31 March 2016

Leftover leaven

Pardon the floating-head effect, which I assume was due to the lack of light in this self-shot; my regretful decision to take the photo was made on the spur of the moment—at least that’s how my campaign excuses the flaw.

Dear diary,

How does one know that a poem is “good”? When a teacher says so? Here’s how it seems to me: The most distinguished minds too often distrust their own judgment, and the least distinguished minds trust their own judgment too much.

And politicians blame a lot of problems on recreational drugs that more accurately should be blamed on poverty. Unfriendly impulses that one would curtail but for the influence of this or that substance would never even exist if it weren’t for poverty.

As for the notion of us earthlings being vanquished by invaders from space: it sounds humorous only because it hasn’t yet happened. But once it occurs, it is simply a fact—and then who finds it amusing?

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4)

Now the space invaders arrive, and an amount of time passes during which we earthlings suffer. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Henceforward, the notion of escaping such an event sounds to us as absurd as the prediction of its occurrence did on the day when I first imagined it.

How to ingratiate yourself to the titanic airborne stingrays. Someone should write a blog post about that.

Isn’t it the gist of a physical resurrection that you rise from the grave occupying the same flesh you died in? So how can you resurrect and yet your own companions do not recognize you? (I’m thinking of the last chapter of Saint Luke’s gospel.) And I hate it when your fleshly body, which is supposed to have survived physical death, disappears the instant you’re recognized.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. (Luke 24:31)

Also I’m fascinated with a passage from Saint John’s gospel—Jesus bestows upon his successors the ability to remit or to retain the sins of others (for, being raised Protestant, I was taught that God alone possessed this talent). It reminds me of the ancient video game Mega Man: upon defeating each world’s Robot Master Boss, one’s hero acquires the signature power of that enemy.

Then said Jesus to them again, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

Prior to this, a disciple would have to manage with just a standard blaster. And you start the game with limited ammunition.

As much as I’d love to end on the above note, I wouldn’t feel right leaving this subject without citing a letter known as the “Treatise on Resurrection,” which was written by an unknown author sometime prior to 350 A.D.—here’s a passage [49:16f] translated by Bentley Layton (the words in parentheses, Layton explains, are implied by the text but not literally present within it; they are included as an interpretive supplement):

…if the dying part (flesh) “knows itself,” and knows that since it is moribund it is rushing toward this outcome (death) even if it has lived many years in the present life, why do you (the intellect) not examine your own self and see that you have arisen? And you are rushing toward this outcome (that is, separation from the body) since you possess resurrection.

What I make of this is that, before dying, the best part of oneself is already risen. The same is asserted in two sentences from a letter (12 April 1827, to George Cumberland) that William Blake wrote just a few months before he died:

I have been very near the Gates of Death & have returned very weak & an Old Man feeble & tottering, but not in Spirit & Life not in The Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever. In that I am stronger & stronger as this Foolish Body decays.

And Walt Whitman says in “Song of Myself” [sec. 20]:

I know I am deathless…

P.S.

Speaking of Whitman, I just recorded another of his poems—I can’t remember if I’ve recited this one online already, but I did it anyway, perhaps again, because it’s a longtime favorite that only improves with re-reading—it’s from a notebook that Whitman kept before he published the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

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