Tag Archives: nature

The Guy Quote – Alan Watts

w1

Alan Watts was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker. Best known for making Eastern philosophy digestible to Western minds, his radio broadcasts, books and talks turned people on to new ways of thinking. He introduced the youth culture to The Way of Zen, he put forward the idea that Buddhism could be seen as a form of psychotherapy rather than a religion, he engaged with and explored ideas of human consciousness as well as man’s relationship with nature…to me at least he embodies the world-thinker, astride cultures, taking what is relevant or useful and leaving the dogma. He died in 1973 at the age of 58, at his cabin on Mount Tamalpais. Recently though, people have been setting extracts from his lectures to animations and montages, uploading them to YouTube where his words are enjoying a renaissance.

He was bright, exploring various types of meditation as a teen – he even met D.T. Suzuki – and then moved to America in 1938, just before war broke out. He became an Anglican priest, his thesis at the seminary attempting to blend contemporary Christian worship, mystical Christianity and Asian philosophy. Leaving the ministry after an affair, he went back to academics, teaching at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, and bouncing around various other places in following years as he toured the lecture circuit, travelled in Europe, had a TV show and wrote more books.

He expanded his studies into cybernetics, Vedanta and more; experimented with psychedelics in the early 1960s; and for several years was a Fellow at Harvard. He was enjoyed by intellectuals, but had a harder time with academics. Perhaps because – as Watts said himself – he was more “philosophical entertainer” than academic philosopher.

The excellent Wikipedia entry on him, which includes tonnes of links as well as the following:

Watts did not hide his dislike for religious outlooks that he decided were dour, guilt-ridden, or militantly proselytising — no matter if they were found within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism….he has been criticised by Buddhists such as Philip Kapleau and D. T. Suzuki for allegedly misinterpreting several key Zen Buddhist concepts. In particular, he drew criticism from those who believe that zazen can only be achieved by a strict and specific means of sitting, as opposed to a cultivated state of mind available at any moment in any situation. In his talks, Watts addressed the issue of defining zazen practice when he said, “A cat sits until it is tired of sitting, then gets up, stretches, and walks away.” [he also said about experimenting with drugs: "if you get the message, hang up the phone".]

Though known for his Zen teachings, he was equally if not more influenced by ancient Hindu scriptures, especially Vedanta, and spoke extensively about the nature of the divine Reality Man that Man misses, how the contradiction of opposites is the method of life and the means of cosmic and human evolution, how our fundamental Ignorance is rooted in the exclusive nature of mind and ego, how to come in touch with the Field of Consciousness and Light, and other cosmic principles. His books frequently include discussions reflecting his keen interest in patterns that occur in nature and which are repeated in various ways and at a wide range of scales – including the patterns to be discerned in the history of civilizations.

And so on with the quotes…

w3

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

“Playing a violin is, after all, only scraping a cat’s entrails with horsehair.”

“You will never get to the irreducible definition of anything because you will never be able to explain why you want to explain, and so on. The system will gobble itself up.”

“We therefore work, not for the work’s sake, but for money—and money is supposed to get us what we really want in our hours of leisure and play. In the United States even poor people have lots of money compared with the wretched and skinny millions of India, Africa, and China, while our middle and upper classes (or should we say “income groups”) are as prosperous as princes. Yet, by and large, they have but slight taste for pleasure. Money alone cannot buy pleasure, though it can help. For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.”

“What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.”

“Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name, and define fear in order to make it “objective,” that is, separate from “I.”

“I owe my solitude to other people.”

“Like too much alcohol, self-consciousness makes us see ourselves double, and we make the double image for two selves – mental and material, controlling and controlled, reflective and spontaneous. Thus instead of suffering we suffer about suffering, and suffer about suffering about suffering.”

“To put is still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”

“The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.”

“Naturally, for a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature. Instead of being a body, he ‘has’ a body. Instead of living and loving he ‘has’ instincts for survival and copulation.”

“Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”

“If we cling to belief in God, we cannot likewise have faith, since faith is not clinging but letting go.”

“Jesus was not the man he was as a result of making Jesus Christ his personal saviour.”

“And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words… As if you had a meaning, as if you were a mere word, as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.”

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

“Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.”

“Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.”

“Hospitals should be arranged in such a way as to make being sick an interesting experience. One learns a great deal sometimes from being sick. ”

“A priest once quoted to me the Roman saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh at each other across the altar. I always laugh at the altar, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, because real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter.”

“It is interesting that Hindus, when they speak of the creation of the universe do not call it the work of God, they call it the play of God, the Vishnu lila, lila meaning play. And they look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, as a sport, as a kind of dance — lila perhaps being somewhat related to our word lilt”

“What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions, and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money … but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth … In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas and words are “coins” for real things.”

“I am what happens between the maternity ward and the Crematorium”

“A successful college president once complained to me, I’m so busy that I’m going to have to get a helicopter! Well, I answered, you’ll be ahead so long as you’re the only president who has one. But don’t get it. Everyone will expect more out of you.”

“The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”

“The world is filled with love-play, from animal lust to sublime compassion.”

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.”

“For unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There is no point whatever in making plans for a future which you will never be able to enjoy. When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other future beyond. You will never, never be able to sit back with full contentment and say, “Now, I’ve arrived!” Your entire education has deprived you of this capacity because it was preparing you for the future, instead of showing you how to be alive now.”

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

w4

“It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as –Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so– I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it. ”

[[ps - please check out some of my other quote collections here - The Guy Quote]]

Photomicography – it’s a small world after all. Best viewed large.

Nikon Small World 2013Colonial plankton organism, Chaetoceros debilis (marine diatom), magnified 250x by Wim van Egmond, of the Micropolitan Museum, Berkel en Rodenrijs, Zuid Holland, Netherlands.
 

The Atlantic always finds the best pictures
. Here it shows the winners of the 2013 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition. Started back in 1974, the contest invites photographers and scientists to submit images of all things visible under a microscope.

First place this year went to a 250x view of a marine diatom by Wim van Egmond (above), showing the complexity and stunning detail of its fragile helical chain. Other entries included close-up views of ladybug feet, mollusc radula, dinosaur bones, nerve structures in embryos, and much more. Enjoy a journey into mini things by clicking here. Needless to say, best viewed large!

s04_20022382A 4x image of a worker ant, (Aphaenogaster senilis) by Dimitri Seeboruth, from Paris, France.

Konungs skuggsjá – by the pricking of my thumbs…(don’t) release the kraken!

Giant_octopus_attacks_ship 

There are certain varieties of whales in the seas of Iceland that may be eaten by men. One of these is called humpback; this fish is large and very dangerous to ships. It has a habit of striking at the vessel with its fins and of lying and floating just in front of the prow where sailors travel. Though the ship turns aside, the whale will continue to keep in front, so there is no choice but to sail upon it—but if a ship does sail upon it, the whale will throw the vessel and destroy all on board. Then there is a kind of whale called the rorqual, and this fish is the best of all for food. It is of a peaceful disposition and does not bother ships, though it may swim very close to them. Because of its quiet and peaceful behavior it often falls a prey to whale fishers. It is better for eating and smells better than any of the other fishes that we have talked about, though it is said to be very fat; it has no teeth. It has been asserted, too, that if one can get some of the sperm of this whale and be perfectly sure that it came from this sort and no other, it will be found a most effective remedy for eye troubles, leprosy, ague, headache, and for every other ill that afflicts mankind. Sperm from other whales also makes good medicine, though not so good as this sort.

Then there is one that is scarcely advisable to speak about, on account of its size, which to most men will seem incredible. There are, moreover, but very few who can tell anything definite about it, inasmuch as it is rarely seen by men—for it almost never approaches the shore or appears where fishermen can see it, and I doubt that this sort of fish is very plentiful in the sea. In our language it is usually called the kraken. I can say nothing definite as to its length, for on those occasions when men have seen it, it has appeared more like an island than a fish. Nor have I heard that one has ever been caught or found dead. It seems likely that there are but two in all the ocean and that these beget no offspring, for I believe it is always the same ones that appear. It is said that when these fishes want something to eat, they are in the habit of giving forth a violent belch, which brings up so much food that all sorts of fish in the neighborhood, both large and small, will rush up in the hope of getting nourishment and good fare. Meanwhile the monster keeps its mouth open, and inasmuch as its opening is about as wide as a sound or fjord, the fishes cannot help crowding in in great numbers. But as soon as its mouth and belly are full, the monster closes its mouth and thus catches and shuts in all the fishes that just previously had rushed in eagerly to seek food.

_____________

Originally quoted in Lapham’s Quarterly, which says: From The King’s Mirror. Composed in Old Norse during King Hákon Hákonarson’s reign (1217-1263), this anonymous instructive work takes the form of a father-son dialog and may have been intended for the king’s sons. The kraken, a fabled sea monster of Scandinavian invention, may have originated with a rare sighting of a giant squid. In addition to the humpback variety, the text mentions Greenland right, horse, red-comb, and white whales.

The Long Swath

On April 12, 2013, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) reached its final orbit, 705 kilometers (438 miles) above Earth. One week later, the satellite’s natural-color imager scanned a swath of land 185-kilometers wide and 9,000 kilometers long (120 by 6,000 miles)—an unusual, unbroken distance considering 70 percent of Earth is covered with water. That flight path—depicted on the globe below—afforded us the chance to assemble 56 still images into a seamless, flyover view of what LDCM saw on April 19, 2013. Stretching from northern Russia to South Africa, the full mosaic from the Operational Land Imager can be viewed in this video. Read and view more at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Feat…

You’ll probably want to stick it on full screen. Make sure you’ve got some suitable music to hand.

 
This excellent YouTube comment by “nhstorrs” puts it in perspective: 

No way. This is amazing! Landsat flew right over the spine of the birthplace of the human species, and at the same time the birthplace of agriculture. This is where we came from, and the environment which might be said to have had the biggest impact on what made us. . . us. There could almost be no other landscape so interesting to see in one large glimpse as this one.

Animals are awesome too… (a full screen, HD kind of thing)

“Got Muck?” An astonishing dive video, filmed up-close and macro in the Lembeh Strait

Muck diving gets its name from the conditions – sediment and mud and so on. Calm and shallow, but low visibility, but then it’s the muck that makes it interesting, as it’s the perfect habitat for unusual, exotic and juvenile organisms that make their homes in the sediment and “trash” that compose a muck dive. Creatures like colorful nudibranchs, anglerfish, shrimp, blue-ringed octopus, and rare pygmy seahorses.

Lembeh Strait is near Sulawesi in Indonesia.

You’re going to want to view this “large” or full screen if you’ve got the bandwidth.

Khaled Sultani, who made this, says: “Lembeh Strait diving – simply one of the best place in the world for muck diving and macro photo+videography.
Shot with Sony Cx550 with Light & Motion housing; with sola lights.”

The song is “The awakening of a woman” by Cinematic Orchestra.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise! Extreme Close Up! RUN!

Untitled

For optimum results…set it to FULL SCREEN, and then set the quality to 1080HD.Look at how mad its skin is around where the neck goes into the shell – you can see it breathing. So amazing.

Spring is like a perhaps hand

snowdrop1

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and from moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.
— e e cummings

For those in love with murmuration…

murmuration

Colossal says: “Filmmaker Neels Castillon was on a commercial shoot a few days ago, waiting to catch a helicopter flying into a sunset, when suddenly tens of thousands of starlings unexpectedly swarmed the sky in an enormous dance known as a murmuration. With his director of photography, Mathias Touzeris, the two filmed for several minutes capturing some pretty magnificent footage. You might recall a similar murmuration video from last year shot extremely up close and personal using a camera phone that went viral. How do thousands of birds simultaneously make such dramatic changes in their flight patterns? After tons of research, scientists still aren’t sure. The music is Hand-Made by Alt-J.”
 


 
Until recently, it was hard to say what made the murmurations possible. Scientists had to wait for the tools of high-powered video analysis and computational modeling. And when these were finally applied to starlings, they revealed patterns known less from biology than cutting-edge physics. As Brandon Keim puts it on Wired.com:
 

Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.

At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticality is created and maintained.

It’s easy for a starling to turn when its neighbor turns — but what physiological mechanisms allow it to happen almost simultaneously in two birds separated by hundreds of feet and hundreds of other birds? That remains to be discovered, and the implications extend beyond birds. Starlings may simply be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological criticality that also seems to operate in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood.

MAN

 

The boots.

A poem called October, by Bobbi Katz

October

BY BOBBI KATZ
 

October is
when night guzzles up
the orange sherbet sunset
and sends the day
to bed
before supper
and
October is when jack-o’-lanterns
grin in the darkness
and
strange company crunches
across the rumple of dry leaves
to ring a doorbell.
October is
when you can be ghost,
a witch,
a creature from outer space…
almost anything!
And the neighbors, fearing tricks,
give you treats.

 

Via The Poetry Foundation

Very Little Stars – super-lovely timelapse

Best viewed quite big (nice spot, thank you Adam).

Music “The Alley” by DeVotchKa.
Photographed and edited by Ben Wiggins.
Contact: info@timelapseinc.com

Snowy Range, Perseids meteor shower – we are hurtling through space on a rock!

Amazing composite image this. We really are spinning around the galaxy on a big rock.

The Perseids meteor shower: The Perseids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids are so-called because the point from which they appear to come, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus. The name derives in part from the word Perseides (Περσείδες), a term found in Greek mythology referring to the sons of Perseus.

Says photographer David Kingham:

Last night I went out to Snowy Range in Wyoming in search of dark skies for the Perseid meteor shower. I wanted something special for the foreground and I knew the Snowies faced in the perfect direction to get this shot. I started shooting at 10pm and didn’t stop until 5 am, I had to change my battery every 2 hours which made for a long night. The moon rose around 1am to light up the mountain range.

This is a composite of 23 images, 22 for the meteors/stars and 1 taken at sunrise for the foreground which was lightly blended in. I also corrected the orientation of the meteors to account for the rotation of the earth (this took forever!)

I had a great night which was made even better because I spent it with my newly adopted dog Emmie, she was a trooper!

Free wallpaper downloads on my website! www.davidkinghamphotography.com/night/h626c32b#h626c32b

Olympic Vermin

Olympic Vermin is such a great title for this video, featuring the scruffy creatures of London having their own mini-Olympic torch lighting. I have to say, I’d almost rather watch this then the real Olympics. Those rats are pretty cute (but you know, not in real life). Nice work from Amael Isnard and Leo Bridle.(via)

The Big Cloud: The Lovely Monster

Checked in on The Atlantic for the first time in a while, and saw these gorgeous images. Lovely Sky Monsters is a series by Camille Seaman, who partnered with storm chasers to track down and photograph a magnificent cloud type – the supercell.

Do definitely make time to look at the original set, and also her pictures of icebergs.

Clam likes salt.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves

“I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.

“We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.

“For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.”

James Kavanaugh on his first book of poems There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. An ex-priest, he wrote it in the early Seventies when he was living in a tiny flat in New York, surviving off peanut butter and processed cheese. He died in 2009 at the ripe age of 81.

++

Here are three from it:

Where are you hiding my love?
Each day without you will never come again.
Even today you missed a sunset on the ocean,
A silver shadow on yellow rocks I saved for you,
A squirrel that ran across the road,
A duck diving for dinner.
My God! There may be nothing left to show you
Save wounds and weariness
And hopes grown dead,
And wilted flowers I picked for you a lifetime ago,
Or feeble steps that cannot run to hold you,
Arms too tired to offer you to a roaring wind,
A face too wrinkled to feel the ocean’s spray.

and

I saw my face today
And it looked older,
Without the warmth of wisdom
Or the softness
Born of pain and waiting.
The dreams were gone from my eyes,
Hope lost in hollowness
On my cheeks,
A finger of death
Pulling at my jaws.

So I did my push-ups
And wondered if I’d ever find you,
To see my face
With friendlier eyes than mine.

plus of course

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.
There are men too gentle to live among wolves

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

I think it’s gonna rain today

Written by Randy Newman and covered by AT LEAST 60 major artists, from Nina Simone, Neil Diamond and Dusty Springfield to Peter Gabriel, Katy Melua and even Val Kilmer(?)

I like Norah’s version, but you’re spoilt for choice, so have a play and find your own favourite (Nina’s version is Jamie Cullum’s Desert Island disc – it’s the song his missus, Sophie Dahl, sang him the first time they met).

Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles
With frozen smiles to chase love away
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

Lonely, lonely
Tin can at my feet
Think I’ll kick it down the street
That’s the way to treat a friend

Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

“I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” as written by Randy Newman
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Things

Things

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

This is by Fleur Adcock. She wrote it in December 1973 – right in the middle of the Winter of Discontent. As she says in “Poem for the Day 2” (where I spotted it): “There were power cuts, a rail strike, shortages of every kind (a note in my diary on the 15th says that I managed to buy the last oil lamo in East Finchley). I had a cold, an elderly friend had just died, and all was bleak. The occasion for the poem was probably some minor cause for embarrassment that was keeping me awake, bet then all the more serious matters came crowding in. I thought other people would recognise the sentiments.”

But then, you read something like this and look out of the window on a nice sunny day, and think about the walk you’re going to have by the river or the lovely family you’re about to see, and it seems a little silly to let those things come stalking in. I love this poem. You can read it in a funny way too. It makes me feel better.

Samuel Johnson on Sleep


Sleep
by Samuel Johnson
The Idler‘ no. 32, Saturday, 25th November 1758

Among the innumerable mortifications that way-lay human arrogance on every side may well be reckoned our ignorance of the most common objects and effects, a defect of which we become more sensible by every attempt to supply it. Vulgar and inactive minds confound familiaritv with knowledge, and conceive themselves informed of the whole nature of things when they are shown their form or told their use; but the Speculatist, who is not content with superficial views, harrasses himself with fruitless curiosity, and still as he enquires more perceives only that he knows less.

Sleep is a state in which a great part of every life is passed. No animal has been yet discovered, whose existence is not varied with intervals of insensibility; and some late Philosophers have extended the empire of Sleep over the vegetable world.

Yet of this change so frequent, so great, so general, and so necessary, no searcher has yet found either the efficient or final cause; or can tell by what power the mind and body are thus chained down in irresistible stupefaction; or what benefits the animal receives from this alternate suspension of its active powers.

Whatever may be the multiplicity or contrariety of opinions upon this subject, Nature has taken sufficient care that Theory shall have little influence on Practice. The most diligent enquirer is not able long to keep his eyes open; the most eager disputant will begin about midnight to desert his argument; and once in four and twenty hours, the gay and the gloomy, the witty and the dull, the clamorous and the silent, the busy and the idle, are all overpowered by the gentle tyrant, and all lie down in the equality of Sleep.

Philosophy has often attempted to repress insolence, by asserting that all conditions are levelled by Death; a position which, however it may deject the happy, will seldom afford much comfort to the wretched. It is far more pleasing to consider that Sleep is equally a leveller with Death; that the time is never at a great distance, when the balm of rest shall be effused alike upon every head, when the diversities of life shall stop their operation, and the high and the low shall lie down together.

It is somewhere recorded of Alexander, that in the pride of conquests, and intoxication of flattery, he declared that he only perceived himself to be a man by the necessity of Sleep. Whether he considered Sleep as necessary to his mind or body, it was indeed a sufficient evidence of human infirmity; the body which required such frequency of renovation gave but faint promises of immortality; and the mind which, from time to time, sunk gladly into insensibility, had made no very near approaches to the felicity of the supreme and self-sufficient Nature.

I know not what can tend more to repress all the passions that disturb the peace of the world, than the consideration that there is no height of happiness or honour, from which man does not eagerly descend to a state of unconscious repose; that the best condition of life is such, that we contentedly quit its good to be disentangled from its evils; that in a few hours splendor fades before the eye, and praise itself deadens in the ear; the senses withdraw from their objects, and reason favours the retreat.

What then are the hopes and prospects of covetousness, ambition, and rapacity? Let him that desires most have all his desires gratified, he never shall attain a state, which he can, for a day and a night, contemplate with satisfaction, or from which, if he had the power of perpetual vigilance, he would not long for periodical separations.

All envy would be extinguished if it were universally known that there are none to be envied, and surely none can be much envied who are not pleased with themselves. There is reason to suspect that the distinctions of mankind have more show than value, when it is found that all agree to be weary alike of pleasures and of cares; that the powerful and the weak, the celebrated and obscure, join in one common wish, and implore from Nature’s hand the nectar of oblivion.

Such is our desire of abstraction from ourselves, that very few are satisfied with the quantity of stupefaction which the needs of the body force upon the mind. Alexander himself added intemperance to sleep, and solaced with the fumes of wine the- sovereignty of the world; and almost every man has some art, by which he steals his thoughts away from his present state.

It is not much of life that is spent in close attention to any important duty. Many hours of every day are suffered to fly away without any traces left upon the intellects. We suffer phantoms to rise up before us, and amuse ourselves with the dance of airy images, which after a time we dismiss for ever, and know not how we have been busied.

Many have no happier moments than those that they pass in solitude, abandoned to their own imagination, which sometimes puts sceptres in their hands or mitres on their heads, shifts the scene of pleasure with endless variety, bids all the forms of beauty sparkle before them, and gluts them with every change of visionary luxury.

It is easy in these semi-slumbers to collect all the possibilities of happiness, to alter the course of the Sun, to bring back the past, and anticipate the future, to unite all the beauties of all seasons, and all the blessings of all climates, to receive and bestow felicity, and forget that misery is the lot of man. All this is a voluntary dream, a temporary recession from the realities of life to airy fictions; and habitual subjection of reason to fancy.

Others are afraid to be alone, and amuse themselves by a perpetual succession of companions: but the difference is not great; in solitude we have our dreams to ourselves, and in company we agree to dream in concert. The end sought in both is forgetfulness of ourselves.

Samuel Johnson, 1709 – 1784.