10. SHOGHI EFFENDI
Shoghi Effendi’s thirty-six year labour has been an inspiration of unparalleled importance in my life: first as a child(0-12), then as a junior youth(13-15), then as a Baha’i youth(15-18) and finally as a pioneer(18-64) in nearly five decades (1962-2008) of my life. Many of my poems I dedicate to him. They are written about him directly or involve his ideas and writings. Some are included below. I have also included two essays dedicated to Shoghi Effendi. One essay is about Edward Gibbon and his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Guardian's favorite book for leisure reading and a model of English expression. The other essay is about my personal experience of sociology which Shoghi Effendi encouraged Baha'is to study, among other subjects. Sociology was a subject that has helped me understand man and society even if it did not help me in the job-hunting game as, say, psychology, en-gineering, medicine or law would have done.
NO SIMPLE GRAIN OF SAND
At the very outset of the first Seven Year Plan in 1937 the poet, W.B. Yeats, wrote that "we have arrived at that point where in every civilization Caesar is killed…when personality is exhausted and that conscious, desirous, shaping, fate rules." Yeats said he had set out as a poet with the thought of putting his "very self into poetry." Over the years he said he came to think of himself "as something unmoving and silent" living in the middle of his own mind and body, a grain of sand. He was seeking, he said, "something unchanging and unmixed and always outside myself." He realized that he was a fleeting entity and he was really seeking "merely to lighten the mind of some burden of love or bitterness thrown up by the events of life." I find some of Yeats’ words apply to my raison d’etre for writing, my major intention is, rather, to reflect through my work, however inadequately, the Divine spirit breathed into the world by the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and the trustees of Their heritage. -Ron Price with thanks to W.B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions, MacMillan, NY, 1961, p. 271.
They were ready to launch,
after nearly a hundred years
of divine guidance,1
twenty-five years after
the Product of that mystic
intercourse had come West,
a service of such heroism
as to find no parallel in the
first Baha'i century.2
Yes, exhausted, again
and again and again as
the nadir of an old world
was bottoming out, bottoming out,
still bottoming out at this climacteric
of history; and Caesar is killed again3
and again before the world sees
the birth of the new, the Pearl of
great price, no simple grain of sand,
some mysterious concentrate of sublime beauty.
11844-1937. At the end of that Plan, in 1944, it was the end of 100 years of guidance.
2Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.279.
3Caesar was killed in 44 BC. He was, then and now, symbolic of a new Order, an Empire replacing the Roman Republic gradually after 31 BC. Within this Roman Empire a Pearl of great price grew and grew and so is this pattern repeating itself again, only this time the new Order is a global one, the civilization global and the Pearl is growing, growing, with a unique luster. This luster depends upon the reflection and refraction of light. This dependence of pearls on the reflection and refraction of light is true not only of pearls in the sea but of the Pearl of great price, Baha’u’llah, the most precious being to have walked on the Earth in our time, our age. Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a Pearl of Great Price and the Baha’is say Bahá’u’lláh has usherred in the Kingdom of God on Earth, a kingdom which began to take shape "officially and formally"through the work of Shoghi Effendi, whom they refer to as the priceless pearl, in 1953.(See: Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.351.)
29 November 2002
Edward Gibbon’s book Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was Shoghi Effendi’s favorite book. He kept it by his bedside and took great pleasure in the way Edward Gibbon used the English language. This book, wrote Harold Bond in his The Transformation of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire(1), has a unity of form which is nothing less than astonishing. It exemplifies a toil in which performance struggles after ideal and displays a respectful handling of divergent, unconnected and often unfocused materials. Awe, astonishment and wonder underpin a vision which does not impoverish awkward facts or the tangled reality of history. One can say the same of Shoghi Effendi’s massive corpus of writing and especially his God Passes By. Shoghi Effendi gazes on history and the Baha’i community and does not let the power of the past nor the complexities of community elude the net of his language. The journey for Gibbon, as it was for the Guardian, had a tedious and toilsome experiential axis to the point of an emotional and intellectual exhaustion. For both Gibbon and the Guardian their great historical work was their last. They did not return to writing history.
Both men felt their account of the immensity and wonder of what they saw, which they each termed the most dramatic and aweful scene in the history of humankind, was plainly inadequate. Although they were dealing with different periods of history, they drew heavily on the metaphor of theatre. Their performance was being enacted before an audience; the plot and the script was history and they themselves were the directors. Every page both men wrote is pregnant with the deepest observations and the most lively images.
This process continues in the work of the trustees of the Guardian’s legacy. The work on detailed definition and the evolution of grand design, which Shoghi Effendi elaborated over thirty-six years in the crucible of his interpretive mind, has now passed to the Universal House of Justice. Baha’u’llah’s purpose and the sum of Baha’i experience have become fused in this institution which one can utter with one breath: the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. The British historian, Macauley once said that we are "unable to estimate the grandeur of an object when there is no standard by which we can measure it."(2) We are in all probability too close to this apex of the Baha’i Order to gain any just, any appropriate, estimate of its grandeur. The goal of this institution, its ideal end, is to unify the thoughts of the believers in the essentials of their Faith. A secondary goal, but no less important, is to direct and guide the Baha’i community through the period of transformation in which it is moving. This goal is being achieved in a number of ways not the least of which is the continued building of the Administrative Order.
Thought, especially thought that finds its home in writing, is always related to action. It must serve some purpose. It must urge, inform, confirm, orient, or amplify action. Exegisis, as Glenford Mitchell once put it, "evolves with the community."(3) It is an exegisis that both satisfies and transcends "the need of the moment and thus serves the future as well as the present."(4) The drama of it all, the drama of the process of exegisis, became in the work of the Guardian, a tool of instruction. It heightened the horizon of the Baha’i community and intensified its vision. It gave meaning to history and assigned the prospect of exciting vistas to the future, to a time of humankind’s spiritual maturity. We find again, as Mitchell puts it, an unparalleled power of definition in the writings and vision of the Guardian. The Universal House of Justice has inherited the mantle of authority to interpret this vision to a degree not yet appreciated. Their letters, their messages and now their work at the "focal centre of divine illumination and power,"(5) in completing the Arc, in completing the work begun by the Guardian, has been superlative, inspirationalto the body of the believers who have laboured in recent decades to achieve the goals of a Movement which is claiming to be the emerging world religion in our time for a time on the horizon of history, just around the corner.
I would like, in this introductory essay, one of my first on the Guardian, to place the work at the Baha’i World Centre, the Arc Project, in some broader context. I have been sending booklets of poetry to the BWCL, some forty booklets and some two million words, poetry from the years 1987 to 2000, the years when the Arc Project has been moving toward completion. This poetry and my many essays and interviews say a great deal about the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. They offer some of that broad context that I am after here, a comment on that wondrous vision which the Guardian laid before our eyes and which the House of Justice is laying out in even more detail for us at the Baha’i World Centre in these passing years at the end of this century, this fin de siecle, we are rapidly moving through.6
(1) Harold Bond in The Transformation of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, David Womersley, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1988, p.215.
(2)Glenford Mitchell, "The Literature of 2Interpretation: Notes on the English Writings of Shoghi Effendi," World Order, Winter 1972-3, p.17.
(3) ibid., 24.
(5) Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, P.277.
(6) This essay is a revision of an early, first draft, 18 September 1995.
19 August 2000
A NEW HISTORY
Poetry needs a new seriousness. By this I mean a poet must be willing and able to face the full range of his experience, his fears and desires, with his full intelligence. To do this a poet must avoid conventionality and gentility, must purge himself of certain social attitudes, must eschew affectation and imitation and the loathesome adour which they attract. -Ron Price with thanks to A. Alvarez, Beyond All This Fiddle: Essays 1955-1967, Allen Lane, London, 1968, p.40; and Shoghi Effendi in Baha’i Studies, Vol.10, p.18.
It was a bewildered and bewildering
world that this Cause entered in the
West—and there was no turning back
from an intellectual dust, scattered on
all sides, unable to collect, cohere:1
poetry became tailored to the pulse-rate,
the breathing of the poet, ensuring a kind
of psychic myopia, exploration, a kind of
anything goes, where the serious artist
created his world and style from scratch
from a quite idiosyncratic view for whoever
wanted to read it. This was no massive
middle class entertainment complex with
its ideological commitment from a firm
land of common belief and agreement.
And so there has come, in these our years,
a striving for identity, to define the social reality
of our times in all its concreteness and abstraction,
in terms of poets’ internal clocks, aiming their
imagination at themselves-point blank, probing
dispassionately into the extremes of inner space,
trying to find that control, delicate artistic sensibility,
to handle intense subjectivity, to express with balance
and subtlety an inner life that is the basis for any poetic
success or failure, for a self-renewal that is sustaining
beyond any exhaustion, pain, anxiety, sturm und drang.
Perhaps these poems, in all their new and strange
variety, are a premonition of things to come,
the future foretold at a time of new beginnings,
the early years of this tenth stage of history, when
the spiritual and administrative Centre of humanity
is taking its beauteous first shaping. But this poet is
no unacknowledged social worker, no person aiming
to create a public life, create a pop-poem, something
Bohemian in his non-conformity. What I am doing,
over all these pioneering years, is trying to take an
often confused and precarious reality and transmute
it into artistic order and coherence; for these are early
days, even now, the onset of a universal, cosmic,
global, mystic, mysterious and inter-galactic history.
1These are words from Alexis de Toqueville(1830s) in Beyond all This Fiddle: Essays 1955-1967, A. Alvarez, Allen Lane, London, 1968, p.5; but increasingly in the twentieth century orthodoxies of all kinds were losing their holding power as centres of values and beliefs or, as W.B. Yeats put it succinctly, the centre will not, has not, hold/held.
13 August 1997
CREATING A WORLD
Films, like poems, are self-portraits and the only judge of success is oneself. Inevitably, though, since films and poems are seen or read by others, judgement comes from others than oneself. Film-makers, unlike poets, are collaborators; the poet, in contrast, creates alone synthesizing all that he has learned and experienced in his life. -Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, "D.W. Griffith: Father of Film-Part 2", 22 June 1997, 2:30 pm.
When The Tablets1 were first made public
D.W. Griffith, Lilian and Dorothy Gish,
Carol Demster, Cecil B. DeMill, Samuel Goldwyn,
Jesse Lasky, Charlie Chaplin and United Artists
were beginning to create a world, a whole language
for the screen, camera and film, as Hollywood was
getting ready for its golden age and the Baha’is were
priming up for their Formative Age,
little did they know it.
An Heroic Age was ending and their world,
filled as it was with the personality and wisdom
of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, was about to be blown apart.
An Iron Age was about to evolve as unobtrusively
as it had begun over the remaining century-and more.
1The Tablets of the Divine Plan were publicly read from the 26th to the 30th of April 1919.
22 June 1997
DISCOVERED IN THIS 10TH STAGE OF HISTORY
John O’Brien, the author of Brutal Hedonism: American Reception of Henri Matisse published in 1999, said in an interview that artists "engage in certain moments." This poem is a record, to some extent, of my engagement in a visual spectacle I saw on TV on the origin and nature of the universe. I found it fascinating and more than coincidental that the theory of the expanding universe was discovered and confirmed by the then small fraternity of cosmologists, in the earliest years of the Formative Age about the time of the Guardian’s World Order Letters(1929-1931) before the Tablets of the Divine Plan were finally implemented in 1937. This theory of the expanding universe was popularized in 1936 in Edward Hubble’s The Realm of the Nebulae, the year before the launching of the first teaching plan in 1937. The expanding universe of the Baha’i community had a physical analogue in the expanding universe that cosmologists and astronomers were only, then, on the threshold of understanding. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 2000.
We were, at last, on the threshold
of understanding where the universe
was going and when it would end
thanks to Einstein, modern physics
and astronomy. We were, at last,
on the threshold of understanding
the universe of The Writings,
where they were leading us down
the track to the Golden Age
thanks to Shoghi Effendi.
We were, at last, on the threshold
of understanding the origins of the universe
together with the Big Bang when
The Universal House of Justice was elected.
And we have since discovered a hundred
billion galaxies and fifty billion trillion stars,
all determined in the 1st fraction of a second,
twelve point seven billion years ago:
discovered in this 10th stage of history.
Ron Price 10 February 2000
The Guardian encouraged students to study sociology, among other subjects. The following essays outline, in a brief way, my experience with this subject over nearly four decades.....
The following essay, of a more autobiographical nature, contains some of the thrust of my own journey through print, the print of one of the disciplines of the social sciences, a discipline that one poetry critic, Karl Shapiro, says is but a new form of poetry. It is a discipline, too, that helps me form my own vision, my own articulation of the meaning of man and society. The Guardian encouraged Baha'is to study sociology, among other subjects, like history and philosophy. These were my major subjects at university and have been essential in articulating my own understanding of the Cause, of society and myself.
MY JOURNEY THROUGH SOCIOLOGY
Karl Shapiro is quoted as saying that sociology is the discipline where poets are found. But such poets usually don’t know they are poets. They think of themselves as students of sociology. Sociology, he says, is the poetry of the educated.(See The Poet’s Work, Reginald Gibbons, editor, Houghton Mifflin & Co., Boston, 1979, p.109) Keeping this idea in mind, I give you my life experience as a student and teacher of sociology in the paragraphs which follow.
I’ve been dipping into Individual Voices, Collective Visions: Fifty Years of Women in Sociology recently. This book was edited by Ann Goetting and Sarah Fenstermaker(Temple UP, 1995). The short account of my own experience of sociology which follows is the result of reading the stories of these sociologists. They tell of their families, their careers, their heartaches and sorrows, their joys and excitements. My plan here is to do the same, for I find myself at the age of 63 still reading sociology after leaving the classroom as a teacher of the subject in 2005. I am not looking at books as fat as bricks, as I once did and for many a year. For the internet gives memy sociology in smaller doses at any one time. Still, I get mental fatigue weighing through what is often the densest of languages, again trying to simplify what are often complex journeys for the mind so that I can bring life to what T.S. Eliot alluded to as 'rats' alley' trips for the emotions, where 'dead men (lose) their bones'(Wasteland, A Game of Chess, lines 115-116).
My relationship with sociology started in the third week of September 1963 at McMaster University in Canada. My first lecture with a Dr. Jones kept my pen busy, although after finding Ken Pizer I stopped worrying about notes because Ken could write faster than a speeding bullet. Ken took my notes and I was freed to watch Jones pace back and forth expatiating on the wisdoms of the sociologist Talcott Parsons who, at the time, had 16 more years to live and many more obscurities to write. I remember, as clearly as if it was yesterday, my attempt to read our class text in sociology. You could not read more than a page without wondering in unutterable language what it was you had just read. It all sounded clear and simple when you boiled it down to individual phrases, but when you put two or more phrases together you got lost in a fog of what you later came to call jargon.
I remember that first year, which ended in early May of 1964, just before I got my summer job checking telephone poles for internal decay, there was a tutor who was able to explain the mysteries of Parsons better than anyone. Everyone admired him as if he was a brilliant theologian who had just arrived from the Vatican with authoritative pronouncements for us all to write down on our A-4 note paper to be regurgitated on the April examination. He was an Englishman, if I remember, rather slim and a good talker.
For a year I had no contact with sociology, except for a short period of time toward the end of that second year at university, 1964-5. I got to know a young woman of 27 who had one son in early childhood and who studied sociology. I took her ice-skating in about February of 1965. I can’t quite remember how I met her but for two or three months I went to the occasional lecture with her in sociology. She had a passion for helping Africans and I had a passion for her. Our mutual passions interlocked nicely and it was this reciprocity that led us to join together in third year sociology.
I took six courses in sociology that year, enough to bring the dead to life, or should I say enough to kill any enthusiasms for sociology. In retrospect it was fortuitous that Canadian universities begin in mid-September with exams starting in mid-April. With the Christmas break, the week off for Easter and exam study the student is left with six months of lectures-reading-tutorials. That is about all the average person can stand of reading sociology—and I was about as average as one can be, at least at that point in my life. The cold Canadian winters kept all the sociology on ice as the chill of winter became filled with the chill of sociology. There was, then, nothing like a brisk walk to class in sociology 3A6 to examine the essence of Marxism, if there was an essence, or to engage the tutor in the intricacies of functionalism to raise my anxieties. Part of me always wanted to take sociology seriously and part of me found it such a burden of words that my already incipient depression just got another kick-start on its way down the proverbial emotional drain.
Anyway, I got through my third year and found myself with a BA bracket sociology end-of-bracket. I did not get my degree until November because when the transcript came out in June I was four or five marks short of a passing grade, 60%. I had to pay a visit to the Head of the Department, a gentle spirit who frequently imbibed a white wine, a beer, a claret and who had taught me sociological statistics. This was the most mysterious of all the arts in this youthful discipline of about 100 years of age. I remember, yes, as if it was yesterday, sitting in his class writing down as much as I could in the hope of unravelling it leisurely at home in a quiet evening where I lived over a restaurant in the small town of Dundas, 15 minutes away on a good hitch-hike. Of course I never did, unravel it I mean; night after night I’d ponder these mathematical and literary symbols in the hope that sincerity and effort would pay off. In this case they did not and here I was eight weeks after the end of the year asking him for a few marks. He came to the party, probably because it was late afternoon and by then he’d already had a few relaxing, perhaps, gin and tonics and he was one of those drinkers who gets friendlier after knocking back a few.
I had periodic dalliances with sociology after that graduating year of 1966. At teachers’ college we had a sociology unit. I had to go to a teachers' college in 1966-7 to get some practical qualification because sociology was good for absolutely nothing insofar as a career was concerned. I could have tied it to social work as well as teaching, but untied to anything about the only use it had was at a bar in the evening, with your girfriend discussing your(and her) inner life, driving a taxi and sitting around filling in time reading books. However useful sociology may be in this private domain, you can’t take it far as the cornerstone of a career to earn money and the accountrements of middle class life.
I came to teach sociology in 1974 to trainee teachers in Launceston, in 1975 to library technician trainees in Melbourne, in 1976-78 in Ballarat to engineers and social science majors. When I lived in Katherine I taught it occasionally in adult education to evening classes and in Port Hedland to students in management courses. In the early 1990s in Perth I taught sociology in Certificate courses and from 1997 to 1999 I taught sociology to human service worker trainees. After thirty years(1963-1993) I found myself combing library shelves at universities and colleges of advanced education for books which I had first sen from 1963 to 1966 with hundreds of new additions. Some of the material was highly stimulating; I had always found this so; but some was as dry and coagulating as a sewer after a long period of no rain. The books were still as fat and I found I could not spend more than an hour hunting them down. An immense fatigue always set in toward the end of the first hour in any library and I had to scoop up my allotment of seven or eight books to read in the leisurely quiet of my home with a cold or a hot drink in my hand. I was never sure if this fatigue was a function of my age, the lack of oxygen in the library or the simple weight of the books.
I look forward in my dotage to a long and happy life with this strange field I chanced upon some forty-four years ago when I was trying to avoid the world of work and its deadening and so often predictable stamp of boredom. The labyrinthine channels of sociology one can travel in forever; the library shelves are getting more extensive; it is a burgeoning field as are all fields now. The river of sociology, perhaps now in its middle age, will flow on into its third century while I get old. Now that my days are long and I am freed from the work-a-day world and its routines I can play among the waters of sociology, bathing myself in its endless streams, having learned how to avoid drowning in its heady froth. I only sample its choicest and its freshest fruits now, as glasses of refreshment. For I am now an accomplished but still amateur connoisseur of its mysteries. I am now in the earliest years of late adulthood, a period psychologists of human development call the years from 60 to 80. I am ready for my final hour and until it comes I will take an occasional dalliance into the intellectual paddocks of this old friend.*
16 March 1997
* In July 1999, two years and two weeks after writing the first draft of this essay, I retired from the teaching profession and from teaching sociology. By March 2000 I had seven arch lever files of notes in my study in our home in George Town, the oldest town in Australia. These notes were the residue from those many years of dabbling in sociology. By the turn of the millennium I had begun to sample only the choice bits of the field that I enjoyed the most: sociological theory. I continued what I had done since my first contact with sociology in 1963, enlarge my understanding of the Cause through the insights of this useful discipline. I had taught my last bit of sociology, as part of a social science course, in a School for Seniors until May 2005. My final hour had at last begun.
THE THRILLING VOICE OF HIS PEN
This afternoon I was reading Ugo Giachery’s Shoghi Effendi and came across an arresting image which, if I had once known it, I had forgotten. The image was of Shoghi Effendi having "each word of the Tablet of Carmel ever present in his mind."1 It was this inspiration, among many, which guided him. I started to memorise this Tablet many years ago, perhaps as early as the 1970s. It is one of the few tablets that I have memorized in my life, although I must stop occasionally even now to check the words while I am reciting it. While I was walking in the woods tonight I was stuck by the contrast between this energizing image of Shoghi Effendi reciting this Tablet and the sorrow and despondency which we also know shadowed his brow, particularly in his latter years.-Ron Price with thanks to Ugo Giachery, Shoghi Effendi,, George Ronald, Oxford, 1973, p. 57.
He carried around all those words
and their wondrous meanings during
his indefatigable labours. Perhaps
these words were part of that spiritual
force which seemed to emanate from him.
Perhaps these words helped him to keep
those sorrows and that desolation of hopes
at bay in those last years. He had become
the embodiment of May my life be a sacrifice
to Thee. He knew, too, that God had bestowed
upon him His bounty and directed towards him
His steps. His eyes were cheered; he was filled
with delight; He turned his sorrow into gladness
and his grief into blissful joy.1 But not all that
sorrow was neutralized, at least not until that
final hour, 4 November 1957, when the thrilling
voice of his pen ceased, at long 60-years-last.
1Baha’u’llah, The Tablet of Carmel.
14 December 1999
YIELDING TO TRUE GLORY
Today I read a passage from a 'pilgrim note' in which Shoghi Effendi is reported to have advised the American Baha'is to get out of the cities, especially big cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. since they were (a) unsafe and materialistic and (b) the people there were not receptive to the teachings. While I pondered this somewhat familiar theme in the writings of Shoghi Effendi I reviewed the forty-two years I had been a Baha'i and how much time I had spent in 'the cities.' In summary: I spent 15 months in a city of about two million, 12 years in a city which was the most isolated on earth and had one million, 6 months in a city of 300 thousand, 8 months in a city of two hundred thousand and the rest of the time, some 28 years in small towns and cities up to 60 thousand people. I think it fair to say that my life as a Baha'i pioneer was, for the most part, spent outside those immense agglomerations the Guardian advised us to leave. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 28 September 2001.
Yes, Guardian, I spread it around,
stayed out of the biggest places,
like, now, to keep it well under
one hundred thousand. Haven't
found them very receptive in these
towns either, at least since, say, '62
when I started all this moving around,
to the Northernmost Territories of the
Western Hemisphere and in Canada's
glorious mission overseas where I will,
one day, lay my bones in His soil
and yield, I trust, to true glory.1
1 From Sir Francis Drake's Prayer
28 September 2001
DIAMONDS AND ENAMELLED FIRE
Before WW2 the map of man and society was, more or less, in straight lines and hierarchies. After that war the territory of life was increasingly expressed in terms of curves and circles: concentric, interlocking and separated. What often seemed distortion was really only a different angle of perspective, another part of the forcefield of life. This is one line of thought that one finds in that new discipline: organization science which sociology contributes not a little to its unfolding labyrinth.-Ron Price with thanks to Frederick Karl, American Fiction 1940-1980, Harper and Row, NY, 1983, p. 92.
By the time you defined our world
in terms of nine concentric circles1
the whole thing was moving from
lines and hierarchies to circles and
curves. So much seemed distortion,
but it was all a question of perspective.
It all fitted into an immense complexity.
My postwar world has been like
a frightening and not-so-frightening
tempest: unpredictable, unprecedented
and unimaginably glorious in its ultimate
consequences, sweeping my wide world---
Tongues of Diamond round and round,2
fingers of Enamelled Fire near my ground.
1Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, pp.95-6, March 29, 1951.
2Emily Dickinson, Number 753.
18 January 1999
THE HOUSE: SUPERVISES A BRAND NEW BALL GAME
The process of sustaining an identity, an aesthetic point of view, a moral conception of the self, a style of life and a certain taste: this is culture. It inhabits a realm of sensibility, emotions, moral temper and intelligence which seeks to give order to all of these by uniting thought, meaning and a sense of permanence. -Ron Price with thanks to Daniel Bell in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Basic Books Inc., NY, 1976, p.36.
In the years 1953-1963, the ninth stage of history, the two codes which sustained our traditional value system in the West, the Protestant ethic and the Puritan temper finally eroded only to linger on as increasingly pale and uninspiring ideologies. The Baha’i community, building on a century or more of its history and a truely massive body of text, revelation, holy writ, was, by 1963, in the possession of a truely powerful ideology which opened up a new vision of life to the imagination. It only remained for mankind to draw on it—and slowly, very slowly, mankind did in the century before and the forty years, 1963-2003, since.--Ron Price with thanks to Daniel Bell, ibid., pp.61-65.
You said there was a burning out
of the radical will back then, back
during the final rupture of the intellectual
from Stalinism, back when society lost its
cultural moorings, when the centre that
Yeats said would not hold finally fell,
good and proper.
If human nature changed in 1910,
as Woolf said, it became more and
more obvious by the time we hit the sixties.
For the final stage of history: the tenth stage,
was a brand new ball game as modern man
reached out beyond himself, especially into
the last frontier of life: sexuality, with an aroma
of transcendentalism in the air,
a wine of commercial spirit and
the antiseptic smell of death on TV--
billions on the road, in starvation and war—
some came to call it the slough of despond.
A dark heart of an age of transition emerged.
A PLOT AND A SCRIPT
Gibbon was confronted with a series of opaque and unconnected episodes, a series that was resistant to comprehension; he was confronted with inescapable and massive facts of moral life which were too immense for his intellect and ours; he lost anything one could call a perspective due to the complexity and difficulty of the materials. Readers, then, often find Gibbon’s words themselves the object of their attention and the awkward and tangled reality of the past quite impenetrable, eluding even the net of language, however rich, energetic and imperious in strength it may be. Historical certainty is, for Gibbon and for his readers, endlessly deferred. -Ron Price with thanks to David Womersley, The Transformation of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1988.
And so do our words elude the net
in these confused and unconnected times,
as our reason and virtue pursue, as best
we can, the generating powers of this
spiritual springtime1 and as we observe
the extravagent and infinite wanderings
of vice and folley and our long road.
And, for me, always within a commitment
to my own narrative voice, the coherence
it creates, its rich and flexible twistings
and turnings, its contradictions and incon-
sistencies and its unimaginably mysterious
workings and consequences, I observe a
complexity of thought and expression
producing an astonishing unity of form.2
And the performance I watch, the plot and the
script, comes down to me from the mysterious
dispensations of a watchful Providence,
a divine ordering, a schema, of history.
3 January 1999
1The Universal House of Justice, Baha 154 B.E.
2David Womersley, op.cit.
TAKING ON IMMORTALITY
When One has given up One’s life
The parting with the rest
Feels easy, as when Day lets go
Entirely the West
-Emily Dickinson, number 853.
How many tears have fallen here,
how many little sighs and more
to come for tragedy and romance
are ours beneath the skies.
They’re at the heart of human hearts,
as they wither and they die. They are
the seed of solemn consciousness
without which true joy would only fly.
Thank God for that joy; it rains on some
and washes sighs away. For others sorrow
dries them out. Romance and tragedy lay
their hands on them and make them ready
to depart: they’ve died and can do no more,
but take on immortality with great ease.*
*I was thinking of Shoghi Effendi here. Ruhiyyih Rabbani, who knew the Guardian in an intimate sense that noone else did, says seven lines from the end of her Priceless Pearl that "The man had been called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness." Henry Adams once said in one of his letters(1) that "The inevitable isolation and disillusionment of a really strong mind--one that combines force with elevation--is to me the romance and tragedy of statesmanship."
(1) Letters of Henry Adams: 1835-1918, 2 Vols., Houghton Mifflin, 1930, Vol.1, p.314.
26 December 1995
SUPREME REALITY AND ALLEN GINSBERG
The poems in this volume(1953-1960)...mostly lack the desperately earnest cry for truth and the snug-tension accuracy of Ginsberg at his best. -A.R. Ammons, "Ginsberg’s New Poems"(published 1964) in On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Lewis Hyde, editor, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1984, p.185.
Truth and justice are achieved, not questioned and described. -Maurice Blanchot, The Siren Song: Selected Essays, Harvester Press, 1982, Brighton, p.135.
Yours just may have been the
quintessential cry for truth
as it was uttered at the very beginning
of the Kingdom of God on earth.*
For your story really begins in 1953
which was quite a big year for this
mystic and messianic poet of impossible
visions in the liveliest spot for poetry
in the USA: San Francisco, after your
eight months in a mental hospital in 1949.
Your howl against everything in our
materialist world in your new poetics
of vision, as you tried to catch the
texture of our age and as you tried
to catch the Supreme Reality+ you
caught the mystical death wish,
a desire to draw near to that sense
of cosmic awe: how did you do, Allen?
The ninth stage of history was opening up
and the inception of the Kingdom of God
on earth:* a mystical air of new beginnings
was caught by your poetic consciousness
which turned to Buddhism. The step of search
in the path leading unto the knowledge of
the Ancient of Days took you down some
road leading to illusions of embodiments of
And so it was that the Beat Generation
and the New American Poetry missed
an eschatological centre that was completed,
at last, in Chicago in 1953 with all the trappings
of millennial zeal and the apocalyptic as it was
symbolized and enshrined in Real manifestations
of a New Age, Whose Dust was now in Haifa.
4 October 1995
* Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.351.
+ Allen Ginsberg had a profound interest in spiritual reality in the late 1940s and early 1950s
and turned, in 1954, to Buddhism.
** Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, Tablet of the True Seeker.
WRITING BEFORE THE DAWN: SUSAN SONTAG
These are the darkest hours before the break of day. Peace, as promised, will come at night’s end. Press on to meet the dawn.-Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 1993.
The present age lives by a scenario in which apocalypse looms and it doesn’t occur...And still it looms. Some say it has occurred; others say it will occur and still others don’t give a toss.—Ron Price with thanks to Susan Sontag in Susan Sontag: the Elegiac Modernist, Sohnya Sayre, Routledge, NY, 1990, p.147.
In these early years of the last stage
of history you have written, written,
like so many, pouring a flood of
knowledge onto a world drowning,
drowning and yet being reborn.
I always admired your work,
your endless, obsessive work
and your insights: tragedy is
the way we acknowledge
the world’s implacability.*
The House referred to it as
a ‘discouragingly meagre"
response. Then, there was
your succinct statement on comedy
as a precarious ascendancy.*
You wrote so much that most
people I’ve ever met just stay
out of the ball park or way out
in left field; you become the lone figure
in the lonely landscape, you who have
been writing since the beginning of this
Kingdom of God on earth.**
You knew, then, that thought was in
ruins and your eschatological mentality
and concern for religious redemption
never found its way near the Nightingale
of Paradise Who singeth upon the Tree.
Your melancholy, your seriousness, your
death of history, of self, of culture, your
homelessness, your autobiographical
thinking***, heroic amidst the ruins,
seeking to simplify, not trusting---
all in this apocalyptic which looms,
while we wait, which looms in these
last dark minutes and hours before the dawn.
3 October 1995
* Susan Sontag, ibid., p.90.
** Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By(US, 1957), p.351; the beginning was 1953.
***Sohnya Sayre, ibid., p.128; all thinking has an autobiographical aspect says Sohnya.
Ours is the duty.....to play our part, however small, in this greatest drama of the world’s spiritual history.-Shoghi Effendi, 21 March 1930, in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, USA, 1974, p.26.
Even when all these marble edifaces
with their inaccessible mysteries and
their attendant gardens are complete
we are still faced with ordinary dust.
The domestic orange trees will still
be as unendearing as ever, contented
perhaps in their green universe, having
been taught submission (you can tell by
their roundness). The geraniums will
still be as pedestrian and obtuse as ever.
The only thing you’ve got here, mate,
is what you have lavishly invested
with your aspiration and belief.
You can grow weary of nightingales
and peacocks, the uselessness of words,
the fruitlessness of speculation. You’ll
find here among the frail petals no formula
for perfection. The disinterested cypresses,
even though they point heavenward, will
offer no certain answer to your questions.
The jasmine may captivate your senses
and paralyse your will, but the sense of urgency
will not leave you nor this place for some time;
for the hour is perilous and dark and the rush
of history is moving toward the climax of a
spiritual drama of staggering magnitude
which so few are yet aware: be warned!
Just resume your ordinary life with its
deadlines and schedules: the taxi will soon
speed you to your destination. The airport
can sell you a postcard of the place which
will soon be the stage for the enactment of
several critical acts in a play of unsurpassed
holiness. Have a safe trip home.
28 December 1995
The second century(1944-2044) is destined to witness...the first stirrings of that World Order, of which the present Administrative System is at once the precursor, the nucleus and pattern---of an Order which, as it slowly crystallizes and radiates its benign influence...will proclaim the coming of age of the whole human race. -Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp.72-73.
The Parthenon......is universal because it can continuously inspire new personal realizations in experience. It is simply an impossibility that any one today should experience the Parthenon as the devout Athenian contemporary citizen experienced it in the 5th century B.C. The enduring art-product in that age was called forth by something occasional, something having its own date and place in the minds and hearts of men. But what was evoked in these same men was a substance so formed that it could enter into the experience of others and enable them to have more intense and more fully rounded-out experiences of their own. -John Dewey, Art as Experience, Capricorn Books, NY, 1958(1934), p. 109.
And so it is universal and will go on being so
down the halls of time, enriching and intensifying
the experience of those who are willing to share in
its beauty, to experience it as something new,
something mine, to which I give the meaning,
reordering colour and shape in relation to myself,
to experience delight and overcome the inchoate,
restricted, apathetic, tepid, fearful, conventional,
routine through some expansion, intensification,
fullness: ordering matter through form, on this
journey to these far places, distant gardens.
23 December 1995
All history moves toward one great goal, the manifestation of God. -James Joyce, Ulysses, Chapter Two, published in 1922.
The imposition of a structure of organization and belief can be dated from around 1917....Shoghi Effendi’s accession to the Guardianship greatly accelerated rather than initiated this process. -Peter Smith, "American Baha’i Community: 1894-1917-A Preliminary Survey", Studies in Babi and Baha’i History, Vol.1, editor, Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1982, p.201.
Yes, but amidst such a mud-puddle;
I mean, just take ‘Ulysses’ and ‘The
Wasteland’ for starters-and right at
the beginning of the Order taking form-
how anyone could get a sense of direction
from these poems/novel--of course noone
did--not of a manifestation of God as the
goal of history, but they certainly stirred
the pot of western literary life and helped
the break with tradition which has been
slowly breaking, or quickly, depending
on how you define your terms.
What a tempest we’ve had in this century
as humankind as edged its way slowly,
infinitely slowly it so often seems, to this
manifestation of God, such a violent
underbelly, such complexity, such anarchy
as we’ve inched this consequential, necessary
way, out of some miasmal ooze toward
a glorious vision only now just taking form
for all eyes to see as this light spreads, spreads.
I know, like trees know deep in their roots
the way to grow, we are just beginning some
thrilling chapters of a great drama. I knew it
in the Great Darkness when my soul knew famine
and I felt dead. I know it now with an excitement,
a watching, a wondering, a waiting, always a waiting.
30 January 1996
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Cause of God, referred to by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in His Will and Testament as "the most wondrous, unique and priceless pearl that doth gleam from out the Twin surging seas" died on November 4th 1957.-A.Q. Faizi, Meditations on the Eve of November 4th, Baha’i Upblishing Trust, London, 1970, forward.
Your passing is not even on the
calendar of commemorations, a
faint trace-line in my memory
and me on puberty’s cusp, then,
just after Sputnik was launched
and we could see the world for
the first time, at last; indeed, at
last we could see the world,
standing on your shoulders, worn-
out with work from all that god-
dammed paper, the endless paper,
enough to crush the spirit of an
archangel, scorch his wings forever.
It is hard to burn a pearl, grown out
of such resplendent seas. Called by
sorrow and a strange desolation
of hopes into quietness1 , you left us,
then, for your eternal abode in the
celestial treasure houses of the Lord.
Yes, the dust of despondency,
accumulated over more than
a century, could not be washed
away by the audacious exploits of
a few, only removed by dusty death’s
shadow falling upon the candle of your days.
And now, you watch, as I’m sure you must,
the exploits of many more raise up an Arc
of such magnificence, fitting tribute to the
zeal of a true brother, more than brother
more than true, from us who, I trust, now
can try to comfort you.
3 November 1996
1Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, George Ronald, 1969, p.451.
In its original version "I Love Lucy" debuted Monday October 15 1951 at 8:00 pm. It ran until May 6 1957. -Patricia Mellencamp, High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age and Comedy, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1992, p. 322.
Shoghi Effendi appointed the first contingent of Hands of the Cause on December 24 1951 and the final contingent in October 1957.-Baha’i World, Vol XIV: 1963-1968, pp.449-455.
While you were laying the foundation
for the Kingdom of God on earth
in those, your final years, another
foundation was being laid for an
industry that would sweep the world
by storm. The three camera, living room,
laugh track, studio audience format has
endured all these years as have those
contingents now in their final days
having protected and propagated
for well-nigh half a century, our standard
bearers. That zany, off-key, star, vaudeville
comedian, dispenser of popular culture
in those years when the Kingdom of God
on earth was getting its kick-star---
Lucille Ball---part of Desilu Productions,
the biggest production facility in the world,
then, was entertaining millions as you were
writing those brilliant letters telling us of our
culture and where it was at, then, on the edge
of oblivion, and where our Cause was,
especially at its Centre which you planned
for them and us, this Ark of humanity.
4 October 1996
SOME FERTILITY DRUG
Pioneering seems, for some, to be an amalgam of a search for adventure, excitement and experience. For others, the journey of moving on can be a solution to a problem, a selection of the flight or fight option. For still others, it is the simple desire to serve, but even here the serving can get mixed up with personal ambition, with a search for meaning and adventure, with relief from boredom, or from a sad relationship. But, whatever is the motivation, the basis, the desire to go and live in some other locality, home is left behind, happily or unhappily, sometimes forever. -Ron Price, 3 October 1996, 9:10 am, written during a spring holiday.
He seemed to keep driving me on,
me, just a simple boy, plucked out
of a little town, as things were getting
boring, tedious, samey. Testing my metal
He was, right from the start, burning the gold,
sifting the concentrate in some great settling tank,
several acids burning, cleaning, scraping, right
from the fine ore-bin into the fire. Taught me how
to be at home everywhere, how to remove strangeness,
how to attract, so much so it wore me out, had to cultivate
privacy, evasion, in the form of an art. Some found my
sauce piquant and puzzlingly subtle, surprising the taste
buds, meeting the human need for delighted astonishment.
But I did not win them all as the heart got razed to the ground.
It was as if I’d get flung to the ground after getting up,
after finding my way, my confidence, that personal sense
of ‘I’ve got it.’ Down I went again and again so that I had
to seek that inner life and private character1 where the
spiritual life is born. It was here that poetry was born in
that decade 1981 to 1991. It was here that some fertility
drug seemed to move from the inner recesses of my being
giving birth, at last, to an ocean of words, satisfying that
inner dream I’d had for all those years from a simple boy.
3 October 1996
1Shoghi Effendi from his famous "Not by the force of numbers..." paragraph, often quoted by the Universal House of Justice and in Baha’i literature.
They were a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure. -Scott Fitzgerald in Freud, Religion and the Roaring Twenties: A Psychoanalytic Theory of Secularization in Three Novelists--Anderson, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Henry Idema III, Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 1990, p.5.
An old world was dieing
all around them as they*
laid the foundation for
the new one so few knew.
At the Somme and Passchendaele
the dull thunder of the guns,
the trench warfare, the pride
and disgrace—as Dylan called it.
Saw millions die while He quietly
penned more Tablets** for a
different kind of war for a new Order.
It was just then taking its first form as
that great war was enduing and orders
were changing directions and forms.
But it all happened so quietly as noise
changed the face of Europe, as religions
died on the battlefield and people
in the millions turned to sex, alcohol
and secular substitutes. They roared
into the twenties with the flapper,
bathtub gin, howling jazz, silent screen
movies, lavish mansions, sleek automobiles
and lots of glitter and tinsel--missing the first
formative years of an Order that would change
the face of history and exhaust the energies of
a young man and make him old, old before
his time; holding the world, the new Order on
his shoulders was too much as the world
went hedonistic, went for pleasure.
5 March 1996
* they='Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi
** Tablets= Tablets of the Divine Plan
J.B. Priestley said that the writer and, in my case the autobiographer, "projects on to his page a personality not identical with his own, though founded on it." It is a figure made up of elements selected from his life and then rearranged and displayed for his and their aesthetic purpose. The result is an intensely vivid impression of a living individual. I like to think I achieve this but, of course, in the end, each reader makes of the book his own; in effect he recreates the book in his or her own eyes. For the vast majority of people this book has no existence at all for they will never read it, see it on a screen or between covers.
Passing the time pleasantly, Priestley thought, was one of life's major achievements. To this I must concur. Indeed there is a great deal in the Baha'i Writings on this theme, although Baha'u'llah does not put His comments under the heading "how to pass the time pleasantly." ." In the end we must all apply the Writings to our lives in our individual ways. I have had no intention in writing, poetry or prose, to provide some 'how to' recipe for readers. "Ultimate all the battle in life is within the individual," wrote some individual on behalf of Shoghi Effendi back in 1943. Hopefully readers will find here some help with their battles in an indirect sort of way, serendipitously, fortuitously, in the spirit of a faithful friend.
For the Baha’is, during the four epochs that was the temporal framework for my experience and that of my community, they too faced crises, as great or greater than those faced by the American Bahá’í pilgrims at the turn of the 20th century before WW1. There were crises that threatened to arrest the community’s unfoldment from time to time and, as Shoghi Effendi once said threatened to "blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered." Shoghi Effendi provided for me an exegisis of the Baha’i teachings as they applied to my life and times. The following words of this leader of the Faith from 1921 to 1957 are examples of his interpretive words, words that set a context for my life, a background, a framework of meaning and interpretation of history and the times I was living in, often unbeknownst to my everyday self, busy as it was with everyday things and, in my childhood years, having absolutely no idea of the paradigms of meaning Shoghi Effendi was providing for this small band of believers back then and for their epigoni.
In August 1944, the Guardian was anticipating "the cessation of hostilities" from WW2. This cessation would open before the Baha'i community "fields of service of tremendous fertility." The climax of the "raging storm" had passed, a climax synchronizing with the termination of the first Baha'i century. Society itself was "disillusioned," "disrupted," a "wreckage." As my second birthday approached in July 1946, while we still lived on Morden Avenue in Hamilton Ontario, my mother, father, grandfather and I, did not know of the two year "respite" from teachings Plans ended. The aim in 1946, as the Baha'i community commemorated the 25th anniversary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Baha, was to have 175 LSAs by April 1948. "The shadow of war's tragic aftermath" wrote Shoghi Effendi in January 1947, about the time my family moved to Burlington, was "deepening." A thirty-four page letter from the Guardian in June 1947, during my first summer in RR#1 Burlington, just before I turned three, entitled The Challenging Requirements of the Present Hour presented an accurate picture of the present state of the Baha'i community, in both North America and in the world.
While I played in the autumn leaves, built snow forts in the winter of 1947/8 and 1948/9, worried about 'the boogie-man,' got my first wack with my mother's hair-brush by my father, played a little red pipe organ, waited in vain with my folks for the Pantings to come to dinner one Sunday evening and watched my dad work in the garden evening after evening, the Guardian was encouraging the Baha'is to take their Faith around the globe.
These were 'modest beginnings,' as the Guardian described the first ten years of the Plans: 1937-1947. "The initial clash between the forces of darkness and the army of light," was "being registered by the denizens of the Abha Kingdom." While I went from the ages of three to five in my second house, the second residence, of my life, on Bellvenia Avenue, "the first sittings" of a "spiritual revolution" were being experienced, at least in part, due to "the hands of the little as yet unnoticed band of pioneers." Within fifteen years I, too, would join that band. The road ahead, wrote the Guardian, was "long, thorny and tortuous." And so it was. The "lowest ebb in mankind's fast-declining fortunes," had yet to eventuate. The "testing period" ahead for society may well become the entire period of my life. Looking back from a distance of nearly fifty years it certainly appears to have been the case.
3Citadel of Faith, USA, 1965, pp.5-38.