Posted in Poetry

cathedral of forest

She, with her wings clipped in shackles
Sees the light above the high altar
Through the dusk of leaves and boughs
Beneath the dome of boundless skies
Without spires and stained glass within.


But why else when nature has it all
Sermons in trees, brooks, and skies?
From the haunt of life’s vicissitudes
rests herself under the pillars of trees
As the choristers of hummingbirds begin
The hymns of hope in nature’s cathedral.

Posted in book review

All for the best: a tale of ‘Candide,’ by Voltaire – book review

Candide by Voltaire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Candide is a touchy-feely whimsical story about the absurdities of optimism against realism in a delightfully witty guise of romantic adventure fiction. An entertaining satire that is both intelligent and humorous at best, it is a collective coming-of-age story of a man whose anfractuous life passages enlighten him of the reality of life and the world.

As the novella’s title betokens, the protagonist Candide grows from a naïve young man sheltered in the Edenic castle of privilege and prestige in the protégé of philosopher Pangloss. Pangloss indoctrinates in Candide Leibnizian optimism, which posits that all is best for the best of all possible worlds. Candide’s expulsion from the castle because he was fascinated with his uncle’s beautiful daughter Cunegonde marks his journey toward the truth to the purpose of his suffering and what it means in life. Doctor Pangloss, a parody of collective complacent philosophers, keeps telling him that it is God’s will and that his life change is a manifestation of immanence, an intellectual belief in God’s presence in the world concreted by Spinoza. He preaches a pre-established harmony in the world because it is already the best in its most perfect form. Pangloss is an abstract philosophy and institutional religion incarnate in his glorious scholastic appellation and unyielding intellectual pride that refuses to recognize truth.

The adventure of Candide is similar to that of Gulliver in his travels to unknown worlds in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver is a ship’s surgeon full of ideals shaped by established a priori schools of thought until he encounters wondrous creatures in mysterious lands, all exhibiting the best and worst human characters manifested in their appearances. Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to criticize the ills of society’s need for reformation as one of England’s leading literary figures with social consciousness. Swift was also one of whom lent a kind hand to Voltaire when he stayed in England to avoid the growing fury of France’s church authority. Volatile Voltaire was known for capricious terms with his literary peers, but his admiration of Swift’s work and him as a brilliant satirist remained loyal. Voltaire’s Candide is more straightforward and realistic, sans mysteriously curious creatures of a wide arc of imagination. However, both Candide and Gulliver share the same thematic elements of parodying the hypocrisies of religious doctrines, and human nature laid bare in the style of chivalric adventure fiction.

The story is a carnival of characters united by deceptive fallacies, chased by untenable ideals, tangled by insatiable desires, obstructed by variants of life, and succumbed to deceptive pleasures. Nonetheless, one can’t weigh the misfortunes of humans and set a just estimate on their sorrows just as Pangloss deigns to aver, for humanity is imperfect in the imperfect world. Therefore we must strive to make it better for the common good of society as best as we can. Voltaire dreams of a new community with callous palms of laborers conversant with more delicate tissues of resilience, self-respect, and heroism in real life, whose touch thrills the spirit in the most exhilarating way than the idle hands of thinkers and priests. By writing Candide, he creates a society of people who sailed through the vicissitudes of life in the triumph of epistemological a posteriori truth over ontological a priori precepts.

Candide is surprisingly easy to read and wastes no time for boredom. Voltaire himself was a man of no-nonsense whose simple but effective use of words is reminiscent of Hemingway and Stephen Crane, who were titans of literary realism. John Milton’s metaphysical poem Paradise Lost rang hallow in its abstruse display of classical knowledge. Homer and Dante lost their luster in the words that people did not use any longer. An authentic intellectual lives among people and puts his learning into action for the good of people. Candide is an excellent company to console your weary spirit and sorrowful heart if you are tired of eternal optimism and forceful positive thinking that has become a still fashionable mass mantra.



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Posted in book review, Miscellany

The young heart at flame

Who would have thought of it? The evening was alight with pillars of fire, and Washington was burning. The heart of the young republic streets was filled with a cacophony of screams, footsteps, and hollers as the king’s soldiers from the old country unfurled the British flag over the capital city. It was August 24th, 1814, thirty-eight years after the U.S. become a sovereign independent country from Great Britain.

The British invasion of Washington resulted from a combination of a longing to bring back its former colony and vengeance upon the former colony’s brazen-faced act of independence. The U.S. invaded the British territory of Canada in 1812, attacking the city of York, modern-day Toronto as well as Port Dover, which saw American troops destroy a large number of food supplies. However, thanks to the Canadian militia and the Native American forces, the U.S. attempt to take over British-ruled Canada flopped and only fueled the British fury for the imperious behaviors of the young country. To destabilize American power from within, the British supported the Native Americans, who continued to resist the U.S.’s westward expansion and impressed American merchant seamen to become crew on British ships, alluring them with better pay and higher career prospects. Moreover, the British could devote their time to the American affair when the war against France ended triumphantly, exiling the French leader Napoleon to St. Alba in 1814. So, it was ripe time for the British to march into the streets of the American capital city during the presidency of James Madison.

However, the British army was not altogether barbaric in ransacking civilian houses and burning historical and cultural artifacts like the Taliban. For example, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 that were incredible historical artifacts showing a spectacular combination of Indus and Hellenistic civilizations. The British didn’t harm the U.S. Patent Office, whose then-superintendent Dr. William Ornton’s plea for preserving the artifacts of humanity chimed the bell of the universal mind. They also didn’t set ablaze on civilian houses or buildings, except for the Capitol Building and the U.S. Treasury building. However, they did capture many of the valuable pictures and works of art, including the paintings of George III and Queen Charlotte from the President’s House (modern-day White House), later transported to Bermuda. How duplicitous it was to find the portraitures of the royalty from which Americans bled to gain independence owned by the American President’s House!

That might have become a great war between the two countries ended in the British retreat, thanks to the American blessing of untamed natural climate. An unexpected tornado pushed the British back to their ships and carried them back to their motherland, the Queen’s land. Come to think of it, America has been blessed with luck and timing, not to mention everlasting youth. Yet, this relatively unknown part of American history I have recently learned from a history magazine confirms that history is a series of vengeance on generations upon generations, as Herodotus observed. In that regard, the British burning of Washington reminds me of Julius Caesar’s burning of the library of Alexandria, the Greeks’ burning of Troy, and Nazi Germany’s burning of Paris. American is certainly no exception to the natural cycle of human history, invading and invaded, continuous in cycle and epicycle.

Posted in book review

‘Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World’, by Philip Matyszak

Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World by Philip Matyszak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Forty years on our evolutionary scale amounts to a microsecond on our twenty-four biological clock. The millennium years, even Before Christ, feel so alienly anachronistic from our modern sensibility. The sense of time builds upon a fundamental element of consciousness as molded into a collective emotional experience as contemporary citizens of the world, just as the peoples of the misty pasts we tend to overlook felt the same for the civilizations before them. They were the titans of the pre-ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. They, like the evening sun in its full declination, vanished in the hazy horizons of the time, still dazzling with its scarlet hues of radiating halo lingering on the remnants of human civilization to this date.

Forgotten peoples of the Ancient World is an anthology of the peoples whose feeling of permanence and importance in their time of the world betrayed their fates buried in the tires of cities beneath the earth and returned to the dust in the winds. To illustrate, Akkadians were the first builders of the empire who elevated the Akkadian language to the cultural and political lingua franca of the late Bronze Age. The Hyksos were outstanding charioteers, and their military prowess benefitted their Egyptian subjects. The Bactrian culture was a delightful mixture of Greek and Indian heritages, while the Vandals gave a final, fatal blow to the already destabilized Roman Empire. These peoples affected the celebrity civilizations we are automatically associated with the ancient civilizations. As to why the forgotten peoples became peripheral in our realm of ancient history, it is a question of the immanence of the supreme being in the universe. However, what is certain is that they were the torch-bearers of the first civilizations passing the torch of society they had ignited and encouraged to the next in a relay run of collective humanity.

The book is an excellent anthology of these ancient peoples in chronological order from east to west, showing how civilizations expanded from the cradle across the plains, mountains, deserts, and seas to the Isles of Britons. Divided into the eras marking the epochal changes of history, Matyszak succinctly elucidates the peoples of the misty past with his trademark witty ways of describing historical contexts. Moreover, the exciting historical trivia resurrects the eras in a phantasmagorical display of faces and places.

To conclude, the stories about the forgotten peoples attest to the objectivity of truth applicable to any time of history that that which is here was there, has been, and will be. All things must pass, and there is nothing new under the sun. Our sense of time and culture is a likeness of truth, a matrix-like reality, because our facility is rather instinctive than reasoning, rather physical than metaphysical. Who would have known that people 100 years later now would think our time and us in this time anachronistic and antediluvian? Herodotus felt the same when he arrived in Egypt and saw the wondrous pyramids in awe that the people before his generations had built. So did the Babylonian king, who dug and discovered artifacts from centuries ago. We have seen the hungry ocean gain advantage of the kingdom of the shore, and the firm soil win of the watery main, increase with loss and loss with increase. The forgotten peoples and we are time’s subjects, and time bids are gone.



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Posted in book review, Miscellany

The Wings of Writing – on reading Samuel Johnson’s essay on writing

Suppose a brownie or a leprechaun I happen to rescue from a Gargamel lookalike wizard insists what my three wishes are as a quid pro quo (depending upon how friendly the fairy is). In that case, I will say forthwith one of them is the Marvel of Writing, which I have lost somewhere in the course of life. I can turn myself into a great writer with the magical pyramid of power from a hodge-podge reality of indigested letters of reality as black as Persian Night.

Johnson’s essay on the role of the scholar evolves from Francis Bacon’s adage: “Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” It rings a bell with the Nietzschean idea of Superhuman, superseding any mortals known for their erudition perennially enshrined in the history of human civilizations. A truly knowledgeable person I principally associate with a great writer can digest what he reads, explain it to others in facile terms, and substantialize it in writing, a mental Osmotic process that nourishes the mind and invigorates the body.

Although I agree with Bacon as Johnson did, I am more with their ancient Greek teacher Socrates. Socrates warned his pupils about regurgitating what they heard from his lectures without putting it in their own words. That was one reason why the great philosopher disapproved of writing practice that had just emerged in his time. Copying letters of others without understanding them on his own would stun the cognitive powers rather than promote a broader and deeper range of cognition. Reading was not as popular in Socrates’ time as in ours because it was at the beginning of the new intellectual dawn of Greek Civilization. So, Socrates was a thinker, neither a reader of texts, nor a writer of tablets. Does this make him less of his students Plato and Aristotle?

Does the amount of reading necessitate that of writing? Wouldn’t too many words go undigested inside and clog the pipes of thoughts when writing? For example, an ambitious amateur writer wants to write as if she were possessed by the spirit of Patience Worth, who transformed an ordinary homemaker into a brilliant writer. She adheres to a writer’s gospel of “Read a lot. Write a lot,” but it is easy to be said than to be done. The more she reads, the worse she writes. She wants to reason the perplexing reason with frustration and disappointment. She feels lost in the middle of midtown Manhattan where there are many streets and avenues but nowhere is her niche. Yet once she gets out of town, the state, the coast, her mind becomes clear, imbued with a fresh breath of inspiration that moves her hands on the keyboards automatically. Contrary to Johnson’s opinion that grandstands with all other established writers and academics, the amateur writer feels liberated from a siege of letters that intimidated her army of thoughts equipped in her design of armors and shields with her coat of arms sovereign and beautiful. Her reasoning power was buried under a chaos of indigested learning.

Although Johnson’s magnanimous advice of the equilibrium of reading, writing, and speaking on a writer’s continuum is respectful and worth reading, its reality is subject to the individual aptitudes of learning, ways of reasoning, and natural dispositions. One may write better because of reading more, while the other has the opposite consequence. A hermit – let us say more realistically, an introvert – is not always an incompetent, anti-social, sullen loner whose airy petulance barricades against others whose intelligence may seem intimidating to be dealt with. I think to write more is far better critical than to read more because writing is a sovereign act of expressing an individual mind and spirit, free from the comparison of the florid words of others with the writer’s own that would dispirit the vivacity of the creative spirit. To conclude, I thank Thomas Mann for his affirmative saying:” Solitude produces originality, bold and astonishing beauty, poetry.” Truth is truth to the end of reckoning. Then it is yet another truth of others, not necessarily yours.