“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” ~ John Green

Medieval Illustration: Astrology and the Body

  

“We all get lost once in a while, sometimes by choice, sometimes due to forces beyond our control. When we learn what it is our soul needs to learn, the path presents itself.” ~ Cecelia Ahern
Medieval Medicinal Herbs

It seems that I was just talking about the number of people I have come across who are giving up blogging. For some people, the time just seems right to close a chapter in their lives. For other, it is less a matter of timing and more a matter of  giving up the ghost, as it were. Blogging no longer offers the sense of accomplishment, or the challenge, or the outlet for release that it once did, and so, the blog dies—sometimes naturally, and sometimes with assistance. I find it sad no matter what the cause.

So extremely sad news, not just for me but for all fans of one of my favorite blogs: Floridana, by Janson Jones. Janson, whose life is very full with his family and his full-time job teaching at the University of Alaska, has decided to end his current blog.

I’ve been following Janson’s blog since I first began blogging myself. To not have it available for weekly reading is going to be a loss. The good news is that Janson plans to keep posting his beautiful photographs on deviantArt. DeviantArt is a wonderfully eclectic site that features submissions in many categories: digital art, photography, traditional art, film and animation, manga/anime, flash, and fan art.  If you’ve never visited this site, you might want to take a stroll through the submissions, many of which can be purchased.

Janson’s link on deviantArt can be found on my blogroll under Visual Stimulation or by clicking here. Janson, I’m really going to miss your posts and your incredible photography of Alaska, Florida, and other parts. Take care.

I have come to drag you out of yourself and take you in my heart. I have come to bring out the beauty you never knew you had, and lift you like a prayer to the sky.” ~ Jalal al-Din Rumi
Medieval Illustration: Veins in the Body

In other news around the blogosphere, I came across a few posts in recent days that deserve mentioning. First, there was a wonderfully-insightful post on Truth and Rocket Science called “Glass Full of Oil.” John, the author of the post, is originally from New Orleans, so he feels the acute dismay of this spill keenly. The post deals with the ethical issues of a country dependent upon fossil fuels, oil, and the oil business. Ultimately, it asks the hard question:

This isn’t rocket science.  It’s a matter of will.  We are the richest country on Earth, and we can do this if we want to.  While we’re at it, we can finally clean up the mess and set things to right from Katrina.  What America does shows the world—and more importantly, ourselves—what we really want and what we really care about.   What shall we do this time?

Another wonderful post comes from Rodibidably, who recently posted about healthcare reform. This post includes videos from Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, and Representative Barney Frank. The author is worried that the American people have become complacent about reform, and as a result, the opposition is gaining ground. He posits five action points on what still needs to be done about healthcare reform:

  • Ensure that EVERYBODY is covered and has equal access to health care
  • Ensure that medical professionals are making the decisions for what treatment should be given, and not accountants at an insurance company
  • Ensure that NOBODY goes broke due to health care costs
  • Ensure that everybody has access to medical treatment, regardless of the providers’ personal feelings about such treatment (i.e. don’t allow pharmacists to refuse to give women “the pill”)
  • Ensure that “Science Based Medicine” is the basis of treatment

And finally, Titirangi Storyteller featured a post on the 6th of June called “Women Time Forgot.” Unlike the previous two, this is more of a personal post in which the author talks about how we as women are supposed to age as compared to how we really age. Witty and ultimately enjoyable. Here is a taste:

Who are we? Where do we belong? We are the women that time forgot.

There is no name for us. No single word or box we fit into. There is only one acceptable definition – we are The Wild Women!

We’ve paid our dues. We’ve proven everything we need to prove. They ain’t got anything on us! The reason it’s been kept a secret is – we are the most dangerous people alive… We’re no longer living for them – whoever they may be.

Wild women. Women of a certain age. Women time forgot. All of these or perhaps none. Only the woman herself can know.

By the way, Titirangi is in Auckland, New Zealand.

Sometimes inspired thoughts weave themselves into the finest fabrics,
And grow ever fresher and more comely as they expand,
Glistening with colors of the most exquisite embroidery,
And tuned to the poignant music of a thousand strings. ~ Lu Chi
Medieval Illustration: Bloodletting

So last night, just as I was adding the images to my post about feverfew and sunflowers, the Internet went out. The post itself isn’t anything special, but it was one of those that took every ounce in me to write as I was feeling less than creative, downright listless, in fact. So when my computer stopped working, I was royally torqued out of shape. It had taken me almost two hours to write less than 1,000 words. The entire process reminded me of bloodletting.

You know, what they used to do to get rid of illnesses in people: cutting them open and letting the blood drip out so as to rid the body of ill humours, those four things that resided in the body and controlled a person’s health. Never heard of it? Then you didn’t study Medieval and Elizabethan literature because doctors in literature were always bleeding someone or using leeches to cure the ill. Hamlet, for example, is ripe with allusions to his ill-humour.

Even though medicine in the Middle Ages was derived from ancient Greek and Roman texts, elements of Islamic medicine were also incorporated, particularly during the Crusades. Hand-in-hand with the pervasive suspicions and beliefs in the supernatural, Medieval medicine was also based on the idea that factors such as destiny, sin, and astral influences could affect the human body.

The underlying principle of medieval medicine was the theory of humours, which was derived from ancient medical works. The idea of humours, which dominated all western medicine up until the 19th century, stated that within every individual there were four humours, or principal fluids: black bile (earth), yellow bile (fire), phlegm (water), and blood (air). These fluids/humours were produced by various organs in the body, and they had to be in balance for a person to remain healthy.

For example, my melancholy would have been diagnosed as too much earth. Too much phlegm in the body, for example, caused lung problems; so the individual would have been told to cough up the phlegm to restore a balance. The balance of humours in humans could be achieved by diet, medicines, and by blood-letting, using leeches. The four humours were also associated with the four elements and the four seasons, black bile-autumn, yellow bile-summer, phlegm-winter and blood-spring. The signs of the zodiac were also associated with certain humours. Even now, some still use words “choleric”, “sanguine”, “phlegmatic” and “melancholy” to describe personalities.

Aries Avoid incisions in the head and face and cut no vein in the head.
Taurus Avoid incisions in the neck and throat and cut no veins there.
Gemini Avoid incisions in the shoulders, arms or hands and cut no vein.
Cancer Avoid incisions in the breasts, sides, stomach and lungs and cut no vein that goes to the spleen.
Leo Avoid incisions of the nerves, lesions of the sides and bones, and do not cut the back either by opening and bleeding.
Virgo Avoid opening a wound in the belly and in the internal parts.
Libra Avoid opening wounds in the umbellicus and parts of the belly and do not open a vein in the back or do cupping.
Scorpio Avoid cutting the testicles and anus.
Sagittarius Avoid incisions in the thighs and fingers and do not cut blemishes and growths.
Capricorn Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and sinews in these places.
Aquarius Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and veins in these places.
Pisces Avoid cutting the feet.
Treatment According to Zodiac Sign
 
“Man is a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.” ~ Parcelus, 16th Century Physician
Medieval Doctor's Bloodletting Blades

Historically, physicians believed that many illnesses were caused by an excess of blood, and bloodletting was a frequent prescription for a wide range of conditions. As far-fetched as it may sound, the bloodletting may have actually been beneficial in some cases, as, for example, in cases of high blood pressure. Lowering blood volume would lower blood pressure. On the other hand, the loss of too much blood could make  patients sicker, and unfortunately, repeated bloodletting was often employed if a patient did not show improvement.

Therapeutic bloodletting was accomplished by puncturing veins punctured with knives or needles, or by using leeches to suck blood from a patient. Leeches are still used in modern medical treatment to treat specific conditions, such as poor circulation. In some cases, leeches can actually restore the flow of blood to a damaged extremity, potentially preventing the loss of that extremity.

So, bearing all of that in mind, I need to avoid cutting my knees, and I need an infusion of lemon balm (insomnia), chamomile (headaches), and yarrow (pain relief).

More later. Peace.

Eric Clapton, “Change the World”

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The poems, the poets, the words.

Qian Xuan Early Autumn detail 13th c ink&colors paper

 Early Autumn (detail) by Qian Xuan (13th C., ink and colors on paper)

 

 

“Thus moved, he will spread his paper and poise his brush
To express what he can in writing.” ~ Lu chi (261-303),
from The Motive for Poetry

I have spent too many days dwelling on life—my life, my role in this life, my thoughts about living life with someone you love but with whom you disagree at times (it’s called marriage). It’s all so complicated, and then, not really. As a result of my meditations, I wrote two poems, one of which I did not post. More on my poem(s) in a moment.

Today, I did not really want to write about mysef. I need a break from myself. Do you ever feel like that, like you would like to send that part of yourself that is in pain or is being a pain to another room, lock the door, and say don’t come out until it’s over? Of course, not possible in the physical realm of things, but I do know of individuals who can compartmentalize themselves to such an extent that they can move between the different parts of themselves, their different faces, if you will. They move seamlessly between their personae so that no one ever really gets to know them, the real them because there is no real them.

I’m not talking about multiple personality disorder here. I mean something much more ethereal, less tangible. Having dealt extensively with an individual who falls into this category, I can tell you that it is incredibly taxing. Me? I’m pretty much an open book about most things: I’ll tell you how I feel whether you want it or not. And as we all know, this is not necessarily a good thing. And self-censorship is something at which I have never been very capable. If part of me is in pain emotionally, then all of me is experiencing that pain; hence, my wish that it were not so.

Anyway, today’s post really isn’t about me. It’s about writing. Poems. Poets. Words.

“Perpetual thought itself gropes in time and space;

Then, the spirit at full gallop reaches the eight limits of the cosmos,

And the mind, self-buoyant, will ever soar to new insurmountable heights.” 

~ Lu Chi, from Meditation Before Writing

 

huang-shen-white-egrets-on-a-bank-of-snow-covered-willows-1767
"White Egrets on a Bank of Snow-Covered Willows," Huang Shen (Chinese, 1767)

In reading my comments and blogrolls today, I came upon the following poem by Chinese poet Po Chü-i (Tang Dynasty) posted by healnow of The Madder Hatter. I love Chinese poetry: Often it creates images with an enviable sparsity of words. Ancient Chinese poets were often involved in politics in some manner, and because of this, the poets would use metaphors to criticize the rulers of the time.

As with Japanese poetry, ancient Chinese poetry predominantly employs images in nature. I have tried Japanese Haiku as an exercise to use an economy of words. It is incredibly hard to write a poem that contains only 17 syllables (three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively). Of all of the Haiku that I have written, there is perhaps only one that I like, that I feels comes closest to the spirit of the form.

But as usual, I digress. “Night on the West River” employs only 64 words to create the same atmosphere that I was trying to evoke with “October Rain.” Granted, I really wasn’t thinking as much about form as I was more concerned with the emotion. But Po Chü-i’s lines, “Cold comfort,” “Water flowing grayly,” say what I was feeling but with much more perspective.

I usually don’t post any of my poems until I have worked and reworked them. I strayed from my own advice and posted purely out of emotion. I’m not sorry that I did. Don’t misunderstand. It was a pressing need, and I embraced that need with the post. Rather, what I am saying, is that it was an unfinished poem, and in comparison to “Night on the West River,” the deficiencies of my own “October Rain” are made all the more apparent.

It’s a good writing lesson, and it’s good to still be able to learn lessons. And of course, the masters are those from whom we can learn the best lessons.

Night on the West River

No moon
To light my way upon the stair,
Cold comfort
In the wine I drink alone.
Black clouds,
Rain,
The hurried flight of birds,
Water flowing grayly
In the dusk.
A rising storm,
Boats tugging at their mooring ropes.
Or sails full-spread
To take advantage of the wind.
A moving point of fire
In the dark,
The distant lantern
Of a passing boat.

(Translated by Henry Hart)

This poem and many others can be found on a website called Humanist Texts, which includes writings by Aeschylus, Cervantes, Khayyam, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and many others. According to the home page, the purpose of the website is to show “how people around the world gradually develop an understanding of what it is to be human. Multicultural extracts portray the wit, wisdom, and poetry of individuals as they reflect on ethics, philosophy, knowledge, and human relationships.” It’s a great site, and many thanks to The Madder Hatter for turning me on to it.

The following poem by Lu chi has more of a modern sensibility, but very often, translating from Chinese or Japanese—which is an arduous task—can be made harder as no precise English word exists for words in those vocabularies.

Unfortunately for Lu chi, his creative sensibilities were compelled into military service as he was born into a wealthy military family. Much of Lu chi’s work was dedicated to writing about the craft of writing.

The Joy of Writing 

Writing is in itself a joy,

Yet saints and sages have long since held it in awe.

For it is being, created by tasking the great void;

And it is sound rung out of profound silence.

In a sheet of paper is contained the infinite,

And, evolved from an inch-sized heart, an endless panorama.

The words, as they expand, become all-evocative,

The thought, still further pursued, will run the deeper,

Till flowers in full blossom exhale all-pervading fragrance,

And tender boughs, their saps running, grow to a whole jungle of splendor.

Bright winds spread luminous wings, quick breezes soar from the earth,

And, nimbus-like amidst all these, rises the glory of the literary world.

 

“All objects visible under the sun or moon will the poet in experiment strike aglow,

All that can give out a sound he will ring to test their resonance.”

~ Lu Chi from The Working Process

 

Ogata Korin Red and White FLowers in Bloom by a Flowing Stream 18th C 2panel screen ink color gold silver onpap
"Red and White Flowers in Bloom by a Flowing Stream," Ogata Korin (18th C. Japanese, screen)

 

I love the line, “The words, as they expand, become all-evocative.” Exactement! That is what I seek when I write: to allow my words to come from a void and to expand until they fill the space for which they were intended. Lofty goal? Not really. Reduced to its simplest form, it merely means sifting through all of the possible words and finding the exact right word to convey the thought.

 

I’ll leave you now with just one more, a selection from a poem by Medieval Japanese poet Hitomaro. I love the allusions to fall.

 

On the Death of his Wife (I)

 

……….

I would gladly follow

the wandering spirit of my love

through precipitous ways

hidden by autumn’s red leaves,

but cannot tread those unknown mountain trails

That lie beyond my ken.

 

In autumn’s fall of scarlet forest leaves

I see the message coming for me

and think of one day of love

that never more shall be.

 

To continue my theme of rain (may be a bit quiet) . . .

 

 

 

More later. Peace.