Tag Archives: E. E. Cummings

Rachmaninoff’s Huge Hands*

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Mystery Lady

Mystery Lady

 

PR5–5

Night Skies Finish Last

“The heavenly bodies, in their courses,
have it in their power to move human
minds to unknown heights of delight.”
–Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa)

E. E. Cummings wrote:
“Thy fingers make early flowers of all things”
I know this because the phrase has stalked me
All these years you see

I read him a lot in high school where I needed help
And I am a romantic
But I guess that’s what poetry means
It sticks with you in the teeth of forgetfulness

And yes literally
God knows why
Robert Frost said poetry is at its best
With a tantalizing ambiguity

And I still dream of “early” flowers
Though I know not what they may be
It clearly predates the sunset
Hence the stars are not yet out

Yet it does make me dream
And I guess as poet Jesus said
By their fruits shall ye know them
And this is a fruit

That has left stains on my lips
All these years
I guess then there is hope
Always hope

For a sudden romance that personifies the stars
Because I still have faith somehow
In the night sky
Even if it does finish last

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,

This post I think, though a segue from the romantic theme of last time yet is of the same silk ilk (pardon my romantic bias).

I have pushed poetry production on this blog. Here are three of the previous posts to prove that:

https://rumi-nations.com/2013/04/08/ambulance-therapy-territory/
and
https://rumi-nations.com/2013/04/15/a-big-blog-emphasis-on-poetry-production/

And in an ancillary fashion, this, my first post (from April Fool’s Day, 2013):

https://rumi-nations.com/2013/04/01/sufism-the-science-of-happiness/

This post, once again, is of the romantic ilk mostly for the psychological reparations. Because to me what romantic merely means is it appeals to the heart. And sometimes I generalize to the opinion that a good way to repair the heart is to express the heart through art. Because then the heart feels listened to.

But two things: first, these days my art form is poetry, though I have dabbled in drawing. And even there was one painting. For an example, see above. Can you guess whom it’s meant to represent? (Bonus points if you can guess. But I bet you didn’t know she was quite popular with the Anatolian Sufis! The answer will be in the next post) If so, my art may have succeeded, at least for starters.

And so I emphasize what I am best at, and I hope I am not off on some ego trip when I say I think it may help budding poets if I sometimes talk about how I do it or since I am not quite sure myself about that, at least, how I got the inspiration (My muse was knocking at my door, and I was profoundly amused). And second, I have a broad definition of “art.” I hope not as Cummings satirized (”O world, o art!). I mean one shouldn’t feel intimidated, and say for instance, “But I can’t paint . . . I can’t dance . . .”

But poetry is feeling. As Cummings said to the students:

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself–in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else–means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

Which reminds me of the wonderful line from Lily Tomlin’s Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe:

“I always had wanted to be someone. But now I realize I should have been more specific.”

What a simple key (Cummings’ heart business) to pick the lock of originality!

So it seems one surefire poetry trick is to write lines that make you cry. Or dance.
Or laugh. All the things then that good art (art from the heart) does is at your fingertips and then you have mastered the piano and in that, you even have Rachmaninoff’s huge hands.*

But I digress.

But first, before we leave Cummings, I suggest you check out on youtube, Cummings himself reading what to me is the greatest living love poem, “somewhere I have never traveled”:

Yes indeedy. Cummings was a romantic.

But back to therapy. Para precisar, (I love that useful Spanish phrase, which means “in order to explain exactly”) I do believe life itself is performance art. And conversation is an art as well, especially if you use it to express your heart.

And so once again, dear ones, my gentle readers, I will do a post a bit about poetry.

The poem above is an example (I wrote it three days ago, para precisar).

But first, I should elaborate on the background. In a recent series of posts (can two be a series?) I talked of the spiritual dimensions of romance.

Of course, if you look up the word romance in the dictionary, the love affair aspect is given but seventh shrift. (although we “romantics” may call that akin to the famous seventh heaven.”**) The other six definitions deal with derring-do tales, etc. And interestingly the French word for novel is “roman.” So you see that tradition comes from way back.

But as the poem says, in high school, I was lonely and sought refuge in the poetry of E. E. Cummings.

Also true is that I have had that line from his poetry floating through my head all these years,*** and when it came to mind I decided to use it as a springboard to the above poem. (As I do with any spontaneous charged line which comes to me. It’s one of the miracles that keep my happiness afloat that I can almost invariably assume that if I start a poem like that, the rest of the poem will ensue. And since I am a grateful sort, and perhaps solely on that account, a believer in God (but that’s another story probably at least a thrice-told tale in my series of blog posts), I consider it my sacred obligation, even my prayer practice, to stop everything when such a line appears. I do believe that faithfulness is a partial explanation for the fact that my muses rarely let me down, so I show fealty to that sacred impulse.

Of course, too, I often start a poem with a quote to start the ball rolling. But this time for some reason I decided to incorporate it into the poem proper. Which turned out a good thing when the Isak Dinesen quote turned up.

But again, I digress (hopefully not to any crabgrass degree). I had better hurry up and get to the point or this post will have to be a two parter.

So, yes, as you can surmise from the poem, I’d be in danger of being a lonely boy (for lack of an inspiring girlfriend) if it weren’t for having the stars at my back.

There. I think I have gotten to the point. I have the stars at my back.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Yes Rachmaninoff had veritably huge hands which drove the pianists nuts with his music having chords that only a person of his huge fingerspan could easily manage. Indeed an amusing comedy sketch based on that is hereby included:

** According to wikipedia.com, seventh heaven is “the abode of immortal beings, or the visible sky.” Which of course fits right in with my introductory poem, does it not?

***As well as the even better known ending. Here’s the whole poem:

Thy Fingers Make Early Flowers
–By E. E. Cummings

Thy fingers make early flowers
of all things.
thy hair mostly the hours love:
a smoothness which
sings,saying
(though love be a day)
do not fear,we will go amaying.

thy whitest feet crisply are straying.
Always
thy moist eyes are at kisses playing,
whose strangeness much
says;singing
(though love be a day)
for which girl art thou flowers bringing?

To be thy lips is a sweet thing
and small.
Death,thee i call rich beyond wishing
if this thou catch,
else missing.
(though love be a day
and life be nothing,it shall not stop kissing).

And for those who also like to hear the poem:


(Read by Christina Chu)

The Pantheism of Sufism

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Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Published in Wordcatalyst, then republished in Tipton Poetry Journal:

PR4–342

I Was a Prince

I was a prince who found you in a pond
Secure beneath a lily pad to hide
Your creamy body from the sun and me but
You squirmed out of my grasp and dived so deep
I dared not follow so I placed a net
Which looked quite like a lily pad and I
Disguised myself and sat on top a frog
As any fool could see–when you came up
I quickly kissed your lips and magic things
Occurred like in the fairy tales to wit
I did become a frog and it turned out
You really fancied frogs’ legs but I squirmed
Out of your grasp and dived down deeper than
You dared to follow so you placed a net
Which looked quite like a lily pad and when
I came back up again to sit on it
You kissed me back into a prince once more
And it turned out you fancied princes too
So you apologizing for the frogs’
Legs dinner episode said “Still it was
A lot of fun” And so we lived and dived
Quite happy ever after til one day
You were especially hungry and you knew
That when I was a frog you were supposed
To kiss me but you ate me and you said
“It was a boring game after a while”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Last week I said this post would carry out my original intention (how romantic love fits in with mysticism) from an idea I’d had from a meeting in Los Angeles to celebrate the 124th birthday of the Parsi mystic, Meher Baba, who has been so pivotal in my odyssey of this lifetime. As I mentioned last week, the story behind my Meher Baba connection can be found above by pressing the “About” button.

I got the idea of linking romantic love to mysticism from one of the songs sung by the featured performer, cierta Adrienne Shamszad, who was (along with Brian Darnell) featured in my last post (of March 1–Here’s the url: https://rumi-nations.com/2016/03/01/happiness-has-a-small-door/). She included a song of romantic love early on in her concert, which was dedicated to the mystic Meher Baba, yet she explained that though the song from her past was about her love for a certain boy, it was a love for “the Baba in the boy.” This is a thing which corollarily follows from the pantheism of Sufism. And of course Meher Baba was the bull goose Sufi (to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and this was exemplified in a favorite bit of Baba writing, titled, “God Alone Is.”

I suspect it may seem suspect (for being a non-mystical theme), my choice of the poem above. I feel justified by Ms Shamszad, who during her presentation as an aside mentioned the almost overriding need for humor. (She had forgotten some of her lines but I’d said she’d covered up for it by her funny faces)

Yes, it is a poem attempting to be funny. Apparently successfully so because it’s been published twice. First by the now defunct poetry journal Wordcatalyst, and then republished by Tipton Poetry Journal. In a further Sufi twist (or at least my brand of Sufism), it connotes reincarnation. Else how could the Prince narrator say the last line which postdates his demise?

Which reminds me of the classic film Sunset Boulevard (98% on rottentomatoes.com–Check it out!) which was narrated up to and beyond the narrator’s own death. Now if that doesn’t connote a life beyond the grave I do not know what does. And if you take that as a given it’s a mere short extrapolation to the concept of reincarnation.*

But back to Adrienne Shamszad and her talk of “the Baba in the boy.” (Yes it’s time to get back to a spiritual connection here) I felt I needed an explanation for my choice of the above poem, since generally, I favor those which seem to illustrate a Sufi principle. And as per Hazrat Inayat Khan, romantic love has its distinct place in the mystical life. (As evidenced by his book, Rasa Shastra) And there is even a wonderful Sufi legend of two lovers, Leila and Majnun.**

I wish I had a way to let you listen to Adrienne’s song. It was more than usually impressive. But alas, I do not. But you know, I checked youtube (what a wonderful thing!) and found this from her which is even more better. More subtly expressive of the dichotomy of the physical and the spiritual. If you listen to this song you can hear both sides (now) as Joanie Mitchell used to sing. Words like “when I’m tired of myself” and fall on your knees like in the Christmas carol. And yet it has powerful ambiguities suggesting physical love ( a la Robert Frost***)

Here’s the url:

I guess the focus of this talk of romantic love, then is tending toward either tragically separated, (which epitomizes the whole Sufi concept of the tragedy of separation from God) unrequited, or soon unrequited, or just plain outright unrequited or at least the possibility of a gradual change. Especially since who can control the will of another? As an example, Inayat Khan talked of how the wise react when their beloved turns on them and gives them “poison” to drink. Does the lover react with disgust, with recriminations, with rancor? No, but rather with kindness and a silent turning away, a resignation as if it had come from the hand of God. Inayat Khan said, “This is how the wise love.”

A wonderful poem by E. E. Cummings, epitomized this
(written to his lifelong mate, Marion Morehouse):

it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips,which i have loved,should touch
another’s,and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart,as mine in time not far away;
if on another’s face your sweet hair lay
in such silence as i know,or such
great writhing words as,uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;

if this should be,i say if this should be—
you of my heart,send me a little word;
that i may go unto him,and take his hands,
saying,Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face,and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost land

And this reaction of the wise to rejection also reminds me of this old favorite Billie Holiday song:

I’ll Be Seeing You

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through

In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well

I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

And here’s an early poem of mine (written at age 17) which I wrote when a girlfriend broke up with me (because I wasn’t Jewish!):

I can’t remember how it was
How long ago it seems
When I was sure you loved me
And your smile was in my dreams

I can’t remember how I felt
Ago a little while
When my tenderness for you
Was reflected in your smile

Now all I can remember
Is your look of pure surprise
When I would have touched your lips
And looked into your eyes ****

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Hazrat Inayat Khan, the founder of Sufism in the West, who originally structured the Sufi order I was initiated into circa 1972, never explicitly addressed the issue of reincarnation. (Which I believe would have unnecessarily rocked Islamic boats. Sufism has Islamic roots, and Inayat Khan wasn’t big on boat-rocking, preferring to emphasize agreement. But it’s a very short logical extrapolation from so much of what he said. He for instance was always talking about young souls as if they were children playing with toys, whose later destiny was to be wise. A not bloody likely development in a single lifetime, especially in the many obvious cases which all too often we find in our faces.

**See this url for an interesting explanation of this legend
http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sunrise/49-99-0/mi-jcok.htm

***I refer to Frost saying that poetry was at its best when there was “a tantalizing ambiguitiy.”

****Interestingly though, many many years later I got in touch with another old friend, the one who in high school actually had set me up with Eileen. And she said to me “Oh I have a message for you from Eileen. She said to say she was sorry.”

My Philosophy Has Saved My Life

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Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers

PR4–393

The Sweet Birdsong and Beethoven’s Tears

Look!
Up in the sky!
Stars and moons
A planet that’s a huge diamond

And earth!
(Look down now)
All manner of wonder
Look around

Turn to the roses
The smiles
The sweet birdsong
And Beethoven’s tears:

They want proof of existence
But one thing has been proven
Beyond any reasonable doubt:
Somebody knows how to make an entrance

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Hmmm . . . Looks like this post is going to be a two or three parter. Which explains a part of my delay since the last post. You pretty much have to get all three posts done first, if only to know where to break them up. And I do put a lot of effort into getting these as good as I can make them, just as if I were in an English class and I was being graded on these essays. And I take these things seriously. Like when I got into nursing school, I had all A’s on the seven prerequisites. And when I graduated from Humboldt State, I had a perfect score from all three judges on the de rigueur for a diploma, exit essay-writing exam. Only because I bore down, just on general principles. And this bearing down, blog-wise, involves a lot of time and effort. Especially since I tend to have to also do research.

So–I am pushing three thousand words, and I haven’t yet covered all the issues that seem to be connected to the theme I have started with, which is how my poetry relates to my “mission” which is–to put it succinctly–to express my feelings about metaphysical issues. And by metaphysical I mean Sufi things–things that can be analyzed by the heart, as opposed to the mere mind. I say “mere” even though it’s true, the mind is the glue I use to fuse these things together. I read somewhere that poetry itself (and fiction-writing too) is not like some arts, like say dance, which is all heart, and the mind is pretty apart from that. But poetry is a partnership with the mind. With even the left brain part of it. It’s true that my words must be imbued with some manifestation of love (which has myriad manifestations and ramifications, and so I do have trouble understanding complaints about “writer’s block.”).

And yet my mind’s facility with words I think is like a nurse at the operating table who hands the surgeon her tools, as necessary (e. g. scalpel, etc). And this nurse gets very intuitive about what the surgeon will need and ask for. Often I am told (I was, don’t forget, a student nurse at Humboldt State University), this nurse doesn’t need to even be asked.

However, though this post today is about poetry, it’s only ancillarily about the nuts and bolts of poetry production. Of course ancillary does not scare us digression freaks, and so hang on to your hat (and fasten your seat belts, as Bette Davis would say) there is still more to come today (or as I say, perhaps another day since this is going to be a three parter, looks like) about poetry production.

(Have I mentioned my secret hope that I am with my blog and poetry encouraging people to write poetry?* I think it’s a shortcut to happiness, frankly. But so many people seem to be intimidated by it, it seems in order to have an occasional thread dealing with how a poem is or can be arrived at, how so many things often thought to matter really don’t, you know as E. E. Cummings would say, “a lot of sweet bull like that.”)

That segue aside, I wish to say this:

I have a confession to make.

About my “profession” to be a poet.

It’s this:
I am not sure if my “poetry” is perhaps more propaganda for my mystical point of view than it is poetry in its own right. Can there be both? Of course many poets (especially including my big favorite E. E. Cummings, and John Donne as well, and Gerard Manley Hopkins . . .the list goes on) have pushed their mystical point of view. (And their political one too) In Cummings’ case, for instance he disdained artificiality (as opposed to the sciences which can be allied with the heart. And they surely can, just as in poetry-writing the mind and heart cooperate).

As in this:
(from voices to voices, lip to lip)

bring on your fireworks, which are a mixed
splendor of piston and pistil; very well
provided an instant may be fixed
so that it will not rub, like any other pastel.

(While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

Or this, by Robinson Jeffers:

The Eye

The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the Pacific–
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs
Nor any future world-quarrel of westering
And eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, clash of
faiths–
Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland
plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke
Into pale sea–look west at the hill of water: it is half the
planet:
this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
Australia and white Antartica: those are the eyelids that never
close;
this is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.
 
 

So I’m not saying here that there is anything wrong with my using my poetry as a vehicle for my philosophy. Indeed, since the essence of poetry is to make very concise what would otherwise wander all over the map, it brings me to the old writer’s edict to show, don’t simply tell. If it doesn’t “sell the sizzle, not the steak” the poem is perforce (possibly per farce) a big mistake.

But not so many people are into philosophy of any sort, let alone the more metaphysical variety (Of the proverbial religious experences). But fortunately, the relatively few people who do follow my blog are concerned, if not in fact preoccupied, with my brand of metaphysics. Or open to it if only as a way to put in some relief their own beliefs.

Yes, I do tend to focus on the sort of “spiritual” issues which would apparently be boring to more than a few self-selected aficionados.

But that’s cool.

It’s not like I need to make a living with this blog and poetry. Which does though bring me to want to say this to the over two hundred followers of my blog:

THANK YOU!

It’s not important that I have a mass audience (indeed, which could well be a danger to my ego. I refer here to the “sin” of pride.**). But it’s so nice to have an audience. Therapy really for me. And you guys don’t charge a hundred bucks an hour!

A further confession:

I may value my philosophy more than my artistry as a poet. (Though this is complicated by the fact that my philosophy does ordain the concern of doing my best at whatever I undertake) Because for instance my philosophy has saved my life.*** As for the artistry, I was reassured today to read a Facebook post from a poet friend,**** quoting Gary Snyder, one of the last remaining of the Jack Kerouac/Allan Ginsberg old north beach hip poets. (Have I mentioned that I once met met Allen Ginsberg?)

Speaking about his new collection of poems, Gary Snyder (who is now 85), said: “Its strength is that I let it be imperfect. [Laughs] That’s what I’m learning. There’s a Japanese saying: “Imperfection is best.”… I decided I’m not going to hold it down to the line and get it just right. There are things in there that I don’t know what I think of.”

I especially am struck by this: “There are things in there that I don’t know what I think of.” Indeed, sometimes when I am contemplating an editorial change in one of my poems, I remember the old dictum about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

And this reminds me of the old (was it from the Navajo?) story of the American indigenous tribe that deliberately included an imperfection in their basket weaving so as not to “compete with the gods.”

Well, this post has gone on too long, and this is the best place to stop. I didn’t want to stop it sooner as it needed to include the news (see below at ****) of the pre-Christmas sale of my friend Alice’s book.

So I will carry on with the rest of this post next time.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*I stress this because it sure happened to me that way. As I related in the first blog post,

https://rumi-nations.com/2013/04/01/sufism-the-science-of-happiness-2/

the one for April Fool’s Day 2013,in which I was on my way to learning to paint with oils, and suchlike art stuff, when I came across a book of ecstatic mystical poems from Dan Ladinsky, called “Love Poems from God.”

And they were so much up my alley that I said to myself, So that’s poetry? Hey I can write that kind of stuff!

And so I switched back to my original art form. (I’d been writing poetry (even in French!) since I was fourteen.

What fun! And that was ten years and six thousand “poems” ago. And coincidentally I have never been happier (I think expressing the heart as eloquently as you can does that). And I don’t even have a girlfriend!

** I am not so naïve as to believe in the fairy tale of a non-existent ego. Or even a necessarily subordinate one, when it comes for instance to roses, or other such beauty emblematics. I draw support in this from Benjamin Franklin who I believe in his autobiography spoke of attempts to quash pride with humility. I remember him saying that even if he found that mythical unicorn, it would in itself go to his head because he would then “be proud of my humility.”

***A reference to that is in this old post:
https://rumi-nations.com/2013/05/

Suffice to say it’s like in this Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenna:
“…life was impossible like that, and that he must either interpret life so that it would not present itself to him as the evil jest of some devil, or shoot himself.”
–Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, Garnett translation)

**** This friend Alice Klein is the author of a fine book of poetry denombre “What the Heart Wants” a book I very heartily recommend. And which is available here (with a great for the holidays special sale price):

http://www.sheriarfoundation.org/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=9780913078822