August 11 2017

My Optimism

I’m an adult

My optimism is adult too

My optimism
Doesn’t smile all the time
It has rolled in the mud
It’s been struck on an anvil
It burst out into sparks under the hammer
It burned in a bonfire that almost went out
For a while people scornfully called it dead ash

It has been worked over with nightsticks
Jerked around every which way
Then floated downriver chilled to the bone
None of its fibres
Is tainted by even a speck of dust
It doesn’t wear coveralls
Not my optimism

My optimism
Isn’t a coat
That you sometimes put on and then take off
Nor does it have a pocket with a conscience inside
That you could sometimes bring with you
Or sometimes leave at home

My optimism
Leaped into my arms
And I warmed it up with my body heat
After it had been trampled when those
Who had once embraced it cast it aside

I warmed it up
And it warmed me

And reported on in secret
It grew up step by step
Yet without encountering obstacles
Without a taste of mean tricks
How could my optimism become adult?

Adult optimism
Isn’t always sweet
Sometimes its face is bathed in tears
I once heard it choking back sobs
But it woke out of its grief
Caught my hand
Comforted my heart
Propped my head in both hands
And tried gently to console me
With a tune that only parents would use with a child
Hello old friend inseparable as body and shadow
My long-suffering weather-beaten optimism

- Shao Yanxiang (1984)

May 02 2017

True Democracy

I wave away, with wild gestures, that merely dingy and spiteful democracy which consists in declaring that every throne is only a chair. The true democracy consists in declaring that every chair is a throne.

- G.K. Chesterton

February 04 2017

Giving Attention

There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really? This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.
—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (the voice is that of the character John Ames)

October 03 2016

Very deep as well as very funny

I just came across this quatrain by Lord Bowen, a 19th century English judge.

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.

March 21 2015

On Anger

The early Sages said: Anyone who becomes angry is like one who worships idols. They also said: Whenever one becomes angry, if he is a wise man, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy leaves him... This is the way of the righteous: They accept humiliation, but do not humiliate others; they listen when they are shamed, but they do not answer; they do this with love and are joyous in their sufferings.

- Moses Maimonides

February 25 2015

Renoir vs. Beethoven

A revealing anecdote from Jean Renoir about his father, the great painter Auguste Renoir.

"Whose music is that?" [His father asked Jean.]


"What a relief.  I was afraid for a minute it was that imbecile Beethoven . . . Beethoven is positively indecent the way he tells about himself.  He doesn't spare us either the pain in his heart or in his stomach.  I have often wished I could say to him: what's it to me if you're deaf?"

That says a lot about the painting of Renoir and the music of Beethoven!


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