THE SENSIBLE S. DHAMMIKA, MONK

About once a month, I go with a friend or two to a very unpretentious Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant (Van Hanh) far on the other side of the city.  I discovered it a few years ago.  It is operated by Buddhist nuns from Vietnam.  And the food is great.

My usual companion on these visits often repeats two things in relation to the restaurant, usually variations on:

1.  “I don’t know why there isn’t a long long of people waiting outside the door of this place.”  That means something, because he has the money to eat in any restaurant he wishes, but he really likes the food at that vegetarian restaurant, and considers it a still-undiscovered gem for most people in the city.

2.  “There is no good reason to eat meat.”  He says this partly because the Vietnamese restaurant offers very tasty vegetarian “fake meats” in the dishes prepared.  The Mahayana Buddhists of China and of Vietnam have a long tradition of preparing delicious vegetarian meat substitutes, and have made something of an art form out of it.  So as my friend points out, there is really no good reason to eat meat for either taste or health reasons (science in general says that a vegetarian diet is healthier).  And he would also add (as he frequently does) mention of the huge damage done to the environment by the meat industry, for example the continuing cutting of ecologically-valuable rain forest in South America so that immense cattle ranches might take its place.

Any thinking person will ponder such issues, and one person who not only ponders them but writes about them is an Australian-born Theravada Buddhist monk who goes by the name Shravasti Dhammika.  And what is even more interesting is that he writes about challenging subjects in a remarkably straightforward, balanced, and sensible way.  It is a welcome relief from the fanaticism, extremism, and unthinking dogmatism that so often accompanies discussion of controversial topics.

(Photo: S. Dhammika)

(Photo: S. Dhammika)

Of course, being a Buddhist monk, he approaches subjects from a Buddhist perspective.  For example, in the matter of meat eating, he begins with the premise that “both cruelty to and killing living beings is against the first Precept.”  With irrefutable logic he cuts no slack for Buddhists who continue to habitually eat meat:

Farmers do not raise cows or chickens for fun; they do it because they can make a living by selling them to the abattoirs [slaughterhouses]. Likewise abattoirs don’t slaughter animals for fun, they do it to make a profit. They sell their meat to the processors, who sell it to the local supermarkets or butchers who in turn sell it to the consumers. Any reasonable person would agree that there is a clear trajectory, a discernible causal link between the farmer or the abattoir and the consumer. It may be a distant link but it is there. Put in its simplest terms, people would not slaughter animals if other people did not purchase meat. So this is the fifth point — eating meat is causally related to the harming or killing of living beings and thus is connected to some degree to breaking the first Precept.

He does not hesitate to jump into topics such as same-sex marriage, writing:

A tragic number of homosexuals indulge in and fall prey to shallow promiscuous lifestyles. Marriages or partnerships that were recognized by the state and affirmed by society would offer a healthier alternative.

I like his realistic approach to issues such as love, a subject that for the world in general is wrapped in illusion and fantasy.  He approaches the matter head on:

As my reading and reflections proceeded, I soon became aware that a swirl of myths surround love. The most noticeable of these myths is that love is a widely felt and easily evoked experience. It is celebrated endlessly in song and story, it is ardently professed, hailed as the solution to many — sometimes all — human problems. Yet while love is not necessarily rare, it is certainly not as common or as enduring as is generally supposed. The divorce statistics from most developed countries show that between 40 and 55 per cent of marriages end in divorce, many of them acrimonious. And people who stay married do not always still love their spouses. The endless sorry parade of cases that come before family and small claims courts shows that relationships between siblings, in-laws, neighbours and friends are not as enduring as we so blithely suppose.”

He uses such doses of realism as a jumping-off point for a reasoned discussion of what love really is, beyond the illusions.

His writings range far and wide into the problems common to humanity, and into various intriguing byways of Buddhist history, travel, and teachings.

I mention all this because he now has a website offering his essays on a wide range of subjects, all free of charge.  They present much food for thought.  You will find them at:

http:www.bhantedhammika.net

 

 

David

 

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FROM THE GATES OF FAERIE: HENRY MARTYN HOYT

Those who enjoy the fantasy poetry of Walter de la Mare will find a similar atmosphere in this poem by Henry Martyn Hoyt (May 8, 1887- August 25, 1920), whose work we have seen before in the posting “Where Throbbed the Thrush.”  Today’s poem continues a tradition of Fairy lore found in old tales and ballads, particularly the so-called “Child Ballads” collected by Francis James Child in his book The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, published in five volumes from 1882-1898.

THE SPELL

As I came up the sandy road that lifts above the sea,
Thrice and thrice the red cock crew,
And thrice an elfin bugle blew
From the Gates of Faerie.

And riders passed me on the left, and riders on the right,
Clad in cramoisie so fine
Phantom riders nine and nine,
That faded with the night.

The dawn was flushing in the east as I won to my door,
And there within the ingle dark
One had drawn a cantrip mark
Upon the earthen floor.

The thatch was matted o’er with weeds, the well was choked with stones,
There lay a shroud upon the bed
Draped and drawn from foot to head,
As white as dead men’s bones.

I ran and shouted down the street, but none would heed my cry.
I screamed across the market-place.
Never a burgher turned his face.
In silence they passed by.

Oh, none could hear and none could see the man they used to know.
For he is witched for seven years,
He who in the dawning hears
The elfin bugles blow.

As I came up the sandy road that lifts above the sea,
Thrice and thrice the red cock crew,
And thrice an elfin bugle blew
From the Gates of Faerie.

This is very much in the tradition of “medievalism” stimulated before Hoyt by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England, and we can link it to the earlier poem “Blow, Bugles, Blow” by Alfred Tennyson, with its second stanza reading:

O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Hoyt’s poem, however, goes deeper into the Fairy lore of the British Isles.   In that belief, fairies were not little winged, flitting creatures, but rather a supernatural people of simultaneously this world and of another — a dimension humans entered at their peril.  And sometimes humans were taken — meaning they were abducted from this world by the fairy folk; they might be able to return in seven years, or fourteen, or twenty-one — or never.  That is why the country people spoke of the fairy folk with great respect and not a little fear, speaking of them carefully and only in a roundabout way.

In Wales they were the Tylwyth Teg — the “Fair Folk.”  In Ireland they were the Sidh — pronounced “Shee.”  Similarly, in Scotland they were the Daoine Sith, pronounced somewhat like “Doo-en-uh Shee” —  The “Fairy People,”  or more euphonically, the “Fairy Folk; also Daoine Math (pronounced “ma”), the “Good Folk.”  In older “Germanic” English, they are the Elves.  Both the word “fairy” and the name of their realm, Faerie, came into English from Old French.  So “Faerie” is Elfland, the otherworldly realm of the Daoine Sith.

The classic work on the subject in English is The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz, which you will find free, online, in its entirety, here:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34853/34853-h/34853-h.htm

Let’s look at the poem part by part:

As I came up the sandy road that lifts above the sea,
Thrice and thrice the red cock crew,
And thrice an elfin bugle blew
From the Gates of Faerie.

It is the first light of morning (as we shall find).  A man is walking up a sandy road above the sea.  Suddenly he hears a rooster crow three times, then again three; and following that he hears three blasts on an elf/fairy horn, from the gateway to that otherworldly dimension.  Three times three makes nine, which is a number with sacred significance in old Celtic belief.

And riders passed me on the left, and riders on the right,
Clad in cramoisie so fine
Phantom riders nine and nine,
That faded with the night.

The man finds himself between two lines of finely-clothed riders on horses, nine on his left, and nine on his right.  They are clothed in beautiful cramoisie, meaning “crimson” — a very old-fashioned word borrowed from Old French, which in turn borrowed it from Arabic.  He calls them “phantom riders,” meaning they seem like spirits, and as the last traces of night fade away, the riders fade away as well.

The dawn was flushing in the east as I won to my door,
And there within the ingle dark
One had drawn a cantrip mark
Upon the earthen floor.

He manages to get to the door of his cottage, with the glow of dawn already in the East.  As he enters,  he sees, on the floor by the fireplace, a “cantrip” mark.  A cantrip is a spell or charm, so the mark is a spell placed on the dwelling.  Ingle is a Scots term meaning the fire in the fireplace, and by extension the fireplace itself and the hearth or space immediately in front of it. People in the early 1900s generally knew the word from the term “inglenook,” a recessed space in front of the fireplace, where one could sit cozily.

The thatch was matted o’er with weeds, the well was choked with stones,
There lay a shroud upon the bed
Draped and drawn from foot to head,
As white as dead men’s bones.

Though it seems that only a short while has passed since he encountered the procession of riding Daoine Sith, actually it has been much, much longer.   He finds his thatched roof rotting, and weeds growing in it.  His bed is covered over with a white shroud, as though someone had died and the bed was no more used.  The well where he draws his water seems long unused, and is filled with stones.

I ran and shouted down the street, but none would heed my cry.
I screamed across the market-place.
Never a burgher turned his face.
In silence they passed by.

Alarmed by all he has seen, he runs down the street, shouting to draw attention, but no one can hear him.  He runs screaming across the market square of the town, but not a single “burgher,” — that is, townsman — turns to look at him.  Instead they pass by in silence.

Oh, none could hear and none could see the man they used to know.
For he is witched for seven years,
He who in the dawning hears
The elfin bugles blow.

No one can see him or hear him.  He is neither entirely in this world, nor in the other, because he has been enchanted, “witched,” for seven years.  And all because he heard the blowing of the elfin bugles as the Daoine Sith came out from the hidden gates of  Elfland into our world, and he was caught in their passing.

As I came up the sandy road that lifts above the sea,
Thrice and thrice the red cock crew,
And thrice an elfin bugle blew
From the Gates of Faerie.

The poet repeats the first stanza to bring the poem to its end, something often done in old songs and ballads to give a sense of completion.

 

David

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WHITE ON WHITE: A HOKKU BY KYOROKU

Today is that very ancient holiday Midsummer’s Day — the Summer Solstice.  It is the day when the sun reachest its highest point in its yearly arc across the sky, and it is the longest day of the year.  After this day, the hours of light begin to shorten.

Here is a hokku by Kyoroku that must be translated rather loosely:

(Summer)

Above white cloth
Spread out in the sun —
Billowing clouds.

If you are a long-time reader here, you will recognize the technique used in writing this.  It is harmony of similarity.  Two similar elements are combined, and the pleasure of the verse is in the combination.  Here the elements are very visual:  1.  white cloth; 2. billowing clouds.  The brightness of the sun brings out the whiteness of both, thus joining the two elements.

Here is the transliterated original:

Teritsukeru sarashi no ue kumo no mine
Sun-shining-down bleaching-cotton ‘s above cloud ‘s peaks

David

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CLOUD SHADOWS

A hokku by Kyoroku:

A cool breeze;
Cloud shadows passing
Over the green fields.

This rather reminds one of a scene from a Hayao Miyazaki animated feature, with the wind blowing the grasses in waves.

Where I live, this would be a hokku for early summer, because later the fields turn yellow-brown.  But in the original, the fields are not fields of grass, but rather rice fields — rice paddies — which are green from irrigation.

Here is the transliterated Japanese:

Suzukaze ya aota no ue no kumo no kage
Cool-wind ya  green-field’s over ‘s cloud’s shadows

Given that there is no differentiation between singular and plural in the original, we might also translate it:

The cool wind;
A cloud shadow passes
Over the green field.

In either case, it gives us a pleasant sense of movement in wind and shadow, a harmony between the coolness of the wind and the coolness of the shadow.

In form, this is very much a setting/subject/action hokku:

Setting: The cool wind;
Subject: A cloud shadow
Action: passes over the green field

As I have said many times, that form is an easy way to write a hokku, and such hokku can be very effective.  This pleasant verse is good to read on a warm summer’s day.

There is a difference between the effect of the first and second translations given here.  The first — with multiple cloud shadows — gives us a stronger sense of the passing of time than the second translation.

 

David

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THE FLAG: A HOKKU

From this hokku it should not be hard to guess today’s weather where I am:

(Summer)

The flag
Hangs limp on its pole;
The heat!

 

David

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WHERE THROBBED THE THRUSH: THE FORGOTTEN HENRY MARTYN HOYT

HENRY MARTYN HOYT (Self portrait)

HENRY MARTYN HOYT
(Self portrait at age 23)

Most people — even most teachers of literature — have never heard of the artist and poet Henry Martyn Hoyt (May 8, 1887- August 25, 1920).  And yet one of his poems remains a favorite of mine, not only for its vivid imagery, but also for depicting so clearly the hopeless attitude of mind that — if one does not have a corrective change of perspective — can lead to disaster.

It deals with disillusionment about life — the realization that the world of childhood and youth — a world lived much in the imagination and shining expectations — is not the real world around us.  It comes to different people at different times, whether early or later in life.  It can be precipitated by any number of things.

We have seen this realization — shattering for some people — in previous discussions.  We saw it in Dylan Thomas’ lines:

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

We saw it also in the plea of Matthew Arnold:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Life suddenly becomes very difficult and traumatic for those going through this realization; whenever it occurs, it is essentially a transition crisis from immature thinking to adult thought.  For some people, the body matures but the mind reminds in a childish state, blocking out the realities of life.  Such people are the Peter Pans of the world, who never want to grow up.  This clinging to mental immaturity — this reluctance to deal with the hard facts of life — is one reason why people attach themselves so firmly to dogmatic religious beliefs, and then when the evidence against those beliefs becomes too overwhelming, the individual’s world seems to collapse.

It is expressed when reality breaks into fantasy in the lines of T. S. Eliot:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

And some people, unfortunately, do wake only to drown.  The difficult time of transition is just too much for them.  If they were to wait, to learn from the hard knocks of life, they might survive and be better for the experience.  But for some, giving up the “Land of Dreams” is so traumatic a crisis that they end their lives prematurely, without ever having really achieved all that maturation means.  They cannot survive the loss of their pleasant illusions about life — the world of childhood and youth — at least that is how they feel while in the grip of the trauma of that dark period.

Henry Martyn Hoyt left us one of the most poetic expressions of this critical and dangerous time of transition.  It is titled

THE LAND OF DREAMS

Ah, give us back our dear dead Land of Dreams!
The far, faint, misty hills, the tangled maze
Of brake and thicket; down green woodland ways
The hush of summer, and on amber streams
Bright leaves afloat, amid the foam that creams
Round crannied boulder, where the shallows blaze.
Then life ran joyous through glad, golden days
And silver nights beneath the moon’s pale beams.

Now all is lost.  There glooms a dark morass
Where throbbed the thrush across the dappled lawn.
Oh, never more shall fairy pageants pass,
Nor dance of light-limbed satyr, nymph and faun,
Adrift among the whispering meadow-grass,
On wind-swept uplands, yearning toward the dawn.

procession3One can discern in this poem an individual whose bright, youthful view of the world has been shattered, replaced by a day-to-day reality far from what had been hoped.  There is so little published material available on Hoyt’s life that one cannot easily trace the course of this disillusionment, but we know that it ended in his taking his own life at age 33.

This is the beginning of an article that appeared in The Sun and the New York Herald, 26 August, 1920:

H.M. Hoyt, Artist, Ends Life With Gas
No Cause Assigned for His Act.

Henry Martyn Hoyt, a portrait painter, committed suicide last night in his studio at 37 West Tenth street, by inhaling gas. William Rose Bennet, who roomed with Mr. Hoyt, returned home at 11:15 o’clock and found the artist’s body in the bathroom with a gas tube in his mouth and attached to that gas jet. Mr. Hoyt was only partly dressed.
Mr. Bennet notified the police and Patrolman Schroeder of the Mercer street station summoned a physician from St. Vincent’s Hospital, but Mr. Hoyt was dead when the physician arrived at the studio. Mr. Bennet told the police he knew of no reason why his friend should have committed suicide.

The “William Rose Bennet” mentioned in the article was actually William Rose Benét, the older brother of the writer and Pulitzer Prize winner (1929) Stephen Vincent Benét.  William eventually married (her third marriage) the poet and literary editor of Vanity Fair,  the beautiful Elinor Wylie, born Elinor Hoyt — a sister of the poet and artist Henry Martyn Hoyt.  She was Benét’s second wife of four.  William Rose Benét was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

“The Land of Dreams” was published in Dry Points: Studies in Black and White, by Henry Martyn Hoyt and William Rose Benét, in 1921.  Oddly enough, I first encountered the poem in my teens, finding it in the old volume The Home Book of Modern Verse (1925) in my school library.  For many years — due to an apparent typographical error in that edition — I knew the fourth line from the end as:

Oh, never more shall fiery pageants pass…

But when I read the original printing of Dry Points, I found it as

Oh, never more shall fairy pageants pass…

I must admit that I still rather prefer the line as it is with the typographical error “fiery,” because it presents such a strong, vivid and effective image.

Henry’s friend William Rose Benét wrote of him in Dry Points:

All it meant to him — this life!  It meant so much.  It tortured him so deeply and yet he wrung from it so much and such exquisite pleasure.  And the times when he was most happy were of such utter simplicity — friends, his family, summer evenings, talk to the accompaniment of some handiwork, snatches of song, Italian restaurant suppers, lamplight, the reading of poetry, firelight, mildly hilarious pilgrimages through moonlit streets, — friends, friends, friends ….

Hoyt came from an old, very prominent, and wealthy family.  He had connections to then well-known people.  He was well-educated, talented and intelligent, and yet all of that was not enough in his time of crisis.

If you would like to read Dry Points, you will find it online here:
https://ia801404.us.archive.org/3/items/drypointsstudies00hoyt/drypointsstudies00hoyt.pdf

And for those who want to know a little more of the life of Henry Martyn Hoyt, the Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale College tells us this:

Henry Martyn Hoyt was prepared at the Haverford Grammar School and the Friends’ School, Washington D. C., entering Yale when he was only sixteen…

He spent the summer after graduation abroad, and then attended the Harvard Architectural School for a year.  The next summer he did some painting and took a trip through the West, and the following year was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under William M. Chase.  After another visit to Europe he entered the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, studied under Edmund C. Tarbell, and completed the course there.  He had since continued his painting independently and had developed a gift for etching.  He wrote a number of articles in connection with his work, some poems, and a one-act play… Dry Points, a volume of verse, by Mr. Hoyt, with a sketch of his life by William Rose Benét, ’07 S., was published in the fall of 1921.

In the summer of 1915 Mr. Hoyt attended the first Plattsburg Training Camp.  He enlisted on May 3, 1917, and during the next two months attended the Ground School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He went overseas in August, 1917, and was sent to the flying field at Etampes, later being transferred to Avord.  In Septemper and October, 1917, he was flying at Foggia, Italy, but was then taken ill with Saloniki fever and sent to a hospital in Paris.  In February, 1918, he was transferred to the Photographic Section of the Air Service, and the following May was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Air Service and assigned to the Photographic Section Headquarters at Tours.  He returned to the United States in April, 1919, and received his discharge at Washington on the twenty-fifth of that month.

He took his own life in his studio in New York on August 15, 1920.

A collection of Hoyt’s papers, sketchbooks, and correspondence are preserved in the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

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May Winds

May Day;
The warm wind fills
with whirling seeds.

Today  — May Day — Bealtaine/Beltane by its old Celtic name, is the day in the old agricultural calendar when summer begins.  It certainly feels like summer has begun where I am.  The sky is a robin’s egg blue, and the air is warm and soft.

Happy May Day!

 

David

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