Inversion

It was on a walk along the Lenape trail earlier today, through Mills Reservation in Essex County, that we spotted this mushroom.

As most of us know, a mushroom is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelium that runs subterranean. And here in this forest were a variety of trees with roots that branched beneath the surface. As Robert Kourik in his work ‘Roots Demystified’ mentions [1] “While one rule of limb has been that a tree’s roots are one and one-half to three times wider than the foliage, other investigators estimate an irregular root pattern four to seven times the crown area; and, still other researchers maintain that the root extension can be four to eight times wider than the dripline of the tree, but only under certain conditions.” 

Leafy excess

This evening, something triggered me to compare the subterranean systems to John Gray’s idea of atheists as inverted believers. It may have simply been the word ‘inverted’ or the pessimistic philosopher himself that struck me, whose work I read with keen interest a few years ago. Terry Eagleton wrote of Gray’s book ‘Seven Types of Atheism’ in 2018 [2], that according to Gray, most humanists are atheists and have substituted humanity for God and that the  popular belief of atheism and religion as opposites, is a mistake. Religions are not theories of the world but forms of life and are less systems of belief than acts of faith and therefore he considered many fanatical atheists as no more than inverted believers. I am curious about this idea just as I am about a tree or a mushroom. I find a tree to be that sort of organism that has its lungs on the outside while the being itself remains embedded in the Earth, just like the mushroom emerges from its subterranean mycelium.

Gills

Well, my poem is not about John Gray or mushrooms or the Lenape or atheists, it is actually on the concept of inversion in trees. I must thank John Gray for inspiring this thought, though.

A seed lay buried to fate in a copse of stately Oak / Leafy susurrations in the crown above, seem to ruffle a verdant cloak / like wind subdued grasses in a glade //

Germination is but an adventitious murmur / seeking the depth of a dark silence / in roots swaddling the Earth like it would have simply crumbled otherwise //

The tree of life is scattershot / hidden from the eye of the Sun / It bends whichever way in seeking baptismal waters / sunk in the innards of the Globe //

There then, where roots are girdled / they chase around themselves in sacred enclosures until / they have choked the trunk to their aerial lung // 

In such viridescence resides poetry / a glint and shimmer until the flicker of Fall / but the trees themselves remain embedded in the mythology of loam //
Speckled in light, unfortunately

References:

[1]Roots Demystified, Chapter 9,  Robert Kourik, 2008. (He did his research for this chapter at the UC Agricultural Libraries at Berkeley and Davis in the late 1980s)~https://www.deeproot.com/blog/blog-entries/how-wide-do-tree-roots-spread

[2]~https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/11/seven-types-atheism-john-gray-review-atheist-believer-material-worldf

Abridged

My blogging hour today, looked a bit like this below; a bridge over moisture and pebbles 🤷‍♀️It’s a fancy bridge though, diacritical marks, lines and everything. (I notice now, some leafy punctuation too)

Somewhere in a forest in Pennsylvania.

And then it increasingly began to look like this …

The three tiers of angels:
Stare at 26 letters on the keypad long enough to rediscover that there are
10 above, 9 next and 7 letters below. The top layer is most powerful I think, with four vowels and rhetoric. The lowest layer are like a proletariat of fallen angels, working hard at words but merely making it past Onomatopoeia, a term in fact allocated by the priests and gentry above in some peurile fashion of quantitative easing. I never understood that term but this could just be it. The middle layers appear to be grousing incessantly about the afflictions of privilege … ADD, ADHD, LSD or plainly SAD. The GIF are the fourth estate and emojis, a preconceived catechism. When I say 🤩 I see stars only after the emoji, thus with the three tiers of angels I suspect.

I love words, they can be so powerful when saying the right things; so gravelly when one has to eat them, so unfortunate too, when one tries to converse with a tone deaf animal, like supplications to a rattle snake for instance (I did that on one rare occasion a long while ago, it makes me cringe now and a reptile’s a reptile). It brings to mind a memory of when my driving instructor told me that I should never ever honk at a buffalo or a rickshaw (tuk tuk) as both would be unable to understand the language of the horn (I learnt to drive in India). Words are so beautiful when making a promise and heavenly when delivering on it, healing when in poems and mantras, trenchant in sarcasm, violent in battle cry, inspiring in revolutions, so important too for speaking long distance with family. Most of all, I love words in writing but sometimes, they seem very hard to string together…

Start writing...
The WordPress 
paragraph prompt 
is an overseer with a whip
and I feel like an excuse
of a bridge over waters 
troubled in stone, 
not exactly the Nile 
but crossing sentences 
across the shallows
is simply being cross at life 
And the words rasp 
at my throat,
circuit my lobes housed 
in a head, fancy that!
But inflections are a mere 
tingle in my fingertips.
This must be writer's bridge ×=====×

The term ‘writer’s block’ feels like a dam against a conceit of deep waters, that could burst into a deluge or something along the lines of it. A ‘writer’s bridge’ in contrast feels like one must de-silt the river, create depth, more flow, to be a bridge that actually counts.

Dawn accreted glow 
like a need to walk 
out of a tangle 
of poetry in my head, 
to open fields someplace.
It must be the stars 
that rally us to 
experiential delights 
in thorny shrubs,
stinging wasps 
and atmosphere. 

It reminds me of Anne Sexton’s poem, ambition bird and her business of words …

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
the warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.


Ambition Bird by Anne Sexton
Read more~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148744/the-ambition-bird-5c11322239c2b

It brings me to this wonderful transcript I read this morning, on a speech by Virginia Woolf, on words … In the link is an animation of a BBC radio broadcast she made on 29th of April 1937, they brought it down to two minutes and I enjoyed this immensely. It made my morning to listen to a person that I have come to love after engaging with poetry; it takes a certain maturity to warm up to Woolf, to see her brilliance with the very words she speaks of.

She says:

Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great writer knows that the word “incarnadine” belongs to “multitudinous seas”. To combine new words with old words is fatal to the constitution of the sentence.

Further on:

...hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society.

Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, in paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Perhaps that is their most striking peculiarity – their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being themselves many-sided, flashing this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity that they survive.

Finally:

Finally, and most emphatically, words, like ourselves, in order to live at their ease, need privacy. Undoubtedly they like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious. Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light… That pause was made, that veil of darkness was dropped, to tempt words to come together in one of those swift marriages which are perfect images and create everlasting beauty. But no – nothing of that sort is going to happen tonight. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; disobedient; dumb. What is it that they are muttering? “Time’s up! Silence!”

If not for this broadcast, I would have never known that ‘incarnadine’ is actually a colour and is defined as a bright crimson or pinkish-red colour. (And no, I did not study Macbeth at school)

'Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red' Macbeth (Act II, Sc. II). 

Incarnadine brings to mind an image of the Red Canna by Georgia O’Keeffe, that I took at the library recently, which suggests, incarnadine should in fact be like the poetry of words, indefinable, not conscripted to one single shade and number in a paint catalogue. It manifests when one looks at the entire image, much like evolution I would like to believe, intricate fractals in the details. So it is with words perhaps, do they entropy towards the heat death of silence I wonder ? Some believe in Gods and deities, I believe in the colours of the red Canna today, the words of Virginia Woolf, the breath of fresh air and beauty in the infinite complexity of our universe. I think our lives are secreted within yet occluded by the literature of words in the science of being and as Woolf so elegantly observed: (at least about the English language, could apply to any other)

Our business is to see what we can do with the English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer. Think what it would mean if you could teach, if you could learn, the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper would tell the truth, would create beauty. But there is, it would appear, some obstacle in the way, some hindrance to the teaching of words. For though at this moment at least 100 professors are lecturing upon the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still – do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote 400 years ago when we were unlectured, uncriticised, untaught? Is our Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan?

Where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order.

But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. 
Red Canna by Georgia O’Keeffe

References:

Anne Sexton poem~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148744/the-ambition-bird-5c11322239c2b

Virginia Woolf on words ~https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20160324-the-only-surviving-recording-of-virginia-woolf

Mystic in the Rain and spotlight on: Júníus Meyvant and his floating harmonies

A discussion on Metaphysics feels a bit like this one that transpired between my friend’s two very young sons. The older one insisted that God made all things and dinosaurs were real since God made them, but Super heroes weren’t real. His younger brother was visibly  distressed at the ungodly and unreal existence of Captain America perhaps, when the older one finally assured him, that since God created the human intellect that generates superheroes, in a way God made superheroes too even if they were not real. His brother was very satisfied with this explanation. I am quite impressed  for this feels like what Metaphysics appears to me sometimes, the territory of  Marvel superheroes and fleshy dinosaurs (and their skeletal remains), a web of questions and the idea of an immutable God and other such, at least in substance Metaphysics.

I wonder also, if our inability to comprehend and make allowance for the kaleidoscopic dynamism in our expansive evolutionary processes, combined with the onerous ricocheting within the Metaphysical chamber is what drives us to seek the absolute monism of mysticism? Is it fear or exhaustion with the search for the meaning of existence, that provokes us to explore what we assume to be the mystical, a union with the absolute, to be undifferentiated in the experience of nothingness. It would be extremely difficult to achieve such a state, the path to which is as yet undefined except through the experiences of others. It feels like the difficulty of reversing time.

The prompt for my poem ‘Mystic in the Rain’, comes from a singer, some of whose compositions I found, evoked the mystical or simply, the poetic. Gold laces by Júníus Meyvant (moniker of the Icelandic born musician Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson) was a mainstay on my Pandemic playlist and to my amusement, one of my top songs of 2020 on Spotify, as was his popular Signals. I must have had a very small playlist 😅 Some of Meyvant’s songs read like spiritual songs then and he alluded to mysticism.

Source~https://juniusmeyvant.com/

I admire his faith in his muses (as he puts it) to have set music so, that takes you someplace else. When I first heard Meyvant, there was something sad and searching in the way he sang, that resonated with me, struck within a deep place of some congealed emotion that created a viscous perplexity of trying to find spirit. If this spirit exists at all, it must be the wellspring of personal creativity. Then again, I may be wrong, but is there is anything of the nature of the spiritual and mystical or are these simply words attributed to experiences we cannot comprehend. Or perhaps music has a way of channelling one to that frequency where the questions begin to dissipate and remain relevant no longer.

Meyvant also wrote Floating Harmonies, which veers into the realm of the psyche. His song, melody and tone flow like what some may describe as a gentle prayer. 

Floating harmonies by J. Meyvant

Floating harmonies,
breaking down
all over me tonight,
stirring colors to the sound.

White magnolia,
rise above
these monuments of broken dreams,
bricks of vanity.

Threw my hands up,
prayed for rain.
Clean eyes,
down, filled with pain.
Drift into quiet night
alone, to wait
in the subtle, broken mind
to be free.

Mystic tag-along,
hold me close.
I owe the world to see
a different part of me.

Threw my hands up,
prayed for rain.
Clean eyes,
down, filled with pain.
Drift into quiet night
alone, to wait
in the subtle, broken mind
to be free.

The pain of broken dreams, broken minds, can there exist such, except in the expansiveness of thinking, simply abstraction or even illusion? This brings me to the Vedas. It is Paramhansa Yogananda, who interpreted ancient Vedic scriptures in saying that the physical world operates under one fundamental law of Maya, the principle of relativity and duality. God in his absolute form is considered to be Complete Unity, the only way He appears as the separate and diverse manifestations of creation is when under a false or unreal veil of Maya, or illusion. Maya is thus, interpreted as cosmic illusion. (Well, given it is the age of the World Wide Web, I daresay it appears like the age of illusion) Are our mental processes too a matter of illusion and where is the immutable in them?

The schools of Vedanta like many other esoteric schools of thought, suggest engaging with life in the belief that the material is ephemeral and mostly illusory, but that feels like an inauthentic approach. The mystics on the other hand, propose seeking absolute unity of being but do not have any  methodology inveigled in the esoteric. The term ‘broken’ in the song, like in so much of poetry on the same theme of sadness, suggests though, that there is an immutable essence to minds, hearts, dreams, feelings as in the material, that can break into their component atoms, Our lexicon does little justice to experiences that are ineffable if we brush them off as illusions or perception along with the temporary material, not considering the realm in which they exist. As I explore this further in pursuit of underlining my own personal philosophy, it simply feels like the more I find out, the less I actually know 😀

Meyvant alludes to the Mystic in this song, yet in the next line ‘I owe the world to see a different part of me‘ he speaks of the non mystical, by signalling diversity, which is essentially a process towards differentiation, in contrast to the Mystic who veers towards absolute monism.

In his song, drifting into quiet nights to be free within, signals the type of contemplation while you seek a mystical experience, it does not appear to seek the truth as an epistemologist seeks, or meaning as a metaphysician would but the freedom of nothingness perhaps, union with the absolute. This is the way of the mystic as defined today. The human is perennially restless, the questions strangely have remained the same even if the philosophies or the approaches have changed to suit the times. The infinite expanse remains silent, echoing back to us our perennial questions, having scrambled them into a riot of syllables as the epoch turns.

In the formulation of a personal philosophy, mine allows for a curious and continuous exploration. The dualist as well as monistic approaches for me, erode the spirit in a soul conflict I am led to realise. Why is it difficult to appreciate the beauty of time and thus life, as a flowering in a kaleidoscopic excess, sort of spiralling outwards, forever in transformation and metamorphosis but through the interrelatedness of the dancing particles ? It is when particles fall off, the patterns disrupt. In an analogy to human lives, such disruption exists as minds are broken in a world that is severely compartmentalised alongside an inter identity amnesia.

I think too, the pursuit of mysticism for me feels not the begining of the spiral, for that appears like a disservice to the blossoming of spirit, but in the spiraling. No sunflower lay invested in bud nor the Nautilus in germ, we are all spirals of nature where we live as part of a larger process, that spiral we cannot see and do not comprehend or as yet appreciate as desirable, where we prostitute life itself by deeming it an illusion even as we seek God or a locked singularity. There are nascent beginnings but is it not in the interrelatedness of all immutable substances that life and thus meaning gets created, in plurality, a diversity of being? Then again, I need to further explore this, for there is no truth set in stone. I tried to write my own floating harmony today, inspired by Meyvant in a fit of spiritedness. He was my muse last year in a strange melancholy and this is my tribute to him too.

Mystic in the Rain by Davina E. Solomon

Can a rain be subtle, does it fall                             

in the becoming of science, for the mystic

yearns in parched land for dew drops.                          

The centuries floated away in a great flood

and were buried in sand, but the answers                       

are hid in shadows someplace. Downpours

the rhetoric of warring clouds, shed

like forever question marks on  
                                
an exhausted dust, rising off fallow sentiment.                  

Is there poetry in the reluctance of a glacier,

the babbling of a brook skirting rocks,                        

the silence of the deep of an ocean that

will never swell to surface? Can the rain                     

meet them all for succour in a deluge,

to freeze, splatter and dive? The river underground,         

taunts a divining rod  like a veiled God

dowsing a nascent church. Yet, there’s a hum

of liquid life that spirits

into the clouds to descend again like a creed   

and we pray, we pray that the soul quells

it’s thirst in worded silences like                            

the music of rain on a raging river.

Meyvant inspires me with his simple elegance in writing, his spontaneity I think with words, his easy melodies, something I aspire to with my own poetry. Here below is Color Decay.

Color Decay by J. Meyvant

Straight up right now
Is so wonderful
Way beyond believe and dreams.
Your voice is so beautiful.
Like the voice of quiet spring.

Little like the hours castaway.
Why wonder
Time ain't either here to stay
Why wonder
Time will always pass away

He sings of time, decay, entropy … that’s a partial salve to the rhetorical in the mysteries of the universe, answers that are truisms of sorts, like the passage of time, a concept we try to make peace with at an earthly level, harnessed that we are to cycles of the Moon and to the Sun. I have come to believe, we think of the flow of time as analogous to a trudge towards death and the opposite too, of it’s circularity. Is it our contradictions with regard to the idea of time that creates such metaphysical and spiritual confusion? I wouldn’t know but perhaps, think of time as a kaleidoscope, evolving like a snowflake, there’s beauty in that, how would it define our life then?

Do listen to the artist. He sounds like a prayer sometimes.

https://juniusmeyvant.com/music

Resources:

Mysticism~https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/m/Mysticism.htm

Definitions~https://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/syllabi/g/gier/306/mysticism.htm

Gifford Lectures ~https://www.giffordlectures.org/books/world-and-individual-vol-1/lecture-4-unity-being-and-mystical-interpretation

For Angelica

I was struck by the leafy beauty of the Angelica tree [1] which I came across at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia half of Assateague Island that we visited recently.

The trunk and petioles bear spines, a stem modification in defence from foragers, that makes it also quite deer resistant. The spines also gave it the common name of ‘devil’s walking stick’ or ‘prickly ash’.

Here below, is a botanical poem.

[Angelica tree, also called devil’s walking stick, Hercules’ club, or prickly ash, (species Aralia spinosa), prickly-stemmed shrub or tree, of the ginseng family (Araliaceae) (Encyclopaedia Britannica)]
[The Angelica tree can reach a height of 15 m (about 50 feet). Its leaves are large, with leaflets arranged feather-fashion and often prickly. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)]
Sweet Angelica, 
An overwhelm of your leafy
ramifications, waxed verdure
affections for a wayward wind.
My eyes caught the emerald glint;
now they glisten green
in a poetic apotheosis.

Should I deem you guilty
that 'twas the devil's walking stick
that sired you,
as virid envelope,
so delicate that every leaflet
would blend to a fine herb repast.

So I brave your prickly defences
in my manner of white tailed deer
and nibble of your leafy poetry.
A half mouthed curse that you sting
but your arbour rose
where none grew and I thought
you bloomed especially for me.

Rhizomes spiralled for life,
and the taste of muddied rain.
Other wanderers tried pillage
those jejune early fronds and
you recoiled in thorny armament,
a conflicted poetry I read on you.

Look at you now ...
largest leaf than any other in a North wind,
towering panicles that draw
a chorus of winged angels, quills.
These be the battlements of love
that will shed for life, in beauty

for when Summer leaves, there'll be Fall,
then the long rest of seasons.

Notes:

Devil’s walking stick ~ Aralia spinosa is commonly called devil’s walking stick and gets its common name from the stout, sharp spines found on its leaf stalks, stems and branches [2]

Prickly defences ~ The spines on the trunk are relatively stout, sharp and often arranged in curvilinear patterns around it’s  surface. In addition, large petiole-scars persist on it. The branches are rather stout, terete, spiny, and either light gray or light brown. Like the trunk, they also have persistent leaf-scars. The leaves are glabrous and sometimes spiny on their undersides.  [3]

Largest leaf ~ The tree is crowned at the top by umbrella-like canopies of huge compound leaves. Alternate, bipinnate to tripinnate, medium to dark green leaves grow 2-5 feet long and 2-4 feet wide, with individual leaflets (2-4” long) having toothed margins [4] The doubly or triply compound leaves are the largest of any temperate tree in the continental United States [5]

Panicles ~ The flowers are large, terminal, white panicles (loose branching cluster of flowers) that produce black berries in the fall. The flowers are attractive to may bee species and the fruits that are formed are important to birds as well. Not a plant for the garden, per se, but an interesting plant for naturalizing in woodlands or to grow in challenging locations [6]The inflorescences are compound panicles of floral umbellets. The abundant berries are eaten by such birds as the Cedar Waxwing, White-Throated Sparrow, Swainson’s Thrush, and Wood Thrush. [3]

References:

[1]~https://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2016/8/24/the-devils-walking-stick

[2]~https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/aralia-spinosa/

[3]~https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/devil_ws.html

[4]~https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c294

[5]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aralia_spinosa#:~:text=The%20roots%20are%20thick%20and,are%20prickly%2C%20with%20swollen%20bases.

[6]~https://plantfinder.nativeplanttrust.org/plant/Aralia-spinosa

Simply a vessel for a heart beat

Having woken up this morning surprisingly to having the weight of almost a couple of years it felt, lifted off my being, my husband’s ginger cardamom brew and the sound of my folks back home talking excitedly of steamed rice cakes in fragrant turmeric leaves, I wrote a poem simply for me. There are no rice cakes in the poem though. It is based on the Vessel and the structures around it. The Vessel, that looks like a beehive, is an interactive artwork in New York City, that was imagined by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio. It is Comprised of 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs, almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings [1]

The pandemic isn’t over yet, but it is clearly to be defeated in the impassioned centering of self, suffused in compassion. We all had the opportunity to learn I believe of universal love, brotherhood; at least the poetry I came across suggested that or it may have only been a symptom of isolation, lockdown and the war time atmosphere. In any case, my faith feels slowly restored in the universal, in hopeful optimism. I love the temporal, the way the material can inhabit beautifully defined forms elevates my spirit yet, I also find comfort in seeking the transcendental. I feel, in the architecture of such wondrous things created by a group of delicate vulnerable humans, there must be something spiritual in the collaboration.

The Vessel, Hudson Yards, Manhattan
The soul must be a tuning fork, 
for the pandemic flit past in a vibration.
Then all is still when the light gets the eyes
and the heart can define radiance,
simply in the clarity of lines and form.

The poetry of pathos is an epic elegy,
and of happiness, a paean to a heart beat.
A hive mind stilled to a limpid pool of reflection,
and a pall lifts, like the sun rises on glass held
in bezels of steel, on girders of strength.

Adored, blessed, loved, as clear as the day
is green. Time can be a blur in a cloudy soul
catharsis but the blue is simply sky, and
a warm heart's the colour of light. Structure
has wheels that are meant to turn.

References:

[1]~https://www.hudsonyardsnewyork.com/discover/vessel

Fernando Pessoa: “I break my soul into pieces and into different persons”

A poem about compartmentalisation and a post about Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa on his 132nd birth anniversary today, follows .

Windows ~ they shut out the light ; This is a log cabin we spied on one our walks in the Fort Lee Historic Park. The Park is located on top of a bluff of the Palisades in New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson river. 

This photo inspired the short poem below. The size of the window made me think of the amount of light we humans, try shut out of our lives. Our propensity to lock ourselves from the sun and the moon, given the nature of work currently, is not quite great for our vitamin D levels or our mood for that matter. Large windows are in fact, a creation of the modern world, ever since glass was discovered in Roman-occupied Egypt, where it was used to form small panes that were then set into window openings. In 1696, William III introduced a “window tax” in England depending upon the number of windows in private homes. Many people bricked over their windows in order to avoid the charge. William’s window tax is where the term “daylight robbery” originates from. It remained in place for 156 years and  was finally repealed in 1851 [1] This does not in any way alter the fact that our lives are spent cloistered within walls even when using a treadmill. In my poem, inspired by the photos, I used windows and ‘boarded up’, as an analogy for compartmentalisation, which is a form of dissociation. These confined spaces are where our traumatic or even unsavoury memories remain, interred from the light, to vanish into the dark, until someday the rooms may need to be aired to reveal the skeletal remains of some carcass or allow the wind to blow away the dust of bones therein. 

Sequestered 

And of words locked into phrases
that rarely come undone,
no matter how one should tease them
they block out the Sun,

encased in those mortal coils,
of an Arian philosophy,
trod rough shod like a raging ram,
gravel hills of ashen tragedy.

Celestial lights, merely be soft caress
though they burn bright or gleam or jest
Scimitar words now locked remain,
'neath dark dead wood pall they rest.

The blog today is dedicated to one of my favourite rationalist poets, Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa whose 132nd birth anniversary it is today, born that he was in, Lisbon, on the 13th of June,1888, a poet whose maxim was, “To pretend is to know oneself.” Carmela Ciuraru wrote a very interesting essay on him, ‘Fernando Pessoa & His Heteronyms’ [2] that I had referred to while reading his poetic work “Book of disquiet” early last year, long before I first joined the choral of voices on social media, at the onset of the lockdown. He wrote in English and Mensagem is the only book of poems written in Portuguese that he published during his life, in 1934. Ciuraru describes the man very simply as leading a shy and introspective life and that despite his seventy or so heteronyms or alter egos whose existence he was quite transparent about, he was an utterly guileless, psychologically honest, earnest man, not given to any ironic posturing. Pessoa writes of his personality best when he admitted at age twenty-two, “the whole constitution of my spirit is one of hesitancy and doubt. Nothing is or can be positive to me; all things oscillate round me, and I with them, an uncertainty unto myself.” He understood the destabilizing effect of living with perpetual uncertainty. “Am I happy or sad?” he asked in one poem. “My sadness consists in not knowing much about myself. But then my happiness consists in that too.” He was almost spiritually devoted to his work, with a predictable routine, an uneventful life and his many eccentricities, like of smoking eighty cigarettes a day, hating having his photograph taken, never arriving on time for an appointment, his interest in the occult, his formal dress and other such.

Fernando Pessoa Source ~ Wikipedia

Some scholars contend, as Ciuraru notes, that Pessoa was a latent homosexual who sublimated his sexual impulses but he did have one significant love affair with a woman named Ofélia de Queirós which failed ( she blamed him for the breakup) because he argued that love was a false notion, anyway, “it’s our own concept – our own selves – that we love,” and further that “the repression of love sheds much more light on its nature than does the actual experience of it.” Ofélia recalled that he withdrew from the relationship slowly without any concrete reason, stopped writing because he indicated there was something wrong with his head and that he wanted to go to the insane asylum. He wrote her letters that were alternately filled with love or bitter accusations, demanding, in his own words, that she stop tormenting him by giving him false hope and declaring feigned affections, given that his sad and solitary life was already a huge burden to bear.

What is most telling is that in rare moments of insecurity and alienation, elsewhere he expressed: “I’m all alone—I really am….I’m going crazy from this sense of isolation and have no one to soothe me, just by being near, as I try to go to sleep.” Yet, he also had perfect control over his emotions and withdrew just the same and wrote to Ofélia “By the way, although I’m writing you, I’m not thinking about you. I’m thinking about how much I miss the days when I used to hunt pigeons.” He also had one of his heteronyms, Alvaro de Campos ( a character who was a Marine and Naval Engineer) write on his behalf, explaining that his friend’s “mental state prevents him from communicating anything, even to a split pea.” Despite the grimness of the situation it can be hard not to feel amused by his wit and humour, his handling of it through the intervention of an imaginary figure.

I am most intrigued by the life of Pessoa as much as I am interested in his poetry, his multiplicity of characters. Last year in the lockdown, it made for strange reading, meandering through the mind of someone who made mental lockdowns and compartmentalisation sound so effortless, moreover I truly admire his work. There isn’t much biographical information available about him except his own written accounts of his motives and the speculations of others. His own personality was quite unknown despite writing on behalf of 70 alter egos. For all intents and purposes, he appears to be a man in pursuit of self-abdication. “Pessoa sought to expel not only his sexual desires,” scholar and translator Richard Zenith wrote, “but his friendly affections, his religious tendencies, his aggressive feelings, his humanitarian urges, his longing for adventure, his dreams, and his regrets.” Yet, it may be a disservice to define him as a case study of pathologies, as I have maintained in blogs earlier, everyone has their inner resonance and there are as many ways to live a life as there are beings on Earth. As Zenith noted, “Psychoanalysis is too poor a science to explain the case of Pessoa, who seems to have been simply, mysteriously, possessed by a demon – that of detachment.”

But the study of detachment is exactly what Psychology does best and so I turned to it to try and process Pessoa, during a time when it makes sense to process phenomena such as lockdowns, detachment and compartmentalisation. In trying to understand how a poet could create such intricate personas, embedded in nearly thirty thousand manuscript pages, inadvertently expressing an inner resonance that so defined his art, as a reader I am flummoxed like many others. After all, Pessoa wrote in ‘The Book of Disquiet‘ (posthumously published):

"I am the suburb of a non-existent town, the prolix commentary on a book never written. I am nobody, nobody. I am a character in a novel which remains to be written, and I float, aerial, scattered without ever having been, among the dreams of a creature who did not know how to finish me off."

As  Edouard Roditi mentions in his essay, ‘The Several Names of Fernando Pessoa’ [3] one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, Alvaro de Campos stopped only at the very frontiers of hallucination, depersonalization, self-alienation:

What do I know of what I shall be, I who do not know
       what I am?
To be what I think? But I think I am so much and
     so much.
And there are so many others who all think they are the
    same and they cannot all be right . . . .

Roditi goes on to speak further of Alvaro de Campos, who is drawn as an imaginary Jew, a neurasthenic* disciple of Marinetti’s Futurism**, a marine engineer who has lost faith in man and machines and no longer knows where he belongs or why he writes, where he describes de Campos as a character out of a Kafka novel:

I have lived, studied, loved and believed,
And today there is no beggar of whose fate I am not
      jealous merely because he is not I.
In each man I see the rags, the scars, the lies,
And I think: "Perhaps you too have lived, studied,
      loved, believed,”
(For it is possible to manipulate the reality of all this
      without actually achieving any of it);
Perhaps you have scarcely existed at all, like a lizzard
       that has had its tail cut off,
And the tail severed from the lizzard still quivers
       endlessly . . . .

Richard Brown in his 2006 paper [4] underlines that different types of ‘Dissociation’ have different psychological mechanisms. I tried looking up for more research on compartmentalisation within dissociation and Brown described it very well. I should be happy to read more on this though. Given that we are constantly faced with issues that beleaguer us in a way, I find many people processing trauma or experiences of high affect*** through writing and art. There are many others that are in denial while adapting to or in maladaptation to such stressors. I thought it interesting to cite the case of Pessoa and his multiplicities as a way to understand the limits of self awareness in the process of detachment as best as I can from my own reading on the topic (although limited) and my foray into writing. Perhaps this study isn’t applicable to Pessoa at all, perhaps he never suffered from any such but simply a strong urge to create.

My reading about the topic brought me to the blog of Ryan Blair, who for example, speaks of his own attempts at compartmentalisation as an entrepreneur [5], which involves a series of adaptations to the stressors of his life. His argument for focus through compartmentalisation is based on anecdotal experience, which relies extensively on an emotional detachment from all that seeks his attention in his world. It is a logical approach, mindset that promotes linear thinking that involves strict programming of the neural impulse in an effort to control it and define outcomes. On the other hand, Jill Riley, who is a minister of faith and a pastor, processes trauma and compartmentalisation differently, where she speaks of how prayer, scripture was her way of clearing out those compartments of trauma or unwieldy memories [6] I also found it interesting in both of the people I’ve mentioned, the traumatic or difficult experiences they have, differ in that some have clear solutions, while some do not. Grief experienced on loss through death or a break up of relationships for instance has no quick fix, many other stresses can actually be mitigated but how does one wish away the stress of an indefinable issue ? This is where I find Pessoa’s approach of successfully handling a multitude of personalities, most interesting. He apparently didn’t go insane but his 70 heteronyms suggest otherwise. In any case, what is insanity if not an expansive imagination, in Pessoa’s case it was perhaps even brilliant.

In his paper, Brown argues that the phenomenon of dissociation consists of two distinct categories ~  ‘detachment’ and ‘compartmentalization’ both requiring a different approach to definition, diagnosis and treatment. Dissociation engenders absorption, depersonalization-derealization, and amnesia, which occur at different rates in the population. Depersonalization and derealization are relatively uncommon in patients with medically unexplained symptoms, in contrast he says, it is patients with amnesia and dissociative disorders that often report somatoform (psychiatric disorders that cause unexplained physical) symptoms. I had written about anterograde amnesia and Rilkean memories in an earlier post about Rilke. Detachment meanwhile, is defined as an altered state of consciousness characterized by a sense of  separation (or ‘detachment’) from aspects of everyday experience.

The paper suggests that a sense of detachment may relate to the individual’s emotional experience (as in emotional numbing), their sense of self (as in some depersonalization phenomena), their body (as in out-of-body phenomena) or the world around them, phenomena that may occur in isolation although they commonly co-occur, and in each case, the individual’s sense of reality during the experience is preserved. Detachment  is also commonly experienced during, or immediately after, traumatic events, a phenomenon known as ‘peri-traumatic dissociation’, which is a defining   feature of acute stress disorder. It is assumed that humans have evolved a hard-wired biological defence mechanism to minimize the potentially debilitating effects of extreme affect in threatening situations by facilitating adaptive behaviours to it, thus detachment arises when an increase in anxiety causes the medial prefrontal cortex to inhibit   emotional processing by the limbic system, thereby reducing sympathetic output which results is a state devoid of emotional experience. A detached state, although adaptive in the short term, may be highly aversive and debilitating if it persists over time, as in depersonalization disorder. Chronicity may develop when the individual misinterprets the state of detachment  itself as a threat  (e.g., of impending  mental breakdown), perpetuating anxiety and emotional inhibition. I wonder if the construction of expressive alter egos is itself pathological detachment, does such a creation help adapt, for in Pessoa’s case, the genesis of heteronyms wasn’t, as per the literature I read on him, triggered by any trauma .

Compartmentalization on the other hand, is a phenomenon that involves a deficit in the ability to deliberately control processes or actions that one would normally be able to control, a deficit  that cannot be overcome by an act of will but which is reversible, at least in principle where the apparently disrupted functions operate normally and continue to influence cognition, emotion and action. It is a phenomenon that includes dissociative amnesia, fugue states and some somatoform disorders. (Brown)

Pessoa, a flâneur in the streets of Lisbon (Wikipedia)

No matter what be the dictates of the Psychological sciences, I take comfort in Pessoa’s argument that it can be of annoyance to a novelist when readers assume that his characters’ feelings or experiences are mirroring his own, so also people ought to respect that Pessoa’s heteronyms were utterly separate from him. It wasn’t any calculation on his part but only chance if they occasionally happened to express his ideas. He acknowledged that this was strange, yet he felt it was not for him to judge whether these heteronyms actually did or did not exist (Ciuraru). I blogged earlier about the views of Emily Dickinson on confessional poetry and also with regard to the female artist, as in the case of  Anne Sexton. I find equally concerning the views towards the writings of Virginia Woolf, as expressed in the biography I am reading of her (Granite and rainbow, The hidden life of Virginia Woolf, by Mitchell Leaska) that makes me wonder if the world has a tendency to view the female artist differently from the male artist. If respect can be accorded to Pessoa’s poetic construction of heteronyms without questioning his sanity or pathologising his detachment and compartmentalisation, then the same should hold true for the female artists, that need not, as in the word of Simone de Beauvoir, have to prostitute themselves for the sake of their art.

In Brown’s paper, it was mentioned that an important function of the working self is to limit the the retrieval of autobiographical memories that may be destabilising to the system, by creating retrieval programs that specify inhibition of such memories which remain compartmentalised, It has been suggested by Conway and Pleydell-Pearce (2000) that this may result in the development of traumatic amnesia in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or other forms of dissociative memory loss. There is a high degree of internal consistency in a normal working self, which is made up of mutually compatible goals, It is only when there is a discrepancy between conflicting goals (e.g., the goal to develop a romantic relationship vs. the goal to avoid rejection at all costs), negative affect (e.g., anxiety) will arise. People either adapt by creating realistic goals or maladapt through avoidance of the goal altogether. Research suggests that one way for the cognitive system to manage the resulting anxiety would be to prevent the   simultaneous activation of the conflicting goals. If this were to happen often enough, separate goal hierarchies (or working selves) could develop over time, each comprising the goals and sub-goals that were co-active with the   conflicting goal in question. Each goal hierarchy would have access to the autobiographical memories associated with its component goals, while memories associated with the conflicting goal would either be inhibited or unavailable due to the lack of relevant links in the knowledge base. Such a fragmented goal hierarchy could account for the gaps in time experienced by many patients with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), as well as the occurrence of multiple identities with inter-identity amnesia. Now have a look at what Pessoa says of the multiple identities of his heteronyms:

“I break my soul into pieces and into different persons.” he wrote. He also helped explain the difference between a pseudonym and a heteronym, that ‘a Pseudonymic work is, except for the name with which it is signed, the work of an author writing as himself; a heteronymic work is by an author writing outside his own personality: it is the work of a complete individuality made up by him, just as the utterances of some character in a drama of his would be [2] He believed he had no idea who he was, but his heteronyms were also quite confused “In each of us there is a differingness and a manyness and a profusion of ourselves,” wrote one of his heteronyms. Yet, within this cacophony of the people that lived in his imagination, Pessoa’s heteronyms actually, either savagely or kindly, critiqued one another’s writings. They also collaborated on projects and translated one another’s work.

I wonder what psychoanalyses today, would have made of Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa in Portuguese translates as person. Clearly, he was not one person, but many. In fact amidst the varied lives of his thriving heteronyms, Pessoa seems not to exist at all, such was his depersonalisation, the compartmentalisation of his characters, such was his detachment as an observer of his own life. His situation may be defined as a pathology by modern science and there are many people today that suffer from such afflictions, yet, not all of them waxed as creative as Fernando Pessoa 🙂 A man who knew Pessoa in later years recalled thus about him, “Never, when I bade him goodbye, did I dare to turn back and look at him; I was afraid I would see him vanish, dissolved in air.” He needn’t have worried, Pessoa continues to live in his heteronyms, in his vast creative output that still occupies the imagination of those that are awed by the sheer brilliance of his work yet his despair echoes through the voice of Alvaro Campos:

I am nothing.
Never shall I be anything.
I cannot want to be anything.
Apart from that, I bear within me all the world's dreams.

Feliz Aniversário Senhor Pessoa !

Notes:

Neurasthenia* — an ill-defined medical condition characterized by lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability, associated chiefly with emotional disturbance.
Marinetti’s Futurism** — Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti was an Italian poet, editor, art theorist, and founder of the Futurist movement. The Manifesto of Futurism (Italian: Manifesto del Futurismo) is a manifesto written by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and published in 1909. Marinetti coined the word Futurism to reflect his goal of discarding the art of the past and celebrating change, originality, and innovation in culture and society. (From Wikipedia and Britannica)
Affect*** — Affect, in psychology, refers to the underlying experience of feeling, emotion or mood. Affective states are psycho-physiological constructs—meaning, largely, concepts that connect mental and physical processes. According to most current views, they vary along three principal dimensions: valence, arousal, and motivational intensity (Wikipedia)

References:

[1]~https://www.thenbs.com/knowledge/windows-glass-glazing-a-brief-history

[2]~https://poetrysociety.org/features/tributes/fernando-pessoa-his-heteronyms

[3]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/66481/the-several-names-of-fernando-pessoa

[4]~https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6618765_Different_Types_of_Dissociation_Have_Different_Psychological_Mechanisms

[5]~https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanblair/2012/06/26/5-steps-of-compartmentalization/?sh=78346d0a1a62

[6]~https://hisheartfoundation.org/compartmentalizing-a-commentary-on-trauma/