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In honour to fulfilment

I want to begin with a rather special poem, one which means a great deal to me and which I used to introduce WULFSYARN – A Mosaic. The poem was composed by the Greek poet Konstantin P Kavafi (1863-1933) and the version I wish to share with you is a recension composed after puzzling over the poem for a long time and considering various translations of it.

‘Che fece…il gran rifiuto’

For some people there comes a day
when they must declare the great YES
or the great NO. He who has the YES
ready within him is clear, and saying it

moves forward in honour to fulfilment.
He who refuses, does not regret. Asked again,
he would still say NO, and that NO, the right NO,
condemns him for the rest of his days.

The title comes from Dante’s Inferno.

Kavafi in a few words has managed to say something very perceptive about the crises and successes which Life presents. One of the great enigmas of life is that sometimes we do not know YES from NO. Affirmation is not enough. The YES must come from the core of our being, just as assuredly as the NO, all too easily, does.

And of course, the YES does not always lead to happiness, but perhaps to something deeper. I am thinking of Oedipus.  For though he is innocent and sought to avoid his fate, he nevertheless accepts his guilt when the truth concerning the man whom he killed at the place where three roads meet and the woman whom he subsequently married, is revealed.

Constantine P. Kavafy

It was thoughts such as these which led me to choose this the poem to introduce Wulfsyarn, for the book is about a man who was profoundly ignorant of his own nature and the result was calamity.

In these days when we have acquired a deep distrust of politicians, having seen for ourselves the ways in which many, having achieved responsible status, are prepared to milk the system to their own advantage, while others, heedless or ignorant of the corrosive effects of power, are prepared to declare war… in these days we may well look for those leaders who, having a deep perception, are able to move forward ‘in honour to fulfilment’ as Kavafi says and which may require them to say “Mea culpa” and so put an end to lies and obfuscation.

While I can not claim to be a Buddhist, I am reminded of the first time I saw the Dalai Lama and felt something akin to recognition accompanied by an awareness that I was in the presence of an honest man. I felt safe. Later, talking this over with others who had been present at the Wellington Town Hall, I found that they had a similar reaction.

Returning to Kavafi’s poem for a moment, I feel that it directs us back to something very ancient: to a time when distinctions were clearer, when polarities were more evident and everything was simpler. Today we are more aware of the different shades of grey which accompany every action and decision. Writing, whether it makes us laugh or cry or leads us to swim in alien seas, is a bringing-to-order, a clarification of experience. To put that another way: it seems to me that writing does not provide answers to questions, for that would be propaganda, but it does help us ask the right questions and understand better the distinction between YES and NO.

Greek Theatre at Epidaurus

What’s New on the Site?

I have added a new page which I have called Drama Studies. This is mainly for those who studied Drama with me at Victoria University and the New Zealand Drama School, but of course anyone else is welcome to browse and to use the exercises that I describe.

Just a word of caution for those who may be coming to these things for the first time. Drama exercises are not games. The emotions they evoke are genuine, albeit transitory. They can touch deep recesses in our being, and so one has to be careful.  The golden rule is always to bring an exercise to a proper closure, and to return to the present with an awareness and an understanding of the journey that has been taken. Treat the imagination with deep respect, for it is one of our most powerful faculties. And of course, ENJOY the adventure.

I will gradually add more exercises.

I have also begun to add some short stories and a few more poems. See The Hero and The Trumpet from Tales from the Out of Time Café.

Other Books

If you are looking for a book which reveals the belief patterns of bygone civilizations such as Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and explores their relevance to today, then look no further than The Future of the Ancient World: essays on the history of consciousness by Jeremy Naydler (Inner Traditions 2009) It is simply superb. Each essay is complete in its self, but each is also a distinct tile in a complex and fascinating mosaic.

In the introduction Naydler states “ …today’s ‘common sense’ view of the world in which what is real is equated with what has material existence and is therefore best known and understood through the  methods of contemporary materialistic science, is a narrow and sadly reduced view of the world compared to that of the ancients.” In the essays that follow he reveals this ancient consciousness in all its splendour, emphasizing the supreme value which it placed on maintaining close and personal contact with the spirit world… that is the world beyond  our immediate senses, a world without which we are incomplete.

This is not a religious book in a specific, programmatic sense, nor does it preach. It does, however, seek to awaken, and its concern is with consciousness on all levels.

To gain some idea of Jeremy Naydler’s technique we need look no further than chapter two, The Heart of the Lily, in which he focuses on our changing perception of the plant world, contrasting “the ancient awareness of the lily as bearer of symbolic meanings, with the modern scientific awareness of the lily as no more than the physical organism whose structure is determined by its specific DNA.”

After exploring the iconography of the lily in different ancient civilizations and showing how it was it was an important part of their spiritual awareness, he reaches an important conclusion. Though our contemporary world-view may impose certain boundaries on our understanding, we do, nevertheless, have the freedom to cross those boundaries and by so doing arrive at a very different kind of knowing; one in which the perceiver “travels into the interior of the perceived. This interior realm is ultimately transcendent of an individual’s subjectivity. … it is rather the divine ground where subject and object meet. And surely it is here, if anywhere, that we reach the heart of the lily.” (The italics are mine.)

The book also presents interesting and challenging insights into ancient Egyptian religion. The writing is graceful and lucid. The ideas are exciting and important. This is one of the most compelling books I have read for a long time. I can almost guarantee that after reading it you will look at the world through brighter eyes…. And you will want to know more.

And Finally

Here’s a little puzzle I use in The Disestablishment of Paradise. For those of you who like such things, have a go. There is no trickery. It is pure logic. I give you twelve small balls which appear identical, and I give you a perfect balance with which to weigh them against one another. I tell you that one of the balls is slightly heavier or slightly lighter than the others. You are allowed three weighings only, and at the end of the third weighing you must be able to show which ball is the odd one out and whether it is lighter or heavier. Good luck.

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Although this web site is now open, it is still in the process of being created. I have a lot more to add to it such as ‘Work in Progress’, so I hope you will come back from time to time to see how I am getting on.  I hope too that you’ll send me a message to tell me what you think, whether of the books, the poems. the essays or the plays.
A word now about the image above. Saturn has always interested me since I first saw images of it in Arthur Mees’ Children’s Encyclopedia.  This volume was, of course, well out of date even by the standards of the 1950s – but what it may have lacked in scientific acumen, it more than made up for in its enthusiasm and optimistic belief in education – and it is those qualities that have stayed with me over the years.

In Saturn's Shadow - The Pale Blue Dot (Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

In contrast, the picture used in the banner is very up to date. It was taken by the Cassini Imaging Team and can be viewed in full at the Astronomy Picture for the Day website for January 11th in 2009. Apart from its uniqueness – the eclipse of the sun by Saturn, something that could never have been seen before – the picture is important because of the little spec which you can see just beyond the bright ring and at about 10.0’clock.
See it? Well that is us. All of us. Every man, woman and child alive today as well as the bones of our ancestors. Every Buddhist, Muslem or Christian as well as  every other religion or nationality. Every fish, spider, crocus and pohutakawa tree. All of us on every plane of existence.
As a writer, I think it is the most perfect image of everything I am trying to do in my books and stories: to give pleasure, surprise and perspective, certainly. But beyond all flights of fancy, it is that little dot that is the focus of all my efforts. Sometimes Science fiction is seen as escapist or unrealistic literature – and so it may be, sometimes – but to me, Science Fiction allows me to approach our world with all its complications, troubles and delights, in a way that allows realism and  raw imagination to work hand in hand. Not that there is really a choice: all us scribblers cope as well as we can given the proclivities and limits  we are born with. I am sure Jane Austen would agree with that.
Although all my books are out of print, copies can still be obtained from bookellers such as Amazon.co.uk, The Book Depository and Abe Books.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Malcolm Burgess who has guided my every step on the way to creating this website.  His patience has been extraordinary, combined with his enormous good humour.
I would also like to thank those friends who have looked at the webpage and given me their advice and suggestions.

 

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