books, literature, research, Uncategorized, writing

The Cycle of Life in Books

When I began my master’s degree program in history I quickly discovered that the ancient history professor believed in books. He taught all the best classes–ancient history was my primary interest–and so I saw a lot of him. He would routinely assign twenty books per semester-long class. We would then discuss the ideas and approaches the writers took. He also said that you cannot really understand a civilization without two things: knowing their language, and reading their stories.Language wasn’t my strength. But books? Yes, I could get behind that.

We read Gilgamesh when we studied the ancient Mesopotamian hero, and parts of the Bible, and Greek poetry, and Roman plays. He told us the story of the Roman Triumph, when a victorious general, at the height of his glory and manliness, would ride a chariot through the streets of Rome with the crowd lining the streets in adoration. Occupying the chariot next to him was a slave, who held a gold crown above his head. He would also whisper in the general’s ear, “Remember, you are mortal.”

There is a time for life, and glory, and triumph. And there is a time for death. Medieval people knew this as well, surrounded by death as they were, from plagues and accidents and wars. They would often show a skull in art, a memento mori. A reminder of death.

young_man_with_a_skull2c_frans_hals2c_national_gallery2c_london
Young Man with a Skull, Frans Hals (1582/1583-1666), Wikipedia Commons Public Domain

A popular poem during this age was “Erthe upon Erthe”, written in Middle English. It was often inscribed on the front or back pages of books.

English translation:

Earth has been miraculously created out of earth
Earth has attained a high position on earth out of nothing
Earth has fixed all his thoughts
On trying to raise earth to heaven on earth

Earth wants to be an earthly king
But earth doesn’t have a clue how on earth to go about it
When earth breeds earth and brings his reward home
Earth and earth will have to bid each other a tragic farewell

Remember, o man, that you are ashes
And into ashes you will return

Earth conquers castles and towers on earth
Then says earth to the earth, “All of this belongs to us”
When earth has built up his defences on earth
That is when earth will really get his come-uppance from earth

Earth is piled up on earth like dirt on dirt
He who swans around the earth, glittering like gold
As though earth won’t really have to return to earth
Will soon find earth indeed becoming earth again, no matter how much he tries to fight it

I really wonder why earth loves earth
Or why earth should toil and work for earth’s sake
Because when earth is brought to the earth of his grave
Earth back in the earth will stink to high heaven

books-1283923_640
Kaz/Pixabay

In Middle English:

Erthe out of erthe is wonderly wroghte
Erthe hase geten one erthe a dignite of noghte
Erthe upon erthe hase sett alle his thoghte
How that erthe upon erthe may be heghe broghte

Erthe upon erthe wolde be a kinge
Bot how erthe to erthe shall thinkes he no thinge
When erthe bredes erthe and his rentes home bringe
Thane shall erthe of erthe have full harde parting

Memento, homo, quad cinis es
Et in cenerem reverteris

Erthe upon erthe winnes castells and towrres
Thane sayse erthe unto erthe, “This es al ourres”
When erthe upon erthe has bigged up his barres
Thane shall erthe for erthe suffere sharpe scowrres

Erthe goes upon erthe as molde upon molde
He that gose upon erthe, gleterande as golde
Like erthe never more go to erthe sholde
And yitt shall erthe unto erthe ga rathere than he wolde

Whye erthe lurves erthe, wondere me thinke
Or why erthe for erthe sholde other swete or swinke
For when erthe upon erthe has broughte within brinke
Thane shall erthe of erthe have a foul stinke

You can see from this poem that memento mori was on the anonymous author’s mind. To dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.

We no longer put such morbid thoughts in our book dedications, instead choosing to honor loved ones or mentors. Perhaps, though, we should remember, like that Roman general of old, that one day we, too, will be gone. I try to do so in order to keep from being lulled into the complacence that everyday life brings. It reminds me to work, to create, to write while I still can. Memento mori.

 

 

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inspiration, Uncategorized

The Love of Holy Laughing (Two Pieces by Rumi)

Source
Source

Fake Friends

God’s heart is a hawk
living in the city of crows,
with a deep loneliness
for companions.

When one of the crows seems friendly,
it’s hypocrisy, as when someone says “yes”
after a long warning. He doesn’t mean it.
He just wants the admonishing to stop.

He stands with those who have genuinely changed,
but that’s the way it is in this market.
Damaged goods gets thrown in with the others.

Fly to the love-hawk,
and be its friend.

Any other is a
is fake.

There’s a subtle fragrance that will come to you
when you’re in that one’s presence.

You dull that sense
when you live with crows.

(Mathnawi, V, 896-906)

Source
Source

 

Let That Laughter Lead You

 

When you go to buy a pomegranate,
pick the one that’s laughing,
that has its rind cleft,
so that through its broken openness
you get some information
about the seeds.

 

Listen for the laughter
that shows the inside,
that cracks the casket shell
and lets you see the pearl.

 

There’s another kind, an unhappy laughing
like the red anemone’s that show
its inner blackness.

 

The pomegranate laughter is blessed,
like the companionship of good people.

 

Even if you’re a common rock,
when you join them,
you’ll become a precious stone.

 

Keep the love of holy laughing in you.
Don’t visit sad neighborhoods. Let
laughter lead you to the right people.

 

Your body wantings will take you out of the sunlight
into the dark and dank places. Feed on the conversations of a lover.
Look for spiritual growth from one
who is farther along than you

 

There was once a Christian gospel
that had in it some mention of Mohammed,
his courage and his fasting.

 

Whenever a group of Christians studied
this gospel, they bowed and kissed the words
of that passage. Without knowing it,
they were looking for refuge
inside that light, and with its power
it befriended and help them.

(Mathnawi, I, 718-733)

inspiration

Lay Your Head Under the Tree of Awe; Two Poems by Rumi

Source
Source

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

From Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

 

Source
Source

Shadow and Light Source Both

How does a part of the world leave the world?
How does wetness leave water? Don’t try to
put out fire by throwing on more fire! Don’t
wash a wound with blood. No matter how fast
you run, your shadow keeps up. Sometimes it’s
in front! Only full overhead sun diminishes
your shadow. But that shadow has been serving
you. What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is
your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.

I could explain this, but it will break the
glass cover on your heart, and there’s no
fixing that. You must have shadow and light
source both. Listen, and lay your head under
the tree of awe. When from that tree feathers
and wings sprout on you, be quieter than
a dove. Don’t even open your mouth for even a coo.

From Soul of Rumi by Coleman Barks

inspiration, Uncategorized

How to Enjoy Your Day No Matter What Happens

Source
Source

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life,
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday
A dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn.

–Kalidasa

history, literature, Uncategorized

Two More Anglo Saxon Riddle Songs

                                                                               Wood

Forest
Source

I am sun-struck, rapt with flame
Flush with glory, flirt with the wind–
I am clutched by storm and touched by fire,
Ripe for the road, bloom-wood or blaze.
My path through the hall is hand to hand
As friends raise me, proud men and women
Clutch and kiss me, praise my power
And bow before me. To many I bring
A ripe bliss, a rich blooming.

–Prior to 10th century AD (p. 88, A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle Songs, trans. by Craig Williamson)

 

Ship

Ship with red sunset
Source

Middle-earth is made lovely in unmatched ways
Rich and rare. I saw a strange creature
Riding the road, weird craft and power
From the workshops of men. She came sliding
Up on the shore, shrieking without sight,
Eyes, arms, shoulders, hands–
Sailed on one foot over smooth plains–
Treasure and haul. Mouth in the middle
Of a hoard of ribs. She carries corn-
Gold, grain-treasure, wine-wealth.
The feast-floater brings in her belly food
For rich and poor. Let the wise who catch
The drift of this riddle say what I mean.

–p. 90, A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle Songs, trans. by Craig Williamson

 

history, literature, Uncategorized

The Shield

wappen-3913_640
Source: http://pixabay.com/en/wappen-adler-golden-shield-3913/

I am the lone wood in the warp of battle,
Wounded by iron, broken by blade,
Weary of war. Often I see
Battle-rush, rage, fierce fight flaring–
I hold no hope for help to come
Before I fall finally with warriors
Or feel the flame. The hard hammer-leavings
Strike me; the bright-edged, battle-sharp
Handiwork of smiths bites in battle.
Always I must await the harder encounter
For I could never find in the world any
Of the race of healers who heal hard wounds
With roots and herbs. So I suffer
Sword-slash and death-wound day and night.

.

–Prior to 10th century AD (p. 63, A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle Songs, trans. by Craig Williamson)