Altogether elsewhere

The final two quatrains of W.H. Auden’s Fall of Rome have been circling in my mind during this extraordinary time. Especially as I think of my friends in New York. I had to search hard to find this photo I took from the top of the Empire State in the summer of 2005. But it feels eerily perfect.

Enjoy the hard-cut of the last quatrain. One of the most perfect and beautiful he wrote. Whatever is going on where we are, there is always a somewhere, altogether elsewhere.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.
Get in touch

2 Comments

  • Jane Davis says:

    Since there is so much talk and experiencing of social distancing, “distant socializing,” interconnectedness, shutting down, opening up, alienation, acceptance, fear, love, life, death, and more, below is a quotation from Alice Walker’s novel “The Temple of My Familiar.” People can interpret however they want what “HELPED” means (e.g., It is helpful to..???):

    “HELPED are those who are content to be themselves; they will never lack mystery in their lives and the joys of self-discovery will be constant.

    HELPED are those who love the entire cosmos rather than their own tiny country, city, or farm, for to them will be shown the unbroken web of life and the meaning of infinity…

    HELPED are those who love others unsplit off from their faults; to them will be given clarity of vision…

    HELPED are those who love the Earth, their mother, and who willingly suffer that she may not die; in their grief over her pain they will weep rivers of blood, and in their joy in her lively response to love, they will converse with the trees…

    HELPED are those whose every act is a prayer for peace; on them depends the future of the world…

    HELPED are those who love all the colors of all the human beings, as they love all the colors of the animals and plants; none of their children, nor any of their ancestors, nor any parts of themselves, shall be hidden from them.

    HELPED are those who love the lesbian, the gay, and the straight, as they love the sun, the moon, and the stars. None of their children, nor any of their ancestors, nor any parts of themselves, shall be hidden from them.

    HELPED are those who love the broken and the whole; none of their children, nor any of their ancestors, nor any parts of themselves, shall be hidden from them…

    HELPED are those who find the courage to do at least one small thing each day to help the existence of another–plant, animal, river, or human being. They shall be joined by a multitude of the timid.

    HELPED are those who lose their fear of death; theirs is the power to envision the future in a blade of grass.

    HELPED are those who love and actively support the diversity of life; they shall be secure in their differences.

    HELPED are those who KNOW.”

  • Jane Davis says:

    In the past few days, Zen Buddhist angel Kyodo Williams and mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Kinn, in different ways, have been addressing (in mindfulness-meditation communities) the continuing riots in more than 30 cities across the United States arising from the (taped) police murder of George Floyd. Intriguing that each of them, in different ways, indicates the need for people to disengage from contracting/contracted “I, me mine narratives”, from ‘othering,’ from turning away from suffering (that is everywhere). And the people they are talking to include ‘the enlightened.’ I think the world–Western society, at the very least–needs a massive, sustained, collective and individual Tonglen course/practice. Anyway, both Kabat-Zinn and Williams stress the need for people to engage in “the radical act of open-heartedness.” Otherwise, as James Baldwin once said, it’s just “thrust and counter-thrust, all the way into the abyss.” I’ll let Rev. angel have the last word for now:

    “if you are… surprised shocked incredulous …you’ve been asleep for a
    really long time, and it’s time for you to wake up and stop hitting the snooze button…
    the alarm has been set off.
    wake the hell up already.

    what can you do?

    ask questions. get comfortable with discomfort.

    arrange to get in conversations with the people in your life that need to be in this waking or you need to be in waking with…”

    My final thoughts: “Get comfortable with discomfort’–and remain aware of our shared humanity…

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