Those that we inspire contract it

From Within a Budding Grove. Another prodding to read Henri Bergson one day.

The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.

Le temps dont nous disposons chaque jour est élastique; les passions que nous ressentons le dilatent, celles que nous inspirons le rétrécissent et l’habitude le remplit.

One of them eats the sweet fruit; the other looks on without eating

From Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Upanishads.  These two verses occur at both Svetasvatara 4.6-7 and Mundaka 3.1.1-2:

Two birds, united always and known by the same name, closely cling to the same tree.  One of them eats the sweet fruit; the other looks on without eating.

Seated on the same tree, the jiva moans, bewildered by its impotence. But when it beholds the other, the Lord worshipped by all, and His glory, it becomes free from grief.

Nikhilananda’s commentary – based on that of Sankaracharya – is available here (pg 120 of the PDF)

This life in brushwood-gate seclusion kept my days and nights utterly full

From David Hinton’s translation – The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien

Elegy for Myself

It’s the late-autumn pitch-tone Wu-yi, Ting year of the hare.  The heavens are cold now, and the nights long.  Geese pass, traveling south in desolate, windswept skies.  Leaves turn yellow and fall.  I, Master T’ao, will soon leave this inn awaiting travelers, and return forever to my native home.  Everyone grieves.  Mourning together, they’ve gathered here tonight for these farewell rites.  They’re making offerings to me: elegant foods and libations of crystalline wine.  I look into their already blurred faces, listen to their voices blending away into silence.  Hu-ooo! Ai-tsai hu-ooo!

Boundless — this vast heap earth,
this bottomless heaven, how perfectly

boundless.  And among ten thousand
things born of them, to find myself

a person somehow, though a person
fated from the beginning to poverty

alone, to those empty cups and bowls,
thin clothes against winter cold.

Even hauling water brought such joy,
and I sang under a load of firewood:

this life in brushwood-gate seclusion
kept my days and nights utterly full

Spring and autumn following each other
away, there was always garden work —

some weeding here or hoeing there.
What I tended I harvested in plenty,

and to the pleasure of books, koto
strings added harmony and balance.

I’d sun in winter to keep warm,
and summers, bathe in cool streams.

Never working more than hard enough,
I kept my heart at ease always,

and whatever came, I rejoiced in all
heaven made of my hundred-year life.

Nothing more than this hundred-year
life — and still, people resent it.

Afraid they’ll never make it big,
hoarding seasons, they clutch at

days, aching to be treasured alive
and long remembered in death.  Alone,

alone and nothing like them, I’ve
always gone my own way.  All their

esteem couldn’t bring me honor, so
how can mud turn me black? Resolute

here in my little tumbledown house,
I swilled wine and scribbled poems.

Seeing what fate brings, our destiny
clear, who can live without concern?

But today, facing this final change,
I can’t find anything to resent:

I lived a life long and, cherishing
solitude always, abundant.  Now

old age draws to a close, what more
could I want? Hot and cold pass

away and away. And absence returns,
something utterly unlike presence.

My wife’s family came this morning,
and friends hurried over tonight.

They’ll take me out into the country,
bury me where the spirit can rest

easy.  O dark journey.  O desolate
grave, gate opening into the dark

unknown.  An opulent coffin Huan’s
disgrace, Yang’s naked burial a joke,

it’s empty — there’s nothing in death
but the empty sorrows of distance.

Build no gravemound, plant no trees —
just let the days and months pass

away. I avoided it my whole life,
so why invite songs of praise now?

Life is deep trouble. And death,
why should death be anything less?

Hu-ooo! Ai-tsai hu-ooo!

Fold my hands, keep them clean

From selections of Po P’u (aka Bai Renfu, Bai Pu) in Jerome Seaton’s anthology The Wine of Endless Life: Taoist Drinking Songs

I’ve known glory, I’ve known shame
I keep my mouth shut tight
who’s right, who’s wrong
I nod my head in silence
as I ponder poems and histories
fold my hands, keep them clean
I’m poor as can be
yet elegant, and free;
the wind flowing


if wine doesn’t get me then poetry must
spirit wars with spirits, poetry with wine
all year long I idle with the breeze and moon
a useless man
but poems and wine, the music
of the truth within

An aside – I find the variability of transliteration the most baffling part of Chinese names.  I’ll read an anthology selection or a reference that looks interesting and spend ten minutes getting from the name I find to another variation whose better(?) claim to being the standard I don’t understand.  Today Po P’u led to Bai Renfu.  And best of luck moving from there to finding a translation under any of the normal 3-5 possibilities.


Perhaps indeed there exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world participates

From Within a Budding Grove, somewhat continuing the previous observation of the Platonic imagery often surfacing in Proust – though here I feel he pulls more from Plotinus and the Neoplatonics:

And yet I ought perhaps to have reminded myself that, since it was in all sincerity, abandoning myself to the train of my thoughts, that I had felt, on the one hand, so intensely in sympathy with the work of Bergotte and on the other hand, in the theatre, a disappointment the reason of which I did not know, those two instinctive movements which had both carried me away could not be so very different from one another, but must be obedient to the same laws; and that that mind of Bergotte which I had loved in his books could not be anything entirely foreign and hostile to my disappointment and to my inability to express it. For my intelligence must be a uniform thing, perhaps indeed there exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world participates, towards which each of us from the position of his own separate body turns his eyes, as in a theatre where, if everyone has his own separate seat, there is on the other hand but a single stage. Of course, the ideas which I was tempted to seek to disentangle were probably not those whose depths Bergotte usually sounded in his books. But if it were one and the same intelligence which we had, he and I, at our disposal, he must, when he heard me express those ideas, be reminded of them, cherish them, smile upon them, keeping probably, in spite of what I supposed, before his mind’s eye a whole world of intelligence other than that an excerpt of which had passed into his books, an excerpt upon which I had based my imagination of his whole mental universe. Just as priests, having the widest experience of the human heart, are best able to pardon the sins which they do not themselves commit, so genius, having the widest experience of the human intelligence, can best understand the ideas most directly in opposition to those which form the foundation of its own writings.

J’aurais peut-être dû pourtant me dire que puisque c’était sincèrement, en m’abandonnant à ma pensée, que d’une part j’avais tant sympathisé avec l’uvre de Bergotte et que, d’autre part, j’avais éprouvé au théâtre un désappointement dont je ne connaissais pas les raisons, ces deux mouvements instinctifs qui m’avaient entraîné ne devaient pas être si différents l’un de l’autre, mais obéir aux mêmes lois; et que cet esprit de Bergotte, que j’avais aimé dans ses livres ne devait pas être quelque chose d’entièrement étranger et hostile à ma déception et à mon incapacité de l’exprimer. Car mon intelligence devait être une, et peut-être même n’en existe-t-il qu’une seule dont tout le monde est co-locataire, une intelligence sur laquelle chacun, du fond de son corps particulier porte ses regards, comme au théâtre, où si chacun a sa place, en revanche, il n’y a qu’une seule scène. Sans doute, les idées que j’avais le goût de chercher à démêler, n’étaient pas celles qu’approfondissait d’ordinaire Bergotte dans ses livres. Mais si c’était la même intelligence que nous avions lui et moi à notre disposition, il devait, en me les entendant exprimer, se les rappeler, les aimer, leur sourire, gardant probablement, malgré ce que je supposais, devant son il intérieur, tout une autre partie de l’intelligence que celle dont une découpure avait passé dans ses livres et d’après laquelle j’avais imaginé tout son univers mental. De même que les prêtres, ayant la plus grande expérience du cur, peuvent le mieux pardonner aux péchés qu’ils ne commettent pas, de même le génie ayant la plus grande expérience de l’intelligence peut le mieux comprendre les idées qui sont le plus opposées à celles qui forment le fond de ses propres oeuvres

Unanswerable simply because they were without reality.

From Within a Budding Grove – I was going to comment on the Platonic flavor here but it seems Moncrieff beat me to it by rendering ‘Participant à la valeur universelle des esprits‘ as ‘being itself a part of the riches of the universal Mind.’  I’d call that one of his rare clear missteps.

And so, when Bergotte had to express an opinion which was the opposite of my own, he in no way reduced me to silence, to the impossibility of framing any reply, as M. de Norpois would have done. This does not prove that Bergotte’s opinions were of less value than the Ambassador’s; far from it. A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it. Being itself a part of the riches of the universal Mind, it makes its way into, grafts itself upon the mind of him whom it is employed to refute, slips in among the ideas already there, with the help of which, gaining a little ground, he completes and corrects it; so that the final utterance is always to some extent the work of both parties to a discussion. It is to ideas which are not, properly speaking, ideas at all, to ideas which, founded upon nothing, can find no support, no kindred spirit among the ideas of the adversary, that he, grappling with something which is not there, can find no word to say in answer. The arguments of M. de Norpois (in the matter of art) were unanswerable simply because they were without reality.

Et quand l’avis de Bergotte était ainsi contraire au mien, il ne me réduisait nullement au silence, à l’impossibilité de rien répondre, comme eût fait celui de M. de Norpois. Cela ne prouve pas que les opinions de Bergotte fussent moins valables que celles de l’ambassadeur, au contraire. Une idée forte communique un peu de sa force au contradicteur. Participant à la valeur universelle des esprits, elle s’insère, se greffe en l’esprit de celui qu’elle réfute, au milieu d’idées adjacentes, à l’aide desquelles, reprenant quelque avantage, il la complète, la rectifie; si bien que la sentence finale est en quelque sorte l’uvre des deux personnes qui discutaient. C’est aux idées qui ne sont pas, à proprement parler, des idées, aux idées qui ne tenant à rien, ne trouvent aucun point d’appui, aucun rameau fraternel dans l’esprit de l’adversaire, que celui-ci, aux prises avec le pur vide, ne trouve rien à répondre. Les arguments de M. de Norpois (en matière d’art) étaient sans réplique parce qu’ils étaient sans réalité.

It’s necessary…—What is?—To feel remorse

Suiting the mood of the last few days here’s an abridgment of Francois Villon’s dialogue with his heart.  The poem – as many of his – seems variously titled in different editions so I’m just leaving the most generic.

Who’s that I hear?—It’s me—Who?—Your heart
Hanging on by the thinnest thread
I lose all my strength, substance, and fluid
When I see you withdrawn this way all alone
Like a whipped cur sulking in the corner
Is it due to your mad hedonism?—
What’s it to you?—I have to suffer for it—
Leave me alone—Why?—I’ll think about it—
When will you do that?—When I’ve grown up—
I’ve nothing more to tell you—I’ll survive without it—

What’s your idea?—To be a good man—
You’re thirty, for a mule that’s a lifetime
You call that childhood?—No—Madness
Must have hold of you ….

Want to live?—God give me the strength—
It’s necessary…—What is?—To feel remorse
Lots of reading—What kind?—Read for knowledge
Leave fools alone—I’ll take your advice—
Or will you forget?—I’ve got it fixed in mind—
Now act before things go from bad to worse
I’ve nothing more to tell you—I’ll survive without it.

Qu’est ce que j’oi? – Ce suis-je ! – Qui ? – Ton cœur,
Qui ne tient mais qu’à un petit filet :
Force n’ai plus, substance ne liqueur,
Quand je te vois retrait ainsi seulet
Com pauvre chien tapi en reculet.
Pour quoi est-ce ? – Pour ta folle plaisance. –
Que t’en chaut-il ? – J’en ai la déplaisance. –
Laisse m’en paix. – Pour quoi ? – J’y penserai. –
Quand sera ce ? – Quand serai hors d’enfance. –
Plus ne t’en dis. – Et je m’en passerai.
Que penses-tu ? – Etre homme de valeur.
Tu as trente ans – C’est l’âge d’un mulet ;
Est-ce enfance ? – Nenni. – C’est donc foleur
Qui te saisit ?

Veux-tu vivre ? – Dieu m’en doint la puissance ! –
Il le faut… – Quoi ? – Remords de conscience,
Lire sans fin. – En quoi ? – Lire en science,
Laisser les fous ! – Bien j’y aviserai. –
Or le retiens ! – J’en ai bien souvenance. –
N’attends pas tant que tourne à déplaisance.
Plus ne t’en dis – Et je m’en passerai.

But in nirvana, springtime never arrives

From David Hinton’s translation of Li Po – The Selected Poems of Li Po

Written on a wall at Hsiu-Ching Monastery in Wu-Ch’ang

Now a monastery on southern river-banks,
this was once my northern kinsman’s home.

There’s no one like him now.  Courtyards
empty, monks sit deep in temple silence.

His books remain, bound in ribbon-grass,
and white dust blankets his ch’in stand.

He lived simply, planting peach and plumb,
but in nirvana, springtime never arrives.