Love is a temporary madness

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”

Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Begin anew each day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Arches National Park and Edward Abbey

I love Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. Documenting his three seasons as a park ranger in Arches National Park in Southeastern Utah, it is a passionate and oftentimes angry love letter to Nature and the desert. The NYT described it as such: “A passionately felt, deeply poetic book. It has philosophy. It has humor. It has its share of nerve-tingling adventures…set down in a lean, racing prose, in a close-knit style of power and beauty.”

I own a physical copy and flipping through it now, I find lovely passages:

Now the night flows back, the mighty stillness embraces and includes me; I can see stars again and the world of starlight. I am twenty miles or more from the nearest fellow human, but instead of loneliness I feel loveliness. Loveliness and a quiet exultation.

Suddenly it comes, the flaming globe, blazing on the pinnacles and minarets and balanced rocks, on the canyon walls and through the windows in the sandstone fins. We greet each other, sun and I, across the black void of ninety-three million miles. The snow glitters between us, acres of diamonds almost painful to look at.

I read Desert Solitaire, Abbey’s thesis on the desert and freedom, after my visit to Arches National Park. How I wish I could have had his book on hand while travelling amongst the cliffrose and juniper, the burnished rocks and soft sands. Here are a couple of photos from that trip (I will upload more in future). I believe the bottom is Landscape Arch.

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On Noctilucent, or Night-Shining Clouds

Living in Singapore, a highly urbanized island-state situated almost right smack on the Equator means that I don’t get to witness much astronomical or meteorological phenomena. It’s lucky for us to spot more than a dozen stars on a clear night, factoring in the light pollution and some of those might just be satellites masquerading as stars.

In the high latitudes however, there is a strange phenomena known as noctilucent clouds. These are “glowing silver-blue clouds that sometimes light up summer night skies at high latitudes, after sunset and before sunrise. […] They form in the highest reaches of the atmosphere – the mesosphere – as much as 50 miles (80 km) above the Earth’s surface. They’re seen during summer in polar regions. They’re typically seen between about 45° and 60° latitude, from May through August in the Northern Hemisphere or November through February in the Southern Hemisphere.” NASA’s AIM satellite, which is in a polar orbit, monitors such mysterious clouds. More info here. The photos below  are by NASA unless credited otherwise.

Photo By: Martin Koitmäe

Watch this video below for a view from outer space.

On Rabindranath Tagore

Just a brief post on the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, who received the Nobel Prize for literature a century ago. I shall let his words speak for themselves. Interspersed with vibrant pictures of Holi powder by Marcus Palmqvist.

Unending Love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

From The Gardener: 

My heart, the bird of the wilderness,
has found its sky in your eyes.
They are the cradle of the morning,
they are the kingdom of the stars.
My songs are lost in their depths.
Let me but soar in that sky,
in its lonely immensity.
Let me but cleave its clouds
and spread wings in its sunshine.

And my personal favourite from The Gardener:

My soul is alight with your infinitude of stars. Your world has broken upon me like a flood. The flowers of your garden blossom in my body. The joy of life that is everywhere burns like an incense in my heart. And the breath of all things plays on my life as on a pipe of reeds.

On Left v Right

I am an unabashed politics nerd. Since I’m settled in the politically-neutral, one-party-dominant state of Singapore, grazing with the herd, US politics are always exciting to me. Sure, infuriating things like political deadlock, lobbying and debates about abortion come with America, but I like the principle of airing things out in the open, where there’s real public criticism which is the true essence a deliberative democracy (rather than apathetic, passive assent). This is also the reason behind my obsession with The Newsroom

I’m gearing up to read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. The complex web of US politics, talk about the Tea Party, Republicans, GOP, the Donkey and the Elephant, neo-liberalism, Obamacare can be daunting to outsiders especially Singaporeans who have only experienced a very simple political system. This wonderful data chart by Information Is Beautiful will help. Though I don’t think they got the Right correct; pretty sure the Right wants interference in social lives (to enforce conservative and ridiculously outdated social norms see aggressive abortion debates etc.) just not intervention that benefits people on issues like healthcare or immigration. What the Right doesn’t want is interference with the economy and the market, to let free market principles and capitalism drive the state (to ruin apparently, as seen from the Lehman Brothers minibonds debacle). I am actually very interested to see how a Republican government would handle the problems the Obama administration has faced thus far, given that it was a Republican president that declared America’s War on Terror and put troops down in the Middle East. This seems more and more likely since the Republicans now rule Senate and the House of Reps (which will not facilitate government action in the coming year, naturally).

Incidentally, the left-right political spectrum originates from the French royal courts. According to Wikipedia: In France, where the terms originated, the Left has been called “the party of movement” and the Right “the party of order.” Couldn’t have put it better myself…

Quoting Wikipedia (which is a VERY reliable source for undergrads):

The terms “left” and “right” appeared during the French Revolution of 1789 when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left. One deputy, the Baron de Gauville explained, “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp.” However the Right opposed the seating arrangement because they believed that deputies should support private or general interests but should not form factions or political parties. The contemporary press occasionally used the terms “left” and “right” to refer to the opposing sides.[10]

When the National Assembly was replaced in 1791 by a Legislative Assembly comprising entirely new members, the divisions continued. “Innovators” sat on the left, “moderates” gathered in the centre, while the “conscientious defenders of the constitution” found themselves sitting on the right, where the defenders of the Ancien Régime had previously gathered. When the succeeding National Convention met in 1792, the seating arrangement continued, but following the coup d’état of June 2, 1793, and the arrest of the Girondins, the right side of the assembly was deserted, and any remaining members who had sat there moved to the centre.

On Stanley Kubrick and the meaning of life

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

I recently watched Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I finished my last day of lessons for the semester, met up with my brother and we caught the IMAX showing of Interstellar, which was mindblowing. But that is for another day. Afterwards we bought trays of sushi and discussed gravitational time dilation, the cheesiness of love as a “quantifiable” force. That night, through googling Interstellar I learnt that Nolan had been heavily inspired by 2001. I’d heard of Kubrick’s work: the massively violent A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut etc. but I’d never been moved to watch any.

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Watching 2001 was a strange, awe-inspiring experience. Rather than what Hollywood expected, Kubrick gave us a massively artistic work that would not be out of place in some avant-garde museum or arthouse cinema. From the first act of the dawn of mankind, the iconic transition from the bone to the spaceship, the haunting end, it is a painstakingly crafted film. Though filmed in 1968, its influence on modern space films is evident: Star Wars, Sunshine, Interstellar, Aliens. Kubrick was incredibly visionary. Artificial intelligence, robots going bad, distrust of technology and TPTB, aliens (and NOT little green men or crude monsters, but sleek, menacing black slabs). The maddening, dizzying techno wormhole at the end, with mysterious shapes resembles an LSD trip. How insane it must have seemed in the confines of a neighbourhood cinema in 1968. Some might call it a boring, tedious film, but its purpose is not entertainment; it is to provoke thought, it is Kubrick’s thesis on our place in the universe and our future. This is him throwing down the gauntlet.

I might do a full review on 2001 someday, but my mind is still unsettled. I went to sleep afraid of waking up to a black monolith standing over my bed.

Stanley Kubrick was an insightful man. His interviews are a joy to read. While I am writing this, I am listening to a 1966 audio interview of him, which can be heard here. My favourite interview has to be the 1968 Playboy Interview, courtesy of Brainpickings which featured some extracts in an article. They are reproduced below and are infinitely inspiring, much like Carl Sagan’s words.

Playboy: Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of films — and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even in a commercial jet liner. Why?

Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should be bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.

The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

This segment cuts to the ultimate question of why we should value life. And his last line (my favourite quote of his) inspires such hope (or the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words).

Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?

Kubrick: The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

On e. e. cummings: And death I think is no parenthesis

I never really “got” e.e.cummings in the past. Being used to reading the smooth lines of Neruda, Shakespeare, Lorca, Blake, I was utterly unprepared for Cumming’s jagged manner of writing. It’s different now, and I’m glad for it. e. e. cummings is truly a wordsmith, breaking free of the rigid rules of grammar and syntax. To think that such avant garde poetry came from a man born in 1894, at the turn of the century. His love poems, of course, are the most famous of his near three thousand poems. And I confess a deep desire to hear them read at my own wedding. But remember how you get so unsatisfied with movies adapted from books? How the actors never quite get the words, the essence of the prose? I am convinced that no one can ever get the spirit, the cadence and the emotions of e. e. cummings poetry across. They just never get it right as what I imagine in my mind. His words are best left to the mind; what you imagine will be vastly better than what could ever be spoken aloud.

My favourite (it’s pretty unoriginal of me, but so there) poem of his:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

 

Quite apart from the tender words, the depth of feeling to this poem, is the magnificent cadence of it. It trips and falls, and swirls upwards swiftly in the penultimate stanza, the adoration swells in a rush of words. Excuse me while I dissolve into a puddle of emotions.

 

Then there is this; words which dazzle…

 

dive for dreams

dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at the wedding)
never mind a world
with its villains or heroes
(for good likes girls
and tomorrow and the earth)
in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neating each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.

silently if, out of not knowable

silently if, out of not knowable
night’s utmost nothing,wanders a little guess
(only which is this world)more my life does
not leap than with the mystery your smile
sings or if(spiralling as luminous
they climb oblivion)voices who are dreams,
less into heaven certainly earth swims
than each my deeper death becomes your kiss
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow’s own joys and hoping’s very fears
yours is the light by which my spirit’s born:
yours is the darkness of my soul’s return
-you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars

I can’t really comment more on them; the words speak for themselves.
 

it is at moments after i have dreamed

it is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when (being fool to fancy) i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
at moments when the glassy darkness holds
the genuine apparition of your smile
(it was through tears always)and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while;
moments when my once more illustrious arms
are filled with fascination, when my breast
wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
-turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep.

Who knew words and punctuation could be moulded in such a way.

i have found what you are like

i have found what you are like
the rain,
(Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields
easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of flower strike
the air in utterable coolness
deeds of green thrilling light
with thinned
newfragile yellows
lurch and.press
-in the woods
which
stutter
and
sing
And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
quietly)almost,
your kiss

all which isn’t singing is mere talking

all which isn’t singing is mere talking
and all talking’s talking to oneself
(whether that oneself be sought or seeking
master or disciple sheep or wolf)
gush to it as diety or devil
-toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles
name it cruel fair or blessed evil-
it is you (ne i)nobody else
drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing
-you are deafened every mother’s son-
all is merely talk which isn’t singing
and all talking’s to oneself alone
but the very song of(as mountains
feel and lovers)singing is silence

The quiet ache of this gem:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
-the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.

Though I have said that no one will ever read his poetry in the way we can imagine it, Tom Hiddleston does this poem (about an affair) justice:

And his other poems, well they leave me breathless sometimes as well.

I Will Wade Out

i will wade out
till my thighs are steeped in burning flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
Alive
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
in the sleeping curves of my body
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
Will i complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
After a thousand years
lipping
flowers
And set my teeth in the silver of the moon

You can find more of his poems here. You might also want to listen to this soundtrack while reading them. I will end off with this:

If I Believe

if i believe
in death be sure
of this
it is

because you have loved me,
moon and sunset
stars and flowers
gold crescendo and silver muting

of seatides
i trusted not,
one night
when in my fingers

drooped your shining body
when my heart
sang between your perfect
breasts

darkness and beauty of stars
was on my mouth petals danced
against my eyes
and down

the singing reaches of
my soul
spoke
the green-

greeting pale-
departing irrevocable
sea
i knew thee death.

and when
i have offered up each fragrant
night,when all my days
shall have before a certain

face become
white
perfume
only,
from the ashes
then
thou wilt rise and thou
wilt come to her and brush

the mischief from her eyes and fold
her
mouth the new
flower with

thy unimaginable
wings,where dwells the breath
of all persisting stars