The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Saturday, 21 May 2011
Keats & the 'Vale of Soul-making'
'Intelligences are atoms of perception...'
'I am ...straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness...'
'Circumstances are like clouds continually gathering and bursting.'
And 'The noble animal man for his amusement smokes his pipe, the hawk balances about the clouds – that is the only difference of their leisures...'
I also met phrases I had forgotten came from Keats: 'Tender is the night'; and 'To cease upon the midnight with no pain.'
And of course I like this: '... a poet is a sage / A humanist, physician to all men.'
You might remember that Keats described this world as the 'vale of soul-making' – a significant phrase in the context of the transpersonal pyschology training school which I attended.
And I also think his notion of 'negative capability' is a profoundly perceptive comment from someone who was in his twenties (almost all his great work was written when he was in his twenties): this is basically akin to Buddhist notions of being able to sit with uncertainty and paradox, even suffering, without needing to rush to 'solve' the problem or question out of discomfort (as I understand his meaning). It's also perhaps relevant in the creative life: being able to wait when an idea is incubating; the wisdom of timing.
And look at this on soul-making: 'This is effected by three great materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years. These three materials are the intelligence, the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or mind) and the world or elemental space suited for the proper action of mind and heart on each other for the purpose of forming the soul or intelligence destined to possess the sense of identity.
He goes on to describe this process in the analogy of the world as a school, the human heart the book read in that school, and the child able to read as the soul made from world and the book.
This, by the way, is not a paper or thesis in the conventional sense, but comes from a letter to his brother and sister-in-law – three months in the making! I couldn't help comparing this to the soundbite texts of which I too am guilty as a common means of communication... Mind you, his elder brother might well have been pissed-off to receive such lofty prescriptions; sufficiently annoyed, indeed, maybe, as to make off with the family fortune while John Keats was communing with the higher realms...
Peter, who gave an equally inspiring workshop on Coleridge and Wordsworth last autumn, will be back this autumn to Devon to offer one on that great visionary William Blake. If you're in or near London, Peter also teaches at CityLit.
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- books of wings
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