In the temple of Ishtar

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The Babylonian Marriage Market by Edwin Long, 1875

There she stands like a nameless flower

Alone, away from a heap of roses in the garden

of the temple of Ishtar, Goddess of love in armor

and looks not with pride seen but with pain unseen

 

Days have left, Years have passed;

But the girl still roams around the temple

Alone, apart from the beauty selected

And consummated to a sacred couple.

 

Alas, what is it not the thing called Pity

When the wallflower unwanted, unsought

Alone, as always, waits a cruel eternity

Till she meets a beholder besotted sought?

 

P.S. Ishtar is the Mesopotamian goddess of love, war, and fertility. It is said that in ancient Babylonia, every young female when reaching a certain age should go to the temple of Ishta and wait for a man who will approach and take her as a wife to home. The temple was used as an open market for marriage, which was considered a sacred means of attaining divine union between mortals in the presence of the goddess. However, as the unfortunate ones in love have always been the figures of lamentation throughout human civilization, the shy, unpopular girls had to wait in the temple for years to be selected. This poem is to feel the feeling of being unwanted and ignored in the meritocracy of beauty…

 

 

 

a league of their own

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Reading a section featuring a small, pleasant Q&A type of interview with a writer in The New York Times Book Review on restful weekends gives me a kind of voyeuristic fillip to be privy to the life of the writer; moreover, the usual question of whom to invite for dinner is the gist of such small pleasure. I’ve found it quite stimulating to think about my own list of people to have dinner with. Therefore, I have herein drawn up my own list of invitees to confabulate with. Here’s my list of guests:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt: The paragon of the First Lady of the United States with Intelligence that ministered to her moral character, she put her philosophy into action by actively participating in social services. Besides, Mrs. Roosevelt possessed a polished but common sense of humor and wits communicative to people of all social strata with her timeless adage: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
  • Joan of Arc: The Virgin of Lorraine, The Patron Saint of France… Such are the epithets of this patriotic French maiden who was burned alive on the counts of witchery and treason, which was of course conspiracy concocted by the French ecclesiastical dignitaries collaborating with the English against whom Joan of Arc fiercely and courageously fought to victory. She was neither a religious fanatic, nor a hallucinated mooncalf, nor a certifiable schizophrenic. She might be a simple peasant woman but a courageous, headstrong, and smart woman of faith who did not even protect her face during battles with the English amid the attacks of sharp arrows, axes, and lances. No wonder did Mark Twain praise the Virgin Knight forthwith: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” Besides, her simplicity of faith excelled the pomposity of ecclesiastical knowledge by saying thus: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing, and we should not complicate the matter.” I can learn many things from Joan as a True Model Woman who embodied Intelligence, Femininity, Courage, and Faith.
  • Marilyn Monroe: Born as Norma Jean Baker, she was not a blonde bimbo whose physical attractiveness belied her ceaseless pursuit of knowledge concomitant with her pursuit of the meaning of life she desperately wanted to ascertain. Monroe enrolled in evening college courses in New York City when she had no schedules during the daytime. Behind her pretty persona of a movie star, there was a profound shadow of existentialist. Also, Monroe’s down-to-earth personality and kind nature would make her a lovely company striking up a convivial conversation at the table full of strangers.
  • Jane Birkin: Her bohemian look – that effortlessly sensual but charmingly delightful facade with simple French Chic style is always timeless and boundless, appealing to Womankind imbuing with a sense of emulation of the style. In fact, such qualities of Birkin had one time convinced me that she was French. She seems to wear sexuality like she’s wearing her favorite set of perfumes, which is never vulgar nor degrading. Once a shy English girl is now a sensuous cosmopolitan woman demonstrating admixture of art and individuality in the most fashionable way. She will be a delightful addition to my lunchtime table.

In view of the above, my guests of honors are an eclectic company of women, past or present, surprisingly and strictly non-professional authors who make a living by writing only, although I did not intend it to be that way. Or maybe my preconception of professional authors – especially women – as highly volatile artists with inflated egos, dazzling intelligence, divine beauty, and impressive achievements might have played a vital role in excluding unconsciously any of them from my circle of companions. But so did Michelangelo; he was never befriended with his contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci, who in fact lambasted his untidiness as a sculptor in comparison with a baker. Nor did Michelangelo make friends with other famous artists. Instead,  he was a friend of some obscure artisan who helped around various artists by doing sorts of drudgery. It all boils down to the fact that having a good company of kindred spirits can do a favorable service to your soul, making you feel charitable and magnanimous, so much so that you can- to quote the swashbuckling Oscar Wilde- “forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”

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Poesie – the moon

They whisper lovers’ words

In the soft sweet moonlight

With the bright hues of 

the Evening star quivering

in a delight of a gentle caress

of the commending nightly sky

and its reflection in the waters 

Beneath the visiting lunar beauty

chaste and fair, excellently bright.

P.S.: The moon has been an inspiration for many a writer, ranging from Ben Jonson, who revered it as a seat of chaste goddess Diana, to W.H. Auden, eulogizing it as the one and only lunar beauty. I took the liberty of joining Jonson and Auden by writing this with the image of the moon I have in mind. 

the five faces of a fool

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The Five Faces of a Fool he pulls off proudly

The prince whines and whimpers loudly;

He defies the humility of heart as ever,

He falls for the false praises to no ends,

He mocks the wise counsels evermore,

He denies the evil’s counterpart as always,

He repeats easy starts and hard ends forever

With his head buried in the sand to problems

Till Sister of Charity helps him to stand up

To his follies and repent his foolish refuses

To face off the Five Faces of a fool once for all

And walk forward to what lies ahead in light.

 P.S.: While I was watching an episode of my favorite old western drama ‘Laramie’, a character of a falsely convicted ex gunslinger uttered, “I am seven kinds of a fool, ain’t I?” As a lover of fanciful words, I was immediately piqued by the expression, and in the subsequent search of the meaning thereof, instead, I happened on the expression of “The Five Faces of a Fool,” because of its sheer witticism from the wise King Solomon. 

It’s derived from Solomon’s fatherly advice to his spoiled crown prince son Rehobam, circa 930 BC. It’s a verse consisting of five-fold warning against the fall and the decline of the kingdom as a result of refusing steadfastly to listen to the wise and surrendering to God’s will out of audacious laziness in the guise of princely hubris. 

Obviously, the prince son was not a model student of his father’s school of proverbs, but the readers beyond the boundaries of time and place have taken the advice to heart and applied it to where it is deemed fit. In writing this poem, I was wondering which face of a fool I might be wearing… How about you my dear reader? But take heart! For there’s always redemption thru hope and faith. 

‘Heroes’, by Paul Johnson – review

Heroes: From Alexander the Great & Julius Caesar to Churchill & de GaulleHeroes: From Alexander the Great & Julius Caesar to Churchill & de Gaulle by Paul Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We live in a paradoxical culture of hero-worshipping and anti-hero admiring; therefore, the idea of heroism seems to belong to an antediluvian ethos of the misty past when heroic mortals became divine immortals enshrined in pantheons of gods and goddesses. So much so that the ancient Greeks regarded a hero as a paragon of Arete, a prized quality in the Homeric hero, a blend of soldiery valor and moral integrity, a perfect union of moral and physical virtues. However, human heroism is constant of every age, universal of every culture and boundless of race and gender, which the public will always find it appealing and compelling because it shows how one can transform the impossible into the possible with a shot of gusto for courageousness in a cloak of confidence. That said, Heroes by Paul Johnson bears the witness to historical heroes and heroines whose dauntless spirits flew over the mountains of obstacles and brings them close to us with their human sides of fallibilities and follies.

From Samson and King David of Israel to Alexander the Great of Macedonia and Julius Cesar of the Republic of Rome, and to Joan of Arc to Margaret Thatcher of the U.K., what these people have in common is not supernatural feats of magical physical power or omnipotent knowledge, but natural courage winged by the independence of mind arising from the ability to think things by themselves against dominant waves of compromises of their times. In this regard, heroes, as we generally define per se, are anti-establishment, anti-totalitarianism, and anti-supremacy in the sense that they challenge the subjectivity of popular beliefs or received norms to unpick the validity of truths, even if doing so will require their sacrifice and cruelty at the same time. It’s a sacrifice that they should endure the pains of persecution, and cruelty that they should vanquish the signs of human frailties to act upon their resolution without fail. Alas and alack, it sometimes results in pyrrhic victory, not only of the hero but also of those the hero intends to bring the triumph of the collective glory. Being a hero is akin to being  a Hamlet whose mental pendulum vacillates between “To be” or “Not to be.”

This is my fourth reading of Johnson’s books on history elaborately ornamented with his trademark natural wits, deeply saturated with his dazzling erudition of subjects, and deliciously narrated in a common language that always invite all, learned or novices, all of which are the essential key components of being a great writer who can share his knowledge and put people before ideas. In this book of heroes, Johnson is a sage raconteur of the heterodoxic history of mankind whose goal is to educate the public to illuminate the parts of our human history in the context of regarding the universal principles of reason and taste. With his scintillating story-telling skills, Johnson pivots deftly from the unknown interesting truths about his heroes to the cosmic principles of heroes that hold true today. If you are a history buff who always hungers for those unknown truths about famous people in history that are known to a few backstages of history, this book will satiate the appetites of your senses and nourish the mind married with pleasure.

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