Silence and Absence in Rumi

Rumi (1207-1273), astonishing for a poet, was preoccupied with silence. Now, on superficial examination poetry, writing, speaking is the antithesis of silence. But, for Rumi, silence like absence was the ever-present nothingness from which things, including speech and poetry, emerge. This insight, a miraculous insight, upends our usual understanding of how the world is, what…

The cellar of memory

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) described Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) in 1945 as   immensely dignified, with unhurried gestures, a noble head, beautiful, somewhat severe features and an expression of immense sadness.   I never met her except in her poetry. When I first read her poems, I found that they were charged as like with intensely powerful…

I pass as all things do, dew on the grass

The title of this post is from Bazan's death poem. He died in 1730 at the age of 69 years. His death poem refers to “dew” an image of transience in Buddhist literature. In my childhood, too, dew would settle, overnight, on the blades of grass, on leaves and flowers like a miraculous secretion on…

The moon leaks out from sleeves of cloud

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) is best known for his plays, in particular, Six Characters in Search of An Author and Henry IV. However, he also wrote novels and short stories. In his final year, he attempted to write one short story a day and he came close to achieving this aim. These short stories are collected…

Reading Conrad in Borneo

All around them in a ring of luxuriant vegetation bathed in the warm air charged with strong and harsh perfumes, the intense work of tropical nature went on: plants shooting upward, entwined, interlaced in inextricable confusion, climbing madly and brutally over each other in the terrible silence of a desperate struggle towards the life-giving sunshine…

Writing in cinnabar red ink

  We arrived by train at the station in Oranienburg, the self-same station that the inmates of this concentration camp arrived in. They would have been met by SS and marched to the camp, a distance of just over 1 km. The houses along the road are detached dormer-type homes with shiny glazed roofs. The…

Vallejo on the 1550 to Euston

My train is hurtling towards Euston. It's that time of the year when all the trees are freshly green and resplendent especially in the full afternoon sun. We've just gone past Rugby. There are no more stops before Euston. The fields to my left have yellow buttercups bordered by Mayflowers. There's the occasional hedge of…