My life has been lived within the time frame of four epochs (1944-2021) of the Formative Age. There were four epochs in Baha'i history that preceded my life. They were the years 1844-1944. This poetry involves the Bab in the first of those epochs: 1844-1853. The prose-poetry in this document at Baha'i Library Online focuses on themes from the six short years of the Babi Revelation & the epoch 1844-1853. My prose-poems try to bring the themes, the facts, the events of this period and the wider society into my own life, my own time and society.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs: The Heroic Age: The First Epoch: 1844-1853:
Section VII Poetry
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study in Autobiography
Each of the prose poems below was originally in a form resembling a poem, but I have gathered each of them into a form that resembles prose more than poetry. John Keats and Emily Dickinson among others used letters to transmit poetry, to formulate letters as poetry, to exploit the poetic and 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 nearly 50 years as a blend of genres. Indeed poetry and prose have become somewhat indecipherable in my mind's eye. One day, time permitting I may alter the form here to one resembling the traditional poetry format.
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. He was regarded by Eliot as having contributed nothing and by Goethe as the greatest genius of his century. -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. 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. -Ron Price with thanks to 1“Internet Site,” National Library of Australia, 2006.
ENGRAVED WITH RADIANCE
So nigh is grandeur to our dust, so near is God to man!-Emerson
...the believers must eschew affectation and imitation, for every man of understanding will instantly detect their loathsome odour.-Shoghi Effendi in Letter to Persian Believers, 10 February 1980 from the Universal House of Justice.
So many deaths: human beings
whose days were crowded
with work for him and them and it.
Memories, such slight things:
a phantom of an attitude remains,
an echo of a mode of thought,
a book or two, at the heart of victory
in some critical hour, shrunk now
into a mere musical note, some phrase,
suggestive of singularity, clarity,
so clear as to be victorious
over the inevitable diminution,
abridgement of death’s rare necrology*,
abstract for new generations
who get to the backs of books
and discover what’s indescribably
precious in the spirit of humanity.
And so the soul’s note rises strong
and clear above the uproar of our times,
to exert in indefinable and infinitessimal ways
its ennobling influence over the future,
occasionally a written garment, inseparable
from matter’s chemical marriage, some style,
some reporting of spiritual seeing
and inborn desire, gift of grace,
which eschews affectation and imitation:
some portion of the soil was its to tend
and when all is done what it is, what it was,
engraved on tablets of light as the moment
is engraved with radiance on this
axis of the universe.
26 September 1995
*necrology: -a list or record of people who have died, an obituary
-found in some Baha’i books with some accompanying statement
on the life of the person.
The city is the embodiment of nightmare, of terrible visions, of some blank and dead spirit. Dostoevsky describes this urban jungle in a style full of life’s immediacy and authenticity, with a sense of the vastness and indeterminacy of human motivation. His writing career began after he gave up his ‘dull as potatoes’ military career in 1844.-Malcohm Bradbury on ‘Dostoevsky’, The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria, 1989, pp.27-52.
Attainment unto this City quencheth thirst without water, and kindleth the love of God without fire.-Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, USA, 1952, p.269.
It was a year when careers took epochal shifts:
exploring darkness and light,
old crimes and new punishments,
books, so many new books, that would
change the face of fiction and the world’s
spiritual sensibility forever.
Tragic figures, so very tragic, but
ultimately an exploration of the inner man
that the world had never seen:
Worship thou God in such wise that
if thy worship lead thee to the fire,
no alteration in thine adoration
would be produced.*
Different cities found expression under
your pens: heavenly and earthly,
earthly and earthly where, at last,
the Mystic Herald, bearing the joyful
tidings of the Spirit, shine(s) forth from
the City of God,** from Your book, like
some trumpet-blast of knowledge,
resplendent as the morn, awakening
hearts from the slumber of frenetic passivity.
And this city of multiforms is taking shape
up there, over there, like a pregnant mountain
and in a thousand other places, slowly,
gradually, confering new life on seekers
as they penetrate the hidden mysteries
of the soul and inhale the fragrances
of a new morning in some wondrous
utterances in which the channels of
their souls are cleansed by new perfumes.***
27 October 1995
* The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p.77.
** Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p.267.
***Dostoevsky wrote many books before he died in 1881.-The Bab and Baha’u’llah wrote a massive number of books before Baha’u’llah’s death in 1892.
One hundred years ago today the first lights flickered in the first movie house. Cinema had begun.-ABC Radio, 8:15 am, 28 December 1995.
Film has basically snuck up on religion and kind of taken mythology. It’s the main area where we play out mythology now, in the cinema. I think that’s what its secret function is. -George Miller, film-maker, talking about his film Babe, 28 October 1995 in The West Magazine, 23 December 1995, p.13.
It has been suggested that if we could go inside a black hole, it might be possible to emerge either into a different universe or into a different part of our own universe.-Patrick Moore, The Unfolding Universe, Book Club Associates, London, 1982, p.184.
I’ve watched you come out of those dark holes
splendidly magnificent, like new worlds,
taking us away, billions of us now,
to scintillating lights and crackling sound,
so perfect, full and unimaginably glorious.
You are so much more than a poem;
you seem to cancel speculation,
your fragrance private, for a public place.
For a time you are supreme
like some Egyptian pyramid we only look at once,
or more times if hooked on your not so subtle
magnificence. You multiply my astonishment,
so succulent; you embrace me, absorb me
in your seemingly incandescent beauty,
but only fleetingly: I return to the world
as quickly as I left in your celluloid safety.
I disappear, and thankfully;
while the predictable wonder
of my ordinary life,
unscripted, flawed and plausible,
also disappears. I never emerge
in that celluloid safety
with my life nicely edited
so as to possess only that toothpaste smile.
I am eagerly gullible
to your technicolour manipulation,
your convoluted intrigue,
the syncapated chase and the final fall,
like dandruff, of the villans or, now, the hero.
Like my poems you can last forever:
commentary on the time and humankind.
A thousand mythologies cross your path.
I leave your black hole and enter another.
28 December 1995
It was the end of September 1846 as He passed through the Allah-u-Akbar Gate...the Bab knew it was the ending of the first phase of his meteoric message.-David S. Ruhe, Robe of Light: The Persian Years of the Supreme Prophet Baha’u’llah: 1817-1953, George Ronald, Oxford, 1994, p.74.
Perhaps it was the explosive epidemic
that saved You to continue what was
an intensifying series of sorrows and
disappointments beyond that northern
gate of Shiraz where You paused to
look back at that beautiful bowl valley
with its cyprus trees and azure-tiled domes
where Hafiz and Sadi were now a memory
along with the ruins of Persepolis and its
ancient imperial splendour where You
would soon pass by.
Discouragements and disasters succeeded
one another in bewildering rapidity,
sapping the vitality and dimming the hopes
of Your stoutest supporters. This Gate in 1846
was just the start: the start of what seems
a recital of reverses, massacres and humiliations.
Your plans and conceptions were
beginning to look foredoomed to failure:
the appearance of colossal disaster was
slowly setting in, the saddest and most
fruitless campaign--plunged in an abyss of darkness.
As You left Your wife, never to see her again,
never to see Your home, as You passed through
this Allah-u-Akbar Gate in its rocky pass
on Your way to Isfahan, You knew Your faith
was passing through the fiery tests of
a phase of transition that was to carry it
on its path to a high destiny, more glorious
than anything since its birth and to periods
of utter futility and despondency.
Oh northern gate of Shiraz!
You hold the promise of things unseen,
laden as you are with that weighty Book,
in your arches, towers and balustrades
and of an earthquake of anguish.
Just a point in time, passing as You did,
from the home of Your birth to a new Home
where Your Dust would kindle a fire
that would lead all people through
the Gate to the Promise of All Ages.
25 June 1995
ROOT OUT WEAKNESS
The sky wears masks of smoke and gray
The orchestra of winds performs its strange, sad music
Embittered wine rises from fowl deeds.
Its dregs can root out my weakness.-With thanks to Emily Dickinson in Woman of Letters, Leaves Turco,State University of NY Press, 1993, pp.40-1.
Some deeds are so lonely
they taste of bittered wine.
I’ve walked with them on back-side streets
sorting out their place and time.
I’ve sat with them to cogitate:
what brings them to the fore?
Like some disease they do attack
and peace goes out the door.
For me these lonely deeds are born
in the recesses of my heart,
in anger and depression
they found a good kick-start.
As the years go by I’ve learned
to avoid them like a lion,
but from time to time they come
and remorse takes me far from my Zion.
Sad regrets go to the root
and weed out a weakness
which seems endemic.
Life provides a practice field
for a process far from simple
One day, I trust, I’ll see this weakness
in a new perspective, a new strength
will have emerged
and me, much more selective.
8 July 1995
The poetic view of life consists in the extraordinary value and importance I place on everybody I meet--when the mood is on me. I see the essential glory and beauty of all the people I meet..…splendid and immortal and desirable. -Rupert Brooke in: A Letter to F.H. Keeling, September 1910.
My productiveness proceeds in the final analysis from the most immediate admiration of life, from the daily inexhaustible amazement at it. -R.M. Rilke, Selected Letters.
In one community where I lived in Australia, in outback South Australia in 1971-2, I had the experience which I describe below. The poem is factually based, although an element of poetic licence trims the edges.
--Ron Price, 5:50 p.m., Saturday, 30 December 1995, Rivervale, WA.
She really was a beauty;
one of those alluring women
I was so easily allured by,
could have taken to bed with me.
And here I was in her lounge room,
late at night and alone and she
wanting it and telling me so.
It’s funny the sort of people
you attract as if with fire
We test the gold in these
early epochs of this new cycle.
You think it might be spiritual types,
you know the ones you read about,
saintly, slender, intense women
who always seem to have been
waiting for the truth, with conviction,
that heat which they seem compelled
to share with everyone they meet.
This bed-wise woman was on heat.
She was no Mary of Magdala,
she had her garden of pleasure,
her perfume, her glistening hair,
gold-bangled, fingers slender,
knowing the words men like to hear.
Marking me that night she did,
probably knowing I was beyond
her wiles, part of some new marble
dream I’d brought to town with its words
of soft rain for the dry and stony hills;
somehow she knew it would not be me,
could not be this fellow from Canada
who’d arrived with his maple-leaf,
and his snow and ice in this hot, dry,
godforsaken arsehole of the world.
Not these words, I had none
which could penetrate her
urgent desire or caress her
warm breasts, her endless curves.
If sex was the last frontier
I was at its precipice-edge.
If she was to find sweet new life
it would not be through me.
I offered her a greater fullness
and joy than she could imagine,
but there was no way she would
ever buy my line this midnight
on this frontier’s dry land
where the sexual revolution
had just arrived the other day1
with its outrageous stimulation,
its awesome erotic sensuality,
its whirlwind of the senses.
And so I passed her by—my days
of infidelity had not come to me yet.
Someone else would teach me the lessons
that could have been mine that night.
1 The sexual revolution in North America in the 1960s arrived a little later in Australia, or so it seemed to me, from the experiences I had on my arrival in Australia in the early 1970s. Such questions are quite complex and require more of an analysis than this poem accomplishes.
30 December 1995
POETRY DEMANDS REAL ASSENT TO ITS TERMS
Poetry, being the reflection not of a part but of the whole of embodied, individual experience, the product of a complete and unified, unique self, calling for us not to do but to see and to be made new, demands real assent to its terms. It appeals to the whole experience of the reader who is, however, not at first or always capable of such assent as poetry requires. -James Olney, Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton UP, 1972, p.211.
I go all the way with you now, Roger;
now that I understand your story
after years of persistent plodding
through the lines which are your life
much more than you probably ever knew.
It is difficult to be made new, though;
that takes time, even if...even if.....
I have given you my full heart.
And how unified were you, or am I,
when I pen my lines?
Do we ever become fully unified,
except in some state of dynamic equilibrium
with the vicissitudes of fortune
and the tempests of trials
while the most manifest of the manifest
and the most hidden of the hidden
circles around us in all
the mysterious tokens
of His glorious handiwork.
16 December 1995
THIS IS NO PICNIC
There is a new song.
Up from the Siyah-Chal it rose, breaking the Shah’s dream.
-Roger White, “New Song”, Another Song Another Season, p.118.
When children are born in a Baha’i community
they are wrapped in Allah’u’Abhas, LSA meetings,
deepenings, Feasts and the Writings.
They are slowly introduced to a variety of people
whose heterogeneity is more educative than
they or the rest of the community can imagine.
There’s a life-line for these unsuspecting neophytes:
children’s classes, pre-youth, youth programs,
young adult, adult activities-taking the votarie
from cradle to grave in a crucible of care,
stimulation and challenge that he comes to call
his Baha’i life.
The supplies of food, music and entertainment
can be staggering in their quantity as the
adolescent leans toward the rigours of pioneering
where he must supply it all and the foundation
stone of prayer which he has been acquiring.
This is no picnic, although it often looks that way
amidst rice, kebabs and dishes of desert beyond
your imagining. Don’t be fooled by this smorgasbord
and the endless lines of awefully nice people.
This is serious and potentially tragic;
deep lines of sorrow lurk behind those
treacherous smiles. You can’t have all of this
for nothing. The greatest adventure in the world
has its price: nothing less than your soul,
and you may, just may, find it.
There’s plenty of opportunity here to escape
that insolent litany of insularity that often
afflicts the young and the sheer boredom
that deepens as it grows into the corners
of their lives with its deadening stamp.
They need you in Mongolia and Manchuria,
Morrocco and Medina and just about anywhere
you care to mention and you may find that
flooding rain which will water the soil of a
Life you have grown to know and which
Has become part of your life and which began,
perhaps, in Tabriz or Shiraz, or maybe
in the mountains of Sulaymaniyyah
or the Siyah-Chal or Akka….
For that new song you’ve been learning
with your mother’s milk has been growing
in sweetness; its music can be heard
triumphantly gaining in range and momentum.
The accents of its Words are capivating
millions, rejoicing the trees of places
you’ve never heard of and flooding with felicity
everywhere on earth. Yet, I falter too, Lord.
I quaver as I try to sing. And I cry.
16 December 1995
THE INWARD PIONEER
The serenity of the comic spirit informs the closing scenes of Byron’s later life.-Jacques Barzun, The Energies of Art: Studies of Author’s Classic and Modern, Harper and Bros., NY, 1956, p.68.
For the inward pioneer...must accompany the outward pioneer if this endurance and faithfulness are to convey life and joy to the community in which he serves.....For it was with his wit and his subtle self-mockery and the endearing manner in which he was able to see himself and others as caricatures, that he maintained a sense of balance....He maintained a sense of perspective as his tone of self-mockery implies, and was able to remain detached from his surroundings. -Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Four on an Island, George Ronald, Oxford, 1983, pp.87-88.
Here, it’s a style of life,
part of the interaction ritual,
part of growing up,
with mother’s milk.
A laugh here is the great bond,
the healer: transforms strain
and momentary expectation
into nothingness, well, perhaps
a light residue of air spreads across
your forehead for an instant,
for that instant the world is trivialized,
and a bloody good thing too:
the vanitas vanitatum, vanity of vanities,
the show, the emptiness, the semblance
of reality is shown for what it is.
Keep it lively, baby; keep it all at ease--
the mind that is, the mind, ‘tis a gift
of fortune, perhaps the sign
of an imperturbable serenity:
at least for awhile, but then
they tell me that even funny guys
get depressed. No hunting about
for immortality, just temporary
pleasure, mate, just take it easy,
nothing tragic here man.
Always being right, never doubting
and you’re half way to dullardland.
Play with it, dance with it,
stuff and nonsense, let it pierce you
with its strange relations, let it dice
your personality, toy your inner fantasy
and teach you of your limitations.
Ron Price 22 September 1995
You are lost to me
stamped with remoteness
and the fatigue of arriving futilely
at improbable destinations.
-Roger White, “Night Bus”, Occasions of Grace, p.104.
Rollo May who introduced existential psychology to the USA wrote in his famous book Love and Will(1969) that much that is important in our lives begins in fantasy. The following poem could have led to my divorce if the fantasy I experienced was acted upon in reality.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, September 3, 2004.
You lean close to my shoulder,
so close I can feel your warm breath.
You pull up a chair, so exquisitely
intimate with your long, bare, slender legs.
Slowly I become part of you as
the conversation lengthens and my eyes
sink into your smooth profile, breasts,
slighly visible through thin, white blouse,
skirt tight leaving vast expanse of thigh
and curves, everywhere curves.
In ten minutes you are mine.
We have married and had a family;
this time my baronial lust
does not eclipse an inner white wonder
which I can never own. Your surging
tenderness, contorting on satin sheets,
a harvest I do not invade except on invitation
only, finally meeting another sea.
Your hand touches mine, so softly, so young,
as you explain the words you’ve written here,
so fragile you are--my knee brushes your leg.
Suddenly I see us divorce.
Sydney’s lights absorb you.
I know I will never have you.
You are as remote as a fading star.
My futile, fleeting fantasy leaves me
alternately fatigued, excited and perplexed
at unsatisfied desires that can never find
their destination except in memory’s
grey wash, grey eminence of some
short-lived taste of sweetness gone
into that great tumble-bin of wash.
30 December 1995
White’s poem “Night Bus”, one of his most confessional of poems, is refreshing in its honesty, delightful in its spontaneity, wise. “It is...through the living authors” said T.S. Eliot “that the dead remain alive.”(1) Perhaps the above poem is one example of how I am keeping White alive in my own poetry.
(1) Roger Nash, “The Demonology of Verse”, Philosophical Investigations, October 1987, p.314.
THE FLOWERING OF SEEDS
In 1909 William Carlos Williams started with writing poetry like Keats and the body of the Bab was placed in a marble sarcophagus in Haifa Israel. So began a fascinating journey of a quintessential American poet and so ended another of risks and perils to enshrine a precious Trust in Its home in the Holy Land. -ABC, Sunday Afternoon: WCW, 25 June 1995 and Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp.274-275.
You gave us something new:
a new poetry for everyman,
for what he did, words-
these were the units, real, concrete,
anything felt, anything amusing
makes poetry, you said.
You celebrated the new,
(logical for a pediatrition)
contemplated your loneliness,
your world and ours.
And you did all this just
as a new Order was breaking
onto the world, unbeknownst
to most, perhaps symbolized
when He came to America
in 1912 as you were starting
to run from the Old to a new voice,
as another new Voice was breaking out
unobtrusively in the mid-most heart
of a new world, Chicago.
And now in the midst of that other
Old world, the Voice reposes
on the Isle of Faithfulness,
having been carried ever so
surreptitiously to that Mount
where mystic influence now radiates
for our handiwork and wisdom to adore.
A new loveliness seemed to burst out
over the arts, raining down, raining down
as an old world died with blood pouring
out in buckets, as if history was expiring
her last breath, perhaps at Verdun and the Somme.
Now a beauty, only just seen, can be starred at,
leaned on, from above, below, kissed
on those ever-sleeping lips, hidden now
beneath a Dust of magic Light.
A beauty, crystal-concentrate, light
in an old spiritual place--you can’t miss it,
no one misses it who goes there.
Has a grace so contained as to pose no threat.
Has a touch of Marxism, a little of the green,
a flavour of the liberal and a cup of tradition:
something in it for everyone,
two-bob each way, some might say.
The Age has not figured Her out, perhaps,
deserves Her not, but needs Her in these
troublesome days of plague-swept streets,
chilled hearts and utter unbelieveable complexity.
25 June 1995
THE PORTRAIT AND THE MAN
After a lifetime of reading about the Bab, hearing stories about him and believing Him and His teachings to be at the core of my life, what could I say that would attempt to encapsulate this my experience of the Bab? -Ron Price, 2:15 PM, 27 December 1995, Rivervale, Western Australia.
Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on the right, on the left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. -The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p.172.
Thank you Aqa-Bala Big,* or
should I say Prince Malik Qasim
for our only portrait of the Bab.
Done just before His public
declaration in Tabriz and His:
I am, I am the Promised One!
This soul of the great ether
Who could do anything He wanted,
this Mihdi, this Master Hero,
this Primal Point, this spellbinder,
this Mystery, Morn of Truth,
Harbinger of the Most Great Light,
the Mystic Fane, the Source of light
that shone on Mount Sinai,
Whose fire glowed in the Burning Bush,
the Forerunner of the Ancient Beauty.
The portrait of this mild and delicate
looking man, small in stature and fair,
can be seen in the Archives Building.
I am longing to draw near to Your
glorious spirit and Your bewildering
and wondrous revelation, to be admitted
to the gardens of Your Paradise
and that fitting silence You request.
27 December 1995
* He was the chief painter of the governor and was asked by the governor to paint the Bab’s portrait.
As I stood staring at this Antipodean river and its nearby countryside, where the modern Western civilization in which I lived and moved and had my being was fast becoming part and parcel of a complex global civilization and humankind a planetized species, I had an experience which was the counterpart, on the psychic plane, of an aeroplane's sudden deep drop when it falls into an air-pocket. To that spot where Mulla Hasayn talked with the Bab I was suddenly carried down in a time-pocket from this day in the second year of the third millennium A.D. to the fourth year of the fourth decade of the nineteenth century in which history, in that room, on May 23rd at eleven minutes after sunset, had entered and completed another stage with the onset of the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets. -Ron Price with thanks to Arnold Toynbee and an experience he had on March 19th, 1912.
So began a grinding, grinding
in the mill of that Holy Seed---
of infinite preciousness,
of incalculable potentialities---
yielding that oil first lighted
in that sombre, black pit.
And so, too, here on the river
another grinding, crushing
of a far-less God-imbued kernel
on the anvil of adversity,
as global civilization marched
on its relentless course
and I, too, relentlessly marched on
even with the burden of my sin
as my heart melted within me
and as the radiance of a still
infant Faith spread over the earth.
10 March 2002
The Bahá'í Cause has a World Centre in Haifa, but around this centre is an immense network which participates in so many different ways in this Centre. You don't really have to live and work in that Centre to be part of it, although obviously one's participation in the physicality of that Centre from a distance is not the same as actually being there. The unquestioned center of the Bahá'í World Faith is PO Box 155 Haifa Israel 30 001or, more especially, the holy dust of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh in Their respective shrines. That unique centrality will never end. As the phenomenal world we live and participate in becomes more and more global, as the local and habitual settings in which we physically move are experienced as only part of that phenomenal world, as distance intrudes into local activities overcoming some of its tyranny, that centrality will become even deeper and more pervasive.
We must resolve various dilemmas, though, if we are to preserve a coherent narrative of self-identity in relation to this phenomenal world. This poem is about the resolution of these dilemmas. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford UP, 1991, pp.187-201.
The one and the many,
integration and fragmentation,
bringing it together
and splitting things apart,
bridging the gap,
bridging the gap
in a drama, the role,
that I and others expect
me to be as I participate
in the necessary creation
of this special ideological
culture and my world.
And so I put fantasy, make-believe,
theatre, game-playing, models, plans
and images into a great mix, a repertoire,
to be ready for any contingency,
limit any engulfment,
being overwhelmed by
not haunted, but see it
as a natural state
and so slowly make a new world,
where orchestration, dominance,
is limited as I try to balance
10 October 2000
ONE HAD TINTED CRIMSON
In the year after the Bab was martyrd Herman Melville published Moby Dick. Some have regarded this book as the greatest work in American fiction. Melville began writing this book in the late 1840s, perhaps 1849 at the earliest. He said he loved all men who dived. Any fish could swim near the surface, but it took a great whale to go down five miles. Melville also thought that comfortable beliefs needed to be discarded. He could not himself believe and he was uncomfortable in his disbelief. -Ron Price, a summary of an essay and an encyclopedia article on Melville.
Melville must be henceforth numbered in the company of the incorrigibles who occasionally tantalize us with indications of genius.....Melville has succeeded in investing objects.....with an absorbing fascination...Moby Dick is not a mere tale of adventure, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds.-Henry F. Chorley, in London Athenaeum, 25 October 1851; and London John Bull, 25 October 1851.
My Revelation is indeed far more bewildering than that of Muhammad....how strange that a person brought up among the people of Persia should be empowered by God....and be enabled to spontaneously reveal verses far more rapidly than anyone.... -The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, p.139.
They both went down deep
into the ocean of mystery,
some mystic intercourse
had possessed them
with subtle and penetrating grandeurs,
a whole way of life in their words,
a certain eccentricity of style,
an object of ridicule,
a kind of old extravagance,
the transcendental tendency of the age.
But One had musk-scented breaths...
written beyond the impenetrable
veil of concealment...
oceans of divine elixir,
tinted crimson with the essence of existence...
Arks of ruby, tender....
wherein none shall sail but
the people of Baha...1
----Ron Price 18 February 1999
1 The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, pp.57-8.
As I do a little editing to this site on 30 May 2007, I have now written some 60 booklets ofpoetry and over 6000 poems. Each booklet has an introduction. The following is the introduction to booklet number 38.
INTRODUCTION TO BOOKLET NUMBER 38
I have written before, in the introductions to previous booklets as early as 1995, of the influence of Wordsworth on my poetry.1 The autobiographical nature of his poetry, especially in his The Prelude; the strong tendency of Wordsworth to shape his memories, his daily life and use poetry as a medium for wrestling with his conception of life, his destiny and his society; the feeling he had, as early as 1799, if not earlier, that he had been called to being a poet: these aspects of his writing and these sentiments find echoes in my own experience and my own poetry. The process seemed to begin, for Wordsworth, in his teens; whereas the process did not really begin for me until my forties.
I was approaching my mid-fifties before I felt a strong sense of a poetic calling and I was fifty-five before I found my Grasmere, the place where I could concentrate as fully as possible on writing poetry, as Wordsworth did in the late 1790s. Wordsworth had his sister Dorothy for companionship, as his helpmate. I had my wife, Chris. As Wordsworth put it in his poem Home At Grasmere:
Where my footsteps turned
Her voice was like a hidden Bird that sang;
The thought of her was like a flash of light
Or an unseen companionship, a breath
Of fragrance independent of the wind...
I could put it in similar tones. There has been a sharing of solitude, as Ortega y Gasset described marriage, "an unseen companionship ....independent as the wind." She was a gentle, "hidden Bird" who was always busy with one thing or another in her own world of the garden, the artistic side of life in: pottery, art or arranging the domestic side of life in our home. Not that our relationship was without its tensions from time to time.(1.1) I often felt it was like the tension in violin strings that, when tuned, produced beautiful music but, sometimes, were sadly out of tune and a terrible strained noise resulted.
This booklet of poetry, then, is the first from my Grasmere in George Town Tasmania. It is my hope that this place will become what Grasmere was for Wordsworth: "the choice of the whole heart."2 It is my hope that it will come to serve, down the remaining years of my days, as the base for whatever future work I would do, the home from which I might fly to serve in other places. As I approach the age of sixty it seems wise to have a fixed point of residence, at last. By the time Wordsworth went to live in Grasmere he had been writing for sixteen years. I had been writing poetry for eighteen, but only seriously for seven. Any meaningful sense of a poetic calling was for me very slow in coming. I was nearly fifty-five. Wordsworth was in his late twenties.
"Through memory nothing is really lost and change yields abundant recompense" Wordsworth once wrote. It had been my experience, through writing poetry, that my years as a pioneer and travel teacher were yielding an abundant recompense through the aid of memory’s enriching assistance. Poetry seemed to give me an enlargement of my capacity to know and understand my experience. It seemed to increase my consciousness, its scope and range, as if my being was being added to in a mysterious way. Perhaps this was because poetry was not unlike prayer which,‘Abdu’l-Baha informes us, increases our capacity.
In addition, I wanted to convey my story in more meaningful ways than the narrative that I had sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library as early as 1993. Poetry provided that medium. It seemed to increase the very meaning of the world, its metaphysical, its philosophical, substance. A passion for a synoptic view of the world, as A.D. Hope put it, makes the writing of "the slightest of poems on the most particular of themes" 3 a reflection of this ruling passion, often quite undeliberately.
It had become my view by 1999 that any interpretive analysis of one’s life was inevitably incomplete and uncertain. Wordsworth had felt the same two hundred years before. This was a common conclusion of human beings regarding the human condition and their part in it. Wordsworth spoke of the blessedness of "that dawn". I speak of certain "traces of light" which this century has left behind, suffusing our age with their ennobling influences. The slow evolution of the last two centuries and that earliest dawn has seen an effloresence, an explosion, of light in this Cause and in the world. And now a tapestry of beauty has been erected for the world on Mt. Carmel. In the midst of a storm-tossed planet those first glimmerings of Wordsworth’s day have become the dawn of a new day, a dawn with both a wondrous light and with unendurable difficulties for humankind.
By 1992 I had come to search for a form of expression that would be equal to the intensity of my beliefs, my commitment and the feelings and thoughts that were at the centre of my life. As a pioneer and travel teacher over three epochs I had contributed to the development of the Baha’i community in some two dozen towns and cities. In the process, by 1992, I had worn myself somewhat thin. This was the reason for my Grasmere, for my early retirement. The awe and reverence, too, that I felt for the developments on Mt. Carmel also needed to be given a specific point of outlet. Poetry celebrated and described what was clearly a range of emotional and intellectual responses to these developments in my own being.
The body of poetry that I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library, some two million words in nearly forty booklets, provides a high degree of specificity regarding my life, my religion and my society as it goes through a crucial stage of its transition. Wordsworth’s life is indistinct. What he actually thought, felt and did are knowable only in part. I trust that this is not the case with myself. Wordsworth may have been "eloquently unspecific", but I have registered a high degree of specificity through the interplay of past, present and future in a mix of juxtapositions and interrelations in poem after poem: the negative and the positive and the repetition of themes, topics, subjects. I record my spiritual journey, as Wordsworth did, in its many stages: crisis, grace, calamity, march, victory, awakening, recovery, maturity, et cetera. But the record of this journey is not sequential; the record is cast in an immense ocean of words.
Stephen Gill describes both Wordsworth and Coleridge as "solitary beings, dwelling calmly in the immensity of their own thoughts."4 This certainly would describe me increasingly as I have come to focus more sharply on my writing and less on my career and my Baha’i community activities which had come to wear me out by my early fifties.
As the years flowed on from 1992 to 1999, I sensed an increasing direction and purpose. It was my hope that this directedness would continue. Like Wordsworth, an industrious and active man who tended to overexert himself, I had a similar proclivity. By the time I arrived at my Grasmere, I felt tired, weary and complained of psychological fatigue; in fact, several days before moving into my new home the tests of life had become so great that I nearly abandoned the project altogether. I knew, though, as a basic first principle almost, that "with fire We test the gold." Sometimes the fires were just too much. Time tended to cool the heat and I would now enjoy some time in my own Sulaymaniyyih, my own Switzerland, my own retreat where I could refresh my timbers.
Wordsworth had responded in 1799 to the creative impulse of the hour with abundantly rich poetry. I responded to the creative impulse I felt in the new developments on Mt. Carmel. I felt a new imaginative power, although occasionally I had feelings of utter helplessness, exhaustion, fear and frustration. The years of writing all this poetry had not been easy ones. But I felt stirred on to write and write and write. I knew I could not counteract the forces of disintegration in my society solely through my poetry. These forces in the dark heart of an age of transition needed more pens than mine to bring about their resolution. Indeed more than pens were required. I would play my part, however small, in binding together human society through the passion and knowledge that was my poetry. Wordsworth felt the same about the potential of his poetry.
I had come to see myself as chronicler, preserver, comforter, moral guide, provocateur, futurologist and mediator. I felt I occupied these roles in the "busy solitude of his own heart."5 Wordsworth felt the same. Both Wordsworth and I felt the same way about friends. Although I felt I had acquired thousands over my lifetime, I had gained a different understanding in my latter years, an understanding which viewed friendship as something that arose serendipitously and thrived like a wild flower.
It was my hope, as it was Wordsworth’s, that my poetry could rectify the feelings of readers, give them new conceptions of feeling, render their feelings more sane, more pure and more permanent. Wordsworth thought that one day he would offer the world his great philosophical poem. This remained his last and his highest aspiration.6 Although this was not my aspiration I did like to think that for the critical foundation years of this new Order of society, which I saw take form during three epochs of the Formative Age, my poetry could come to serve as a useful resource for future readers wanting to gain a better understanding of what went on in these times and how pioneers, overseas pioneers especially, accomplished what they did.
Like Wordsworth, who two hundred years before at the dawn of the dawn of this new age took possession of his own past, ordered his memories and celebrated the powers which had shaped him to be a poet, I found myself in a similar position in relation to my poetry. There was a serenity, a sense of harmony and a deep power of joy that had been part of his poetic experience and which Wordsworth expressed quintessentially in a passage in his ‘Tintern Abbey’ referring to:
....that blessed mood
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened: that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy
We see into the life of things.
Both Wordsworth and I gave vent to a melancholy, a sadness and a despondency which came into our lives on occasion, sent by the hand of Destiny as it seemed, or which resulted from our own inadequacies, part of a process which was often quite obvious or so obscure as to force us back onto those myserious dispensations of a watchful Providence which had came to occupy the centre of our lives, mine as early as 1962 when my pioneer life began.
1 Emerald Green and Vista of Splendour
1.1 I have described my wife in many ways in my poetry. Our life, on the whole, has been a peaceful one punctuated by the occasional and, I always found, distressing argument.
2 Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life, Oxford UP, NY, 1980, p.182.
3 A.D. Hope, The New Cratylus: Notes on the Craft of Poetry, Oxford UP, Melbourne, 1979, p.174.
4 ibid., p. 122.
7. This essay served as the introduction to my 38th booklet of poetry sent to the BWCL in 1999. I sent some 5000 poems to the Bahá'í World Centre Library, poems written from 1987 to 2000, during the time when the Arc was being built.
THE MAGIC SUMMER OF '44
In August 1844 Karl Marx published his first major writings The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. They were fully translated into English the year I became a Bahá'í, 1959.1 While Marx was writing these Manuscripts in May 1844, the Bab, Who styled Himself the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things, wrote verses of His Qayyumu'l-Asma thus initiating the "most spectacular...most tragic...most eventful period of the first Bahá'í century."2 The first book of His writings in English was available in 1976. -Ron Price with thanks to Christopher Phelps, "Commemorating 1844--Why Marx Still Matters," New Politics, Vol.5 No.2, Winter 1995; and Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 1957, pp.3-6.
It was magic that summer of '44,
an irradiation of incandescent light
that will never fade,
that will never be obscured,
the dawn of an Age had broken,
elders clothed in white raiment
and crowned in gold,
a company of angels
scattered far and wide.
Ridiculed and pilloried,
both men were:
heretical, evil whispers.
No anniversary exists now
for Marx and his works,
no special issues of journals,
no conferences. Who visits
his gravesite in this postmodern
world of Homer Simpson,
Walt Disney and the fast-flowing
river of torrential history?
As we all draw nearer
to the glorious spirit
of Him Who was the Herald
of our Faith and the Bearer
of an independent Revelation
and the vastness of His writings
which we celebrate, especially
His Qayyumu'l-Asma, every year
less than 100 days before
Marx's first Manuscripts
first saw the light of day,
generated by that Primal Point. .......Ron Price 27 October 2001
THE GREAT TURNING POINT
Jeffery Berman writes about the artists of the Victorian period who longed for a brighter vision but gradually a life-weariness dimmed their energies1, a melancholia that longed for release saddened their aspect, a congenital exhaustion sapped their enthusiasms, a joyless limbo filled their worlds, a bleak self-destructiveness coloured their landscape. Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, Tennyson, Arnold, Hardy, among others, all gave to the twentieth century an ever-darkening mirror into which to peer. These writers all saw below the "landscape of false confidence." They saw the "deep despair...and spiritual gloom."2 Many twentieth century artists, looking into that mirror, saw the same darkness: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemmingway, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, the list of the most conspicuous suicides is long.
Humanity still lives, even after the most turbulent century in history, in that landscape of false confidence, still believes that "through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances" it will be "possible to bend the conditions of human life into conformity with prevailing human desires."3 This prose-poem, what I call a vahid of 19 lines, is partly a response to the new book Century of Light. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Jeffery Berman, Joseph Conrad:Writing as Rescue, Astra Books, NY, 1977, p.13; and 2 Century of Light, The Universal House of Justice, 2001, p.7; and 3 ibid.,p.ii.
I create, here, because I must.
For I have become a voice,
silence is death
and the dark horrors of life
seem, for the most part,
behind me, if not for society.
It's tiring, yes, exhausting.
There is loss of life,
obsessive trance-like repititions,
but it sustains me,
is a contemplative recreation,
an adventure in turbulence,
emotion in tranquillity,
the latest chapter
in a lifelong battle
to persevere and understand
the great turning point1
of this last century and beyond.
23 May 2001
AFTER THE BOMB
Price’s intention has rarely been the statement of visionary experience, although he tries to incorporate some of it in his poetry. Rather, his is a dogged probing of all the routine business of life in search of the real, the quick, the marrow, in all its detail, its texture, its meaning and an attempt to intertwine this quotidian world with the visionary. In this way he attempts to make poetic conquests in the many categories of the prosaic. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, May 30, 1996.
A vast aggregate of our experience is: dismissed, buried in the inner recesses of awareness below the conscious level, reduced to a few functional impressions, out of touch with our feelings. Lyric poetry is written as a response to this reality. It seeks to describe intense but transient sensations and emotions. It seeks to suspend parts of our primary experience for a moment in time to be savoured and relished.-Yohma Gray, "The Poetry of Louis Simpson", Poets in Progress, Northwestern UP, 1967, pp.227-50.
It’s gone now, so much of today,
yesterday, all days and their millions
of bits of time and stuff, buried
in the inner recesses of my mind.
Then, I mainline, direct line,
straight line, back to yesterday,
yesteryear, back to Jill Smith’s
blond hair, with a face more beautiful
than anything I had known;
the coloured maple leaves in October
on the driveway, their last dance before
winter’s chill, kill; the music of the crickets
on hot July evenings, sweet warm sounds
after a scorcher. All of this in 1950
when I was only six
in the aftermath of the bomb.
There was so much more happening
that I did not know then-
the Commemoration of the Centenary
of the grinding in the mill of adversity,
the martyrdom of the Bab,
that Holy Seed of infinite preciousness,
which I can savour now, taste its crushing oil,
see sparks ignited to outdance those crickets,
with greater colour and beauty
than all that I knew that summer
back then after the bomb.
30 May 1996