zenpundit.com » poetry

Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Israelitarian & Palestinitarian reasons for fury, human reasons for grief

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- peace as photo op, peace as common grief -- Tears of Gaza, poetry of Rumi -- second in a series ]

There are, it seems to me, Israelitarian reasons to be terrified by and / or furious with those who lob rockets at them, and most recently at their nuclear facility at Dimona. There are, it seems to me, Palestinitarian reasons to be terrified by and / or furious with those who rain down airstrikes on them, killing among others 4 kids playing on a beach — all from the same family, and aged 8 to 10 years old …

Grief, it seems to me, is the humanitanian — no, the human — response.


I have to admit the upper of these two images leaves me cold and uncomfortable: it seems so clearly posed, with the two flags conveniently present as props. Perhaps, even, it comes from the same studio in Southern California that was used to fake the moon landing, all those many years ago — the Studio of the Unreal?

The lower of the two images, however, strikes me as authentic — two men whose grief at the loss of a son and a nephew transcends the dividing wall across which their families’ lives were bandied like pingpong balls…

Grief, not propaganda, is the human response.


Israelitarian, Palestinitarian — these are ugly words, and I hope not to use them again. But they light up for me the ugliness of their sibling, humanitarian — a word that, it seems to me, distances us from human possibility.

Israelis, Palestinians, these — and so many others around the globe in what we term “conflict zones” — are humans.

It is humans who die or bleed, humans who feel, one by one, on these occasions of horrific personal loss, the grief.

Perhaps then we can set aside considerations of nationality and fury, and watch the trailer for Tears of Gaza, as we may watch Restrepo, for the humanity of the humans portrayed:


It was the soundtrack which brought me to the Tears of Gaza video:

The song is Jalaluddin Rumi‘s — the words, so strange to our ears in the context of Gaza, then and today — yet also transcendent, also deeply human:

Daylight, arise!
Since the atoms are dancing!
Out of joy,
are dancing.
That person–
because of whom
the celestial sphere
and the atmosphere
are dancing–
I whisper
into your ear
that one
is dancing.

Each atom
that is in the air
and the plains,
look well at it
because like us
it is enraptured.
Each atom,
whether happy
or sad,
is bewildered
the incomparable
sun of joy.

Translation courtesy of Dr Alan Godlas of the University of Georgia, who very kindly pointed me to the soundtrack, and thus also to the documentary itself.

Dr Godlas responded to my questions with these notes:

That person = probably a reference to the Prophet (pbuh), as in the hadith qudsi, where God says (addressing the Prophet “Were it not for you, were it not for you, I would not have created the universe.”

The reference to the sun is probably Shams-e Tabrizi and also the perfect human sun-like essence within us, which reflects God.

Shams — whose name means “the sun” — was Rumi’s teacher, to whom many of Rumi’s poems were addressed.


Next up: Human reasons for sympathy: a DQ in the Wild


Three poems

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- sometimes poetry is the only viable way to speak of oneself or one's friends ]

Mercy, me

I who am woven of a thousand and one strands,
silk on burlap, string and harp string, heart string, I
many voiced like a storm, ocean, cacophony,
curse melting into blessing congealing to curse, I
chaotic, polyphonic, contrapuntal, confused, I
multitude, I legion, I saint stained with sin, shaman,
I idol to myself, idiot, idiomatic, idiosyncratic,
syncretist of divine, debased and diabolic voices, I

come to you a tapestry, unsure which side depicts
best my person, unraveling before you, ready
to unpick myself and start again with those same I
strands, burlap and silk of me, I, angel cerulean, I
squat imp at the inkwell: mercy at last I cry, lord,
mercy on me, on some of, on this of, on all of me..



A sky curtain of rain swept down across earth
from the north, the sky curtain of light,
aurora, swept down, the rain and the light
glory and grief so interwoven as to form
just the one sky curtain, responsive to a single
breath death, immortal mortality, that
tears us each open to renewed love, to life.
We grieve, Carole, not as you must grieve,

for this is not our place, but behind you, in
a procession of breaths, a sequence of souls,
liturgy of loss and amazed thankfulness.
Michael slipped away: we lost, are at a loss,
at sorrow in his passing, joy in memories
which in his time he gifted, he imprinted on us.


For Amy

We are ultimately alone yet intimately interconnected —
intimately alone, though ultimately interconnected — woven
of loss and love, incomparable creatures really,
with all human possibility our fulcrum, “give me
one human and I shall turn the world” the sky muttered
and the earth laughed deep in its core, turning already, its
face in night forever, its face ever facing the sun.

Take a deep breath, surrender it. We are alone, together.

Try to catch a falling leaf in a shower of leaves, you will fail —
yet there are leaves that fall to your hand while
you walk through a blazing blizzard of autumn colors:
try not to try, don’t try, nothing trying, nothing,
and the leaves know their identities and destined paths.

You and that leaf — alone, yet so intimately interconnected.


Regimental photograph taken after beheadings?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- delighted by the Met's generosity, saddened by one specific omission ]

The Metropolitan Museum recently made a huge trove of digital imagery — 400,000 images — available for scholarly use:

he Metropolitan Museum’s initiative — called Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) — provides access to images of art in its collection that the Museum believes to be in the public domain and free of other known restrictions; these images are now available for scholarly use in any media. Works that are covered by the new policy are identified on the Museum’s website with the acronym OASC.

Sad to say, this image titled “Group of Thirteen Decapitated Soldiers” (ca. 1910) doesn’t appear to be one of them. If it had been, I’d have gladly DoubleQuoted it with Kiping:

f you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

In the meanwhile, do please, click through to it and be suitably astonished.


It is one of the hazards of copyright that it hampers the building of bridges between different domains — playful, even frivolous connections, as in this case, or more serious ones, as in the overall task of constructing a database of humanly perceived analogies for artificial intelligence uses, or a version of Hermann Hesse’s “hundred-gated cathedral of the mind”.

A pity, that.

And yes, I’m using the phrase “regimental photo” loosely in my title — what would you call it? an after-image, perhaps?


Uways and his significance

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- exploring the importance to both Shias and Sufis of Uways Al Qarni, and of the Uwaysi transmission in Sufism ]

Uways, the destruction of whose shrine I described today in the first of two posts, was the man to whom the Prophet Muhammad entrusted his cloak on his death (a potent symbol ineed), a prototypical Muslim mystic, an early Muslim martyr who never physically met the Prophet — and the saint who gives his name to the Uwaysis, those Sufis who receive spiritual insight not from a living master but through a spiritual transmission from beyond…

Beyond what I can easily tell you, but where beyond is not for me to say…

Diving right in, then, here are two substantial gobbets from Patrick Laude‘s Malâmiyyah Psycho-Spiritual Therapy can also be found — in the same words, I think — in his book, Divine Play, Sacred Laughter, and Spiritual Understanding. Laude is currently Professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar:

The figure of Uways Qarani is most representative in this respect. Farid al-Din ‘Attar tells us about him: “during his life in this world, he (Uways) was hiding from all in order to devote himself to acts of worship and obedience” (‘Attar 1976, p. 2). ‘Attar also relates that the Prophet had declared at the time of his death that his robe should be given to Uways, a man he had never met in this life. When ‘Umar looked for Uways during his stay in Kufa, he asked a native of Qarn (the home town of Uways) and was answered “there was one such man, but he was a madman, a senseless person who because of his madness does not live among his fellow countrymen (…) He does not mingle with anybody and does not eat nor drink anything that others drink and eat. He does not know sadness nor joy; when others laugh, he weeps, and when they weep, he laughs” (ibid., p. 29). We can already perceive here, in the case of an early mystic like Uways, the dual, and seemingly contradictory, spiritual vocation of ‘obscurity’ and ‘eccentricity.’ The unassuming figure of Uways is, at the same time, blatantly discordant in the social context. This discordant status that is often referred to as ‘madness’ is the mark of the irruption of a transcendent, vertical perspective within the world of terrestrial horizontality. It is akin to a negation of the negation: the Spirit ‘negates’ the distorted notions of the soul, the biases and comforts. When Uways finally meets with ‘Umar, he tells him that it would be better for him that “nobody (but God) would know him and had knowledge of who he was.” To remain incognito can be considered as the leaven of malamiyyah spirituality.

and in his footnotes:

In his Kitub ‘Uqala’ al-majanin, an-Naysaburi ranks Uways among four of the best-known “wise fools” with Majnun, Sa’dun and Buhlul. Cf. Dols, p.355.

Uways is also, and quite tellingly, the ‘patron’ of Sufis who do not have a living master: “The Sufi tradition has distinguished a special group of seekers: those whose sole link with the teaching is through Khidr himself. There are those rare Sufis who do not have a teacher in the flesh. (…) They have been given a special name: uwaysiyyun.” Sara Sviri (1997) p.98.

It is interesting to note that Uways Qarani is both a norm and a shocking exception in the world of early Islam. He is a shocking exception in so far as his asocial perspective and ascetic disposition took him away from the communal establishment of the ummah that is, in a sense, the very identity of Islam. Still, at the same time, Uways al-Qarani is referred to in at least two ahadith that make of him the spiritual pole of the community. Two interesting facts must be commented upon in this context: first, the Prophet declared that on the Day of Judgment and later in Paradise, God will give the form of Uways to 70,000 angels so that nobody could know, even in the thereafter, who is the actual Uways. This hyperbolic and symbolic manifestation of anonymity is quite suggestive of the principle of ‘invisibility’ that presides over the malamiyyah way. Secondly, when referring to Uways in connection with ‘Umar, ‘Attar carefully avoids any expression that would seem to give precedence to Uways over ‘Umar: “You should know that Uways al- Qarani was not superior to ‘Umar, but that he was a man of detachment vis-a-vis things of this world. ‘Umar, as for him, was an accomplished perfection in all his works.” (op.cit. p.31) ‘Umar’s perfection is defined in terms of presence and action in the world of men, whereas Uways’ perfection is understood in terms of separation from the world. Given its emphasis on equilibrium between the two worlds, Islam cannot extol Uways’ virtues to the point of “otherworldliness.” Moreover, the Prophet’s robe is no doubt a different kind of investiture than the line of succession in the khilafat: it points to a spiritual authority like the khirka (cloak) of the Sufi Shaykh; but this type of investiture and eminence must remain hidden.

This ‘madness’ is also related to the function of the American Indian ‘contrary’, Sioux heyokao or Hopi kochare, or the “grey one” of the Apaches, who embodies the apparently senseless reversal of terrestrial and social norms of behavior.


Thyere’s a lot packed into these two chunks of Laude’s — poetry, legend, hagiography, insight — and I’ve quoted them in extenso because they save me quoting shorter extracts from half a dozen other sources [ eg: 1, 2, 3, 4 ].

For a more detailed understanding, I should probably finesse my way to a copy of Julian Baldick‘s Imaginary Muslims: The Uwaysi Mystics of Central Asia.


A wise fool, then, in that global tradition of sacred folly which extends from Shakespeare‘s Lear’s Fool via Chuang Tzu to the Koshare of the Hopi rituals — and to the Sufis, a wali, a friend of the Beloved.


Another Sunday, another surprise

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the London Underground, its maps and ghouls ]

Harry Beck designed the schematic London Underground of 1933, which has since then been brought up to date, imitated by other underground systems around the world and repurposed in various ways, including one variant by Alan Moore illustrating the traditional Judaic Kabbalah — take a look.

Here are two of the more interesting variants I ran across today, each of which can be seen at greater size by clicking on the image here — first, the blank map:

and then, the ghost map:

The blank map is fine for those who wish to test their memories of London, pursue Jungian active imagination, contemplate the Buddhist void or the Sartrean neant, feel lost in this wide world, or simply avoid the Christian overtones of such station names as “Gospel Oak” “and St John’s Wood” while navigating that great city whose cabbies — another system of transportation altogether — have The Knowledge.

More spooky is the ghost map, which shows disused stations in the Underground system — doubly underground, if you take my drift. As TS Eliot eloquently put it in The Waste Land:

I had not thought death had undone so many.


Okay, before we go, let’s move briefly from the map to the territory.

In this case, the teritory is the interior of carriages in London Tube trains, where each particular line features a small linear map of it’s stations and its connections — and unofficial humans have been at work skilfully defacing them:

FWIW, those are images of variants on maps within territories within maps. The upper panel, above, continues today’s theme of the ghost tube — with a neat movie twist. And the lower panel — my own favored theme on this blog, the apocalypse.

Mapping the apocalypse… a post for another day.


Switch to our mobile site