Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell

Rows and bows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud's illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
And you leave them laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

Oh but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, and they tell me that I've changed
Well something's lost but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Our Conference On The Seven Valleys

Our weekly book-reading sessions will soon draw to a close, after almost 2 years of being 'in conference'. It is with mixed feelings as I end this 'Tuesdays with The Hoopoe': part of me feels melancholic to part with such exquisite and enchanting company (the barrenness of having nothing to do on Tuesday nights will be felt almost immediately), yet it beckons and heralds a new stage of our journey - and that is something that must be welcomed by all the participating birds, as you embark in your journey of knowledge and experience with others.

Yet, as we face this impending end, I hope the many Tuesdays we have spent together have carved a special warm place in your hearts - as you have been a part of history in such a gathering. I always attempt and thrive to embark on exploring new and unique methods of conducting my classes in the hope of opening minds and offering fresh perspectives to my students. If this mode of instruction has been refreshing and beneficial to you, I hope this will not be the one and only time such classes are held here.

It now remains for you to take stock of all your conferences and to put them into practice - and that is something which only you have the power to accomplish and achieve. In your personal journey, remember to pray for your fellow birds as they embark on theirs - for sometimes, we cannot fly alone.

To wrap up the seven valleys that we are now reading, I hope you will find the summary below valuable and constructive, insya-Allah.

"The journey of the birds takes them through the seven valleys of the Quest, Love, Understanding, Independence and Detachment, Unity, Bewilderment and finally, Poverty and Nothingness.

  1. In the Valley of the Quest, one undergoes a hundred trials and difficulties.

  2. After one has been tested and become free, one learns in the Valley of Love that love has nothing to do with reason.

  3. The Valley of Understanding teaches us that knowledge is temporary, but understanding endures. Overcoming faults and weaknesses brings the seeker closer to the goal.

  4. In the Valley of Independence and Detachment, one has no desire to possess nor any wish to discover. To cross this dificult valley, one must be roused from apathy to renounce inner and outer attachments so that one can become self-sufficient.

  5. In the Valley of Unity, the Hoopoe announces that although you may see many beings, in reality there is only one, which is complete in its unity. As long as you are separate, good and evil will arise; but when you lose yourself in the divine essence, they will be transcended by love.

  6. When unity is achieved, one forgets all and forgets oneself in the Valley of Bewilderment. Stepping into this sixth valley, the birds become astonished at the beauty of the Beloved. Experiencing extreme sadness and dejection, they feel that they know nothing, understand nothing. They are not even aware of themselves.

  7. The Hoopoe declares that the last Valley of Poverty and Nothingness is almost impossible to describe. In the immensity of the divine ocean, the pattern of the present world and the future world dissolves. As the birds realise that the individual self does not really exist, the drop becomes part of the great ocean forever in peace. The analogy of moths seeking the flame is used.

Out of thousands of birds, only thirty reach the end of the journey. When the light of lights is manifested and they are in peace, they become aware that the Simurgh is them. They begin a new life in the Simurgh and contemplate the inner world. Si-murgh, it turns out, means thirty birds; but if forty or fifty had arrived, it would be the same. By annihilating themselves gloriously in the Simurgh, they find themselves in joy, learn the secrets, and receive Immortality.

So long as one does not realise one's nothingness and do not renounce one's self-pride, vanity and self-love, one will not reach the heights of that Immortality. Farid ud-Din Attar concluded the epilogue with the admonition that if you wish to find the ocean of your soul, then die to all your old life, and then keep silent."

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Wings of the Dove

I was on leave today from work and had the pleasure of doing just nothing at home. So, I picked up a book and had the most blissful day couched on my reading chair devouring Henry James' The Wings of the Dove.

Amongst the classics, Henry James is really not that easy to read. In The Wings of the Dove, the language is rich, the story is subtle, and the psychology is rather complex - all adds up to a beautiful enduring classic. It does not, however, qualify as a "light read." The pace is incredibly slow - deliberately slow, of course (perhaps attributed to the author's manner of speech due to his stutter). It is a novel about decisions, and the development of those decisions constitutes the bulk of the novel. James's prose does lack the terseness of a Hemingway, but the latter writer often fails to capture the nuances that James so elaborately evokes in his careful prose. The effort in savouring this novel is indeed pleasurable and rewarding - it is like reading art and poetry at the same time.

The Wings of the Dove is a haunting classic of a doomed heiress, a duo of scheming lovers, and the drama of desire, betrayal, and tragedy that played out in the splendor of Victorian London. Of the three late masterpieces that crown the extraordinary literary achievement of Henry James, this novel is at once the most personal and the most elemental. James drew on the memory of a beloved cousin who died young to create one of the three central characters, Milly Theale, an heiress with a short time to live and a passion for experiencing life to its fullest. To the creation of the other two, Merton Densher and the magnificent, predatory Kate Croy, who conspired in an act of deceit and betrayal, he brought a lifetime's distilled wisdom about the frailty of the human soul when it is trapped in the depths of need and desire. And he brought to the drama that unites these three characters, in the drawing rooms of London and on the storm-lit piazzas of Venice, a starkness and classical purity almost unprecedented in his work. Under its brilliant, coruscating surfaces, beyond the scrim of its marvelous rhetorical and psychological devices, The Wings of the Dove offers an unfettered vision of our civilization and its discontents. It represents a culmination of James's art and, as such, of the art of the novel itself.

It is indeed interesting to read how James deftly navigates the complexities and ironies of moral treacheries in this novel. He provides opulent settings and rare, ravishing beauty with an almost addictive love angle. Critics have said that The Wings of the Dove is a novel of intimacy and that James has given us passion and love in both its terrible and enchanting forms.

First published in 1902, this rich and intriguing novel has lost none of its fascination and relevance more than a century later.

In 1997, a movie adaptation of the book was made and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards. Helena Bonham Carter was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role as the treacherous Kate.

During a tearing scene of Milly's funeral, you will hear her beloved Merton's recitation of a verse from the Psalm:

"My heart is in anguish within me,
And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
And horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

In The Heart Of The Believer

Just completed a book, after my third attempt, entitled The Transcendent Unity of Religions by Frithjof Schuon - understandably, a book which will not be read by many Muslims, unfortunately.

Frithjof Schuon was born in 1907 in Basle, Switzerland, of German parents and is best known as the foremost spokesman of the religio perennis and as a philosopher in the metaphysical current of Shankara and Plato. Over the past 50 years, he has written more than 20 books on metaphysical, spiritual and ethnic themes as well as having been a regular contributor to journals on comparative religion in both Europe and America. Schuon's writings have been consistently featured and reviewed in a wide range of scholarly and philosophical publications around the world, respected by both scholars and spiritual authorities.

Some excerpts for thought:

"The whole debate regarding the capacity or incapacity of the human mind to know God resolves itself thus: our intelligence can know God only "by God" and therefore it is God who knows Himself in us. Reason can participate instrumentally and provisionally in this knowledge insofar as it remains united to God. It can participate in Revelation on the one hand, and in Intellection on the other, the first relating to God "above us" and the second to God "within us". If by the "human mind" one understands reason divorced from Intellection or from Revelation - the latter being, in principal, necessary to actualize the former - it goes without saying that this mind is capable neither of illuminating us nor, a fortiori, of saving us."

"Relative knowlegde is limited subjectively by a point of view and objectively by an aspect; since man is relative, his knowledge is relative to the extent that it is human, and it is human in the reason, but not in the intrinsic Intellect; it is human in the "brain", not in the "heart" united to the Absolute. And it is in this sense that, according to a hadith, "Heaven and earth cannot contain Me (God), but the heart of the believer containeth Me" - this heart which, thanks to the miracle of Immanence, opens onto the Divine "Self" and onto the infinitude, both extinctive and unitive, of the know-able, hence of the Real.

Why this detour - one may ask - by way of the human intelligence? Why should God, who knows Himself in Himself, wish to know Himself also through man? Because, as a hadith tells us, "I was a hidden treasure, and I wished to be known; hence I created the world." Which means that the Absolute wishes to be known from the starting point of the relative. And why? Because this is a possibility pertaining, as such, to the limitlessness of Divine Possibility; a possibility, and thus something that cannot but be, something whose "why" resides in the Infinite."

Of Life

even if it is short, it is long; and even if it is long, it is short.

It is long because one day follows another, seemingly without end; it is short because it is only the dream of a single night.

Yet, this dream is all; it is all because it contains the seed of our Eternity.

Of Two Certainties

There is one great certainty in life, and this is death; he who really understands this certainty is already dead in this life. Man is hardly at all preoccupied with his past sufferings if his present state is happy; what is past in life, whatever its importance, no longer exists.

Now everything will one day be past; that is what a man understand at the moment of death; thus the future is already part of the past. To know that is to be dead; it is to rest in peace.

But there is yet another certainty in life - whether we can have this certainty depends only on ourselves - and it is the certainty of living in the Divine Will; this certainty compensates for that of death and conquers it. To put it in another way: when we have the certainty of being in conformity with the Divine Will, the certainty of death is full of sweetness.

Thus, the meaning of our life on earth can be reduced to two certainties: that of the ineluctability of our destiny and that of the meaning or value of our will. We cannot avoid the meaning of life any more than we can avoid death; that great departure, which cannot have a shadow of doubt for us, proves to us that we are not free to act no matter how, that from this present moment we ought to conform to a will stronger than our own.

The Easiest and The Most Difficult

Spiritual realization is theoretically the easiest thing and in practice the most difficult thing there is. It is the easiest because it is enough to think of God; it is the most difficult because human nature is forgetfulness of God.

Sanctity is a tree that grows between impossibility and a miracle.

Fear and Love of God

The fear of God is not in any way a matter of feeling, any more than is the love of God; like love, which is the tendency of our whole being toward transcendent Reality, fear is an attitude of the intelligence and the will: it consists in taking account at every moment of a Reality which infinitely surpasses us, against which we can do nothing, in opposition to which we could not live, and from the teeth of which we cannot escape.

A reason, a season, a lifetime

Received a forwarded chain email from a friend from far away (you know who you are). I know what we normally do in such cases (delete them) but there is an advisory to read it, and well, I read it. I thought it was nice and am producing an extract from that email here. Enjoy...

"People come into your life for a Reason, a Season or a Lifetime. When you know which one it is, you will know what to do for that person.

When someone is in your life for a reason, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be. Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled, their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a season, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it, it is real - But only for a season.

Lifetime relationships teach you lifetime lessons, things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Thank you for being a part of my life, whether you were a reason, a season or a lifetime..."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Of Changes

On the way back from our weekly book-reading session yesterday, managed to slip a 5 minutes' conversation to a close friend about the changes that have been happening around us: of people, of environment, of circumstances, of gains and of losses. There are indeed many reasons for changes to occur - some of which are expected, some are not. But one thing for certain, changes occurs all the time - and that in itself is a sure constant.

And as I sent another dear friend off back home this early morning, therein was another change. We will all miss the pleasure of having his company during our weekly book-reading sessions - and that is yet another change.

We cannot grip moments into our hands as much as we try to immortalise them through photography, for example, hoping that the moment captured through our lense will last till eternity - and that in itself is imperfection as we are not able to capture the intangibles. We still have to depend on our memory to remember them. As such, we try to embrace every living moment there is - and yet over time, even those memories are eventually re-prioritised.

"And an astronomer said, Master, what of Time?

And he answered:
You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.
Of time, you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.

Yet the timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream.
And that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.
Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?
And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not from love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds?
And is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless?

But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing."

Of Children

It seems that 2 of my close friends are expecting to welcome a new member into their family ... well, ok maybe not for the next 7-8 months, but the excitement is brewing, I am sure. I can feel it coming. Congratulations!

In commemoration of these good news that I have received, I wanna share this piece with them:

"And a woman who held a baby against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His Might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

... The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, August 11, 2007


On this lazy weekend afternoon stuck at work, the sheer simplicity of the beat and rhythm of Sunrise is refreshingly attractive, coupled with Norah's luscious voice being amplified through the minimal accompanying musical background really stands out for appreciation.

Sunrise is catchy, is soothing, is positive and is theraupetic. There's nothing much left to do but be absorbed in its sheer minimalistic beauty...

Dialogues of Plato

Plato, the greatest philosopher of ancient Greece, was born in Athens in 428 or 427 B.C.E. to an aristocratic family. He studied under Socrates, who appears as a character in many of his dialogues. He attended Socrates' trial and that traumatic experience may have led to his attempt to design an ideal society. Following the death of Socrates he travelled widely in search of learning. After twelve years he returned to Athens and founded his Academy, one of the earliest organized schools in western civilization. Among Plato's pupils was Aristotle. Some of Plato's other influences were Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, and Parmenides.

Plato wrote extensively and most of his writings survived. His works are in the form of dialogues, where several characters argue a topic by asking questions of each other. This form allows Plato to raise various points of view and let the reader decide which is valid. Plato expounded a form of dualism, where there is a world of ideal forms separate from the world of perception. The most famous exposition of this is his metaphor of the Cave, where people living in a cave are only able to see flickering shadows projected on the wall of the external reality. This influenced many later thinkers, particularly the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics, and is similar to views held by some schools of Hindu dualistic metaphysics.

Plato died in 347 B.C.E. In the middle ages he was eclipsed by Aristotle. His works were saved for posterity by Islamic scholars and re-introduced into the west in the Renaissance. Since then he has been a strong influence on philosophy, as well as natural and social science.

A good reading of his collection is entitled simply The Dialogues of Plato.

The excerpt below is taken from the first chapter - The Apology - which narrates the court arguments Socrates made before his execution. As mentioned earlier, Plato was present to hear this long plea from the first chapter.

"This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing:--young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine others; there are plenty of persons, as they quickly discover, who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing; and then those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous misleader of youth!-- and then if somebody asks them, Why, what evil does he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected-- which is the truth; and as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and inveterate calumnies. And this is the reason why my three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus, who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians; Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians: and as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of such a mass of calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth?--Hence has arisen the prejudice against me; and this is the reason of it, as you will find out either in this or in any future enquiry."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hadith of Abu Darda'

A man came to Abu Darda' while he was in Damascus. Abu Darda' asked him "What has brought you here, my brother?" He replied, "A hadith which you relate from the Prophet (saw). Abu Darda' asked, "Have you come for some worldly need?" He replied, "No." "Have you come for business?" He said, "No." "You have come only to seek this hadith?" He said, "Yes."

Abu Darda' then said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say: 'Whoever travels a path seeking sacred knowledge, Allah will place him on a path leading to Paradise. The angels lower their wings for the student of sacred knowledge, pleased with what he is doing. The creatures in the heavens and earth seek forgiveness for the student of sacred knowledge, even the fish in the water. The superiority of the religious scholar over the devout worshipper is like the superiority of the full moon over the other heavenly bodies. The religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets leave no money as a bequest, rather they leave knowledge. Whoever seizes it has taken a bountiful share." (Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi, ibn Majah)

The early generations of Muslims, owing to the strength of their desire for sacred knowledge, would journey to distant lands seeking a single prophetic hadith - without hesitation in order to seek out knowledge that they lacked themselves.

A striking example of this sort of journey is what Allah relates in the Qur'an about Prophet Moses' (as) journey with his young companion. If there ever existed a person who had no need to travel to seek knowledge, it was Moses (as), for Allah had spoken to him and given him the Torah in which all divine principles had been revealed then. Still, when Allah informed him of a man (named Khidr) who had been favoured with knowledge, Moses inquired about meeting him, and then set out with his young companion to find this Khidr, as Allah the Exalted says:

"And behold! Moses said to his young companion, 'I will not cease until I reach where the two seas meet, or I shall spend an exceptionally long time travelling"
... al-Kahfi 18:60

Allah then informs us that upon meeting Khidr, Moses (as) asked of him:

"May I follow you in order that you may teach me of the knowledge you have been given"
... al-Kahfi 18:66

Details of their venture are related in the Book of Allah and in the well-known hadith of Ubayy ibn Ka'b, which is related by Bukhari and Muslim.

... excerpts taken from The Heirs of the Prophets, ibn Rajab al-Hanbali

Clothes Of Heaven

William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and dramatist and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and together with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Abbey Theatre and served as its chief playwright during its early years. Yeats was a pillar of the Irish literary establishment and was an Irish Senator for two terms. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as "his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation".

Yeats was educated in London, but spent his childhood holidays in Sligo. He studied painting in his youth, and from an early age was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult. These topics feature heavily in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1887, and these slowly paced and lyrical poems display debts to Edmund Spenser and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as to the lyricism of the Pre-Raphaelite poets. From 1900, Yeats' poetry grew more physical and realistic. He renounced the transcendentalism of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual existence, masks and cyclical theories of life.

Yeats was one of the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.

Yeats died on January 28, 1939.

Aedh Wishes For The Clothes Of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The Road Less Travelled

Robert Frost won the Pulitzer Prize four times, an achievement unequalled by any other American poet. He was a teacher and a lecturer and wrote many popular and oft-quoted poems including “After Apple-Picking”, “The Road Not Taken”, “Home Burial” and “Mending Wall”.

Robert Lee Frost (named after Southern General Robert E. Lee) was born on 26 March 1874 in San Francisco, California to Isabelle Moodie, a teacher, and William Prescott Frost Jr., a teacher and journalist. With both parents as teachers, young Robert was early on exposed to the world of books and reading, studying such works as those by William Shakespeare and poets Robert Burns and William Wordsworth. He also formed a life-long love of nature, the great outdoors and rural countryside - as evidenced in the work chosen for this entry.

At times bittersweet, sometimes ironic, or simply marveling at his surroundings, one can also see autobiographical details in Frost’s works; he suffered devastating losses in his life including the untimely deaths of his sister, two of his children and his wife. He knew the soul’s depths of psychic despair but was also capable of delighting in birch trees ‘loaded with ice a sunny winter morning’. While memorialising the rural landscape, vernacular, culture and people of New England in his traditional verse style, his poems also transcend the boundaries of time and place with metaphysical significance and modern exploration of human nature in all her beauty and contradictions. Though not without his critics, millions of readers the world over have found comfort and profound meaning in his poetry and he has influenced numerous other authors, poets, musicians, and playwrights into the 21st Century.

Robert Frost died on the 29th of January 1963 in Boston, Massachusetts.
‘Safe!, Now let the night be dark for all of me. Let the night be too dark for me to see, Into the future. Let what will be, be.’ (“Acceptance”)
He lies buried in the family plot in the Old Bennington Cemetery behind the Old First Congregational Church near Shaftsbury, Vermont. His gravestone reads ‘I Had A Lover’s Quarrel With The World’.

This inspirational poem hangs on my study table throughout my university days...

The Road Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was born in Bombay, but educated in England. In 1882 he returned to India, where he worked for Anglo-Indian newspapers. His literary career began with Departmental Ditties (1886), but subsequently he became chiefly known as a writer of short stories.

A prolific writer, he achieved fame quickly. Kipling was the poet of the British Empire and its yeoman, the common soldier, whom he glorified in many of his works, in particular Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and Soldiers Three (1888), collections of short stories with roughly and affectionately drawn soldier portraits. His Barrack Room Ballads (1892) were written for, as much as about, the common soldier.

In 1894 appeared his famous Jungle Book, which became a children's classic all over the world. Kim (1901), the story of Kimball O'Hara and his adventures in the Himalayas, is perhaps his most felicitous work. Other works include The Second Jungle Book (1895), The Seven Seas (1896), Captains Courageous (1897), The Day's Work (1898), Stalky and Co. (1899), Just So Stories (1902), Trafficks and Discoveries (1904), Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), Actions and Reactions (1909), Debits and Credits (1926), Thy Servant a Dog (1930), and Limits and Renewals (1932).

Kipling was the recipient of many honorary degrees and other awards. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English language writer to receive the prize, and he remains its youngest-ever recipient. Among other honours, he was sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, all of which he rejected.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Dark Night Of The Soul

This last instalment, The Dark Night of the Soul, is probably my favourite from her album, The Mask and Mirror - both lyrically and musically.

The "secret stair" in the lyrics has less to do with a staircase in a monastery, but perhaps more to do with the popular theme of lovers meeting for a late night romantic tryst. In order for this to be possible, the young maiden of the song or poem would have to sneak out of the house, by the "secret stair."

This metaphor is used for the soul in prayer who, by means of contemplation, steals away from the world unnoticed, to meet in loving relationship with God. The dark night refers to the soul's search for God, beyond the confines of the human definitions we have put upon God.

In her liner notes, McKennitt writes:

May, 1993 - Stratford...have been reading through the poetry of 15th century Spain, and I find myself drawn to one by the mystic writer and visionary St. John of the Cross; the untitled work is an exquisite, richly metaphoric love poem between himself and his god. It could pass as a love poem between any two at any time... His approach seems more akin to early Islamic or Judaic works in its more direct route of communication to his god... I have gone over three different translations of the poem, and am struck by how much a translation can alter our interpretation. Am reminded that most holy scriptures come to us in translation, resulting in a diversity of views.

The Dark Night Of The Soul

Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my Guide
oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the Beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart

That fire t'was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where He waited still
it was a place where no one else could come

Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
And by the fortress walls
the wind would brush His hair against His brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow

I lost myself to Him
and laid my face upon my Lover's breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the mornings mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

The Mystic's Dream

Now that we are on the topic of Loreena McKennitt, I have 2 more entries to make. This next song is truly wonderful and beautiful: it combines elements of Gregorian Chanting, celtic instrumental and opera to create an entrancing soundscape. Anyone who hasn't heard it should definately make a point to.

In her notes, she writes of this song:

January 24, 1993 - Granada, Spain... evening... lights across the city embrace the body of the Alhambra; the smells of woodsmoke and food hang in the narrow streets. Rambled around the Moorish section of the city; picked up a little gold mirror, an incense burner, a tiny bottle of perfume... Reading Idries Shah's book entitled The Sufis, prefaced by Robert Graves.
"...a secret tradition behind all religious and philosophical systems, Sufis have significantly influenced the East and West...They believe not that theirs is a religion, but that it is religion....The 'common sufi' may be as common in the East as in the West, and may come dressed as a merchant, a lawyer, a housewife, anything... to be in the world, but not of it, free from ambition, greed, intellectual pride, blind obedience to custom, or awe of persons higher in rank.
... It appears there may be an association with the Druidic order of the Celts.

July, 1993 - learn that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is a Qawali Sufi.

November 26, 1993 - Idries Shah on Rumi: "the union of the mind and intuition which brings about illumination, and the development which the Sufis seek, is based upon love..."

March 20, 1993 - spent a wonderful evening at a "café" in the middle of the desert... the address was "8 miles west of Rissani"... two brothers had created an exotic oasis with their families, palm trees and wheat felt like a settlement of Eskimos in an expanse of snow. We had been there in daylight and they invited us back to hear their music, but when we returned in the evening, we got lost trying to find our tracks among the many in the sand. We saw some lights ahead; the brothers were on top of their roof waving lanterns, signalling us home.

Ignore the visuals. It's the only possible version I can find:

The Mystic's Dream

A clouded dream on an earthly night
Hangs upon the crescent moon
A voiceless song in an ageless light
Sings at the coming dawn
Birds in flight are calling there
Where the heart moves the stones
There that my heart is longing for
All for the love of You

A painting hangs on an ivy wall
Nestled in the emerald moss
The eyes declare a truce of trust
Then it draws me far away
Where deep in the desert twilight
Sand melts in pools of the sky
Darkness lays her crimson cloak
Your lamps will call, call me home

And so it's there that my homage's due
Clutch-ed by the still of the night
Now I feel, feel you move
And every breath, breath is full
So it's there my homage's due
Clutch-ed by the still of the night
Even the distance feels so near
All for the love of You

A clouded dream on an earthly night
Hangs upon the crescent moon
A voiceless song in an ageless light
Sings at the coming dawn
Birds in flight are calling there
Where the heart moves the stones
There at my heart is longing for
All for the love of You

Full Circle

My favourite Celtic singer, Loreena McKennitt, stands out tall from many in her genre as her songs are profound and came out of her own personal journeys in life. In this song, Full Circle, though not as melodiously superior to her other songs in this album, is intricate in that it was written out of her journey to Morocco. In the liner notes, she wrote:

I looked back and forth through the window of 15th century Spain, through the hues of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and was drawn into a fascinating world: history, religion, cross-cultural fertilization... From the more familiar turf of the west coast of Ireland, through the troubadours of France, crossing over the Pyrenees and then to the west through Galicia, down through Andalusia and past Gibraltar to Morocco... The Crusades, the pilgrimage to Santiago, Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Sufis from Egypt, One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia, the Celtic sacred imagery of trees, the Gnostic Gospels... who was God? and what is religion, what spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed... and what was the mask and what the mirror?

March 23, 1993 - Morocco...Ramadan; I wake up early to catch my flight home, and at 5:30 a.m. hear men chanting in the mosque, one of the most moving and primitive sounds I have ever heard. They are calling their God. I think, when have I heard this before?

November 21, 1988 - St-Benoit-du-Lac, Québec...have just arrived at this Benedictine monastery in the Eastern Townships of Québec. It was the first snowfall today, and the brothers were out walking along the long lane as I approached...hooded figures slowly making their way to Mass as the snow fell like blessings. I followed the sound of the bells to vespers.

November 24, 1988 - I have wondered about who these men are who have made their way here, who they were before they came. How did each connect to God, and how did it differ from each other's journey, and from mine? red-headed lad looked like he could be my brother...I recall speaking with a brother in Glenstal Abbey in Ireland last year about the many and varied paths that had brought them to that place of worship and reflection.

March 19, 1993 - Morocco...made my way to the thousand-foot sand dune past Erfoud, near the Algerian desert, and rose at dawn to catch the sun rise. I don't think I have ever felt something so simple and yet so powerful. I wondered if the first sunrise was just like this.

Full Circle

Stars were falling deep in the darkness
as prayers rose softly, petals at dawn
And as I listened, your voice seemed so clear
so calmly you were calling your god

Somewhere the sun rose, o'er dunes in the desert
such was the stillness, I ne'er felt before
Was this the question, pulling, pulling, pulling you
in your heart, in your soul, did you find rest there?

Elsewhere a snowfall, the first in the winter
covered the ground as the bells filled the air
You in your robes sang, calling, calling, calling him
in your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there?

Last Orders

Another good book to read during this national day holiday is Last Orders by Graham Swift. It won the Booker Prize in 1996 (by now you would know I love the Booker's lists - they are written in a more beautiful, poetic English language and the stories are unique.)

Little would you expect four men in a pub to ponder on an issue as weighty as their impending mortality. But death does strange things to us. When confronted with the prospect of death, we become more conscious of what it means to be alive.

And so when Jack Dodds, master butcher, passes away, the people he leaves behind in the small British town of Bermondsey struggle to make sense of their loss. Jack has left instructions for his ashes to be scattered into the sea. His widow Amy is unwilling to perform the task. Consequently, his drinking mates, Ray, Lenny, Vic, and his son Vince, are left to do it. Seeing their old friend Jack become nothing more than ashes in a jar, the four men realize how ill-prepared they are to deal with death itself.

In a style reminiscent of traditional British novels, author Graham Swift draws out fragments of the past from the memories of these four men. With prose that is even, measured, and at times too clever, Swift recounts the stories of missed opportunities and tales laden with regret. The four men each recall their past loves: lost loves, secret loves. They tell of their large ambitions, out of place in a little town like Bermondsey. They share how being drafted to fight in war changed their outlook on life and broadened their horizons.

In Last Orders, life itself is portrayed as a powerful, deterministic force, one that is able to inalterably shape the course of our future. All the characters struggle to escape their individual destinies, but only some of them succeed. Looking back, they wonder if they chose the right path in life. But as readers, we realize that some of them never really had a choice. This only heightens the ironic inevitability of their situation.

Yet all of them cannot escape death, that great equaliser. Vic, an undertaker by profession, says "the dead are the dead, I've watched them, they're equal. Either you think of them all or you forget them... And it doesn't do when you remember the others not to spare a thought for the ones you never knew. It's what makes all men equal for ever and always. There's only one sea."

Graham Swift's writing style makes you sit up and take notice. Meditative and ponderous, conspicuous and self-conscious, it is wryly comic in a dry, British way. Swift coaxes emotion out of four reserved men, telling their stories in their own words, preserving their own unique speech pattern of Bermondsey. Each of the men have their own private moments, when they reflect on the sudden loss of their friend and the brevity of life.

At one point, Ray excuses himself to go to the bathroom. "But it's not just to take a leak," he finds out. "I find the Gents and I unzip, then I feel my eyes go hot and gluey, so I'm leaking at both ends. It's cold and damp and tangy in the Gents." Later, he says, "Well, that's that over with. Crying's like pissing. You don't want to get caught short, specially on a car journey."

Swift uses travel as a parable for life. In Last Orders, all the characters are in a state of flux. Four men travel to scatter Jack's ashes into the sea, representing the journey we make through life. In the novel, as in life, some characters arrive at the endpoint, some are in the process of travelling, while others are fated never to reach their final destination. But it is on this journey that they - and we - ultimately find redemption. It is in our journey, that God measures us. Reaching the destination is merely the melting vanilla ice-cream on top of that warm brownie...

The Famished Road

One of the review quotes to be found on the back cover of this book reads as follows: “Okri is incapable of writing a boring sentence. As one startling image follows the next, The Famished Road begins to read like an epic poem that happens to touch down just this side of prose…. When I finished the book and went outside, it was as if all the trees of South London had angels sitting in them.”

And yet another said: “It is a rich, provocative and hopeful vision of the world, stuffed full of drama and surprise… Its literary lineage - the ease with which spirits move through everyday life - is from ancient Greece and medieval romances.”

The opening lines of The Famished Road reads: "In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry." And so the story begins...

If you like surreal books as in One Hundred Years Of Solitude, then this falls in the same genre and it is indeed magical. The Famished Road, published in 1991, is the Booker-Prized winning novel written by Nigerian writer Ben Okri.

It tells of the story of Azaro, a spirit-child who chooses to stay in the impoverished world of reality, rather than return to the ideal world of the spirits - which in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. Of his choice to be born into this world permanently, he said: "I wanted to make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother."

The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells is full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro's loving parents are made destitude. His family struggles with the impotence of their situation, baffled by politics and poverty and conditions beyond their control. The world of the compound is full of magic both real and imagined as the characters search for a way to influence their lives in the face of forces which seem to make things unalterable. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter-day Azaro's story.

In a series of vignettes, Azaro chronicles the daily life of his small community: appalling hunger and squalor relieved by bloody riots and rowdy, drunken parties; inhuman working conditions and rat-infested homes. The cyclical nature of history dooms human beings to walk the road of their lives fighting similar challenges in each generation, fated to repeat the errors of the past without making the ultimate progress that will redeem the world. Ben Okri's magical realism is distinctive; his prose is charged with passion and energy, electrifying in its imagery.

Ben Okri interspersed this tale with unforgettable images and characters: the bereaved policeman and his wife, who try to adopt Azaro and dress him in their dead son's clothes; the photographer who documents life in the village and displays his pictures in a cabinet by the roadside; Madame Koto, "plump as a mighty fruit," who runs the local bar; the King of the Road, who gets hungrier the more he eats... and the characters gets more out-of-the-world!

About halfway through, you may be startled, finding yourselves no longer reading The Famished Road but listening to it... even watching it. And Azaro's father, the Black Tyger, is an event unto himself. Ben Okri creates an allegory of life whereby a river becomes a road that swallows its travelers, as life, voracious and unsated in its hunger, overwhelms and swallows those who travel its road. Life, proposes Okri, is a famished road.

At the heart of this hypnotic novel are the mysteries of love and human survival. "It is more difficult to love than to die," says Azaro's father, and indeed, it is love that brings real sharpness to sufferings here. As the story moves toward its climax, Azaro must face the consequences of choosing to live, of choosing to walk the road of hunger rather than return to the benign land of spirits.

The Famished Road is worth reading for having perhaps a most devastating ending in contemporary literature, but even not, for the sheer magical beauty in which it was written.


One Hundred Years Of Solitude

In writing the entry of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, I was reminded of yet another wonderful treasure of a book by the Nobel Prize Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez entitled One Hundred Years Of Solitude. If you love his other book, Love In The Time Of Cholera, you will also like this book.

This book was given to me as a birthday gift many 'centuries' ago and I remembered I had so much difficulty reading and understanding it. Yet, the title of the book itself caused such an unspoken attraction to my mind, repeating over and over again - imagine it ringing in your ears: one hundred years of solitude... So, I picked up the book and read it again some months later (my friend kept asking whether I like the book, so I need an answer) and very slowly began to unravel the beauty of One Hundred Years Of Solitude.

In the first place, this book was one of the first books to be written in a style that is called "magic-realism": That means that the book does not have to make sense! It was written in a style of writing that is analogous to surrealism in a pictorial work. In magical realism, events that seem almost impossible — such as levitation — are commonplace, and things are not as they first appear. Magical realism is common among Latin American authors, though disparaged as self-indulgence by some critics. This is a book that defies description. You must read it to experience the fantastically real world of Macondo, and the people who live there. Once you know them, they will be a part of your own world.

Have you ever looked at a painting, walked into it and become a part of it? When you open this novel at page one, you are beckoned to enter.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years Of Solitude is the literary equivalent of a magic carpet ride, your own magic genie come to life, and Shaharazade's 101 tales all wrapped into one brilliant, multi-layered epic novel. From page one you will voyage with the remarkably original cast of characters, through worlds of vibrant colours, where the sun shines almost always - when not obscured by a four-year downpour. You will find yourself laughing out loud when you are not sobbing in sympathy with someone dying of a heartbreak.

Macondo is a mythical South American town, founded, almost by accident, by Jose Arcadio Buendia, and populated primarily by his descendants. This is the story of one hundred years in the life of Macondo and its inhabitants - the story of the town's birth, development and death. Civil war and natural calamities plague this vital place whose populace fights to renew itself and survive. This is a huge narrative fiction that explores the history of a people caught up in the history of a place. And Marquez captures the range of human emotions and the reasons for experiencing them in this generational tale.

There is much that is delightful and comical here. Surprises never cease, whether it be Remedios ascending, or a man whose presence is announced by clouds of butterflies. There is satire, sexuality and bawdiness galore. But there is also a pervading sadness and futility that permeates throughout. Cruelty is a reality in Marquez' world, as are failure, despair, senseless and sudden violence. The plot is filled with passion, poetry, romance, tragedy and the echoes of the history of Colombia and Latin America.

From the gypsies who visit Macondo during its earliest years to the gringos who build the banana plantation, from the "enormous Spanish galleon" discovered far from the sea to the arrival of the railroad, electricity, and the telephone, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic novel weaves a magical tapestry of the everyday and the fantastic, the humdrum and the miraculous, life and death, tragedy and comedy - a tapestry in which the noble, the ridiculous, the beautiful, and the tawdry all contribute to an astounding vision of human life and death, a full measure of humankind's inescapable potential and reality.

This is one of the 20th Century's best works of fiction. It is a masterpiece not to be missed.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein's score for West Side Story is truly amazing. Personally, this musical is one of my favourites: having performed this (as a musician) when I was in college, and then with the national symphony orchestra later on in years, a few times. This song, Tonight, was ringing in my mind tonight, and hence this entry.

There are also other beautiful scores in this musical which may be familiar: Somewhere, Maria, I Feel Pretty, to name a few. But Tonight remains one of my favourite piece.

The story in West Side Story is based loosely on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but with a 'modern' downtown flavour to it. Set in Manhattan's Upper West Side, the musical explores the rivalry between two teenage gangs of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The young protagonist, Anton, who belongs to the white gang, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the rival Puerto Rican gang.

The original 1957 Broadway production ran for 732 performances (a successful run for the period) before going on tour. The production garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical in 1957. The show has enjoyed an even longer-running London production, a number of revivals and international successes, and spawned an innovative, award-winning 1961 musical film of the same name, featuring the beautiful and talented Natalie Wood. It won 10 Oscars out of the 11 it was nominated for.

Carrying God

Carrying God

No one can keep us from carrying God
Wherever we go.

No one can rob His Name
From our hearts as we try to relinquish our fears
And at last stand - Victorious.

We do not have to leave him in the mosque
Or church alone at night;

We do not have to be jealous of tales of saints
Or glorious masts, those intoxicated souls
Who can make outrageous love with the Friend.

We do not have to be envious of our spirit's ability
Which can sometimes touch God in a dream.

Our yearning eyes, our warm-needing bodies,
Can all be drenched in contentment
And Light.

No one anywhere can keep us
From carrying the Beloved wherever we go.

No one can rob His precious Name
From the rhythm of my heart -
Steps and breath.

... Hafiz of Shiraz

Of Human Bondage

I have two idiosyncrasies which I appreciate (alright, this is quite moronic, but hey, this is my Blog and I can say it anyhow :) - I love to keep my books after reading them and then I love re-reading them again and again. My personal library span over three houses and I do need to catalogue them - as it is, I cannot remember what are the books which I currently have and where. Anyway...

Today, I completed one of my favourite book: W Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage." Of Human Bondage is a big book in every sense of the word: it is hefty at 776 pages long, at 258 773 words (according to Amazon, its in the top of the class for verbosity), there are hundreds of characters: and many of the lesser characters are equally memorable, and the settings are equally diffused: London, the English countryside, Heidelberg, Paris, a Channel fishing village.

The characters in the book are real and they display emotions and feelings everyone can identify with. The power of the novel becomes apparent when you read it: you choke up every once in a while, you smile for hours after you have finished reading certain passages, and you comprehend your own self, your woes and possibilities, better through perspectives that the book provides.

Maugham finds himself a fan in George Orwell (1984, The Animal Farm) who described him as "the modern writer who has influenced me the most" whilst Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Hundred Years of Solitude) said "he is one of my favourite authors."

Of Human Bondage traces the life of Philip Carey from childhood to a grown man. It is sparingly, but exquisitely written. Wholly unsentimental, yet bursting with depth of feelings. Born with a club-foot and orphaned from an early age, Carey is physically set apart from his fellows. Rather than seeking to make himself included, he deals with the cruelty and thoughtlessness of others by emotionally setting himself apart, thus fuelling his own sense of 'difference'. With the exuberance of youth, in the pursuit of his own difference and yearning for passion and inspiration, he abandons his studies to travel, first to Heidelberg, and then to Paris, where he nurses ambitions of being a great artist.

Maugham beautifully captures the idealism of youth which slowly gets eroded as the protagonist comes to recognise his own mediocrity and lack of importance in the world. It is also a powerful study of a character brought up in the shadow of religion and who comes to understand himself, and others, only at the expense of his faith.

Maugham's greatest achievement in this book is the character of Carey himself: complex, insecure, self-protective and arrogant, he is outwardly not the most sympathetic of people, and is most definitely not a hero. Yet his internal life is so richly drawn, so deftly developed, that one cannot help but care deeply for him. Through happiness, tragedy and suffering, he comes to realise that he is like all other men and yet resolutely himself, which is what makes him different from others. And so, at the heart of this book lies the eternal riddle of existence, captured in passages which literally took my breath away.

Although this book has no pretty characters which would have attracted many of us in the first instance, it is truly a book of epic proportion full of passion, love, loss, hopes realised and hopes dashed, a book about the strength of the human spirit and how even when those around you drain all the goodness from you, you can still return love. I look forward to my 8th reading of the book, in due time :)