39. EPIC POEM
To introduce this section I have included some poems about my epic poetry and a long essay introducing my own epic poem. My epic poem, now five years in the making, concludes this part of my website:
A SENSE OF THE EPIC
In Price's poetry there is action along a central narrative axis; around it, like a spiral, there are passages of recollection, forward-leaping prophecies, digressions, an intricacy of detail that is highly dynamic and interactive. He suddenly feels moved in a direction, along or within a theme, as part of a topic and, in the process, he discribes an age, a society, a time, several epochs, a Baha'i community in the dark heart of an age of transition, during the early years of the Formative Age or in the seventy-seven years of the Heroic Age. Perhaps Price's work is timeless, even though it is anchored in the early decades of the tenth stage of history with a retrospective and prospective glance at nine other stages of the history of humanity and its glorious future filled, as it obviously is at present, with social paralysis and anarchy.
Price's effort to introduce into his poetry the notion of an epic base was at first subtle, obscure and perhaps a little presumptuous. But the idea grew as his poetry grew so that, by the time of the conclusion of the Arc Project and the opening of the Terraces on Mt. Carmel, Price had a very definite sense of his poetry as epic, as containing the elements of epic, of his life and his poetry being part of an immense epic story, narrative and journey that was at the centre of the Faith he had been associated with for well-nigh half a century. There were epic dimensions, epic hopes, in the essentially global consciousness of the Baha'i Faith--and his own as well.
Price saw his poetry as introducing into the Baha'i epic narrative experience a certain sense of proportion and relation in a contemporary sense, contemporary being that same half-century; a sense of some of the immense complexity of his world, more than perhaps it had hitherto been imagined; a sense of the future being more treacherous and of success being much more difficult than had hitherto been expected by his contemporaries.1-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 March 2002 and 1 Carl Van Doren, The American Novel, 1921. Comment of Henry James on Mark Twain.
The action in those other epics
takes place over a week, a few weeks
with, perhaps, retarding conventions:
the formal saga or recitation,
a parenthesis to bring in longer history,
a descent into an underworld.1
Here, we've got a story
as real as blood and sky,
with immortal chroniclers,
saints and heros,
a galaxy of intoxicated souls
who traversed a Persian landscape
even in my time,
gave all that they had
and often found the path
too long and the cross too heavy.2
And the action takes place
over history's tortuous course,
indeed so vast is it
that it is difficult to contain
within unity's heterogeneous
and many-coloured light.
What can contain it is the human heart,
yours and mine and that, friends,
is an epic journey worth the telling.
1Other major epics: Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey; Dante: The Divine Comedy; Milton: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained.
2A.Q. Faizi, Meditations on the Eve of November 4th, London, 1970, p.25.
31 March 2002
About two months after the start of the first Seven Year Plan in 1937, Ezra Pound published The Fifth Decad of Cantos XLII-LI. By 1937 Pound had been working on his Cantos, what became the century's longest poem of over 800 pages, for over two decades. In this 1937 set of cantos, though, Pound recorded "his private vision of the ideal public order." Beginning at least as early as 1937, Pound's Cantos registered the political evolution of their creator.
Pound saw himself as the shaper and guiding spirit, the poet, of the emerging order. Little did he know that a new Order was in fact emerging, at least the nucleus and the pattern for this Order was emerging, in the very years he was writing this latest set of Cantos,1 indeed as far back as 1916 when he began his Cantos, the same year 'Abdu'l-Baha began His Tablets of the Divine Plan.
The exiled wanderer of the earlier cantos, Odysseus, found his home, in Pound’s case, in the Fascist state of Italy. He saw himself as a modern Confucius. It was a long way from the new Administrative Order emerging in the Baha'i community. Like western man himself, Pound sang his song as he felt he must within the Babel of incoherent identities that had long divided the family of man.2
So often in the twentieth century, the poet, the artist, turns to secular politics and some messiah within the political realm, as the hope for the complex dilemmas of society, but more often he turns away entirely from partisan politics. In the 1937 set of Cantos, Pound himself emerges as the hero of the poem, the maker of the tradition that will guide the modern hero, like many both before and after him had tried and would try to do. -Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, State University of New York Press, NY, 1991, p. 97; 1 The years 1916-1967, it could be argued, were the first half century of 'Baha'i Administration;' 2 The Universal House of Justice, "To the World's Religious Leaders," April 2002.
A vision of an ideal order
had been emerging
for a century or more
when this set of cantos
was given to the world.
A shaping and guiding spirit,
a great Poet
had come and gone
and His ideas
were just now, in 1937,
being taken to humanity
in the first stage of a Plan
of teaching, extending
well into the future
and requiring heroes
different from the one
you had envisaged:
people who would struggle
against their ordinary selves,
the pain at the heart of life
and the loneliness and isolation
that heroism seems to bring.1
Little did you2 know,
Nor did they, then,
1Geoffrey Nash, "The Heroic Self and the Ordinary Self," Baha’i Studies, Vol.10.
25 May 2002
There are many mansions in Price’s poetic ediface and in them the poet, the preacher, the teacher, the scholar, the father, the husband, the member of the Baha’i community, the pioneer, the travel teacher, the idealist, the realist, the man depressed, the man filled with joy--one and all they occupy different places at different times. At first these mansions took the form of a humble cottage when only the occasional poem was produced(1962-1992). Then the mansions began to take shape upward and outward based on domestic, historical, philosophical, religious, psychological and sociological, inter alia, themes. Slowly, unobtrusively, insensibly, an epic poem emerged, a poem that, by its very nature, would never be finished. Its themes could not be exhausted. It could never have a definitive form and completion only, like Pound, for the term of my natural life. The creative energies that were a gift of God and were marshalled over many years seemed to find, at last, a form best suited to their artistic expression. It was not a conventional form. Epigraph and prose-poem had for Price a certain magic and fascination, although this magic did not seem to carry over to publishers or to many readers, at least not yet, perhaps never. One could never be sure.
Dealing as this poetry does with so much of the academic content of the humanities and the social sciences, it brims over into a multi-, an interdisciplinary, experience that possesses a shapelessness. It is like a river teeming with life, fragmented, in a state of incessant renewal. The river flows on and on. The reader only visits a portion of the places on the river. Occasionally a reader finds the enthusiasm to follow it along for a time, a long time. Each individual poem lives its own life, creates its own finish and flows rough-hewn down the river of life, like part of a long cataract here, part of a peaceful stream there, coming down out of the mountains here, flowing into the sea there. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 March 2002.
I believe in what I'm saying,
speak seriously what I'm describing,
am not into exaggerating,
trying to express a sense of measure.
The scenes that arise poetically
have wonderfully distinct characters,
as distinct as Homer's pantheon,1
only these came a hundred,
two hundred years ago
in tragedy and heroism,
unique in the annals
of our religious history,
close to us, as if we lived
among them ourselves,
just the other day,
over there in Shiraz
where women wore veils
and they had Shahs and stuff.
1Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
31 March 2002
THE ORIGIN AND INITIAL DEVELOPMENT OF MY EPIC POEM
In the four year period September 1997 to September 2001 the concept, the initial framework, the organizing principle, for my Pioneering Over Four Epochs, as epic, found its first shaping. Both the entire corpus of my poetry and one extended poem, the one here, I came to see, to define, as epic. The first dozen pages of this specific, extended poem were completed in October 1997 and this introductory, perspective setting, essay was first drafted in September 2000, with a redraft in September 2001. The first form, then, of this epic poem was shaped during my years aged 53 to 57. I had been a Baha’i for about forty years at the time. How long I would continue writing this poem only time would tell but I liked to think it would be, as I've written before, for the term of my natural life. The poet Coleridge suggested that devoting not less than twenty years to an epic poem was a good base line.1 If this becomes my guide, I will need until 2017, at least. If I live to be 95, this process, this journey, within the realms of belief, is now about half over. How much time actually remains, though, to continue the work, this epic, it is not possible to calculate. Such a question is in the hands of those mysterious dispensations of Providence. Again, time will tell just where the writing and life, will carry me.
Stephen Sicari describes how Ezra Pound, in the construction of his massive 800 page poem which he wrote over more than fifty years, "committed himself to something that he did not yet know how to achieve; moreover, he did not know what he would find along the way, what the implications of his search would be, and what material might become important to his quest.....he wanted to be able to include any possible set of events in his poem, and laboured to find a device that would allow him to change, revise, expand, and continue the journey of his life as a work of art. Whatever seemed interesting or important along his journey would have to be included and made part of the poem, not merely included but integrated into the artifice he was creating: such was his unique ambition as he began his ‘modern’ epic."2 In these earliest stages of my own epic I think these words of Sicari aptly describe my own position, my view of my own epic. -1Coleridge in The True Voice of Feeling: Studies in English Romantic Poetry, Faber and Faber, London, 1958, p.163; and 2Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, State University of New York Press, 1991, p. 198.
I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon acquired the initial inspiration and concept for the magnum opus of their lives: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Four years ago, and five years after beginning to write prose-poetry seriously in 1992, I began to think of writing my own epic poem. At the time, in 1997, I fashioned some ten pages, four sections, as a beginning, a starting point. Such was the embryo of this special, specific, epic poem.
The poetic work of my own life, my epic, I have now come to see in terms of all the poetry I have written, the poetry I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library and what I have now entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs. My epic poem, then, follows two lines: the entire poetic work and this special poem begun in 1997. In some ways the selection of 1992 as a startting point is a convenience for, as I point out in other places, my writing of poetry goes back to 1987, to 1980 and to 1962, depending how one defines 'the start.'
I have begun to see all of my poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print. That original ten page poetic embryo I entitled Analects, a word which means 'literary gleanings' because, like Pound, I drew on such a wide body of source material. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and written over more than fifty years(1916 to 1968), are a great mass of literary gleanings. The conceptualization of my work as epic has come, as I indicate above, after five years of intense and extensive writing. I slowly, insensibly, began to see all this writing as one immense, 'epic poem.' I like to think of this prose-poetry as one voice in the Baha’i culture I’ve inhabited all these years. That it may resonate in the minds and hearts of others would be sufficient reward and, if this cannot be achieved, then let it stand as a symbol of, a personal tribute to, the glorification of God, to the Glory of God.
Pound was twenty-nine when he began to write the longest epic poem of modern times. I was fifty-five when I began to initially enviseage all my poetry, poetry I had begun writing as far back as the age of thirty-six, as part of one immense epic. Pound was acutely conscious that the cultural, the historical, tradition had broken down and he was searching for a new basis, "new laws of divine justice."1 His task was to reassemble this tradition or,at least,search in history where not only the fall from innocence could be located but also the locus where the process of redemption could be found. T.S. Eliot was conscious of this breakdown, too. In his The Waste Land, like Pound's Cantos, there is a radical transformation in the aesthetic structure of the modern poem. Both poets introduce what R. P. Blackmuir calls 'the anecdotal method.' The anecdote, begun in one place, continued in aother is finished, if at all, in another. There is a disconnectedness, a continually alluding of a thing to itself, a poet to himself; there is a continuous introduction of fresh and disjunctive material with no comprehensible relation of one poem to another when read consecutively. Whatever unity emerges the reader must paste together the fragments, the traces. So, for example, before 1920 Pound had made the adventurer Odysseus the first protagonist of his many-voiced poem; but by the 1930s he was transferring his praise, his focus for his metaphorical and physical journey from what he then called "the maritime adventure morals of Odysseus" to Rome and its fascist dictatorship.
I, too, am aware of this breakdown. I, too, feel the need to reassemble history, but not in the same way that Pound did. Rather, I feel the need to be a describer of truths which are perennial but not archaic and which already exist within the broad framework of a new Revelation from God, a Revelation which defines and describes both continuities and the new, the renewed, basis for redemption. I do not need to search for "a new basis for new laws of divine justice," as Pound did. I believe they exist within this new Revelation, the Baha'i Faith. This epic poem is written on the assumption that these new laws already exist and are gradually being implemented on this planet. This epic poem also draws heavily on that 'anecdotal method' and it has produced a poem longer than Pound's Cantos.
Written now over a period of ten years(1992-2002), the more inclusive epic I am writing covers a pioneering life of 40 years. It also covers much more. I have now sent 40 booklets to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of this pioneering venture. But the epic journey that is at the base of this poetic opus is not only a personal one of some forty years going back to the time I began my pioneering venture in 1962, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah, which has its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century. For it was then that Shaykh Ahmad was born(1743), when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences.
Generally, the way my narrative and my imagination conceives of this epic is itself an attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life, as far as possible, and to that of the global society I am a part of. I have sought and found, in recent years, a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference. It also contains a certainty which is mixed with, and defines itself by, the presence of its polar opposite, doubt. For, as Hatcher argues, certainty is a psychological state and faith is the process of organizing our emotions around our assumptions. "Theoretical uncertainty remains even with the surest of statements," he writes.3
Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story, both the said and the unsaid parts. I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that I believe are and will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important and unique to the history and development of this new, this emerging planetary System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds of battle in their contemporary and historical manifestations.
This epic involves, too, a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause as it has expanded across the planet. The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, are found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information-giving lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in inner life more than in the external story. In some ways, this inner life is the most significant aspect of my work, part of that 'inner life and private character' that Shoghi Effendi emphasized so quintessentially..
In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. The Muses were the inspiration of artists. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing poetic and artistic tradition inspired by the Baha’i Faith gods and goddesses play no role, but holy souls "who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God" can be a leaven that leavens "the world of being" and furnishes "the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest." (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, 1956, p.161.)
In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya’Baha’ul’Abha’ brings "the Supreme Concourse to the door of life" and "opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life." (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Source Unknown) In addition, the invocation 'Ya Ilaha'l-Mustagath, I find to be a useful protective expression. Much could be said about inspiration and security, but I shall leave the topic with this brief analysis and comment. Many other prayers for special situations exist for the assistance of the Baha'is and in the pursuit of their artistic work. These are some of the views that have informed my perspectives in the last two decades and more and inform this introductory statement of my epic poem.
Mary Gibson says in Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians(Cornell U, 1995, p.96) that one question was at the centre of The Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order" could cohere. This question was one of many that concerned Pound during those same years that Baha'i Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its embryonic form in the last years of the second decade of this century(1916-1921) a form that Shoghi Effendi drew on in his articulation of Baha'i Administration from 1921 to 1936; and a form that would in time gradually manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy.
At the heart of my own epic is a sense of visionary certitude, visionary faith,3 derived from a belief in and study of an embryonic World Order. It is a certainty, for me, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. The poet Wallace Stevens’ saw the epic "as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice."(Jay Parini, editor, the Columbia History of American Poetry, Columbia UP, NY, 1993, p.543) This, too, is at the centre of my conceptual approach. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a didactic intellectual exploration with lines developing in apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape is in no way predetermined. In many respects, this long poem is purely speculative philosophy, attempting to affirm a romantic wholeness in a fragmented world, something the poet Walter Crane tried to do in the 1920s. This long poem, or seemingly endless series of poems, is an immense accumulation of fragments, like the world itself, but they are held together by a unifying vision. So,too, was Pound’s epic.
Pound was intent on developing an "ideal polity of the mind". This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbedded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly and the groups I have worked in and with have been small. My style, my poetic design, though, is like Pound’s insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was "the historical." Also, for Pound, was a new world order based on his own visionary experience. It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain old ground from the novelists. But, unlike Pound, I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future. The visionary experience that will guide world order is not mine, but that derived from the Central Figures of my Faith.
Finally, insofar as Pound is concerned, I should say in conclusion that in his last years he thought he had never achieved any of his goals, that he had in fact wasted his efforts, that ninety percent of what he had done and thought was wrong and that so much of what he had been preoccupied with was irrelevant and stupid. One must be prepared, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, that all of what one has written has been a waste of time, useless, of no value. I'm not so sure I could ever be prepared for or live with such an eventuality. The desolation of one's hopes and a certain sorrow can darken the last years of any writer's life, as they darkened Shoghi Effendi's. We shall see down the track of time what our endeavours in His path will reveal. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, 1969, p.451)
On quite a different note and drawing on quite a different epic poem, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass often merges with his readers. Whitman's poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. He can be looked at in two ways. There is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even to attempt, to represent an entire epoch, this private/public dichotomy is an important underlying feature of this epic poem (Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, Harcourt, Brace and Co., NY, 1994, pp.447-78). I also like to think that, while this poetry has a focus on my own experience, this experience is part and parcel of the experience of my coreligionists around the world.
In my poetic opus, my poetic epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, the reader should sense a merging of reader and writer, a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become in the last half century especially, but also gradually and increasingly since Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.
There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, perhaps as far back as the 1840s, if not as far back as the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in those halcyon and, for a time, terrifying years of the French Revolution in the early 1790s.
There is much more than verse-making here, though. Here is the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. It seemed to wrap around and fill my being during my pioneering life, the process having its embryo as far back as 1953 when my mother first heard of the Faith. Indeed, I came to see myself as part of what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called that "heavenly illumination" which flowed to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and would "adorn the pages of history" (Citadel of Faith, p.121). Given the anti-Americanism that has developed in recent decades, though, I would not want to emphasize this line of thought too strongly or too publicly. Given, too, the strong Australian tendency not to romanticize the pioneering process but, rather, to stress the ordinary and the equalitarian aspects of community life, I would not strike this note too strongly.
My story inevitably became part of that larger story of the Baha’i Faith and, again, that larger story which is history itself. Stephen Sicari suggests that the structural principle in Pound is "the search for unity."4 If I had to define the structural principle behind my own sharply fragmented, multifarious material with its vivid multiplicity and diversity, it would be my attempt to express the unity I found, that I believe lies behind and in the world of creation and that the Baha'i teachings apotheosize.
It is the narrative imagination that is, in many ways, at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make it honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, knowledgeable. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me in Hidden Words. In the process I draw extensively on the knowledge of others. When all is said and done, I leave behind me traces, things in the present which stand for absent things in the past. The phenomenon of the trace, Paul Racour writes, is similar to the relationship between lived time and astronomical time, a relationship at the basis of calendar time. For history is "knowledge by traces", as F. Simiand puts it (Paul Ricoeur, "Narrative Time", Philosophy Today, Winter 1985). And so, I bequeath my traces. How long they will endure is in the hands of destiny.
The traces I bequeath are also, to continue an important theme of the epic tradition, those of the wandering hero or, as Geoffrey Nash describes this person: the heroic soul and the ordinary self. This self is both potential hero and ordinary mortal. The heroic soul is that individual, all of us really, who must "respond to the dull pain at the heart of its present existence"5 and in the process transcend the ordinary self. The hero, the wanderer, lives within many dimensions described in a multitude of contexts.
The wanderer is on a journey of redemption to union with God. This was true for Dante. It is a journey of adventure and finding a home, as it was for Odysseus. It is a journey that attempts to embody my vision of the Baha’i world order. The process is not unlike that of the poet Virgil who tried to articulate his vision of Augustus’ order during the crucial years of the establishment of the Roman Empire(29-19 BC). It is also a very personal epic, a personal journey, an inner journey, within the tradition of William Wordsworth and his Prelude, a journey that moves beyond the ordinary self's protective chrysalis of everyday 'reality.'
There are elements, too, of the Miltonian epic here with the foregrounding of the author, his weaknesses and his strengths in what is, par excellence, a theological-religious journey. And there is the monumental journey of Baha’u’llah over forty years which acts as a metaphorical base for my own journey. The wanderer I draw on is, in other words, a flexible, elastic, figure who allows me to include in my epic poem virtually anything that I want to include in the text. For some, I think, I cast the net too wide. We all fish in different waters, it would seem.
And so the wanderer that I describe in my epic is a composite. But this wanderer is not in search of the Path; rather, he has found the Path and the wandering takes place on the Path. The wandering through the sea of historical, sociological, literary and other texts, books and articles, etc. is all part of the experience, the context, the definition, of the Path, for this particular journeyman. The reader will come across many references, many texts, many quotations here. They are laid on a Baha’i-paradigm-map; I am not alone, as Pound was, relying on my own wit and courage with no framework of guidance and meaning within which to sift history’s and experience’s immense chaos into some order. I find that the actual writing of the poem assumes characteristics of the epic journey itself. This was true for Pound, for Dante and, in all likelihood, the mythical Homer.
It may be that my journey on this Path is only half over and that this epic has found its initial conceptualization at the mid-point of my Baha’i life. If I live to be ninety-five, as I say above, my journey within this framework of belief has just passed the half way mark (age 15 to 95, a period of eighty years, with age 55 the half-way point). I like to think that what I have now, after only nine years of intense writing of poetry, is what Pound had: "a dazzling array of finely wrought fragments straining in their own unique way to achieve order and unity"6 through the deployment and development of this image of the wanderer in its many forms. That is what I like to think.
Time will tell, though, if I can sustain and continue to define in precise and dazzling7 terms the structural, the organizational, principle enunciated above. This structural principle is based on a view of my poetry as: the expression of my experience, my sense, my understanding, in the context of my wandering, my journey, of the concept of the Oneness of Mankind. Can I continue to develop this epic, beyond the start I have given it, to a satisfying conclusion in the years ahead?
Anthony Giddens in his Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age(1991) argues that a person's identity lies not in his behaviour or in the reactions of others but rather "in his capacity to keep a particular narrative going."(p.54) The individual must continually integrate events and sort them into an ongoing story. It is something to be worked at and calls for creative input and a holding dialogue with time.
In some ways three final models for my epic poetry can be found in the work of William Wordsworth, Robert Lowell and Emily Dickinson. Wordsworth worked on his autobiographical poem The Prelude, on and off, for fifty-two years: 1798-1850. The Prelude was published the same month that the Bab was martyrd, July of 1850, three months after Wordsworth died. If I work on my epic poem for fifty-two years I will have to live to the age of one hundred! A second final model is the autobiographical poetry of Robert Lowell beginning perhaps with his Life Studies in 1959. I have written on the relevance of Wordsworth to my poetry in 'the introduction' to Booklet 38 and of Dickinson and Lowell in other places. Readers should examine the introductions to many of my Booklets and many of my poems someday when they are published or put on the Net to explore this concept of epic poem as I have come to use it.
1Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, StateUniversity of New York Press, 1991, p.10.
2The definition of 'faith' that I draw on can be found in John Hatcher, "Science and Religion," World Order, Vol.3, No.3, Spring 1969, pp.7-19: the organizing of the emotions around a set of assumptions. 'Science' is the organized use of the rational faculty.
4Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, State University of New York Press, 1991, p.x.
5Geoffrey Nash, " The Heroic Soul and the Ordinary Self," Baha'i Studies, Vol.10, p.25.
6Sicari, op.cit., p.xiii.
7Often what I write is very moving, dazzling, to me. This is not always the case, of course, and whether it is 'dazzling' to readers I must leave to those 'mysterious dispensations of Providence.' The pleasure I derive from the writing process is sufficient to provide me with the motivation to continue writing.
At the centre of this wondrous epochal shift
is a cultural story of saints, martyrs,
messengers and endless connective tissue
with past and present. Heroic exemplars,
deep in history back to the enlightenment,
to Bahrain and the core of the vision,
with the force to slowly actualise a reality,
new political and social
harmonies and disharmonies.
My own ordering of history here
in its legitimate and beauteous form
with law and design, touchstones of order,
across chaotic and energised multiplicity,
the endless disasters of time,
extinctions and near-extinctions,
human slaughters and pain
as I connect, in situ, my subjectivity
and history with meaning—yes, yes,
a place of refuge, partly in desire,
in mind or imagination and in the Beauty
of the Unseen shining forth above the horizon
of creation1 and in creating myself through
commitment to a complex personal synthesis,
through a relationship with myself
in a fascinating and difficult elaboration2,
inventing, producing myself with this poetic art.
And all these endless particulars cohere,
far beyond a personal order,
an autobiographical imposition
from this finite brain
in a dramaturgical translation,
a richly allusive, highly imagistic in-gathering,
not simply for some love of nature,
but to unlock a beauty and a truth,
to taste a choice Wine
with the fingers of might and power
and slowly establish a spiritual kingdom
in a physical form-order and beauty linked,
power and love united yonder, world's away,
around history's bend. Hesitation and doubt
I have heard and seen by gallon measure,
things that throw consternation into the hearts of all men—
and so the showers of tests come to pass
to free us from the prison-cage of self and desire,
to help us attain the meads of heavenly delight,
with gifts from the Unknowable Friend,
those shudders of awe that are a quiet shimmer
and shake, a tightness, dynamic tension;
all my days surrounded by this growth,
this organism, two generations now, incipient,
beginnings of a System, potentialities
and interrelationships of component parts
only partially understood, often like sinking
in a miasmal ooze, but a good terror, this one,
as we have inched our consequential and necessary way
toward a humbling summit only seen,
with the secret of conquering a greater world than ourselves
only little known, and so we prayed.
I seem to have prayed for years, over four epochs,
and then ran into the door of meditation
and it opened into another world.
I have seen devotion, beyond human strength,
exhausting, making heroes of many men.
I watched my moods like a cat as I pursued this path,
convinced of the significance of my days
sub specie aeternitatis at the core of my art,
my poetic, the oneness of my experience.
I trust its connection with the Royal Falcon
on the arm of the Almighty.
I have thrown my life away in this great cause
but, as my arm has arched and flung,
there was down in my heart something sung,
some voice that met my joy
and tears in great fatigue with all the years.
Truth here was what one long endured with persistence,
feet and passion sure, some burning vitality
of mind and heart, an intensity that once threatened
to tear me apart.
I had my time with sexual heat, a blazing contact,
direct and real. It nearly sucked my life away with lust
the core of search. It tried to kill my loneliness and isolation.
Beyond, beyond the horrors and fears, to make some meanings
of our years we turn to sex, to self, to God
so as not to wither on this sod. And me no less.
And if, by some mysterious dispensation of Providence,
we feel we can play a part in changing the world,
not just get a grip on it and so endure it with a taste of joy,
with a taste of destiny minimising that everlasting self-concern,
the fierce inner pressure of problems with no solution
or with just transient existence, we can live with our guilt,
with sin, with our evil doings having our heart
melting all our life. This is the feeling of redemption.
And so there is a grimness here, and redeeming belief,
supernatural sanction. There has been a speed, a power,
a talent, a fertility-one matchless time-after forty years of
wandering between two holy years-a single human self
struggling to become what he is capable of becoming,
to know who he is, a lot of pennies dropping without
an endless recitation of the quotidian, unremarkable fact.
Some rich burgeoning, some rich hermeneutic tradition
opening up for all to see, read and understand,
like some elaborate systems theory which defines social reality
in terms of relations: right back to his birth, the birth of the universe
and endless other births and deaths and relationships
among relationships, networks of information that only I can bring
into some integration, dynamic analytic distinctions
of complexity, instability, quantity and quality...for this
universal human community, the end and object
of the highest moral endeavour, has at its root needs
and interests universally similar. We must free ourselves
from history’s conceptual jails in this remade world
and keep remaking it.
And so an intensified global interconnectedness,
a post-international, post-industrial transformation
is taking place under our eyes and, what, three
hundred million will have starved from 1969 to 1999,
since Paul Ehrlich wrote his Population Bomb?
Global historical civilization, being born amidst
chaos and middle class complacency, is reconstituting
the world as one place. Do we not need, therefore,
some universal truths, perennial but not archaic?
Do we not need some philosophical stance with
which to view modernity and post-modernity?
Some sense of the ultimate becoming, some teleological
evolutionary scheme? Some utopian vision
within which to frame the struggle? Yes, yes, yes:
some magnetising value core, firey furnace,
magnetising our convergent efforts,
as Durkheim might have said.3
And while I have answered "yes’ to all of this
since at least the days when we sent the first
men into space and since the Zeal of the Lord
passed on, I have enjoyed and feared a constant
swing between ecstacy and exhaustion, the heavy-
weight and lightning speed, galactic, radiance in the
smallest of patches and dull emptiness: overwhelmed,
dazzled and awed, a rush of images, a flow of phrases,
needing this epic form to express the burgeoning,
the out-pouring, the excess, the prison of the longue duree,
the patterned, the inchoate, the world beyond
the commonplace and the self-evidentnesses of view;
needing synthesis, mediation, unification of ideas
among the children of men.
But my sense of the beauty everywhere has been
so long clouded by so many things, emotions,
intensities, the pulse of a greater dynamism beats
with a heavier heart. The Bridge, the basis of that
new dynamism, is that new unity, innocence and
freedom which we first saw in Shaykh Ahmad
when he left his home in northeast Arabia in 1793;
when Robespierre was in power and Pitt was the
Prime Minister of England. Trying to create a tradition
where none existed, the Committee of Public Safety,
guillotined 10,000 seen as some kind of moral revolution
in the making, after Rousseau. But the moral revolution
that would last for centuries was proceeding to Najaf and
Karbila to begin its long road, becoming the leading mujtahid:
the Bridge was an idea, a terror struck in the hearts of the Sufis,
while that other terror issued dechristianization decrees and
relentlessly uprooted public order.
And so this poem begins in the early dawn of this modern age,
over two hundred years, with appropriate quantities of analysis and introspection,
bewildered and bedazzled as I am by it all,
pushing through all the ramifications of thought,
burning myself up, candle-like, drop-by-drop
the wick will come in time to only a pool of wax
on this table and I shall be gone, across the Bridge, home.
History’s weakness and my own is found here
amidst the blaze of visionary sense
and an infinitude of correspondences:
a mystic on the loose, synthesizing, mediating,
watching the slow realization of vision in action,
seeing this Bridge and these White Buildings4
across a span from ancient Greece and Rome
to our own age, this one on a hill. This bridge
takes you up and down to ideals as remote
as Arctic winds but as close as your life’s vein.
But I do not try to speak to a whole culture, here,
Hart, and its infinite fragmentation, only to a coterie
on its way to the fulfilment of His vision
set in a world of diamond words,
sweet-scented streams of His eternity,
an orderly matrix of values.
This is no diversionary flight, scheme,
temporary assuaging of a longing,
magical society of dreams, life’s flickering grace,
but some battle for the conquest of men’s souls
but oh so gently, as the teacher distils eternity
from the transitory with a spark of heroism
amidst decadence, a filtering of the harsh refuse of modernity,
conscious of a new savagery in the midst of civilization,
the endlessly arbitrary and fortuitous, the hasty grasp
and exploitation of ephemera, of the momentary.
And so the teacher learns not to take the fleeting moment
too seriously, to be detached, while at the same time pouring
forth all his concentration into the thing in front of his nose.
If the pioneer can do this he has the world by the tail—
and boredom, distraction and an over-excited worldliness
are problems far beyond him. For he has new nourishing food—
the food of knowledge—duration with a purpose
as deep as the ocean and as wide as the sea,
realising the ideal lines will be completed
beyond this momentary reality. And so I capture it all
in this written portraiture, capture the fleeting,
the transient and the eternal, the inevitably fragmentary
phenomenal world in a metaphysical unity,
gradually letting it ripen-or it captures me,
and I warm it over, gestate it for some future public.
In this forest of symbols, voluptuous labyrinth,
sometimes ghostly landscape of damnable
and not-so-damnable pleasures and professions
we must close our eyes to luxury and attachments
to the material world and long, as I have long longed,
for eternal life. The real department store,
the primal landscape of consumption,
the secret labyrinth of dreams
is the jewelled wisdom of this lucid Faith.5
End of Part One
The Bridge was still a vision
when Shaykh Ahmad came into Persia.
Tahirih and Haji Amin were born that year
and Baha’u’llah a little later.
It was the age of Scott and Byron,
Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth,
Robert Owen and Froebel,
no intellectual inertia in the west
as Persia languished in tragic lethargy.
I look at these times as I watch the Bridge being built
so that I can learn about myself, my times, my day,
for the past and the present are on one continuum
and its beneficial appeal is a means of understanding.
And on the Bridge was the key to a revalued world,
so far beneath the sensitive tissue of human motivation,
so that we all could come to love the institution
not the personality or the experience
and that our great subversion may just be
indifference to our convictions.
It was a very big year that 1844
when Marx wrote his first major work
and anarcho-psychology was born
amidst a communication triumph.
He said "I am! I am! I am the Promised One!"
And He knew that human beings yearned
for a safe community
but seemed to feel uncomfortable as they found it.
For there are so many colourations to this community
and a cognitive instability is part of our mental set
in these days and on this earthly plane.
While here on the Bridge
is a pyramid of sacrifice and a calculus of pain,
expressed in various bonds of community,
themselves private perceptions, private strengths and needs,
sketched against a pattern of interdependent other privacies,
all coming from Him Whose speech was like a torrent
and the crystal springs of Whose love several million now have quaffed.
And so as the years went on I developed intellectual interests
and seemed to need more and more to keep myself going.
In the process I found a happiness I had never before enjoyed,
a certain tranquillity. I seemed to be more responsive to my world
than I had ever been, but at the same time I grew tired of the social
beyond a certain minimum. Romantic bliss had turned out to be
the illusion it was for 99% of humanity,
but I had found a great bag of peace and ease of life
and have learned to blend gentleness and aggressiveness
in happy proportions, for the most part.
A divinity seemed to shape my ends:
socialized out, travelled out, meetinged out,
prayed out and nothing left to do but meditate
and write as if I was meditating
while occasionally offering ideas on how to pluck
the hour and the day virtuously and well.
And so I did as the Bridge was increasingly installed
and the White Buildings.
I have taken it upon myself to impress shape upon this wax,
as Yeats once did for Ireland’s malleability,
this waxen Bridge and these White Buildings
that have taken form during my earthly epochs.
These Proteuses I hear around me and the Tituses
blowing their wreathed horns make me want to stamp
the image of this Cause with my own stamp
for this is a Faith where the individual and authority
live in the fairest, justest, measure, walking together in harmony.
Did He not say:
The best beloved of all things in My sight in Justice
By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not
through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own
knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbour.
I shall strive for a firm and determinate outline, free of blot and blur,
definite and precise, no vagueness, if I can, but clarity all over as I
strive to describe the complex descent of heavenly outpourings
and radiant effulgences through these charismatic Forces
and the gradual institutionalization of all that They were
and meant in this century, leaving traces that will last forever
and energies that are unapproached in all of human history.
But these words have tentacular roots reaching down
to our deepest terrors and desires
and there is a blighting of the emotional life here,
for this is war of the subtlest kind that takes it out of you
in the trenches while you fire your guns in the wet and cold
and in the dust and heat and you never feel the sucking, you only know you
got dried out when it was all over. Like some frightened bird which has
started singing in another world, or some mourning trout gliding by not
seeing the founderous bone-paved shore on which he’ll gasp and die.
Crippled by an obsession, deformed by a love, I found my art
quickened, intimidated by all the heat and enthusiasm
and by words I have heard, it seems a million times,
wrenched, torn as unremembered leaves, driven
in doleful patterns the wind weaves. Most of our loves
will pass unnoticed into time, even this extended
and at times rapturous rhyme. History will not record
our names or battle-cause. Future lovers will not weap
to read this bit of mime. The hastening crowd
will not give it thought or pause. Yet must I write
these lines for my heart’s ease and the possibility that
one day they may assist in other men’s surcease,
though I know that meagre comfort’s found in sage advice.
I give shape to this commonplace life, a certain coherence
amidst the storm and strife. For what love has exacted
I did not think, once long ago, I’d have to give.
The hunter has hurled some crazed dart;
I was ravished by His voice
and I have drained the flagon of His wine.
And now, this life, I am still left to live
as the Bridge is being built and White Buildings
sweeten what comes through the sive.
And I have myself, what I have strived to live
and which I have achieved in part, in what I did give.
The beauty and truth that I have found is cool and pure
and has taught me to see in myself
neither name nor fame nor rank6
but find my own praise in intoning
the sweetness of His melody
that it may kindle my own soul.
Into this vortex of images and ideas,
like some constantly rushing radiance,
node, cluster, whirling into focus,
brought to bear on this Bridge
and these White Buildings
in this poetry of statement,
finely articulated fact.
As the pater familias waned over two centuries
there has been a reinfantilization of the masses
from time to time, say, with Fascism, Nazism
and the welfare state, but not here in this ism
where there is a Rule and rules,
the choice unsealed wine
given with fingers of might and power.
There is, for us, a judgement and assurance,
so much stronger than democracy’s frayed and fragile law,
where people can not bear the burden of authority
and freedom combined. This bond binds us together anew
and flows across this Bridge through White Buildings
new: miracle, mystery and authority,
only these can hold captive forever
the consciousness of humankind.
This visible, legitimate authority is an imaginative gift
to the world. Belief in this authority
is an act of the imagination;
it is a search for solidity and security;
it is a gift to the community,
for the web of belief is the texture of our thought,
the texture of our words:
we have come a long way from the proto-language
of one hundred thousand years ago.
Can we learn again the outward show of emotion
and the absense of judgement upon emotional reactions?
Can we learn the humility and modesty,
the sense of proportion needed to work together?7
I think we will and we will leave our mark
in these White Buildings as the culture of the hunter
left its mark 600,000 years ago in caves,
looking to the future,
even as the environment got more complex
and laid the basis for the discovery of agriculture.
For our environment is getting more complex
and is forging the greatest change since agriculture,
not a neolithic but a neocortical revolution.
With the origin of hunting over half a million years ago
humans became the enemy of animals.
With the origin of a global federation-culture
what is natural will be peace,
for it has become important to our survival.
It will become easily learned and pleasureable:
evolution building relations
between biology, psychology and behaviour.
And the cosmic aloneness, the mysterium tremendum,
the bringing of emotional life directly under control
slowly as language developed, the wonder of the word
which once filled man’s whole life
as he dramatized the whole thing
is now returning without the body painting,
the scarification and tatooing,
everything ritualized with all the awe for richness
and routine for familiarization: it’s all dramaturgical
now, man, but reality is still negotiable,
vulnerable, shared, created.
And the ceremonial rules are defined
in broad measure by this new Revelation.
Interaction, a process of exchange
between ritually enacted selves,
is rooted in a Deity of considerable importance
far above the ken of men and of angels:
hundreds of thousands of pages now
of defining text and keeping us all busy
on just how to put it into practice.
We are driven off course in twists and turns,
again and again, even after we have tasted
of the Wine of Reunion and come to know
something of the jewelled wisdom of this lucid Faith
and plundered its secrets as if they were gold.
We saw many cities and learned of men’s minds,
suffered many pains and heartaches and watched
as their recklessness brought inevitable destruction,
blind fools who never pierce the veils of plurality.
Still we were bewitched by beauty’s form, its archs
and caverns, its home of fleeting mysteries,
of swiftly-passing sense and sensuality. Always,
there was some battle brought on by desire,
wayward will; or sent by the gods themselves,
fire testing gold. We became seasoned veterans,
cursed by fate with a battle far prolonged,
although there was a certain ease.
And, in time, we longed for easeful death.
We tasted all that life could give
and more was not a prize we favoured,
just peaceful days with golden sun warming
the green grass and always some words to bring the
hearts together under the open sky, until the end.
We all must find our way to real connective experience,
to wholeness and unity, for this is the way today.
I find most of my integration of discontinuous reality
in this mighty synthesizer of prophetic revelation
in this latter day. I see my actions, as did archaic man,
as real insofar as they are part of this new archtypical pattern
defined in the most exquisite detail in this process of a refined
institutionalized charisma-part of a cosmic consciousness-
a new, definitive mystic outlook, a new Thou,
with My whole being plugged into an emerging
global consciousness, integrating, endless configurations
and providing redemption from the empty images and chains of my sin.
I hear a music descending from the choirs up the stairs
bending their voices to new harmonies, new philosophies
condensing eternity in this white axis all the way up the mountain.
In these days of immense complexity this white garden,
as if in a peerless pavilion containing some essence
of beauty, is poised wholly on a dream, tortured by history,
its passion spread in wide tongues, choked and slow, so slow,
it seems like forever laying the foundation down in our life,
in our time, sucking the juices from me and my wife.
This is a story of what has spoken to my spirit
in this ninth and tenth stages of history;
and what is recreating civilization. It is the story
of what I have caught and preserved in the tissues
of my mind and the chords of my heart’s desire
in my great upstream swim against so much
that is will-o’-the-wisp in this Formative Age
when a tempest blew and blew creating a sea of turbulence
on the Earth. You will find here pithy fragments scattered
across my years, an attempt to give an account,
in the piercing language, the perpetual sketchiness,
of the poet something for the public thirst,
for the insatiable appetite not yet created
for this great and mighty Cause
now growing so unobtrusively.
We all, in our own way, are engaged
in similar and dissimilar ways
searching for what will endure
and it is infinite perfections
that will last, not the ephemeral ones
of this transient life where morning falls away
to afternoon which collapses into twilight
and night again returns to be lost to sunrise.
Some moods begin in gladness and, if we wait,
in time its madness. And so I write, to perceive,
to define, reality in this turbulent age, this age of transition,
when a certain chaos has given birth to a dancing star.
I give you a state of mind, a reply to the time, a dialogue
with the years, a golden thread of intense joy
to have been part of the emergence of this global community.
By proclivity, by delight, perhaps by necessity
I got caught up in this emerging force
when it was still obscure, at the beginning
of the Kingdom of God on Earth
as he called it in 1953. It took me
a dozen years before its winds blew across my soul,
to get caught up in its driving momentum. And now,
over thirty years later, with personal emotion exhausted
in action and desire, with continued effort at sympathy
fatiguing and with limited reward, a new, completely fresh,
unique, highly organized, amazingly unforeseen, largely
impersonal harmonizing of the disparate and the contrary
plays a role in civilization’s effort to keep self-control. I
find revelation from that age-long memoried self. It shapes
the elaborate shell and teaches the birds of the heart to make
their nest amidst intense emotion with death around the corner.
The rich abyss of these days, these years, is mute and void.
He has filled them to overflowing, gold and silver alloyed.
And now I induce desireable emotions and repel the undesireable
with these words without creating a banality of disorder,
accepting my own inaptitude for sacrificial moods
and discovering the amount of saintship which fits my powers
and what I see as my truest mission in life.
And so I define a centre on this blood-dimmed,
anarchous, fractured world
where convictions and passionate intensity
make noise and tumult everywhere
and vast silences here and there.
There is one word that animates this axis
in all its whiteness and radiant brightness.
It is a word that strikes the chord of reality
and profits me more than anything imaginable.
It is the password to the Kingdom of God
we’ve been building in these epochs:
I have hardly begun to learn its substance,
as we have hardly begun to learn the silent powers
in these white buildings
where all loveliness and intolerable beauty,
a crystal concentrate of perfection becomes artefact,
routine and no threat, at home, part of the landscape.
I try in this meditative poetry of complex theme
to speak the language of common men
while speaking what is my unique possession,
personality, my personal quest. Just current language
‘heightened’, molded to express this unique being and That.
I have been given life’s recipe from the presence of divinity,
the most precious Being ever to walk the face of this earth.
And still, and still, I struggle; I whirl constantly
through what troubles and delights.
And I make of all this, these images to set my mind at rest
and explore this axis, these white buildings,
this bridge to the future-where loss is a doorway
onto the invisible world. So, I build this my architecture,
passionate and alive. All it is is thinking man, aloof, alone,
waiting for innumerable doors to open on goodness.
copyright Marco Abrar
It is my aim in this extended poem
to produce a single entity
with order and unity
from history and its long story;
from what might be called
a reflexive sociology
where I domesticate this wild world
by poetic narrative
and define, invent, myself therein;
from moments of heightened sensibility
where an inner world and outer world
mix and dissolve.
What is produced is not some highbrow
and allusive poetry to change the world,
a world dominated by the images of mass media.
This poetry is a world that expresses
my way to make the material of history cohere,
make it explained in a satisfying way.
For all these words here are not just
a hodge-podge, not some botch,
not a mess of pottage, a great confusion
but, rather, one grand coherence,
one grand burthen and necessity,
one great distiller of experiences,
a restructurer and namer of thoughts
that are turned into knowledge
incorporating daily life and making me human
with a perilous mixture
of adequacy and inadequacy.
And so I strip the world of its foreignness,
as far as I am able; and enjoy
in the shape of things, some distant
a realization of myself.
This is my need, for I am a thinking man
who must put before myself
what I am and whatever else is.
I can not unravel all of life’s mysteries
nor its fragmentary harmonies.
I am kept in unresolved tension all my days
and so I create some simulacrum,
some miniature, self-contained unity
and perfection which I can not find
in my world. Perhaps I satisfy
some cosmic instinct here.
My endless altercation
between self and world,
I try to regulate
by means of this poetic, this art,
which I put beside the world,
a world I did not make.
The above, some 32 A-4 pages, is just the beginning of this particular epic poem, written from September to December 1997. In September 2001 I revised the introduction, the preface, I had first written in September 2000. This revised introduction was an exposition on the pentapolar poetico-historical-secular influence and, of course, the spiritual influence on this epic poem: Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon on the one hand and the Baha'I Faith on the other. Beginning in 2001 I continued the above, the epic, I had begun as follows:
I pick up my pen again after four years
and enter this paradise of imaginative vision,
fostered by the historic happenings
of this Formative Age, a creative attention
and the 20-year thrust of the Master's Plan,
settled here, as I am, in my own Grasmere,
my own Dove Cottage by the river and sea
four years into this epic
and nine into the greater work:
Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
I tell of a different dawn
of a vision of world-shaping trends
which I have seen
throughout my pioneerting days
and before when into space
we went--the year he died
after all those years of labour--
and now a new and fresh clarity
is emerging amidst a jungle
of conflicting interests, a new fear
and, perhaps, the fifth stage
of that tempest's vortex:1 1
WW1, WW2, the atomic bomb,
the terrorist attack on the World
Trade Centre: five secular epochal shifts.
We have, now, in these Grasmere years,
a whole, entire, System, having crossed
the bridge, a dynamic link to a new time
and soared with prayer's aid
into His heaven of spiritual enrichment.
Disseminating these glad-tidings to new publics
and a gathering momentum of scholarly activity,
salutary, promising, times for this Faith
having emerged just recently
from that long 150 year obscurity.
With the raising of great edifaces
a splendid, auspicious, chapter begins
as we seek to apply these civilizing prescriptions
to the needs of a crying humanity
and as we ponder the consequences
for our time of some of our history
we feel gratitude in our hearts
and a new coherence of understanding.
A new power, a new confidence,
a rejuvenated, reconsecrated, effort
has entered at this potent juncture in time,
in these early months of the fifth epoch
marking yet another measure in time.
with immensely promising prospects.
as all of humanity learns to accept
some responsibility for the entire
human family-such is the new
revolutionizing principle of our day-
while social paralysis, tyranny
and anarchy continue to beleaguer us
after such a long and arduous struggle
going back even to my father's day
when he was young and a Prophet's
Son walked among us and sung
of His father's teachings until
finally our eyes with tears were rung.
That relatively unbroken cultural tradition
going back to Abraham and Moses,
to Homer and Socrates
with its mythological roots
as far back as Adam and Troy,
with Augustus Caesar and Christ
picking up the pieces of what was left
and begining again: one epic becoming
The Bible and the other The Aeneid
with someone sacrificing himself to
history--Rome's--for that was all there was,
then, when that new foundation was being laid.
Now, this process has started again
in a strange and mysterious way
as we sacrifice ourselves-little by little-
and as we do we rejoice
for the new stabilizing centre
that will one day renew our culture
with its perennial truths
while the archaic ones drop
like those epics of old
from our social repertoire.
And after ten years of writing
I do not want this manuscript burnt7
but, rather, preserved, so that if
by God's grace there is a sweetness here
it will endure and throw some light
on a future age.
For this poem is a created world,
an object for contemplation and love,
but it will not yet yield its final secrets.
There is here a sense of the full complexity
of creation and an embodiment of a great Idea.8
I hope I have avoided the heavy
and monotonous stylization
that often comes with epic poems,
although readers--to appreciate
the complexity and depth here--
must learn to read my language.
In these early years of this third
millennium there will not likely
be many, certainly far too much
to be read aloud and compete
with the mass media's seductions.
I am not striving for an extreme
and consistent remoteness,
although I am striving to give
a sense of human destiny
working itself out through history,
no monument to dead ideas
but to a living, breathing drama--
the greatest in the world's
Most of my pioneer life I have been a student in one way or another and have been engaged in reading and making notes across a vast territory of print. I have also been obsessed with the Baha’i Faith and have tried, as far as my limitations allow, to integrate my reading and understandings with those of this Faith.
I am conscious of W.H. Auden’s warning that "All attempts to write about persons and events, however important, to which the poet is not intimately related in a personal way are now doomed to failure."(W.B. Yeats The Poems, editor, Daniel Albright, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd, 1990, p.xviii.) I am equally conscious that with the interconnectedness of all of life, the sense of its interdependence and the interrelatedness of all of phenomena, past, present and future, the concept of being on intimate terms with virtually anything the poet desires is not an unrealistic concept.
7. Virgil wrote his Aeneid from 29 to 19 BC and felt like burning it when he finished.