"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Like an Ant

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon
by Sir Edward John Poynter (1836 - 1919)

"Learn how to live
a joyful and constructive life in this world,
like ants. . . . The secret of a meaningful life
is not in the long-gone throne of Solomon and the like."

Sa'eb Tabrizi (1601 - 77)

Sa'eb's reference to Solomon's "long-gone throne" reminds me of the statue of Ozymandias:
" . . . Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies . . .
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my words ye Mighty and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)

The kingdoms of Solomon and Ozymandias did not endure, their vast achievements dwarfed by an ant and a grain of sand. Padgett Powell, author of The Interrogative Mood presents a series of existential questions concerning this same dilemma of time, size and perspective. His inquiries suggest that we may have placed ourselves too high above the ant, especially when it comes to grasping the secrets of the universe:

"Is the human individual more important
than the individual ant, and if so by a factor,
what would you say, of what?" (10)

"Will you sing with me now: Oh let us be heroes,
let us have emotions pure or not pure be men
or not men, let us buzz and rumble the hill and
dale of daily insignificance just as confidently,
just as threateningly, just as humbly in its
cute red velour as does the velvet ant?" (34)

"Is it really tenable that a person has a a soul,
whether he has a cell phone or not,
and a grasshopper does not?" (160)

[See my book blog for more insightful questions from
The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell (b 1952)]

I like the way the lines of this painting by Leonard Orr
can be seen to resemble the elaborate architecture
of an underground ant colony!

Plaster cast reconstruction of an ant nest,
as illustrated in Wikipedia

I turned to Orr's paintings, confident that I would find something to illustrate ant - ness (as in, ant colony, ant hill, ant nest, ant industriousness, and so forth). Len generously responded: "If my painting manages to convey antness (the quidditas of ant, as Stephen Dedalus perhaps said), I am pleased."

"Although not immediately obvious,
there are quite a few people hiding here it seems."
~ facebook comment to Leonard Orr from Andrea Livingston ~

I decided on this painting, in part because of the accompanying commentary. Livingston's remark fits right in with the question of how different, really, are humans from ants. When I mentioned that I also wanted to include the passage about termites from Samuel Beckett's novel Watt, Len was one step ahead of me:
"For the only way one can speak of nothing
is to speak of it as though it were something,
just as the only way one can speak of God is to
speak of him as though he were a man,
which to be sure he was, in a sense, for a time,
and as the only way one can speak of man,
even our anthropologists have realized that,
is to speak of him as though he were a termite."

Samuel Beckett (1906 - 89)

In the following poems, it is the family dog whose superior comprehension of the meaning of life edges out any knowledge that we mere humans might possess:

from Her Grave
Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
He is wiser than that, I think. . . .

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her as yo do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
almost nothing.

Mary Oliver (b 1935)
from New and Selected Poems (14 - 16)

Trickle Up?
Does human evolution have a future?
Even our dog is troubled by the limited
significance of our presence. He whines
at the door wanting to get out.

Ernest Sandeen (1908 - 1997)
from the Collected Poems (278)

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?
~ Mary Oliver ~
Beautiful watercolor evocation
of autumn and bear - ness

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, December 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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