Sunday, November 16, 2003
Of Life and Death and Still-Life
In preparation for my own death, I am ordering my papers and deciding on my final philosophy. Belief of any sort takes faith. Faith is a gift from God and can be increased by increased time with Him. Time with Him comes from fellowship with believers, the reading of his word and singing praises. The world is a dark and sad place. Light emanates from believers and mingles with the confused who are also believers yet not aware of self.
I'm reading a poem by Conrad Aiken entitled: Palimpsest: The Deceitful Portrait. It may take me several months to understand it to the best of my ability. I am giving it time now, but there are many distractions in my life to prevent me from delving as deeply as I would like to. I have removed teaching at the college level from my life. I have removed the prospect of taking classes from my now. Even so, I find that my schedule is full and I am not able to tend to all I wish to do. It may be that the busier I am, the more I get done. Perhaps I am lazy. The small details of my life are falling apart. Some close to me are terribly unhappy - for many reasons. As a defensive measure, I remove myself from deep emotional attachment or involvement in the details of those discontented ones. I sense a constant rejection, and it is not healthy for me to be exposed to that for continued amounts of time. I am laying out an excuse for my detachment. . . it is survival in a sense. Knowing myself is the idea. I do not know myself very well, and I am not true to myself. If I were, I would not be where I am. I have a friend who is young in age but old in wisdom. She has taken a chance and struck out of the norm. She is an example for me in my oldness and conservativeness.
So here is Conrad Aiken's idea in the poem: Palimpsest: The Deceitful Portrait-
We live for small horizons. We move in crowds, we flow and talk together, seeing so many eyes and hands and faces, so many mouths, and all with secret meanings. Yet, we know so little of each other. Only seeing small bright circles of our consciousness, beyond which lies the dark. Some few we know - or think we know. Once, on a sun-bright morning, I walked in a certain hallway, trying to find a certain door; I found one, tried it, opened, and there in a spacious chamber, brightly lighted, a hundred men played music, loudly, swiftly, while one tall woman sent her voice above them in a powerful incantation. Closing the door I heard it die behind me, fade to a whisper, - and walked in a quiet hallway as before. Just such a glimpse as if that open door is all we know of those we call friends. We hear sudden music, see a playing of ordered thoughts - and all again is silence. The music, we suppose (as in ourselves) goes on forever, behind the door, as it continues after our departure. So, we divine, it played before we came. What do you know of me, or I of you? Little enough. We set these doors ajar only for chosen movements of the music: This passage (so I think, and yet this is guess work) will please you, - it is a strain you fancy, - more brilliant, though, than yours and while you like it you may be piqued. . . you look bewildered, and you think (to judge from self - this too is guess work) the music strangely subtle, deep in meaning, perplexed with implications; you suspect me of hidden riches, unexpected wisdom. Or else, I let you hear a lyric passage, - simple and clear; and all the while you listen I make pretense to think my doors are closed. This too bewilders you. You eye me sidelong and wonder: 'is he such a fool as this? or only mocking?' - There I let it end.
Sometimes, of course, and when we least suspect it - When we pursue our thoughts with too much passion, talking with too great a zeal - our doors fly open without intention; and the hungry watcher stares at the feast, carries away our secrets, and laughs. This, for many counts, is seldom. For the most part we vouchsafe our friends - our lovers too, only such few clear notes as we shall deem them likely to admire: 'Praise me for this' we say, or 'laugh at this,' or 'marvel at my candor' - all the while withholding what's most precious to ourselves - some sinister depth of lust or fear or hatred; the sombre note that gives the chord its power . . . or white loveliness - if such we know - too much like fire to speak of without shame.
'Know thyself.' 'Be true to thyself.' These are the philosophers' refrains. These are our life's work. These are our preparation for death. Moreover, on this journey, we encounter each other and the rooms we share and the music: fully or not - with rehearsals or not - while warming up or not - on purpose or by accident. It is life, and it is not heaven. Is it perfection you seek? The closer you come to it; the less it will be so; for you yourself are not perfect. What will you do to that perfection? Will you contaminate it or will it purify you? I suppose you will not be able to tell unless you risk drawing near to it. So many have given up risking now. Doors remain closed except for those calculated moments of presentation.
- posted by -g @ 11:03 AM | | 0 rocks in pond
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