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I think I’ve reached a new threshold with my more than a decade and a half of struggling with the Post-Gutenberg Revolution in what is now a major technical improvement for EarthrisePress.Net — I’ve long thought that there must be a way in the Digital Age for artists and writers to make a living from their art in some way by going around all the traditional middle men and the newer mega-portals of online sellers that are attempting to create their own monopolies. In fact, I wrote a more than twenty-page essay, “The Post-Gutenberg Revolution: A Manifesto,” to this effect, in my book The Myth of the Enlightenment, which expands on all of what I think is involved in this major shift in civilization. Previously, I had to sell hardcover and softcover books through one credit card payment system and ebooks through another, which was cumbersome and discouraging for people buying more than one book. But Gumroad, a very creative venture in San Francisco, has recently put the two features together which also allows me to plug into the major worldwide printing network of Ingram Book Company’s Lightning Source for the fulfillment and printing of hardcover and softcover books. I’m rather astonished that I can now do this… all from one website… whether someone orders an ebook, a hardcover, or a softcover on EarthrisePress.Net – Gumroad’s SSL servers handle the financial transaction, adds the correct VAT for the UK, Euro Zone, and Australia. If it is a printed book, Gumroad processes the order, forwarding the shipping address to Earthrise Press and then I or my staff can order and have the book printed and shipped in any of the already mentioned regions with *free shipping* since the numbers work for everyone concerned with this configuration. Many people have become accustomed to buying music and books from the mega-portals, but why? I would say there was no real alternative. Now there is, precisely what some musicians have done with their own websites, and J. K. Rowling with at least her ebook website. The exact same printed or digital book goes out into the hands of the reader, in several possible formats, mobi/Kindle, ePub, PDF, Android / iOS, etc., hardcover, softcover, whatever. Given all the animosity around the world against some of the major venues, I believe this might very well be a way of providing an alternative for artists and writers, and, not to forget, readers, who don’t want to support a monopoly… I have long believed what’s needed is the *example* of a writer who figures all this out and puts it together in the actual world on a *global* level, setting the *example* of what is indeed now possible… by actually doing it. I wrote my epic poem with a global audience in mind, and now I believe it is possible to sell it to the entire world through the revolutionary developments of the Post-Gutenberg Age.
I’m encouraged that, as someone who has spent most of his adult life sitting in rooms alone reading books, my epic has found its way to as many readers as it has around the world… with more than 36 blurb/reviews since late November 2012. I know it often took in the past a long time for a book that presented a truly new way of looking at life to *reach humanity* and realize I shouldn’t entirely expect anything else, all the more given that I’m addressing not merely Western Civilization but all of the major regional civilizations around the planet. We human beings are inured to our nationalistic isolation. The Unity of humanity? What could be more absurd!!
“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God is waiting for you.” —Werner Heisenberg. 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics, “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”
The great scientific contribution in theoretical physics that has come from Japan since the last war may be an indication of a certain relationship between philosophical ideas in the tradition of the Far East and the philosophical substance of quantum theory.” —Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, 1958
“All of us living beings belong together in as much as we are all in reality sides or aspects of one single being, which may perhaps in western terminology be called God while in the Upanishads its name is Brahman.” —Erwin Schrodinger, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1933; My View of the World (95)
“The general notions about human understanding… which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place.” —J. Robert Oppenheimer, Science and the Common Understanding, 1954 Oxford UP (8-9)
“For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory… [we must turn] to those kinds of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tsu have been confronted.” —Niels Bohr, Foundations of Quantum Physics II (20)
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” —Max Planck, theoretical physicist (1858–1947)
After having had a class in high school in world religions in which I had done all of the reading, East and West, the scriptures of all of the major world religions, as a young poet I read George B. Leonard’s book The Transformation: A Guide to the Inevitable Changes in Humankind, in 1972, when it first came out. He was the vice-president of the Esalen Institute and one of the most articulate and far-sighted persons in the then-emerging human potential movement on the West Coast. It’s not an exaggeration to say I devoured his book, reading and rereading it. Unfortunately, Leonard’s book has perhaps somewhat fallen off the map, but it still speaks insightfully to the core problems of today, the need for a new sense of human consciousness on this planet. Following Leonard’s citations, I branched into Alan Watts, Carlos Castenada, Buckminster Fuller, Ram Dass, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indries Shah, Rumi and Attar, and others basically open and universal in outlook, especially the many books by Arnold Toynbee and Huston Smith, the latter beginning in the early years of the 1970s. Leonard also introduced me to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Quantum Mechanics, and ever more into Leonard’s general openness to the East and to new conceptions of what is human, all of which I found myself still grappling with more than thirty-five years later, when I wrote my epic poem The Parliament of Poets. Leonard sums up The Transformation when he writes, “The time is overdue for the emergence of a new vision of human and social destiny and being.” We are now in the full flood of that time.
Similarly, Ervin Laszlo, long recognized as one of the most thoughtful and perceptive voices of the new consciousness movement, has written that many people are increasingly experiencing and awakening to a shift in consciousness, to “a subtle sense that we have lost touch with ourselves, and with the world” and that “we are in a race with time.” “We either make it together, or we may not make it at all.”
Having continued studying the Old and New Testaments and Islam with formal study in each at the University of Michigan, I came to feel that the traditional conception of religion, grounded in exclusivism, has become much of the problem, East and West, while the value of the way we actually live, mixed and poured together, especially in democratic pluralism, too often receives insufficient recognition by what purports to be “religion.” Quantum Physics intimates a whole new way of understanding “religion” that can help heal the psychic wounds of modernity.
Part of our current problem, of our cultural moment, given the extreme degree to which we’ve become so fragmented, is that much of the culture, especially the academy, insufficiently understands its own claim of exclusive truth, its own meta-narrative, so locked in has the time become to various forms of exclusivism based in nihilism, if not atheism, that it is closed off to any type of spirituality, including even what Quantum Physics suggests, and so nihilism has not only Western civilization in a death grip but much of the world.
Broadly, much of the university, especially the humanities, to the extent that its vision of life entails nihilism, cynicism, endless formalisms, Marxism, frivolity, which cannot be questioned, but are held in sacrosanct exclusive possession of the truth, usually justified with vague to perfunctory, knee-jerk allusions to the Enlightenment, as though that settled all of the profound human questions that people have asked throughout the ages for the rest of eternity, constitutes and represents the dehumanization of our time, i.e., both the traditional religions and nihilism are ironically sinking in the same boat.
Traditionally, “real religion” was always defined in terms of exclusivism, the challenge now is to realize that in a world of Quantum Physics “real religion,” ipso facto, can only be defined in terms of universality, which is why the proponents of exclusivism who still cling to the old forms, whether “religion” or “secular,” continue to lose ground, while the torch has passed to other hands, though often not informed to the same degree historically and culturally, which creates its own type of problematic fragmentation, yet seeking what’s open, universal, beyond the old limitations that have created all the trouble in the first place.
The Greeks and other ancients wrote and recorded scientific discoveries in poetry because they believed it was the best language in which to convey the implications, often of unity and oneness, in terms of a universe composed of atoms, which is also partly my thinking behind writing, The Parliament of Poets, because it is the best language with which to grapple with the implications of Quantum Physics. Similarly, I’d argue, the great Sufi poets realized there were things which can be said best only with the tongue of poetry…
The global confrontation with the mode of thinking in the old exclusive forms impels our Age to come to terms with resolving the negative baggage of modernity, of the Enlightenment, in a way that is both intellectually and spiritually satisfying and acceptable to people, broadly speaking, ideally, from all walks of life and points of view, traditional and secular, East and West. I believe Quantum Physics now makes that possible.
While not formulaic, I think it’s the imaginative and artistic exploration of what the meaning and implications of Quantum might be, for human consciousness and otherwise, that can help us understand the problematic dimensions of the traditional claims to exclusivism, in a more universal, moderate, peaceful, and scientific framework. Equally, the problematic dimensions of science become Scientism needs to confront the spiritual implications of its own research in the fullness of the cultural perspective with which only the humanities and traditional religions can suffuse, enrich, and enliven it, with a new understanding of our common humanity, implicit in Quantum Physics, which can be brought to fruition and the attention of the general populace by the cooperative efforts of both humanists and scientists, understanding now the seriousness, necessity, and urgency of resolving the conflict between the “two cultures.”
In The Transformation George Leonard has a very choice quotation from the astronaut Neil Armstrong, from a dinner party conversation his daughter had had once with the first man to walk on the moon, looking back at Mother Earth, words I have remembered and reflected on for decades and try to honor in my epic, like a story around a campfire:
“I want to tell you one thing. When I first looked back and saw the earth there in space, something happened to me.” And then, in a lower more intense voice, “I’ll never be the same.”
Such experiences of “I’ll never be the same” constitute the bedrock of what it means to be human, life after life, exploring it, widening the individual’s consciousness and deepening the possibilities of our own self-understanding as a species on this planet, suggesting who we are and ways to save ourselves during this time of ongoing global crisis and transformation.
“My Odyssey as an Epic Poet: Interview with Frederick Glaysher.”Poets’ Quarterly / Spring 2015 (April 6, 2015), w/ Arthur McMaster, PQ Contributing Editor. [Reprinted here slightly revised. A few brief paragraphs added, starting, “For many years I couldn’t figure out how to start writing…”]
Author of: The Myth of the Enlightenment: Essays. September, 2014. Hardcover ISBN: 9780982677834. Earthrise Press, 230 pages;
and The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem. Hardcover ISBN: 9780982677889. Earthrise Press, November, 2012. 294 pages.
Author’s website: fglaysher.com
Arthur McMaster: You published two books, within two years of each other, books that I find want to be read together. Your essays The Myth of the Enlightenment lays out the conditions for your fine epic poem The Parliament of Poets. Can you please tell us about how you came to take on such out-sized challenges?
Frederick Glaysher: Sure, I’d be happy to. Thank you, Arthur, for giving me the chance to speak with you and your readers, to put on record my odyssey as an epic poet.
Frederick Glaysher, March 1, 2015
Largely leaving aside my whole history of growing up an omnivorous reader, by the end of high school, I was already thinking of myself as a poet and regularly keeping a journal. I was especially already drawn to Robert Frost, including his prose, and other writers whose lives were marked by an independence of spirit, shall we say. When it came time to think about college, my intuition spoke emphatically that I had to take the road less traveled by or I’d end up like everybody else. It wasn’t rational, rather deeply intuitive—a gut feeling that I couldn’t fully articulate. But already I understood that the best writers were not made by universities. So while all my friends goose-stepped off to college, I chose to go off to an old farm in Oakland Township, Michigan, adjacent to where I grew up in Rochester. I spent a couple of years there reading and writing, trying to find my own voice. It was where I really read deeply into Walt Whitman and Emerson, and other poets that have remained essential to me throughout my life. Eventually, I felt I was ready to hold my own in a university, felt ready for it, needed it, and began my more conventional education, but I really became a poet on that farm.
Looking back now from over sixty years old, the writing of my epic poem finally behind me, I think another major threshold occurred in 1977 in a theater class that I took in Interpretative Reading. It was there I learned that the Greek rhapsodes would travel throughout Greece reciting Homer. I was thrilled by the idea, and it set me thinking. My experience in that class of performing a passage from William Wordsworth’s “Michael” clinched it for me. Though overwhelmed and intimidated by the prospect, I began to consider writing an epic poem and then traveling around the world to recite it, reviving the ancient art of the rhapsodes and Homer. By 1982 I had written my first draft of a plot outline.
AM: And a fine major work it is, Frederick. I want to come back to the core idea, however, which challenges conventional thinking about man’s “intellectual evolution,” where spirituality is clearly a prime mover, but just now I would like to ask you to go back several years to your poetry influences. I know that you studied with Robert Hayden. What did his work mean to you, as a younger man?
FG: Without repeating too much what I say about Robert Hayden in the three essays that I have already written about him, in my books The Grove of the Eumenides and The Myth of the Enlightenment, I would say, yes, studying with Hayden was transformational, all the more for me since Hayden himself, when he was a young poet in the 1940s, had studied with W. H. Auden at the University of Michigan. I was very much taken then with T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, and that personal connection to the Tradition, if you will, has always meant a lot to me. Still does. On the other hand, I have found that people often want to read my biography too much in terms of Robert Hayden. I had been thinking of myself as a poet and studying and writing for at least eight years before I had ever met Hayden. So while I am the first one to say I owe him a lot, I don’t owe him everything. In fact there were many things about my biography and intellectual interests that he never understood, couldn’t understand, even wrongly advised me about, yet such things proved exactly what enabled me to write my epic poem. Again, the strength of my independence and self-reliance saved me.
AM: Let’s go to your more recent work, The Myth of the Enlightenment, and I love the implications from that title, what part of that research and writing are you most proud of?
FG: The Myth of the Enlightenment draws from a very long undercurrent of study in my first book of essays The Grove of the Eumenides. I’m really building on and extending from that first book of prose, bringing many themes to fruition. So, to my mind, The Myth represents my arduous struggle to bring into unity and coherence the diverse strands of my life-long intellectual and spiritual psychomachia, with East and West, represented, say, by Tolstoy, Milton, Tagore, and Saul Bellow, among others. Part of all that is the struggle of traditional conceptions of life and religion with modernity, ranging over the last five hundred years, and longer, with what Czeslaw Milosz insightfully called “the fad of nihilism,” and Bellow scathingly referred to as “knee-jerk nihilism,” my opponent throughout all my books. In The Parliament of Poets and The Myth of the Enlightenment, I believe I have slain that Beast, and hope, in time, word will spread, and my books will find more readers who can recognize and understand the importance of that victory. The historical record demonstrates that all recorded civilizations have been capable of major transformation in the past when essential to save themselves. Those that were incapable of such epochal shifts destroyed themselves and passed into oblivion. World civilization now stands in the balance.
AM: And now for the piece de resistance. Your epic poem The Parliament of Poets runs to some 290 pages—one poem. Epic indeed. And it is a striking volume. I would like to see more of this kind of serious work. We find mythology and folklore, such as Merlin, worked with so cleverly, but also biblical antecedents and other, related, creation myths—I mention Baal—moving elegantly to such literary figures as Chaucer and Tolstoy. Throughout we find, pardon the cliché, man’s inhumanity to man—the Russian Gulag… Help our PQ readers understand how you put it all together. The planning for this must have been daunting.
FG: Yes, it was daunting. Right from the beginning. In all honesty I was overwhelmed by the notion, taking on such a challenge, but, unbidden, the shaman call kept coming, the undeniable demand, that I, as Emerson wrote, which I once quoted to Robert Hayden, visibly shocking him, “Say, ‘it is in me, and shall out.’” Looking back, I believe it was the independence of those years of solitary study that helped give me the necessary tenacity of spirit, as well as the intuitive sense to recognize that there was no other literary form in which I could fully express what I felt about life. Early on I realized that I had to go directly to the great epics and poets to learn how to write it. Although I had read by the mid Eighties several academic books on epic poetry, for the most part, they weren’t helpful. I left them dissatisfied, except for E. M. W. Tillyard’s book on epic poetry and one of his articles. That period of study culminated in my long essay “Epopee” in The Grove of the Eumenides, the last one in the book, looking to the future. I talk more about Tillyard in an Epic Poetry Workshop I gave at the Austin International Poetry Festival, in 2012, in a YouTube video.
AM: I suspect that few of our readers will recognize the name Tillyard. Can you help? Please go on.
FG: Unlike the New Criticism and other fads in criticism since, Tillyard was a real scholar worthy of the name, not a theorist or sophist, still largely in the old historical, humanistic, practical, useful mode of criticism. His scholarship was of crucial importance to me, for it helped me understand, at a fairly young age, what I was up against and how to proceed, go about actually studying for and writing an epic poem. I consider Tillyard an example of the role scholars have in building civilization, not tearing it down. There was no comparable help I ever found elsewhere. I was largely on my own and had to figure out almost everything for myself. In fact, I soon realized almost all of the prevailing scholarship and fads in culture and poetry would lead me astray from my chosen task, if I allowed it. By the early to mid Eighties I became aware that I was training my mind to the task of writing an epic poem. As Virgil had written three books, I paced myself from there on, deciding I would follow his example, writing a book of lyric poems and dramatic monologues, then a book-length narrative poem telling a longer story, working up to and leading to my ability to write an epic poem, with many personae. Similarly thinking of developing my narrative ability, I wrote my master’s thesis on the narrative poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson.
AM: Can you tell us more about other influences?
FG: All of this, of course, was aside from the necessity of finding and achieving a Vision of our historical, global moment. Some of the great historians and scholars of religion and myth proved to be the most helpful, such as Arnold Toynbee’s many works, most of which I’ve read, especially Mankind and Mother Earth and his Gifford Lecture on religion. Most of the books by Huston Smith, too, beginning even in the early Seventies, were very important, as was Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Instead of the linear approach of Virgil and Milton in the in medias res, I felt my recognition of Jung’s formidable understanding of dreams and modern psychology required a more dream-like phantasmagoria, slightly “smudging” it, like a painter, with his thumb, toward the logic of dreams. And I, of course, read all the great epic poems, East and West, revising my notes and plot outline, again and again, over decades of study and reflection.
For many years I couldn’t figure out how to start writing, wasn’t ready. So I just kept reading and studying, following and trusting my desultory intuition to take me where needed, making notes, jotting down details and choice tidbits. Into my fifties, during the winter preceding my actually beginning to write in the early spring of 2008, I had a few key realizations that began to open the doors for me. I read somewhere that Virgil had first written out the Aeneid in prose and then polished it into verse. However apocryphal that may be, it made me realize I could do the same, coupled with the rhetorical strategy of outlining an essay or piece of oratory, epic plot in this case.
Instead of being shot out of a cannon or ascending to the moon tied to vials of hot air, as in Cyrano de Bergerac, and so forth, my life-long fascination with fairy tales, Mother Goose, and children’s literature came to mind, along with Robert Hayden, solving the major problem that I struggled with for decades of how the Persona would get to the moon.
Another major insight came about when I read of a 19th Century American writer who wrote his best book when he made his own personal struggle to write it part of the story itself. I have always considered myself a fairly private person, solitary and loath to share much of my most personal life with strangers, so it was not easy to confront the possibility of sharing my inner-most self with the reader. I can’t emphasize this enough. Though very painful for me, I think allowing the reader into my inner struggle to create an epic poem deepened it on many levels of meaning and nuance, and makes it hopefully much more engaging for the reader, for the Persona becomes archetypal, beyond my small self. I had to grow within to do that and my characters too had to grow, even, I’d like to think, in the vignettes, into the deepest psychic levels where I am truly trying to resolve the conundrums that I have brooded on all my life. I think and hope readers can feel that, for they also have that sacred place of consciousness.
Analogous to the importance of Virgil to me, Dante not only led to my realizing that I could meld his canto within the twelve-book form of Virgil and Milton, but also that his “deep structure,” as I think of it, given near the end of Canto XVII of the Paradiso, “if it all be penned,” would dovetail almost perfectly with my own more universal spiritual experience and outlook and struggle to affirm the universal, transcendent sovereignty of God, which came together with the Rose Image of Mother Earth. I watched Joseph Campbell’s conversations with Bill Moyers when they were first broadcast, and many times thereafter, helping me to begin to understand the Image of Earthrise.
AM: Jung is so often at play in these highly intellectual inquiries. Can you speak to your sense of the spiritual?
FG: All sanctimony aside, with all humility, as the descendant of Christians from several of the 60,000+ denominations, I have always been moved by and savored, from my first reading it in high school, the counsel of Christ to “pray to your Father” (Matt 6.6), and by, in the various great religions, similar guidance to pray and meditate. As a very young person, I found myself drawn to daily prayer and meditation, usually morning and evening, already when I was in my early twenties, often back then for an hour or two a day, though the more sober “householder” stage of life necessarily shortened that. As usual, I prayed daily throughout the years of writing my epic, often turning to God, asking for help and guidance, meditating on how to proceed, resolving many literary problems through prayer. Prayer and meditation have been and are still important parts of my life as a man and a poet. There is a Mystery in consciousness, and in prayer we can experience it. I believe prayer is essential to develop the deepest levels in ourselves of what it means to be a human being, our deepest levels of consciousness. Naturally, all this is reflected in my epic poem. I hope this conveys somewhat how I grappled with actually writing my epic.
AM: Thank you. I want to take you to a question that should let you vent a bit about American poetry today and your observations on current themes in that poetry. You sir are not a conventional poet. I know that you have taught poetry, but I sense that you see yourself as somewhat of an outrider. Is that fair? Will you comment?
FG: Yes, from my earliest years, I’ve always thought of myself in opposition to much of what has become the prevailing, conventional modes of literary and cultural thinking and writing, academic and otherwise, without even trying, to my mind, and very much beyond postmodernism and all its clichés and assumptions. Part of it stems from my early interest in world religions and in the United Nations, my life-long study of history, East and West, all of which began in high school. I’ve gone deeper and deeper into both ever since, in terms of literature, history, spiritual outlook, evermore what I think of as universality, while I fear much of the culture, around the world, has become more insular, parochial, closed off, superficial, and self-obsessed with backward, retrograde flights into imaginary pasts, which plague us, or has sunk into nihilistic and secular modes of thinking and utopias. Nihilism is an extremely dangerous, dehumanizing reduction of the fullness of life, of the 200,000 years of Homo sapiens on this planet. I consider it more of a threat than even fanatical Islam. We must not fail to understand and remember that dis-eased, nihilistic rationalism, along with its companion materialism, has produced the most oppressive, bloodiest episodes of the last hundred years.
AM: Good point. How has the work been received?
FG: I’m grateful that a fair number of people have read and reviewed my epic around the world and have responded very favorably. I have at times been surprised to find that some readers respond only to one chapter or another of my epic and its respective worldview, respond only to the exclusivism which they already hold or value, while not perhaps hearing the full symphony, what I’d like to think is a song of the fullness of human existence itself. I suppose that stands to reason, so to speak, and indicates somewhat where and how we human beings still need to grow and evolve, are evolving. In our age of extreme, even ridiculous specialization, many know little outside their box, cutting them off from the plenitude and complexity of life, substituting narrow, dehumanizing ideologies. In this way nihilism has us in a stranglehold.
So, in an age of Balkanization and fragmentation, I have always sought unity, what might bring the disparate parts together, harmonize what divides and threatens humanity, through the Supreme Power of the Imagination, our most distinctively human capacity. I still cling to my life-long hope that a global, universal epic tale might help heal the wounds of modernity sufficiently to make the difference, before it is too late. In our corrosively cynical, fragmented state, it can seem most fail to have the imagination to appreciate the possibility. I continue to hope that a point will be reached at which that will begin to change. The Power of Art to reach and touch the souls of humankind must not be neglected and dismissed. Art is the magical Power and language of the gods.
As to my experience with Academia, I’ve repeatedly left the university, found it unconducive to my intellectual and spiritual development and growth, which has always been very painstakingly slow and hard won. Because I understood early on that the university doesn’t own or represent the Tradition, I’ve always been able to walk away from it when necessary, what I consider five times, last in 1996. I’ve always felt that much of the university has lost and betrayed the Tradition.
AM: I cannot let you go without asking this next one, in my assumption that you are a deeply contemplative poet: what are you working on now?
FG: For a long time, and especially the last two or three months, I’ve been thinking again about writing an essay tentatively titled “Quantum Physics and Poetry.” I feel there’s a need perhaps to spell out in prose some of what I’m writing about in my epic poem, to help the reader, as Whitman said. I first read about Quantum Physics in about 1973 in a book by George Leonard, called The Transformation, and then went on to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, reading many other works through the years. In my epic, of course, I wasn’t writing a science textbook, but, I’d like to think, absorbed and synthesized some of the implications of Quantum Physics, at very deep metaphorical and metaphysical levels, to reach into the human psyche.
I believe Quantum Physics changes the nature and meaning of all of the traditional religious and spiritual terms, which is very difficult to convey to people. I fear it may take another five hundred years and sheer hell for humanity fully to understand. Modernity has left people often exceedingly distraught over religion when such needs not be the case. Minds on all sides tend to be indoctrinated and snap shut before understanding can even begin to take place, as Allan Bloom understood. I do address Quantum Physics in my epic, in what I think is the best way, in the language and epistemology of poetry, though also in The Myth of the Enlightenment. I’ve been thinking, too, for quite a while now of writing an essay on Dante and Cervantes, in terms of their own engagement with Islam.
To my surprise in late 2013, I had the startling thought of writing another epic poem, which had never occurred to me before, so intent was I on The Parliament, though more of a dramatic narrative, perhaps somewhat like John Milton’s Samson Agonistes. Having spent over thirty years on The Parliament of Poets, I doubt I have enough time left for another full-scale epic (laughing).
And then on a shorter time-scale, I still hope to live out that rhapsode dream, at least a little, maybe for a few years, if I’m lucky, somehow, though in this world, at my age, I know many dreams never come true, but serve to inspire us toward our better angels. No matter what happens, I’m grateful that I have been allowed to finish my epic. I feel fulfilled as a man that that dream has come true.
I’ve been asked, “Your love and associations with Indian religion and continent is realized…any particular reason Frederick…!”
A flood of memories come back. Too many for a short reply. So I’ve decide to answer the question here on my blog.
My earliest memory of India is when as a very young boy, somewhere probably between six to seven years old, playing in my Grandmother Glaysher’s basement, I became aware of a modest bedroom in the corner, with little more than a bed and nightstand with some books on it, a few of which I came to understand later were by Albert Schweitzer. It was the bedroom of my Great-Uncle Bill who served in Her Majesty’s Army in India. He never married and in old age, dying of cancer, doubtlessly from too many cigarettes, spent his last days with his brother’s family, living in their basement. He died in 1956, before I was old enough to have any memories of him. But everyone spoke of him with awe and love. He had served Her Majesty in India. For my English people, that still meant something and they passed it on to me, especially my Aunt Amy who never lost her English accent and used to love to tell me stories of Uncle Bill and England while making me English milk tea with biscuits, pouring into me awe for both England and India.
In sixth grade, about eleven or twelve years old, I stood up and fervently recited a poem for the first time in my life, in Mr. Bird’s classroom, for an English assignment. It was Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Though set in the Crimea, not in India, I mention it because I know that at the same time I was reading Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and “Gunga Din.”
“Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen…
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
It was only much later, in my early twenties, after having read a few of Albert Schweitzer’s books, having matured eventually beyond, that I began to understand what Colonialism was and the complexity of those issues. But for that young boy standing up in class, he was thrilled at all that heroism under fire, poured his heart into it, like Uncle Bill who served in Her Majesty’s Army. Mr. Bird defended me against the jibes of school mates, and I felt he treated me a little differently after that. It was one of the first experiences that I had ever had that there were men in the world who respected and thought highly of poetry.
A major threshold in my life came late in high school in a class in world religions. The text book was the old warhorse of instruction, The World Bible (Viking 1944 ed.), a selection of scriptures from all of the major religions. I did all the reading, including from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Buddhist Dhammapada which have stayed with me all my life as standards and touchstones. Not all the nihilism of modernity can stand up to the wisdom and spiritual depth of such scripture. My understanding of India deepened significantly during that semester, making me want to study and learn more, which I did, before long, in an undergraduate college level course in world religions and a class in Non-Western History, which included a survey of Indian history from the great Emperor Ashoka through all of the Mughals up to the arrival of the British. It was the first time that I had heard of Emperor Akbar to whom I was immediately and strangely attracted, never forgetting him, but mulling over his importance, year after year, sensing there was something there in his history that was incredibly important for me and my writing. I found myself many times during the rest of my life going back to Emperor Akbar, and what he meant to me, as in my book-length narrative poem, The Bower of Nil, drawing on Tennyson’s poem “Akbar’s Dream,”only coming to fruition in my epic poem. Akbar’s great-grandson Dara Shikoh and his book The Mingling of Two Oceans became very powerful influences on my thinking too. I feel it is unfortunate that India has somewhat forgotten Dara Shikoh and his book.
I should mention that in high school I had a part-time job in a store where I actually met for the first time someone from the Indian sub-continent, a young Buddhist woman from Sri Lanka studying at a local college. As I saw her a few times a week for nearly a year, since I had the duty of fetching supplies for her, she and I became friends and often joked like younger brother with older sister, sometimes talking about her life back home. Knowing her was a very real experience, on a human level, of a person who believed in some of the things I was already reading about. In the almost entirely white suburban world of the early 1970s, in Rochester, Michigan, she was a breath of fresh air, a delightful person. She always wore, of course, the most beautiful saris, which were very exotic for that time. As I was wont to say with other friends, “There’s life outside Rottenchester.” I was soon lighting out to find it. Rochester has now become enriched with people from all over the world, including India. Witnessing that change taking place over the decades, as I would return to visit family, and then eventually return to care for my elderly mother and raise my own children here, has been very important to my understanding of modern life.
As a student at the University of Michigan, I chose to live for a semester at the The Ecumenical Center, a church-operated residence building for international students. By chance, my roommates were two Indians and an African, the last from Nigeria. Looking backing, it was a further excellent introduction on a human level. One of my Indian roommates was a Christian named Bagavandoss from then Madras, and the other a Hindu who regularly read from the Upanishads. As they mildly held, from time to time, different opinions on various issues, I developed a sense of the complexity of life in India, that there was a wide variety of outlook, as in the USA and elsewhere, not simplistically the “mystic East.” Much of that kind of dynamic I try to evoke in my essay on Indian literature, traditional and modern, “India’s Kali Yuga,” in my book The Grove of the Eumenides(2007), where I also mention Uncle Bill.
Somewhere in my experience I should mention reading the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore for many years, beginning in the early 1970s, eventually writing two essays on him in my book The Myth of the Enlightenment (2014); developing and teaching a course in Non-Western Literature during the early 1990s, including the major Indian classics; while in 1995 I was a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar on India for eight weeks at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, where I read further into Indian literature and culture, focusing on the turmoil then taking place in Ayodhya, as well as Chishti Sufism and traditional culture and modernity.
I should include a few years of participation with a local interfaith group in which Indians from the nearby Bharatiya Temple, Jains, and Sikhs were very active, as well as people of other persuasions, while I was writing my epic poem.
Much of this is a rough sketch but I would like to think that all of this and more came together for me somehow in my epic poem.
Frederick Glaysher discusses the book The World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893, and key influential speakers and groups represented at The Parliament in Chicago, including Vivekananda, Brahmo Samaj, the Unitarian Church, and the Theosophical Society. Continue reading →
Epic Poetry Reading, Frederick Glaysher, Farmhouse Frederick Glaysher reading two excerpts from The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem, at The Farmhouse, Village of Franklin, Michigan. March 22, 2018. Hosted and Introduced by the poet Diane DeCillis. On the moon, … Continue reading →
We human beings on this planet need a new vision and understanding of life, to help bring us together, to see and feel and understand our common humanity, to step back from the brink of self-destruction. From the Moon, together, we can see it, a new global, universal vision of life. Continue reading →