Poetry, spirituality, and marxism

Chris, London 100423.2040 at compuserve.com
Fri Dec 1 16:28:57 MST 1995

As I scrolled down the page starting to read the suddenly familiar lines
Peter had typed in, the name that flashed through my mind was 
Hopkins. Mistakes are sometimes more interesting than the truth.

Hopkins came next, as familiar. But the first piece was Donne, two
centuries apart. Yet when I reached to check my book
shelf, again Hopkins was next to Donne. 

For me these are among the jewels of the English language. So why
do I find them buried in a marxism list, courtesy of a Jesuit priest?

This is perhaps an opportunity to revisit the argument about
religion that flamed around Peter soon after he first trailed his
SJ signature line across our screens. 

Carrol has just managed to struggle through another instalment 
to argue, very wisely IMO, that materialists do not really endeavour
to argue the existence of a materialist perspective. That itself is 
to doubt it. So what do we do with the religious and spiritual feelings
that re-emerge in almost every society?

In the former state socialist countries, was this met by going to 
giant Soviet war memorials, or in attending May Day parades, or in 
believing that society was constantly progressing upwards?  Was it met
by the lofty ideal of perfecting communist man (sic)? Were such approaches
nourishing? I suspect not.

The response I would make to Peter's challenge about spiritual and 
religious beliefs is deliberately personal and illogical.

1. I see myself as an atheist, but a religious one, unable to deny
the common and univeral nature of religious experiences.

2. I would like to live in a country that worships trees.

3. I would like us to have a renewed respect for polytheism, where the rich
diversity and tragedy of human experience is represented by many contradictory
divine forms, more genuinely universal than Madonna, Princess Diana, and 
Michael Jackson.

4. I would like to subscribe to a pantheist religion. Indeed above all I would
like to say I am a follower of Spinoza. As his writings are hard to read
and I have hardly got into them at all, this is ideal, because the answer to 
the biggest mysteries of the universe is best known to exist somewhere, but to 
be somehow inaccessible. I keep them close by my bed, but never read them.

5. What approaches it, and one reason for my preoccupation, is the complexity
and diversity of chaos theory. Especially both the grandeur, and the detail, the
powerful sweep and the subtle nuances, the fractal scaling between the largest and 
the most microscopic perspectives, the powerful pattern, and the fickle

To many no doubt this is pretentious idealist waffle. 
But it could just be what happens in the material universe, which all ideas,
scientific, and mystical, sacred and profane can only approximately reflect.

Binsey Poplars:
  felled 1879


O if we but knew what we do
    When we delve or hew --
  Hack and rack the growing green!
    Since country is so tender
  To touch, her being so slender,
  That, like this sleek and seeing ball
  But a prick will make no eye at all, 

The Windhover:
[subtitled To Christ our Lord, but as 
beautiful, and sacred, Peter, to some one 
who reads it as a chance encounter on a morning walk
with a Falcon, then a glance at shiny new ploughed soil
and a recollection of a small falling coal, that breaks 
open into coloured jewels]

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
   dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
       his riding 
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion 
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion 
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Your God, my universe, Peter.

Happy Yule/Happy Christmas

Chris, London.

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