"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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Am I Dreaming?

Thinking of the philosopher who did "not know
whether he was then a man dreaming he was a butterfly,
or whether he is now a butterfly, dreaming he is a man."

Zhūangzi (Chinese Philosopher, c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC)

A few weeks ago, I was so mesmerized -- as were many others -- by an inspiring philosophical post from my facebook friend Anna that I decided to record it here, along with a few additional connections of dreams and butterflies and reflective reality. On the way to school, her little daughter Clara had asked her, "Mom, am I dreaming? Am I awake? How can I ever tell if I am really awake?"

A variety of clever responses followed:

She's a philosopher!

A post - modern existentialist!

Definite Descartes moment. Proud.

I think I am; therefore, I think I am.

Very impressive! How did you reply?

I said she was having a Descartes moment. She said "what?" And then I didn't say anything else bc my younger kid started scooting off down the street. Seems appropriate enough.

All in good time . . .

Put The Matrix in!

There's actually ways to test if you're in a dream . . .

I prefer to let her wonder . . . AHAHAHHA! Maybe that's not nice.

What you didn't pinch her?

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: -- do I wake or sleep?

~ Keats (English Romantic Poet, 1795 - 1921)

Not only did Clara's question remind me of Zhūangzi's parable of the butterfly and Keats' "Ode to a Nightengale," but I also suddenly remembered this mysterious prose poem tucked away in my autumnal saved files. Has the narrator dreamed up the entire conflicted relationship? Was she in his dream? Was he in hers?

I was always thinking about her even when I wasn’t thinking. Days went by when I did little else. She had left me one night as a complete surprise. I didn’t know where she went. I didn’t know if she was ever coming back. I searched her dresser and closet for any clues. There wasn’t anything there, nothing. No lotions or creams in the bathroom. She had really cleaned out. I thought back on our years together. They seemed happy to me. Summers on the beach, winters in the mountains skiing. What more could she want? We had friends, dinner parties. I walked around thinking, maybe she didn’t love me all that time. I felt so alone without her. I hated dinners alone, I hated going to bed without her. I thought she might at least call, so I was never very far from the phone. Weeks went by, months. It was strange how time flew by when you had nothing to remember it by. My friends never mentioned her. Why can’t they say something? I thought. I remembered every tiny gesture of her hand, every smile, every grimace. Birthdays, anniversaries — I never forgot. But then something strange started to happen. I started doubting every memory. Even her face began to fade. The trip to Majorca, was it something I read in a book? The jolly dinner parties, were they a dream? I didn’t trust anything any longer. I searched the house for any trace of her. Nothing. I started asking my friends if they remembered anything about her. They looked at me as if I were crazy. I sat at home and began to cheer up. What if none of this happened? I thought. What if there was nothing to be sad about?

~ James Tate (American Poet, b 1943)

Floor Mosaics, here and above,
at the Wynn / Encore, Las Vegas

And lastly, this dreamy poem which my son Ben was asked to respond to several years ago on a college entrance essay. The prospective students were given the poem without the last line and asked to imagine how the poet might conclude his reverie:

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

~ James Wright (American Poet, 1927 - 80)


Shortly after posting the above essay, I came across the following passages.
Two in two days! What's the odds?

1. Rereading an old favorite
on Monday, September 29th:
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
by Dai Sijie (Chinese–French Author & Filmmaker, b 1954)
"At this Luo broke away and started running, faster and faster, in a desperate headlong flight down the steep mountain in pursuit of the Little Seamstress. I went after him, taking a short cut across the rocks. The scene was like one of the bad dreams that had been troubling me lately, with the Little Seamstress losing her footing and falling into the void, and with Luo and me chasing after her, slithering down perpendicular cliffs without a thought of the risk to ourselves. For a moment I lost track of whether I was running in my dream or in reality, or whether I was dreaming as I ran" (193 - 94).

2. Starting a new favorite
on Tuesday, September 30th:
The Friendly Persuasion
by Jessamyn West (American Novelist, 1902 - 84)
"They rode into Vernon [Indiana] together . . . two rawboned farm boys . . . and saw it the way a man who thinks he has been dreaming wakes and sees the landscape of his dream lying all about him, the disaster real, hard and unmelting as sunlight -- and dreaming the only means of escape" (74).

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, October 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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