Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Writing, literature, life and love intersect in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

August 17, 2018

I saw The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) on Netflix, based on the #1 best-selling book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It’s a period piece that takes place shortly after WWII. The war’s emotional aftermath still weighs heavily on the lives of these isolated islanders. Juliet Ashton, a London journalist and author, visits this small book club to explore the idea of an article about how they survived the war, and forms an unexpected bond with them. Writing, literature, life and love intersect in surprising ways. 

These lines from the trailer resonated deeply. “Do you suppose it’s possible for us to already belong to someone before we’ve met them? I feel keenly how the arc of her life has changed the arc of mine forever. If books do have the power to bring people together, this one may work its magic.” It did, as does the film.

shares some revealing research on the writing of the book and the making of the movie in her review for the Los Angeles Times. Definitely worth reading and watching.

You might enjoy some of my other favorite romantic films, including this 2009 Korea-China co-production, A Good Rain Knows when to come, (a.k.a. Season of Good Rain). See The spring rains renew life and the promise of love in this film inspired by the poetry of Du Fu. Most of these films reveal the power of love to transform individuals challenged by some kind of adversity.

The spring rains renew life and the promise of love in this film inspired by the poetry of Du Fu

August 17, 2018

The good rain knows its season,
When spring arrives, it brings life.

I appreciate believable romantic movies. For some reason this one deeply moved me. I’ve watched A Good Rain Knows (when to come) (2009) several times. Also titled, Season of Good Rain, the film’s theme was inspired by a poem from Du Fu (Tu Fu). Love, like the right season, can come around again and potentially renew one’s life.

HUR Jin-ho directs this Korean-Chinese co-production. The love story stars South Korean actor Jung Woo-sung (Dong-ha) and Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan (Mei).

Season of Good Rain (A Good Rain Knows)

Synopsis: Timely like the spring rain, so has he come back into my life… Dong-ha is a thirty-something Korean man on a business trip to Chengdu, China where his company is carrying out construction projects to rebuild the city after the earthquake of 2008. There, totally by chance, he meets an old friend from his school days in the U.S.. Mei (May) is originally from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. She returned home after graduation and now works as a tour guide. Dong-ha and Mei were perhaps more than friends and had feelings for each other back then, but they parted ways before they had a chance to define or declare them. Now that their paths have crossed again, they find the old feelings remained, and new ones are forming that may resemble love.

This Du Fu poem inspired the film: Welcome Rain on a Spring Night.

The good rain knows its season,
When spring arrives, it brings life.
It follows the wind secretly into the night,
And moistens all things softly, without sound.
On the country road, the clouds are all black,
On a riverboat, a single fire bright.
At dawn one sees this place now red and wet,
The flowers are heavy in the brocade city.

The brocade city is Chengdu, in south-west China, where the story takes place. The park where Mei works contains a statue of Du Fu and a replica of the hut that he lived in, along with the kind of flowering trees he had planted. Dong-ha was also a poet, but got caught up in his work instead. He is later seen reading a poem by Du Fu titled, A Spring View.

Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
…After the war-fires of three months,
One message from home is worth a ton of gold.
…I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin
To hold the hairpins any more.

The subject matter about the destruction of war from the past resonates with the physical and emotional losses in the city after a recent earthquake. Mei’s life was also affected, as we find out later in the film.

This romantic film carries feelings of loss and longing, uncertainty and hopeful renewal brought about symbolically by the spring rains arriving in time. The theme song, with scenes from the film in the trailer, emotionally conveys those feelings: A Good Rain Knows When to Come – Falling Down / Song by Sungbin Cho / Sondtrack by Jaejin Lee.

The rain and silence in the song, like the ones described in the poems, seem to carry a mystical quality about them, similar to the mysterious ways of love. The English translation leaves the listener wondering if there will be a more committed reunion. Here it is sung in English: Falling down – (A good rain knows when to come).

Maybe sometime
It could be here again.
Trying to find out.
We don’t know yet.

Maybe it’s something
To make us come around.
The rain will be something
To let me calm down.

There is silence
Flowing around me
In the air
When you approach.

Maybe it’s something
To make you turn around
The raining is something
Just holding me now.

(Musical bridge)

I know that you wonder
Where we stay around.
Maybe I found you
Always here in my mind.

It’s falling around me
I’m feeling like lost in time.
I’m waiting behind you.
Just don’t let me down.

You’re running away now.
You’re sinking in flowing time.
The raining reminds me of your smile.
Don’t bring me down.

This love song, sensitively and beautifully performed, captures the uncertainty of their situation after meeting again years later by chance. The attraction between them is still there, but it never had a chance to develop into a serious relationship. Will it now? The song plays at the end of the film and as the credits roll.

Two different endings?

For some reason the ending seems slightly different in this version, which has better picture and sound quality on YouTube. At this last moment of the film, we see Dong-ha pacing back and forth, hoping that Mei will come out of the park entrance, but she doesn’t appear. It leaves the viewer hoping and waiting, with him. Did he return after much soul-searching ready to commit to her? Was she ready to commit to him? Will he wait in vain?

In this similar version, with English subtitles, at that last scene, as he turns away, we see someone pushing a yellow bicycle with a basket out of the park entrance, but can’t quite make out if it’s Mei as it cuts to black and the credits roll. Maybe they did that to keep us in suspense. You get the feeling they will see each other, but we’re left to wonder what will happen next.

The reason why I think it’s Mei is because he had mailed a bicycle to her as a gift. She had sold the first one he had given her when they were students, since she didn’t ride a bike. When they meet again, and it comes up in conversation, he gets upset. Now, at the end of the film, her co-workers assemble the new yellow bike with basket. We see her awkwardly riding it at first, then with more confidence, and finally smiling with the wind blowing in her hair. Fade to black, then wait for who I think might be her. I found another copy on YouTube where you see clearly the same bike and someone like her. Click on this 3-second clip to see for yourself.

For some reason it was left out in the other version. Maybe they decided to make it purposefully ambiguous to keep viewers guessing? Or it might have something to do with which version was shown in which country — Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, or elsewhere. If you watch the film with both endings, post a comment; I’d like to know your take on it. Assuming those links will still be active. Here’s a BluRay 720p version.

Updated footnote: I emailed an American film critic living in South Korea about the two different endings. He had reviewed this film. When I pointed out the different endings he was surprised, and said “that was a very good eye catch on your part.”

He didn’t remember which version he had seen and wouldn’t have noticed or guessed that it was Mei with her bicycle. But he did give this surprising answer. “If I were to hazard a guess I would say the version without the woman and the bicycle is the original version and the one with the woman and the bicycle was added in for international release (or at least, the release in whichever market CHC operates in) for the sake of implying a happier ending. This is a fairly common practice with exported South Korean films from this time period.”

You might enjoy some of my other favorite romantic films. They reveal the transforming power of love triumphing over adversity through time. Here is a new one I share in this post: Writing, literature, life and love intersect in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Norman Zierold: Hollywood biographer, novelist, TM Teacher, member of Maharishi’s Purusha program, raconteur, publicist, beloved by all

March 9, 2018
Norman Zierold photo by Mary Drew

Norman Zierold: 7/26/1927–3/7/2018

A close friend and colleague, Norman Zierold, passed from this world early Wednesday morning, March 7, 2018. Beloved by all, he lived a long, culturally rich and spiritually devoted life.

Born and raised in the Amana Colonies, Norman enlisted in the navy, graduated cum laude from Harvard, and earned a master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Iowa. He spent two years in France on a French Government Teaching Assistantship, then a decade in New York City, where he taught at Brearley School, worked at Collier’s Encyclopedia, then Theater Arts Magazine and Show.

Norman wrote eight books: true crime novels, tales of Hollywood’s golden age, and science fiction: The Child Stars, (1966); Little Charlie Ross, (1967); Three Sisters in Black, (1968), which won a Special Edgar Allen Poe Award; The Moguls; Garbo; (both 1969); The Skyscraper Doom, (1972); Sex Goddesses of the Silent Screen, (1973); and his final book, That Reminds Me, A Conversational Memoir (2013).

In 1972, Norman began the practice of Transcendental Meditation. He became a TM teacher and taught the technique to hundreds in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He later joined Maharishi’s Purusha program and eventually moved to Fairfield, Iowa in 2002. Norman became part of a dynamic media team at Maharishi University of Management under the direction of Bob Roth. Norman’s accomplishments there were legendary!

Those of us who worked with Norman over the years were always impressed by his work ethic and ability to charm writers, editors, and producers into reporting on TM. Bob Roth, now CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, is fond of telling the story of how Norman inspired a national TV profile on the NBC Today Show for TM and the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse in inner city Detroit.

A few years later, when Bob and David Lynch showed it to Ray Dalio in a private meeting, it inspired him to give the David Lynch Foundation a donation of one million dollars for more school projects. This was the start of an ongoing relationship with DLF, now in 35 countries, and led to millions more over the years for many at-risk groups. Bob feels the successful launch of the Foundation was largely due to Norman’s efforts, and prepared a special message about him for today’s memorial service.

Norman is survived by his sister Loretta Wolf, nephews Geoffrey and Mark, and niece Candice. A memorial service and cremation ceremony will take place Friday, March 9, 2018 at Behner Funeral Home in Fairfield.

Rustin Larson, published poet and MUM librarian, interviewed Norman Zierold on the publication of his book, That Reminds Me, A Conversational Memoir. Enjoy this interview, which took place in the MUM Library. There is a short separate introduction by librarian Suzanne Vesely. Both videos were posted March 2, 2013 on mumlibrary. Margot Suettmann posted a link to this video on Facebook when she found out about Norman’s passing. She also posted a lovely comment there about Norman that captures him perfectly. I’ve included them both below.

Margot Suettmann: I did not know Norman that well for a long time, but he left a deep impression on me as a very gentle, refined and also intellectual or let’s say: well educated person. I saw him often on the road walking up and down and doing his errands. He was tall and slim and his gait was very typical for him. He immediately learned my name – soon after I had arrived in Fairfield – and thus greeted me always with my name “Margot” which is something special. One feels appreciated and familiar with a person who takes the effort. I also knew he was a good friend of Ken Chawkin’s whom I consider a good and old friend myself. I knew Ken before I came to MUM. I also may have read some of Norman’s media press releases at times. He was working in the media department of MUM. I got to know him a little better at the memorial or obituary lunch for Sally Peden which Ken Chawkin had organized at Revelations as I happened to sit next to Norman. Of course we started to talk about different subjects and I noticed his refined personality and his rich educational background and the way he expressed himself verbally in a cautious and knowledgeable way. Probably what I appreciated most was his gentleness and his intuition for other’s feelings and handling them with caution and tenderness. I also admired his bravery how he mastered his life in his old age. He never complained and trod his way up and down the road unperturbed – and of course he loved and appreciated deeply to live in Fairfield. He was very independent in his inner Self and a noble personality in some way. And I remember most his kindness.

Linda Egenes sent this note. It says a lot! “Thank you, Ken. What a lovely memorial post of Norman! I think we all felt connected to him because he was so deeply settled in himself, and made everyone feel appreciated, loved and respected.”

Linda also sent this: Here’s a link to a “My Story” feature by Norman for Enlightenment magazine. It features a moving chapter from his book, about how he started to meditate and then why he became a TM teacher: From Utopia to Hollywood and Back.

“Today, I believe that omniscient Mother Nature remembered my youthful spiritual stirrings even when I did not, and also noted my disillusion with metropolitan high life and my attempts to find a better road to fulfillment.” —Norman Zierold

Jim Turner sent a wonderful Letter to the Editor of The Fairfield Ledger, which they published on March 22, 2018: A tribute to Norman Zierold.

Earlier related blog posts on Norman Zierold: The Chronicle of Higher Education: Notes From Academe: The Spokesman Who Kept CallingDiane Vance and Norman Zierold discuss his new memoir, That Reminds Me, at Revelations Café | You can read more lovely articles and listen to a few fascinating interviews with Norman about his book in this post by scrolling down to Articles, Interviews, and Update: That Reminds Me: A Conversational Memoir by Hollywood biographer Norman Zierold is now out!Norman Zierold: A Charmed Life: Celebrated Hollywood Author Reminisces on Six Decades of Extraordinary Encounters | THE REMARKABLE DAVID LYNCH FOUNDATION — written by Norman Zierold for Healthy Referral | Celebrating Norman Zierold’s 90th birthday at the Bonaparte Retreat Restaurant we met Marie.

Denise Levertov’s poem “Of Being” describes that mysterious moment of expansive inner stillness, joy and reverence

March 6, 2018

Denise Levertov, in her poem, Of Being, describes the mysterious experience of inner happiness, of just being. Though provisional in time, it is removed from great suffering and fear, and hails from an eternal inner source. Her description sounds like a taste of bliss consciousness, which is self-sufficient, not dependent on anything outside itself, and out of time — transcendental pure Being.

Of Being

By Denise Levertov

I know this happiness
is provisional:

the looming presences—
great suffering, great fear—

withdraw only
into peripheral vision:

but ineluctable this shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:

this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:

this need to dance,
this need to kneel:

this mystery:

# # #

Denise Levertov must have also written Primary Wonder after becoming present to the “quiet mystery” that sustains everything.

Denise Levertov’s The Avowel reminds me of the effortlessness of transcending in @TMmeditation

Naomi Shihab Nye says something similar in her poem, So Much Happiness, where “there is no place large enough / to contain so much happiness, / you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you / into everything you touch.”

William Stafford also describes something similar in his poem, Just Thinking, where he appreciates the value “of just being there.”

Here is a poem I wrote on this subject in the early 90’s: Seeing Is Being.

Speaking Of Being, a mysterious bird in this Wallace Stevens poem, Of Mere Being, also uses the image of wind moving slowly in the branches, and teaches us the wonder of just being our self.

Derek Walcott, when he wrote his poem Love After Love, described it as withdrawing into a world of silence, and creating from there, as if in a trance, being blessed by “a kind of fleeting grace” if something happens.

Besides the magical experience of writing such a poem, I also see it as an experience of inner transformation, a time when you first acknowledge the value of just your self. Walcott instructs the reader to “Give back your heart / to itself, to the stranger who has loved you / all your life, whom you ignored / for another, who knows you by heart.”

Watch an excerpt from this CBC film where Maharishi describes the nature of inner life: bondage and liberation, and gaining bliss consciousness through Transcendental Meditation. If you’re interested to know more, watch the whole 1968 film of Maharishi at Lake Louise.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, Buddha in Glory, reminds us of our eternal nature within

March 3, 2018

Michaela‘s website, The Living Room, posted this entry on the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. She says, “Rilke wrote the poem Buddha in Glory at the time he worked as a secretary for the sculptor Auguste Rodin, who he admired very much. He lived in Rodin’s house and was fascinated with a statue of the Buddha in front of his guest quarters. Buddha in glory is one of three poems and it said that Rilke perceived them, sitting in quiet meditation in front of the Buddha statue in Rodin’s garden.”

Buddha in Glory

by Rainer M Rilke

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

To see all three poems in this collection, in German and in English, visit Luke Fischer and his post: Rilke and the Buddha: Three Translations.

Other poems by Rilke posted on The Uncarved Blog are: What Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator and Before He Makes Each One by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Related: Fishing For Fallen Light: A Tanka inspired by David Lynch and Pablo Neruda. Also see: John Glenday’s poem, Concerning the Atoms of the Soul, illuminates and nourishes the mind.

New David Lynch MFA Screenwriting students use #TranscendentalMeditation to unfold creativity

February 11, 2018

KTVO’S Aish Menon reports for ABC 3 & CBS 3.2: MUM students use Transcendental Meditation in new screenwriting program

The hauntingly beautiful voice of Eva Cassidy

January 21, 2018

American singer Eva Cassidy

Have you ever heard of Eva Cassidy, or heard her sing? Eva Marie Cassidy (February 2, 1963 – November 2, 1996) was an unpretentious humble girl from small town Bowie, Maryland. She worked hard with her mother in their nursery growing flowers and plants. But Eva also sang. She had the voice of an angel, and delivered songs with purity, passion, and power. She accompanied herself on guitar, and also sang with a band. She would immerse herself in the words, she “connected to the lyric” and lived the songs. Her voice communicated directly to the hearts of her listeners. Rarely was there a dry eye in the place.

In the film Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice, Carrie Grant, a British vocal coach who worked with top recording artists in the UK and US, was amazed when she heard Eva’s voice. After listening to Over The Rainbow, she said, “I cannot imagine what Eva Cassidy was thinking of when she chose to make it sound the way it does. But it’s just genius!” She describes how she redefines the song in unexpected ways, “yet for some reason it just works.” She also explained the effect that Eva’s voice had on listeners. “She sounds like she’s singing just to you. And that is what makes it so intimate. And that becomes even more profound once you know she’s no longer alive. Because it’s haunting. And it’s personal.”

Eva sang the songs that she liked, regardless of genres, which is why record companies would not sign her during the days of manufactured music. They couldn’t slot her into a specific category. She sang blues, jazz, gospel, folk, old standards, and more. At first she was extremely shy, didn’t care for stage presence or how she dressed. With the help of local musicians she performed at Blues Alley, a local jazz spot in Georgetown, Maryland. One of her shows was later recorded. She sold two locally produced CDs out of the trunk of her car.

We might wonder how her singing was recorded in the first place when no company would sign her. One comment on Ain’t No Sunshine explained that the world owes Chris Biondo a debt of gratitude. Chris worked as a bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, recording engineer, and producer. He owned a studio in the 80s and 90s, and Eva would come in for session work. He recognized her ability, and said he “would just roll tape and stay out of her way.” At one point they were romantically involved. Chris “was the one who recognized her transcendent, ageless genius.”

In 1986 Chris began recording the then-unknown singer Eva Cassidy. For the next ten years he worked with Eva to develop her as a recording artist, producing most of her recordings available today. In the years since Eva’s death in 1996, her recordings have sold more than 10 million copies and achieved international renown, including three albums that reached number one in the UK charts. Chris has received numerous Gold and Platinum records in the U.S. and internationally for his work with Eva.

Bill Straw of Blix Street Records signed her up and continues to release and reissue her music, like the 20th anniversary of the new 32 track/2CD Nightbird album, The Best Of Eva Cassidy, Simply Eva, and eight other collections listed there that you can sample.

Her performances of Over The Rainbow, What A Wonderful World, Songbird, Falling Leaves, Time After Time, Sting’s Fields of Gold, and more are legendary, many recorded live in a club. Sting himself was blown away when he heard her rendition of his song. He put a copy of her Songbird CD into record producer David Foster’s hands who quoted him saying, “‘If you want to hear the greatest version of my song ever’—he didn’t say it in an egotistical way—he said, ‘listen to Fields Of Gold with this girl, it’ll change your life.’ And her voice is life-changing, she’s that spiritual.”  I love that song and remember hearing it on an airplane’s music channel during a flight. It was astounding! I had to find out who this singer was.

A relatively unknown singer in America at the time, somehow her music made its way across the Atlantic. From the first time Sir Terry Wogan, a BBC radio broadcaster, listened to Eva sing, he knew “she was an outstanding talent.” He said, “It was pure sound. A bell-like voice. She had this perfect pitch.” He couldn’t wait to play it on the radio. His was the most listened to program in the country at the time. It created a huge response from many of their seven million listeners wanting to know who she was. Unfortunately she had died two years earlier of cancer at the young age of 33.

When Mark Hagon, a Top of the Pops BBC (TOTP2) producer at the time, agreed to play that homemade video of Eva Cassidy singing Over The Rainbow, people kept calling in for weeks wanting to know her name. The listening public created a demand for her music. It was a groundswell! Sales of her CDs went from a hundred thousand to over a million in the UK. “Radio broke it. Television exploded it.”

At one point five of her CDs became top sellers at the same time, a feat usually held by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. She was then discovered back home in the USA. ABC Nightline in Washington, DC  researched and produced The Eva Cassidy Story (18:40). It was shown in many countries around the world and within a week of it airing her CDs went to the top of the local charts.

In Timeless Voice, Terry Wogan concluded, “You’d have to say about Eva Cassidy that her talent was pretty timeless. The voice has a quality of timelessness about it. Anytime you would hear it, whether it was thirty years ago, or thirty years from now, it’ll still be worth listening to, and still strike a responsive chord in most people’s hearts.” Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac who knew Eva said, “She was brilliant. She had the magic. And I call it, It. She had It!”

You can listen to her music on the YouTube Eva Cassidy channel. A book about her was written (Sept 29, 2003) by Rob Burley and Jonathan Maitland called, Eva Cassidy: Songbird: Her Story by Those Who Knew Her. Another book, Eva Cassidy Behind the Rainbow, was written (February 1, 2012) by art critic and music lover Johan Bakker.

Watch The Eva Cassidy Story on ABC Nightline (18:40).

Watch the documentary film: Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice (58:06).

Watch the trailer to Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice, before/after the film.

We have reasons to be sad, but happiness cannot be pinned down, explains poet Naomi Shihab Nye

February 6, 2017

So Much Happiness is a beautiful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye (1952) from the same collection of selected poems, Words Under the Words, mentioned in the previous entry on her poem, Kindness.

naomi-shihab-nyeIn this video, Naomi explains how some poems are given to her, when she listens. The first poem, on happiness, came after she and her husband were married. The second poem, on kindness, came after an unsettling event took place on their honeymoon. They had been robbed while traveling on a bus in South America and lost everything. After she wrote the poem, help came in unexpected ways.*

Having both poems read by the poet in this grouping is special! Thanks to Pamela Robertson-Pearce who filmed Naomi Shihab Nye during her visit to the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2006, and to Neil Astley who posted the video for Bloodaxe Books.

One of Naomi’s favorite poets, and mine too, is William Stafford. He said this about her poetry: “In the current literary scene one of the most heartening influences is the work of Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insights. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.”

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye

*Read more about that incident in Spirituality&Health: The Incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye shares how sorrow, and then its opposite, kindness, can transform us

February 6, 2017

In this video, recorded at the Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, Palestinian American poet, writer, teacher Naomi Shihab Nye (1952) shares how she wrote one of her favorite poems, Kindness, and then reads it. It came to her, mysteriously, after a dramatic situation, in which she and her husband were robbed during their honeymoon while traveling by bus in South America. When she sat down to write, she said it just came to her. “I actually was the secretary for Kindness.”

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.
Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Kim Rosen interviewed Naomi for Spirituality&Health. In it, she shared more details about that incident, which took place in Columbia in 1978. She also spoke about the power of poetry to transform lives. We want another kind of story, she said, one that helps us feel connected with one another. She feels good poems can harmonize and refocus us, create empathy, more understanding, and lead to more peace in the world.*

The ending to this poem reminds me in a way of the theme of Derek Walcott’s poem, Love after Love, when you recognize your essential nature, as if for the first time. Love and Kindness are interchangeable, where being kind to yourself is loving yourself, the basis for loving others.

Also see So Much Happiness, from the same volume of poetry. In the accompanying video, Naomi Shihab Nye reads both poems.

*The Incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness

Failing eyesight or spiritual insight: a poet’s interpretation of a master artist’s vision

July 30, 2016

A previous post dealt with poets and artists who were Touched With Fire and created unusually beautiful works of art. Their poems and paintings were thought to be fueled by madness rather than a uniquely creative gift, possibly combined with a type of manic-depression.

Claude Monet "Water Lilies" (1906) Art Institute of Chicago (photo by Ryerson)

Claude Monet “Water Lilies” (1906) The Art Institute of Chicago
(Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection)

Here is a different twist on another kind of perceived abnormality. This poem’s title, Monet Refuses the Operation, leads the reader to believe that  Oscar-Claude Monet, founder of French Impressionism, was in need of an eye operation because of the way he painted.

But Nobel laureate Lisel Mueller gives us a different take on what may have been clinically diagnosed as failing eyesight due to cataracts, for the growth of a more profound spiritual vision—a ripened appreciation of nature, and a deeper more unified understanding of life.

Monet Refuses the Operation
By Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Source: Second Language (Louisiana State University Press, 1996)

The cataracts did cloud Monet’s vision, and hindered his perception, but he had reached a level of mastery that allowed him to paint with his heart. In the words of The Little Prince, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Later in life, Monet had discovered a different way of seeing and created a new way of painting. Another poet, William Stafford, wrote about youth and the mature artist in You and Art. The poem describes, in his own unique way, this spiritual transformation that takes place later in life.

You and Art
By William Stafford

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

The ending of another poem by William Stafford reminds me of an expansion to infinity and the “blue vapor without end” in Something That Happens Right Now.

Here is a collection of some of Monet’s paintings.

Enjoy another beautiful poem by Lisel Mueller in this post: Lisel Mueller’s poetry offers us Hope.


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