Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Beautiful Person (Sima Xiang-Ru)

This is my version of a prose-poem (so-called because it is part-prose, part-poem, or as the Chinese call it fu-style) by the Chinese poet Sima Xiang-Ru from the 2nd century B.C.. The poem is called The Beautiful Person. Click on the link to see the original literal translation, and also a short biography of the poet. As we shall see from the very first line, the poem is about himself, lol.
The Beautiful Person

Handsome Sima Xiang-Ru had journeyed to see the Prince who delighted in his conversation. But another had vilified him, saying to the Prince, “Indeed he is a fine figure of a man, but behind his elegant dress and noble features, his good looks conceal disloyalty and deceit, and he uses his fine rhetoric to flatter and fulfill his pleasure. I have seen him traipsing about in the harem of your Highness. I wonder if you have noticed this?” So the Prince asked Xiang-Ru, “Are you addicted to lust?” “I am not,” he replied. “Then you must be like Confucius and Mo Di,” said the Prince. But Xiang-Ru answered, “Those ancients avoided all acquaintance with sensual delights. Confucius and Mo Di would only have to hear the voice of a beauty from the palace walls, and they would turn their chariot around. It was as if they considered woman as dangerous as raging fire or deep water, and so they hid away and secluded themselves in mountain caves. Seeing as they saw no opportunity for temptation, how can we be sure of their mettle to withstand it?

Let me tell my story of how I withstood temptation’s chalice:
Once on my travels, I came upon a mansion as evening fell.
It was all alone in the clouds, shuttered like a fairy palace.
I pushed my way through the elegant front door having rung the bell.

Exotic perfumes hung in the air, and rich tapestries and there …
Reclining languid and charming on a bed, skin clear and cheeks red
The image of a lady waiting alone, curvacious and fair.
Seeing surprise, and hesitation in my step, she smiled and said:

“From what country do you come? Have you travelled far to reach this place?”
And she offered me wine, brought out a lute, and as I plucked the strings,
I played White Snow and Dark Orchid, and then she sang with mournful face,
“In solitude here, I am. This emptiness no happiness brings.

I long for the handsome prince who can lead me into sunlight’s glades
And in my sadness waiting, here he is! But how long he delays,
Till day becomes evening, alas, and my flower complexion fades.
To you I dare confide my body. Long may we share in lovers’ ways.”

She was so close that her jade hairpins brushed my hat, our clothes whispered.
The sun set in the West, mysterious dusk, light swallowed in darkness.
Outside cold silk snow swirled and from our closed room no sound could be heard,
Just the wind, sad and chill, that all the more increased invitingness.

A golden brazier breathed scented smoke, the bed was laid with fine sheets,
Its curtains lowered, quilt turned back, ivory pillow, all to a tee.
She stepped out of her robe, showing her undergarments’ lacy pleats,
That revealed her white delicate nakedness, her shapely beauty.

Then she came close to me, wrapping her softness, slipping around me,
But my heartbeat did not increase, my purpose steady in my breast.
As the Odes of old say, “clearly we were sworn in good faith to be”:
My resolution upright, without wavering, I wished her the best."

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Ramon Llull on the Beloved

Devotions to the Beloved by the great Spanish mystic Ramon Llull (1232-1315), who was also the first great writer in Catalan and was an extraordinarily prolific teacher, traveller and writer with over 265 books to his name.

The painting is the Madonna of Port Lligat by the famous Catalan painter Salvador Dali. The rectangular holes in this abstract depiction are supposed to symbolize transcendence.

The Lover asked his Beloved if there remained anything still to be loved. And the Beloved answered that he had still to love that by which his own love could be increased.


The Lover was all alone in the shade of a fair tree. Men passed by that place and asked him why he was alone. And the Lover answered, "I am alone, now that I have seen you and heard you; until now I was in the company of my Beloved."


Said the Lover to the Beloved, "O you that love, if you have fire, come light your lanterns in my heart; if you have water, come to my eyes whence flow the tears in streams; if you have thoughts of love, come gather them from my meditations."


The Beloved instructed the Lover to go out into the world and not hide the marks of his love. The people saw him and asked, "Say, O Fool!, what is solitude?". He replied, "It is solace and companionship between Lover and Beloved." "And what are solace and companionship?" they asked. "Solitude in the heart of the Lover," he replied, "when he remembers naught save only his Beloved."
~*~ ... ~*~ ... ~*~

May grace come to my power from this great influence, that I may ever have power, knowledge and will to honour Thy power—to my knowledge that I may honour Thy knowledge—and to my will that I may honour Thy love.


Between the sun and its splendour there is a difference, and between fire and its heat. But between Thy Love and Virtue and Truth there is no essential difference; and all that Thy Love disposes in truth, It does with infinite virtue in love and in truth; whereas all that is done in things beside, is done with virtue finite in quantity and time.


Virtue, Truth and Glory met in the thoughts of Blanquerna when he contemplated his Beloved. Blanquerna considered to which of these three he would give the greatest honour in his thoughts and will; but since he could conceive in them no difference whatsoever, he gave them equal honour in remembering, comprehending and desiring his Beloved.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

From the Conflict Zone

Poems of death and re-birth, love and loss, departure and renewal, by the Palestinian Taha Muhammad Ali, translated by the Israeli-American Peter Cole, their collaboration shedding a rare ray of light by their example.

The photo depicts a 3rd century Roman mosaic in Saffuriya/Tzippori the town in Galilee where the poet was born and forced to flee in 1948. The hint of a smile and the quality of the artistry has led her to be dubbed the Mona Lisa of Galilee.


The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
like acorns–
and the dead crowd the horizon
and doorways.
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!

Everyone outside is waiting
for the trucks and the cars
loaded with honey and hostages.
We will not leave!
The shields of light are breaking apart
before the rout and the siege;
outside, everyone wants us to leave.
But we will not leave!

Ivory white brides
behind their veils
slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,
and everyone outside wants us to leave,
but we will not leave!

The big guns pound the jujube groves,
destroying the dreams of the violets,
extinguishing bread, killing the salt,
unleashing thirst
and parching lips and souls.
And everyone outside is saying:
“What are we waiting for?
Warmth we’re denied,
the air itself has been seized!
Why aren’t we leaving?”
Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,
the places of ablution.
Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;
they do not believe what is now so clear,
and fall, astonished,
writhing like worms, or tongues.
We will not leave!

Are we in the inside only to leave?
Leaving is just for the masks,
for pulpits and conventions.
Leaving is just
for the siege-that-comes-from-within,
the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,
the siege of the brethren
tarnished by the taste of the blade
and the stink of crows.
We will not leave!

Outside they’re blocking the exits
and offering their blessings to the impostor,
praying, petitioning
Almighty God for our deaths.


Our traces have all been erased,
our impressions swept away -
and all the remains
have been effaced...
there isn't a single sign
left to guide us
or show us a thing.
The age has grown old,
the days long,
and I, if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk
that was here before,
dozing like Arabian jasmine,
shimmering like the gleam of dawn,
pulsing like a star -
I, if not for that lock of camphor,
would feel not a thing
linking me
to this land.

This land is a traitor
and can't be trusted.
This land doesn't remember love.
This land is a whore
holding out a hand to the years,
as it manages a ballroom
on the harbor pier -
it laughs in every language
and bit by bit, with its hip,
feeds all who come to it.

This land denies,
cheats, and betrays us;
its dust can't bear us
and grumbles about us -
resents and detests us.
Its newcomers,
sailors, and usurpers,
uproot the backyard gardens,
burying the trees.

They keep us from looking too long
at the anemone blossom and cyclamen,
and won't allow us to touch the herbs,
the wild artichoke and chicory.

Our land makes love to the sailors
and strips naked before the newcomers;
it rests its head along the usurper's thigh,
is disgraced and defiled in its sundry accents;
there seems to be nothing that would bind it to us,
and I - if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk,
if not for the camphor,
if not for the musk and the sweet basil,
if not for the ambergris -
I would not know it,
and would not love it,
and would not go near it...

Your braid
is the only thing
linking me, like a noose, to this whore.


Neither music,
fame, nor wealth,
not even poetry itself,
could provide consolation
for life's brevity,
or the fact that King Lear
is a mere eighty pages long and comes to an end,
and for the thought that one might suffer greatly
on account of a rebellious child.

My love for you
is what's magnificent,
but I, you, and the others,
most likely,
are ordinary people.

My poem
goes beyond poetry
because you
beyond the realm of women.

And so
it has taken me
all of sixty years
to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless
unless it plants
a measure of splendor in people's hearts.

After we die,
and the weary heart
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we've done,
and on all that we've longed for,
and on all that we've dreamt of,
all we've desired
or felt,
hate will be
the first thing
to putrefy
within us

Meeting at An Airport

You asked me once,
on our way back
from the midmorning
trip to the spring:
"What do you hate,
and who do you love?"

And I answered,
from behind the eyelashes
of my surprise,
my blood rushing
like the shadow
cast by a cloud of starlings:
"I hate departure...
I love the spring
and the path to the spring,
and I worship the middle
hours of morning."
And you laughed...
and the almond tree blossomed
and the thicket grew loud with nightingales.

...A question
now four decades old:
I salute that question’s answer;
and an answer,
as old as your departure;
I salute that answer’s question...

...And today,
it’s preposterous,
here we are at a friendly airport
by the slimmest of chances,
and we meet.
Ah, Lord!
we meet.
And here you are
it’s absolutely preposterous—
I recognized you
but you didn’t recognize me.
"Is it you?!"
But you wouldn’t believe it.
And suddenly
you burst out and asked:
"If you’re really you,
What do you hate
and who do you love?!"

And I answered—
my blood
fleeing the hall,
rushing in me
like the shadow
cast by a cloud of starlings:
"I hate departure,
and I love the spring,
and the path to the spring,
and I worship the middle
hours of morning."

And you wept,
and flowers bowed their heads,
and doves in the silk of their sorrow stumbled.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sherone Simpson 100m & Women's Athletics

Sherone Simpson of Jamaica won the above race in a record time for that year of 10.89. But what made this race significant for me was that when I heard it first on the radio, I decided for fun to time it from the starter's gun to the commentator's finish with my own stopwatch. I've never done this before or since. And the time I recorded was, you guessed it, 10.89! Only one millisecond out, I thought, when the race-time came back as 10.88. And then it was rounded up!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tribute to Charlie Gillett (1942-2010)

Charlie Gillett sadly passed away yesterday.

He was my absolute favourite radio DJ, and he opened my ears (and everyone else's in this country who heard his shows) to the best of world music, not "world music" as a genre, but real music from around the world. Almost all the great artists I've heard were thanks to him, people like Ali Farka Toure, Mahmoud Ahmed, Mariza, Gal Costa, the list goes on, and Lucha Reyes (the Peruvian - because there are two Lucha Reyes!) one of whose songs I have posted in another video. And of course Manu Chao.

Here is Charlie Gillett talking to Manu Chao about some book describing the latter's adventures touring his music over Columbia. "The Train of Ice and Fire". (Manu Chao is an epitome of cultural diversity, born in France of Spanish descent and singing in a mixture of French, Spanish, English, Arabic, Portuguese, etc..)

Lucha Reyes - Regresa (Return)

Lucha Reyes from Peru was one of the many great artists whom I heard on the radio thanks to the amazing Charlie Gillett who sadly passed away yesterday. Tribute_to_Charlie_Gillett_1942-2010

Regresa (vals de Augusto Polo Campos)

te estoy buscando
porque mis labios extrañan tus besos de fuego
te estoy llamando
y en mis palabras tan tristes mi voz es un ruego
te necesito porque sin verte mi vida no tiene sentido
y van
y van por el mundo mis pasos perdidos
buscando el camino de tu comprensión

(apiádate de mi si tienes corazón
escucha en sus latidos la voz de mi dolor)

pero regresa
para llenar el vacío que dejaste al irte
regresa aunque sea para despedirte
no dejes que muera sin decirte adiós

te estoy buscando



I'm looking for you,
Because my lips are missing your lips of fire.
I'm asking for you
And in my sad words my voice is a prayer
I need you, because a life without you is souless
And they go, my lost footsteps go through the world
Looking for the road of your understanding.

(Forgive me, if you have a heart
Listen in its beats to the voice of my pain)

But please return
To fill the space you left
Return at least to bid farewell
You want me to die
Without saying goodbye to you.

I'm looking for you.

Documentary Clip

'Siempre te Amare' (I will always love you)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Transplanting Memories: The Heart

There was a programme on Channel 4 called "Transplanting Memories" about those who undergo heart transplant undergoing fundamental psychological changed. Unfortunately, it's been taken down from YouTube, but you can watch it online here. (It requires you to sign up for a free account with Channel 4.)

This phenomenon seems to lend credence to the mystical belief that every cell of the body has an awareness and memory of its own.

What references in particular are there to the importance of the heart in ancient wisdom?

The heart has long been used as a symbol to refer to the spiritual, emotional, moral, and in the past also intellectual core of a human being. As the heart was once widely believed to be the seat of the human mind, the word heart continues to be used poetically to refer to the soul, and stylized depictions of hearts are extremely prevalent symbols representing love.

In religious texts the heart has historically been ascribed much mystical significance, either as metaphor or as an organ genuinely believed to have spiritual or divine attributes.

In Egyptian mythology, the heart portion of the soul was weighed in a balance against the feather of Ma'at, symbolising truth, in the judgment of the dead in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Egyptian sources do not actually reveal whether the heart had to be lighter than the feather for the deceased to pass into paradise - all depictions show only the weighing of the heart, not the actual results, heavier or lighter.

Similarly, in the Bible, this idea emerges in the earliest passages; Genesis 6:5 situates the thoughts of evil men in their hearts, and Exodus 5 through 12 speak repeatedly of the Lord "hardening Pharaoh's heart." By this it is meant that God made Pharaoh resolve not to let the Israelite slaves leave Egypt, in order to bring judgment against Pharaoh and demonstrate his power: "'Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them'" (Exodus 10:1). In the Book of Jeremiah 17:9, it is written that the Lord is the judge who "tries" the human heart. 

The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are traditional Roman Catholic devotional images.

Many classical philosophers and scientists, including Aristotle, considered the heart the seat of thought, reason or emotion, and not the brain.

The Stoics taught that the heart was the seat of the soul.

The Roman physician Galen located the seat of the passions in the liver, the seat of reason in the brain, and considered the heart to be the seat of the emotions. While Galen's identification of the heart with emotion were proposed as a part of his theory of the circulatory system, the heart has continued to be used as a symbolic source of human emotions even after the rejection of such beliefs.
There are also many proverbs concerning the heart in the Bible. (Proverbs 4:23) "Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." and (Proverbs 16:23) "The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips." Meanwhile, in Buddhism, there is the very important "heart sutra" and also the fundamental instruction to "avoid evil, do good, and purify the heart." This tripartite instruction is found in Islam also. The wisdom of the heart is exalted and each cell in the body is said to bear witness. This resembles too the Taoist concept of internal alchemy, in which the human body is understood as a microcosm of the whole of nature. To conclude, a Sufi poem from the 14th century:

The Mirror

Your eye has not strength enough
to gaze at the burning sun,
but you can see its burning light
by watching its reflection
mirrored in the water.

So the reflection of Absolute Being
can be viewed in the mirror of Not-Being,
for nonexistence, being opposite Reality,
instantly catches its reflection.

Know the world from end to end is a mirror;
in each atom a hundred suns are concealed.
If you pierce the heart of a single drop of water,
from it will flow a hundred clear oceans;
if you look intently at each speck of dust,
in it you will see a thousand beings.
A gnat in its limbs is like an elephant;
in name a drop of water resembles the Nile.
In the heart of a barleycorn is stored a hundred harvests.
Within a millet-seed a world exists.
In an insects wing is an ocean of life.
A heaven is concealed in the pupil of an eye.
The core at the center of the heart is small,
yet the Lord of both worlds will enter there.

Mahmud Shabistari

Image: "4th Chakra - Heart Chakra" by Lori A Andrus 

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Children & Nature Haikus

I have seen a bird
Fly halfway across the world,
Then vanish in mist.

With eyes of a child,
“That tree,” she says, “is even
Taller than the hill.”

“It had a headstart,”
I thought, “because its roots grew
High as well as deep.”

Two children jump
Over a puddle.
Then one exclaims,
“The rain has stopped!”


I Thought ...

This, like The Siren's Call, is a variation on a poem by Erica (feyrey), done with her permission. The original poem may be found here:

I Thought ...

I thought I heard a soulful tune
Wafting through the crisp night air.
It filled the horizons of my mind
And left no space for doubt or care.
Tipping my chin to the whispering wind
I felt it rustle through my hair.
But the more I strained to hear its song,
The less I heard till in despair,
I beseeched the wind, “O cruel wind,
Why do you tease with things not there?”

The wind laughed gently in reply,
“I play no games, nor do I hide,
Perhaps it’s you eluding me
Of that which I would wish confide.
Where beauty, truth and goodness lie,
You’ll find wherever you decide.”


I thought I felt upon my skin
The kiss of unconditional love,
A sun that burned me deep within
And glowed serenely up above.
My heart danced safe in its protection,
Fluttering freely like a dove.

So up I flew on gossamer wings
To return its warm embrace,
But its light began to blind me
And made tears stream down my face.


I thought I tasted pleasure’s fruit
From a hand that would not spurn.
But when I tried to find its root
Its darker motives I did learn.
And I was left in emptiness,
Downcast, alone and still to yearn.


I thought I smelled a fragrant flower
That led me into deepest night.
In an endless, timeless void,
I floated weightless without sight
Till whirling around in my mind’s eye
I felt a small voice warn in fright,

“Get out right now or you’ll be lost,
You’ve tarried here too long.
Get back to light, get back to Earth,
Get back where you belong.”


I thought I saw a starry shore,
Lapped by a wide and boundless sea,
Mesmerized by the ebb and flow,
Repeated, perpetually.
Then I felt a surge of power,
So strong I began to swoon.
I lifted my eyes and beheld
The beautiful swollen moon.
“Dear moon,” I asked, “is there something
Of wisdom you could share with me?”

She whispered softly in reply,
“There are many things that we could share,
But you fear the light and you fear the dark,
Which face would you have me wear?
Be still, expand and see beyond.
There’ll come a breakthrough if you dare.”


I thought I felt awe as I gazed
Into the sun’s reflected light,
Knowing that on the other side
Was the purest blackest night,
While here I am now in my world
That is neither black nor white,
Just endless shades of silvery grey
That are not too dark or bright.

Perhaps some day all will be clear
When I can conquer all my fear.
Until then I patiently await
As I wipe an errant tear.


I thought my thoughts had stopped, but wait!
There’s something else the moon had said,
“In stillness you direct your fate.
Imagine it within your head.”

Jem: Just a Ride

Thursday, 4 March 2010


While scepticism is a form of self-protection, a habit of not making assumptions and realizing that things are not always what they seem, pessimism is assuming the worst, putting undue emphasis on the negative aspects of any situation. It can lead you to miss opportunities and be an escapist from problems when your actions could make a difference in resolving or improving a situation. Optimists on the other hand persevere in darkness, knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but they also pause to reflect and learn from their difficulties, so their suffering leads to healing, what they lose makes space for new growth, and they are creative in harnessing circumstances to their advantage. In short, they have a can-do attitude that is unwavering combined with a wise imagination. “I shall not cease from mental fight, / Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, / Till we have built Jerusalem, / In England’s green and pleasant land.” (William Blake, Jerusalem)

It’s not what happens to you that matters but how you react to it. Take responsibility for whatever comes your way. But avoid negative people, feelings, habits and mind-entertainments where possible because these are superficial adversaries and not true challenges of the spirit. Let go of negative assumptions and beliefs. Do not limit yourself either in the depth or the breadth of your potential. Great things are possible with right effort and attitude. The past is not the future. You are the cause of your reality, not a consequence. Be the change you want to see in the world. When faced with a choice between two conflicting desires, it need not be a case of either/or… look for the third way that accommodates both. Do not make false sacrifices.

Set goals. Use negative experiences and positive experiences alike as character-building opportunities to help you make better decisions in future and better know yourself. Tension is necessary for growth, like a plant breaking through its shell and reaching for the light as it was destined to do, or the example of some trees that produce more fruit after a summer under stress lacking water. If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. Be flexible but strong in the face of obstacles and make progress step by step through the power of creativity as well as cumulative effort, balancing the long-term vision with the gathering force of the day-to-day. The point of tension is not in the past or the future, but in the now, so let go of worries, fears and wants, leaving your heart as light as a feather. Looking happy creates a happy self-image, and the belief in yourself is self-fulfilling.

Use positive affirmations and quotations to cement your can-do attitude. Remember life is short and brooding breeds indecision and wastes time. When it is time to act, act with courage and love. When it is time to rest and gather the force, rest with courage and love. Never stop learning. Teach others and see how the perspective this gives bypasses the ego’s defences. Teach yourself as if you are another. Be grateful. Spread the joy. Be compassionate to all without judging or expecting something in return. “Curse not the dark, but bring the light. For God did send help. God sent you.” (Joann Davis, The Book of the Shepherd)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Yu-Na Kim (Korean Bond) Record at 2010 Olympics


She won the gold in the women's figure skating in Vancouver with a record-breaking score. I didn't catch any of the Winter OIympics, so thanks to Jim (themusicman2) for letting me know about this. I'm re-posting it from his site.