November 2012


Some poetry of my own composition, for a change. I can’t pretend that these are brilliant verses or anything, but I liked them, even after re-reading them. I hope you do too.

*

I nestle into her back, and close
Ourselves in, this woven little world of ours,
And of others’, of God: so not so small, yet closer
Than our softly throbbing veins.
This place we have made, we have had made
For us, this little land we cultivate,
Is cultivated in us, slowly grows.
We took up crowns,
Not as rulers one of the other,
But as martyrs of the heart and hearth, toiling
At a small new world, taking care
Lest we let the soil go sterile
Or the land be sold and be turned to death
Out from under our tired feet.
But. So long as we warm one another,
And hold close to each other,
In the dark thicket
And in the wide bright plains, in snow
And in fire, wind and wreck, all:
Dying to each other, and resurrecting,
In each sharp moment, and those tender,
We will weather it all, and better,
When we rise together, old, and new.

*

All of a sudden, then—
Sparrows burst
Upon our rose bush

*

Dill seedlings—unbidden,
Sprung up here. Still—
Winter is coming

*

In a flash, the beauty
And the majesty are here
Under this overpass—
A sparrow takes flight

*

But Your light is this place
And all places, no place, the living
Sap within the tree, the all,
And no thing.
Out of the corner of my eye
I see the edge of a glimpse,
And it shivers my blood to my core,
And past.
What would unveiling be?

*

The sunflowers and prairie grasses
Were growing on borrowed time, after all this, all
Our times are borrowed here, waged, time-
Tabled, clocked in and out. The mechanical
Hearts and schedules, the grey men, and the black
Suited men, from worlds that dull and buzz.
They sent the reapers, if anyone can be said
To have sent, all those voices passive.
The slow steady system
Works itself out, an endless tide. Washing
Over everything, scrubbed sterile. Yet
How I relished those patches of sunflowers, changing
With each week, and day, with the sun and clouds
Overhead, also changing  (and they cannot not yet
Scrub those, the further heavens). The strange weave
Of dock and bluestem and aster
With cement interchanges, the hurtling
Engines of our individual deaths,
Whirling, spinning by this patch
Of earth’s own deep flow and interchange.
Still I trust their seeds survive the neatly mown
Fields there. Things must die back, anyway.
And I trust that sunflowers, and prairie dock
Will outlive state, capital, highway, the bitter self
Commanding to evil, and the banal.
When all those things are forgotten ruins
Crumbling into the new prairie, the old
Glacier of those forces long melted,
The face of the earth, again, blooms.

The following is a single discourse from a collection of discourses by the seventeenth century Ottoman Sufi mystic and scholar Ismāʿīl Ḥaḳḳī, featured previously on this blog here: Sufi Concision. It is a rather dense little piece, despite only being a couple paragraphs. I will keep my explication short, in part because I am reluctant to put words in the author’s mouth, and do not fully understand the lineaments and depths of his particularly cosmology and symbolic apparatus.

The central motif of this discourse is the contrast between manifestations of God’s beauty (al-jamāl) and His sublimity (aljalāl), a word that might also be translated as ‘majesty’ or ‘magnificence.’ The concept of a sort of dualism in God’s nature or manifestation of Himself had existed for some time in Sufi thought before Ibn ‘Arabi developed the idea into the form upon which our author here is drawing. The most explicit development of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought on the beauty and the sublimity can be found in, not surprisingly, a short treatise titled Kitāb alJalāl wal-Jamāl, available in an English translation from the Ibn ‘Arabi Society. Therein Ibn ‘Arabi complicates previous ideas of God’s manifestations of beauty and majesty, arguing against a rather simplistic interpretation of those attributes and the ways in which they might be experienced by humans. Ismāʿīl Ḥaḳḳī picks up this ‘complication’ of the attributes, and extends Ibn ‘Arabi’s original conception into the cosmological interactions of humans, nature, revelation, and God.

There appeared to me regarding [Muhammad’s] words, Winter is the spoils of the believer, that the most important of affairs for the perfect among the believers is the matter of religion, not the matter of this world. And winter aids in the realization of the latter matter, in that days are shorter and nights longer. For the shortening of nights makes fasting easier, while the lengthening of nights makes standing [in prayer] easier—in variance with summer, as the days are longer and the heat stronger, forbidding the aforementioned benefits. Sleep has the ascendency during summer nights due to their shortness and the languor of bodies [due to summer heat].

So know that summer is the site of the manifestation of God’s Beauty (al-jamāl) in deed in regards to outward form (min ḥaythu al-ṣūrah), however, in it is God’s Sublimity (jalāl) in potency in regards to inner meaning (alma’inā). But when earthquakes, violent storms, lightning strikes, and their like, occur in the summer, and as for winter in general, then it is the opposite: the Sublimity is manifest exteriorly, while the Beauty is manifest interiorly. Therefore, there does not occur in it what occurs in the summer as aforementioned. And in the nature of winter is a advantageous benefit which points to the fact that the perfect believer, whenever trial or trouble befalls him in regards to himself, to his possessions, or to his family, he takes advantage of that situation and recoups benefit. For if under every misfortune is another misfortune, on the contrary, the perfect one is he who finds sweetness in the Sublimity like that which he finds in the Beauty. And if not, then he is incomplete [in his mystical realization], because all that occurs is from God, and what is from God is not bitter to the true enraptured lover of God. It is the custom (sunnah) of God to first instruct someone through the Beauty, and if the person does not thus become aware of Him, He instructs him through the Sublimity. And if he does then become aware of Him, He uproots him—we take refuge in God from that and from all which is merely exterior.

The one who seeks ascension finds it in repentance and in the manifestation of his incapacity, not elsewhere. God possesses people who serve Him in hardship and ease equally—so look into what leads to Him: their perfect knowledge and complete tranquility of soul.

Ismāʿīl Ḥaḳḳī (1063/1652-1137/1725)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skylark sings all
day, and day
Not long enough.

Spring- through
morning mist,
what mountain’s there?

Sparrow in eaves,
mice in ceiling-
celestial music.

Basho (1644-94), trans. Lucien Stryk