by G. K. Chesterton (1911)
White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.
Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the birds has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young,
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain –hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing,
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.
They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
St. Michael’s on his mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.
King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that, is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial, and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade…
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
The Prayer of Our Lady, the Song of Songs, nights that seemed like days, sighs of nameless pain.
THE TEMPTATION OF ST. JOSEPH
THE UNSUNG MAGNIFICAT:
AN HYMN OF PAIN
by Manuel Buen Abad (2015)
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
He looks on His servant in his lowliness;
henceforth all ages shall forget my name.
For He has blessed me with the Joy of my days;
He has cursed me with the Pain of my nights.
In His Love He has crushed my pride,
bent my back with a burden like no other.
In His Cruelty He has brought to my life
smiles and laughs, sighs and desire.
He put forth His arm in strength
and humbled my proud heart.
Though young and beautiful, tall and well-built;
though honest and kind, pious and bright
He judged me unworthy, culprit, deserving of His trial.
He has worked marvels with the skill of His hands
and shaped, with a Lover’s care,
the most sublime creature on this Earth.
She’s fierce as thunder, free as the wind,
Her presence an all-consuming fire.
How beautiful She is, O, how beautiful!
Her eyes are doves forever flying;
their beaks pierce my heart and it bleeds.
She looks forth like the dawn,
fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
terrible as an army with banners;
I look at Her and I tremble.
The fragrance of Her perfume
is more pleasing than any spice.
She’s a garden locked up,
a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain;
the fruit is ripe and the water fresh
and yet She remains unclaimed
but by Him, my Tormentor.
She fills our home with light
and joy pours like wine from Her mouth;
though I drink from it like a thirsty traveler
from Her Promised Land I am shunned.
And though I can read in Her gaze
the same eager desire that burns in mine;
and though Her breath goes away as I stare at Her face
I’m still empty handed and so I shall remain.
And in bed the sight of Her brown skin drives me insane,
the intoxicating scent of Her hair,
upon Her breasts I lay my head
and endless nights I spend awake,
my soul troubled, my flesh torn apart.
He, my Lord, my Master, my King,
He has released Hell upon my soul
and chose to kill me slowly, every day,
And I prayed, O I prayed
to Him the God of Israel,
Him, who remembers our father Abraham
and His people and His promise to them;
I prayed for an end to this life
but His silence was all I could hear.
And so it is my curse to love without reward,
my blessing to reach without attain,
to burn without consume;
to humbly witness Beauty here on Earth,
blindly witness Beauty here on Earth.
But I shall live on. I shall endure, I shall believe
that He hasn’t abandoned me,
that He hasn’t forsaken me.
I shall live on, I shall endure.
For Her, my love, my soul and hope,
my Sister, my Mother and my Lover.
And for Him in the cradle, for Him the Mystery;
He the Child, the Stranger, the Humble.
His Son, Her Son and now my Son,
my King, my Lord, my Hope,
He whom I love and whom I fear.
He once spoke from a burning bush,
now He shivers in the cold of night;
now He knows no words.
And when day comes, as it always comes
after the darkest of nights,
I get up and praise Him,
and kiss Her
and kiss Him,
His Mercies to the World,
His Beauty and His Word,
His finest signs of Love.
This song, a wonderful piece created by my most recent musical discovery, Typhoon, has become the hymn of my last year. It was a year filled with dreams and their subsequent shattering, with joy and with pain, hope and the most absolute of despairs. I’ve been lost out in the mountains, with nothing to nurture me but my own fears and misery; the shadow of an insurmountable loneliness creeping down upon me. I’ve been in search of something that might as well be a lie, made up chimeras that people whisper to themselves in order to feel comforted about their present and hopeful about their future. That search has brought me to the brink of insanity. And, although I think I might have found what I’d been looking for, it might all be a mirage, a cruel illusion, everything just precious stones I’d be forced to eat instead of the true nourishment my soul has been longing for. I’ll never know until I embrace its madness, even though the risk of harm is high. I just hope I will indeed settle by the water before everything is over, and I can at last enjoy the peace and healing I desire.
But, as others would wisely claim, no amount of suffering matters in the end, because heartache pales in comparison to Love.
BELLY OF THE CAVERN
I was lost out in the mountains
and I had run out of provisions.
I had one drop left in my deer-skin
and I had come to my last decision:
Should I lie down
or should I be laid down?
I had set out in the first place
from what I gathered from rumored hearsay.
I heard of treasures in a high cave
on the northern slopes of the coast range.
So I climbed up
but I didn’t know how to climb down.
So I wandered through the foliage;
I came across my own tracks and I became discouraged
until at long last I found a cavern;
I crawled inside and I lit my lantern.
And it was all there,
just like they told me it would be there.
I was lost out in the mountains;
I had no water, nothing to eat.
So I drank the soil from a golden chalice;
I gritted precious stones between my teeth.
And I regretted my lonesome palace,
I should have never listened to others tales.
All I had left was a priceless ballast
to hold me down from the howling gales.
In my mouth there burned a fire,
I was dying of a long long draught.
But then a voice whistled across the mouth of my cavern
and it said to me, it said that without a doubt:
“You will settle by the water before this is over.”
All my life I’ve spent wasting time, wasting my time
just to forget again but I don’t mind, I don’t mind:
I’ll take my medicine and I’ll be fine, I will be fine.
I’ll be fine.
Reading Edward Frankel’s bestseller “Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality” (a wonderful book about the beauty of Mathematics and the passion with which those who study it immerse themselves in its world, of which I’d like to say some words some other time) I found out about a 1966 short film titled “Yukoku (Patriotism): The Rite of Love and Death”; directed, produced, written and starred by the japanese author, playwright and political activist Yukio Mishima. It is based on an homonymous short story by the same Mishima, which was published in 1961. Frankel’s description of the movie left a vivid impression on me and I decided to watch as soon as I could.
A silent, black and white 28 minutes film, it has both the beautiful photography of Kimio Watanabe in the style of the japanese Noh theater, and the bewitching charm of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as its score. It tells the story of the death Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama and Reiko, husband and wife.
The plot goes as follows: Lt. Takeyama’s friends get involved in a failed coup d’etat in early 1936 and he is ordered to execute them. Torn between his love of the Emperor and of his friends, he decides that the only course of action that allows him to keep his honor is to do harakiri (“cutting the belly”), the japanese ritual suicide. His beautiful wife Reiko decides to follow him in this last journey, lifting the only shadow that weighted upon his departure from this world: the young couple would be together in the afterlife.
In their final moments they strip themselves of both inhibitions and clothes and make passionate love. The scene is plainly erotic, its beauty and the underlying sadness that this last encounter has make it also extremely moving. After their caresses are over, the Lieutenant prepares himself to die. The kanji for “sincerity” observes the scene hanging from a wall.
Assisted by Reiko, Lt. Takeyama kills himself. Blood and guts fall on the house’s floor and stain Reiko’s white dress, but she remains calm and brave. It is her turn. Always faithful, Reiko cuts hear throat, her lifeless body falling over the lieutenant’s, in a sort of final embrace.
Everything in the film tells us we’re in the presence of something sacred. Sacred is Takeyama’s honor, sacred his love for Emperor, friends and wife; sacred the burning desire that consumes the couple and that finds such a beautiful alleviation, sacred his suicide and that of his beloved.
But I can’t help to ask: which rite is which? Is the Rite of Love truly the obvious answer, their passionate self-giving? Or is it Takeyama’s death, out of love for his country and his friends; and Reiko’s, out of love for her husband? Is the Rite of Death really their suicide, as evident as it might look with all its gory detail? Or is it their last caresses, the joyous fire with its something of melancholy, with its “petite mort”, its “little death” as the french call the orgasm? Or perhaps there is only one Rite, as the title suggests, one continuous coming from Life to Death or from Death to Life, a single, indivisible, ephemeral event, a sigh of desire and of a dying breath? Watch it and decide for yourself.
Among the different kinds and species of individuals with which this good Earth is filled to the brim, the rational-minded one is perhaps the most curious of them all. Proudly dwelling atop their ivory tower (built upon “cold reason” and sheer intellect and decorated with the latest of fashions of the World of Ideas), the brightest among the bright delight themselves in instructing the commoners on the ways of life and in pontificating about every subject at hand. The basis for such annoying and pedantic behavior can be found in the premise that a mind entirely devoted to pursuing logic until its ultimate consequences possesses clairvoyance in its highest degree. This premise, if truth be told, is most of the time acceptable, if not absolutely correct. I find it close to a miracle that a thing such as logic exists at all and that it has the far reaching consequences that we observe. But I digress, for that discussion is for another time.
In any case, our arrogant people (from now on we shall call them by their scientific name (for nothing would make them happier), Homo sapiens intolerabilis) tend to polarize public opinion into two bitter enemies which, facing each other on the plains of the Realm of Arguing, are prone to fight with singular enthusiasm to the slightest of provocations, much in the like of Don Quixote’s sheep, in that memorable episode before he puked all over his (and Sancho’s) beard.
On the one hand we have the followers, which support the use of reason in every situation in life and look up to the intolerabilis as guides and mentors; and on the other their bitter enemies, the sentimentalists, those that hold feelings as superior in virtue, opposing the doctrine of Sola Ratio. The later believe that indulging in the passions that sprout from the experiences of daily life is the only true way to live fully; the first declare that the only passion worth pursuing is that of the love of logic and syllogisms. Someone might argue that there’s a third party in this game and that it is composed of those who don’t care to choose between the two lifestyles and those who work with a lukewarm mixture of both, and that someone would be right. But as it is often the case with non-radicals, the impact of this third group on the destinies of nations and on the philosophy that characterizes a given age is minimal, even if its numbers are significantly larger than those of the other two. Thus we’re not concerned with said group: its effects can be safely assumed to be negligible. Uncommitted people seldom need to think about commitment to this or that school of thought. Background noise is just that: noise.
The battles, then, between said opposing factions (which could be re-branded as Objectivity and Subjectivity) are always heated and often bloody. Families are torn apart, friendships come undone, relationships sink and nations fall. Hatred is not uncommon, even though the intolerabilis and their followers ought to avoid falling prey to such baseness. Both armies suffer considerable casualties, sometimes due to friendly fire. And this is precisely why I started my post declaring that I find the logic-driven individuals to be the most interesting of all: because invariably, and regardless of their degree of commitment to the Most Noble Cause of Reason, they screw up.
Indeed, it is a well known fact (or at least a reasonable extrapolation from particular, well documented cases) that whenever reason is the sole guide in decision making processes the outcomes tend, on average, to maximize profits for those involved in said processes. The degree of success is of course dependent on a plethora of variables (even individuals that always consciously follow reason can make mistakes, for example due to misinformation or ignorance). Anyway, that is why it’s not surprising that sentimentalists fail. Hell, they even value failure, as part of the human experience. Pain and Pleasure, Joy and Grief are for them parts of a whole, pieces of that gigantic puzzle that we call Life. The sentimentalists draw their breath, their existence itself from a paradox: that even when they fail, they succeed. Even when evil is born as a consequence of their actions, they rise triumphant, for they’re actually living according to their guidelines. But the intolerabilis and their minions, those neat and tidy Champions of Reason, end up sunk to their knees in the earthly mud of emotionally-addressed dilemmas. Voluntarily.
It is as if our nature were but a cruel joke: though capable of aspiring to pristine ideals such as Reason it is doomed to bring those aspirations to a bitter end. There always comes the day when the mind that until then had lived a purely rational life finds itself unwillingly willing to fail; when it chooses irrationality over rationality. Happiness, for the intolerabilis, is but a mirage: it appears to be almost there, only to unexpectedly vanish into nothing but heat, sweat and and infinite, barren land.
The existence of such an apparently useless, doomed aspiration -the Need for Truth, is a particular case of a very interesting metaphysical subject I have not the energy to deal with (Argument from Desire, anyone?). This is not the point of my monologue. What I intend is to Confess.
Far from me the pretension of being a member of the select race of the intolerabilis: I don’t posses neither the strength nor the genius to be a such a hero, leader and teacher. I’ve always been a follower, someone that has consciously tried to align his life according to the premise that logic alone must guide him. I’ve always been proud of that vein that drains warm blood from my heart and pours it cold into my brain. I’ve always wanted to be a mathematical entity, a perfect machine, an efficient device, a problem-solver.
But my day came. I’ve found myself for the first time at a crossroads where the road I’ve chosen is not the intelligent one. I’ve plunged myself into madness, the madness that an irrational decision means, one with very plausible and painful consequences. I’ve chosen to screw up.
All that is left is to stubbornly go on forward, to live the adventure of stupidity, the joy of passion, the pain of fire.
All that is left is to keep screwing up, and to do it with a smile.