Part of Nature

I am not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do put a hand to a tree sometimes – somewhat as she is doing – and I find I do become one with the Earth like that, feeling the peace and power of the tree course through me, better I think than in any other way on land. Only down in the sea, or submerged in a deep pond or river is one more completely part of nature.

A GLASTONBURY ROMANCE by John Cowper Powys (Book Review)

For those of you who don’t know this work, a quotation from Margaret Drabble (it was her choice of Book of the Century) will put you in the picture. It is one of several which feature on the back of the edition I have here.

“A genius – a fearless writer, who writes with reckless passion of flowers and graveyards, incest and teacups, property and religion and the occult. Everything is here in this astonishing work.” Margaret Drabble, Daily Telegraph, Book of the Century.

Let me start by saying of this 1,120-page novel that the actual story – the action – could be boiled down to, say, 150 pages. If you introduced all the unforgettable minor characters and recounted, briefly, their individual stories – the sub-plots – then perhaps 300 pages. That leaves more than 800 pages of discursive asides and purely descriptive writing. Powys is not a writer to use one word when ten will do the job better, or ten in place of a hundred, or a hundred when a thousand would really do the job properly. But who, on surveying the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican says, or even thinks, Couldn’t he have done this on a square of canvas like any other artist??

The thing is, Powys, like Michaelangelo, was right. Nine times out of ten those discursive asides and descriptive passages are masterpieces. And without those 800 pages, all the rounded and distinctive minor characters would be flat and forgettable. As would the setting and the story itself. As it is, both are branded on the brain and it is as though you not simply lived for a while in the Glastonbury of the Crows and the Dekkers and Bloody Johnny (Mayor Geard) but grew up there among them.

I cannot write a full review here – to do so would require a dissertation of many thousands of words – but I would like to pass on a thought regarding the title, “A Glastonbury Romance”. Somewhere in the course of the book (on p778, actually) Powys refers to “the invisible Watchers of the Glastonbury Divine Comedy” – simply in passing, and not to make a point. But that’s what this work is, really. Not a ‘romance’ in any sense of that term, but a divine comedy: a ‘comedy’ reminiscent in some ways of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, in others of “Hamlet” with a happy – or at least happier – ending; ‘divine’ like Homer and Blake in that the other world impinges continually on this one. (Incidentally, he also refers to it (p904) as “this modest chronicle”. Hah!)

There is no way I could ever give this book less than five stars although many times I fell asleep reading it and the book clattered to the floor. The fault is in me, not Powys, of whom, as Henry Miller said, “To encounter [Powys] … is to arrive at the very fount of creation.” Believe me, the spirit was willing but the flesh is weak.

When They Asked, Smirking (JESUS BHAKTI POEMS (ii))

When they asked, smirking, and pulling faces,
‘Where is your father, boy? Why
is he not here
at your side?’

And you stopped talking for a moment to say
‘God does not dwell in temples,
especially not
this den of thieves,’

I think they were laughing at you,
those wise men.
But they were not
just laughing.

The seed of your death had been planted,
O Lord of the blue skies
and wide
open spaces.

ANCIENT SUMERIAN: The Descent of Inanna into the Underworld

Excerpted from: Wolkstein, Diane and Kramer, Samuel Noah, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1983, pages 52-60

From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below.

My Lady abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
Inanna abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
She abandoned her office of holy priestess to descend to the underworld.

In Uruk she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld .
In Badtibira she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld.
In Zabalam she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld.
In Adab she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld.
In Nippur she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld.
In Kish she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld.
In Akkad she abandoned her temple to descend to the underworld.

She gathered together the seven me.
She took them into her hands
With the me in her possession, she prepared herself:

She placed the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, on her head.
She arranged the dark locks of hair across her forehead.
She tied the small lapis beads around her neck,
Let the double strand of beads fall to her breast,
And wrapped the royal robe around her body.
She daubed her eyes with ointment called “Let him come, Let him come,”
Bound the breastplate called “Come, man, come!” around her chest,
Slipped the gold ring over her wrist,
And took the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand.

Inanna set out for the underworld.
Ninshubur, her faithful servant, went with her.
Inanna spoke to her, saying:
“Ninshubur, my constant support,
My sukkal who gives me wise advice,
My warrior who fights by my side,
I am descending to thekur, to the underworld.
If I do not return,
Set up a lament for me by the ruins.
Beat the drum for me in the assembly places.
Circle the houses of the gods.
Tear at your eyes, at your mouth, at your thighs.
Dress yourself in a single garment like a beggar.
Go to Nippur, to the temple of Enlil.
When you enter his holy shrine, cry out:
‘O father Enlil, do not let your daughter
Be put to death in the underworld.
Do not let your bright silver
Be covered with the dust of the underworld.
Do not let your precious lapis
Be broken into stone for the stoneworker.
Do not let your fragrant boxwood
Be cut into wood for the woodworker.
Do not let the holy priestess of heaven
Be put to death in the underworld,’

If Enlil will not help you,
Go to Dr, to the temple of Nanna.
Weep before Father Nanna.

If Nanna will not help you,
Go to Eridu, to the temple of Enki.
Weep before Father Enki.
Father Enki, the God of Wisdom, knows the food of life,
He knows the water of life;
He knows the secrets.
Surely he will not let me die,”

Inanna continued on her way to the underworld.
Then she stopped and said:
“Go now, Ninshubur-
Do not forget the words I have commanded you.”

When Inanna arrived at the outer gates of the underworld,
She knocked loudly.
She cried out in a fierce voice:
“Open the door, gatekeeper!
Open the door, Neti!
I alone would enter!”

Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the kur, asked:
“Who are you?”

She answered:
“I am Inanna, Queen of Heaven,
On my way to the East.”

Neti said:
“If you are truly Inanna, Queen of Heaven,
On your way to the East,
Why has your heart led you on the road
From which no traveler returns?”

Inanna answered:
“Because … of my elder sister, Ereshkigal,
Her husband, Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven, has died.
I have come to witness the funeral rites.
Let the beer of his funeral rites be poured into the cup.
Let it be done.”

Neti spoke:
“Stay here, Inanna, I will speak to my queen.
I will give her your message.”

Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the kur,
Entered the palace of Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, and said:
“My queen, a maid
As tall as heaven,
As wide as the earth,
As strong as the foundations of the city wall,
Waits outside the palace gates.

She has gathered together the seven me.
She has taken them into her hands.
With the me in her possession, she has prepared herself:

On her head she wears the shugurra, the crown of the steppe.
Across her forehead her dark locks of hair are carefully arranged.
Around her neck she wears the small lapis beads.
At her breast she wears the double strand of beads.
Her body is wrapped with the royal robe.
Her eyes are daubed with the ointment called, ‘Let him come, let him come.’
Around her chest she wears the breastplate called ‘Come man come!’
On her wrist she wears the gold ring.
In her hand she carries the lapis measuring rod and line.”

When Ereshkigal heard this,
She slapped her thigh and bit her lip.
She took the matter into her heart and dwelt on it.
Then she spoke:
“Come Neti, my chief gatekeeper of the kur,
Heed my words:
Bolt the seven gates of the underworld.
Then, one by one, open each gate a crack.
Let Inanna enter.
As she enters, remove her royal garments.
Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”

Neti heeded the words of his queen.
He bolted the seven gates of the underworld.
Then he opened the outer gate.
He said to the maid: “Come, Inanna, enter.”

When she entered the first gate,
From her head, the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, was removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

When she entered the second gate,
From her neck the small lapis beads were removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

When she entered the third gate,
From her breast the double strand of beads was removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

When she entered the fourth gate,
From her chest the breastplate called “Come, man, come!” was removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

When she entered the fifth gate,
From her wrist the gold ring was removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

When she entered the sixth gate,
From her hand the lapis measuring rod and line was removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

When she entered the seventh gate,
From her body the royal robe was removed.

Inanna asked:
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.

Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt.

She struck her.

Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall.

If you wish to find out what happens next, and also something of the back-story, click HERE. All I can tell you for now is that Inanna’s dreadful fate was not as unjust as it might appear here. (And of course, being a goddess, her death was only temporary anyway.) But read the The Epic of Gilgamesh – I love all this ancient Sumerian literature – and you will discover that she herself had been responsible for the death of the Bull of Heaven, her sister Ereshkigal’s husband, after being scorned by Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Just imagine a goddess scorned, for that is what we have in this earliest of all story-poem cycles!

To Those Who Lived Here Then

This elder tree
means little to me
but meant so much.

Hold its blossom
cupped in your four fingers,
inhale gently, reverently,
scent of the Great Goddess, sacred
tree of life,
tree of death on which the sobbing Judas
hanged himself.

Go humbly for its fruit,
Begging Her pardon
(She is near)
and raise your glass of wine before you drink,
commune with that which lives,
with those who lived
and drank and danced and fell in love
here, then.

Choose (JESUS BHAKTI POEMS (iii))

All night he said ‘Choose!
Kneel and worship me
be
Jesus the Great, King of the Jews!’

No mat let alone bed,
no bread let alone feast.
Yet you, no matter what,
would not co-operate.

‘All right,’ he said,
‘just kneel down is all
and let me place the crown
upon your head!’

There on the mountain top
when the sun rose in the east
and you said: ‘Stop.
That is your crown,
this is your world,’
did you lose or did he,
O Lord of the Night?

Or did we?

WILLIAM BLAKE: The Mental Traveller

The Mental Traveller, Blake’s Manuscript (c. 1803)

 

I travel’d thro’ a Land of Men,
A Land of Men & Women too,
And heard & saw such dreadful things
As cold Earth wanderers never knew.

For there the Babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe;
Just as we Reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow.

And if the Babe is born a Boy
He’s given to a Woman Old,
Who nails him down upon a rock
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.

She binds iron thorns around his head,
She pierces both his hands & feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side
To make it feel both cold & heat.

Her fingers number every Nerve,
Just as a Miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks & cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.

Till he becomes a bleeding youth,
And she becomes a Virgin bright;
Then he rends up his Manacles
And binds her down for his delight.

He plants himself in all her Nerves,
Just as a Husbandman his mould;
And she becomes his dwelling place
And Garden fruitful seventy fold.

An aged Shadow, soon he fades,
Wand’ring round an Earthly Cot,
Full filled all with gems & gold
Which he by industry had got.

And these are the gems of the Human Soul,
The rubies & pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of the akeing heart,
The martyr’s groan & the lover’s sigh.

They are his meat, they are his drink;
He feeds the Beggar & the Poor
And the wayfaring Traveller:
For ever open is his door.

His grief is their eternal joy;
They make the roofs & walls to ring;
Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring

And she is all of solid fire
And gems & gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her Baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.

But She comes to the Man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the aged Host,
A Beggar at another’s door.

He wanders weeping far away,
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind & age-bent, sore distrest,
Untill he can a Maiden win.

And to allay his freezing Age
The Poor Man takes her in his arms;
The Cottage fades before his sight,
The Garden & its lovely Charms.

The Guests are scatter’d thro’ the land,
For the Eye altering alters all;
The Senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat Earth becomes a Ball;

The stars, sun, Moon, all shrink away,
A desart vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desart all around.

The honey of her Infant lips,
The bread & wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving Eye,
Does him to Infancy beguile;

For as he eats & drinks he grows
Younger & younger every day;
And on the desart wild they both
Wander in terror & dismay.

Like the wild Stag she flees away,
Her fear plants many a thicket wild;
While he pursues her night & day,
By various arts of Love beguil’d,

By various arts of Love & Hate,
Till the wide desart planted o’er
With Labyrinths of wayward Love,
Where roam the Lion, Wolf & Boar,

Till he becomes a wayward Babe,
And she a weeping Woman Old.
Then many a Lover wanders here;
The Sun & Stars are nearer roll’d.

The trees bring forth sweet Extacy
To all who in the desart roam;
Till many a City there is Built,
And many a pleasant Shepherd’s home.

But when they find the frowning Babe,
Terror strikes through the region wide:
They cry “The Babe! the Babe is Born!”
And flee away on Every side.

For who dare touch the frowning form,
His arm is wither’d to its root;
Lions, Boars, Wolves, all howling flee,
And every Tree does shed its fruit.

And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a Woman Old;
She nails him down upon the Rock,
And all is done as I have told.

(from) Better Than Sleep: My First Guru Said

My first guru said:
Seek for a second I behind
The you you know,
You who know.
I sought and found –
Grinning like a dolphin –
I who watch myself and laugh.

My next guru said:
Seek now the third I.
I sought and found
I who do not laugh.

My last guru said:
Seek out The Eagle,
I Who Stand Aloof,
Who Soar And Fly:
The Final I.

I found another I and then
Another I, another I, another – I found
And sought beyond some final I,
Found nothing there
Save I who sought
Alone and wandering,

Between the bins,
Among the stars.

EMILY BRONTË: No Coward Soul Is Mine

Emily Brontë – the writer whom of all writers I would most like to meet and talk to, get to know, even perhaps become her friend:

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life—that in me has rest,
As I—undying Life—have power in thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The stedfast rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou—THOU art Being and Breath,
And what THOU art may never be destroyed.

“Vain are the thousand creeds” she says – creeds – what we believe (from credo, I believe) – so what does she mean by “faith” as she uses that word in the first stanza?
This (from Ram Dass) made me think: