31. INNER LIFE
Shoghi Effendi placed great emphasis on the inner life and private character and their mirroring "forth in their manifold aspects the eternal splendours revealed by Baha'u'llah." In the burgeoning corpus of Baha'i literature there is an increasing body of material on a wide range of subjects including the inner life and its exploration. During the four epochs that this pioneering venture has taken place there has been a developing literature that examines the inner life, that is autobiographical or biographical. Roger White's poetry is clearly one of several possible examples of an individual's exploration of that inner life. Here is one more exploration, one of the earliest of the more extensive autobiographical studies in the field, one of many now on the Internet, one that will lead, in time, to a vast literature on autobiography and related disciplines, I am sure.
What Chloe Chard says of travel writing, namely, that is a domain of freedom, a domain of untrammelled curiosity and cheerful intellectual digressiveness,1 I have also come to experience in my poetic autobiography and to a lesser extent in some of the other genres of my writing which could broadly come under the umbrella of 'travel narratives.' Chard writes on page one about "the power of the foreign to inflame the imagination." For me this 'power of the foreign' comes from so many sources, not just a foreign country. The 'inflaming of the imagination' is one of the many things at the root, the source, of this poetry, these travel narratives of an international pioneer. -Ron Price with thanks to Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography: 1600-1830, Manchester UP, NY, 1988, p.vii.
A sense of otherness,
the seepage, global,
of a civilization
the power to displace
the familiar and mundane.
This one's external and internal,
sameness, yes, repetition,
can't be avoided:
all those intersecting streets
and suburban houses in neat rows.
The really rich stuff, though,
is an inner life and private character
in all its beauty, wonder
and infinite failings.
Such an abundance for gratification,
the singular, astonishing, the marvellous,
but no hyperbole,just quiet, of the mind.
Intense emotional responsiveness,
climax of sensibility,
is found in these silent places
with their digressions
of an excessive and promisuous
1 Aldous Huxley, Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist(1925).
26 June 2002
There are very few of humankind, wrote the philosopher Matthew Arnold, for whom the summum bonum of life is an eternal series of intellectual acts, for whom this life is seen essentially as subject-matter for thought, for whom thought is a series of elements in a vast movement of speculation. The few who do live this sort of life stand apart, and have an existence separate, a distinctiveness, from that of the mass of mankind. The region which such individuals inhabit is a laboratory wherein are fashioned new intellectual ideas, syntheses of old ideas and serendipitous connections between ideas which would not otherwise have occurred had not such an intense amount of intellection taken place. There are few individuals who live the "purely intellectual life, whose life, whose ideal, whose demand, is thought, and thought only."1 As I approach the age of sixty I found this emphasis on thought, which Arnold apotheosized and which the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith place in an important position,2 very much to my liking. It fitted in with the significant diminution that had taken place in my late fifties of the social dimension of my life's journey and my strong disinclination to spend great quantities of time, as so many in my society and at my age did, in gardening, watching TV, playing some sport or game or being engaged in one or several of a host of manual or artistic activities. -Ron Price with thanks to 1David J. DeLaura, Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England: Newman, Arnold and Pater, University of Texas Press, 1969; and 2'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p.1, among a host of other locations in the Baha'i Writings.
I could not, of course,
pursue this path
to the utter exclusion
of everything else.
About eight hours a day
of writing, reading
and focused thinking
was all I could manage
given the limitations
of my concentration,
the realities of my life
which dictated social intercourse,
some relaxation and exercise
and the general necessities of existence.
11 March 2002
THE BLUDGEON OF WORDS
A poem is, for me, a reference point in my life. I can commune with, recreate, a past self, a past idea, a way of looking at something. An inner dialogue takes form in a poem. While writing a poem there's a type of reinvention of things past, even of self, while living in the present. The very boundaries between living my life and writing about it become blurred, eroded. Versions of reality are constructed, for me, more in a therapeutic context than a confessional one. While I write I strive, as I probe, as I delve, among my past selves, memories, mental states in an effort to create a quite precise, honest, accurage and unified self and as accurate and honest a view of some sociological, historical, religious aspect of reality as I can. This 'unified self' that finds form on paper is a self that wills to know the truth about itself, recognizes its limitations, its mosaic-like character and the immense complexity of not only the phenomenon of self but of the multiplicity of things I attempt to deal with. -Ron Price with thanks to Lynda Scott, "Writing the Self: Selected Works of Doris Lessing," Deep South, Vol.2, No.2, Winter, 1996.
This great drama of self-definition,
creation of identity and selfhood
right back to those mud-pies
on a spring day and before,
shall we say, 1872 near London
with my grandfather, Alfred?.....
this great story of incredible detail
simply cannot be conveyed
by the ripples crossing o'er my days,
faces which break and blur and pass1
and the bludgeon of words.2
1 Judith Wright, Half a Lifetime, editor, P. Clarke, Text Pub., Melb, '99, p.288. 2Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, p.24. RP, 26/2/02.
THAT INNER LAND OF UNREALITY
Part of the pleasure of coming across a poet who writes and says things similar to what you are trying to do as a fellow poet is the reinforcement, the psychological comfort, it brings to your own labour of love. Yesterday evening I listened to an interview with a Western Australian poet, John Kinsella. He said he had been drawn, after many years, to writing autobiographical poetry. He said the poetry flowed easily. Perhaps, he went on, he wrote too much. He talked about his obsessions. He said he was obsessed with the question of what it means to be a writer in a modern nation state. My obsession is the question what it means to be a poet-writer in general and in a Baha'i community in particular. Memory was another of Kinsella's obsessions. In reexamining, reprocessing one's life in poetry one reconstructs it is so many different ways. How true it is! For Kinsella going back to the land, working on the land, every year for two or three months has been his saving grace. The land he goes back to is his homeland in the York area of Western Australia. If there is an equivalent for me, it has been retiring into an extended period of solitude after a teaching career of thirty years. -Ron Price with thanks to "Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 7:25-7:45 pm, 24 February 2002.
We all repackage our lives
as we walk along
or sit in a chair or lay in bed.
The only difference with me
is that I write the repackaging
on paper, wrap it up in words
I take my current edition
of faith, hope, trust and belief,
these non-linear, non-material
processes and sift them through
portions of those things that are:
my life, my world and my religion.
I produce, in the process,
a social reality that is,
for the moment, my reality,
in all its changing complexity.
And then, then, as He says,
I must forget it all; I must
forsake that inner land
of unreality, drink from
the river of glory1
and enter the valley
1Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, pp.28-9.
25 February 2002
VALLEY OF LOVE
At the end of Act 4 in Love's Labour Lost Shakespeare discusses the nature of love in a long speech by Biron, one of the lords attending the King. The poem which follows is a meditation on what Shakespeare writes about love in that speech and what Baha'u'llah writes in His Seven Valleys about love. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 12 February 2002.
You1 say love does not live alone
immured in the brain,
but courses as swift as thought
and adds a precious seeing to the eye.
'Tis not from woman's eyes
that I derive this doctrine wise.
'Tis rather from a view that
I must forsake my outward eyes
to travel in love's heavenly lake.
The eyes they must be inward,
pure and cleansed, some kind
of fire that burns away the world
and nourishes all that I find.
It's a love that takes me
to an immortal realm
and here will be souls
who give me power,
for left alone I would
be lost this very hour.
12 February 2002
"Each individual," write Joseph Campbell, "is the centre of a mythology of his own, of which his own intelligble character is the Incarnate God, so to say, whom his empirically questing consciousness is to find."1 For Baha'is, it seems to me, this Incarnate God is the God within "mighty, powerful and self-subsistent." It is the "know thyself," from Delphi. This centre of mythology is also an unfolding of convictions derived from the effects and expression of experience, the imprintings of infancy and our peculiar and private worlds. This is what Campbell calls our "mythogenic zone." It is our interior life and its communication with others. The poem below explores the negative side of the process across our global society. --Ron Price with thanks to Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Viking Press, 1968, p. 93.
This poetic writing aims
to let the Word resound
behind words1 seemingly
endless words where
my mythogenic zone
is especially informed
by the metaphorical nature
of all of physical reality,
Baha'i history no less
and lived experience.
My innermost need
to express has its place
in my shaping of self
in my particular form
And a growing impoverishment
of symbols, spiritual poverty,
symbol-lessness fills the land,
liquidating our past,
with bleak substitutes.
A bland barrenness reaches
all the way to the stars
and history becomes a nightmare
of complex, anarchic confusion,
uninterpreted, unassimilated, alien,
and: a Waste Land fills their place.
2Frederick Neitzsche wrote that "for art to exist there is a physiological prerequisite: intoxication." Twilight of the Idols, quoted in Campbell, p.355.
10 February 2002
PIONEERING: THE FIRST GENERATION in HISTORY’S TENTH STAGE
Freud, reinforcing the work of Marx, has encouraged the historian to examine himself and his own position in history, the motives-perhaps hidden motives-which have guided his choice of theme or period and his selection and interpretation of facts, the national and social background which has determined his angle of vision, the conception of the future which shapes his conception of the present.-E.H. Carr, What is History?, Macmillan, London, 1934, p. 134.
This could very well apply to the poet. It certainly applies to me. Poetry and history are branches of the same tree. The major aim in my poetry is, among other aims, to bring history to life, to convey the true significance of things, on the printed page. My aim is also to explore both the outer world of action and its sensibility and the inner world, the private chamber. One of the most powerful determinants of this sensibility and this inner world that gives rise to poetry in particular and literature in general in the Baha’i community is the pioneering experience. This experience has been seminal in shaping the creative sensibility of many Baha’i writers, certainly this one.
I have entitled my overall literary corpus Pioneering Over Three Epochs and the poetry I have written is the largest part of that corpus. This pioneer life, begun in 1962, just after John Glen went spinning around the earth in the first manned space flight, is rooted in a struggle between the apparently slow growth in the new way of life I am pioneering, trying to bring into reality; and a range of transformations in the wider society. It is difficult to grasp both these time lines, mutually exclusive worlds, apparently. Now nearing the end of my thirty-sixth year of pioneering, I am watching an Arc of buildings rise on Mt. Carmel, the apotheosis of all my beliefs during this adventure in movement from place to place.
Describing the struggle withinin and between these two worlds I write a great deal. I see this writing as a social act, part of social reality, part of historical reality. After all these years, nearly four decades, I see many of the aspects of this struggle as boring, tedious, problems I have had to return to again and again in building the sinews, the nucleus, the warp and weft, of this new World Order, as well as my own character. There is so much to focus on in this development that has been described and catelogued by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan messages since 1963. The progress has been immense. These messages provide a way of approaching the seemingly unmanageable diversity of political, social, economic and cultural events and the concomitant activity within the Baha’i community.
The recurring observations of these complex social and cultural stresses in both the wider world and within the Baha’i community are a hallmark of the House’s writing, an immensely positive and heuristic posture toward the events on the entire planet. New posibilities for development are explored in these messages within the matrix of international crises. The main thrust of my remarks here is to place my pioneering experience of the last three epochs within a broad, but brief, framework of institutional developments in the Baha’i Administrative Order, within the experience of the wider world and within my own private, personal experience. This short essay is but one of many that accompany my collections of poetry.
"The process" wrote Shoghi Effendi, referring to the unsuspected benefits of this new order, is painfully slow in becoming visible to the eyes of men. It also manifests over time "a series of crises which at times threaten to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress ha(s) engendered."1 My own hopes had been blasted on numerous occasions in the areas of health, jobs, marriage and service to the Baha’i community. And so I write, not so much to tell the story of Baha’i history, of the Baha’i community, for that has been told many times. I write as a metaphor for my own release, for personal meaning, to perfect my understanding. I try to tell the truth, memory’s truth, which selects, illuminates, exaggerates, minimizes and glorifies. In the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but coherent(as coherent as possible) version of events. And who trusts someone else’s version more that their own?
Of course, my own version of Baha’i history, Baha’i experience, is hardly definitive. Rather, what I write is my own version of reality, memory’s special kind of world. It is one of what could be millions of versions, of stories, of accounts, of explanations. It seems to me, though, that identity, Baha’i identity, does not exist until our story is told. Autobiography is a crucial part of that identity, that story which makes us real. Autobiography is part of our aesthetic need to unify and clarify through our acquaintance with a world, which as Wiliam James put it, is "multitudinous, beyond imagination, tangled, muddy, painful and perplexed."2 James thought it was harder to conceive of a whole, undivided life than it was to conceive of the pluralistic world in which that life exists.
The Canadian habit of mind, Margaret Atwood says, is "synthetic....(with) the ever-failing, ever-renewed attempt to pull all the pieces together, to discover the whole of which one can only trust one is a part."3 I have pulled my life together in these poems; I have tied my life down after twenty-five years of peripatetic existence. This Canadian-Australian hybrid has written between the vastness of two continental land masses and a cosmology taking in all of time and space on the one hand and the microcosm of fragments found in everyday life on the other. He tries to find a middle ground.
Most of what I have written is less than ten years old. This exercise of the middle ground, it would appear, is far from over. As middle adulthood, middle age, turns insensibly in the next few years to late adulthood, or the beginnings of old age-depending on what model one uses to classify the stages of human development-I shall continue to write poetry and engage myself in that sythesis referred to above after pioneering a new model of social organization across two continents in the first half century of its institutional expression in a form known as The Kingdom of God on Earth
This ongoing synthesis that is part of my life and my poetry is essential because our identity is always in flux, every moment changing its shape in response to the forces surrounding it. The past is not fixed like a fly in amber but alters as the consciousness recalls it. It is this experience of change that gives a certain fragmentariness to daily life. It is what underlies, to some extent, Baha'u'llah's view of life as "a show, vain and empty bearing the mere semblance of reality." And so the individual searches and probes the past for meanings, trying to tie down what may be essentially an illusion, a "vapour in the desert," as Baha'u'llah expresses it. We continually filer the past through a succession of present selves. This is what is at the heart of that synthesis I refer to above.
And so an active interpenetration of past and present becomes the core process at the heart of this synthesis, this bringing together of the pieces of our lives. Fresh arrangements of an elusive identity become, for me, the subjects of this poetry. There is mystery, the inexplicable, a certain roominess, in my attempt to grapple with self, society and the sacred. The outer crust of all that I hold dear is a complex mechanism, that is as sensitive as a siesmograph, sensitive to slight vibrations, changes in the flux and multiplicity of experience, the chameleon-like transformations of my responsive personality. It would appear that my world and I are made and remade continually. My poetry records some of these makings and remakings, these takes and retakes of my life, my history, my society and my religion.
1 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.111.
2Leslie Munroe, "History as Story Sequence:Katherine Mansfield and Alice Munro", The Writer as Historical Witness: Studies in Commonwealth Literature, UniPress, London, 1995, p.190.
3ibid., p.195. ---Ron Price ---4 April 1998
A KIND OF SPONTANEITY
American poet W.S. Merwin regards writing as a kind of spontaneity which arises out of discipline and continual devotion to something. This certainly describes some of the basis of my poetry. Writing, he goes on, that is based on a romantic notion, a philosophy of chance, luck or some casual inclination, or an approach that derives its motivation from an essentially inspirational feeling lacks the directedness, the heightened awareness, the capacity to communicate experience with a sense of profound engagement, the joy of creation. Poetry for Merwin, as it has been for me, is a tribute of the current to the source. -Ron Price with thanks to "An Interview with W.S. Merwin," Internet, 5 February 2002.
I have been too convinced for years,
unchecked by any maybe,
in faithful self-abandonment
and cerebral consent:
the soul's glimpse of certitude,
inviting crimson astonishment
to leap onto my page,
although I keep my absolutes
couched in a language
of reciprocity and equivalence,
my unity in fluid, functional terms
as I strive for identity, complete agreement.
I encourage a climate of noncommitment;
indeed I must,
for I know that is where
my twilight generation lives and moves.
I know that I needed to be burned
by that flame.
I move toward that rightful heritage
of seers and watch the patterns
of our lives unfold
through the dazzling
mansions of our Lord.1
Through this poetry
I heap upon my readers
an accumulation of novelty
in my effort to seduce them
to accept this brilliant vision.
1Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, "Artist, Seeker and Seer," Baha'i Studies, Vol.10, pp.5-6.
5 February 2002
"Garden work," writes Robert Bly, "may begin unexpectedly." After thirty years of pioneering, 1962-1992, with a myriad pleasures and pains, I had been driven to the edge again by 1992. This time the edge was gentler, not anywhere near as traumatic as so many previous edge-games, end-games. But my need for a garden had grown unobtrusively, insensibly, throughout the nineties. Like Thoreau, I knew I had become a lover. Indeed, I had been a lover for some years. This condition of "lover" had grown, again insensibly and unobtrusively, in the late fifties and early sixties.
This time, with the tree of my longing having yielded "the fruit of despair and the fire of my hope" having fallen "to ashes," yet again, I slowly made a new garden, tightened up its boundaries to protect the shaded areas, the flower beds, the quiet rooms nearby, from invasion, intrusion, from the strangers, the people who had filled my life like a wall-to-wall carpet, with their enrichments, their enchantments and their exhausting chatter. By 1999, at the age of 55, I had established my garden in the place and, for the most part, with the conditions, I required. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Bly, Iron John, Element Books, Brisbane, 1990, p.134; and 2Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p.13.
The quality of a true warrior
is his service to a purpose
greater than himself,
a transcendent cause.
Since that warrior loves
the battlefield, he has to
change its locale occasionally
just to survive and continue
to serve that one precious thing,
that object of his adoration.
he is led to write his poem,
to his dance for those in other worlds.
It may be that he must create a garden
with the occasional, controlled,
skirmish and with the exuberant
excess of his subjective propensities,
his extravagant and endless turnings
to shape his many airy nothings,
giving them a local habitation
and a name, growing
some great constancy.1
1 Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act 5, Scene 1, lines 3-20.
27 January 2002
Robert Bly writes about the condition, the sense, of lowliness which happens to men after an initial "high" in their lives. After having been a special person: to his parents, his teachers, to his superiors in his newly acquired profession, perhaps to the small community of Baha'is where he became a member in his recent past, to his wife, his girlfriend, his friends, he sinks, he drops, he takes a big status kick. He loses his: job, marriage or health, self-respect, every shred of his former self. Bly calls it "the rat's hole," "the dark way." Somehow life does not prepare the person for this falling, fallen, experience. The upwardly mobile person has a down-and-out experience: he has to take a lower-class job in the kitchen or as a cleaner; he becomes homeless, walks the streets looking for a bed and a meal; his head is down, the descent, the exit, from ordinary life has begun. The Greeks called this process katabasis.-Ron Price with thanks to Robert Bly, Iron John, Element Books, Brisbane, 1990, p.72.
There was an ashy, sooty, out-of-it, time.
It got heavier, darker, then, as black as
rat's hole, dream's exploded, dried out,
sizzled on the electrodes back in '68.
Will never know if it was a mistake:
and then the long healing,
the deep emotional self
and the difficult repentance
and the freeing of myself
from endlessly returning
to that time and those days,
and that corpse of myself.
Slowly, slowly, I found again
something to want, to go for,
for the rest of my life, for this year,
this month, today. None of this:
I wonder what we shall do today?
Go for a little fishing? A BBQ?
The fire of centrality had returned
but then, again, the blackness,
the fear, the disorientation,
the hospital beds and the burning.
Then the prayers and more healing,
the fatigue and the dryness and finally
the garden: private enigmatic, mysterious,
a heaven-haven, where moments are holy
and I move toward action in this silence
when something is coming near, a wealth,
cultivation, boundaries, a controlled sociability
where poems arise almost effortlessly.
27 January 2002
BECOMING A MAN OVER FOUR EPOCHS
The enterprise of my 'turning into a man,' in a time as challenging for boys and men as the fifties and sixties, took place during epochs that saw the beginning of the sexual revolution of our time. The right to tell the story of my experience my way, as a man, comes from a reservoir "where we keep new ways of responding....when the conventional and current ways wear out."1 The model of manhood that was dominant in the forties and fifties was beginning to get a little thin; John Wayne was getting old; new models were appearing in film and the media. Male isolation was even seen as somewhat dangerous, by the time I reached puberty in 1957, the year the Guardian died. By the time I was twenty-one in 1965, the Vietnam war was on and the fifties model of manhood was in full retreat. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men, Element, Brisbane, 1990, p.xi.
We1 were starting, even then, 1 we = men
to look at our feminine side,
nurturing it, being gentle,
nice, soft, responsive.
And some, like me, married
some kind of radiant energy,
women of action, did things,
after years with a father
on the other side of the moon
and gradually softened with age,
became gentle with some sacred water.
I needed something fierce, then,
after he was gone back in '65,
in those first years of being a man,
couldn't find it, but I too
got my sacred water.
Eventually he came, this wild,
war-song thing I couldn't cage.
My search for the golden ball
of manhood after breaking
the umbilical chord
and learning how to catch,
was a long time in coming,
in stages only, subtly, in complexity
with no announcements.
Slowly I began to see my father
so much more clearly than ever
and I learned a range of traits,
part of that new race of men
they'd told us about back in '67,1
but I'd have to watch my son
carry on the process
of becoming a man:
for it would be generations,
it would require generations
after these first decades
of the Kingdom when
I had played my part.
1Universal House of Justice, Ridvan, 1967.
24 January 2002
A NEW NOTION
Until the nineteenth century little meaning was attached to age, nor to time as we measure it today. Time and place were not separated as they are now. Evening began when the cows came home. Households, guilds, churches and community were the great determinants in people's lives. People's lives were largely circumscribed by place. Life was lived day-to-day and year to year, within "that small parenthesis" of place, its simplicities, its restrictions and its joys and fears. The notion of a continuous lifetime proceeding in a timely and sequenced manner, in stages from birth to death with some degree of planning was simply unavailable for dozens of generations which had little control over their lives. In the nineteenth century, though, there emerged, first in northwestern Europe, the concept of the good life as a journey of continuous spiritual development.1 -Ron Price with thanks to John Gillis, A World of their Own Making: A History of Myth and Ritual in Family Life, Oxford UP, 1997, p.52.
It arose first in the merchant classes
and those patriarchal households,
with Protestant inner-worldly asceticism
and in the writings of those prophet-
founders of an emerging world religion,
all in the nineteenth century.
Sacred and resplendent tokens
to attract us from this place of dust
to a heavenly homeland,
to a court of holiness;
seeking every company,
fellowship with every soul,
consorting with people
of the immortal realm,
looking for Israfil
in the jewelled wisdom
of this lucid Faith
to bestow the spirit
on the mouldering bones
of this existence.1
1 Much of the phrasing in the 2nd stanza of this poem comes from Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952.
8 January 2002
THAT IN TERMS OF THIS
And out of what one sees and hears and out/Of what one feels, who could have thought to make/So many selves, so many sensuous worlds/As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming/With the metaphysical changes that occur,/Merely in living as and where we live. -Wallace Stevens, "Esthetique du Mal."
Yes Wallace, this Bird, this Bride of Heaven
has unfolded innumerable mysteries.
They have been running into my brain
for so long I became wearied out
in a whirlwind of wonder.
I have seen, now, this shadow stretching out,
these images in water for many a long year
and I have been given a taste, a Central Mood,
perhaps on that fine and unvarying Axis,1
from the world of heaven,
from my Bride of holiness and grandeur.
Some ingenious device, this world,
paints the inner which paints the outer,
a brush without a hand,
and a picture is published
with an inner brand,
every atom in existence
as I slowly come to see
that reality in terms of this.2
1 the spiritual axis from Japan to Australia
2The idea of this world being a metaphor of the spiritual reality of the afterlife was found originally in the writings of John Hatcher: The Purpose of Physical Reality, 1987.
18 January 1999
I came across a passage this evening written by Carl Jung at the age of eighty-two. He mentions the weight of his years and the tiredness it brings. He says he needs "to live in harmony with the inner demands" of his old age. "Solitude is" he writes, "a fount of healing which makes life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words....This journey is a great adventure in itself, but not one that can be talked about at great length." While this is not the whole truth on the subject it contains an expression of human experience by an eminent psychologist which strongly reflects my own feelings and thoughts as I approach the age of sixty. -Ron Price with thanks to Carl Jung in Jung The Wisdom of the Dream, S. Segaller and M. Berger, Period Pub., Chatswood, NSW, 1989, p. 189.
Twenty-five years younger
and I feel just the same, Carl,
as I enjoy that fount of healing
that is silence in these early years
of self-selected-directed retirement.
I get enough talking to satisfy
my social proclivities
on this great adventure
which seems to be something
about which words are futile.
And so I write and read about it
day after day satisfying an inner man
and creating that harmony
which is my life and poetry.
15 June 2001.
THE HYACINTHS OF HALTON COUNTY
In 1959 A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelly was published. Kelly’s epigraph was from Thoreau about a man who did not "keep pace with his companions" because he heard "a different drummer." In 1959 I became a Baha’i in Burlington Ontario, a town in Halton County. I was the only youth in Halton County in the late 1950s to hear this new drummer; in fact I was probably the first youth.--Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 18 January 1999.
No other teenager in Halton County,
back then, heard this Drummer
except Cathy Saxe
and some of the Miller kids in Georgetown.
I often wonder what has happened
to their drumming after all these years;
don’t remember seeing them much
after about ’62.
Haven’t seen anyone from Halton County
since, what, ’68?
I wonder, too, how many in Halton County
have heard my Drummer in these past thirty years:
teenagers, any-one? How many sowed the seeds
of that divine wisdom in the soil of their hearts,
so that now some hyacinths are growing?1
18 January 1999
1 Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian, no.36.
Phillip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus(1959) located growing up within generational struggles, not solely Oedipal. Breaking out was a source of guilt, a loss of some part of the self, a step into chaos which even the strongest could not control. To say farewell to Columbus was to sail out oneself, away from where one element of America lies, to where another is situated. For to grow up is to explore, to conquer America by confronting it and yourself. This was how you learned how to be, what to be and how and where to reach this being.
In 1959 I set out from my hometown. I had to work out my Oedipal conflict much more than the generational one Roth emphasizes. This took at least five years, perhaps more. Roth’s statement above is succinct and is an accurate statement of my own experience. I stepped into chaos many times; I felt a sense of the loss of self or identity; I sailed away to town after town, year after year. I confronted myself and society in my own way over nearly forty years and, in the process, learned about how to be, about my weaknesses and strengths. Seeing my journey like that of Columbus is an apt simile. I discovered a world and my journey is not yet over.-Ron Price with thanks to Frederick Karl, American Fiction: 1940-1980, A Comprehensive History and Critical Evaluation, Harper and Rowe, NY, 1983, p.148.
I sailed out into nearby bays and lakes,1
then to faraway islands and oceans2
and on these waters I learned a little
about being, about self, about chaos,
about one place, one piece of land,
then another, a new world,
with my Spain left far behind,
with fire testing the gold, so much gold,
so much laid waste, so much waste,
such deep and rich soil, being prepared,
preparing the ground,
a lifetime in different regions,
the beginning of a rain of divine outpouring
and one day, in coming centuries and cycles,
a harvest may be gathered of luxuriant mysteries,
of lakes, seas and oceans from this single drop.3
18 January 1999
1 bays and lakes of the Great Lakes in Ontario(1962-1971)
2islands and oceans of the world: Baffin Island, Tasmania, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Great Southern Ocean(1967-68 and 1971-1999)
3Some of this imagery is from ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, pp.6-7.
A RENDEZVOUS OF THE SOUL
Harold Bloom, who has been teaching poetry at Yale University for over twenty-five years, says that he sees his profession, the profession of the poet, dying. It has been dieing, he argues, since the late 1960s, as aesthetic and cognitive standards have been abandoned. The tradition of American poetry, he says, can survive only by a profound turning inward. This poetry of mine, entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, is part of "a profound inward turning," the survival package of poetry, should it in fact need one. -Ron Price from Harold Bloom, "They have the Numbers; We Have the Heights", Boston Review, 1993-1998.
Indeed, this is a special time for a rendezvous of the Soul with the Source of its light and guidance.-Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 1992, p.6.
This opus is a great inward turning,
after a lifetime of outwardness,
across two continents
and umpteen towns,
the mouth moving at a mile-a-minute;
for soul is an only begotten,
has no twin, no other,
is a fatal, universal, power,
child of time, of appearance,
a great experiment,
every day, every act,
betraying an ill-concealed
god-soul within and without,
mysterious animating force,
perhaps a future leaven
that will furnish power
to the world and its wonders
after it is severed from the tree.1
31 January 1999
1Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, USA, 1956(1939), p.155; and Emerson quoted in Bloom above.
SHAPING INNER LIFE
The act of intuition is...an act of perception whereby the content is formed....turned into form.....a work of art is essentially in the artist’s mind...there is an intuited Gestalt...there is contemplation of the complexities, simplicities, import....meaning is synthetically construed...there is candid envisagement....there is clarification and organization of the intuition.....In the process the reader’s imagination of external reality can, in fact, be shaped...a revelation can occur to the reader’s inner life....because of some fresh formulation of their felt life, life which is at the heart of their own culture.-Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1953, Chapters 20 and 21.
Thank you, Susanne, for helping me define
just what I am doing, trying to do, as I write
all these poems, trying to express all this trying,
this doing, this feeling, this thinking,
this imagining, these memories, this intuiting,
this defining, this clarifying, this organizing,
this shaping, this formulating:
to see with my own eyes
and hear with my own ears
and know of my own knowledge*,
and that others may do the same.
24 October 1998
SOME VERDANT NOTHINGNESS AND FLAKES OF SNOW
For most, if not all, poets there is an enormous discrepancy between ‘real life’ and ‘the life of the imagination’. The life of that imagination often seems richer than the materials it is given by life to work with. Often, too, the more protected and uneventful the actual business of living, the more magnificent the flight from it is for the poet. -Ian Hamilton, A Poetry Chronicle: Essays and Reviews, Faber and Faber, London, 1973, p. 146.
Surely, this is that inner life and private character,
the place for the magnificent flight, the mirroring
of those eternal principles, the wine that is life indeed,
the washing away of the stains, the wilderness of longing,
the enrichment of riches, the soaring on wings, the sweetness
of memory, the taste of tender herbs of knowledge, the sinking
deep of words, some quieting of the heart, the delighting of my
suckling child, this inner nothingness clad with a verdure and a
fragrance of the Robe of a Revelation. This is all an inner thing
which has outward manifestations: the ear wherewith he heareth1,
a soaring up on the wings of assistance from Holy Souls2,
one must, then, read the book of his own self.3
And so, on and on, thoughts press on, and feelings flow,
while quickly words form round me like flakes of snow.4
14 June 1996
1Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p.22.
4Baha’u’llah refers to mounting on the ladders of inner truth and hastening to the heaven of inner significance(ibid., p.12). These inner significances and the kinds of things I am referring to in this poem are one approach to this fundamental question of the inner life.
TIME TO JUMP
As I have progressed through the years of middle adulthood, or middle age, I have grown tired of doing many things I used to do with enthusiasm. I no longer get the pleasure I used to from public meetings, private meetings, just about any kind of meeting. In a religion that is so ostensibly centred on meetings and which I have given the most part of my life to attending, this development has bewildered and saddened me. But I cannot deny it. There is a renewal process in this Cause, a great power, and I am finding my life enhanced by a surge of poetry into my veins, by a discovery of an inner life of meaning and an enlarging of the circumference of my imagination. Old things are now seen freshly and new things more clearly.-Ron Price with thanks to James Dickey, Night Hurding: Poems, Essays, Conversations, Commencements and Afterwards, Bruccoli clark, columbia UP, NY, 1983.
Life has taken me to many cities,
towns and villages and has brought
me to know thousands of people to
whom I can return in thoughts along
those endless roads twisting through
wilderness or straight as a line in semi-
desert, savanna, or no roads at all up
there on Baffin or in my childhood and--
here poems arise, gush out like Niagara,
for this has become life, a new life, an
inner life, some widening circumference
and I have grown tired of those roads,
the places, the houses, so many houses.
Oh to travel, travel in my head for I have
become weary: the pioneer, travel-teacher
wants to stop and take an inner journey,
one down the long path where I can jump
into an eternal ocean immersed in light.
3 May 1996
The peace that comes is a positive feeling which crowns life and the journey of the soul. It is difficult to define and to speak of. It has little to do with hope and the future or with the present and its details. It is a broadening of feeling, is essentially unverbalizable and is experienced as an integration and coordination of values. There is something new flowing in one’s veins, like the sea. You feel clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. You sing and delight in God, some inner life; you wish the happiness of other people and you enjoy the world, it seems like for the first time.
This peace is a complex composite, though: fear, anxiety, anger still come and go through the heart and mind, but in lower, easier, intensities. A new sadness and sorrow rests on the brow like leaves blowing on the ground weaving familiar, doleful, patterns. A solemn consciousness has formed, the central wellspring of that peace and a new joy. -Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Traherne, A.N. Whitehead and the Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat: in The Apple and the Spectroscope, T.R. Henn, W.W. Norton and Co., 1966, pp.143-144 and a Letter, 3 April 1991, respectively.
There’s an easiness to it all, an ease of mind,
kind of laid back, but with enough energy to
move mountains, though you don’t try them
any more. You could call it peace, but I don’t
think of it as peace, more a quiet sweetness,
like a honey pot, not just your simple honey pot
mind you, this one’s tinctured with poison, some
sadness, undefined, unknown, but felt like an old tree,
twisted-knots, with age, came from all those years, now
far from the twisted reach of a crazy sorrow, as Dylan called it.
The heat’s gone, all that trying and endless earnestness.
This new and solemn consciousness, formed from endless
drops dropping and a river flowing finally on its course
to the sea where an even greater peace and joy await.
5 May 1996
SOME STARTLING BURST
Quest for a self is fundamental to poetry. It is created and then discovered. It is the same as the quest for home. All towns become your home town. Writing locates your home, your inner life, your self, your God. For knowledge of self is the same as knowledge of God when one enjoys the connecting device found in that special Principle of Recurrence. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, June 8, 1996.
Here is the principle which seems to sleep
for a thousand years, some startling burst
beyond similitudes, yet returning like the
steel-brilliant sun which makes the mountains
drink in clumsy wonder its rising light and
grow luminous and warm with day; or the
lone snow-flake twinkle-shine or remain dull,
beyond dance, or their curves, buttock, breast,
chest, thigh, calf which have delighted the eye
for a million years, intermittently, fresh surprise:
this principle of beauty, passion and form,
operative source of joy, story of great distances
and starlight, seems to take light years to touch
our world, our faces and our minds.
8 June 1996
A WAR THAT’S FOR THE LOWLY
Dickinson explores all our inward states, scrutinizing them carefully, weighing their paradoxes, embedding their meanings in her poetry. To read her poetry is to discover the many facets of an infinitely rich inner life.-Paula Bennett, "Polar Privacy", Emily Dickinson: Woman Poet, University of Iowa Press, 1990.
Make thou an effort, that haply in this dust-heap of the mortal world thou mayest catch a fragrance from the everlasting garden... -Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, (USA 1952), p.38.
Ron Price explores here the ambiguities and paradoxes of the war that most western Baha’is fought in the third and fourth epochs, in the first years of the tenth stage of history which opened in 1963. -Comment on the poem below.
It was not war for where were guns,
no flares, no flame-throwers as lighters.
There was no battle, night or day,
I saw no tanks, no ships, no jet-fighters.
I did not freeze from long cold nights
out on a boggy mire.
I did not boil in summer heat
in some frightful desert cross-fire.
And yet I’ve fought an old-born war,
enchanted by its cunning,
exhausted at the end of day
by miles and miles of running.
The war I fight it has no name,
the grief an ancient crossing;
each night I prepare for death
as in my bed I’m tossing.
Then morning comes, the war renews,
anew with sun and breeze.
It’s warm and soft with no despair;
there could not be more ease.
This beachhead is one we’ve never seen;
the engagement resumes each day.
When everything that ticks has stopped
an empty space may just get in my way.
What will be the battle then
as my years approach the dust?
Some articulate silence calls,
my candles fail, my petals rust.
And here a mediocrity with a touch
of godliness, a taste of something holy.
For I will soon, quite soon, choose death
in this theatre of war that’s only for the lowly.
21 January 1996
A SEISMOGRAPHIC RECORD
Dante had at his disposal a comprehensive and intellectually consistent image of the cosmos and its relationship to God. -Harold L. Weatherby, The Keen Delight: The Christian Poet in the Modern World, University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1975, p.5.
In an age profoundly infected with philosophical scepticism the problem of writing sacred poetry, the great song, requires that we recapture a genuine science of invisible things. This can be done through a grasp by the poet of both the external and internal worlds. The poet conveys his creative intuition into a receptive intuition. -ibid. pp.123-149.
The poet, who is a member of the Baha’i community, has before him every atom in existence and the essence of all created things1. There is no break between nature, art, poetry, science, religion and personal life. It is all one, a dynamic unity amidst multiplicity, amidst an organic body of ideas. On the basis of a vast corpus of sacred Writings this same poet has before him a massive body of religious literature. Its frameworks of systematic theology, philosophy, epistomology, ontology, aesthetics, theophanology, history and psychology are, for the most part, in their early stages of development. But the foundation is there for a rich and fertile global literature to evolve within a fusion of opposites, on some ladder of reflection and, inevitably, amidst a complex cross-fertilisation. -Ron Price, The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature, Unpublished Manuscript, 1996.
You get enough principles here
to build a cosmos in your brain,
to wander with Dante through his
world of keen delight, to rebuild
his model, a reconstructed universe.
This is far more than mere living, of
simply amusing oneself, than some
restless dilettante spectator on the lounge
room couch; this is appreciation, deep and
full, far beyond a momentary touch of sorrow;
this is some vortex spinning with ideas driving,
hopefully, its readers into their own memory,
back into a reverie, past depths and the vagueness
of past-times into a oneness that is slowly sweeping
the face of the earth, a search that is self-expression.
This universe, this cosmos, this self,
its likes and dislikes, comings and
goings, faults and weaknesses are
one entity, even in its contradictions:
the oneness of a microcosm in its
egotism and limitations, walking
backwards or forewords, in some
new Rome at the crossroads, in some
solitude and aloneness which is
necessary and unavoidable, it seems,
bringing the past and the future into
now, with delicate scents, pulsations,
unnameable tactile sensations, with
an anxiety surrounding my moments
of tranquillity but with light as the
basis of structure and darkness always
at the periphery, on an inner lifeline of
such complexity, such a seismographic
record and sensibility, such a breadth of
compass within the distilled sphere of
these words and their fusion of opposites.
18 August 1996
1Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words.
SEMBLANCE OF REALITY
Memory is a form of story-telling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling...in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.-William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow, NY, Knopf, 1980, p.27.
The one who writes an autobiography is not the one who lives the events, not the one who is. -Paraphrase of Roland Barthes, "An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative", New Literary History, 6(1974-1975), p.261.
...the writing and the reading of an autobiography is not a timeless process, but embedded in an ongoing history of the search for identity of both the writer and the reader and the communities in which they live. -Bruce Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century, NY, Basic Books, 1975, p.163.
Sort of makes you wonder
if you can ever get it down
with any decent amount of
what we used to call truth.
Some heightened form of
some curiously excessive desire
to define that inner life and
some of that private character,
at least for yourself, for your own
satisfaction; some recapitulation, here,
in the mixed rhythms of autobiography,
of the formation of who you are, your first self
as you define some second, third, who knows
how many selves reconstructed in the course
of your development.
Some sense of self emerges according to
your intention as past, present and future
play around in the sandbox of your mind.
Some self is invented(surely not!) in an evolving,
intricate process of self-discovery-creation,
a narrative of fictive structure shaped by
need, memory and imagination: an inwardness
opening onto the world with your contradictory,
absolute and confused voices which turn the
visible life-once lived-into invisible abstraction,
into inner breath which smoulders around
some vain and empty semblance of reality.
(God, it can’t be that bad!)
28 September 1995
A NOTE FOR FREEDOM--and Joy
In 1953, at the outset of the Kingdom of God on earth, as 'Abdu'l-Baha informs us in God Passes by,1 Ray Bradbury published his book Fahrenheit 451. It is Bradbury's compelling and classic novel of censorship and defiance. The book was a timely warning against the anti-Communist hysteria and the fear of totalitarianism that then gripped the USA. In 1966 the book was made into a movie which was not considered successful. From time to time a criticism of the Baha'i Faith is made accusing this new world Faith of totalitarian leanings. Anyone who has worked in this Cause for a significant length of time knows that such a criticism is difficult to believe and understand, impossible to countenance.-Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, p.351.
This is the religion of the inner-life,1
the religion of the book par excellence.
It is here that we are born and die.
It is here where the passionate will
to understand is found
and a deep tempering process
takes place--called life.
It is natural to sometimes feel
defeated by the chaos of names
that floats around inside us
and is part of our daily diet.2
Now, though, that I have
tasted liberally of despair
from its empty-boned,
bleached skull with its
large and hollowed-eyes......
the time has come for life's
symphony of joy,
its myriad notes,
its exquisite celebratory joy,
born of solemn consciousness,
deep reflection and contemplation,
awe and a thankful gladness.
For the exceptional and glorious
stage of humanity's spiritual
evolution3 has become
so very very plain.
1Robert Hughes, in his analysis of German art in the thirties pointed out how totalitarian regimes do not allow for an inner life. There is no inwardness in that world.(Robert Hughes, "Degenerate Art," ABC TV, 11:15-12;10 am, 24/2/03.
2Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt:For Love of the World, Yale UP, London, 1982, p. 196. 3 The Universal House of Justice, Letter April 3 1991.
Ron Price 27 February 2003