The Handwriting on Belshazzar’s Wall

'Golden Rectangle,' by 'Greg' (user 'sightrays') on Flickr

[Image: “Golden Rectangle,” by “Greg” (user “sightrays”) on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) The explanation at that page provides much more detail than I can here. The gist, though, is that a “golden spiral” appears to home in on a particular point — where the diagonals of the two rectangles making a golden rectangle intersect — but in fact, never really reaches that point: the spiral is infinite in length.]

Not from whiskey river:

Nature Knows Its Math

Divide
the year
into seasons,
four,
subtract
the snow then
add
some more
green,
a bud,
a breeze,
a whispering
behind
the trees,
and here
beneath the
rain-scrubbed
sky
orange poppies
multiply.

(Joan Graham [source])

…and:

[Let us consider] the common idea that mathematics is a dull subject, whereas the testimony of all those who have any dealing with it shows that it is one of the most thrilling and tantalising and enchanting subjects in the world. It is abstract, but so, to all appearance, is theology. Men have hurled themselves on the spears of their enemies rather than admit that the second person of the Trinity was not co-eternal with the first. Men have been burned by inches rather than allow that the charge to Peter was to be a charge to him as an individual rather than to him as a representative of the Apostles. Of such questions as these it is perfectly reasonable for anyone to say that, in his opinion, they are preposterous and fanatical questions. And what men have before now done for the abstractions of theology I have little doubt that they would, if necessary, do for the abstractions of mathematics. If human history and human variety teach us anything at all, it is supremely probable that there are men who would be stabbed in battle or burnt at the stake rather than admit that three angles of a triangle could be together greater than two right angles.

The truth surely is that it is perfectly permissible and perfectly natural to become bored with a subject just as it is perfectly permissible and perfectly natural to be thrown from a horse or to miss a train or to look up the answer to a puzzle at the end of a book. But it is not a triumph if it is anything at all, it is a defeat. We have certainly no right to assume offhand that the fault lies with the horse or with the subject.

(G.K. Chesterton [source])

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Believing in What Cannot Be Believed

Image: from 'Elecktroschutz 132,' an album on Flickr by Bre Pettis

[Image: one of 30 Ways to Shock Yourself, a Flickr album by Bre Pettis (used here under a Creative Commons license). The images in this album apparently come from an old (1931) German book, Elecktroschutz in 132 Bildern; this was an illustrated guide to the hazards of electricity in everyday life. The illustrations all feature these curvy red lines and arrows, indicating the path the electricity takes and the dangerous points of contact which make the path possible. The caption on this one — one of the more fanciful images — might be, “Do not milk a cow with its tail wrapped around a light pole, especially if you may end up sitting in the milk you spill.” This does seem like sound advice.]

From whiskey river:

Credo

What good is poetry
if it doesn’t stand up
against the lies of government,
if it doesn’t rescue us
from the liars that mislead us?
What good is it
if it doesn’t speak out, denounce what’s going on?
It’s nothing
but harmless wordplay
to titillate and distract—
the government knows it,
and can always get rid of us if we step out of line.

That I believed in poetry,
even when I betrayed it,
that I came back to its central meaning
—to save the world—
this and only this
has been my salvation.

after C. Milosz

(Edward Field [source])

and:

Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

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The Voice, the Song, the Vision, the Light

[Video: 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne (live), performing Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” (Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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This Matter of Not-Knowing

'The Sea Has No Need of Us,' by August Brill on Flickr

[Image: “The Sea Has No Need of Us,” by August Brill on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) The photograph’s description there consists entirely of a quotation from Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov: “Its beauty is not for us. It’s a beauty that has nothing to do with us… The sea doesn’t know we exist, and besides, would it perhaps really like to know this?” (I haven’t located a specific source for this quotation — may be a loose translation.)]

From whiskey river:

There is a certain kind of fascination, a strictly artistic fascination, which arises from a matter being hinted at in such a way as to leave a certain tormenting uncertainty even at the end. It is well sometimes to half understand a poem in the same manner that we half understand the world. One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice
there is little we can do
to change;
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds.

(Daniel Goleman [source]*)

and:

“At this moment” is a rare thing because only sometimes do I step with both feet on the land of the present: usually one foot slides toward the past, the other slides toward the future. And I end up with nothing.

(Clarice Lispector [source])

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All of a Piece, a Piece of All

'Broken promises Project 365(3),' by Keith Williamson on Flickr

[Image: “Broken promises Project 365(3),” by Keith Williamson (user “elwillo”) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

All good things are one thing. Sunsets, schools of philosophy, cathedrals, operas, mountains, horses, poems — all these are mainly disguises. One thing is always walking among us in fancy-dress, in the grey cloak of a church or the green cloak of a meadow.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Where Is God?

It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

(Mark Nepo [source])

…and, from whiskey river’s commonplace book:

People Like Us
for James Wright

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can’t remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can’t remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It’s
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he’s lonely , and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you’re safe

(Robert Bly [source])

and:

Japanese Shape

The way it forces you to look
watching your step
so as not to turn your ankle
on a rock
or step into water nearby

The way it turns the torso
this way and that
view after view
spaces between spaces
and spaces between

The way it slows you down
step after step
no skipping between
there is no short cut
to the edge of this garden

The way it swirls the vision
into brown and black
and green and light with
sound in the air until
only a blanket remains

The way it stops the mind.

(Harry Palmer [no alternative source located])

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Genii Locorum

'81,' by user Fu Ke on Flickr

[Image: “81,” by the user known as “Fu Ke,” on Flickr. I came really close to using a half-dozen or so photos by this user instead; finally decided that this best aligns with today’s theme (such as it is). It’s very… Escherian, no?]

From whiskey river:

For we human beings are used to inappropriate things; we are accustomed to the clatter of the incongruous; it is a tune to which we can go to sleep. If one appropriate thing happens, it wakes us up like the pang of a perfect chord.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Nights Our House Comes to Life

Some nights in midwinter when the creek clogs
With ice and the spines of fir trees stiffen
Under a blank, frozen sky,
On these nights our house comes to life.
It happens when you’re half asleep:
A sudden crack, a fractured dream, you bolting
Upright – but all you can hear is the clock
Your great-grandfather found in 1860
And smuggled here from Dublin for his future bride,
A being as unknown to him then as she is now
To you, a being as distant as the strangers
Who built this house, and died in this room
Some cold, still night, like tonight,
When all that was heard were the rhythmic clicks
Of a pendulum, and something, barely audible,
Moving on the dark landing of the attic stairs.

(Matthew Brennan [source])

and:

Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a street lamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

and:

Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window—
at most: column, tower… But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
Ever dreamed of existing.

(Rainer Maria Rilke [source])

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Perspectives, Inside-Out

Thangka painted with OM, AH, and HUNG characters (reversed)

[Image: the caption at Flickr says only: “Reversed (original): OM AH HUNG, Mind Speech Body, blessing letters on the reverse of a Tibetan Buddhist Thankga, red ink, Seattle, Washington, USA: written in reverse so they are correct from the deities (sic) point of view.”]

From whiskey river:

But the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next. These captives lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Seldom is it as dramatic, but nevertheless, something of this journey between the near and the far goes on in every life. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others. There are those who receive as birthright an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or for satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and:

Empty me of the bitterness and disappointment
of being nothing but myself
Immerse me in the mystery of reality
Fill me with love for the truly afflicted
that hopeless love, if need be
make me one of them again —
Awaken me to the reality of this place
and from the longed-for or remembered place
And more than this, behind each face
induct, oh introduce me in-
to the halting disturbed ungrammatical soundless
words of others’ thoughts
not the drivel coming out of our mouths
Blot me out, fill me with nothing but consciousness
of the holiness, the meaning
of these unseeable, all
these unvisitable worlds which surround me:
others’ actual thoughts — everything
I can’t perceive yet
know

know it is there.

(Franz Wright [source])

and:

We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

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Crossings

'The Other Side,' by Gisela Giardino on Flickr

[Image: “The Other Side,” by Gisela Giardino on Flickr. (Click image to enlarge.)
Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

Happiness

A state you must dare not enter
with hopes of staying,
quicksand in the marshes, and all

the roads leading to a castle
that doesn’t exist.
But there it is, as promised,

with its perfect bridge above
the crocodiles,
and its doors forever open.

(Stephen Dunn [source])

and:

The fierce poet of the Middle Ages wrote, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” over the gates of the lower world. The emancipated poets of today have written it over the gates of this world. But if we are to understand the story which follows, we must erase that apocalyptic writing, if only for an hour. We must recreate the faith of our fathers, if only as an artistic atmosphere. If, then, you are a pessimist, in reading this story, forego for a little the pleasures of pessimism. Dream for one mad moment that the grass is green. Unlearn that sinister learning that you think is so clear, deny that deadly knowledge that you think you know. Surrender the very flower of your culture, give up the very jewel of your pride, abandon hopelessness, all ye who enter here.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Gone

It’s that, when I’m gone,
(and right off this is tricky)
I won’t be worried
about being gone.
I won’t be here
to miss anything.
I want now, sure,
all I’ve been gathering
since I was born,
but later
when I no longer have it,
(which might be
a state everlasting, who knows?)
this moment right now
(stand closer, love,
you can’t be too close),
is not a thing I’ll know to miss.
I doubt I’ll miss it.
I can’t get over this.

(Lia Purpura [source])

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Road-Seen

[Image: “Little Red Riding Hood,” copyright Amanda Gray; all rights reserved. See original at her blog, what now]

From whiskey river:

Cutting Loose

for James Dickey

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path — but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.

(William Stafford [source])

and:

The Next Time
(excerpt)

Perfection is out of the question for people like us,
so why plug away at the same old self when the landscape

has opened its arms and given us marvelous shrines
to flock towards? The great motels to the west are waiting,

in somebody’s yard a pristine dog is hoping that we’ll drive by,
and on the rubber surface of a lake people bobbing up
and down

will wave. The highway comes right to the door, so let’s
take off before the world out there burns up. Life should
be more

than the body’s weight working itself from room to room.
A turn through the forest will do us good, so will a spin

among the farms. Just think of the chickens strutting,
the cows swinging their udders, and flicking their tails at flies.

And one can imagine prisms of summer light breaking against
the silent, haze-filled sleep of the farmer and his wife.

(Mark Strand [source])

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Things Which Seem Otherwise

From whiskey river:

Let me make this perfectly clear.
I have never written anything because it is a Poem.
This is a mistake you always make about me,
A dangerous mistake. I promise you
I am not writing this because it is a Poem.

You suspect this is a posture or an act
I am sorry to tell you it is not an act.

You actually think I care if this
Poem gets off the ground or not. Well
I don’t care if this poem gets off the ground or not
And neither should you.
All I have ever cared about
And all you should ever care about
Is what happens when you lift your eyes from this page.

Do not think for one minute it is the Poem that matters.
It is not the Poem that matters.
You can shove the Poem.
What matters is what is out there in the large dark
and in the long light,
Breathing.

(Gwendolyn MacEwen, “Let Me Make This Perfectly Clear,” Afterworlds)

…and:

Then there is the BIG PROBLEM — who are you? There is an endemic human tendency for self-deception. We all think we’re one kind of person when we’re somewhat different (especially viewed by others) than we imagine we are. You — the reader — no doubt feel you’re an exception.

(Alan Fletcher)

…and:

Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Can’t you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—

(G.K. Chesterton, from The Man Who Was Thursday [source])

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