Archive for May, 2010

Above the clouds

How deep the shadows seem to lie in thought
(Upon the days of springtime where you dwell) ;
Apparently to keep attention caught
In traps and snares whose making none can tell.

What monsters dare to cast their empty stares
When you, in spirit, have no wish to be
O’erthrown by shady, truthless, void despairs?
Or brought to nought by their temerity?

So false, and false again, is that fey cloud
That tries to mar the Summer’s entrance –  vain
It is to interfere with one too proud
To take his gaze away from heaven’s grain.

You raise your eyes beyond the stellar  heights
And there your soul partakes of fair delights

Jamie MacNab

(For J.I.)


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In memoriam

They say if I but listen to the wind,
My soul should speak to me in ways unheard,
But felt – as if by touch divine ; and kind,-
In ways the noisesome world would make absurd .

But as I contemplate this little patch,
In which we laid you wrap’t in holy trust,
No calming silent words do come that match
This fairest ruin ever brought to dust.

But don’t they also say there is a throne
Beyond, to which the inner ear is tuned?
“Be stilled!  Direct your thoughts to that alone.”
And lo!  There comes a golden voice fair-booned.

If many mundane loves I let go free,
With all my Breath and Life I yet love thee.

Jamie MacNab

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It goes without saying that war is never pleasant, and yet history from the earliest times and in all places is very largely the story of wars.  Such is the testimony to the nature of Man.  It is a wonder that the more-or-less peaceful civilisations ever got off the ground.

And yet they did get going and they even flourished to produce wonderful works in all the arts – building, literature and music – to name only three.  But it seems to me that all civilisations have been martial, even when refined ; and their soldiers were looking two ways : outwardly to deter foreign aggression : inwardly to deter dissent.  Just as amidst life there is death, so amidst peace there is armed force.  Much can be written about why this was so ; and much also about the periods of exception.

Given the polarity that exists in Man’s nature – the willingness to fight and the desire for peace, it is perhaps not surprising that poets and playwrights have tried to capture the dilemma.  And not only capture it, but to tame it, not least in the imagination.  Thus it is that we have some wonderful literature to meditate upon.  And it seems to me that the best came out of those violent times of wild kings and ambitious princes – the Middle Ages.

Here’s a piece by Chaucer in which he maintains the tradition of encouraging people to think always of talking themselves up towards becoming more peaceful, honourable and honest with themselves.  Literature like this must have acted as a continual persuasion which, over many centuries, did lead to the general improvement in us.  This kind of writing is far from unique in those days.

As Saint Augustine said, “To become the person you want to be, you must first pretend to be that person.”

A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthynesse.
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne.
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce ;
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,
No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.

Geoffrey Chaucer

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Time and place have mystical qualities.  If we consider an eclipse, for example, its occurrence depends upon the more or less exact relation between three or more objects ; but what is surprising is that the appearance of the eclipse is more or less exactly predictable long in advance.  This suggests a mechanical sort of universe.

It suggests a universe where everything runs like clockwork.  Indeed, a universe that is a clockwork ; a clockwork that was wound up long ages ago and which has been running its predictable revolutions ever since.  All motion came from that primal winding-up.

One might expect many interesting things from a mechanical universe ; but voluntary motion is perhaps the very last thing one should expect.

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Well, everyone knows how I like Freud.  🙂

A straightforward diagnosis

My dear Doktor Freud, you must come to my aid,
For  disequilibrium makes me quite fade.
When I fly in a plane or ride on a bike,
A bott.  of best brandy I must first tike!

Professorial knowledge, I’ve heard it well said,
Is your hallmark, dear Freud, so to you I have fled ;
Will you tell me now clear how you practise your art,
So that I, on vacation, may sober depart?


“How to use psychological principles free
From suggestions that might so happily be
Of ze greatest potential for doing some good
Is a question of seeing ze trees from ze vood.

“For particular problems pose purposive pains,
While pandemical ponderings put people on planes
In a panicky predisposition to pine
For ze pleasing and practical fruit of ze vine.

“Now ze plane and ze pine are not multiple things,
For the one comes in squadrons, while t’other has rings ;
The collection of nouns and the tension of verbs
Gives a dual condition to specialised herbs.

“But you dendritophobia is mostly a mask
For concealing profounder conditions which ask
For a more comprehensive review of your past,
So enabling my science to give healing at last.

“That you ruminate deeply while high in a tree,
And expect to find solace in swigs of brandy,
Is suggesting neurosis involving a beach ;
For, while dad was a fisherman, mum was a peach.

“If my best psychological therapy’s well,
Then the interconnections should come to gel
The traces of reason that pull in train
The idea of my fee, which will free you from pain.”

Jamie MacNab

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Possibly one of the most poignant poems ever written in English.  It is one of those meditations where archaisms, such as thee and thine, are indispensable ; without them, the sheer intimacy evaporates and the thoughts become mere platitudes – as in so many modern poems.  Here the poet is doing her job, as did her great predecessors.  Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth ( to name only a few) rescued many fine words from oblivion and breathed new life into them ; and they are with us today.


COLD in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Sever’d at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
Thy noble heart for ever, ever more?

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring:
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lighten’d up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But when the days of golden dreams had perish’d,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy;
Then did I learn how existence could be cherish’d,
Strengthen’d and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Wean’d my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

Emily Bronte

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It is, of course, well-known in the science of psychology that the world that we say we know is in fact composed of cognitive models of that other world – the world around us.  Experimental psychologists tend strongly to the view that our knowledge consists of memories ; and those memories are comprised of particular configurations of chemicals within the system of neurons that the nervous system is made of.

There appears to be no simple geometrical relation between those neuronal configurations and the outside world. Thus there must be some mechanism that ensures that the cognitive models do in fact relate accurately and consistently to the world around us. If this were not so, then each of us would perceive the material world in a quite different way to our neighbour.

So much for the material world and our modelling of it. But there is yet another world.

This is the world of what we might (to avoid getting too technical) call ideas or opinions. This world is also composed of memories ; but memories that are understood in terms of language – of words. This world seems to be almost infinitely plastic – we are free to use words fairly indiscriminately. This world of opinions or notions is important to us, because we use it to communicate with each other.

If all communications between people were of a friendly nature, then any errors of perception, or misunderstandings, could easily be resolved by discussion. But there are some who seem drawn, or maybe impelled, to be uncompromisingly aggressive towards others ; they use harsh words that seem to be intended to cause offence and even pain ; these offensive ones make scurrilous references to the characters and life-styles of others.   But it is important to remember that, since the offenders have no means of knowing the truth of the accusations they make, their word-pictures exist only within their own minds.  Such offenders have created an inner world for themselves which bears little or no relation to the world outside them. I think there is a word for this.

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