with perception, memory and imagination. In my poetry I engage the political, the historical, the social, the religious, the scientific and the philosophical, domains of experience and understanding also the province of other genres: analytical essays and texts in the social sciences and humanities, novels, biography, etcetera. I would argue that it is hard to avoid writing poetry in English. It is built into its sound and texture. In the process of writing one creates a certain person, persona, some socio-historical construct, some social construction of reality; and one defines the divided self as it strives for wholeness and oneness.-Marjorie Perloff, Poetic License: Essays on Modernist and Postmodernist Lyric, Northwestern UP, Evanston, Illinois, 1990.
As Plath said, poetry comes
from a blood-jet and, until
the blood, haemoglobin, plasma,
globulins, platelets, run dry
this poetry will not run dry;
unless, of course, I can not
play with words and memory
ceases to feed my cardio-vascular
system with its red liveliness
and imagination’s haemocyto-
blasts1 and their huge nuclei
cease to go through their rapid
series of divisions, becoming
progressively smaller until they
disappear in some point in time,
some lonely thought, intense,
soft beyond analysis and separation.
10 November 1996
1Haemocytoblasts are what red cells are called at the beginning of their lives. They have huge nuclei and go through a rapid series of divisions during which they become progressively smaller and then are lost altogether.
No more for now!