Tag Archives: Writing

Thereby lies the Devil’s Bible

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The Codex Gigas, courtesy of google

A monk to be welled up alive

After breaking his sacred vows

Bet his life on a magnum opus

In one night with all the knowledge

Deep and wide of heaven and earth

to appease the communal fury

in glory of the holy community

Forever famed in an earthly shrine.

So, the monk made a special prayer

To Lucifer, Prince of Darkness fallen

From heaven in exchange of his soul

For helping him complete the opus.

The Devil answered the prayer thus

And possessed the monk with feats

of supernatural erudition and swiftness.

The monk then paid his dues in twofold:

The portrait of his satanic master in the opus

And the offering of his life to Lord of Hell

In likeness of the life of one Dr. Faustus

According to the gospel of Marlowe.

Thereby lies the Codex Gigas immortal

Author’s Note: This poem is based on my reading of an article about “The Devil’s Bible” that survived the infernal fire in a Swedish castle. It’s arguably the largest medieval manuscript in the world originated in 13th century Bohemia. The scribe who penned this formidable book is said to have made a Faustian pact with the devil for completion thereof in just one day. What’s more, the book escaped the inferno by being defenestrated outside the window despite its being of 8.7 inches thick and 75 kilograms (approximately 165 pounds). The story is so remarkable that it has been registered in my mind’s book since I read it. The Devil’s Bible is now preserved at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm.

The unlikely duo

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The Unlikely Act: Jack the Baboon and James the Signalman, courtesy of google.com

As a regular customer of a commuter rail, I sometimes wish there was a signalman at my home station instead of an impersonal ticket vending machine without a proper waiting area on a barren platform that makes the nondescript station all the more desolate, drab, and dreary. California wintry mornings are treacherously cold and heartless; they make you yearn for a conspicuous presence of a guiding light of humanity. So it gave me a fillip when I happened on an article about an extraordinary duo from my subscription magazine on the train. 

Let’s take Time Train to Uitenhage in Cape Town, South Africa circa 1890. Meet Jack the Baboon and his senior partner James, the Signalman working side by side watching a train coming toward their station from a distance. James brought Jack to his station after losing both of his legs in a train accident to train the primate to push him around in a trolly, as well as to operate the train signals. Jack was indeed James’s working avatar and a best buddy at work. For good nine years, Jack’s work performance excelled some of his human colleagues, which earned him official employment for which he was paid twenty cents a day and a half a bottle of beer a week. A laborer is indeed worthy of his reward. 

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Jack and James at work, courtesy of google.com

Fast forward the mind’s cinema projector, and I am back at the same home station in the wee hours of cold, rainy California morning. There’s neither Jack nor James, except for a motley of hooded figures of would-be passengers on the platform. All seems crude and cruel except a light with a whistle approaching the station growing bigger and bolder, and I welcome it with the feeling of thankfulness mixed with adventurousness into an unknown new day

the milky way

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The stars in the Milky Way

Bright in the cold night sky

Twinkle in her diamond eyes

Dwell in her garden of senses

To unravel the universal mystery.

Author’s Note: Last night’s sky was studded with beautiful stars imbuing me with a new kind of hope and comfort that life is not such a formidable juggernaut to deal with. The beauty of nature did me good indeed. This is my mind’s imprint of the beauty. 

vertigo – chapter eleven

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“Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh

It is the star above her that governs her conditions. Iris knows that the fault is not entirely in herself but mostly in the lucky star that does not seem to know where to find its beneficiary. The star was born when Libra and Capricorn were met in the house of Aquarius on the nineteenth hour of blustery snowy wintry night. The star hangs on the vault of nightly celestial ballroom among the other stars twinkling merrily and boldly but alone in a corner of the limitless dome, twinkling ruefully and dutifully as if it were trying to signify its insignificant presence on the nocturnal cosmic stage. For this lone star has not found its beneficiary, the ascribed terrestrial hair of its power, and without it, the star cannot become a lucky star. Which is a tragedy for both Iris and her star.

In fact, Iris’s existential frustration or noogenic neuroris agrees to what Shakespeare was suspected of harboring in all his life. Surely, the Bard was a very successful playwright and poet who marched in a parade of famed hits in his time, but he was wrestling with a doubt whether it was Fate or Freedom of Will that governed human lives as conveyed in his works, such as “Julius Caesar”, “Othello”, and “Hamlet”. The characters of these plays fight for their causes as masters of their fates, but the consequences are not entirely fortuitous in bliss. That’s why the Greek soldier and historian Thucydides regarded vain hope imbued with a paroxysm of flattering confidence and blind devotion to law of attraction as a dangerous hubris to one’s philosophy of life.

Hope plays its role as a morale booster when one sees it as a card of chance in awareness of odds in one’s favor. In this manner, one does not have to think about it but can fight with every hope of winning. This also relates to a principle of Logotheraphy: the less one cares, the more one can without stress for success. But alas, my dear reader, to pour lead into the wound, all the aforesaid needs luck as the Bard chips in thus: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” A tide of the deep wide ocean of Life that arises from the heart of the ocean to surge in bounty of fortune to a weary wayfarer on the land is what Iris has been waiting for till now.

All this thought, all this doubt about her so-called life – the existential frustration- are vexing her mind and crippling her faculties of the mind like vermin, so much that she feels utterly disoriented and deserted in the crossroads of life. Faith she has begun to lose with reasons justifiable only to herself, meaning of life she still hasn’t found, Iris finds herself lost in the Labyrinth where the Minotaur is roaming around to find his prey. And she does not have the hero Theseus nor Ariadne for help. Iris must find the way out anyhow for her dear life. But one thing is certain, my dear reader; that although fortune’s malice or absence might conspire to overthrow her state, her feisty and recalcitrant mind will eventually exceed the compass of her will of fortune with a triumphant laugh.

‘Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland: An Annotated Edition of the ‘Foot Voyage”, by James Loxley – review

Ben Jonson's Walk to Scotland: An Annotated Edition of the 'Foot Voyage'Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland: An Annotated Edition of the ‘Foot Voyage’ by James Loxley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first learned of Ben Jonson from Stuart Kells’s Shakespeare’s Library as a member of the Shakespeare triumvirate, I was piqued by the personal background of this unreconstructed Elizabethan playwright and poet and wanted to know more about him. My search for the intelligence of Jonson then met a devotee of Ben (a Tweeter equivalent of Sons of Ben) in London, England, which led me to the treasure cave piled with Jonson’s writings and the writings about him. Among the treasure is this pleasant travelogue of Jonson’s famous walk from London to Scotland with his unknown companion in 1618.

An energetic vicambulist and a lover of sensory delights of life, Jonson’s journey to Scotland, the land of his birth, on foot seems natural and celebratory of his feisty and adventurous spirit in comparison to his statuesque contemporary men of letters. Be it that his working-class background or unconventional Modus Vivendi, Jonson meets people of all walks of life, ranging from a madwoman to a jovial tinker, and to a scullery maid to the lords of stately houses, like a learned troubadour and interacts with them as such artlessly genial attitudes are also reciprocated with respect in jovial mood. The unknown companion whose identity is open to presumptions is nonetheless a vital witness not only to the authenticity of Jonson’s celebratory foot journey but also to the recognition of his humaneness that gives life to the textual figure of Jonson, bringing the reader close to this literary celebrity in his unvarnished prose narrative. In fact, it is this plainness of account without a platitude of florid language in want of erudition that reveals the person of Jonson and the realistic views on social and cultural landscapes of the Elizabethan era devoid of heavyweight academic stuffiness and intellectual seriousness.

Further to the authorship question, I like to think that Jonson as a producer must have commissioned his apprentice or trusty servant of literacy to write it because (1) the original manuscript called ‘A Discovery’ was burned in the 1623 desk fire; (2) the scrolls of documents presented by the Aldersey Family in Cheshire contains a manuscript entitled “My Gossip (c.f. the term meaning a kin through God) Jonson”; and (3) most of all, the narrative does not possess Jonson’s literary allure and erudition proprietary to his oeuvres. Notwithstanding the dubious authorship, the narrator went, saw, and narrated Jonson’s foot voyage to Scotland, where both were made honorary burgesses, a well-deserved titular trophy for the journey completed.

With respect to the motif of this voyage, I think it was intended to be a literary supplement to his well-heeled subscribers as an entertaining accouterments to their library in an appreciation of their patronage. In this regard, it could also have been a wager journey benefiting from the subscribers in the promise of delight from the travelogue to the seekers of vicarious pleasure as if they were traveling with the famed literary figure of their time.

Contrary to the introduction of the book as an appropriate read for upper-level students of English literature or scholars devoted to Ben Jonson, this book is accessibly enjoyable even to a general reader like myself and recommendable to the initiated and the uninitiated with a promising delight to the mind. Upon finishing my travel with Ben Jonson and his unknown companion, I now see him as an artless man of action with bouts of hearty laughter and a caring heart attentive to his ill servant and a lowest sculler maid in a manor he visited, not as an unapproachable Elizabethan celebrity whose star in in the constellation of universal literati sparkles radiantly in the celestial fresco. His bibliographic tantrums of temper were proverbially formidable, but his humanness wonderfully saturated with his literary feat and artistic talent dominated the vice as readers will see in this travelogue. And I think Jonson will like us readers to think of him that way. Or I like to think that way as a fan.

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