I have written several dozen essays involving what one might generally call "man and society". The essay below was published in 1999 by the Baha’i Studies Association-Australia. Most of my essays are not yet on this web site nor are they published. Many of them are posted at the Baha'i Academics Resource Library hosted and maintained by Jonah and Kari Winters and Brett Zamir. But before examining an essay or two, I'd like to open with some prose-poems, as I so often do at this many-winged website. 'Society' is such an all-embracing term. Hence the content of my poems here reflects the wide-ranging and all-embracing nature of society, at least in some of its aspects. Even then, some readers may find my 'take,' my approach, a little too wide-ranging, a little too along a line that they might see, and legitimately so, as merely another aspect of Bahá’í-line, no not a bi-line, but a Baha’i line. If that is the case I encourage readers to move to some other area of this labyrinthine site to find material more conducive to their tastes.
THE COSMOPOLITAN GENERATION
The term globalization emerged in the early sixties and was dated to 1961 in the Oxford English Dictionary. British sociologist Anthony Giddens, one of the world's many experts now in this new field, sees the first global cosmopolitan society emerging in the 1960s. Of course, this notion of the global society can be seen as emerging at all sorts of time periods, time frames, based on a wide variety of data. But the 1960s is a period that is coextensive with my pioneering life and with globalized satellite communications. The Baha'i view of the future, based as it is on a global system given its initial conceptualization by its prophet-founder Baha'u'llah, could be described as utopian realism. The Baha'is have something specific to aim at, something beyond the present reality. Whereas Christianity changed society by changing the individual; the Baha'i Faith aims at changing the individual by changing society. At least that is one convenient way to label quite a complex subject.
Religion, from a Baha'i perspective, has a great deal to say about how society should be organized, about how history should be viewed and about the nature of man and society. Just how this will be done, how it will be played out, how it will be explored intellectually will be revealed in the next several generations of the cosmopolitan society that has begun to emerge during these pioneering days of my life: 1962 to 2002. -Ron Price with thanks to Ian R. Douglas, "The Myth of Globalization," Internet.
Was this poetry a gift for all that pioneering?
There is routine and effort in this poetic inspiration
visiting me amidst strong autobiographical traces.
There seems an artistic inexhaustibility here
which is thought itself; its image is the poetry
I create in this poetic universe of fulfillment
of an artistic task, as true to myself and my
ideals within the limits of life during this time
of turbulence, of tempest, of trials and tests.
10 October 2002
THE IDEA OF ORDER AT CHATHAM ONTARIO
In the middle of the second Seven Year Plan, in late 1949, Jacqueline du Pre discovered the cello. The cello became her friend, her confidante, her playmate, her source of solace and a channel through which she could express her deepest feelings. The instrument defined her. But outside her instrument she never did resolve the question of her identity, of who she was and what was her purpose. In that same Seven Year Plan the last stage in the erection of the arcade of the Shrine of the Bab was about to be undertaken "presaging the revelation of the full glory of the completed Sepulcher,"1 In that same Plan, too, in its last several months, at about the same time as one of the 'turning points in American Baha'i history,'2 after six decades of American Baha'i history, I heard for the first time the music of this new Revelation. -Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965, 1p.78 and 2p.110.
Its sweet sounds were slow in coming
or was it that I was simply slow to see
its emblazoned zones, its fiery poles,
to feel that single Artificer of the world,
my confidante, my sure solace, a channel
to my deepest recesses of my heart?
My Elgar Concerto with the London
Symphony Orchestra1 was in Chatham
Ontario that October weekend in '65
when the seeds finally sank ready for their
thrusting growth in my heart's thin soil.
This was not stardom, then, but a start
to my rage for order and my Maker's
ordering of words, their fragrant portals,
dimly-starred, ghostlier demarcations
before, brighter now, keener sounds.2
He took my life away, too, but by '873
He had given me a sweet new life,
blossoms and fruits of consecrated joy.4
1 Du Pre recorded this Concerto in 1965 and this established her stardom. She was 21.
2See Wallace Stevens, "The Idea of Order at Key West." Stevens believed we cannot live without ideas of order. I look back to this weekend in October 1965 for the seedbed of my 'ideas of order.'
31987 Du Pre died at the age of forty-two.
4In Stevens' poem there is a basic ambiguity of spiritual location that permeates the poem. By '65 this ambiguity had become, for me, far less so. These last words of 'Abdu'l-Baha in His Secret of Divine Civilization express some of my own clarity of spiritual location as does my sense of definition from the Shrine of the Bab in this poem's epilogue.
3 June 2002
PEOPLE AT THE CENTRE
Clive James and Peter Porter today discussed 'books of the forties and fifties.' In that discussion they talked about music, classical and other, taking over from literature in the last half of the twentieth century in providing that sense of certitude, although irrational, that people felt a need for in their lives. They also talked about the decline of ideology after WW2 and into the 1950s. The role of Alexander Solzenitsyn's books in the fifties, sixties and seventies played an important part in this process, insofar as the Left was concerned, as fascism had done insofar as the Right was concerned in the two previous decades. A reservoire of skepticism in the west, and especially in England, returned the centre of poetry to the individual in those same years. -Ron Price with thanks to "Clive James and Peter Porter," Sunday Special, ABC Radio, 5:30-6:00 pm, 2 December, 2001.
As ideology wound down in the fifties,
the sixties and seventies, we began to
grow and grow all over,1 slowly,
unobtrusively. So it is that I've spent
my adult life with people who have
no ideology, plenty of convictions,
all too many of them, but no ideological
centre—home--liked reading novels,
listening to music, watching TV, working
in the garden, but absolutely no interest
in going to meetings--except to learn
macrame, lead lighting and the inevitable
work-associated special planning session
at 8 pm or 8 am or noon instead of lunch--
or a new course, or something at uni, or a
movie, or a volunteer job where no ideology
was desired, contemplated or required.
For ideology did not grab anyone anymore
and religious ideology became the no-no
among no-nos--amidst endless subjectivity.
Superficial and not-so-superficial pragmatism
had made everyone into practical realists,
enjoying as far as they were able the complex
juxtapositions of pleasures and disenchantments
thrown up on the shore of their life-worlds.
And slowly, yes slowly, this new ideology,
new dogma, grew until it came to manifest
an attractive form, a gentle beauty all around
the world with holy dust at the centre--and
a slow greening of people from that desolate
garden of arid and unholy disenchantment.
1The Baha'i Faith spread around the world.
2 December 2001
'Memorials of the Faithful' an Essay By Ron Price:
In any attempt to discuss intelligently what this profoundly important book is about I find myself drawn irresistibly to ‘Abdu'l-Bahá’s portraits, not so much of the '77 individuals he so deftly describes, but of the condition they may come to occupy in the world beyond. Indeed ‘Abdu'l-Bahá creates what could appropriately be called a vocabulary associated with the afterlife. The following words are used frequently when ‘Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the passing of the 77 individuals and their condition in the next life. He uses these words in assuring us of their new condition or in offering us a description of what he hopes will be that condition:
light, splendours, grace, mercy, forgiveness’ nearness, assemblage, celestial company, musk-scented, camphor, sweet scent of holiness, bestowals, gifts, rewards, mysterious, endless, placeless, waters, gardens, fair and undiscovered country, goodly home, gentle gales, food, drink of brimming cup, the place of the mystical contemplation of God, all-highest realm, highest heaven, Abhá paradise.
These words suggest that "the purified soul connects with other souls in those worlds, and the powers and joys become so intensified that we will wonder at ever having lived as separate tiny candles, alone with our flickering light, when in the worlds to come we will be ablaze as one radiant force." (1) This radiant force is described by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, over and over again, in terms of light. These words are intended, as are the words of Dante and other great artistic luminaries, to illustrate and help make comprehensible to our earth-bound senses, a vision of divine order and heavenly beauty.(2)
All our instinctual human desires and fears," says Conow, "will disappear, to become one pre-phenomenal fear and desire, the awe of God and the yearning to return to Him."(3) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes the process in terms of the mystical contemplation of God, nearness and the sweet scent of holiness. In dozens of subtle and sometimes graphic depictions of the passing of these men, for there are only three women, human salvation is partly defined as motion toward godliness, and endless progression, a heavenly, intellectual and aesthetic journey that has already had its beginning in this earthly life. Indeed this earthly life has, as its animating theme, a vision of this world as a reflection of the spiritual world. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá’s vision, though, is one which suggests that "a dedicated study of one reality will inevitably facilitate an understanding of the other." Hence the value in this life of the pursuit of learning in virtually any form and any sub ject but especially, of course, those subjects that profit humankind.
Just as this life is neither static nor fixed so in the next is change and a continual refining process also the story. We do not attain one condition of perfection but many perfections. At the point in time when we no longer can use the physical metaphor, the teaching device of the phenomenal world, we detach, or are detached, from it. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá describes this point of detachment, the point of departure in vivid variation. In studying the many descriptions of this departure one gets a real sense of the afterlife as both wonderful transformation and simple continuity.
This, then, is where my own eye is drawn to in examining the several dozen picture portraits, the choreography of lives which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá sets before us. But, of course, the book is much more than the simple story of human lives. The book serves a number of functions not the least of which is an informed guide on how to live. The revelation, which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá was intimately associated with during Bahá'u'lláh's life, contained literally thousands of pages of guidance on this question. In Memorials to the Faithful this elderly Persian man who had enjoyed what the Guardian called "a mystic intercourse" with his Father, tells us how some seventy-seven people applied this guidance in day-to-day living.
‘Abdu'l-Bahá observed with unobtrusive care, with warmth and tenderness, the day-to-day lives of these people. As Marzieh Gail puts it in her introduction, the Master is giving us a testament of indispensable values for the survival of our own selves and humanity itself. The question 'how to live?' sounds like a deceptively easy question. But for millions on this planet that is a central, if only partially asked question. What should I do? How do I decide whether to go fishing or to read a book? The question is an easy one to ask, but the answer takes so many forms that modern man lives in some state of confusion.
The question is a particularly acute one for Bahá'ís who spend their lives trying to put into practice what often seems an impossible agenda of spiritual and moral prerequisites. For their’s is a search for peace, happiness, success, closeness to God, etcetera, etcetera. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, I'm sure, was also aware of' the difficulty. He was aware, too, that He would be the exemplar, the model, of how to 'live the life' for many generations to come. In a religion under whose spiritual umbrella billions of souls would one day be protected from the rain, the tempest of life, it would be useful for that future community to have a range of' models of how ordinary men and women, people who had no station, no special relationship as He had with the Source, with Bahá'u'lláh, put the whole thing into practice.
And so he describes the entire lives of over six-dozen People, albeit in the briefest of compass. The descriptions are succinct, deceptive quotients. I think many readers miss so much of what this book is on about by thinking, as they read, that they are reading about funny old men who lived long ago and what they are doing in the book has little to do with the modern world. The long names; the brief descriptions of people’s lives give the modern reader a sense of irrelevance. I don ‘t think I’d ever lend this book to a non-Baha’i for their "first read." I have talked to many long serving Baha’is, as well, who have never even read this book. And many who have read it, don’t seem to have any idea of what it is about. Just a bit of history, they say to me. They forget, if they ever knew, that there is a metaphorical nature to Baha’i history. It is not just an inspirational account of men who lived long ago.
‘Abdu’l-Baha spends from one to several pages on each character and, in the process, He gives us the full range of human types, the range there has always been and the range there would probably always be in the rich texture of the greatest drama on earth: people in community. I shall discuss briefly some of the types in the paragraphs below and leave it to readers to get themselves ‘into’ this book with a sense of new eyes. For all of us must keep coming back to old books with new eyes, if the revelation in all its grandeur and mystery is to stay fresh in our hearts and minds.
Restlessness is a dominant theme for many people who ‘could not stay quiet', 'had no rest', were ‘amazingly energetic', were ‘awakened to restless life', or were 'plagued by yearning love’. Nabíl of Qá'in was "restless, had no caution, patience or reserve."(p.51) Shah Muhammad-Amín "had no peace" because of the love that smouldered in his heart and because he "was continuously in flight."(p.46) ‘Abdu'l-Bahá describes this restless personality, one of a fascinating galaxy of men He came to know.
In a community that does a lot of talking it is interesting to read about: the quiet personality. The men and women who keep mostly to themselves, are 'inclined to solitude' and keep ‘silent at all times' are painted with deft brevity. You just about miss the whole point when He talks about their 'inner calm', that they are souls ‘at rest', 'souls who were at rest' or who remained in 'one and the same inner state'. Who are these quiet ones who do not fill the air with the sound of their own voice and seem to have an inner calm which seems to perplex us as we go about in our garrulous state? I don’t mean to oversimplify a complex issue, but clearly quiet people, people who don’t like going to meetings, indeed, virtually every conceiveable human type have a place in this new community we are building. I’m not sure the term ‘active members’ would have any meaning in the terminology offered to us by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in this delightful, this deceptively simple, book.
There is an element of restlessness in the human psyche that will not leave us in peace and incessantly asks for more, to see and have and understand, more and more and yet more. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá stresses not the unease or frustration, which so often is basically unhealthy, but the sense of urgency and eagerness in alliance with the inner life, the soul. It is a spiritual restlessness that urges us toward transcendence, toward 'that undiscovered country'. Táhirih was "restless and could not be still". There are a host of others in this book with the same quality. We meet such souls all over the Baha’i world as we travel from place to place: always on the go, can’t sit still. When you recognize them, at first, on the telephone, you often think ‘not them again!’ They are, like the quiet ones, part of that slowly evolving revolutionary force. It takes all kinds. For that is what people in community is about.
This boundless and surging motion within the soul is a vitality, a quicksilver life of the spirit. The impulse to express this spiritual restlessness is what ‘Abdu'l-Bahá again and again draws to our attention in his writings as he lays the foundation for what he knows will one day be incarnated in a new world Order. It is also a key quality required for the enormous job that the Bahá’í community is charged with: the spiritual conquest of the planet. The theme of restlessness and rest is also reflected in a similar contrast between:: Quiet People and Talkative Ones.
There seems to be a gregarious type and a type of person who keeps to himself. Ustád Báqir and Ustád Ahmad both kept to themselves and "away from friend and stranger alike"(p.73) Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí "mostly ... kept silent," and -kept company with no one, but stayed by himself most of the time, alone in his small refuge"(P.71) and, like 'Ali Najaf-Ábádí, some tended to be meek and quiet. There was, too, the more sociable person who, like Hájí ‘Abdu'lláh Najaf-Ábádí, "spent his days in friendly association with the other believers; " (p. 66) or, like Ismu'lláhu'l-Asdaq "taught cheerfully and with gaiety." (p.6) "How wonderful was his talk", says ‘Abdu'l-Bahá of Nabíl of Qá'in, "how attractive his society."(p.53)
These personality dichotomies, these opposites, continue on so many fronts. While there are occasionally impatient individuals in the main we find patience and long-suffering: There are many souls, in this medium length book of some 200 pages, who are long-suffering, invariably patient and forbearing. Contentment and a sense of thankfulness at whatever life hands out also seems to be part of this particular complex of traits. Although Muhammad-'Ali suffered hardship (p.79), his heart was at peace. "With patience, calm and contentment, but difficulty..." he engaged in his trade. 'Azím-i-Tafríshí "was never despondent" (P.155). A basic serenity and calm, a contentment and acceptance characterises believer after believer. The long years of tribulation and isolation of Mishkín-Qalam was the very means to his own survival. He developed a delightful sense of humour which ‘Abdu’l-Baha places some emphasis on in his characterization of people in community and its survival. I often think what ‘Abdu’l-Baha is doing is describing the parameters for our own survival and happiness in community life. They were difficult times the forty years from 1852 to 1892, no easier for them than for us.
Mishkin-Qalam is the hallmark of the suffering artist-soul within us all, striving for sincerity. He has a sense of humour, it would appear, not unlike many Australians we meet today who are the masters of the self-putdown. It certainly keeps the ego manageable, at least ostensibly. It is something to watch for in the Australian personality which people from other countries often misinterpret.
‘Abdu'l-Bahá knew that great sacrifices would be required to build the new Order and He laid bare before us these many sketches of souls who gave their all, broke the patterns of their lives, patterns which had often imprisoned them, and hastened to the Most Great Prison. So, too, is this our task: to get out of the prisons of our making. What is the Most Great Prison we are trying to get in? It seems to me we are often trying ‘to escape’. I know: I’m a master at escaping. Pioneers are often the greatest escape artists, to use the symbolism of the prison which ‘Abdu’l-Baha uses literally.
The following characteristic is found again and again: the devotional attitude. Individuals keep "vigils most of the night" (p.67), dwell "continually on God, remain submerged in supplications and prayers" (p.43) and always voice their thanks (p.31) "Day and night" Mírzá Mustafa remained in a state of prayer" (P.149) An other characteristic is: joyfulness and ecstacy. Joy is not an uncommon word in the lexicon of characteristics which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses to describe the many men he got to know over the years. Joyously an Afnán left Persia; the constantly joyful condition of Ustád Báqir and Ustád Ahmad are but two examples. Ecstasy is also a word which appears not infrequently. The sheer ecstasy of Nabíl-i-Zarandí while he wrote and the "happy, carefree and light of heart" nature of' the intellectually inclined Afnán, are only two of' the many examples of a state of being, a state of day-to-day existence that was filled with an unquestionable happiness. These are just a few of the many qualities which are placed before us. People who are trying to get into prison; people who have left their homes. The metaphor of ‘journey of travelling’ is everywhere apparent.
The journey is an infinite one. The wayfarer must endlessly travel if he is to attain the object of his quest. Within the context of the lives of these 77 people the journey's end was ‘Akká, from I868 to I892, or Iraq, from I852 to I863, or Constantinople or Adrianople in the years I863 to I868. These individuals would find somewhere to live near His presence, near the Most Great Prison, near the Friend. Some would return to their home: some would be sent out on yet another journey and others would remain near their Lord. All were transformed in various ways.
Written in 1915, in the evening of his life, Memorials of the Faithful was not published until 1924, three years after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing. The book was out of print for many years, but was republished in the USA in 1971. Eighty-five years after He wrote the book, more than seventy five years after His passing, the Bahá'í World is coming to appreciate this remarkable testimony to the affect a manifestation of God had on ordinary men and women. That they became far from ordinary was due to Bahá'u'lláh. That we can see their perfections was due to the eye of the Master, an eye which did not behold imperfections. For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was unquestionably easy to please; He enjoyed the rich variety of human types and His observant eye was both warm and tender.
As Marzieh Gail states, this is "a book of prototypes...a kind of testament of values endorsed and willed to us." These values can also be found all around us in the Bahá'í community today, if we but cultivate that same observant eye, that same sin-covering and loving perception that made ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the Master which He was. For it is this quality of acceptance, of non-judgementalism as psychologists call it, combined with humour and letting people be whoever they are and whatever they are which is the source of our own community happiness and survival in these the earliest days of community building to which we are all being called as the millennium opens in the months and years ahead. Memorials of the Faithful has a great deal to offer us would-be builders of relationships, community and a World Order. Don’t let the long names and the pithy descriptions that ‘Abdu’l-Baha uses put you off. He probably would have given us more but, in the evening of His life, after His western tour, my guess is that He was worn out. It was the last book He gave us. Only the Tablets of the Divine Plan remained and these letters gave us a Plan in which to put all the good advice He’d given us in Memorials to the Faithful. Like the wisdom of The Will and Testament, though, it may take us a century of more to grasp the implications of this surprisingly subtle and, deceptively simple, book.
SINGING OF 'THE JUDGEMENT DAY'
After a long siege from various physical and emotional ailments, Judy Garland was hospitalised in 1959. I became a Baha'i that year. Garland was the most famous female entertainer during the years of the second epoch of the Formative Age, 1944-1963. She had been the image of the "typical American teenager"1 when my mother became a Baha'i in 1953. Garland died in 1969 from an overdose of sleeping pills, six years after the democratic theocracy at the base of the Baha'i system had been established, that 'blissful consummation' referred to by Daniel.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Stephen Harvey in Colliers Encyclopedia, Vol 10, pp.579-80; 2 See Shoghi Effendi, God passes by, 1957, p.151.
I was growing up, Judy,
when you were winning
all those accolades. And...
when I became a Baha'i
you were at the bottom
of the barrel and you rolled
in and out of that barrel until
you died ten years later,
alone and desolate, a world
away from your kids and a
million miles away from your
inner self which you never
found in your roller-coaster
ride through fame and glory.
But along the way you tried
to teach us how to be happy,
to put on our best show as we
all got ready for that judgement
day1 which was spreading around
the world during your life2 and ours
in those years in the first decades,
the very start of this Formative Age.
1Judy sang about this 'judgement day' but she, like the wider society in which she sang and performed, had no idea of its relation to this new religion, the Baha'i Faith.
2Judy Garland's life, 1922-1969, occupied the years of the first half century of the Formative Age(1921-1971), especially during her years of success after 1935 when the teaching Plans began to unfold and extend the nucleus and pattern of a new World Order which had just been given its 'first architectural shaping' by Shoghi Effendi based on principles laid down by his Grandfather, Baha'u'llah.
18 June 2001
DEFINING OUR WORLD, THEN
A civilization must have a religion. People are doomed to be dissatisfied because they have lost sight of a higher moral order, a higher law and have accepted, instead, a secular image of man devoid of spiritual principles and a sense of order. Individuals thus become isolated and a prey to their own suspicions; and when a sudden emergency comes people find themselves unsupported by clear convictions that transcend the present, the immediate, the personal. So thought America’s, arguably best writer between the wars, Walter Lippman. The Baha’i community’s best writer, at that same time, had some similar views. This poem explores some similarities and differences between these men back then.-Ron Price, a summary of some notes on Walter Lipppman and the American Century, Ronald Steel, Little, Brown and Co., 1980.
Walter, while you were retreating
to a pool of silence to speculate
on a longer past and a longer future,1
he was struggling---for he was always
struggling---with a series of unhesitating
impulses and endless pondering, always
there was the pondering. He was like a
broken reed with occasional energetic
scintillations. Walter, you helped your
countrymen adjust to your world, as
difficult as it was to interpret, while he
did the same: defined their world, their
Faith, their cosmogony, their theatre,
their role. You both described and
communicated their experience, to be
vividly remembered, to give precision
and distinguishability to ideas with those
brilliant flashes of insight and illumination.
24 January 1999
A SINGLE UNBROKEN PROCESS
Richard Eckersley, a Professor at the Australian National University and its National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, was expressing his reservations about society's optimism and emphasis on, growth, on research and development, on innovation in our industrial world and on our 'religion' of science and technology. This optimism is all part of humanity's belief that "through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances" it will be possible to "bend the conditions of human life into conformity with prevailing human desires."1 -Ron Price with thanks to "The Science Show," ABC Radio National, 7 July 2001 and 1 Century of Light, The Universal House of Justice, Baha'i World Centre, 2001, p.i.
What do we have now out there?
Ideological upheavals, exhausted,
and a growing sense of the spiritual
reality of humankind: surrounding,
as it does, the most candid encounter
with the phenomenon of Divine Revelation.
The agents of a single, unbroken process
throughout history, awakening humanity
to its potentialities. Without them we would
be captives of instinct and culture—and this
new social paradigm could not take shape.
For the roots of faith have been severed;
an immense chasm in our ordered life,
as human consciousness is being prepared
for the race's unification as a species.1
1 Baha'i International Community, Office of Public Information, Baha'u'llah, 1991, NY.
8 July 2001
Australian poet Bruce Dawe wrote a poem called "Canberra 1990" in which he drew a parallel between the decline of the great civilization of Athens in the fifth century BC and the decline of our own, particularly that part in Australia. The poem below makes a similar statement on the eve of a referendum regarding whether Australia should become a republic. Instead of Dawe’s pessimism, though, the author of this poem, strikes a note of optimism, without telling us exactly the basis for his optimism.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999; and thanks to Bruce Dawe, Mortal Instuments: Poems 1990-1995, Longman House, Melbourne, 1995, pp.29-30.
When the gap between us
and the voice from Canberra,
Washington, Rome or London
is so wide that we no longer
believe in its truths; when its
bewildering complexities have
ceased to engage our minds
and loud cries of lamentation
are heard on all sides, we know
that the air in the temples of
our land is noxious and quite
beyond repair.....But the game
goes on night after night as if
something serious was involved
in the fight, something we should
consider and ponder, something
we should think about and wonder.
And, of course, some still do; some
take what comes out of that multitudinous
voice and give it a credence as if it really
mattered. While for millions of people
throughout the West the game ended
long ago and there is no more test.
It’s really just a matter of time before
some new system replaces this old rhyme
and its song and dance, but it will take its time.
New systems are not found on trees.
They tend to blow slowly first,
among the branches and leaves
before they are handed the keys
to the game, what some call a kingdom.
And by then a tempest will have blown
out the roots of our old tottering system,
its tenrils and shoots without which
no system can long endure.
It’s been blowing for years now
this tempest and storm. It will leave
no stone unturned as that new system
is born and grows slowly unbeknownst.
16 October 1999
DEALING WITH THEBABBLE
In any autobiographical poetry it is important that the poet trys to make something of the inexhaustible babble of cultures, unfamiliar discourses and the myriad effects of estrangement when they are jumbled together in the explosive mix, the inextricable collage in which they are today. We seek a common humanity in the midst of this galimaufery. In the process we seek ourselves.-Ron Price with thanks to Patrice Pavis, Theatre: Crossroads of Culture, Routledge, NY, 1992, p.1.
The world’s cultures appear
as eddies in the currents
of ideas and technologies.
Something of the ‘character’
and ‘temperament’ of
this historical period is
evident in my poetry in
which I draw material from
divers cultural sources and
synthesize it into coherent
and intelligible patterns while
viewing human nature as a
process and myself as responsible
to society and offering a service:
the evoking of images of experiences
as they are lived in our day to day life.1
1 Ludwig Tuman, "Toward a World Culture of the Arts", World Order, Summer 1975, pp.8-35.
19 October 1999
It seems to me that the friendship between two women is quite different from the friendship between two men. Men admit it themselves. They can’t seem to drop their defences in the way that women do. They feel it’s dangerous. They’ve been brought up to approach each other with extreme suspicion and to rank themselves, to be competitive. They feel they can’t show a bleeding heart to someone if it’s going to be crushed under their own armoured steel beneath someone else’s armoured steel.-Ron Price with thanks to Helen Garner in interview in Yacker: Australian Writers Talk About Their Work, Candida Baker, Picador, Sydney, 1986, pp.151-152.
Over the years, from 1974 to 1999, I’ve taught and worked in post-secondary educational institutions. I’ve taught mostly women during these years. I’ve also served in Baha’i communities where I’ve been very conscious of the line between an all-too-honest frankness and a moderate expression of views which is courteous, kind, but lacking in honesty. By the 1990s I found I was able to demonstrate an etiquette of expression that was both honest and courteous in most situations, usually in schools; and in the Baha’i community, too, I got the balance right but it was difficult to achieve and it was not always achieved. In being honest I sometimes lost the etiquette and, combined with a fatigue of the spirit, it was necessary to withdrawal from most activities essential for a time. It may have been that this withdrawal was mainly due to talking and listening forty hours a week in my professional teaching job and many more in my family and community life; by 1999 I had had an excess of speech.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
Friendship seems to have become
something serendipitous, thriving
like a wild flower, unpredictable,
a picking up where you left off
and liking it, often after many years,
heart to heart, enough to fertilize
the soul but not measureable
by hours or time spent together.
You could liken it to the return of spring,
walking through a garden you’d been in
long ago or even just yesterday. Knowing
about proximity and distance so as not to
burden the spirit or make it feel left out,
a certain kind of intimacy in groups, in dyads
and tryads and how to cultivate an ease of presence.
Its having someone to talk to
when you really do want to talk.
But knowing that: you can never have it all,
never lose that separateness, that necessary
aloneness that makes for sanity amidst
the myriad of strangers that is our experience
of living and having our being in the world.
24 October 1999
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth,
from earth to heaven;
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
-Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
We had lots of these: east, west,
north, south--along the coast---
the Batavia in 1629, the Orpheus 1863,
grounded on the unseen, unknown,
storms, waves to drown the best of sailors--
out for adventure, experience,
good old human greed. Way back then
for hundreds of years, men, wrecked
on this enormous island continent and others.
Now, in different ways, a different conquest
tests the human brain and heart
to breaking point with such complexity,
to stagger the finest brains, intuiters,
in this brontisaurissmus society,
leaving millions strung out, wrung out,
endlessly sorting the flotsam and jetsam
of a crazy world that has been daignosed
a million times by a million men
in this bewildered, agonized
and seemingly helpless world,
as the tempest blows: unprecedented,
unpredictable--but unimaginably glorious
in its ultimate consequences, as it scowers
the face of the earth and harrows up
the souls of its inhabitants.
Often seductive, unobtrusive, cancerous even,
it blows into the very sinews of our hearts
and we call it a summer breeze; our vessels
never really sail on the Ancient Sea,
never really search for gold, new lands,
or some unknown place far from home
with an excitement that would thrill
our hearts to the uttermost: for the deluge,
folks, the deluge insinuates itself
unbeknownst over centuries, decades,
years and we don’t know where we are
or where we’ve been and-going nowhere-
we sink to the bottom of the sea
drowned in an ocean of misbelief,
skepticism, cynicism and so many isms
that will one day be wasms
while our rafters rot and swell
with barnacles from here to eternity.
1 October 1995
DRY GRASS AND THE KINGDOM
Poetry can communicate the actual quality of experience with a subtlety and precision approachable by no other means. -F.R. Leavis, New Bearings in English Poetry.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. -R.M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 17 February 1903.
I can remember those days when I was young,
dry grass under a maple tree where we sat
in summer and wondered what to do on
long hot days when school was out.
You could only play so much baseball
and it was too early to go swimming.
We all sat there: George, Benny, Ken Pizer.
Life had hardly started yet--1953--
the beginning of an age, a Kingdom,
celebrated with Monopoly, cards, marbles,
swimming and endless sittings under this tree.
We were not troubled by war, women or
the wiles and wickednesses of the world.
Scientific discoveries interested us not,
as long as we could watch our television
programs at the end of the day and
our parents didn’t argue or get in our road.
Secret disquietudes, inner lonelinesses,
the tensions of a society on the edge
of self-destruction did not touch us
on this dry grass under the maple tree.
The woman portrayed below I have never met. She is a composite of several I, of necessity, endured while serving on Local Spiritual Assemblies. It could very well have been a man, although I must confess to never having been burned alive as I was by the several women whose composite picture is portrayed below. Often enthusiastic, often devout believers, they had qualities which brought out the worst in me. Their passionate attachment to the Cause I admired. I thank them for teaching me the limits of my patience and love and taking me off my own pedestal. -Ron Price, 4:25 pm, Saturday, 30 December 1995, Rivervale, Western Australia.
She was one of those women you run into
from time to time, her life all over the place,
up-and-down, topsy-turvy, like one of those
long roots that go out from a tree or a character
from of a Fitzgerald novel: her life all anguish,
fuss and a thread of torture down the centre----
but still she was organized, held her family
together and, if not sexy, always attractive
at least to me as I headed into late middle age
and visited her from time to time obsessed as I
was to write a poetry of desire with a quest set
in motion by one of beauty’s infinite forms.
At first you thought it was because of the colossal
vitality of her idealism, her beliefs, her heightened
sensitivity to their mass promise side by side of its
unattainability and always the magic affluence of
advanced capitalism in the mixmaster of her lack
of any genuine understanding. But she was persistent
and her work ethic delivered enough of the time to
overcome the possible dread of the moment......
There was a restlessness in her frenetic successes
and a tone of the fabulous, the impressive and the
wining in the energizing of her aspirations; indeed,
hers was an epic—though she would never admit it
or see it as such—would downplay any such label or
assignation---in a world of glamour, exuberance,
rebellion, horror and tragedy seemingly abandoned
by God, but not by her---domesticity was no joke
for her and motherhood no curse for this battler
par excellence. She had dealt with tantrums and
world infidelities enough to mount her own scandal
sheet. I often theorized that hers was a too rigid
puritanism in conflict with a permissive society
producing over-heated emotions, always on fire,
boiling away. She was like judge and jury and
the court was always in session. She gnawed
away as if at a bone; if I stayed around too long,
I bled. I walked away with my brain as addled as
a spagetti dish with names jumping out of my ears
feeling: free at last, free at last, thank God
Almighty, I’m free at last. She was a big girl,
as big as her heart which was always full to
overflowing, a certain buxom beauty which I
did not find unattractive, although age I must say,
was starting to tarnish the package. She would
never discard mortality lightly, her lifetime of
utterance, enough to fill several ocean liners.
I watched her in those precariously balanced,
ragged circles, in lounge rooms, plunge assembled
members into a chasm from which even the delicate
calm of the Book passed from hand to hand could
not reweave the disciplining cord that bound us together.
We would again assault the humbling summit, past fault
and fissure, so painful it was, yet again, to be in a chasm
of such utter confusion. Deeper and deeper we would
descend until someone cracked on the rock’s edge and,
in tears or anger, drop their bundle. A catalyst of terror,
she always held her place. I tell you, this girl was dangerous.
30 December 1995
COMMENT ON THE EVOLUTION OF THIS POETRY
I wrote the following essay four years after beginning to write poetry seriously(1992-1996) in order to make some statement, largely for my own understanding and reflection, on how it was evolving at what was then an early stage of my development as a writer of poetry. I felt a need to articulate where I was at, where I had been and where I was going in this literary form that was beginning to occupy such an important place in my day-to-day life. I was beginning to see the light of retirement, the light at the end of the tunnel of my days of full-time employment, an employment which was bringing to my mind and emotions an exhaustion. When added to the fatigue, the tedium vitae of my social and Baha’i community life, this exhaustion was sucking out the last and remaining juices of my psyche.
Until I was 23 I concentrated on getting an education and qualifications so I could enter the job market, the professions. This was a slow and complex process. Words were the only things I felt strong affinities for, besides people; but no obvious talents of significance emerged. From 1967 to 1982 I worked mostly as a teacher, suffered four hypomanic episodes, became settled into a first and then a second marriage, lived among Aboriginals and Eskimos and moved to various places in Australia. By 1992, after 25 years of communicating with students, trying to expand and harmonize Baha’i communities and my personal life, I began to turn to poetry as a way of communicating with myself, with my inner life and private character with as much specificity and detail as I was capable. The pull to writing, to poetry, as the key means of achieving this inner communication, seemed overwhelming. Perhaps this was to be my reward for thirty years of pioneering.
I tried, as far as I was able, to make what I wrote accessible, understandable, readable to others. Several things made this process difficult: the problem of publishing and without publishing 99.9% of the world would have no access at all to what I wrote; the dominantly religious orientation to what I wrote made it irrelevant to the dominant secular society of which I was a part; most people found poetry either uninteresting or in some way or other a genre that did not speak to them with much meaning; those that did read my poetry, at least in these earliest years of my writing, found it difficult to understand, even after I had simplified it as far as it was possible to do so; those that did understand it fell into two categories: one that did not like it and one that did. Keeping all of these factors in mind made me disinclined to want to share it, explain it or promote it with much enthusiasm. Any enthusiasm I did have for publishing was nipped in the bud by the several Baha’i publishing houses which either expressed no interest or felt it was not timely to publish since the market for poetry was too small. I did not see myself in the same league as Roger White. If only a few appreciated him, fewer would appreciate me I thought to myself. Publishing one’s own material was still too costly. Perhaps I’d put it on Internet which had just begun to be available for writers.
And so I took a fundamentally different tack to Roger White and to other Baha’i poets whom I saw publishing their own work in small volumes which by the 1990s were beginning to dot the intellectual and artistic horizon of the Baha’i community. After nearly two years of sending copies of my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library I became more than a little conscious that my original autobiography, Pioneering Over Three Epochs(1), which I had already sent to this library early in 1993, was being added to at a much more profound level of insight and comment in this poetry I was writing than was my simple narrative. I had no idea how to develop that narrative from the brief 75 page statement I had completed two years before. This poetry, subsumed under an autobiographical label and housed in my home library, would serve as an archival statement for future generations, I mused to myself. I had developed a keen interest in receiving the assistance of holy souls after their ascension, in the dozen or so years from 1980 to 1992, and I would aim to communicate with those yet unborn through these works which were beginning to tumble from my pen. Any communicating of my poetry that got done with those among my contemporaries I came to see as a bonus.
I occasionally got a poem published, perhaps half a dozen from the over two thousand I had written from September 1992 to September 1995. Occasionally I gave one, a few or a booklet to a friend, an interested inquirer, or an institution, in response to an expressed interest. But I became much more enamoured by the process than the content; the process was so personally enriching, invigorating and satisfying that I came to be less and less interested in promotion which, I concluded, would not be very successful no matter how much energy I poured into the act of soliciting the interest of others. I felt as if I was, to use Rilke’s metaphor, turning my memories and impressions into blood. Perhaps it was partly the sense of reliving past experiences, freshly minted as it were. Perhaps it was the struggle to transmute personal experience into rich, universal statements, insights and comment that I became entranced with; or the translation of knowledge into feeling and feeling into knowledge; perhaps I actually received assistance from holy souls; perhaps I would in fact provide a rich reservoir of archival poetry for some future age, a reservoir that would illumine these days before the Lesser Peace and would leave traces that would last forever. It was worth taking the shot. The goal was genuinely awe-inspiring and, although I’d never know if I succeeded, at least this side of the grave, it satisfied my thrill-seeking propensities.
Much of my work over the decades in the Administrative Order as a pioneer on the homefront and overseas had been quite a buzz; indeed, I often felt like a secret-agent man offering unobtrusively and as seductively as I could, the "fresh leaves, the bossoms and fruits of consecrated joy."(2) But by 1992, I needed a new outlet, a new channel, for this elixir. And even if noone ever read my poetry, it gave me great joy to write it. I found a source of joy and I tried to give it a voice. It was like an enormous step-up transformer to my inner life and private experience, quite beyond anything I had ever known. As Robert Louis Stevenson said once: "to miss the joy is to miss all."(3)
However one defines or expresses this process, one thing stood out. I had come at last to discover what Shoghi Effendi had meant when he emphasized the one thing that would ensure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause. The extent to which one’s inner life and private character mirrored forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Baha’u’llah. I was conscious of both my abasement and my glory. I was defining that inner life and what I wrote was clearly one definition, or many definitions, of the who that I was. There was a new freshness in the air after some stern tests in Baha’i community life, my personal life and my professional life, some of which I passed and some of which I did not.
I keep an eye, now, on that reader whom I hope will understand. I imagine him or her at some distant decade. But the other eye I close to the world and all that is therein. That eye on the reader I also try to open to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved, as Baha’u’llah puts it. With that open eye I wait, I listen, I ponder, until something shines, stirs, like an emerging spectacle of blessedness. Something in my inner life unfolds, some finely tempered sword comes out of its sheath and sometimes something becomes resplendent and manifest. I ensure that this manifest splendour gets into the Baha’i World Centre Library. Those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence may ensure that the publication of this poetry is endlessly deferred and that it becomes a simple archival specimen read by a few. What is a manifest splendour to one person is dust and ashes to someone else.
If a future age finds here a forcible expression of the inescapable and massive realities of our moral and spiritual life in these early epochs of the Formative Age, as seen through the experience of one international Baha’i pioneer; if it sees a type of firm meditativeness, a supple and articulate historical sense; if it sees the awkward and tangled reality of our times laid out in some of their dark and gleaming colours for everyone to interpret according to their abilities; if what is written here helps that age overcome the power of the past to elude the net of language, then what is found here may play some small and, as yet, indefinable part. I think the exercise if definitely worth the shot.
(1) a narrative sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library in April of 1993; poetry sent in January 1994 and periodically after that date; and essays and journal material also sent in 1994 and 1995. Together and with future additions they make the book Pioneering Over Three Epochs.
(2) ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, US, 1975, p.116.
(3) Robert Louis Stevenson, in Christopher Isherwood: Where Joy Resides, Don Bechardy and James Wite, eds., Methuen, London, 1989, .v.
4 December 1995
I have several large files filled with quotations that relate to writing and the writing process. Here is one quotation that had the beginnings of a poem attached to it--but no completed poem resulted.
The artist loves, above all else, life at peace with itself. The function of the creative impulse is to bring into the world shining examples of peace that are "monuments of unageing intellect." These shining forms put limits on our chaotic nighttime fears and give form to our hopes. With the help of love, work and religion they make reality continually bearable. -Mark Schorer, The World We Imagine: Selected Essays, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1968(1948), p.402.
The following statement that I wrote on "notebooks" will give readers an idea of how I choose books. Since this statement covers a period of several decades the question of how I choose books will be covered "by implication" rather than some direct set of criteria. Anyway, I hope this statement provides useful perspectives on notebooks in my life for some readers at this site.
NOTEBOOKS: GENERAL OVERVIEW OF A LIFETIME OF COLLECTING
In the nearly sixty years that I have gathered my writing into notebooks the writing has fallen into three general categories: school, job and personal-non-school/job. The first category was created in the years 1949 to 1988 in primary, secondary and tertiary education and then external studies programs(1973-1988). From the hundreds of notebooks created in these years only two remain. From the hundreds created in the dozens of jobs I have had the only ones remaining are the approximately 30 files/notebooks from my last job at Thornlie College, a Technical College in Western Australia. These notebooks from several of the social sciences and humanities were complied when I taught a variety of subjects there.
The final category of notebooks now in my possession are what I would term personal. For the most part they are connected with my involvement, now over half a century, with the Baha'i Faith. They were created not for use in a place of employment, not for my role as a teacher or a school system. They were created for my own use in the work I do as a Baha’i or for my personal use as a writer and poet. I have been gathering resources now for forty years, 1967-2007, but only seriously for my life as a writer for the last twenty-five, 1982-2007. I have been fine-tuning my collection of notebooks in the last ten years, 1997-2007. I now have some 300+ notebooks covering millions of words and many subjects and topics. These notebooks now serve and will serve as an important part of the base for my many writing projects in these early years of late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80++). I rarely read a book or even part of a book which does not involve some exercise in note-taking, although I must say that many people over the years have loaned me books that were of little value to me personally and note-taking was rarely involved. I should add too that, since I gave up teaching English Literature in 1994, I rarely read fiction.
Little did I know when I created my first notebook at the mid-point in the twentieth century that fifty-five years later notebooks would come to occupy such an important place in my daily life. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 23 February, 2007.
That's all folks!
Karl Marx hand-copied whole passages of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus into his Notebooks. But the significance of the thought of Spinoza is much less clear than the fact of the copying of the passages.1 The massive quantities of copied material in my Notebooks, two-ring binders and arch-lever files now numbering over 300, are much easier to trace for the significances of the thought of various authors if the reader sifts the entire oeuvre and any specific writer through the collirium of the Baha’i teachings. For this is Price’s sifting mechanism. That is a given. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Eugene Holland, " Spinoza and Marx," Cultural Logic, 2002; and Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, January 11th, 2004(revised 23/9/07)
I love reading the Notebooks of poets. Poets are curious critters and it is a pleasure to relax with the jottings and musings of other practitioners.-Anselm Hollo in The Poet’s Notebook: Excerpts from the Notebooks of 26 American Poets, W.W. orton and Co., NY, editor, Stephen Kuusisto, et al., 1995.
SOME WAITING PLACE
A poet must chart a way through the worlds of life and art, linking them together, making them cohere. Each poem is a rising voyage into the blank spaces of a map. Most people don’t know what they want to have happen, what they are moving toward, if anything. The blank spaces remain blank. A poet gets outside himself and makes the map, charts new territories quite unknown and names old places that are familiar, in new ways. Partly it is a simple desire for knowledge and a consequent living with this knowledge on many levels, being intimate with it, severe with it, baffled by it and in love with it. -Ron Price with appreciation to James Dickie in Night Hurdling: Poems, Essays, Conversations, Commencements and Afterwards, Bruccoli Clark, Columbia UP, NY, 1983, pp. 110-190.
We first read it in Fort William and again
on the plane going home. I remember
because you shone like the sun in white with
your golden hair and Fort William was a
long way from home, then, my longest trip
and I was intense, so intense I burned up,
eventually, before being reborn as a moon,
a star, or just another sun to travel across the
world and settle, as if, in another galaxy.
We first read it, all fourteen pages, the longest
letter we’d received from anyone, even an
institution we were just getting to know in
those earliest of the early years when a world
wide proclamation was on the horizon and we
were about to experience our largest influx of
youth ever in the west while hippies and long
hair, rock music and flowers and a counter culture
made for a special receptivity, openness to this Force.
We first read about perpetual movement, like the
ceaseless surge of the sea; the unknown sea of
proclamation, the meaning of deepening, the
organic change in the structure of society as
subsidiary adjustment in what for us was a
thrilling epistolary connection that helped
launch us, some of us, onto a sea of pioneering,
of proclaiming, of movement to places where we
learned who we were and spent, drop by drop,
the waters of life until we dried out, burnt out,
kept on giving more from the dry cauldrons and
found some golden seam of joy so rich it was like
finding a fountain of spiritual youth, some waiting
place for the land of lights, the mysterious
Kingdom in an assemblage of splendours.
3 May 1996
A SONG WHICH WILL NEVER END
Civilization implies the graceful relation of all varieties of experience to a central humane system of thought. Poets should strive to be independent, to see things through their own eyes. In this way they will play their part in keeping civilization alive. As disseminators of truth they will serve as guiding forces in society. The poets themselves are guided by knowledge and intuition, by the love of truth, a type of revelation. What Graves required was some grand poetic scheme within that central humane system of thought. -Ron Price with thanks to Miranda Seymour, Robert Graves: Life on the Edge, Doubleday, London, 1995, pp. 305-318.
What I require is some grand scheme,
some central, humane, system of thought.
Indeed, I could not compose what are coming
to be thousands of pieces of truth if I did not have
some synthesizing, unifying centre, some whole,
to capture my life, to freeze the moment,
to tell of the truth in all its relative-
in its electrical responsiveness,
in the dark and the haphazardness
of intensifyied experience which
seems to give me some indefineable sense
of perpetual possibility while words cluster
like chromosomes, with a pull of gravity
and I sail across the seas singing
my endlessly fragmented cantos,
a song which I know will never end.
11 June 1996
I CAN NOT SPEAK TOO HIGHLY
Thus a poetry which glorifies(and glorification is one of the great purposes of poetry), glorifies itself, its writer, the group whose consciousness gave it birth, the culture, the species of its begetting-is what we lack, and what...we desperately need. -Frederick Turner, "Mighty Poets in their Misery Dead: A Polemic on the Contemporary Poetic Scene", Poets After Modernism, editor, Robert McDowell, Story Line Press, 1991, p.368.
I can not speak too highly of this
recent revolutionary force that goes
to the very root of our society and
creates a new basis for faith, for
without faith no society can long endure.
I can not speak too highly of this
historical creation which has slowly
arisen out of the chaos of a dieing age
and which has raised a monument of
beauty to the progress of an Order.
I can not speak too highly of this
source of wisdom and utterance,
compared to its roses all other
flowers are but thorns and whose
fragrance lifts the souls of men.
I can not speak too highly of the
wondrous vision found here that
excites and invigorates the mind
and heart so that we may labour
serenely, confidently and forever.
11 May 1996
The American poet William Carlos William’s used the term locality or ground and expressed his agreement with Edgar Allen Poe that this locality or ground was to be acquired by the "whole insistence in writing upon method in opposition to a nameless rapture over nature. . . with a gross rural sap, he wanted a lean style, rapid as a hunter and with an aim as sure — Find the ground, on your feet or on your belly. . . . He counsels writers to borrow nothing from the scene but to put all the weight of the effort into the WRITING." For me, for my written expression, this locality or ground in either my verse or my prose was not easily attained. The evolution of my oeuvre since the 1960s and its present style here in Pioneering Over Four Epochs reveals, to me if not readers, my long struggle to capture the complex interrelationships between self, society and the sacred.
The time has been ripe in these epochs of a post-WW2 world to articulate questions about the complex interdependence of internationalism, nationalism and locality and the critical need for a basis for communitas communitatum and to infuse literature and social analysis with a new vocabulary, if that vocabulary is to be relevant. After several thousand years in which the world has been the private preserve of a small leisured class, something that can truly be called humanity is being born and a world society fit for human beings to live in. Like many writers and thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs, in these epochs of my life, I have found that there is a world and a need towards which I can direct my loyalty and whatever skills, by some unmerited grace, with which I have been endowed.
PREFACE TO THE SIXTH EDITION OF MY MEMOIRS:
On 19 January 1984 in the middle of the oppressive heat of that region’s summer. I had just received a copy of my maternal grandfather’s autobiography from a cousin in Canada. This autobiography was not the record of his entire life, just the part from his birth in England in 1872 to his marriage in 1901 in Hamilton Canada. I had browsed through but not read this one-hundred thousand word 400 page double-spaced narrative written "about 1921-1923," by an autodidact, a self-educated man, when he was fifty years of age. As my grandfather indicated in 1953 when he wrote a brief preface to that work while living in Burlington Ontario five years before his death, it was his hope that his story would "arouse interest." As I write this preface to the sixth edition of my autobiography or, more properly, this epic literary work, on 21 September 2007, my hope is that this work will also arouse interest. It is the vernal equinox today as I write these words here in Australia and, hopefully, an auspicious beginning to this work for future readers.
I had no idea when I made that first diary entry in January 1984 that this literary beginning would become by insensible and sensible degrees an epic work containing: a five volume journal, a body of 6500 prose-poems; a collection of 5000 letters, emails and posts on the internet; a second collection of over 300 notebooks; a dozen unsuccessful attempts at a novel and; finally, in this narrative of 2600 pages, a total oeuvre that seems appropriate to refer to as an epic—an epic with a trilogy of concerns: man, society, religion as well as my own life with both its significant and insignificant aspects.
I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon, two of my favorite historians, acquired their initial conceptualization for what became their life’s magnum opus, their epic: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Eleven years ago in 1997, I began to think of writing an epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. My total poetic output by September 2000 I began to envisage in terms of an epic. The sheer size of my epic work makes a comparison and contrast with the poetic opus of Ezra Pound a useful one. Unlike the poet Ezra Pound’s epic poem Cantos which had its embryo as a prospective work as early as 1904, but did not find any concrete and published form until 1917, my poetry by 2000 I had come to define as epic, firstly in retrospect as I gradually came to see my individual poetic pieces as part of one immense epic opus; and secondly in prospect by the inclusion as the years went by of all future prose-poetic efforts.
Such was the way I came increasingly to see my epic opus, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in quite specific and overt degrees of understanding and clarity from 1997 to 2000. This concept of my work as epic began, then, in 1997, after seventeen years(1980-1997) of writing and recording my poetic output and five years(1992-1997) of an intense poetic production. At that point, in 1997, this epic covered a pioneering life of 35 years, a Baha’i life of 38 years and an additional 5 years when my association with the Baha’i Faith began while it was seen more as a Movement in the public eye than a world religion. In December 1999 I forwarded my 38th booklet of poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of my pioneering venture, 1962-1999. I entitled that booklet Epic. I continued to send my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library until 30 December 2000. Part of some desire for a connective tissue pervaded the poetry and prose of this international pioneer transforming, in the process, the animate and inanimate features of my distant and changing pioneer posts into a kindred space whose affective kernel or centre was Mt. Carmel, the Hill of God, the Terraces and the Arc which had just been completed.
This lengthening work evinces a pride, indeed, a veneration for the historical and cultural past of this new Faith. Part of my confidence and hope for the future derivesfrom this past. There is a practical use to the local association I give expression to in this work. It as a means of putting the youth and the adults in this new Cause in touch with the great citizens and noble deeds of the past, inspiring them with a direct personal interest in their heritage. Along the way, I hope I am helping to create memorials and monuments with an international ethos, with a resolution that is indispensable in performing the duties of a type of global citizen of the future. I trust this work serves, too, as a dedication, a natural piety, by which the present becomes spiritually linked with the past. This last point is, of course, an extension into the sphere of nationhood of Wordsworth’s near proverbial expression of desire for continuity in his own life— "The Child is father of the Man; / And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety" (1: 226). If this new Cause is to grow and mature in an integrated, organic, and humanistic manner, it must affirm the continuity between the present, the past, and the future. Countries that eschew militarism and imperialism need to venerate their cultural and national achievements if they are to maintain and foster the identity and independence of their citizens and with this an international spirit must inevitably sink deep into the recesses of the human heart and mind—for it is a question of survival.
As I say I had begun to see all of my poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print or Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and, in its current and published form, written from 1922 to 1962, is a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of the great mass of my poetry. The conceptualization of my poetry as epic, though, came long after its beginnings, beginnings as far back as 1980 or possibly 1962 at the very start of my pioneering life. The view, the concept of my work as epic began, as I say above, as a partly retrospective exercise and partly a prospective one. The epic journey that was and is at the base of my poetic opus is not only a personal one of forty-five years in the realms of belief, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah which had 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 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 goal or aim of this work and the way my narrative imagination is engaged in this epic is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. this connection uses as its conduit society in all its varied manifestations. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference mixed with certainties of heart and spirit. 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. I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or 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, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds in battle of contemporary and historical significance & manifestation. My work and my life, the belief System I have been associated with for over half a century, involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause I have been identified with as it has expanded across the planet in my lifetime, in the second century of Baha’i history.
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, is found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in the inner life as much, if not more, than in the external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic literary work which tells of forty-six years of pioneering:1962-2008. But more importantly, the part I play, the mark I leave, is as an individual thread in the warp and weft that is the fabric and texture of the Baha’i community in its role as a society-building power. Indeed, the World Order lying enshrined in the teachings of Baha’u’llah that is "slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day civilization," is becoming an increasingly familiar participant in the life of society and this epic is but one of the multitude of manifestations of that participation.
My own life, my own epic, within this larger Baha’i epic, had its embryonic phase in the first stage of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan, 1937-1944, the first of three phases leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 as the last year of my teen age life was about to begin and as, most importantly, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding "that blissful consummation" when "the Divine Light shall flood the world from the East to the West."
In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. Calliope and her sister Muses, not a part of popular culture and slipping into some degree of obscurity among many of the multitude of cultural elites in our global world, were seen traditionally, at least in the west and among its cultural literati, as a source of artistic and creative inspiration. 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 artistic tradition and its many sources of creative expression among adherents of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, 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." 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." Much more could be said about inspiration from a Baha’i perspective, but this is sufficient for now in this brief description of the origins and purpose of this my poetic oeuvre.
Mary Gibson emphasizes in her study of Ezra Pound’s epic entitled Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians that one question was at the centre of The Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Bahai Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its earliest form in the last years of the second decade of the 20th century and the early years of the third, a form that was slowly coming to manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy. The wider world did not yet see these qualities in the as yet early phases of the development of this new System. But in my mind and heart, and certainly in my poetry, I found these qualities and gave them expression. I do not address an unusually cultivated class as Pound did leaving most readers feeling they were faced with a terminus of incoherent arrogance; nor is my work a game as Pound’s Cantos appeared to be to many readers with its absense of direction, but like Pound my work was that of a voyageur who was not sure where his work would end up. My work has been, like Pound’s, thrown up on a shore that I certainly had not planned to visit. Unlike Pound I do not yet have many enthusiasts or detractors of my work. And I may never have. Unlike Pound, my work, my epic, does not possess a disordered, indeed, chaotic structure and is not filled with unfathomable historical allusions; nor do I see my work as dull and verbose, although others may. If Pound’s was a "plotless epic with flux" mine has both plot and flux, but the accretion of detail and the piling up of memory on memory may, in the end, lose most readers. For now, I must live with this possibility.
There is no Christian myth to guide the reader through Pound’s epic, as there was through Dante’s Commedia six centuries before. Pound’s Cantos tell the story of the education of Ezra Pound as my epic tells the story of my education. In my case there is a guide, the Baha’i metaphorical interpretation of physical reality or, to put it simply, the Baha’i myth. At the heart, the centre, of my own epic, then, is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from my belief in this embryonic World Order of Baha’u’llah, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. My work is serious but not solemn and, like Eliot, I am not sure of the permanent value of what I have written. As Eliot put it: "I may have wasted my time and messed up my life for nothing." No man knoweth what his own end shall be, nor what the end of his writing shall be either, I hasten to add.
The poet Wallace Stevens’ expressed his sense of the epic "as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice. " What Stevens says here certainly gives expression to what is involved in this process, this sense of epic, for me. I am involved in the act of creating a prose-poem of the mind and trying to find out as I go along "what will suffice" to express what is in my mind and my heart, what is part and parcel of my beliefs and what occupies the knowledge base of the Baha’i Faith. This process is, without doubt, at the centre of this conceptual, this epistemological, this ontological, experiment of mine. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a sometimes softly, indirectly didactic, sometimes not-so-softly and quite directly didactic, intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape of this work was in no way predetermined. In many respects, both my long poem, the thousands of shorter poems and, indeed, all my writing is purely amateur and speculative philosophy, literary playfulness and autobiographical description that I try to integrate into Baha’i and secular history in a great many ways.
I feel I can make the claim that this work belongs to Australian history, at least part of it and I hope that the words of Mark Twain can apply to my work. "Australian history," Twain wrote, "is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is also so curious and strange, that it is itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened." I don’t like to see this work of mine associated with lies, but if there are any lies here perhaps if they are beautiful ones I suppose that’s an improvement over all the ugly ones I’ve heard in my life.
I attempt as I go along to affirm a wholeness within this epic design, a design which I like to see and refer to as a noetic integrator: a conceptual construction which serves to interpret large fields of reality and to transform experience and knowledge into attitude and belief. I have slowly developed this construction, this design, this tool and it is a product of decades of extensive and intensive effort to articulate a conceptual construction to deal with the long, complex and fragmented world in which I have lived my life and where a tempest seems to have been blowing across its several continents and its billions of inhabitants with an incredible force for decades,for over a century. I would hope that this construction, this epic design, will be of use to others. I would like to think that it will help others translate their potentiality into actuality--a process that Alfred North Whitehead called concresence. But I have no idea. (See: D. Jordan and D. Streets, "The Anisa Model," Young Children, vol.28, No.5, June 1973.)
I trust, too, that this epic work is not only a santimonious,openly pious, exploration of literary, practical and life-narrative themes but simultaneously a self-questioning of these themes and forms, actions and motivations. What I write should not be seen as fixed and final, but a lifelong attempt to polish and not pontificate, to guard against blind and idle imitation as well as against narrowness, rigidity and intolerance--tendencies toward fundamentalist habits of mind--in my own spiritual path.
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 imbeded 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. At the same time I have become more and more impressed, as my experience of the Bahai polity has become more seasoned, more mature, with what is for me "an ideal polity." It has come to "flood my consciousness" over the years and I could expatiate on its System and how it deals with the essential weaknesses of politics pointed out so long ago by Plato and Aristotle and which continue to this day. But that is not the purpose of this memoir.
This vision and this Movement, my role and my contribution, though, has not been so much to give people answers but, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes, to help pose, to stimulate the asking of, the right questions. People seem so very skeptical of answers and so playing the devil's advocate,so to speak, has seemed to me to have more mileage in the process of dialogue.(The Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate was a position established in the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 to argue against the canonization of a candidate) I have dealt with my most rooted assumptions and questioned my most secret and instinctive self and many of the assumptions of my secular society. In the process, I hope this exercise has led to an openness of mind, a humility of response that finds resolutions as much or more than solutions and that it carries the seeds of other questions. There is an interdependence of diverse points of view rather than some total vision here. There is, too, what Nakhjavani calls, "a Bahai aesthetic" which is a form of seeing that enables us to use our creative endeavours to reflect the motions in the heart, motions of search, striving, desire, devotion and love.
My style, my prose-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." It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain ground from the novelists; my reclaiming job is to tell of the history of the epochs I have lived through from a personal perspective, from the perspective of the multitude of traces both I and my coreligionists have left behind. In some ways these events don’t need reclaiming for the major and minor events of our time both within and without the Baha’i community are massively documented in more detail than ever before in history. Perhaps, though, in the same way that Pound’s work was, as Alan Ginsberg once put it, "the first articulate record and graph of the mind and emotions over a continuous fifty year period," my epic may provide a similar record and graph. But unlike Pound I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future with a distant vision of the oneness of humanity growing in the womb of this travailing age. I see humankind on a spiritual journey, the stages of which are marked by the advent of the Manifestations of God.