Saturday, May 31, 2008

for T. S. Eliot

What else is there for us but to advance,
Defining progress as our end and aim,
Unless we view our history as a dance
Moving through complex patterns like a game.

The case for progress claims we shall evolve
And though we’ll wreak great havoc on the Earth,
We know that growing wisdom can resolve
Our wicked waywardness and prove our worth.

The other way of seeing us reveals
That souls recycle through their worldly rounds,
Life after life, and play the hands Fate deals
Within a pattern of fixed rules and bounds.

The end of all our revolutions shows
The place where we began is where we’ll close.


Friday, May 30, 2008


A sonnet is a pearl surrounding grit,
A crystal coalesced about a seed:
It takes the smallest irritant to feed
A process that provokes the play of wit.

A question, observation, urge will sit
Amidst the mind then generate and breed
A brood of new ideas that proceed
To intertwine till sound and sense both fit.

But just as pearls can be irregular
In shape, their color lusterless and dull,
So sonnets only rarely make the grade:
Most prove insipid, lame, and fail to stir
Emotions in the soul, rhetorical
But not poetical, and doomed to fade.


Thursday, May 29, 2008


Yesterday, a friend of mine recounted a two-part question that his philosophy professor had long ago posed to his class: (1) If you could know now exactly when you would die, would you want to know? (2) And if you would, then would you also want to know the cause of your death?

Would you like to think about this for yourself for a moment? Go ahead. I’ll put my own speculations (yet to be written) in the post below.


Immediately, I’d answer No to both questions.

No, I don’t want to know now exactly when I’ll die; nor would I want to know the cause of my death. Why?

Because I don’t want to be trapped in such a degree of fatalism. Simply knowing that I’ll die someday before I’m 120 years old is sufficiently deterministic for me. But it leaves me a lot of latitude for supposing and exploring many possibilities of how I might use the time remaining, however long or short.

True, though, facing a deadline does usually focus my mind and make me more productive, and it is likely that knowing exactly my checkout time would push me to be more efficient and effective in pursuing goals that were more sharply defined.

But that, I think, would make me too goal-oriented, always checking my watch and calendar and measuring my progress. I could never kid myself and go easy on myself saying, “Oh, well, I can do that later, I’ve plenty of time, so right now I’ll just relax and look into something new or fascinating that’s not on my agenda. Knowing just when I’d die would be too narrowing, too regulating, too stifling.

Knowing also what I’d die of would at least be frustrating since I’d know it was futile to try to prevent it: a car, a window, a boat, a disease—what will be, will be. “Born to be hanged, you’ll never be drowned,” an old saying goes. Yet, given Fate’s legendary taste for irony, I might think it perfectly safe to go boating and then find myself strangled by a halyard or a waterski tow rope.

At least, knowing the certain cause of my death would shut down part of the adventurous uncertainty, the open-ended possibility of my life: maybe this, maybe that, who knows?

It would be a psychological infringement on my freedom, and the sense of freedom and possibility is essential to my humanity.

But even if I were told when and how I’d die, what would make me believe it? I would “know” it, but would I trust the truth of that prediction? Might I not even try to prove the prediction wrong? Common human orneriness might just push me to do that, as well as a desire not to be controlled, not even by Fate.

At the least, certain and undeniable knowledge of this kind would limit my pleasures of imagining something other, or simply the pleasure I take in options and open-endedness. And that’s enough to make me decline the offer. Thanks, anyway.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008


“Behave yourself!” our mothers used to say,
Though how could we do other than behave,
Behavior being whatever we might do,
As anthropologists define mores?

“And act your age!” we’d be admonished, too,
As if our way of living were a role
And life a play in which we’d act a part
With predetermined lines fixed in a script.

But things are different now, and we’re equipped
To live more freely than was once allowed,
Since existentialists have cracked the door
That leads us to explore new ways to be.

Though this has bred behaviors some deplore,
We’re free now to grow better and be more.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


There’s magic in the very web of it,
This tissue woven of just fourteen lines,
Within whose borders sundry wonders fit
Accommodating infinite designs.

The glory, wonder, awe and mystery
Of the vast universe itself plays out
Within its microcosmic imagery
As it devises certitudes from doubt.

Somehow it weaves its way to clarity
While it reveals itself upon the page,
As, rhyme by rhyme, new meaning comes to be
Like incantations of a cunning mage

That spell out of thin air a spectacle
Which at its best will prove a miracle.


Monday, May 26, 2008


However we’ve arrived here—here we are,
Composed of matter from a distant star,
Assembled by some universal laws
To wonder, of ourselves and all, our cause.

How did we come about, and for what reason,
And why are we so full of flaws and treason,
Unfaithful to ourselves and cruel to others,
Though knowing in our souls we are all brothers?

Is Being but a hapless accident
Or made with some mysterious intent
We’re charged to comprehend and realize
In theories that our heads and hearts devise?

I say we’re here, invested as we are
With love, to be the Kosmos’ Superstar.


Sunday, May 25, 2008


Not long ago most people lived obscure,
Untouched by fame or notoriety,
But now the means of popular allure
Lies close at hand to cure such infamy.

The World Wide Web now makes available,
Through YouTube, blogs, and other public sites,
The texts and pix of all, however dull,
A tool that both illuminates and blights.

At best, though, it may grant us all the means
To speak out in the universal forum,
To shine our little lights and play our scenes,
Exhibiting not folly but decorum.

And so I post my daily contributions:
Some clarity, I hope, for our confusions.


Saturday, May 24, 2008


The sonnet’s a heuristical device
I use to find what’s buried in my mind
Still undiscovered, which it can entice
To consciousness, as if it were divined.

Indeed, there’s something spiritual about
This form’s incantatory qualities
And how its rhymes and rhythms may tease out
What otherwise remain dim mysteries.

There’s something mystical about the charm
It casts, enrapturing its auditors
And often soothing like a sacred psalm
That works to cleanse obscured perception’s doors.

Such sonnets, then, are holy instruments
Revealing secrets and sublime intents.


Friday, May 23, 2008


The most important work I’ll do is write,
Should what I write enlighten and delight,
For all the rest of what I do or say
Shall quickly evanesce and pass away.

Yet all around me, volumes testify
That thoughts in print persist and may not die,
The more so as such books proliferate
Around the world for minds to contemplate.

Though nothing is immortal for all time
And we’ll revert to Earth’s primeval slime
Or vanish in a supernova’s burst,
Our atoms through the universe dispersed,

At least for longer than my life I’ll stay
And those hereafter know what I’ve to say.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


Our ultimate frontiers, of course, are death
As well as birth: the boundaries of our breath,
The bourn that spirit crosses fore and aft,
Forgotten in the lethargy it quaffed.

The water of oblivion souls drink
Before their journeys here unlocks the link
To memories of former lives and where
Home is when souls rerarify to air.

Yet some of us while in our human moil,
Before we shuffle off this mortal coil,
Regain the memory of former lives
And learn the goal toward which each spirit strives.

No, I won’t tell you what’s our destiny,
But if you seek within your soul, you’ll see.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

for Judy Minear

Though I grew up in disenchanted times,
Engulfed by a sad Existential void,
In recent years, assisted by my rhymes,
I’ve found a way my life can be enjoyed.

To sit and to compose a verse like this,
I weave an incantation as I spell
Each syllable that leaps the dark abyss
Arriving here—from where I cannot tell.

Some inner voice, some spirit guide, some Muse
From somewhere I can only call Beyond
Enchants my mind with words that seem like clues
To something grand with which we correspond.

Composing verse has reenchanted me;
Now may my chants reveal that mystery.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

for Michael Duff Newton

My culture’s brought me up to see our lives
As nasty, brutish, singular and short,
With death as nothing anyone survives
And nothing here of ultimate import.
To see things otherwise, my culture claims,
Is wishful thinking and mere fantasy;
At best we may amuse ourselves with games;
Oblivion, though, is our reality.

Not so, an old philosophy declares,
Which finds in dreams and trances evidence
That we live many lives and each prepares
Us for the next as rightful recompense
For lessons we have learned the life before:
Life after life, we journey and explore.


Monday, May 19, 2008


In younger days I was a doer
Eager to notch accomplishments,
But now in age I’ve turned a viewer
Less interested in deeds than sense.

I stand back from the whirl of strife
And stress and soul-destroying struggle
To take a wider view of life,
Pulling a puppy up to snuggle.

I sit and ruminate and write
Reflecting on the ways of men
Still seeking deeper for insight
While chewing on my pensive pen.

Such is the joy of contemplation
Now superceding life’s vexation.


Sunday, May 18, 2008


Here is a difficult philosophy:
“You are at every moment doing your best;
Could you do better then, you’d meet that test;
As is, you are as good as you can be.”

Yet that precept leaves out morality,
Which understands our goodness as a quest
Where only ardent struggle proves us blest
And beating down our demons sets us free.

Is fighting sin, then, our imperative
And being a warrior how we ought to live,
As Christian soldiers marching off to war,
Because we know we’re rotten at our core?

Or can we see we have no moral goal
But merely need to realize we’re whole?


Saturday, May 17, 2008


“Whatever I most want or need to do
Without respecting its effect on you
Or what you want or need or would prefer,
Most often is my choice, and you demur.

Such is the way of heartless selfishness,
An attitude affection would redress,
But my affection favors only me
Since I have stifled loving sympathy.”

So speaks the conscience of the egotist,
Though arrogance soon makes that voice desist
For willy-nilly ego has its way
Despite what fellow feeling wants to say,

And day by day it hardens its own heart
Until its mind and soul lie far apart.


Friday, May 16, 2008


Am I a conservative or a progressive? Both, of course, in different respects—as are we all, I think. No need to dig into those details, for common sense and experience reveal we all have things we cling to and other things we wish to move on from. That old conservative/progressive dilemma is a false dichotomy.

But forced to choose, I’d opt for progressive as my prime perspective because all things evolve, and many things get better, which is how I define progress.

What I’d like to do for the rest of my life is to further progress by recognizing and facilitating what most needs improvement in the world.

In no lifetime prior to mine have change, evolution, and progress been so palpable and precarious, especially in science and technology. Human and planetary evolution is now co-evolution in that we actively partner with the forces and conditions of change, and therefore must evaluate the routes we choose to travel and the ends we aim to reach.

If wisdom is “the realization of that which is of value to ourselves and others” (as philosopher of science Nicholas Maxwell argues), we need to cultivate our wisdom or suffer the catastrophes we’ll otherwise create by foolish uses of our untempered powers. Thus we must now attend concertedly to the values by which we define progress, and we must reach planetary consensus regarding what is best not only for humanity but for all of Earth’s biosphere, for Gaia.

We might begin by looking backward to verify how steeply the rates of change have risen in just the last century, and to note in human attitudes and customs how much has altered in “advanced” societies.

During my lifetime in America I have witnessed profound changes in attitudes toward race, religion, gender, and economic and social status—all of which are much in flux. Change happens, but not glacially any more. Global warming is not only a climatological fact but a sociological metaphor, and we witness great shifts in consciousness and behaviors.

Which shifts should we assist? That’s the challenging question we face. What institutions are melting down and which new ones should emerge?

Let’s think first of the values we want new institutions to embody, values that promote the congenial thriving of life on Earth, that promote peaceful and respectful coexistence: ecological diversity that maximizes cooperative accord and minimizes combative aggression.

Let’s address that first.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Let’s say it’s true, and I’ve had many lives
Before this one, as Brian Weiss maintains;
Though many bodies die, my soul survives,
Recycling and remembering bygone pains.

Life after life, I slowly learn to grow
Beyond the errors in my spirit’s course,
And in due time I clearly come to know
The purpose of my lives and my true Source.

Much comfort lies in such assurances
That what seems senseless misery and loss
Is justified by what this message says:
That we transcend our customary cross.

If I’m to give this message full respect,
I still would like to know this truth direct.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008


These measures of my mind—or, rather, minds—
Display how I can play with different kinds
Of verse, though mostly sonnets of all sorts,
For in that mode my Muse gaily cavorts.

One kind of sonnet mainly (rather rare)
I have experimented with: a pair
Of rhyming lines its building block,
The Couplet Sonnet keeps time like a clock

Compelling me to marshal in parade
A motley crew of raw recruits arrayed
Now in more seemly garb, in double file,
Odd thoughts refashioned in a sprightly style,

And by this means I search my various minds
Pacing the path where subtle insight winds.


Sunday, May 11, 2008


For me, a verse form, especially the sonnet form, is an heuristic device I employ to discover what I have to say.

It is a congenial vehicle of discourse, rhythmically inducing a current of words and invoking, from the depths of my subliminal mind, new thoughts.

The sonnet form and I partner in the writing process: it is the fuel; I am the fire.

It is the medium, I am the message.

It provides the court, the hoops, the boundaries, and the rules; I bring the ball and my opponents: conflicting notions and emotions—and then we play the sonnet game.


Saturday, May 10, 2008


To love ourselves no more than we love others
Treating all souls as sisters and as brothers
Is an ideal we nearly always fail
To realize: it is our Holy Grail.

How can we then transcend self-interest,
Devoted to the Highest and the Best,
Without regard for our own primacy,
But universal in our charity?

To act like that our egos must dissolve,
Those suns around which all our thoughts revolve,
Or be exploded like a burst balloon,
For otherwise our world will come to ruin.

The time is nigh to take “the greatest stride
Of soul” our race must make—and banish pride.


Friday, May 9, 2008


“True affluence is not needing anything.”
—Gary Snyder

What right have we to own more than we need
So long as someone else is going without?
This has to be the fundamental creed
Of our humanity, I cannot doubt.

True affluence, as Gary Snyder said,
Is needing nothing—lacking only need:
Shelter, clothing, rest, and daily bread,
Good health, companionship, we’re all agreed,

Are absolute human necessities,
Yet we need more than that to be humane,
For only justice with compassion frees
Our souls from avarice and leaves us sane.

We are a greedy breed who’ve still to learn
To make the needs of others our concern.


Thursday, May 8, 2008


Taking well-being as the final end of education, its ultimate purpose, I need to examine everything I do in my academic profession from this perspective to ensure its contribution to that goal.

In every course I teach next semester—Shakespeare, Great Verse, and Personal Writing—I should be able to articulate to my students how what we study serves their and the world’s better being; how it is not an idle, incidental or trifling pastime but a worthwhile, life-enhancing enterprise, as I believe it ought to be, since that aim defines it as part of their liberal (or liberating) education. Let me look at each course, one by one, as if you were to take them.

Shakespeare. Of all English authors, Shakespeare, by historical acclaim, would seem the most defensible subject of study; yet how does such study serve your well-being? Most basically, to gain the ability to comprehend and appreciate his artistic use of the English language, long acknowledged as exquisite, can develop your own linguistic perceptiveness and facility. Since language is the principal way by which we interpret the world and exercise our intellects (which enhances the quality of our lives), to master the modes of our premiere poet and playwright betters us. But then, Shakespeare’s fathoming of human character and human conditions and his representations in fiction of the human perplex seem to us timeless and essential. He holds a mirror up to nature and shows us, for better and for worse, who we are as human beings in all the challenges we face. The wisdom of his vision can clarify our own—the better for our well-being.

Great Verse. Much the same argument can be made for this collective subject as for its superstar: the Bard of Avon. But to study more explicitly and closely the verse medium of such poetry, to comprehend the great variety of expressive styles encompassed in verse, and even to participate in the process of versecrafting is to extend the range of your appreciation and ability. Poetic verse is an enhanced and elevated mode of linguistic expression incorporating musical elements of rhythm and concord. To grow sensitive to this mode of language and more capable of employing its techniques, even in prose, enlarges and refines who you are, thereby amplifying your well-being.

Personal Writing. Possibly the most immediate and effective contribution to your well-being will derive from your regular and frequent practice of written composition, both informal and formal, both private and public. I hold that language is our main medium of thought, and that spontaneous oral expression is cruder and more inchoate than written composition can be when well learned through study and practice. Reflective writing adds a new dimension to your existence, and personal writing facilitates the development of your personhood as you articulate and capture more aspects of your varied potential intelligences, both rational and emotional.

And so goes my defense of three courses I teach according to how they can improve you in ways essential to your well-being—in the course of your becoming a better human being. Or what’s an education for?


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

out of the blue


There’s no pursuit of happiness, he said.
You’re happy here and now, know it or not,
And all your striving’s simply in your head,
Though your heart knows what your poor brain’s forgot:
That happiness precedes and underlies
Whatever goodness comes into our lives;
That out of confidence our fates arise,
Since happenstance from happiness derives.

While this is paradox to common sense,
The opposite of what the world believes,
It’s only that our consciousness is dense
And does not know that what it first conceives
In its imagination as a fact
Makes up from happiness all that it lacked.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008


To feel affectionate toward all things living,
All creatures great and small, is my ideal;
St. Francis is my model for such giving,
Who proves this rational abstraction real.

He shows me it is possible to feel
Our kinship with all Nature and grow kind,
To sympathize with others and to heal
What’s broken in ourselves, both heart and mind.

Without such fellow-feeling we grow cold,
Cut off from the embrace of sympathy,
Reduced to what is simply bought and sold,
Transactions without passion, without glee.

What’s tender, gentle, soft, confederate
Is best, since what I give is what I get.


Monday, May 5, 2008


If in your body someone else’s mind
Deposed your own, might you be redesigned?
If you’d been boorish, might you grow refined?
If you’d been cruel, might you then be kind?
And might a former laggard turn a grind,
Or might an uptight twit learn to unwind?

Since thoughts and bodies are so intertwined,
Our very molecules are realigned
According as our thinking is inclined:
So if you’d change your body, change your mind.


Sunday, May 4, 2008


Our species' moniker, Homo sapiens, still eludes us, still remains our dream more than our true designation, since we are far from wise. So, for the nonce, I propose a more accurate taxonomy: Homo cogitator, or whatever would be the proper Latin for “Man the Rationalizer” or “Man the Sense Maker,” because, above all, we are driven to make sense of everything, to resolve the infinite mysteries we perceive and to master the unknown.

We are Man the Unceasing Seeker but, even more, Man the Sense Maker because our craving for certainty drives us to formulations and conclusions that sate our hunger even if they fail to nourish us. Sometimes we even find ourselves, like starving children in Haiti, eating mud cakes instead of bread, when there’s no truth to be had, only simulacra.

Thus have we worshiped false idols and proclaimed phony theories throughout our history, ideas now exploded by better evidence and keener reasoning. But we have not left all such foolishness behind, nor have all of us now alive arrived at the same degree of clarity as our foremost seekers have attained. And most if not all of us remain but partially enlightened and unwise.

To make better and better sense of things is our calling as a species, and that vocation is imperative since the power of our knowledge now allows us to destroy ourselves unless we are tempered by wiser reckonings. We must root out our foolish fallacies, our spurious beliefs, and our toxic ideologies leading us toward Armageddon and the holocaust of Earth.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, after more than 100 years of existence, has produced a noble document, The Global Ethic, that remains more wishful than irresistible in its propositions. Thus more must be done to reconcile conflicting convictions, deep-seated belief systems that now imperil our survival.

In this Age of Globalization, we need to globalize our common goals. We need a worldwide Parliament of Good Sense working to establish fundamental principles for all human beings to live by in civilized accord.

Let us make that so.


Saturday, May 3, 2008



Perhaps you can’t choose your worldview; rather, it chooses you. Before you have any say in the matter, you are born and bred into the worldview of those who rear you, derived from the languages they speak, the cultures in which they are enculturated, and the peculiar views they express about the world they know.

So, at best, as you grow in consciousness, you can review the view you’ve inherited and revise the vision by which you envision reality. Only at that level of maturity might you choose anew your view of the world and radically change your mind. What then?

Once you’ve won the liberty of shifting your perspective from one view to another, how do you select the best view, or at least one best for you? How would you interview the vast variety of worldviews to discover which is the most suitable, or even the most true? You’ll want to transcend any arbitrary and limited view as best you can, and to seek the one with the best claim of ultimacy, of universal truth—of catholicity.

The new catholicism, ironically, is not Catholicism (despite its claim of universal authority, long since challenged by other Christian factions as well as by other religious perspectives, such as Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Spiritualism and others). The new and strongest claim to catholicity is that of rationalism and scientism, which have taken over the modern world during only the last 400 years. Scientific rationalism rules the minds, if not the hearts, of today’s movers and shakers: the rich, the powerful, the authoritative, the esteemed, and the emulated.

While irrational religious and spiritual worldviews still appeal to the hearts of many people and may sustain their spirits and give them a sense of higher purpose, the bread-and-butter belief system of materialism offers worldly security and comfort for those who subscribe to its commandments.

But do we not seek higher purposes than knowledge and control over the material world, as necessary and inevitable as that aim is? Do we not quest beyond conquest? As conscious and inquisitive beings of untapped potentials for learning and growing, what might we still aspire to become?

“Wise,” I would say, wiser than we are, ever more comprehensively opening our implicit intelligence to the discoveries we can reveal about the workings of the universe and our place in it. The sapience of Homo sapiens eludes us still.


Friday, May 2, 2008


Our dog, as usual, rousted by a squirrel,
gave chase across the grass from tree to tree,
gained ground when, suddenly, the critter stopped,
reversed its course, then doubled back again
eluding Gyp, and scampered up the palm
with Gyppy panting at the base, tongue out.

And then, somehow, the usually sure-
footed squirrel dropped down from fifteen feet
to thump by Gyppy’s paws, who pounced and snapped
and shook her mouthful back and forth then let
it fall and watched in wonderment her catch,
whose little spirit gasped and soon expired,
as its bright eye went still, still glassy but
now fixed, no more, no more, no more to move.


Thursday, May 1, 2008


If there’s a God, then what’s the God’s-Eye view
Of all that’s happening on Earth today?
And what are we to think of a God who
Creates a world like this then turns away?

For so it seems as time runs its long course,
Which history records and comprehends
In terms of competition, brutal wars,
On which Earth’s evolution all depends.

From God’s view is this but a spectacle
Made to amuse, as dramas do for us,
To keep omniscience from growing dull,
And will our story be forever thus?

Or is it all a tragicomedy
That in despite of woes ends happily?