Sunday, 21 June 2020

‘13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ - poem

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains, 

The only moving thing 

Was the eye of the blackbird.


I was of three minds, 

Like a tree 

In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. 

It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman 

Are one. 

A man and a woman and a blackbird 

Are one.

I do not know which to prefer, 

The beauty of inflections 

Or the beauty of innuendoes, 

The blackbird whistling 

Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window 

With barbaric glass. 

The shadow of the blackbird 

Crossed it, to and fro. 

The mood 

Traced in the shadow 

An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam, 

Why do you imagine golden birds? 

Do you not see how the blackbird 

Walks around the feet 

Of the women about you?


I know noble accents 

And lucid, inescapable rhythms; 

But I know, too, 

That the blackbird is involved 

In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight, 

It marked the edge 

Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds 

Flying in a green light, 

Even the bawds of euphony 

Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut 

In a glass coach. 

Once, a fear pierced him, 

In that he mistook 

The shadow of his equipage 

For blackbirds.


The river is moving. 

The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon. 

It was snowing 

And it was going to snow. 

The blackbird sat 

In the cedar-limbs.

Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955)*


*Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955) was an American modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pensylvania and educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and then spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955.

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Thoughts (and images) on ‘13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens

Thoughts (and images) on ‘13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens:

This is a first person poem about a poet's observation and contemplations viewing a blackbird. 

Each stanza is an explanation of a new way in which this blackbird has been perceived

First, he writes about his physical perception of the blackbird as an observer. Then, he writes about his mental processes during this time.

The poem seems to be inspired by the Haiku, a very short Japanese poetic form.

Each stanza is like a polaroid snapshot.

Sight is the dominant perceptual modality. The poems are almost cinematic.

You're not supposed to understand the poem, you're invited to feel it (sensations).

The poem moves from nature to human society and back to nature in a circle.


The first stanza could be read as an introduction to the entire poem and a preparatory exercise for the intellect. It is also a transition from the observer's perception to the blackbird's perception. An image of one lone blackbird among twenty snow capped mountains is conjured, the only moving thing in this majestic landscape still life is the eye of the bird. In the first stanza all is about perception and perspective. In a tranquil unmoving landscape the eye of a blackbird is the only moving thing and brings momentum into the image. First the landscape is in the mind of the beholder, then perspective shifts to the view of the blackbird. The blackbird seems to stand for the Idea or thought. The snow on the mountains is motionless, not falling.


The second stanza is a simile of the working, conflicted mind, of different views, the self as of three minds, the tree is the mind in which 3 ideas or perspectives sit. This is the first time the connection is made between seeing the blackbird and being metaphorically the blackbird, being oneself plus the idea of a blackbird equals the new I: oneself/blackbird. Philosophically, it could be said that by seeing or thinking about another being through its eyes one could know it, know its perception of reality. This leads into the second matter that the poem addresses: The poet says that he knows himself as being a poet and that it is a part of himself as a person. However, since he also knows the blackbird, that perception makes the blackbird a part of him as well. This connection is what goes into the conclusion  “a  man and a woman and a blackbird are one."


The third stanza whirls the blackbird (the idea) about, brings chaos, movement, changes and phantasy. The season changes from winter to autumn. A pantomime is a performance told through bodily and facial movements, so each movement and gesture is communication. If the bird is a part of the pantomime, it suggests that the blackbird, the idea, is also a part of life's performance.


The fourth stanza makes the Zen Buddhist point that “all things are one thing“. At this time, the connection is made that in seeing and knowing the blackbird it becomes a part of oneself.


The fifth stanza discusses the differences between statement (inflections) and implication (innuendoes), before whistling or after.


The sixth stanza is a still portrait in vivid emotional movement and the poet observer as he watches the blackbird fly by his icy window which again brings movement into the picture.


The seventh stanza might be a suggestion to the male part of our species who are thin (maybe of shallow mind), do not trust and build too much upon flittery ideas of farflung, unrealistic golden birds and rather do as the women, who have realism and realistic ordinary blackbirds at their feet to ground them in reality. Haddam is a suburban town in Connecticut close to Hartford where Stevens lived.


The eighth stanza might be a reference to the poet himself (I know noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms = I know how to produce nice poems) and that he knows that himself and the idea are inseparable (are one). At this time, he makes the connection that in seeing and knowing the blackbird it becomes a part of himself.


In the ninth stanza, the universe is depicted as a series of concentric circles extending outward to infinity. The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second and so on. The circle is that through which we see and the limit of what we see. So if the blackbird marks the edge of many circles it flies to the limit of one’s knowledge.


The tenth stanza calls poets bawds of euphony, manufacturers of well-sounding, who would cry out at the sight of blackbirds in green light. Why do they cry out? Out of horror or joy?


The eleventh stanza shows the poet, who is protected but not hidden from the outside by a glass coach, and his fear (of reality?) caused by the shadow of his carriage (maybe an airplane) which he sees as shadows of blackbirds.


The twelfth stanza is a reference to the stream of life which is moving and therefore, as not to get lost, to adapt, the blackbird must be flying / changing. A cause/effect relationship emerges from the words "must be." The blackbird is reality; if it is flying it is changing, expanding in the perception of the beholder.


The thirteenth stanza is bringing the blackbird at last to a stillpoint, the atmosphere is one of tranquility, rest, of an outlook towards death, an old person in his everlasting afternoon/ evening of life. The snow is falling and shall keep falling - back to stanza one, to the snow covered mountains.

There is no one way of looking at the world, but many ways, none of them superior, all of them choices or decisions. 

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Saturday, 20 June 2020

‘Study of Two Pears’ - poem

Study of Two Pears

Opusculum paedagogum. 

The pears are not viols, 

Nudes or bottles. 

They resemble nothing else. 


They are yellow forms 

Composed of curves 

Bulging toward the base. 

They are touched red. 


They are not flat surfaces 

Having curved outlines. 

They are round 

Tapering toward the top. 


In the way they are modelled 

There are bits of blue. 

A hard dry leaf hangs 

From the stem. 

The yellow glistens. 

It glistens with various yellows, 

Citrons, oranges and greens 

Flowering over the skin. 


The shadows of the pears 

Are blobs on the green cloth. 

The pears are not seen 

As the observer wills.


Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955)*

*Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955) was an American modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pensylvania and educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and then spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955.

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Artists on Seafloor

In 1995, divers discovered incredibly intricate sand circles across the sea floor of the Amami Oshima region of Japan. Some likened these formations to "underwater crop circles." For years the artist of these circles was unknown until it was revealed as the white-spotted pufferfish. 

The 12 cm long male spends about ten days laboriously flapping its fins as it swims along the seafloor, carefully constructing and decorating, resulting in an amazing circular pattern that eventually reaches 2 meters in diameter.

Once complete the circle is used to attract females, who come to inspect them, for mating. If they like what they see, they reproduce with the males and the circle then serves as a nest for the developing eggs. 

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Friday, 19 June 2020

Our Finitude, Our Solace

Our Finitude, Our Solace:

The elemental fact of our finitude, the cognizance of our mortality and the fear it generates is also a great motivator to fight against death and non-existence, to work together in science, to tell stories and to create art, so that while we may not live any longer than we do, we may live broader. 

Science tells us that we are the product of mindless laws of physics who just play themselves out on our substance, the matter which we consist of. To understand this also changes the way of searching for purpose or meaning in life. 

There is no answer floating about in the heavens. There is no one who tells us what to do and what to expect and how to behave to make sense of our existence. We are thrown back, after centuries of delegating this enormous questions to a higher being or into the hands of religious leaders, onto ourselves to manufacture our own purpose and meaning. 

That is not a bad thing. It simply shows that we have finally reached some state of independency and, hopefully, maturity. To finally understand that all our struggles, all our triumphs, emerge from the insensate laws of physics, does not lessen the tragedy of our finite lives, but it might make us grateful for being here at all.

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Saturday, 13 June 2020

Richard Feynman's "Ode to a Flower"

In 1981, physicist Richard Feynman was interviewed by the BBC about what science can offer in regard to the magic, mystery, and excitement of life. In it he tells of a disagreement with an artist about who can better appreciate the beauty of a flower: the artist or the scientist. This monologue became known as the Ode to a Flower.

This is the BBC’s transcript of what Feynman said:

Ode to a Flower

“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I’ll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe, although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.

At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.“

Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)*

*Richard Phillips Feynman (1918 – 1988) was an American theoretical physicist who, for his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965.

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The Everyday Enchantment of Music

The Everyday Enchantment of Music:

Art has many media in which to express ideas. Music, dance, painting, poetry, movies, architecture, you name it. All of them are equally just to explore and to use, not all of them are equally apt to express certain ideas.

For example, if one would want to represent the idea or the spirit of sensuality. How is and can this be represented in art? In which medium? 

Sculpture comes to mind, and yes, there may be moments which live up to the idea of sensuality, but sculpture is in itself a kind of inward, silent, resting media which sensuality is not. 

Painting maybe, there can be found moments of high sensuality in painting, but again, as in sculpture, painting is a resting media, which only shows a momentary, single state. 

Sensuality is hard to put into fixed contours and a set of compositorial elements, for it is a force of passion, energy and impatience which lives not in a single moment but is constantly moving in a succession of moments. If it would live in a single moment it could be painted, photographed or sculpted. Sensuality has an epic character, it has a narrative element but it does not really tell a tale, it has not reached the level of words which are able to do just that. 

Poetry, Literature, have the capability to tell a tale, they do work with words, after all. Yet, they are far too concrete to meet the ever changing, endlessly shapeshifting quality of sensuality. Language is the proper medium for expressing an idea, yet the sensual quality is reduced to descriptions of states which have lost their body and senses, are a mere recounting of experiences without the factual immediacy of bodily, sensual stimulation of the nervous system.

It seems to me that music is the only medium which is roughly able to represent sensuality. Music, like sensuality, has an element of time in it which sculpture and painting do not have. It lives, grows, transforms, changes and dies within time. And it invites us to successively take part, sensually, in these changes and developments. 

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‘The Everyday Enchantment of Music’ - poem

The Everyday Enchantment of Music

A rough sound was polished until it became a smoother sound, which was polished until it became music. Then the music was polished until it became the memory of a night in Venice when tears of the sea fell from the Bridge of Sighs, which in turn was polished until it ceased to be and in its place stood the empty home of a heart in trouble. Then suddenly there was sun and the music came back and traffic was moving and off in the distance, at the edge of the city, a long line of clouds appeared, and there was thunder, which, however menacing, would become music, and the memory of what happened after Venice would begin, and what happened after the home of the troubled heart broke in two would also begin.

                                                                               Mark Strand (1934-2014) *

*Mark Strand (1934 – 2014) was a Canadian-born American poet, essayist and translator. He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Literary of Congress in 1990 and received the Wallace Stevens Award in 2004. Strand was a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University from 2005 until his death in 2014.

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Friday, 12 June 2020

High Sensitivity Problem - Gift and Curse

High Sensitivity Problem - Gift and Curse:

*I was never promised a rose-garden. I still dream of one.*

Due to a biological difference persons who are highly sensitive process all forms of stimulation of their nervous system more deeply. This includes sight, touch, taste, thought and experience. As a result of that deep processing, mental overload occurs quicker.
What may be, say, a minor irritation to some, might upset or quickly drain highly sensitives of their energy.

High Sensitivity Problem is not a malfunction or a disorder, it is just the ability of processing information more profoundly.

Most common problems:

Overwhelm Is Easy
In daily life more often than not situations occur which tend to overwhelm highly sensitive persons. Life often feels like it is spinning out of control.

Noise Sensitivity
Loud noise, music, nearby discussions, these can feel like an assault on the senses. Especially when one doesn’t have control on the volume, which is usually the case when the noise is external, then one feels threatened, bothered and also made feel to be “difficult“.

Emotional Exhaustion
Many highly sensitive persons tend to absorb the emotions of others. Rather than just sense those they tend to feel them themselves.

Strong Reactions to Violence or Beauty
Watching movies with scary or brutal acts of violence is almost impossible, reading about sorrow or suffering is demanding. But the opposite is also true. Many highly sensitive persons have strong reactions to art. It may move them to tears and leave them to pondering it for days. And of course they realize that not everyone reacts in the same way as they do and begin to wonder. Sometimes they try to explain their emotional reaction and are then left frustrated because they think that they are, again, “different“. This is an isolating experience.

Overanalyzing Little Things
Persons who are highly sensitive tend to notice things other people miss. A lot of little things. Like when someone doesn’t meet their eyes when talking to them or the tone of voice doesn’t ring true when answering a question or the other person seems in general to avoid them. Then they start to wonder and tend to blame themselves for the behavior of others, the fault must lie within them. Another isolating moment.

For many people, going to a bar, party, or hanging out with a large group of people is just what you do for fun. But for highly sensitive persons, spending a prolonged period of time in a noisy, crowded environment can simply be too much. Again they feel like the odd one out.

Brushing Things Off
Someone makes a disturbing or crude joke, and everyone laughs. Except for the highly sensitives. Even though it’s “just a joke,” they may have a hard time brushing it off. For highly sensitives, injustice and cruelty are no laughing matter.

Voice Sensitivity 
For highly sensitive people, words really matter. Tone of voice matters and deeply affects them. A raised voice sometimes can feel like a punch in the gut.

Time Pressure
Nobody likes rushing, it makes us clumsy and creates stress. But for highly sensitive people, time pressure can cause serious anxiety.

Change can be hard for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for highly sensitives who find great comfort in routine. So even good changes, like a job promotion or a new relationship, can cause stress. Highly sensitive people usually need extra time to adjust to changes, even positive ones.

How to deal with high sensitivity problems. Here are some very basic rules to follow which might be useful:

Practise Self-Care
Get Enough Sleep.
Eat healthy foods regularly throughout the day.
Give yourself time and space to get things done.

Set up Boundaries
Set boundaries in your relationships, but also in other ways as well. Get more comfortable in telling people where you stand and what you need. This also means that you can choose people in your life to be part of your inner circle after they have proved themselves worthy of it, and you can put distance between yourself and those who drain you, frustrate you, or devalue you.

When you have a supportive circle of people who will listen and care when you have a problem to deal with in your life, it can be even more soothing to you if you are sensitive; sensitive people need to feel understood and supported a little more than others, and they are wonderful in their capacity to offer this back as well. 

Plan for Decompression Time
This is closely related to the idea of “setting boundaries“. It is all about setting a perimeter around your experience in life and your feelings about them. Learn to step back and observe. Learn to detach from things emotionally so you won’t get swept away so easily by the flood of emotions. 

Relaxing Zone

Have at least one quiet room or relaxing space to retreat to in your home. Try to make it conflict-free.

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Sunday, 7 June 2020

The Delicate Dance Between Solitude and Communion

The Delicate Dance Between Solitude and Communion:

Solitude, how I grave you and yet, how I do despise you.

There are times when I dream of being in a light-house, living there as its keeper, being all by myself, all alone, with no one to interrupt my thoughts and deeds. I think that in everyones’s mind and heart there exists an image of the ideal place, the one true home, actual or visionary. The lighthouse is mine.

In wanting to live in a lighthouse I grave what it seems to be able to offer: the limitation on external distractions which, for example in a crowded social housing complex, would surly be difficult to find. I do think that limitation often is necessary to creativity. Creativity blooms when seemingly unrelated ideas cross-pollinate each other and breed something new. This I have learned works best when alone.

And then there are times when I have enough of this self-enforced solitude and want to be out, out in the world, out in life, as I then think of it, somehow implying, all of a sudden, that I have lived not in life, but in some sort of limbo, bardo, half-life. After too much of solitude I want new energy to feed on. Otherwise I think I will go mad. Too much solitude, surely, is isolating and stifling to the creative spirit. Like all good things, solitude is only nourishing in moderation and can be deadly in excess. The dose is of utmost importance. Like with almost everything else in life, finding the right balance is the prescriptive remedy. But to apply it, I have learned, is not at all easy. 

Solitude means I am alone with myself, with my thoughts, with my ideas and I communicate mostly with myself, my inner theater. This inner dialogue is of great importance but carries with it the risk to un-learn communication with others, with the outside world. At best of times, after leaving my solitary home and going out to meet people, I find that I somehow grew stiff and awkward in communication. Most of times, though, I simply shy away from the onslaught, the overload on information. I have to get re-used to it and I do, but it takes time. 

Making the transit from one state to the other, from solitude to company, that is the hard part.

So far I have not found the ultimate right approach to lessen the stress of transit. The only agent I can rely on is time and repetition. But since I am dependent on both, solitude and communion, these are the labours I am willing to undergo. Iris Murdoch once wrote that “we became spiritual animals when we became verbal animals“. And this verbal animal here has to communicate, solitarily and in company.

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Saturday, 6 June 2020

‘The More Loving One’ - poem

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.


                                                      W.H. Auden (1907 - 1973)*

*Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) was a British-American poet. Auden's poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with politics, morals, love, anad religion, and its variety in tone, form and content. Some of his best known poems are about love.

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“Bewilderment" by Richard Powers - review

 “ Bewilderment“ by Richard Powers: “Dad! Everything is going backwards.“  This frustrated outcry of a nine-year-old to his father is the ...