Saturday, 29 December 2012

Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Windhover

This is the second Dante's Ghost interpretation of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It follows on from an earlier posting of his Binsley Poplars, a poignant lament for the destruction of the natural world.

The Windhover, written in 1877, draws powerfully from Hopkins' experience of nature, specifically of his observations of the dawn-time flight of a falcon. Hopkins the poet describes in unforgettable terms the gracefulness and exquisite perfection of movement embodied by the bird. Hopkins the Jesuit priest views that perfection as an expression of the greater perfection embodied by his Lord and Master, Jesus of Nazareth.

Hopkins himself described The Windhover as "the best thing I ever wrote," an extraordinary affirmation considering the depth and density of the rest of his canon. Scottish existential psychiatrist R.D. Laing is known to have voiced this poem literally hundreds of times while sober and while drunk, while at work and while at rest.

Music:  Nico Di Stefano
Voice:  Vincent Di Stefano

The Windhover can be streamed using the media player below. A CD quality audio file is also available for downloading here.


The Poem

The Windhover 

To Christ our Lord

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-vermillion.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Empedocles. A Song of Aetna

This original piece was inspired by a hand-sized fragment of crystalline sulphur gathered from the slopes of Mount Aetna, near the place of my birth. It brought forth a remembrance of the story of Empedocles of Akragas, the Sicilian poet, philosopher and healer who was considered by the Roman physician Galen to be the founder of the science of medicine in Italy. Empedocles was born during the remarkable time that brought forth such powerful teachers as Pythagoras, Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Gautama Buddha.

Empedocles generated the doctrine of four elements - air earth, fire and water - as an elaboration of the monism of Parmenides. This notion was to be highly influential in both Western philosophy and in the theory and practice of European medicine for a period of over 2,000 years.

Among his remarkable achievements, Empedocles made life easier for the inhabitants of his native Akragas (present-day Agrigento) by draining the fetid swamps that surrounded the town thereby freeing the population from the scourge of malaria that swept through local communities every year. He also directed a massive engineering project to construct a series of berms which deflected the searing winds of the Saharan Sirocco away from the cultivated fields that supplied the town thereby securing food supplies in the region.

According to legend, Empedocles quietly slipped away from an evening celebration held in his honour at a location near Mount Aetna. A few days later, a search party discovered his bronze sandals placed carefully on the edge of the crater of the erupting volcano.

The music that accompanies this piece was composed and performed by Nico Di Stefano.

Empedocles. A Song of Aetna can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 file is available for download here.

The Poem

I     Sulphur

Glistening brimstone
Brought from the great rim of my native Aetna
And other stones of cauldron mountains
Fix stories of the earth.

Tiny mirrors break the light to myriad points of subtle hue
In fire-born stone of yellow vapour
Fused to fine array and perfect order.
What are we to make of you, already made?

Where are those heavens, where are those hells
So openly hidden within you?
Look not for now to fire mountains or distant galaxies
But let us see what is here, at hand.

I call and you appear in unexpected forms
Man and lion framed in fine fold of old yellow stone
Gathered from the scattered atoms of earth's fury.
How came you here to be?

II    Salt

The scatter points call us to attention without fail
But we must first stop for it to begin.

You sealed the cleft from fiery breath of hot Sahara
You brought some comfort to those in valleys of the north
You sang your song anew in the old stone temple
You burned with Aetna in the end.

Alone upon that cauldron mountain
The ground around you heaved and shook
As red worlds streaked the fiery night.
What fate did you dare test,
When you danced and flew into the thunder,
When earth shone brighter than heaven?

And here again are tales untold
Scenes unseen for ages long.

In silence we find the unexpected.

III   Mercury

How will it be when flesh is spent
When caul of jewelled light draws us more strongly on
Than ever we knew
In promise rings and precious stones?

Our scarlet sins bleed slow from open wounds
And fall hard upon the earth.
Yet through it all we are drawn on
By the beauty of faint forms
And the soft fires of fixed earths
Gathered as gifts from flaming mountains.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Songs for Vannuzzu

Vannuzzu, 4 days before his final transition
The death of a parent can be a turning point in any given life. For a surviving son or daughter, the nature of the experience can range from the grief of losing a beloved friend and confidant, to the ambivalence resulting from an abrupt loss of all further possibilities for resolving a conflicted and unsatisfactory relationship, to a sense of relief at being finally freed of the perceived domination and judgement of an overbearing parent. Regardless of one's position, to live through the death of one's parents represents a difficult act of emancipation, a call to ultimate maturation, a transmission of both freedom and responsibility, an entry into the domain of eldership.

These two original poetic reflections, Just Man and Luce Magra, were written during the latter weeks of my father's final sickness in 2008. They offer a personal reflection on the ineffability of fully encompassing the depth of experience carried in the life of another, the sense of helplessness often experienced in the face of progressive mental and physical dissolution, and a tentative poetic exploration of the more transcendent meanings carried in human embodiment.

This post is offered as a 4th anniversary remembrance of old Vannuzzu, a warrior in temperament and spirit who knew fully the degradations of war, and who only sought thereafter the small satisfactions of a peaceful life. He died a few days before his 91st birthday.

The music that accompanies both pieces was composed and performed by Coastal Slipstream (David Capon and Peter Popko)

Just Man can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 file is available for download here.

Luce Magra (Thin Light) can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 file is available for download here.

William Blake. Death's Door

The Poems

Just Man

"Sugnu na bomb'atomica" (Vannuzzu ca. 2006)

My father was fearless.
When sent through strafe and whistle of bullet
Flesh-flaying crash of mortar and metal
He carried his message well.

He knew the ropes
He knew the whips
And the slash of hissing blade.

His ageing frame now buckles.
Enfrailed, it fails, near useless to this world.
Still it holds a tethered wrath that seethes at all injustice.

Hold hard my strong good man
Lest this storm of rain and ruin
That steels and lashes earth
Too deep cuts the tender lines
That hold it all together.

You may be old, but you still hold
Your wild and youthful ways.
The sharp thrust of anger
Cuts more deeply than any steel.

The grieving, the groaning,
The pointless lashings that stung your young frame
Gave to your eyes a fire that could burn cities.

No man-made fire this.
Blasts of mind can raze the future
As surely as flash of fiery metal.

Come soften now good man
While yet your warm tide turns.

Luce Magra (Thin Light)

Cos'e questa vita
Questo falimento di corpo, materia vivente?
Cos'e questa vita
Quest'ardore incarnato, aggiornament'oscurato?

Carne delitto, derelitto
Diluvio di fuoco spento
Carne delitto, derelitto
Fulmine senza potenza.

Forza sciupata, pienezza svuotata, speranza abandonata
Si spegne, s'estingue, si spegne,
Stella smarita d'una notte anuvolata.

S'appanna la memoria di giorni piu piacevole
Piu difficile riprendere,
R'incendere, rivivere, r'incendere.

Dov'e la via dolorosa
Che chiama silenziosa
A un immenso ineluttabile?

E dov'e la via numinosa
Che si apre luminosa
A un infinito inconoscibile?

Cos'e questa vita?

William Blake. The Grave

Friday, 3 August 2012

Thomas Merton and the Original Child Bomb

Original Child Bomb is one of a small number of pieces written by Thomas Merton which he described as "anti-poems." This unusual group of poems includes "Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces" an interpretation of which can be accessed in an earlier posting of "Dante's Ghost."

Merton's anti-poems are characterised by the conscious and ironic use of the debased but now-commonplace language that masks the horror of genocide.

In his essay War and the Crisis of Language, Merton wrote: "Poets are perhaps the ones who, at the present moment, are most sensitive to the sickness of language - a sickness that, infecting all literature with nausea, prompts us not so much to declare war on conventional language as simply to pick up and examine closely a few chosen pieces of linguistic garbage."

Original Child Bomb was first published in his friend Robert Lax's magazine "Pax" in 1961, but was soon picked up by "New Directions" and re-published a year later in 1962, thereby reaching a far wider audience.

Sentimental Journey by Les Brown with Doris Day (1945)
Hell, Fire and Damnation by Jocelyn Pook from "Untold Things" Real World Records, 2001
Only the Devil Laughed by Hildegard von Bingen. Performers: Catherine King, Emily Van Evera and Sister Germaine Fritz from "Vision. The Music of Hildegard von Bingen" Angel Records, 1994

Vincent Di Stefano

Original Child Bomb can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 audio file is available for download here, and both CD quality and LoFi mp3 files are available for download here.

"Original Child Bomb" was recorded and produced collaboratively by vincentd of Integral Reflections and chazk of Virtual Renderings.

The Poem


Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave

Fat Man, Nagasaki August 1945
1: In the year 1945 an Original Child was born. The name Original Child was given to it by the Japanese people, who recognized that it was the first of its kind.

2: On April 12th, 1945, Mr. Harry Truman became the President of the United States, which was then fighting the Second World War. Mr. Truman was a vice president who became President by accident when his predecessor died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He did not know as much about the war as the President before him did. He knew a lot less about the war than many people did.

About one hour after Mr. Truman became President, his aides told him about a new bomb which was being developed by atomic scientists. They called it the “atomic bomb.” They said scientists had been working on it for six years and that it had so far cost two billion dollars. They added that its power was equal to that of twenty thousand tons of TNT. A single bomb could destroy a city. One of those present added, in a reverent tone, that the new explosive might eventually destroy the whole world. But Admiral Leahy told the President the bomb would never work.

3: President Truman formed a committee of men to tell him if this bomb would work, and if so, what he should do with it. Some members of this committee felt that the bomb would jeopardize the future of civilization. They were against its use. Others wanted it to be used in demonstration on a forest of cryptomeria trees, but not against a civil or military target. Many atomic scientists warned that the use of atomic power in war would be difficult and even impossible to control. The danger would be very great. Finally, there were others who believed that if the bomb were used just once or twice, on one or two Japanese cities, there would be no more war. They believed the new bomb would produce eternal peace.

4: In June 1945 the Japanese government was taking steps to negotiate for peace. On one hand the Japanese ambassador tried to interest the Russian government in acting as a go-between with the United States. On the other hand, an unofficial approach was made secretly through Mr. Allen Dulles in Switzerland. The Russians said they were not interested and that they would not negotiate. Nothing was done about the other proposal, which was not official. The Japanese High Command was not in favor of asking for peace, but wanted to continue the war, even if the Japanese mainland were invaded. The generals believed that the war should continue until everybody was dead. The Japanese generals were professional soldiers.

5: In the same month of June, the President’s committee decided that the new bomb should be dropped on a Japanese city. This would be a demonstration of the bomb on a civil and military target. As “demonstration” it would be a kind of a “show.” “Civilians” all over the world love a good “show.” The “destructive” aspect of the bomb would be “military.”

6: The same committee also asked if America’s friendly ally, the Soviet Union, should be informed of the atomic bomb. Someone suggested that this information would make the Soviet Union even more friendly than it was already. But all finally agreed that the Soviet Union was now friendly enough.

7: There was discussion about which city should be selected as the first target. Some wanted it to be Kyoto, an ancient capital of Japan and a center of the Buddhist religion. Others said no, this would cause bitterness. As a result of a chance conversation, Mr. Stimson, the Secretary of War, had recently read up on the history and beauties of Kyoto. He insisted that this city should be left untouched. Some wanted Tokyo to be the first target, but others argued that Tokyo had already been practically destroyed by fire raids and could no longer be considered a “target.” So it was decided Hiroshima was the most opportune target, as it had not yet been bombed at all. Lucky Hiroshima! What others had experienced over a period of four years would happen to Hiroshima in a single day! Much time would be saved, and “time is money!”

8: When they bombed Hiroshima they would put the following out of business: the Ube Nitrogen Fertilizer Company; the Ube Soda Company; the Nippon Motor Oil Company; the Sumitoma Chemical Company; the Sumitoma Aluminum Company, and most of the inhabitants.

9: At this time some atomic scientists protested again, warning that the use of the bomb in war would tend to make the United States unpopular. But the President’s committee was by now fully convinced that the bomb had to be used. Its use would arouse the attention of the Japanese military class and give them food for thought.

10: Admiral Leahy renewed his declaration that the bomb would not explode.

11: On the 4th of July, when the United States in displays of fireworks celebrates its independence from British rule, the British and Americans agreed together that the bomb ought to be used against Japan.

12: On July 7th the Emperor of Japan pleaded with the Soviet Government to act as mediator for peace between Japan and the Allies. Molotov said the question would be “studied.” In order to facilitate this “study” Soviet troops in Siberia prepared to attack the Japanese. The Allies had, in any case, been urging Russia to join the war against Japan. However, now that the atomic bomb was nearly ready, some thought it would be better if the Russians took a rest.

13: The time was coming for the new bomb to be tested, in the New Mexico desert. A name was chosen to designate this secret operation. It was called “Trinity.”

Trinity, Alamogordo 1945
14: At 5:30 A.M. on July 16th, 1945, a plutonium bomb was successfully exploded in the desert at Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was suspended from a hundred-foot steel tower which evaporated. There was a fireball a mile wide. The great flash could be seen for a radius of 250 miles. A blind woman miles away said she perceived light. There was a cloud of smoke 40,000 feet high. It was shaped like a toadstool.

15: Many who saw the experiment expressed their satisfaction in religious terms. A semi-official report even quoted a religious book—the New Testament—“Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” There was an atmosphere of devotion. It was a great act of faith. They believed the explosion was exceptionally powerful.

16: Admiral Leahy, still a “doubting Thomas,” said that the bomb would not explode when dropped from a plane over a city. Others may have had “faith,” but he had his own variety of “hope.”

17: On July 21st a full written report of the explosion reached President Truman at Potsdam. The report was documented by pictures. President Truman read the report and looked at the pictures before starting out for the conference. When he left his mood was jaunty and his step was light.

18: That afternoon Mr. Stimson called on Mr. Churchill, and laid before him a sheet of paper bearing a code message about the successful test. The message read “Babies satisfactorily born.” Mr. Churchill was quick to realize that there was more in this than met the eye. Mr. Stimson satisfied his legitimate curiosity.

19: On this same day sixty atomic scientists who knew of the test signed a petition that the bomb should not be used against Japan without a convincing warning and an opportunity to surrender.

At this time the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which had left San Francisco on the 18th, was sailing toward the Island of Tinian, with some U 235 in a lead bucket. The fissionable material was about the size of a softball, but there was enough for one atomic bomb. Instructions were that if the ship sank, the uranium was to be saved first, before any life. The mechanism of the bomb was on board the U.S.S. Indianapolis, but it was not yet assembled.

20: On July 26th the Potsdam declaration was issued. An ultimatum was given to Japan: “Surrender unconditionally or be destroyed.” Nothing was said about the new bomb. But pamphlets dropped all over Japan threatened “an enormous air bombardment” if the army would not surrender. On July 26th the U.S.S. Indianapolis arrived at Tinian and the bomb was delivered.

21: On July 28th, since the Japanese High Command wished to continue the war, the ultimatum was rejected. A censored version of the ultimatum appeared in the Japanese press with the comment that it was “an attempt to drive a wedge between the military and the Japanese people.” But the Emperor continued to hope that the Russians, after “studying” his proposal, would help to negotiate a peace. On July 3Oth Mr. Stimson revised a draft of the announcement that was to be made after the bomb was dropped on the Japanese target. The statement was much better than the original draft.

Assembly of Little Boy, Tinian 1945
22: On August 1st the bomb was assembled in an air-conditioned hut on Tinian. Those who handled the bomb referred to it as “Little Boy.” Their care for the Original Child was devoted and tender.

23: On August 2nd President Truman was the guest of His Majesty King George VI on board the H.M.S. Renown in Plymouth Harbor. The atomic bomb was praised. Admiral Leahy, who was present, declared that the bomb would not work. His Majesty George VI offered a small wager to the contrary.

24: On August 2nd a special message from the Japanese Foreign Minister was sent to the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow. “It is requested that further efforts be exerted. . . . Since the loss of one day may result in a thousand years of regret, it is requested that you immediately have a talk with Molotov.” But Molotov did not return from Potsdam until the day the bomb fell.

25: On August 4th the bombing crew on Tinian watched a movie of “Trinity” (the Alamogordo Test). August 5th was a Sunday but there was little time for formal worship. They said a quick prayer that the war might end “very soon.” On that day, Col. Tibbetts, who was in command of the B-29 that was to drop the bomb, felt that his bomber ought to have a name. He baptized it Enola Gay, after his mother in Iowa. Col. Tibbetts was a well-balanced man, and not sentimental. He did not have a nervous breakdown after the bombing, like some of the other members of the crew.

26: On Sunday afternoon “Little Boy” was brought out in procession and devoutly tucked away in the womb of Enola Gay. That evening few were able to sleep. They were as excited as little boys on Christmas Eve.

27: At 1:37 A.M. August 6th the weather scout plane took off. It was named the Straight Flush, in reference to the mechanical action of a water closet. There was a picture of one, to make this evident.

28: At the last minute before taking off, Col. Tibbetts changed the secret radio call sign from “Visitor” to “Dimples.” The Bombing Mission would be a kind of flying smile.

29: At 2:45 A.M. Enola Gay got off the ground with difficulty. Over Iwo Jima she met her escort, two more B-29s, one of which was called the Great Artiste. Together they proceeded to Japan.

30: At 6:40 they climbed to 31,000 feet, the bombing altitude. The sky was clear. It was a perfect morning.

31: At 8:09 they reached Hiroshima and started the bomb run. The city was full of sun. The fliers could see the green grass in the gardens. No fighters rose up to meet them. There was no flak. No one in the city bothered to take cover.

Hiroshima, mid-August 1945
32: The bomb exploded within 100 feet of the aiming point. The fireball was 18,000 feet across. The temperature at the center of the fireball was 100,000,000 degrees. The people who were near the center became nothing. The whole city was blown to bits and the ruins all caught fire instantly everywhere, burning briskly. 70,000 people were killed right away or died within a few hours. Those who did not die at once suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers.

33: The men in the plane perceived that the raid had been successful, but they thought of the people in the city and they were not perfectly happy. Some felt they had done wrong. But in any case they had obeyed orders. “It was war.”

34: Over the radio went the code message that the bomb had been successful: “Visible effects greater than Trinity. . . . Proceeding to Papacy.” Papacy was the code name for Tinian.

35: It took a little while for the rest of Japan to find out what had happened to Hiroshima. Papers were forbidden to publish any news of the new bomb. A four-line item said that Hiroshima had been hit by incendiary bombs and added: “It seems that some damage was caused to the city and its vicinity.”

36: Then the military governor of the Prefecture of Hiroshima issued a proclamation full of martial spirit. To all the people without hands, without feet, with their faces falling off, with their intestines hanging out, with their whole bodies full of radiation, he declared: “We must not rest a single day in our war effort. . . . We must bear in mind that the annihilation of the stubborn enemy is our road to revenge.” He was a professional soldier.

37: On August 8th Molotov finally summoned the Japanese Ambassador. At last neutral Russia would give an answer to the Emperor’s inquiry. Molotov said coldly that the Soviet Union was declaring war on Japan.

Nagasaki, mid-August 1945
38: On August 9th another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, though Hiroshima was still burning. On August 11th the Emperor overruled his high command and accepted the peace terms dictated at Potsdam. Yet for three days discussion continued, until on August 14ththe surrender was made public and final.

39: Even then the soviet troops thought they ought to fight in Manchuria “just a little longer.” They felt that even though they could not, at this time, be of help in Japan, it would be worthwhile if they displayed their good will in Manchuria or even in Korea.

40: As to the Original Child that was now born, President Truman summed up the philosophy of the situation in a few words. “We found the bomb” he said “and we used it.”

41: Since that summer many other bombs have been “found.” What is going to happen? At the time of writing, after a season of brisk speculation, men seem to be fatigued by the whole question.


Hiroshima, mid-morning, August 6th 1945
1. Confronting the Unspeakable. Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Beyond

This post offers a remembrance of the atomic slayings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It carries embedded audio of an edited version of a talk given by Setsuko Thurlow at the University of London in March 2017. She was 13 years of old and living in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion of the obscenely named Little Boy.

Setsuko Thurlow is one of the few remaining living witnesses of the horror unleashed in the city on the morning of August 6th 1945 and describes with both difficult and poignancy what occurred at ground level on the morning of that terrible day. Her life-long efforts for the cause of peace and disarmament were honoured in December 2017 when she received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Monday, 25 June 2012

Careful Now

The nature of war has completely changed over the course of the past century. From being the domain of a trained warrior caste who lived and died face to face, it has, especially in more recent times, become an exercise in technical sophistication where decisions made and actions taken at a vast distance from the field of battle determine the fate not only of combatants, but of fathers, mothers and children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This original piece offers a brief reflection on the senselessness, the tragedy and the dehumanisation wrought of war at a time when the great powers continue to draw down vast portions of national economies to maintain and further develop the technologies of death.

Production Notes
Music: Nico Di Stefano.
Voice: Vincent Di Stefano

Careful Now can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 file is available for download here.

Hiroshima, mid-August 1945

Careful Now

This is the wall of stone faces
This is the plain of lost skulls
How much blood must fallow
Before we've had enough?

This is the wall of stone faces
This is the plain of dry skulls
How much slaughter does it take
Before we've had enough?

No spear, no arrow,
No shield or sabre close at hand
Blast of cannon barely muted
Careful now

Who can remember the two small suns
that flashed and crashed and flayed a people
And who can recall those white hot suns
that trashed the cities ashed the people
In an empty triumph of stolen glory
Two wretched clouds of infernal fury
That burned all hope and poisoned the story
Careful now

We've grown too accustomed to spin and slaughter
To soft commands of deadly purpose
To haughty laughter in high places
Careful now

So let us look further let us pause longer
Let us recall those far-off places
As night draws nigh

Shape and shadow of glistening mountain,
Sibilant stream and falling fountain
Whispering water chilling wind
Gold streaked clouds at the end of the day
Remember these
As night draws nigh

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Gerard Manley Hopkins. Binsley Poplars

The Jesuit priest/poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is remembered for his exquisite use of language and the depth of his poetic regard. Binsley Poplars was written in 1879 in response to his shocking discovery that a favourite stand of aspen trees which he had long enjoyed during his days at Oxford had fallen to the axe. At another level, the poem is a lament for the destruction of the natural world without thought for the beauties that it holds and without regard for the blighting of the landscape itself and of our minds when we behold such devastation.

Hopkins is acutely aware of the irreversibility of such assaults upon the natural world, and laments the loss to future generations of the mystic entrancement evoked by scenes of natural beauty.

Though written over 130 years ago, Binsley Poplars is presciently anthemic of the present day Green movement and of environmentalism more generally.

The music that accompanies this piece was written and performed (multi-track) by Nico Di Stefano


Binsley Poplars can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 audio file is available for download here.

The Poem

Binsley Poplars

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, all are felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
            Not spared, not one
            That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering
weed-winding bank.
O if we knew but 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,
Where we, even when we mean
to mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Centurion's Prayer. An Ignatian Remembrance

This short personal reflection is offered on Good Friday 2012 as a foil to the crass commercialisation and diversionary spirit that has overtaken the time of Easter throughout much of the Western world. It offers an Ignatian remembrance - an act of conscious imagining and visualisation - of the events that took place in Palestine some 2,000 years ago when Jesus of Nazareth suffered the fate of a common criminal in the act of execution by crucifixion ordered by the Roman governor at that time.

Yet the time of Easter bespeaks more than a Paschal sacrifice. It heralds the regeneration and renewal that emanates endlessly through the opened heart of love and mercy.

The music that accompanies this piece was composed and performed by Nico Di Stefano.

The Centurion's Prayer can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 audio file is available for download here.

The Poem


The Centurion's Prayer. An Ignatian Remembrance

             The thorny crown thrust hard
             The cheering, the jeering,
             Hot gushes from the lashes
             And the gashes in torn flesh
             But this was not enough.

             Seamless garment rent and sundered
             Golden skin now flayed and opened
             Rubies glisten in the desert
             Water drying in the dust
             And this was not enough.

             The beam that tore your bloodied shoulder
             The nails that fixed your earthly fate
             Your mercy call on those before you
             Mercy call on those to come
             And these were not enough.

             The well run dry, the sap drawn thin
             The bitter gall, the final call
             The trembling and the darkening
             Your greater garment rent again
             Beyond the pillars of the temple.

   Empty now of blood and water
   Empty now of fire and air
   Descend again to she who formed you
   To scent of earth, to breath of wind
   Renew again our ground of being.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Thomas Merton. Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site With Furnaces

This chilling poem by Cistercian monk, writer and poet Thomas Merton offers a dramatic portrayal of SS Officer Rudolf Hoess. Hoess served as commandant of Auschwitz from May 1940 to November 1943. He was convicted of genocide at the Nuremberg trials and handed over to the Polish authorities who charged him with the murder of three and a half million men, women and children. Hoess responded, "No. Only two and one half million. The rest died from disease and starvation."

This poem was published in 1961 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the inaugural edition of "Journal for the Protection of all Beings."

The music that accompanies this piece was composed and performed by Henk van der Duim.

Chant to be used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality mp3 audio file is available for download here.

 The Story

Thomas Merton has directed his incisive intelligence towards many areas. These include the roots of Christian mysticism in the lives and writings of the desert fathers, the nature of monastic life, the role of contemplation in spiritual development, and the common understandings that unite various spiritual traditions. Throughout his life as a Cistercian monk at Gethsemane Abbey, he also kept fully abreast of the times and wrote extensively about the social, political and economic forces that generated conflict, division and alienation both within and between nations.

He strongly opposed the militarist tendencies of the US government and was appalled by the pursuit of nuclear supremacy by both the US and the Soviet Union during the early decades of the Cold War. He was fully aware of the dehumanisation implicit in the creation of vast arsenals of destruction.

Hoess at Nuremberg
Merton was deeply familiar with the activities as Hitler's SS as a recent manifestation of the human capacity to objectify and dehumanise the other. He had closely studied the signed testament given by Rudolf Hoess at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials from which it is clear he drew much of the material presented in his Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces. In fact, many of the images presented in the poem have their source in Hoess's testament. This is evident in the following passage that appears in his Nuremberg testament:
"Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chamber to accommodate 2000 people at one time whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. . . . .

Very frequently, women would hide the children under the clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz."
In his classic work "Obedience to Authority" published in 1974, Stanley Milgram addressed this human capacity to abide passively and without protest in the face of heinous cruelty and blatant deception. Milgram wrote:
"There is always some element of bad form in objecting to the bad course of events, or indeed in making it a topic of conversation. Thus in Nazi Germany, even among those most closely identified with the Final Solution, it was considered an act of discourtesy to talk about the killings."

Although there are many who take pride in what they consider to be the civilised nature of Western societies, it is sobering to recall that a short 70 years ago, grotesque and barely imaginable machineries of death were set into motion by one of the most technologically and philosophically sophisticated nations in Europe.

There is no shortage of examples in the time since where we have witnessed the State-sponsored killing of innocents, be it in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the former Soviet Union, Central and South America, Tibet and China, the Balkans, or Africa and the Middle East.

Through such acts of remembrance and reflection as that offered by Thomas Merton in this poem, may the will for peace, justice and human fellowship be increasingly realised in the life of a ravaged humanity.

The Poem

Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces

How we made them sleep and purified them
How we perfectly cleaned up the people and worked a big heater
I was the commander I made improvements and installed a guaranteed system taking account of human weakness I purified and I remained decent
How I commanded I made cleaning appointments and then I made the travellers sleep and after that I made soap

I was born into a Catholic family but as these people were not going to need a priest I did not become a priest I installed a perfectly good machine it gave satisfaction to many

When trains arrived the soiled passengers received appointments for fun in the bathroom they did not guess

It was a very big bathroom for two thousand people it awaited arrival and they arrived safely
There would be an orchestra of merry widows not all the time much art

If they arrived at all they would be given a greeting card to send home taken care of with good jobs wishing you would come to our joke

Another improvement I made was I built the chambers for two thousand invitations at a time the naked votaries were disinfected with Zyklon B

Children of tender age were always invited by reason of their youth they were unable to work they were marked out for play
They were washed like the others and more than the others
Very frequently women would hide their children in the piles of clothing but of course when we came to find them we would send the children into the chamber to be bathed

How I often commanded and made improvements and sealed the door on top there were flowers the men came with crystals
I guaranteed always the crystal parlour
I guaranteed the chamber and it was sealed you could see through portholes

They waited for the shower it was not hot water that came through vents though efficient winds gave full satisfaction portholes showed this
The satisfied all ran together to the doors awaiting arrival it was guaranteed they made ends meet

How I could tell by their cries that love came to a full stop I found the ones I had made clean after about a half hour Jewish male inmates then worked up nice they had rubber boots in return for adequate food I could not guess their appetite
Those at the door were taken apart out of a fully stopped love for rubber male inmates strategic hair and teeth being used later for defence
Then the males removed all clean love rings and made away with happy gold

A big new firm promoted steel forks operating on a cylinder they got the contract and with faultless workmanship delivered very fast goods
How I commanded and made soap 12 pounds fat 10 quarts water 8 ounces to a pound of caustic soda but it was hard to find any fat

"For transporting the customers we suggest using light carts on wheels a drawing is submitted"
"We acknowledge four steady furnaces and an emergency guarantee"

“I am a big new commander operating on a cylinder I elevate the purified materials boil for 2 to 3 hours and then cool"
For putting them into a test fragrance I suggested an express elevator operated by the latest cylinder it was guaranteed

Their love was fully stopped by our perfected ovens but the love rings were salvaged
Thanks to the satisfaction of male inmates operating the heaters without need of compensation our guests were warmed

All the while I had obeyed perfectly
So I was hanged in a commanding position with a full view of the site plant and grounds
You smile at my career but you would do as I did if you knew yourself and dared
In my days we worked hard we saw what we did our self sacrifice was conscientious and complete our work was faultless and detailed

Do not think yourself better because you burn up friends and enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have done

Note: In The Face of the Third Reich published in 1970, Joachim Fest describes how Adolph Hitler came to power and drew into his field a small group of man who set into motion insanely destructive forces. This powerful study shows how individuals can become dehumanised and co-opted into participating in deeply evil activities. A review of Fest's book with substantive excerpts can be found on the Book Reviews page of The Healing Project website. Scroll down to "On Genocide" where you will find a link to a review of The Face of the Third Reich.