Category: Zen Moments

Art is much, but Love is more: The Brownings

I was delighted to come across this Brain Pickings article in which Maria Popova mentions how the Brownings’ story ‘remains one of the grandest and most beautiful true love stories in the human record’.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/09/25/robert-browning-i-love-you/

Guess now who holds thee?”—”Death,” I said. But there
The silver answer rang—”Not Death, but Love.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, No. I

I admire Elizabeth Browning in many ways. First, for her poetry that is richly allusive and layered with spiritual and philosophical overtones in places and straightforward and full of candour at others, that reveals a poet’s heart that was concerned not only about love and beauty but also sought to speak for the suffering humanity around her. Next, for her strength of character which helped her to survive a suppressed childhood that had rendered her an invalid, by seeking and finding strength in literature. Above all, I admire her as the heroine of one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.

I read her verse novel Aurora Leigh for the first time as an undergraduate. I read it in a week as though in a trance, enchanted with the prose poetry and surprised at the familiarity of the cycle of stages that the protagonists go through – the brash idealism of early youth, the need to own a cause and fight for it, the obstacles they face from the world, the decisions they take impulsively out of their beliefs, the mistakes they must make and the consequences they must face before they come to the Voltarian realisation that the same truth holds good for each of us. For all of us. We must cultivate our garden.

One of the first things that I did after moving to London was to make a pilgrimage to the Marylebone Parish Church, a place that I had dreamed of visiting for several years. I spent some time in the pew, closing my eyes to the hymns and imagining myself in Victorian England, witnessing a secret marriage. Then I found my way to the little chapel that I had gone to visit. The Browning room was much smaller than I expected, littered with toys and baby strollers. Behind an elevated platform, a stained glass window flanked by angels proclaimed that the poets had been married there. Elizabeth and Robert Browning looked down curiously from the walls at the reader who took selfies with them and then proceeded to sit down and read from Aurora Leigh and some of the sonnets from the Portuguese.

Art is much, but love is more.
O Art, my Art, thou’rt much, but Love is more!
Art symbolises heaven, but Love is God
And makes heaven.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Aurora Leigh, Book IX.)

I think that Aurora and Romney Leigh are one of the few perfect couples in literature, two independent thinkers who loved each other and yet set out on separate paths as artist and philanthropist and finally returned to each other in a reconciliation of art and love. The last few passages from Aurora Leigh echo the perfect partnership that the Brownings shared in literature and life.

The Perfect Man and Muriel Spark

“How do you know when you’re in love?’ she said.
‘The traffic improves and the cost of living seems very low.”

Muriel Spark

I had long given up all hope of ever finding the perfect man when I finally met him. He told me in gentle, erudite tones that he found ‘re-reading Muriel Spark to be pure gold’.

I murmured that I adored Dame Muriel, trying to control my eyelashes that fluttered as they drank him in. With tired face and messy hair, he was no Rupert Brooke. But he had the widest smile, kindest expression and gentlest voice as made mundane pleasantries sound like poems. Every glance, every gesture, his every word was pure gold.

I wished myself six years back in time when we might have walked into each other on a cold winter morning in another, my part of the world.  I wanted to walk with him along the banks of the Cherwell, listening to the birds and talking about Dame Muriel’s fiction – the possibilities bloomed in a vision of pure gold.

I felt neither regret at parting from him, nor longing to turn back once, though I spied him from the corner of my eye and thought that he looked like an angel in a crumpled cerulean shirt, as our eyes met inadvertently for a fraction of a second before I turned away. I had lived a lifetime within those few minutes of pure gold.

He vanished from my thoughts as I talked with my friend afterwards. But later as I walked by the Cherwell, he beamed at me from the dappled autumn sunlight, and I heard him in the whispers of the breeze that caressed my face. Imprints on the mind and heart, impressions of pure gold.

By the banks of the Cherwell, I sat down and wept, more out of joy for having seen him than because I knew that I would never see him again. Those moments were akin to the joy that descends upon a girl when she tries out a diamond tiara that she can ill afford to buy. But those moments were enough, for they were pure gold.

There is always the next life, as my friend Millie would say. In my next life perhaps, on a joyous spring or balmy summer day, I will walk with him along the banks of the Cherwell with the birds singing to us as we talk about the novels of Dame Muriel. From across time and space, I can see that those moments, all of them will be pure gold.

Them Wise Pagans

A number of similarities can be seen between the concepts, rituals, and the gods and goddesses of pagans across the world. This beautiful song from the band Faun depicting the Beltane festival shows a priestess conducting the marriage of the god Cernunnos with the triple crescent goddess, a ritual that marks the beginning of springtime which the pagans celebrate with maypole dancing and bonfires. The union of Cernunnos and the mother goddess symbolizes the renewal of life in spring.

There are theories speculating that Cernunnos is Pashupati – the Lord of the Animals, one of the forms of the God Shiva, and that the triple crescent Goddess who is sometimes associated with Lilith is Lalitha Tripurasundari, a form of the mother Goddess Parvati who is worshipped in many temples across India in all three forms: as maiden, mother, and crone. The costume of Cernunnos in the song above is strikingly evocative of the way Shiva is portrayed in Indian iconography. Shiva and Parvati are considered to be allegories for consciousness and energy, with their union depicted as a divine dance which is the basis of all creation.

While there are many theories which hypothesize on how and why the pagan Gods and Goddesses around the world are so similar, more than anything else they seem to imply that we are all interconnected. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as the Upanishads say.  We are all brothers, and the world is a family.

The Nine Nights of Navratri

Navratri Greetings to all my readers who celebrate.

How I miss the kolu. There is something supremely satisfying about setting up the arrangement of dolls which invokes the Goddess in her many forms as the manifestation of wealth, courage, and wisdom. The large kolam at the threshold, the golden radiance of the lamps with five wicks, the smells of fresh jasmine flowers, sandalwood incense and camphor, and the chimes of silver bells that accompany the sacred chants which vibrate through the house. The kolu visits and the visitors, the songs praising the goddesses. I miss it all, feeling not so much homesick as timesick for my school days in the nineties when every festival appeared to be so much more brighter.

This year I celebrate the festival as I used to do as an undergraduate in the college hostel, with a simple sankalpa puja, offering a prasad of organic chocolates.

And this is perhaps the loveliest rendering of this chant on the goddess that I have heard, reminiscent of this quote from Salinger,“Their voices were melodious and unsentimental, almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without straining, have experienced levitation.” (For Esmé  — with Love and Squalor)

Fiction as Panacea

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. I repeat this to myself whenever I fall sick. Which is worse, a physical malady like a painfully sore throat or a bout of food poisoning that renders one unable to speak and function normally, or the darkness that descends upon the mind and shuts everything else out, rendering it cold and numb? It is easy to say that physical illness is easier to manage compared to clinical depression but when I fall sick, I find that unpleasant, long-forgotten memories tend to return to the mind, which then makes it susceptible once again to the chilling darkness. Somewhat like the sentiments that Rupert Brooke expresses in this poem on seasickness.

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing—you!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice—heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ’Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ’twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.
Rupert Brooke, A Channel Passage

Out of the many ways to heal, literature is the best of all, perhaps; to write, and to read good fiction.

The Lightworker’s Song

When this came up on my playlist today, I was reminded of M, a dear friend from Jordan with whom I share a mutual affinity for this song. We call each other lightworkers, though I have a long way to go to be called one, yet. As an empath, I tend to enclose myself in a bubble and block out the world to protect my energy. While she is an open, friendly soul radiating positivity and good vibes. Who warms up to everything and everyone around her, reaches out naturally to pick up and cuddle babies when she sees them, and who wouldn’t think twice before walking up to a stranger in trouble to offer help. She is a supremely talented writer and though her poetry does not rhyme it still feels like music, the words gushing forth like water from a spring, and reminds me of pearls scattered across the page.

I wish there were more people in the world like her. I wish I were a little (just a little) more like her. One of them real lightworkers.

Pagan Melodies

The music of this band is one of the many beautiful things that I encountered while searching for information about the ancient pagans. Both earthy and ethereal, it transcends language and touches the heart – like classical music or pure folk music does, whether it is the song of new beginnings for the spring festival of Beltane or the peaceful celebrations of the harvest during Lughnasadh. Such a joy to listen.

On Metapoems

Metapoems are almost as alluring as metafiction. Perhaps even more, considering that poetry is said to be the purest of all art-forms.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50986/paradoxes-and-oxymorons

“I think you exist only
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren’t there
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.”
John Ashbery, Paradoxes and Oxymorons

Novels too.

Poetry as Birdsong

More than once I have tried to record the sounds of birds singing on a spring dawn. Most often I have tried this while sitting in a tiny college room behind my beloved Banbury road. But each time, the recording comes out as but a frail echo of the original sounds, reiterating yet again that something as pure as birdsong can only be experienced in the moment.

In the spring I had the pleasure of listening to Liz Berry reading her poems in the characteristic Black Country accent. It was as soothing as listening to birdsong on an early spring morning. Poetry that touches the audience’s heart and connects them with the pure and pristine part of their minds, which is the pinnacle of all great art.

A Song for Late Summer

This poem that popped into my mailbox today suited the season (late summer – early autumn) and the weather.

Song
If space and time, as sages say,
Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
Yet let them be divine.
T.S. Eliot