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The Wandering and Watercolours of Hermann Hesse

“This wind, into which I am climbing, is fragrant of beyonds and distances, of watersheds and foreign languages, of mountains and southern places. It is full of promise.” Hermann Hesse, Wandering

I was very lucky yesterday, while mooching through piles of 2nd hand books at a Spanish fleamarket,  to spy and purchase a copy of  “El Caminante” – the Spanish version of Hermann Hesse’s book “Wanderung”, known in English as “Wandering; prose, poems and sketches.”

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The prose and poems of this volume are counted among the most beautiful works of Hermann Hesse. They were written after a long period of literary abstinence.  During the First World War, Hesse had registered himself as a volunteer with the Imperial army, saying that he could not sit inactively by a warm fireplace while other young authors were dying on the front. He had been found unfit for combat duty, due to an eye condition, and was assigned to service involving the care of prisoners of war.

His Prose and Poems – and watercolours – document one of the most important phases of his evolution: distancing himself from the rituals and security of bourgeois life and the passage from active life to the contemplative life.

On May 2, 1919, Hesse wrote to Romain Rolland: “I have had to bear a very heavy burden in my personal life in recent years. Now I am about to go to Ticino once again, to live for a while as a hermit in nature and in my work.” In 1920, after settling in the Ticino mountain village of Montagnola, he published Wandering/ The Wanderer, a love letter to this magic-garden world that can be read as a meditation on his attempt to begin a new life. His pure prose, his heartfelt lyricism, and his love for the old earth, for its blessings that renew themselves, all sing in this serene book.

wikipedia tells us “By the time Hesse returned to civilian life in 1919, his marriage had shattered. His wife had a severe episode of psychosis, but, even after her recovery, Hesse saw no possible future with her. Their home in Bern was divided, their children were accommodated in pensions and by relatives, and Hesse resettled alone in the middle of April in Ticino. He occupied a small farm house near Minusio (close to Locarno), living from 25 April to 11 May in Sorengo. On 11 May, he moved to the town Montagnola and rented four small rooms in a castle-like building, the Casa Camuzzi. Here, he explored his writing projects further; he began to paint, an activity reflected in his next major story, “Klingsor’s Last Summer”, published in 1920. This new beginning in different surroundings brought him happiness, and Hesse later called his first year in Ticino the fullest, most prolific, most industrious and most passionate time of my life”

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The first German edition of Wandering included facsimiles of fourteen watercolour landscapes. Hesse’s painting had blossomed in the southern countryside and he even toyed with the idea “that I might still succeed in escaping literature entirely and making a living at the more appealing trade of painter.”

Bridge
Bridge – Hermann Hesse

In his time, Hesse was a popular and influential author in the German-speaking world; worldwide fame only came later. Hesse’s first great novel, Peter Camenzind, was received enthusiastically by young Germans desiring a different and more “natural” way of life at the time of great economic and technological progress in the country (see also Wandervogel movement; Wandervogel was the name adopted by a popular movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.) The revival in popularity of Hesse’s works in the 1960s has been credited to their association with some of the popular themes of the ’60s counterculture movement.

I like to think his “Wanderings” fits very neatly into current counterculture, and the ever present need to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.

Here are some well-known – and less-well-known – quotes taken from “Wanderings”, and also, I’ve inserted a few of his watercolours among the quotes. The Spanish copy I found yesterday also includes the colour facsimiles of his paintings.

Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse
Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse

I’ve tried to find them online as my photos of them aren’t great, but the ones I wanted to post here aren’t easy to find online, so I’ll post mine and then replace them if I find good versions.

Wandering Quotes:

“What is the world doing? Have new gods been discovered, new laws, new freedoms? Who cares! But up here a primrose is blossoming and bearing silver fuzz on its leaves, and the light sweet wind is singing below me in the poplars, and between my eyes and heaven a dark golden bee is hovering and humming—I care about that. It is humming the song of happiness, humming the song of eternity. Its song is my history of the world.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, the longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“I feel life trembling within me, in my tongue, on the soles of my feet, in my desire or my suffering, I want my soul to be a wandering thing, able to move back into a hundred forms, I want to dream myself into priests and wanderers, female cooks and murderers, children and animals, and, more than anything else, birds and trees; that is necessary, I want it, I need it so I can go on living, and if sometime I were to lose these possibilities and be caught in so-called reality, then I would rather die.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

Arboles
Arboles – Trees by Hermann Hesse
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

 

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Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

Rain
Rain – by Hermann Hesse

Soft rain, summer rain
Whispers from bushes, whispers from trees.
Oh, how lovely and full of blessing
To dream and be satisfied.

I was so long in the outer brightness,
I am not used to this upheaval:
Being at home in my own soul,
Never to be led elsewhere.

I want nothing, I long for nothing,
I hum gently the sounds of childhood,
And I reach home astounded
In the warm beauty of dreams.

Heart, how torn you are,
How blessed to plow down blindly,
To think nothing, to know nothing,
Only to breathe, only to feel.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“It would be wholly impossible for me to say whether this cloudy, silently disturbed, unraveled sky is mirrored in my soul or the reverse, whether or not I read the image of my own inner life in this sky. Sometimes everything is so completely uncertain! There are days when I am convinced that no man on earth can recognize certain moods of air and cloud, certain tones of color, certain fragrances and movements of moisture as finely, as exactly, and as truly as I can, with my old, nervous sense of poet and wanderer. And then again, as today, it can be doubtful to me whether I have seen, heard, and smelled anything after all, whether everything that I took to be true is not merely an image cast outward, the image of my inner life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

 

 

 

 

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The Three Princes of Serendip – origin of the word Serendipity

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“The story has become known in the English speaking world as the source of the word serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole because of his recollection of the part of the “silly fairy tale” where the three princes by “accidents and sagacity” discern the nature of a lost camel.

“This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity? ”  http://livingheritage.org/three_princes.htm

In a separate line of descent, the story was used by Voltaire in his 1747 Zadig, and through this contributed to both the evolution of detective fiction and also to the self-understanding of scientific method.”

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Edgar Allan Poe in his turn was probably inspired by Zadig when he created C. Auguste Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, calling it a “tale of ratiocination” wherein “the extent of information obtained lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation.” Poe’s M. Dupin stories mark the start of the modern detective fiction genre. Émile Gaboriau, and Arthur Conan Doyle were perhaps also influenced by Zadig.

The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the story Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Cristoforo Armeno, who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian, adapting Book One of Amir Khusrau‘s Hasht-Bihisht of 1302. The story first came to English via a French translation, and now exists in several out-of-print translations.  Serendip is the Perso-Arabic name for Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

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“as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” 

 

“In ancient times there existed in the country of Serendippo, in the Far East, a great and powerful king by the name of Giaffer. He had three sons who were very dear to him. And being a good father and very concerned about their education, he decided that he had to leave them endowed not only with great power, but also with all kinds of virtues of which princes are particularly in need.”

The father searches out the best possible tutors. “And to them he entrusted the training of his sons, with the understanding that the best they could do for him was to teach them in such a way that they could be immediately recognized as his very own.”

When the tutors are pleased with the excellent progress that the three princes make in the arts and sciences, they report it to the king. He, however, still doubts their training, and summoning each in turn, declares that he will retire to the contemplative life leaving them as king. Each politely declines, affirming the father’s superior wisdom and fitness to rule.

The king is pleased, but fearing that his sons’ education may have been too sheltered and privileged, feigns anger at them for refusing the throne and sends them away from the land.

No sooner do the three princes arrive abroad than they trace clues to identify precisely a camel they have never seen. They conclude that the camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. When they later encounter the merchant who has lost the camel, they report their observations to him. He accuses them of stealing the camel and takes them to the Emperor Beramo, where he demands punishment.

Beramo asks how they are able to give such an accurate description of the camel if they have never seen it. It is clear from the princes’ replies that they have used small clues to infer cleverly the nature of the camel.

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Grass had been eaten from the side of the road where it was less green, so the princes had inferred that the camel was blind on the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road that were the size of a camel’s tooth, they inferred they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was evident because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.

As for the woman, one of the princes said: “I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman, because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was nearby, I wet my fingers and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence, which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot.”

“I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant,” said another prince, “because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating.”

At this moment, a traveller enters the scene to say that he has just found a missing camel wandering in the desert. Beramo spares the lives of the three princes, lavishes rich rewards on them, and appoints them to be his advisors.” (wiki – The Three Princes of Serendip)

“The origin of the idea to which serendipity gives its name can be traced through a literary historiography and like many such terms has a wonderfully layered texture, a sort of stratigraphy of narrative, interpretation and contingency, almost as though the concept was an example of the very thing it named. The term was coined by Horace Walpole, an art historian, writer and political figure of the eighteenth century, based on a Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, (Serendip being the Persian name for Ceylon/Sri Lanka). The tale concerns three exiled princes who survived and prospered by their wits. Actually it has little to do with serendipity as we understand it today; it details something more like the application of deductive logic to evidence, a proto- semiotics. In the most famous story, the princes, by reading telltale signs, are able to describe a stolen camel that they have never seen – understandably leading to suspicion falling on them – before explaining their method and saving their own necks.”
dawnoftheunread blog

serendip3

 

Letter from Anton Chekhov To His Brother Nikolay – conditions cultured people must satisfy

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Letter from Anton Chekhov To His Brother Nikolay

Translated by Constance Garnett:

MOSCOW, 1886.

… You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”! Goethe and Newton did not complain of that…. Only Christ complained of it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself…. People understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is not their fault.

I assure you as a brother and as a friend I understand you and feel for you with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you, I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts; you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil…. You have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things are forgiven.

You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it. That is your utter lack of culture. Forgive me, please, but veritas magis amicitiae…. You see, life has its conditions. In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but … you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers vis-a-vis.

Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:

They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.”

They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.
They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see…. They sit up at night in order to help P…., to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.
They respect the property of others, and therefore pay their debts.
They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker.

They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades.

They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.
They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false….
They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns….

If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted….

The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement…. Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.
If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity…. They are proud of their talent…. Besides, they are fastidious.
They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct…. What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow …

They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood….

They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion…. For they want mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body].
And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” …

What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will…. Every hour is precious for it…. Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read…. Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read.

You must drop your vanity, you are not a child … you will soon be thirty.
It is time!
I expect you…. We all expect you.

Anton Chekhov

From Project Gutenberg

Title: Letters of Anton Chekhov

Author: Anton Chekhov

Translator: Constance Garnett


Release Date: September, 2004 [EBook #6408]
This file was first posted on December 8, 2002
Last Updated: April 8, 2013

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6408/6408-h/6408-h.htm#link2H_4_0016

 

Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself – Brain Pickings

How can man know himself?

It is a dark, mysterious business: if a hare has seven skins, a man may skin himself seventy times seven times without being able to say, “Now that is truly you; that is no longer your outside.” It is also an agonizing, hazardous undertaking thus to dig into oneself, to climb down toughly and directly into the tunnels of one’s being. How easy it is thereby to give oneself such injuries as no doctor can heal.

Moreover, why should it even be necessary given that everything bears witness to our being — our friendships and animosities, our glances and handshakes, our memories and all that we forget, our books as well as our pens.

For the most important inquiry, however, there is a method.

Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question: “What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?”

Assemble these revered objects in a row before you and perhaps they will reveal a law by their nature and their order: the fundamental law of your very self. Compare these objects, see how they complement, enlarge, outdo, transfigure one another; how they form a ladder on whose steps you have been climbing up to yourself so far; for your true self does not lie buried deep within you, but rather rises immeasurably high above you, or at least above what you commonly take to be your “I”.

Source: Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself and the True Value of Education – Brain Pickings

Hermetic Rebirth and the Cave of Initiation

 

Hermetism is often and wrongly confused with Gnosticism, which similarly originated in Egypt in roughly the same era. For present purposes, a few salient points of contrast will suffice. Like the God of Stoicism, the Hermetic God was omnipresent and omniscient through the material cosmos. In Gnosticism, by contrast, God was transcendent, and the physical universe was an evil place created by an evil Demiurge (van den Broek 1998). Hermetic ethics celebrated the divine within the world; Gnostic ethics were abstemious, ascetic efforts to escape from the world (Mahé 1998).

There were also differences in their valuations of visions. Jonas (1969) drew attention to the fact that the motif of heavenly ascension was originally intended, for example in Jewish apocalyptic literature, as an objective reality, but was subsequently transformed into an allegory of the mystical path. The mystical appropriation of the ascension motif was complete by the second century era of the Alexandrine Christian fathers, St. Clement and Origen (Danielou 1973).

The allegorical tradition was also present in the Gnostic literature of Nag Hammadi, although in a slightly different manner. Referring to experiences of visions in general, The Exegesis on the Soul 34 stated: “Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself….This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of ascent to the father” (Robinson 1988:196). For the Gnostics, as for the Alexandrine fathers, ascension was one among several literary tropes that could signify mystical experiences of highly varied manifest contents.

So far as I know, the Hermetic system was the earliest in the West to propose a mystical initiation, consisting of multiple experiences, that is simultaneously a journey through places and a series of changes in the ontology of the self. Its ascension to the sky compares with Jewish and Christian apocalypticism; but its division of ontological states compares with Neoplatonic distinctions among sensibles, intermediates or divisible intelligibles, and indivisible intelligibles.

This sequence, which can already be discerned in Iamblichus, was eventually formalized by Proclus as three mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union. However, the Hermetists slotted imaginals into the middle position that Neoplatonism limited to empirically demonstrable arithmeticals and geometricals.

This substitution brought Hermetism to a position on visions that differed from the reductive skepticism of Neoplatonism, which treated visions as ideas that were misrepresented by the senses in the form of images.

The Hermetic position also differed from the pure projections that Gnostics held visions to be. For Hermetists, the imaginal was not a projection whose ever various and impredictable content becomes increasingly pure as one’s mind purifies in its progress toward God. The imaginal was instead topographical, an actual and predictable itinerary in a visionary topos that had ontological integrity and coherence.

Although The Discourse was not transmitted to the West in the Corpus Hermeticum, the Hermetic concept of ontologically distinctive locations along an itinerary has been integral to Western esotericism for centuries. Because the Hermetic tradition survived without apparent interruption from late antiquity to be taught at least as late as eleventh century Baghdad, it is not surprising that a series of initiatory experiences were portrayed as an itinerary across nine mountains in Suhrawardi’s Treatise of the Birds (1982).

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

To Suhrawardi, Sufism also owed the introduction of the ‘alam al-mithal, the “world of imagination” (Rahman 1964). The notion of an initiatory itinerary in the world of imagination was formalized, or at least made less esoteric, in the Sufism of Najm ad-Din al-Kubra (Merkur 1991:223, 234-35); and its passage from Islam to western Europe may be assumed.

Interestingly, Widengren (1950:77-85) demonstrated that the ancient motif of ascension to an audience before a heavenly god was replaced, in the Arabic Hermetic literature, by the motif of entering a subterranean chamber where Hermes sits enthroned, holding a book in his hand. Widengren suggested that the descent of Balinas (the Arabic Apollonius of Tyana) to acquire the Emerald Table of Hermes, along with variant narratives, blended the motif of an initiatory ascension with the motif, found in Egyptian and Hellenistic tales, of the discovery of a book in a subterranean chamber.

An illustration from an old collection of stories translated from Ancient Eyptian Literature. This scene depicts the character “Setna”, emerging from a tomb where he gambled to win a magical papyrus, known as the Book Of Thoth, the reading of which would empower him with all knowledge. Setna was based on a real person, Prince Khaemwaset, the fourth son of Ramesses II, who was a Holy Man of the highest order (Sem Priest) and credited as being a great magician. (It was this character from Ancient History that I give all credit to for embarking on my own Hermetic Journey – Jaq) Setna/Prince Khaemwaset

The motif of the cave of initiation, which found its widest audience through the tale of Aladdin in the 1001 Nights, may also have been influenced by Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs (Taylor 1969), in which a passage in Homer was allegorized as an image of the cosmos. Whatever its sources, the motif of an alchemical initiation by means of a subterranean itinerary is earliest attested in the writings of medieval Arabic Hermetists.

By this route, the motif of ascension in late antique Hermetism was likely historically antecedent not only to such celebrated European alchemical motifs as the Cave of the Philosophers, but also to the climactic encounters in Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1796) and Ferdinand Ossendowski’s Beasts, Men and Gods (1922).

Engraving from Baro Urbigerus Besondere chymische Schrifften, 1705.

Source: Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth

The Discourse on the 8th and 9th

The Corpus Hermeticum

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

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Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass | The Public Domain Review

 

With their intricate line and often ghoulish tone, the works of Irish artist Harry Clarke are amongst the most striking in the history of illustration and stained glass design. Kelly Sullivan explores how, unknown to many at the time, Clarke took to including his own face in many of his pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the full article, and see many additional self-portraits he included in his work at the source: Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass | The Public Domain Review

We are bees of the invisible… Rilke from a letter to Halewicz

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“We are bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the invisible, to store it in the great golden hives of the invisible.”

Rilke often refers to the invisible, especially in his Duino Elegies, which he wrote during a particularly mystical period of his life. In a letter to his Polish translator Witold Hulewicz in November 1925, he wrote: ‘We of the present are never satisfied by the world of time…transience everywhere plunges into the depths of being…it is our task to print this temporal, perishable earth so painfully, passionately and deeply into ourselves, that its essence is resurrected again, invisibly, within us…the Elegies show this, the work of endlessly converting the visible, tangible world we love into the invisible vibrations and tremors of our own nature…’

He was quite passionate about the “Temple within” and the interior life, whereas he saw the outside world as transitory and fragile.

In another letter, written in 1925, commenting on his Elegies, he wrote: “‘…the Angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we perform, appears already complete.’ [..] ‘that being who attests to the recognition of a higher level of reality in the invisible – Terrifying, therefore, to us because we, its lovers and transformers, still cling to the visible’.

Here are some good links on Rilke’s work and his letters

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/TheFountainOfJoy.htm

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft8779p1x3&chunk.id=d0e1921&toc.id=d0e1494&brand=ucpress

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/rainer-maria-rilke

I became a little (more) obsessed with Rilke after reading a chapter focusing on his work in this book:
http://www.jameshollis.net/books/archetypal.htm

(edited to include more details from comments)

originally posted 2012

Jaq

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

Ralph Waldo Emerson | The Book of Life

“This leaves open a vital question: what is your nature once you have rid yourself of history, tradition and religion? What can be said is that it is not self-indulgence, it is not hedonism, it is not narcissism – rather it is the surrender to that force which Emerson recognised back in the Jardin des Plantes: it is obedience to nature itself.

By nature Emerson seemed to mean the natural world – plants, animals, rocks and sky – but what he really meant was God. For Emerson was a Pantheist, someone who believed that God exists in every part of creation, from the smallest grain of sand to a star – but also, crucially, that the divine spark is in each of us. In following ourselves we are not being merely fickle and selfish, but rather releasing a Divine Will that history, society and organised religion have hidden from us.

The individual, as he writes, ‘is a god in ruins’ (CW1 42); but we have it within us, by casting off all custom, to rebuild ourselves. He makes this Pantheist connection explicit in his most famous lines: Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. […] Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

Source: Ralph Waldo Emerson | The Book of Life

The Redemption of Saint Anthony | Gustave Flaubert and Odilon Redon

Gustave Flaubert, best known for his masterpiece Madame Bovary, spent nearly thirty years working on a surreal and largely ‘unreadable’ retelling of the temptation of Saint Anthony. It was only in the dark and compelling illustrations of Odilon Redon, made years later, that Flaubert’s strangest work finally came to life.

Colin Dickey explains in the Public Domain Review:

In the fall of 1849, Gustave Flaubert invited his two closest friends—Louis Bouilhet and Maxime du Camp—to hear a reading of what he believed was to be his masterpiece: a retelling of the temptation of St. Anthony. The 30 year-old writer had been working on it for four years, and he was excited to finally share it with the two men whose opinion he trusted more than anyone else. Bouilhet and du Camp were likewise excited; they both knew of his extraordinary potential, and were anxious to hear this masterwork that had so fully consumed him. He read the entire five hundred and forty-one pages straight through: eight hours a day in uninterrupted four-hour blocks of time, for four solid days. Bouilhet and du Camp would later remember it as the most painful days in their lives, as they listened to an endless morass of words that was alternately incomprehensible, banal, repetitive and childish. After it was over, they did their best to put a good face on it, and to let him down easy; Bouilhet, with as much tact as he could muster, told Flaubert simply, “We think you should throw it into the fire and never speak of it again.”

“Instead of continuing to work on the Temptation, they challenged him instead to write something completely devoid of romanticism and symbolism—something instead minutely detailed, objectively reported, as in the vein of Balzac. And so Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary, the book that changed not only his life but changed forever contemporary literature—and which, one could say, was the result of something crossed between a dare and a punishment.

And still, Flaubert never gave up on the Temptation. He rewrote it three times over the course of his life, spending close to three decades trying to get it right, finally publishing it in 1874. Even as he was writing Sentimental Education, Salammbô, and Bouvard and Pécuchet, he never forgot it, and yet it cannot begin to compare to those other works. The Temptation was the ghost lingering behind all of Flaubert’s better works; in the words of Michel Foucault, “The Temptation seems to represent Flaubert’s unattainable dream: what he wanted his works to be — supple, silky, delicate, spontaneous, harmoniously revealed through rapturous phrases — but also what they must never be if they were to see the light of day.” It became the thing he returned to time and time again, always the antithesis of his great writing, and it stood in stark opposition to the works by which he is now mostly known.”

[Odilon] Redon (1840-1916) had been working in lithography since around 1870, developing a singular style that anticipated both the decadent symbolism of the late nineteenth century and the modernism of the early twentieth. Redon’s milieu borrowed largely from the gothic folktales of his childhood, to which he borrowed a pictorial vocabulary from an unlikely place: the grotesque cartoons of political satire, with its half-politician half-animal hybrids, its exaggerated facial features and deformities, and the tone of decadent depravity.

Redon had been working for over a decade when the third and final version of Flaubert’s Temptation was finally published; “It is a literary marvel and a mine for me,” he wrote of the book, in which he saw an endless litany of bizarre figures and distorted creatures that he could adapt as inspiration. Their work formed a natural kinship; as Stephen F. Eisenman comments, “Like Flaubert, Redon saw himself as unique, an accident, a monster, and all the more remarkable an artist for these very reasons.”
Redon began producing a series of plates based on the Temptation, work which finally unlocked the strangeness and decadent symbolism that Flaubert had dreamt of but which he could never quite evoke on the page.

Read more and see the images at the link below

via The Redemption of Saint Anthony | The Public Domain Review.