Temet Nosce (Know Thyself)

This page exists as what used to be known as a "Commonplace Book" for the purpose of maintaining a log of the poetry and philosophy that inspires and propels much of my own thought and writing, and to share, with fellow sojourners, a collection of the beauty and wisdom of kindred souls throughout time. My hope is that we will collectively work towards the goal of a deep and sustaining self-knowledge that will, then, inspire and guide us to pursue beauty, peace and justice in our world.

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Friday, March 28, 2014

Before You Know What Kindness Is by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naom Shihab Nye, "Before You Know What Kindness Is"

Ask Me by William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say. 
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
~ William Stafford, "Ask Me"

"Going To Sleep" (Beim Schlafengehen) by Herman Hesse

Now that I am wearied of the day,
I will let the friendly, starry night
greet all my ardent desires
like a sleepy child.
Hands, stop all your work.
Brow, forget all your thinking.
All my senses now
yearn to sink into slumber.
And my unfettered soul
wishes to soar up freely
into night's magic sphere
to live there deeply and thousandfold.
~ Herman Hesse "Going To Sleep"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cutting Loose by William Stafford

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose from
all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.
Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell where it is, and you
can slide your way past trouble.
Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that's when
you get going best, glad to be
lost, learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

~ William Stafford, "Cutting Loose"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Broken Vessels" by Andre Dubus II

We receive and we lose, and we must try to
achieve gratitude; and with that gratitude to
embrace with whole hearts whatever of life that
remains after the losses. 

~ Andre Dubus II, Broken Vessels

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Wildness" By Thoreau

"We need the tonic of wildness"
~ Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"

"Emotional Life" by Martha Nussbaum

"Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them. Perhaps males, in our society, are especially likely to be ashamed of being incomplete and dependent, because a dominant image of masculinity tells them that they should be self-sufficient and dominant. So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences. What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings."

~ Martha Nussbaum "Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions"

"Truth" by Tagore

"In the apprehension of truth there is an eternal conflict between the universal human mind and the same mind confined in the individual."

~ Rabindranath Tagore in a conversation with Albert Einstein on the nature of the universe July 14, 1930,

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Education by Wendell Berry

“Education in the true sense, of course, is an enablement to serve—both the living human community in its natural household or neighborhood and the precious cultural possessions that the living community inherits or should inherit.” 

~ Wendell Berry

The Well Rising by William Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field—

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer—

The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.

~ William Stafford “The Well Rising” from, 'The Darkness Around Us Is Deep'

"The Fragility of Goodness" by Martha Nussbaum

"To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility."

~ Martha Nussbaum from The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Fierce with Reality" by Florida Scott-Maxwell

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done … you are fierce with reality.” 
Florida Scott-MaxwellThe Measure of My Days

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune by William Stafford

Wisdom is having things right in your life 
and knowing why. 
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you do have things right in your life
but do not know why
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune. 

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self--
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

~ William Stafford, "The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune"

"A Timbered Choir" by Wendell Berry

No, no there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

~ Wendell Berry, "A Timbered Choir"

"Inner Wisdom" by Lee van Laer

"Wisdom does not loom large in the modern psyche. It has been replaced by knowledge, which does not pretend to emotive value; in its least appealing forms, it even eschews such associations. It is strictly about things and the manipulation of them; and, unsurprisingly, it’s directed outwardly, towards the technologies of life and not their meanings. So we have many people who, externally speaking, are able but not wise; active but not prudent.

And perhaps this defines our society and our age as much as any other set of words: activity without prudence, or, imprudent doing.

To have prudence is to have foresight, to attend to. But attention is born from within, not from outward circumstances; and in the great esoteric traditions, as well as the traditional religions, attention is of a divine origin, not a worldly one."

~ Lee van Laer, on "Inner Wisdom

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"In Defense of Gentleness" by Kristen McHenry

Those who move among us in frailty, those who are broken by their first suffering, those who cannot swim, who will not take their share, those who balk at the confounding wisdom of violence, of the bloodlust force required to muscle into the world, to merely live upright, are the ones we come to in the end, begging for gentleness, for proof of mercy, however tenuous. All along, they have guarded the power of our fragility, like a sword we are yet untrained to wield. All along, they have known, and suffered for it. They have held up love like the world itself, thin arms straining to contain its lightness. They are in the end the most resilient, the way the soft bones of a willow triumph by deferring to the storm: Shaking loose their sorrow. Allowing, allowing, allowing.
~ Kristen McHenry "In Defense of Gentleness" I

Thursday, March 6, 2014

You Reading This, Be Ready by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift to this world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

~ William Stafford, "You Reading This, Be Ready" from "Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"A skein of geese..." Aldo Leopold

“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.” 

~ Aldo Leopold

Rilke, "I Love The Dark Hours of My Being

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, (untitled) "I Love the Dark Hours of My Being" from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God