Monthly Archives: December 2015

71. New Year, New Century

DSCN4794The end of the year is my favorite season. Whether you are Christian or not, the story of the birth of the Christ child is also the birth of hope, the birth of joy, and the birth of innocence. We need all those things in our world. I have come to love this season more now than I did when I was a child.

Add a sense of the world’s renewal at the turning of the year that comes to us from the pagan roots of our Christmas festivals, and it all becomes pretty magical.

I have already spent time celebrating the year’s end as we Westerners see it. Now, on the last day of the year, I would like to turn toward the East, to a land beyond the land of the Magi.

*****

Rabindranath Tagore is a Bengali writer who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. He is largely unknown in America, and for good reason. His work is hard going – not because of difficuty of language (there are plenty of translations), but because it is the product of a spiritualism that is beyond the American norm. America loves it’s gurus; we all know that. But the ones who make it here tend to have a gift for sound bites, an easy pop-psych message, and a face the camera loves.

Tagore was glitz free.

When I was studying Anthropology, my subject area was South Asia. I ran across Tagore’s poem Sunset of the Century in a textbook, and was so taken by it that I quoted part of it when I wrote A Fond Farewell to Dying, and quoted it again as the sub-title of this website.

At sunset, December 31, 1899, Tagore looked at his land, crushed under a hundred and fifty years of British domination, and looked forward to the new century which he hoped would bring India its freedom.

Here is the excerpt I quoted in Fond Farewell:

Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful.
With your white robes of simpleness.
Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul.
Build God’s throne daily on the ample bareness of your poverty.
And know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting.

That last line is probably my favorite quotation of all time. The complete poem is in today’s Serial post.

Sunset of the Century

hiatusToday, in A Writing Life, I explain my connection to this poem. You can take a look there; I won’t repeat myself here.

Sunset of the Century
Rabindranath Tagore
(Written in the Bengali on the last day of 1899.)

 The last sun of the century sets amidst the blood-red clouds of the West and the whirlwind of hatred.
The naked passion of self-love of Nations, in its drunken delirium of greed, is dancing to the clash of steel and the howling verses of vengeance.
The hungry self of the Nation shall burst in a violence of fury from its own shameless feeding.
For it has made the world its food,
And licking it, crunching it, and swallowing it in big morsels,
It swells and swells
Till in the midst of its unholy feast descends the sudden heaven piercing its
heart of grossness.

 The crimson glow of light on the horizon is not the light of thy dawn of peace,my Motherland.
It is the glimmer of the funeral pyre burning to ashes the vast flesh, – the self-love of the Nation, – dead under its own excess.
Thy morning waits behind the patient dark of the East,
Meek and silent.

 Keep watch, India.
Bring your offerings of worship for that sacred sunrise.
Let the first hymn of its welcome sound in your voice, and sing,
‘Come, Peace, thou daughter of God’s own great suffering.
Come with thy treasure of contentment, the sword of fortitude,
And meekness crowning thy forehead.’
Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful
With your white robe of simpleness.
Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul.
Build God’s throne daily upon the ample bareness of your poverty
And know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting

70. The War is Over

240px-Wildfire_near_Cedar_Fort,_Utah Every era has its terrors. Throughout my childhood in the fifties I was deeply aware of the likelihood of nuclear war. I was fifteen during the Cuban missle crisis. When I went to college, Viet Nam was well underway.

As I mention today in Serial, I tried my hand at folk music. I even wrote a song, which no one has heard for the last 45 years. I wish I could call it the melancholy thoughts of youth but, sadly, it’s still spot on.

The War is Over
Syd Logsdon

Now that the last war is over
Now that the violence is done
Search through the rubble for mourners
You will find — not a one.

Now that the green grass is dying
Now that the trees are stripped bare
The sounds of the forest are silent
The brooks have no laughter to spare.

The moon still hangs sad and silent
The stars fill the heavens with light
The sea rolls so dark and so lonely
Over cities where ruins now lie.

Look for your friends in the mountains
Or your enemy’s spoor on the plain
Run through the corridor shelters
Seek a companion in vain.

Cry out your soul for a songbird
But none will answer your call
Search for your friends and your loved ones
But they’re gone — one and all.

Search for the one called the victor
Through the still smoking rubble and ruin
Now that the violence is over
Now that the war has been won.

Innisfree

hiatusYeats is one of the great poets of the English language and The Lake Isle of Innisfree is among his best known poems. I was introduced to it through folk music.

I arrived at college just at the end of the folk era. It had basically passed me by in my country-western Oklahoma life, and I was hooked as soon as I discovered it. One of my roommates had been in a high school folk group in Minnesota. He quickly found a girlfriend who could sing (beautifully) and a fellow guitarist, and started playing in the local coffee houses. I borrowed his tenor guitar to learn on, then got a six string, and I was just getting reasonably good when folk music disappeared overnight and psychedelic rock became the rage. Timing was never my strong suit.

My roommates and I were always short on cash, so we shared our stash of records. One of my favorites was Hamilton Camp’s Paths of Victory, but it went with my roommate when college was over. Camp took Yeat’s Innisfree and wrote music for it, and a sweeter song was never sung – at least until Judy Collins sang it a cappella to his music a year later.

This is one of the two or three songs I catch myself singing whenever I am alone and can harm no one. Chances are you already know the poem, but I suggest that you Google judy collins innisfree and hear it sung on U-tube. Or, if you are old enough to enjoy an early Dylan sound-alike, Google hamilton camp innisfree.

  It isn’t hard to find. Clearly, I’m not the only one who loves it.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree – William Butler Yeats – 1892

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

*****

During this last week of the year, I’m taking a hiatus, sort of, by placing some of my favorite poems instead of things I have written. My fantasy short story Prince of Exile will begin here the first full week of next year.

69. Site Tour

IF YOU HAVE ONLY BEEN DIPPING INTO THIS WEBSITE, THIS WILL SHOW YOU HOW TO ACCESS SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

But first, an announcement. My upcoming novel Cyan has been delayed. It will be out in April or May, not in January as originally promised.

This has left me scrambling. About a dozen Cyan related posts which were scheduled for December and January had to be replaced with new, seasonally appropriate material. All that is done now, and things have calmed down.

So now —– welcome to the five cent tour.

This is post sixty-nine in the blog A Writing Life. The site is also called A Writing Life, which may cause some confusion. Since this is my first website, I learned as I went and not all my early decisions were the best.

This site has been up since August 31, with an arrival page called Welcome to my Worlds and two separate but related blogs. That was an early choice I have never regretted, although I’m sure some should-have-been followers have clicked in at the arrival page and never found either blog. No plan is perfect.

I had a backlog of material which I wanted to present in serial form, so my second blog was called Serial. There is another blogger’s rule: simple and straight forward is good; cute, clever, and confusing is bad.

As of today, there have been eighty-eight posts under Serial. So far I have presented a previously published science fiction novella (To Go Not Gently), a science fiction short story (Into the Storm), a vignette (Koan), two fantasy short stories (Blondel of Arden and The Best of Lies), a non-fiction piece (How to Build a Culture) and an excerpt from a contemporary novel (Symphony Christmas).

All of the above have been removed from Serial; otherwise, the slide from latest post to earliest post would take endless minutes. There will be one more fantasy short story, Prince of Exile, beginning next week, then Serial will morph into something different. Check it out in mid-January.

Except for Symphony Christmas, all the pieces removed from Serial have been moved to Backfile. They can be found on the Backfile drop-down menu, along with two other pieces that were never placed in Serial. They have all been returned to first-to-last order, but the original blog divisions have been retained as virtual chapters to make navigation easier.

If you actually click on Backfile, you will find a page with an annotated list of its final contents, divided into Fiction, Non-fiction, and Poetry. Clicking on a live poem will take you to the A Writing Life blog where it appeared. The other poems entries will be made live as they appear in posts. Five will be activated during December.

Library is an annotated list of my novels. About and Contact are just what you would expect them to be.

Wander around and enjoy yourself.

Channel Firing

hiatusThis poem by Thomas Hardy was written in April of 1914,
fourteen years after Tagore, which I will give you in two days.
Two months later, World War I began.

         Channel Firing

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright.  While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled.  Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder.  Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening . . .

“Ha, ha.  It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again.  “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

During this last week of the year, I’m taking a hiatus, sort of, by placing some of my favorite poems instead of thing I have written. The fantasy short story Prince of Exile will begin here the first full week of next year.

Filler

This week there will be posts Tuesday through Friday, to allow me to post on New Year’s Eve and Day.

Today, and during the rest of this last week of the year, I’m taking a hiatus, sort of, on the companion blog Serial by placing some of my favorite works by others. My fantasy short story Prince of Exile will begin there on Monday, Jan. 4th.