There were four epochs from 1844 to 1944 and a precursor period which, here, I define as 1743 to 1843. The poetry in this document is related to that century before the declaration of the Bab.
Shaykh Ahmad was born at some time in the period 1743 to 1753 and he died in 1826 with Siyyid Kazim becoming the leader of the Shaykhi Movement until the Siyyid's death on the last day of December in 1843 five short months short of the Bab's declaration in Shiraz in 1844.
The years 1744-1844 were a century of massive social, intellectual, religious and political change in western history. The following prose-poems bring together many of the happenings in that century focusing on these great precursors of the Babi Revelation and integrating their lives into an understanding of that critical century, 1744-1844, as well as our own lives and times.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs: A Century of Precursors: 1743-1843:
Section VIII Poetry
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and A Study in Autobiography
A living work of art is life itself, born from the dynamic fusion of the self, the microcosm, and the universe, the macrocosm. If we accept the interconnection of all living things, then art becomes the elemental modality through which humans discover their bonds with humans, humanity with nature, and humanity with the universe.--Daisaku Ikeda, Creative life at Académie des Beaux-Arts, June 14, 1989.
John Keats and Emily Dickinson among others used letters to transmit poetry, to formulate letters as poetry, to exploit the poetic and the epistolary so that they inflect, enrich, even become one another. The blending of genres in various ways and for a wide range of purposes resulting in an even wider range of effects has become a popular sport in recent decades. I have come to see some of my own letters in a collection now spanning 50+ years(1960-2014) as a blending of genres. Indeed poetry and prose have become somewhat indecipherable in my mind's eye.<
My poetry is a blending of autobiographical elements, echoes of the literature of the social sciences and humanities and a steady stream of references to and influences from Baha’i writings, history and teachings. This evening I was reading about the English poet George Byron(1788-1824). I was particularly struck by the fact that all of Byron's poetry is a blending of autobiographical elements and echoes of the literature he had absorbed over the years. And so I felt a certain affinity to Byron for this reason.
His poem Don Juan is considered the most autobiographical of Byron’s works. Almost all of Don Juan is real life either Byron’s or the lives of those whom he knew. Byron started writing Don Juan on July 3rd 1818, eight months after the birth of Baha’u’llah. He continued working on the poem in Italy and on his death in 1824 the poem remained unfinished. Don Juan was a, perhaps the, poem that the working class took to heart in the mid-19th century, so Friedrich Engles informed us in 1844. This poem reached the urban and rural poor and, for many, it was all they read besides the Bible. It is very likely that most of these readers did not read any of Byron's other works. As early as 1819 the work was regarded by the bourgeoisie as filthy and impious, although it was not fully published until 1901. Byron was regarded by Eliot as having contributed nothing and by Goethe as the greatest genius of his century. The moral of the story, perhaps, is that the response to what a writer writes is no gauge of the quality of the work.-Ron Price with thanks to Galit Avitan, “Publication Histories: Byron’s Don Juan,” Ashes, Sparks and Hypertext, 2000.
I came across an online seminar organized by the National Library of Australia entitled ‘Private Lives Revealed: Letters, Diaries, History’1 and was particularly struck with an article by a Peter Read: Private Papers and a Sense of Place. The article was an analysis of the verse of the nineteenth century English poet John Clare.John Clare (13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864) was an English poet, in his time commonly known as "the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet." Read saw Clare’s verse as an interesting example of what he called ‘private papers.’ Clare's poetry was so eclectic, his language so personal, his personal involvement so touching, that Read thought Clare’s poetry was much more akin to a collection of private papers that we might find in a library than to the poetry of a poet. However akin to private papers Clare’s poetry was, Read still thought Clare could have become one of the best-known poets of the nineteenth century. In discussing why Clare did not become such a poet, Read quotes the cultural historian John Barrell’s views on Clare: “insofar as Clare was successful in expressing his own sense of place, he was writing himself out of the main stream of European literature."
Accomplished poets and novelists are fully aware of the need for their readers to be able to generalise from the emotions which they as writers present about a particular place, event or person. The world view and life experiences of writers needs to find resonance with readers, if their writing is to be successful. Private papers often reveal such private emotions, and private emotions often reveal intense, ungeneralised concerns for particularities which hardly ever surface amongst the published, fictionalized and/or poetic works of professional writers. My own private papers, which I have entitled my journals and now in five volumes reveal some of the features of private papers mentioned above.-Ron Price with thanks to 1“Internet Site,” National Library of Australia, 2006.
I mention all of the above as an introduction to the prose-poetry that I have written in relation to this century of precursors of the Babi-Bahai Faiths. The net is cast wide, the topics I write about highly various and readers are not expected to be au fait with all of the subjects on which I write. I am certainly not.
BURSTING UPON OUR EYES WITH STUNNING BEAUTY
The splendours of colour and the diversity of tint and shade have made the flora of Western Australia world famous...the delightful form and hues of the flowers are outstanding. -C.A. Gardner, Wildflowers of Western Australia, St. George Books, Perth, 1981, 14th edition(1959), p.5.
This poem was written after a walk with my wife in King’s Park Botanic Garden in early spring. -Ron Price, 19 September 1995, 7:30 pm.
They were giving you fellows names
when the first intimations of that Light
were first becoming conscious
in that luminous light: Shaykh Ahmad.
The green winter-world
had just been splashed with colour
in this garden of delight
as we came to walk here,
together in early spring.
Patches of blue-Lechenaultia-
burst apon my eye and stuck to my retina.
Kangaroo-Paw, Wattle and Bird of Paradise
shouted out their stunning beauty
a billion balls of yellow-gold,
blue and orange hues.
The earth was humbled
to be associated with such grandeur.
Long stems and leaves lifted
these majestic networks of colour to the stars:
millions of years of evolution
touching perfection for our eye.
What will we see
in five hundred thousand years?
Where will we be at the end of this Era
when that Light has radiated
its concentrated power
from its home up there on that hill,
bursting upon our eyes,
now, with its stunning beauty?
19 September 1995
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE MODERN AGE
As the Revelation which flowed out from the souls of these twin manifestations pierced the atmosphere of the nineteenth century a new poetry began to find its way into the souls of other men. This Revelation gradually unfolded over a period of half a century. Baha’u’llah’s creative energies witnessed an unbelievable expansion over some forty years. Poetry during these years went through a radical redefinition. It slowly became a large domain, containing multitudes, contradictions, a spaciousness, huge possibilities, hidden languages, unnamed strangeness and a newness that touched old words with difference and fresh diversity.-Ron Price with thanks to Ed Folsom, “Introduction: Recruiting the American Past”, A Profile of Twentieth Century American Poetry, editors, Jack Myers and David Wojahn, Southern Illinois UP, Carbondale, 1991, pp. 1-22.
And not just in the world of poetry.
Perhaps the process started in the
mind and heart of Shaykh Ahmad
in those years 1753-1793, those years
of gestation before his journey, his years
of anguish and expectation, his dream of
Imam Hasan, his perfumed and honeyed
tongue, an inward light, some revolutionizing
Word about to begin its transmission trans-
forming all of creation to its very depths and
unveiling signs of universal discord. Perhaps in
his irrepressible yearnings he could see that Hell
itself was about to blaze and Paradise made visible
to people’s eyes. A new romance was in the air.1
8 January 1997
1 Baha’u’llah refers to these images of Hell and Paradise in Prayers and Meditations, USA, 1969(1938), p. 296. The worlds of music and poetry, politics and the writing of history, industry, science, etc. saw a quickening, an increase in pace and change. At the same time, I am more than a little aware of the whole metaphor of change beginning with the Greeks as outlined by Robert Nisbet in his History and Social Change, 1969; and his critique of developmentalism in The Making of Modern Society, Wheatsheaf Books Ltd., Sussex, 1986. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s description of the role of religion in the origins of western civilization in His The Secret of Divine Civilization cannot be ignored here.
A SEIZING SENSE OF DELIGHT
Civilization, which for so long had been dependent on great monastaries and palaces...could now emanate from a cottage, a simple room or garden house. Civilization could be seen in the paintings of Turner, in what Clarke calls his picturesque sublime, where light is the principle person; it could be heard in a new voice in poetry and a new music. Indeed it was a veritable explosion of expression.-Ron Price with thanks to Kenneth Clark, Civilization, Penguin Books, 1969. p.199.
Hearing a new music in those
desert lands1 while a world of
music opened up for Mozart2
telling of things to come, a
new age of sound and beauty,
a great announcement, a new
path of power, of deep joy and
lamentation, some intense thirst,
unallayable, some yearning
unsatisfiable, some receptivity,
distinctly fresh, subtle, an
immense store of controlled
energy, increasing consciousness
of intellectual power, spiritual
insight, perspicacity, an unburdening
of the soul, a rushing in, an overpowering
sense of delight seizing music, poetry, arts.3
1 Shaykh Ahmad left his home in northeast Arabia for Bahrain to begin a half century(1792-1844) of "preparing the way".
2 Mozart died in 1791 after years of an incredible outburst of creative power.
3 I have tried to capture the essence of a period of classical music, Romanticism in poetry and literature and other developments in science and technology that was like a limitless font of creative outburst, an essence that is arguably related to the appearance of twin-manifestations in the 19th century.
7 December 1997
27th JUNE TO 4TH JULY 1826
Thomas Jefferson had difficulty fitting grief into the general scheme of things. There has always been an undertone of sadness running through Greek literature for, unlike the Hebrews, the Greeks did not enjoy faith’s promise of things unseen. Jefferson was inspired by things Greek. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, August 17th 1997.
It had been quite a week1 of lights
going out, of candles of hope
being passed on and tears of grief
finally drying up: our own had yet to come,
although we were so often told
not to grieve at life’s doings.2
The secret, the wonder, the mystery
of those causes, then set in motion,
would continue to manifest their greatness,
to divulge their intricate puzzles
down history’s labyrinthine path
and enlighten our own days
with their sweet memories.
Processes had begun which are yet to run
their course, for we who are the inheritors
of that legacy in this distant age,
removed by time’s long onward grief and joy.
17 August 1997
1 June 27th to July 4th 1826 saw the deaths of Shaykh Ahmad as well as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two Presidents of the USA.
2 Shakyh Ahmad in The Dawnbreakers, USA, 1974(1932), p.17.
HERE IS THE REVOLUTION
History is taking place at a velocity that is unbearable. Tremendous movements begin and end in a year or two, or even a week or two. The revolution in Russia in 1917 gave hope for, what, at least twenty-five years; the hope in China lasted from 1949 until, say, 1966; there was the Spanish Civil War, Viet Nam. If you go back in time to 1688, 1775 or 1789, you find revolutionary movements that gave history a mileage in hope for many decades, even centuries. For millions, now, hope and promise have been sucked out of them by repeated dissillusionments and by the chaos of fury and confusion that bears the signs of universal anarchy. -Ron Price with thanks to Arthur Miller in a 1980 interview in Conversations With Arthur Miller, editor, Matthew Roudane, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1987, p. 317.
Here is a revolution that you could say
goes back to 1793 when Shaykh Ahmad,
filled with dreams and visions,
a crushing sense of responsibility,
came out of Bahrayn; today,
there are thousands, millions,
with that same sense,
with irrepressible yearnings:
over 200 years of the slow growth
of a prophetic force that has only
in the last few years stuck its head
above the ground, no saviour-in-a-hurry,
but a vital role to play in bringing about
a consensus gentium in a world
that is bursting at the seams;
where hope is renewed softly
in its garden of existence with a fragrance
as gentle as the good trees which grow
slowly for the eyes of men,
giving off their fruits of consecrated joy,
as unobtrusively as my quiet back yard garden
where the Japanese Pepper Tree gracefully grows.
14 January 1997
PREMONITIONS OF GENIUS
....there appeared above the horizon of the East that luminous Star of Divine guidance, Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsai. In 1759 he was six years old.-Nabil, The Dawnbreakers, 1974(1932), p. 1.
George Frederick Handel directed a performance of Messiah on April 6th 1759 and died two weeks later.-Colliers Encyclopedia.
Such a supreme masterpiece, electrifying:
He shall reign forever and ever.
King of Kings! Lord of Lords!1
And all flesh shall see it together-
when the technology is in place
and wealth is sufficiently distributed.
And they shall; and we’ve been preparing
the way of the Lord as have they, all the
Prophets. The glory of the Lord shall be
revealed..for the mouth of the Lord hath
spoken it.....His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God...
Slowly, after two-and-a-half centuries, the
wheel is turning, the trumpets have sounded
and this wondrous piece of music will continue
to be sung in all its beauty and majesty, forever.
20 December 1997
1 Words from from Messiah.
THINNING STRANDS OF WARP AND WEFT
We all go through a crisis of identity, whether in Erik Erikson’s sense as one of the eight stages of life associated with late adolescence, or simply as part of our human experience in modernity and post-modernity. For the Baha’i this crisis involves not so much a break with the past, as the crisis is so characterized among many groups, as a consolidating, a renewal of meaning with a history going back to the late eighteenth century. It is not so much a discarding of faith and replacing it with rationality as a buttressing of that very faith by a rationality which must occupy the centre stage of convictions. The Baha’i must come to terms with culture, history and religion. For his religious tradition has shaped his culture and his history, defining both his conscience and his continuity. It is here, in this complex of intellectual and social experience, that the Baha’i confronts and integrates the crises and contradictions that inevitably sweep across his path in the never ending dialectic during the tempest of the twentieth century.-Ron Price with thanks to Daniel Bell, Sociological Journeys: 1960-1980, Heinemann, London, 1980, pp. 314-323.
The link with our fellows
is the link of memory:
celebrations on the wheel of life,
the tie to the dead, the continuity
with those who have suffered
and made us, consequently, witnesses
to cruelty with strength of courage over pride.
We live through the meaning of all these days,
all this history, like a great metaphorical mix
that shapes our todays, the great identifier
of myself, more than filiopiety,
sentimentality, lachrymose recollections,
a vein of nostalgia, glowing reminiscences,
continuity of appetite for all that Persian food
with strange sounding Farsi names,
a long line of good works.
Yes, more than discharging my obligations
by serving on an LSA, for it’s not about
collecting brownie-points, or accummlating
hours or years of service.
This is not the memory of repression,
with the past coming back
in the form of self-hate, shame or caricature,
the exaggerated thrust of ambition,
any superficial but sincere claims
to superiority by virtue of ‘all that one has done’,
but the memory of tension between
an us and them, always, still, a minority,
the insistent demands of the past
to recreate their rich meaning and
the everpresent needs of the moment for relevance,
to build that bridge to others
that always presses for attention.
The inevitable feeling of insufficiency,
inadequacy, even when one has spent a lifetime
in study, for here, at least in the feasts,
one is enjoined to feel less than the rest1
as experience and memory intertwine
generation after generation,
each with its own design, mark, entelechy.
For me, my own mark, part of a larger mark,
the pioneer, one of the shaping marks of this century,
with its inner tension of anxiety and hope,
where defining my own self, my style, my way,
in the midst of massive indifference, fewness of numbers,
various uncomfortable evangelisms
and family antagonisms. For here,
hunger for experience was keenest
and the rupture with the past the greatest.
And it is this experience,
rich and varietgated, the memory of it,
inextricably conjoined to a metaphorical journey
going back to, what, 1792, when Shaykh Ahmad
left North East Arabia, Ahsa that makes
whatever ‘community’ I enjoy or not enjoy
maintain continuities through what are often
thinning strands of warp and weft and colour.
1 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, From a prayer said before entering the Feast, in Baha’i Meetings and the Nineteen Day Feast, Universal House of Justice(compiler), Baha’i Community of Canada, 1976, p.20.
2 the first generation of response to The Tablets of the Divine Plan was 1919-1944; the second was 1944 to 1969 and the third 1969 to 1994. Of course, as Daniel Bell points out in his alanysis of Jewish Identity in Sociological Journeys:1960-1980(p.320) generations are not exact historical periods but rather interlinear. They are, then, inevitably intertwined.
21 September 1997
TRACES THAT WILL LAST FOREVER
That’s all a poet is doing-getting in touch with that beyond himself. All human beings do it in some way or another. I have tried for years to make some meaningful connection with Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsa’i, the first great light, precursor, luminous Star of Divine guidance. Poetry’s pithy path helped make the telephone line a little clearer here. -Ron Price with thanks to Robin Skelton, The Poet’s Calling, Heinemann, London, 1975,p.202.
Something was stirring in your1 breast
even before that revolution.2 It was an
age of revolutions during all your days3.
An old world, order, way, was crumbling
as you sat in old Arabia gradually defining
that unerring vision, sharpening that fixed
resolve, acquiring that sublime detachment
and golden zeal for the long journey ahead.
Crushing responsibilities, you knew only too
well, as he4 and They5 came to know and as
so many of us have learned through dangers
and perils, through our own irrepressible
yearnings, through the arrogance of another
perverse generation and through the endless
exhortations which we have tried to follow,
leaving traces that will last forever as you,
too, left traces that will last into eternity.
1 Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsai(1753-1826): his journey took place from 1793 to 1826(ca)
2 French Revolution
3 American revolution, industrial revolution, agricultural revolution to name but three.
4 Shoghi Effendi
5 The three central figures of the Baha’i Faith
8 January 1997
WHAT SPOTS OF TIME!
Our destiny, our being’s heart and home,
Is with infinitude, and only there;
-William Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: Selected Poems, Dent and Dent, 1975, p.xxi.
Just after Shaykh Ahmad left his home
in Bahrayn Robespierre began his reign
of terror: one great revolutionary hope
was born and one died as a new age, the
modern age, was making its entrance on
the stage through this Shaykh’s eagerness,
and irrepressible yearnings, as if bidden by
Providence Itself----while Wordsworth was
seeking for some ground of optimism in the
still sad music of humanity, some deeper level
of individual psychic health which would grow
through those chastening glimpses and spots of time.
2 January 1997
THE END OF THE ABOMINATION THAT MAKETH DESOLATE
Only Noah and his companions in the Ark were left. And the waters held their own over the land for a hundred a fifty years. -The Bible, Genesis, Chapter 7, verses 23 and 24.
The birth of the French Republic in 1792....saw a ragged distracted democracy capturing the secret of power which is never a function of mechanism, but always an ardour of the soul...in 1793 she executed Louis XVI.-H.A.L. Fisher,The History ofEurope: Vol.II, Fontana, 1973(1935), p.898-900.
In the last fifty years(1919-1969) a vast change has taken place in the lives of our people. A revolution has in fact taken place.-F.J. Hoffman, "Anderson and Freud", in Winesburg, Ohio, ed. John H. Ferres, Penguin Books, NY, 1977, p.317.
A wind has been blowing;
the waters have held over the land
for many a long year now?
How much longer will it blow?
How long will the floods flood
our very souls, harrowing us up?
How long have the floods flooded
our generations? Did they begin
with the blissful consummation?*
Perhaps when Shaykh Ahmad
left the island, Bahrain, in 1793!**
Perhaps in 1844 the floods began,
or in 1863, or 1868, or, or , or;
you can only play with numbers
for so long, though we define the
end of the abomination that maketh
desolate*** as 1863. And there was
a sense of a new life, then, in many places:
the Civil War, Darwin, the list goes on and on.
Immense shifts in what people believed,
the youth in revolt, more and more
until they seemed wiser than the adults;
there was more materialism than ever before
and frustration and loneliness filled psyches
with a frenetic passivity. A vast complexity
filled the horizon of people's lives everywhere.
7 March 1996
*these words are found in the last chapter of the Book of Daniel.
**this man left his home in 1792 and spent his time preparing
the way for the Promised One.
***a quotation from the Book of Daniel.
FIRST GLIMMERINGS OF LIGHT
Percy Bysshe Shelley began the poem 'The Triumph of Life' in 1822 in the spring. It was unfinished when he died on 8 July 1822. To Shaykh Ahmad , who was in the last several years of his ministry, there was no question what 'the life' meant, or what 'the triumph' would involve. Shelley's poem was as enigmatic to western literary critics as the mission and meaning of Shaykh Ahmad was to the masses in Iran. His poem suddenly breaks off in line 548.
I found many of the lines of Shelley's poem of inspirational value in contemplating the recent developments on Mt. Carmel often referred to by the Bahai; community as the Mt. Carmel Project.-Ron Price
This old root1 which has grown
to an immense and strange distortion
out of the hill side, a celestial
implantation,2 culmination of the
spheres in this galactic sector and
which now with the weight of my
own words staggers me with weary
contemplation, at times, child of
a fierce hour who seeks to win this
world but, in the end, loses all it
does contain of greatness, with
hope transferred from earthy-rock
and mountain peak where power and
will rule in opposition, irreconcilable.
But while my eyes are sick of this
perpetual flow of people and sad
thought from day-to-day, there is
a golden seam of joy, a kindling
green, a gentle rivulet with its
calm sweep where sweet flowers
and wet stems, a scene of woods
and waters, a Light diviner thank
the common sun and sounds
woven into one oblivious melody,
threading the forest maze with
winding paths of emerald fire
and dew, invisible rain, forever
seeming to sing a silver music
on a mossy lawn, a crystal
grass which whispers with
delight, enamoured as if in
dream, to kiss the dancing
foam, on a summer dancing
breeze...it is all emerging here
beside my path, this new Vision
surrounded by a savage and a
stunning music amidst a war
returning and triumphant
wilderness before me eyes,
always returning, tempest of
splendour and chaos, dance
This embroidery of flowers
that does enhance this grassy
vesture in the desert, this
moving chariot whose swift
advance is so still as to pose
no threat, as others gaze and
circle 'round it like the clouds
that swim round a high noon
in a bright sea of air or like
bubbles on an eddying flood
borne onward. And I among
a multitude am swept, my
sweetest flowers with the
thickest billows of this living
storm, and plunged with bare
bosom to the clime of this
holiest spot, love led serene
and awe of this wondrous story,
though the world can hear not
these sweet notes whose sphere
of light is melody to lovers
And so, the earth, though peopled
with dim forms which dance in a
thousand unimaginable shapes,
possesses now a marble brow of
youthful vision: terraces and eagles,
pillars, white and green on mountain
slope. Happy those for whom the fold
did fold and encompass in its eternity
fresh cool waters and fruits of being.
17 May 1998
1 civilization has often been a source of great evil
2 It is my philosophy that human beings are at the apex of creation, possessed as they are with the rational faculty.
Species Plantarum, "The Species of Plants", by Carl Linnaeus(1707-1778) was first published in 1753 as a two-volume work. Its prime importance is perhaps that it is the primary starting point of plant nomenclature as it exists today. The book contained all plants known to European naturalists. The classification employed in the work allowed easy identification of plants by placing every genus into an artificial class and order. This was the first consistent use of naming structure for plants, and laid the basis for modern nomenclature.
In 1753 in the northeast of Arabia in the district of Ahsa a man named Shaykh Ahmad(1753-1826) was born. He, too, was in his forties before his writings began to capture of others. But his work was not as a founder, as a starting point for modern botany. The Shaykh captured the imagination of tens of thousands from the Arab East, through Iran to India and came to be regarded as the founder of the mystical Shaykhi order, one of the last great flowerings of Muslim theosophy before the impact of European thought in the 19th century. To the international Bahá'í community he is regarded as the first great precursor of the Babi-Bahá’í Faiths, a man who knew he was destined to demonstrate that nothing short of a new and independent Revelation could revive the fortunes of Islam.1 -Ron Price with thanks to T. K. Cheyne, The Reconciliation of Races and Religions, Kessinger Publishing, 2004(1914), p.15.
That capacious umbrella term, the Enlightenment,
provided shelter for a multicoloured array of ideas,
several distinct enlightenments stretching over half
a dozen generations, inveighing against religious
enthusiasm which they blamed for inelegant and
frightening outbursts of hysteria in the name of a
piety as they thirsted for new myths to hold onto.
For all their disagreements they shared intellectual
perspectives founded in the classics.1 They wanted
in all fields of human activity empiricism, critical
thought and a science of man, as realistic aspiration.
This true beginning of our modern age, this party
of humanity, this outburst of secular liberalism,
modern paganism, dogmatism and self-deception.
1 In the Muslim world, Shaykh Ahmad’s world, of course, the European Enlightenment did not penetrate. The Shaykh could be said to represent a very different starting point than the one represented by the Enlightenment. The story of the clash with tradition and new, modern, currents in Muslim thought was a very different one.
6 March 2009
SCHUBERT, MOZART AND THE SHAYKH
Some people seem to be born to their field of choice, born with talent and this is sometimes called genius. Others have to strive with infinite pains. ‘Abdu’l-Baha calls these powers ‘confirmations of the spirit.’ He also says these talents are gifts and they come to all those who accept their lives with radiant acquiescence.1 Franz Schubert(1797-1828) was born to music as sparks are born to fly upward. Of all the composers with a gift that seems beyond the mortal, his was perhaps the most effortless, the most abundant, the most purely lyric. It was once thought that Mozart composed in this vein but recent research in the last half century suggests that much of his work required sustained effort and much conscious deliberation. -Ron Price with appreciation to ‘Abdu’l-Baha in The Pattern of Baha’i Life, Baha’i Publishing Trust, London, 1970(1948), p.35.
You died so young and your
works are your biography,
perhaps the most poetic of
musicians who ever lived--1
created at a time when the
shining reality of those old
Faiths had been obscured &
a new life was stirring in an
age when it was a very bliss
to be alive—or so it was said
by some and it was for some.
A luminous Star of a divine
guidance arose, impelled was
he, and dedicated his life to
preparing the path for a new
and independent Revelation.2
And while he did, when alone
and when of good cheer, often
at night, Mozart’s ideas flowed
best and abundantly from places
he did not know whence or how
and without force and as they
pleased him to turn their morsels
to account, to make them into a
good dish, agreeable to the several
peculiarities which fired his soul.3
1 Such was the view of Franz Liszt. See Franz Schubert in Wikipedia.
2 Shaykh Ahmad: 1743 or 1753 to 1826. See Nabil’s Narrative, Baha’i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1974(1932), pp.1-2.
3 Mozart in Mozart’s Letters, A.E. Hull, preface, J.M. Dent and Sons, N.Y., 1928, p.vii.
24 February 2009
SCHUBERT, MOZART AND THE SHAYKH
Some people seem to be born to their field of choice, born with talent and this is sometimes called genius. Others have to strive with infinite pains. ‘Abdu’l-Baha calls these powers, these talents: ‘confirmations of the spirit.’ He also says these talents are gifts and they come to all those who accept their lives with radiant acquiescence.1 Franz Schubert(1797-1828) was born to music as sparks are born to fly upward. Of all the composers with a gift that seems beyond the mortal, his was perhaps the most effortless, the most abundant, the most purely lyric. It was once thought that Mozart composed in this vein, that is effortlessly, but recent research in the last half century suggests that much of his work required sustained effort and much conscious deliberation.2 -Ron Price with appreciation to ‘Abdu’l-Baha in The Pattern of Baha’i Life, Baha’i Publishing Trust, London, 1970(1948), p.35 and Neal Zaslaw, The Mozart Project: Der neue Kochel, Internet Site, 20 August, 2006.
You both died so young and
your works are your biography,
perhaps the most poetic of
musicians who ever lived--1
created at a time when the
shining reality of those old
Faiths had been obscured &
a new life was stirring in an
age when it was a very bliss
to be alive—or so it was said
by some and it was for some.
A luminous Star of a divine
guidance arose, impelled was
he and he dedicated his life to
preparing the path for a new
and independent Revelation.2
And while he did, when alone
and when of good cheer, often
at night, Mozart’s ideas flowed
best and abundantly from places
he did not know whence or how
and without force, as they pleased
him to turn their morsels to account,
to make them into an agreeable dish
to the several peculiarities which had
fired his soul in those halcyon years.3
1 Such was the view of Franz Schubert by Franz Liszt. See Wikipedia.
2 Shaykh Ahmad: 1743 or 1753 to 1826. See Nabil’s Narrative, Baha’i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1974(1932), pp.1-2.
3 Mozart in Mozart’s Letters, A.E. Hull, preface, J.M. Dent and Sons, N.Y., 1928, p.vii.
24 February 2009
My mother-in-law, a woman in her late eighties, finds watching movies adapted from Jane Austen’s novels boring. Her attitude mirrors, somewhat, the reaction of novelist Henry James who saw the characters in Austen’s novels as having “small and second-rate minds,” Philistines one and all. Emerson found Austen to be imprisoned in a wretched and smothering conventionality with an excessive concern for “marriageableness.”1 Not everyone has reacted this way to Austen, not now nor in the nearly two centuries since her death in 1817. Some saw her writing as “a prose Shakespeare,”2 a writer who exposed with her acid solution of words the empty foundations of social and personal morality in a violent and repressive age in English society.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Lee Siegel, “A Writer Who Is Good For You,” The Atlantic Online, January 1998; and 2William MacAuley in Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, Vol. 2, B.C. Southam, editor, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1987.
There is nothing to equal
your smallness in a small
town and the commonplace
has never found a finer master
than your divine chatter some
have said, Jane, yes they have.
Petty inconsistencies, parochial
vanities, familiar everydayisms,
vulgarity and pride, delineated
as entertainment and amusement,
tissues of character in speech,
gently undulating life-surface,
triviality but intense relations,
satire’s world without bitterness,
hermetically sealed with supreme
moments quite inarticulate giving
you: coolness, patience, poise and
leisure obtained so you could write
and me too, Jane!----and me too!
Your wholly secular and narrow
world with people you disliked,
tolerated but accepted in the only
society you knew where nothing
was too little for your little world
and happiness=simple pleasures.1
Balance, moderation, courtesy:
recipe for survival in two worlds—
yours and ours—inner landscapes—
the triumph of the ordinarily ordinary
and the inherited order over change:2
but we can’t triumph with that recipe
and order can we Jane? Can we Jane?
Nor could you---would you, Jane?3
1 Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays, editor, Ian Watt, Prentice-Hall Inc., Inglewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963, p. 172.
2 Adena Rosmarin, “Misreading Emma: The Powers and Perfidies of Interpretive History, English Literary History, Vol. 51, pp. 315-42.
3 What would Austen have written if she had lived beyond the age of 41?
4 June 2008
GEORGE WASHINGTON AND SHAYKH AHMAD
On October 31 1753 Robert Dinwiddie, royal lieutenant governor of Virginia, dispatched a 21-year-old George Washington(b.1732-d.1799: President 1789-1797) into the wilds of the Ohio territory on a delicate diplomatic mission. The French had begun building forts in the Ohio River Valley, a region which Virginia claimed for its own and was at the time trying to settle. Washington’s mission was threefold: try to persuade the French to withdraw, gain the favor of the local Indians and assess the military situation in the region.
This dispute and this mission had repercussions that extended well beyond Virginia. By the 1750s Britain had established settlements along most of the habitable portion of the Atlantic Coast. Yet they were hemmed in by the French, whose long, thin arc of settlements stretched from Quebec through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans. The Ohio territory was one of the few remaining places where the British had room to expand westward.
Washington was already known as an excellent horseman and as a skillful surveyor. These talents had led to his appointment as one of four adjutants of militia for the colony, with the rank of major. To assist him on his mission, he brought along Indian and French interpreters, a pioneer named Christopher Gist who had explored the region, and four other men. The winter journey would call on all of Washington’s talents as an out-doorsman. He would be required to overcome such perils as hostile Indians, swamps, steep mountain passes, chilling rain and snow and a thorough soaking in an icy stream. Washington survived the icy stream though that pioneer Christopher Gist lost several toes to frostbite.
As a diplomat Washington was unsuccessful. The French dismissed his protests, telling him after a few glasses of wine that “it was their absolute Design to take possession of the Ohio, and by God they would do it.” Washington did manage to secure a promise of friendship from a local Indian chief; he also gave Dinwiddie, that royal lieutenant governor of Virginia, an account of his journey, an account Dinwiddie that published to rally support. Word of Washington’s exploits reached as far as London. His fame increased the following spring when he bravely led a doomed expedition to establish a fort near present-day Pittsburgh.
George Washington’s first military career continued with a series of dreary frontier assignments commanding raw militia until an inability to gain favor with his superiors led to his resignation in 1758. From then on, he concentrated on being a Virginia gentleman until the political situation impelled him to take up his old profession of military service and outdoorsman once again.-Ron Price with thanks to Frederick D. Schwarz, “Washington Becomes A Soldier,” AmericanHeritage.com, American Heritage Magazine, October 2003, Volume 54, Issue 5.
Just before1 you left for that Ohio territory,
George, a luminous Star of Divine guidance
was born destined, as you were, for greatness.
Little did he know and little did you know,
George, that you were destined by the Will of
God to demonstrate that nothing short of a new
nation under God, a new constitution, with you
as President, inaugurated in that aupicious year
of 1789, mirabile dictu, would prove, by its very
republican virtue, its warning against partisanship,
sectionalism and involvement in foreign wars---
with you as its very symbol, George: to be first
in war, first in peace and first in citizen’s hearts.2
1 Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsai was born in April-May 1753 in the town of Ahsa in the district of Ahsa in the northeast of the Arabian peninsula, although E.G. Browne writes that he was born in 1743.
2 These words come from Henry Lee's eulogy to George Washington on 26 December 1799 in William Safire, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, W. W. Norton & Company, NY, pp. 185–186, 2004.
29 December 2008
As a writer and poet whose work is largely unread and rarely discussed, except on the internet among coteries most of whom are at sites of little significance and among coteries most of whom are drowning in a sea of print from the burgeoning word factories of our modern world, I felt a certain kinship with the German genius Goethe whose work is also largely unread and rarely discussed in both the circles I have been part of on my earthly journey, circles populist or academic, and circles I have not been part of since the mid-twentieth century except, Daniel Spiro informs us, among some American liberal students who never read him again after graduation.
I also felt a sense of kinship with this universal man, as the historian Thomas Carlyle called Goethe, due to a range of factors and personal qualities which he manifested in his life: his enjoyment of life with its emphasis on living in the moment combined with his rich sense of history as well as an intoxication with the eternal; his emphasis on self-expression and developing one’s faculties, on seeing things with one’s own eyes and from one’s own perspectives; his keen enthusiasm for ethics as well as learning how to be good and teaching others how to be good as well; his philosophizing within an intellectual tradition that pointed to a direction in living both for him and for others; his desire to experience epiphanies, epiphanies that had eternal significance; his doing away with traditionalist and fundamentalist Christian mythology; his view of life as a series of encounters and dialogues; his deep belief in the principles of polarity and intensity, of oscillation and reproduction, and the application of these principles to his life and the live of others and society; his view of art as a tool for integrating one’s personality and as a tool for acquiring insight about the various objects of one’s contemplations--and the passing on of these insights to future generations; his belief that happy emotions could defeat base inclinations; his lifelong effort to find patterns in life, patterns which enhanced one’s sense of meaning; his capacity to go on writing about his experience, experience which was essentially about his inner life and not about egoistic greatness and external pleasures, experience that was more about his private character, the lamps of his search and striving, his passionate devotion and love, his own raptures and ecstasies as he went about dispelling the mists of doubt, wrestling with circumstances and himself and seeking knowledge wherever it will lead.
THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS
The first comprehensive study of Egypt, a 24 volume work, was begun(1809) three years after Shaykh Ahmad arrived in Iran and completed in the first years of the Bab's life (1819-1822). The first comprehensive and reliable work on Egyptian antiquities in English was a three volume work published in 1837. In 1858 a more orderly method of study and increased interest in the preservation of ancient monuments began. In the 1890s Egyptology became progressively more professional and more meticulous. In 1922 the first "media event," the discovery of the tomb of Tutankamun, captured the attention of the world and inspired subsequent generations of scholars. In 1922, too, Shoghi Effendi is appointed Guardian, takes up his duties and local and national assemblies are elected for the first time. -Ron Price with thanks to "Several Egyptology Internet Sites," Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 24 October 2006.
They'd been studying its flora,
fauna and history--mapping,
recording and excavating sites.
They were taking them out
more and more professionally
with their meticulous techniques
of archeology and analysis from
the 1850s onward and---1899--
it was a very special year:
Tuthmsis III, Amenhotep II,
Ramesses III, New Kingdom
Pharoahs--Valley of the Kings.
To speak the name of the dead
is to make them live again…such
was an ancient Egyptian belief…
They were also transferring His
remains, making Him live again
in the hearts and minds of millions,
constructing a mausoleum to receive
them, a befitting, a permanent resting-
place for this precious Trust, this wooden
casket, this marble sarcophagus, opening
the first Bahá’í Convention in Chicago
and starting to build another holy place,
the first in the Americas, the first
to inaugurate a wonderful, thrilling
motion and the Kingdom of God.
October 24th 2006
Through a close reading of his first autobiographical sketches, dating from October 1798 through April 1799, one can demonstrate how Wordsworth creatively remembers his childhood in terms of the development of the powers of the imagination. In this six month period we find Wordsworth's earliest autobiographical attempt to trace the ontogeny of his imagination back to the dream state, to play, and to perceptual and conceptual blending. One could add the results of cognitive neuroscience, drawing on memory research, sleep research, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology, to add to Wordsworth’s ontogeny a phylogeny or evolutionary history of fictional cognition. The successful unfolding of the imagination, one could argue, is only possible when accompanied by adequate systems of source monitoring, defined as the capacity to distinguish between what originates in perception and what is the response of memory. The resulting tapestry aims to be sufficiently complex to permit the formulation of a neurological hypothesis about the self. There are traces of in a poetical fragment Wordsworth wrote as a commentary on this first period of composition: that the autobiographical self-as-being arises as a virus within the source monitoring system itself and functions to override the action of cognitive proprioception.
Anyone who has studied history to a significant extent knows the extent to which poetry and history are intertwined. The examples, the historians, the poets, who have pointed out this intimate association are many. In a comment Toynbee made in 1955 in the Journal of the History of Ideas, he said that after he had completed his epic 10 volume work A Study of History he regarded himself as much a poet as a historian. Theodore Mommsen the great, perhaps, the greatest Roman historian, said in the fifth volume of his History of Rome that imagination was the mother of both poetry and history. England buried its historian Thomas Macauley in the poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey. Edward Gibbon wrote in sentences pregnant with the deepest observations and the most lively images which drew attention to his words as much as, if not more than, the content. This is often the function, the way, of the poet and, in the process, readers often have to work a little harder to read what they say.-Ron Price with thanks to my “Section IX: Notebooks,” Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 1/6/06.
The state, you said, in the 19th century’s
finest work in history, was built on sand
unless a common morality pervaded
the rulers and the ruled, you who
poet-like, artist-like, had a genius
for passionate, subjective judgements
in that monumental work, that poetic work,
your opus, oeuvre that helped keep you young,
helped give you the fire of youth1 as you headed
for middle age2 in those first years after
the Most Great Spirit, personated by a Maiden,
had descended on the agonized soul of Baha’u’llah.
You revolutionized the study of ancient Rome:2
was it that sudden eruption of forces released
by an overpowering Revelation?
Was it the first wind, rain, the tempest
of His slowly crystallizing words
and their unsuspected benefits
across the entire range of human culture?
Was it a new intellectual anchorage in which
the world was deriving continuous, unobstructed
inspiration penetrating to the very core of life?
-Ron Price, 6/1/06.
1On reading the presentation of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1902 to Theodore Mommsen in Nobel Lectures Literature: 1901-1967, editor, Horst Frenz, the Nobel Foundation, NY, 1969, pp. 7-11. 2Mommsen wrote a three volume History of Rome(1854-56) published when he was 39 or 40. V. 5 appeared in 1885. V4-lost in a fire.
1817: A BIG YEAR
I have come to see my own notebooks as a genre of my writing which began in 1953 when I was in grade four. The selection of this date is partly due to its significance in the Baha’i timeline of significances and partly due to grade four being the half-way point in my primary education. I had had four years of schooling by then and I’m sure I had notebooks in those first years 1949 to 1952. The first notes that I kept and which I still possess came from 1961/2, but the vast array of notebooks I have now collected comes from the period 1974/5 to 2004/5. The conscious collection of notes into notebooks was an even more recent phenomenon. Looking back I see the years 1980 to 1995 as a time for their early development, an insensible process that is difficult to define in any clear way. But by the late eighties the process of gathering notebooks was a quite conscious one with an increasing articulation of their role in my writing in the years 1995 to 2005.
Reading about the origins and development of Pushkin’s(1799-1837) notebooks which he collected in the last two decades of his life, in the years 1817 to 1837, made me reflect on my own. Pushkin carried his notebooks around with him while he was in exile in the 1820s. Mine have simply been relocated by moving companies from Katherine in the NT to South Hedland and then to Perth in Western Australia and finally to George Town Tasmania. Mine now occupy space in an orderly fashion in my study to draw on in my writings and be updated from time to time from (a) my writing, (b) photocopied material and (c) internet information on a host of topics.
Pushkin’s notebooks came to occupy 8 volumes and were first published in 1994, 157 years after his passing. I have no idea whether mine will ever see some published form; I leave that to those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence. At this stage, after only 10 years of conscious, formal, organized notebook collecting, I have trouble seeing their long range significance.
Each page of Pushkin’s notebooks is reproduced in colour and are now seen as an important part of Russia’s heritage. Many pages of the originals are deteriorating. Who knows what significance will be seen in the pages of my manuscripts coming as they do from the 3rd to 5th decades(1983-2013) of the tenth and final stage of history, the fourth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age(1986-2021), the second half(1987-2037) of the first century(1937-2037) of the formal implementation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan? It is possible than nothing will come of them but, circling around some of the great writers of modern history as I do, it gives me pleasure to make comparisons and contrasts.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, August 11th, 2005.
Your first notebook began
in the year that the most precious
Being to have ever lived
drew His first breaths in Tihran
near the Shimran Gate where
He lived in the house of Mirza
Buzurg where He never cried,
was never restless-so they say.
Descended from Abraham
and a Sasanian monarch,
the son of Khadijih Khanum
and Mirza Buzurg this Man,
this great God-Man
of the 19th century
began an undertaking
that has captured the imagination
of several million people
and is associated with those
climactic changes in direction
in the collective history of man.
August 11th 2005
This is my second poem about the artist Francisco Goya(1746-1828) whose works reflected the historical upheavals of his time. As I wrote in my first poem, though, I see his work as reflecting equally, if not more so, the historical upheavals that were to come in the next two centuries. In this sense, as the title of that first poem indicates, the artist is prophetic. In 1819 he was saved from death by his doctor and his painting of his doctor in 1820 was full of warmth and love. But after that painting Goya decorated the walls of his villa with 14 ‘black paintings.’ They were the most sickening images, hellish visions, he ever painted. They are full of figures as if from a nightmarish dream. Robert Hughes argues in his film on Goya for television that Goya’s dark, black, paintings were also a portrayal of the inner life of man.1 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Hughes, “Goya: Crazy Like A Genius,” SBS TV, 2:50-4:05 p.m., 27 February 2005.
Could you see the magnitude
of the ruin we were going
to bring on ourselves?
The surrender to the squalid
in ideologies and the mind,
the catalogue of dark horrors
darker than we’d ever seen--
were these your black paintings?
Were the outworn shibboleths
and irrelevant theologies,
the aggressive secularism
and religious obscurantism
producing fires of animosity,
spiritual gloom & despair
which you could see back then?
Did you see into my time
and its dark heart, the darkest
before the dawn? Did you see
into my own time like some
early warning system? Did you
knock at our door and give us
your answering shout? Love
has to do with meaning; it is
as they say: ontological.
February 27 2005
Price attempts to speak directly to contemporary imaginations especially in the Baha’i community by tightly weaving his ego, his self, his autobiographical experience into textures of sensation and thought, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but hopefully transferable to everyman. Price also treats language as something so affectively charged that it simply continues sensation and thought by another means. Moreover, by stressing sensation and thought as separate loci of self-consciousness, Price also makes it possible to imagine at the other end of the ego, in effect, how poetry might move beyond the individual subject to the direct modeling of interpersonal subjective states.
Sensations are rendered so as to be shared; language is woven into the sensations and the affects are built out of that weaving. These affects become available to anyone who can fully assume the role of speaker of that specific linguistic formulation. By showing how our affective intensities are grounded by the modes of attention we adapt, Price also gives poetry a powerful social agenda that need not be connected to any specific political one. The writing of poetry is not seen as a lone activity that results in giving shape to poetic, to formed, structures of sensations, but as a reflexive means of intensifying complex interrelationships between sensation and imagination. –Ron Price with thanks to Charles Altieri, “Romanticism and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Strange Affinities: A Partial Return to Wordsworthian Poetics After Modernism,” Romantic Circles Praxis Series, July 2003.
There is no attempt here
to frustrate, no desire
to give you pointless
foreground in difficulty,
in a downright hostile
wasteland, an enigma
at once intimidating,
with impenetrable meaning.
June 28th 2005
The oldest off-shore light house in the world, built in the years 1807 to 1810, is found a dozen miles off the coast of Scotland in the North Sea at Bell Rock Reef.1 The project was being planned by an engineer in Scotland at the same time as Shaykh Ahmad “felt in his heart an irrepressible yearning to hasten”2 to Persia, to Shiraz and Yazd in 1806 where he sewed “the seeds of Divine knowledge” preparing the way for a spiritual lighthouse, God’s fast-approaching Revelation in the Person of the Bab. The lighthouse off Scotland’s coast, begun on 17 August 1807, was officially opened on February 1st 1811 with what was then the brightest light in the lighthouse world.
-Ron Price with thanks to 1ABC TV, “Seven Wonders of the Industrial World,” 7:30-8:30 p.m., June 13th 2004; and 2 Nabil, the Dawnbreakers, 1932, p.4.
It was a treacherous world
out there in the North Sea
where hundreds had been
dieing until that Beacon
was built with a zeal and
eagerness that amounted,
or so it seemed to them and
to me as I watched tonight--
to be the Will of God Himself.
As if bidden by an almighty
Providence, well-aware of
the dangers and perils, this
inspired engineer dedicated
his life to building lighthouses,
impelled to shoulder this task
by some unerring vision, some
fixed purpose and with sublime
detachment, a detachment found
by turning to his work, the work.
The story seemed to be, for me,
a metaphor for the building of a
new Lighthouse for this new Age.
June 14th 2004
"The most satisfying, historically accurate, reconstructions" of Handel's Messiah "generally date from the early 1750s."1 On May 15th 1754 the Messiah was produced in London for the first time with the vocal and instrumental ensemble that one often finds in productions today.2 At this time Shaykh Ahmad, the great precursor of the Babi and Bahá'í Revelations, was one year old. -Ron Price with thanks to 1David Vickers, "A Sacred Oratorio," Internet, 2003; 2ABC FM Radio, December 23rd, 2003, 12:30 pm.
The greatest single musical production
in the history of humankind,
in one epic music-poem,
the whole of human experience
in a blend of elegant melody,
with its capacity for self-renewal
was ready for the world,
the world as text, mystical tree.
And so there was born
in eastern Arabia--
as these melodic tones
entered the air--
of another ilk
which saw the world as text
and the melody of a new
Revelation as its sine qua non
and what was coming next.
24 December 2003
Between late April and May 1819, six months before the birth of Bahá'u'lláh, John Keats wrote "three or four of the supreme lyric poems in English literature."1 As another writer put it: "Keats wrote a range of poetic masterpieces in a twenty month period, February 1818 to October 1819:" Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, Ode on Indolence and Ode on Melancholy, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, The Eve of St. Mark and Hyperion. At the time Keats had doubts about the worth of his poetry, worries about money and even hid one of the manuscripts away behind some books so lacking in confidence was he about his writing. His sense of self-abasement, his personal doubts and worries about writing, about sexuality and about money were draining him of the very confidence to write at all.
One hundred and eighty years later I, too, had doubts about my poetry. I had no idea whether my poetry would ever acquire a readership beyond the smallest of coteries. I had all the worries Keats' mind was prey to, but they were not, for the most part, as intense as his concerns. I took great pleasure in my writing; I felt a confidence in the inspirational Source underpinning my poetry. Although I felt some of my poems were fine specimens, I had no idea of the overall quality and value of my work. I was psychologically prepared that all of my poetry might come to naught and, in the meantime, while this dead end pursued its possible course, its possible eventuation, I would continue to enjoy the process of poetic creation and its enriching pleasures for my mind and my emotions. -Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p.252.
I, too, began with a little,1
one here and one there,
short pieces for the occasion,
but habit has made me, like Keats,
a Leviathan. Half the day will not do
as he once said, only the whole of it.2
For inwardness and subjectivity
are the real subjects of the poet,
dark passages and glorious light
consumated in this vast opus.
The consolations are momentary,
but they are silently pervasive,
rich and calling forth,
the most intense desires of my soul.
1 From 1980 to 1987 I wrote 40 poems
From 1988 to 1991 I wrote 135 poems
Then an avalanche: 1992-2002, inclusive: some 6000 poems.
2 Since retiring from teaching in 1999 I spend on average eight hours a day reading and writing, about the same as Keats.
19 January 2002
Mozart's description of what happens to him as he composes has some similarities to the process of writing poetry as I experience it. "Once I have my theme another melody comes,"1 Mozart begins. And so it is, for me, with writing poetry. I get the germ of an idea, some starting point, a strong note or theme. Then, another idea comes along linking itself to the first one in a similar way to the linkage of that melody Mozart mentions to his theme. By now there is emerging "the needs of the composition as a whole" both for me and for Mozart. For both of us, too, the whole work is produced by "melodic fragments," by "expanding it," by "conceiving it more and more clearly." Mozart finishes his work in his head. The composition comes to him in its entirety in his head. I finish my work on paper and I have no idea of the ending until the end. The poem below is an example, drawing heavily on the contents of a book.2 -Ron Price with thanks to the 1ABC Radio National, The Science Show, 10.1.98; and 2Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography 1600-1830, Manchester UP, NY, 1999.
Even the most uninteresting,
trivial and repetitive,
when seen at a distance
with a lively fancy
and a determination,
with purpose and system
to make the most of life,
can find a mysterious charm,
an entertaining commentary
in the hands of a good writer.
But this is not the work
of a tourist and its trivial,
relief from responsibility,
and identity: escape.
I have never been a tourist.2
Always there was the work,
the object worthy of life,
always the profusion
of the incomparable,
so much intensification,
excess, the delights,
the dangers, the restlessness,
a reaching out beyond
the mundane, the observable.
The danger of hyperboles,
accepting, as I know I must,
than can't be kept at bay,
when calm benevolence
can't be maintained
and the necessary distraction.
1 Except, perhaps, on my two 'honeymoons' for several days in August 1967 and December 1975; and travelling to and settling in to some new places of residence and employment.
2 Tourism in the modern sense began, according to Chard, about 1880.
27 June 2002
THE MIRROR OF A SHADOW
In the 1980s Les Murray reclaimed ground for poetry1 through his verse-novels, ground which had been lost to film, the novel and the electronic media. It was ground that had been lost to these and other art forms for perhaps two centuries. The battle of reclaiming ground for poetry was an old one. Wordsworth's Prelude was one of poetry's early successes: 1798 to 1805. My own poetry, as it evolved into the 1990s, with its long preambles and prose-like narrative style, was part of this long-term reclamation process. I don't think poetry has had that much success in the popular culture. The ground, the battle, has been lost except among a coterie. But writing poetry does allow poets, haunted as they are by a voice, to find words to harmonize with that voice. I like to think, too, with the poet Shelley, that what I write is a mirror of a gigantic shadow which futurity casts on the present,2 even if what I write never becomes popular. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Peter Alexander, Les Murray: A Life in Progress, Oxford UP, 2000, p.206 and 2 Percy B. Shelley in The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, Harold Bloom, OUP, 1973, p.40.
I'm not involved in a battle
with popular culture.
I simply let that culture live.
I write to make sense
of my own life,
in the hope that
some of this will matter
to someone, someday.
This will to truth
that runs through these words,
is not about domination,
but about the urge to create,
to attain a working harmony1
among my several and diverse
selves and desires
that have fed
all that I have experienced
over these four epochs.
1 John Dewey, The Unconscious Beethoven, Ernest Newman, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1968, p.52.
16 March 2002
I would like to think that part of what I achieve in my poetry is a heightening of the sense of a common humanity, that sense that Burns possessed and which the former secretary of the UN referred to in one of his speeches several years ago. I would like to think, too, that I am writing at what is the beginning of a Baha’i consciousness in world literature. I would like to think that I take the speech of ordinary people and clothe it with a melody of meaning that finds its origins in the Baha’i Faith. Great poetry at the beginning of this new millennium is global, international. Whereas once poetry reached out to the universe with a gloved hand, a glove that was the nation, now it reaches out with the same hand whose glove is the planet.
The leading vices in my character, my cardinal deformities, the burden of my sin and my heedlessness, the core of my evil doings, the personal basis of much of my hardship, trouble and adversity, these failings and inadequacies colour my life so that I must blush to lift up my face to my Lord and my hands must be ashamed to stretch out toward Him. The sense of shame has coloured the autobiographical literature of Australia as indeed it coloured the life of Robert Burns. These several maladies and sicknesses also affect my poetry and the rich vein of its inspiration which I feel I have been tapping, at least since that Holy Year in 1992. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 10 October 2000; and Ian McIntyre, Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns, Flamingo, London, 1995.
No earthly scene has given me
more pleasure and sense of
exaltation, even enraptured me,
than to walk on that hillside1
in the bright morning sun or
on a winter say and hear a
stormy wind howling among
the trees and raving o’er the
marble columns: it has been
a wondrous season for devotion.
An explosion of creative energy
blasted me into an orbit of poetic
release. The world’s poetic genius
threw her inspiring mantle over me
and bade me sing the loves, the joys,
the majestic scenes and pleasures
of this garden on a hill, this crystal
concentrate of beauty, this place of
honour in the central square. I tuned
my tired, artless, life to the vitalizing
fragrance, the thrilling voice of His Pen
and a breath of spirit whispered to me
to lay my songs under His protection.
And I did and they are now honoured
with a place, a small place, in that treasury.
1 Mt. Carmel
Ron Price 11 October 2000
MY WINGED PSYCHE
In 1819 John Keats wrote an ode entitled "Ode to Psyche." This ode led me, by circuitous channels, to my following poem. My reflections are different than Keats'. Stephen Coote writes that the "necessary inwardness and subjectivity of the modern poet" is the real subject of Keats' ode. That observation is partly true in relation to this poet and his poem which is a reflection on more than forty years of experience affiliated with the newest of the world's religions.
-Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodden and Stoughton, 1995, London, p.241.
O God! I hear these tuneless lines and verses,
wrung, sprung, from some sweet enforcement
and dear remembrance of things past.
I hear my winged psyche
and its awakened eyes
flying as it does across
the years, across their open skies.
I hear its endless talking
and its walking down the street
with prayers upon its lips
and hope and faith upon its feet.
The winged boy I knew is gone
He went long years ago in love.
He's only there in memory now
beyond the sapphired skies above.
I've helped to build a wondrous fane
in several places 'round this earth.
Its pervasive influence is incalculable(1)
as it spreads to this world’s rebirth.
There's no question now of soft delight
that all this building bringeth.
There's no question that these melodies
are in this soul that singeth.
(1) Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh , p.173.
25 November 2000
SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE LINKAGE BETWEEN THE BABI-BAHA'I REVELATIONS AND THEIR CONFLUENCE WITH MODERN HISTORY
The following are preliminary considerations that attempt to fit the Babi-Bahá'í experience into the flow of modern history. Much more work needs to be done to develop my thoughts in this area. Modern history can be broken down into the early modern period and the late modern period after the Great Divergence. The Great Divergence was a term coined by Samuel Huntington(1927-2008), the influential American political scientist whose works covered multiple sub-fields of political science. Huntington used the term in 1996. He also referred to that Great Divergence as the European miracle, a term coined by Eric Jones(1936- ), the British-Australian economist and historian, in 1981. Jones described this European miracle as the process by which the Western world, that is, Western Europe and the parts of the New World where its people became the dominant populations, overcame pre-modern growth constraints and emerged irrefutably during the 19th century as the most powerful and wealthy world civilization of the time, eclipsing Qing China, Mughal India, and Tokugawa Japan.
The process, the miracle, this divergence, was accompanied and reinforced by the Age of Discovery and the subsequent rise of the colonial empires, the Age of Enlightenment, the Commercial Revolution, the Scientific Revolution and finally the Industrial Revolution. Scholars have proposed a wide variety of theories to explain why the Great Divergence happened, including government intervention, geography, and customary traditions. Before the Great Divergence, the core developed areas included: China, Western Europe, Japan, and India. In each of these core areas, differing political and cultural institutions allowed varying degrees of development. China, Western Europe, and Japan had developed to a relatively high level and began to face constraints on energy and land use, while India still possessed large amounts of unused resources. Shifts in government policy from mercantilism to laissez faire liberalism aided Western development.
Technological advances, such as railroads, steamboats, mining, and agriculture were embraced to a higher degree in the West than the East during the Great Divergence. Technology led to increased industrialization and economic complexity in the areas of agriculture, trade, fuel and resources, further separating the East and the West. Europe's use of coal as an energy substitute for wood in the mid-19th century gave Europe a major head start in modern energy production. Although China had used coal earlier during the Song and Ming periods, its use declined due to the shift of Chinese industry to the south, far from major deposits, during the destruction of Mongol and Jurchen invasions between 1100 and 1400. The West also had the advantage of larger quantities of raw materials and a substantial trading market. China and Asia did participate in trading, but colonization brought a distinct advantage to the West.
NIALL FERGUSON'S VIEW OF THIS GREAT DIVERGENCE
The Scottish historian Niall Ferguson(1964- ) who works in the fields of international history, economic history, American and British imperial history, and whose influences include: Thomas Hobbes, Norman Stone, A. J. P. Taylor, Kenneth Clark, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, David Landes---has as his speciality: financial and economic history, particularly hyperinflation and the bond markets, as well as the history of colonialism. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. In 2011 he published his "Civilization: The West and the Rest" examining what Ferguson calls the most "interesting question" of our day: "Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?" He attributed this divergence to the West's development of six "killer apps" largely missing elsewhere in the world: "competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic".
A related documentary "Civilization: Is the West History?" was broadcast as a six part series on Channel 4 in March and April 2011 and in Australia in 2012. He has done a number of historical docos with a contemporary emphasis. In 2004, he was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Since 2011, he has been a contributing editor for Bloomberg Television, and a columnist for Newsweek. In 2012 he began working on the official biography of Henry Kissinger to whom he has been granted unprecedented access.
The Babi-Bahá'í Revelation took place between 1844 and 1892. One could arguably make a case for the speed-up in the unifying forces of life in 1492 and Columbus's discovery of America. One could also go back to the Vikings expansion west by 1100 or various Chinese expansions as far back as the first millennium AD. Indeed, one could create all sorts of time-frames for the relevance of the mid-19th century and the appearance of two God-men Who would speed-up the unification of the children of men. For now I will leave this hypothesizing.
A STUDENT AND TEACHER OF HISTORY
I will not attempt to summarize all the modern history courses I studied and taught in the years, say, 1954 to 2014. In those 60 years, though, I studied history at the primary, secondary and tertiary level and taught history as well at all those levels.
Most people, in my experience as a teacher and student, have little knowledge of history, ancient or modern, And so it is that what I write above has little resonance with most readers. My aim in future posts will be to provide some perspective on all this voluminous detail about which the average person knows so little and has, in some ways quite logically, such little interest. Our world offers up for the votaries of all faiths, of the votaries of all positions on the intellectual ladder of knowledge and belief, and the interests of all people who take any interest in history at all---a cornucopia of resources on virtually everything. The result is a sort of print-glut and information overload and, in the end, a sort of intellectual miasma of stuff combined with popular culture, the morning news, a concern for diet and health and one's bodily functions. Often, too, the result is, as one writer put it, a situation in which: "whom the gods would destory they make simple, and simpler and simpler." The questions the modern world faces have become staggeringly complex with or without a knowledge of history.
EDWARD GIBBON AND ARNOLD TOYNBEE: A Personal Perspective
About five years before Shaykh Ahmad(1743-1826), a critical person whose writings now form part of the spiritual heritage of the Babi-Bahá'í religion, left his home in Bahrain, Edward Gibbon completed his six volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The year was 1788. It was the eve of the French revolution and the eve of a spiritual revolution that was to lead to a new Revelation. This, of course, is a Bahá'í historical perspective. Some time in 1960 Arnold Toynbee put his pen down and his Reconsiderations to his ten volume magnum opus, A Study of History, was complete. Toynbee found Gibbon’s work a model and an inspiration. So, too, did Shoghi Effendi, the leader of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 to 1957 who inherited that spiritual heritage beginning arguably with Shaykh Ahmad. Shoghi Effendi's writings have always been for me one of the models for my own writing as were Edward Gibbon's, a fortiori.
In September 1921, about two months before the death of ‘Abdu’l-Baha(1844-1921) another inheritor of that same spiritual heritage, Shoghi Effendi was studying at Oxford. In that same month Arnold Toynbee had an inspiration while travelling on a train. This inspiration was the last, the final, inspiration that led to his A Study of History. He wrote his 11 volume tour de force (11 if one includes his Reconsiderations) during the years of what Bahá'ís call the Guardianship: 1921-1957. As far as we know, Shoghi Effendi never read Toynbee. It took Gibbon some sixteen years, and Toynbee some thirty-two, to complete their massive, their life's work for which they are now known to history and especially to historians, at least some historians.
Gibbon's Decline and Fall had a profound effect on the Guardian, on his translations and, arguably, on his conception of history and life. The latter, the then leader of what was in the 1920s a new religious Movement of perhaps 80,000 adherents worldwide, began to write his voluminous, his many 1000s of letters, some of which were made into books as well as his book God Passes By published in August 1944, the same month as I was born. Shoghi Effendi's writings were to effect the thoughts of my generation, the generation of Bahá'ís that came of age in the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963). His writings also affected the first plans of the Universal House of Justice in the half century 1963 to 2013. Inevitably, only a small fraction of that generation was affected by Toynbee since his whole language was, like Gibbon’s, complex and difficult for the reader. As the decades moved insensibly toward the close of the twentieth century fewer and fewer students had the skills to read Toynbee but, since more and more were graduating in history and the social sciences, a coterie got exposed to Toynbee. A coterie also got exposed to the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. I was one.
SOME OF TOYNBEE'S VIEWS
Toynbee saw the first world war as the opening stage of a period that was like the Peloponnesian War of 431 to 404 BC. In that period in Greek history democracy came to an end, war punctuated the life of the city states and peace eventually came at a heavy price. Three-quarters of a century later Alexander conquered the world in 323 BC. The pattern may repeat itself in a different form in the twenty-first century as the first stirrings of World Order lead the World Order of Baha’u’llah to a position of much greater strength, prestige and influence than it has had in the first two centuries of its existence on this planet. The evolution of global order, assuming global order does in fact evolve, is a process which has only begun in the last century. Any global federation, part of Toynbee's vision for humanity's survival, is still a long way off and only time, of course, will tell what pattern unfolds in global history in the 21st and succeeding centuries.
The Baha’i community has just left the first century and a half of an obscurity in which its history was enshrouded. Toynbee and Gibbon function as stimulating historians to a generation, my generation, which came of age of age in the first decades of the office of the Universal House of Justice, the trustees of the legacy of two prophets-of-God in the nineteenth century--to simply state a Bahá'í theological view. Two universal historians, the first at the dawn of this new age as the French revolution was about to take place, and the second at the dawn of the period known to Baha’is as the Kingdom of God on Earth, the period after 1953, have strongly influenced my reading and writing since my days at university in the 1960s. Of course, it must be said, that no secular historian takes seriously the Bahá'í theology and even less a Bahá'í view of history. And so it is, that I have little expectation that readers of this part of my website, readers who are not Bahá'ís, will take seriously many of my Bahá'í perspectives, That is understandable, to be expected.
As the Baha’i community moved through its international teaching plan, starting in 1937, Toynbee was there waiting in the wings, so to speak. Three volumes were out in 1934 and the tenth volume in 1954 as the first great Bahá'í teaching Crusade was getting warmed up and taking this new Faith to every corner of the globe. A universal history up-dated for a global community: 6,290 pages and over three million words was Toynbee’s master work. His master passion, his torment, his labour and his pleasure coincided with the global plans and global energies of an emerging world religion, a religion which claimed to be the latest of the Abrahamic religions. That so few could and did enjoy Toynbee's work was no more insignificant than the reaction of the masses to Shakespeare. In a world that was getting more education, or at least information, as the decades went by there was every reason to hope, especially if imbued with Baha’i philosophy, that Toynbee’s days of being appreciated were just beginning.
The French Revolutionaries identified the Enlightenment as the work of a small, brave band of 18th-century philosophes, whom they rushed to entomb as heroes in the gloomy crypt of the Panthéon. In the corrupt and desolate wasteland of the Ancien Régime, the Revolutionaries proclaimed, the philosophes had cast welcoming rays of light and reason, stirring the dull roots of popular discontent. On the other side of the political spectrum, angry defenders of religious and political orthodoxy accepted this image, but in photo-negative: for them, the wasteland was a happy garden; the rays of light were menacing shadows; and the angelic philosophes were demons, casting Europe into perdition.
For two hundred years, these popular images of the Enlightenment have retained considerable force. Textbooks, including Colin Jones’s superb new one(The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon, 650 pages, 2002) have repeated them to new generations of readers, while literary historians such as Daniel Mornet have taken them for granted and proceeded to tell the story of the Enlightenment’s steady diffusion outwards from its Parisian source. In the 1960s, Peter Gay gave them new power in his brilliant extended essay The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Gay recognised the international dimensions of the Enlightenment, and included Scots, English, Germans and Italians as well as French in what he called the ‘little flock of philosophes’. He recast it as a dialectic in which ‘modern paganism’ overcame Christianity and ushered in ‘the science of freedom’ – which he found best expressed in the American rather than the French Revolution. But at heart Gay’s Enlightenment remained the exploit of a handful of brave 18th-century souls.
Yet there have always been challenges to this view. Some critics have tried to expand the Enlightenment’s geographical and chronological boundaries. Others, more daringly, have denied its essential unity. J.G.A. Pocock, in his ongoing study of the intellectual worlds of Edward Gibbon, insists on the existence of multiple Enlightenments, some of them remarkably conservative, religious and devoted to erudition. The most radical critics of all have gone far in the other direction, subsuming the Enlightenment into even larger, sweeping historical shifts. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s notorious, and notoriously abstruse, Dialectic of Enlightenment traced ‘Enlightenment’ thinking back to the age of Homer.
Foucault recast 18th-century Europe as the scene of a dramatic break in Western habits of thought, and darkly associated it with new, menacingly ubiquitous patterns of discipline and repression. Subsequent authors have often mistaken these radical critiques for attacks on the Enlightenment of convention, and proceeded to blame the Parisian philosophes for all the ills of modernity, crediting them with a repressive, even proto-totalitarian ‘Enlightenment Project’. This sort of thinking amounts to vulgar Postmodernism, and enjoys an alarming degree of popularity on American and British university campuses.
L.W.B. Brockliss, in his Calvet’s Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in 18th-Century France, an elegantly instructive study falls into older traditions of critique. Like the great early 20th-century historian Paul Hazard, Brockliss wants to push the boundaries of the Enlightenment beyond the ‘little flock of philosophes’, and in particular to identify it with the intellectual phenomenon known as the ‘Republic of Letters’ – an international network of correspondents born in the late 17th century and committed to unfettered critical inquiry. Hazard made this argument by showing that the founders of the Republic anticipated the philosophes in many of their lines of thought. As Diderot himself later acknowledged, ‘we had contemporaries during the age of Louis XIV’. Jonathan Israel has recently restated this argument in a new form in Radical Enlightenment, focusing on the Netherlands and the circle of Spinoza. Brockliss takes a different tack. He wants to show, first, that the Republic of Letters survived into the late 18th century and, second, that its membership shared the principal concerns and beliefs of the narrower group of philosophes. ‘The Enlightenment,’ he concludes, ‘should be subsumed within the Republic of Letters and the philosophes treated as the citizens of a singular mini-Republic within a broader federation.’ In fact, Brockliss would like to get rid of the term ‘Enlightenment’ altogether. For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment.