Philosophy & books

My favourite quotes...

These are my top ten favourite quotes at this moment in time and very much capture my philosophy on life:

"The only death you die is the death you die every day by not living."
Norman Vaughan, Antarctic mountaineer on reaching the 10,300 ft. summit of Mt Vaughan, aged 89.

“Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.” George Bernard Shaw

“Being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Anonymous

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation..." Robert Kennedy

"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself." Eleanor Roosevelt

“May I forget what ought to be forgotten; and recall, unfailing, all that ought to be recalled, each kindly thing, forgetting what might sting.” Mary Caroline Davies

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will be fed for life." Unknown.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’
Mark Twain

“People get disturbed not so much by events, but by the view which they take of them.” Epictetus

My favourite quotes

Am I allowed an 11th quote? I couldn't possibly leave this one out...
"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. 

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. 

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others."

Audrey Hepburn

My favourite poems

I love the way poems are published on the tube in London, giving sustenance for the soul for the hundreds of thousands of commuters on the network each day. I saw this yesterday and it particularly struck me as a particularly lovely thing:

The way the red sun surrenders 
its wholeness to the curving ocean
bit by bit. The way curving ocean 
gives birth to the birth of the stars 
in the growing darkness, 
wearing everything in its path
to a comic smoothness.

The impulse of the stones rolling
towards their own roundness.
The unexpected comets of flying fish. 
And Forest-Great-Breathing-Spirit,
rooting to the very end for the life of the planet.

Grace Nichol, From the Life of This Planet. (b. 1950)

Grace Nichols is a Guyanese poet which perhaps makes her reference to Forest-Great-Breathing-Spirit particularly poignant. Guyana is the home to prime rainforest which is under threat, just like the Amazon further South.

Although it's not a focus here, the oceans drive the winds, the winds drive soil erosion in the Sahara and that very iron-rich soil from the deserts feeds the nutrient-hungry rainforests of South America. A while back I read how climate change is threatening the currents, winds and those vital dust deposits so it's a poem that made me stop and think. 

In my very first post I talked about loving the way the sun suddenly disappears like a tuppence below the horizon which is particularly noticeable at sea. In many ways, it's a really lovely poem.

“Poems on the Underground” celebrated the 25th anniversary last week. Every season, the British Council Art Group selects six poems. This season’s selections address the value of the written word and include the well-known opening lines from John Keats’ “Endymion.” A good choice for the “gloomy days” of winter:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health,
And quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

“Lines to a Movement in Mozart’s E-flat Symphony” is a rare, hopeful poem about spring and love from the usually dour Thomas Hardy:

Show me again the time
When in the Junetide’s prime
We flew by meads and mountains northerly!–
Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fullness, fineness, freeness,
Love lures life on…
Show me again just this:
The moments of that kiss
Away from the prancing folk, by the strawberry-tree!–
Yea to such rashness, ratheness, rareness, ripeness, richness,
Love lures life on.

The Council also selected "Riddle” by Gerard Benson, a fourth-century translation of “Loving the Rituals” by Palladas, and a Seamus Heaney translation of lines written by Colmcille, a sixth-century Irish saint. Heaney and Nichols, notably, were also featured in the very first set of London Underground poems.

"Poems on the Underground" has inspired similar programmes on public transport in Dublin, Paris, New York, Vienna, Stockholm, Helsinki, Athens, Barcelona, Moscow, St Petersburg and, most recently, Shanghai and Warsaw. It's a great thing and long may it continue.

My favourite poems...

Two more of my favourite poems...
There Was a Child Went Forth

HERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,     
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him;
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple-trees cover’d with blossoms, and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the out-house of the tavern, whence he had lately risen,
And the school-mistress that pass’d on her way to the school,
And the friendly boys that pass’d—and the quarrelsome boys,
And the tidy and fresh-cheek’d girls—and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country, wherever he went.

His own parents,
He that had father’d him, and she that had conceiv’d him in her womb, and birth’d him,
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day—they became part of him.

The mother at home, quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table;
The mother with mild words—clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by;
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger’d, unjust;
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture—the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsay’d—the sense of what is real—the thought if, after all, it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time—the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets—if they are not flashes and specks, what are they?
The streets themselves, and the façades of houses, and goods in the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank’d wharves—the huge crossing at the ferries,
The village on the highland, seen from afar at sunset—the river between,
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown, three miles off,
The schooner near by, sleepily dropping down the tide—the little boat slack-tow’d astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint, away solitary by itself—the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.
Walt Whitman

I love the way the child in this poem absorbs everything he looks upon in a day and in a lifetime and it becomes part of his being. The universe is full of life (‘the song of the phoebe bird’) and meaning (‘the curious whether and how’). Whitman offers this sparklingly brilliant composite of impressions – ‘flashes and specks’ – so that we might open ourselves to experiences.

To Whitman, all the objects and memories are how we become ourselves, by truly connecting with our own experience, by realising, I am that child that went forward.

On Children
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 our 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.
Kahlil Gibran
The thought of children being the product of "Life's longing for itself"...the instinct for survival is an amazingly powerful one. The poem is about how children will strive and thrive no matter what if we give them a stable environment in which to grow up.
I think these poems pair well together...and I like them both immensely.

My favourite books...

On my way to and from work today I read one of the most amazing books. It’s propelled itself into one of my top ten favourite books of all time.

I’ll post a few immediate thoughts on it in the twenty minutes I need to wait for my sardines with chili, parsley and lemon to cook! 

The Little Prince or Le Petit Prince was written by the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943. Since its publication, it has sold more than 200 million copies worldwide – making itone of the best selling books of all time. Yet, I’ve never come across it until now, which is strange. Perhaps I’m not the only person. Which is why it makes the perfect subject for a blog post.

Outwardly a children's book, The Little Prince makes various profound points about life and humankind. It looks at how and why we find joy in friendships, nature and the things around us and reconcile ourselves with the inevitability of death and loss.

In it, the narrator tells of being stranded in the Sahara Desert (which actually occurred to the author on a pioneering flight) where he meets a young extraterrestrial prince. In their talks, the author reveals his own views about simple truths and the follies of mankind.

The book's essence is in the famous line uttered by the fox to the Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

The fox and the Little Prince had been discussing why we need to establish ties – to have our hearts tamed – to love life, friends and things.

“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you,” explains the fox.

“And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

The fox talks about being bored with his life. With hunting chickens and being hunted by men.

“But if you tame me,” he says, “I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me? The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.”

When The Little Prince is about to pass away, or return to his own extraterrestrial planet as he frames it, he asks the narrator to look at the stars and know that he is laughing there. The Little Prince promises that,

"And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me.”

I came across The Little Prince as it was mentioned in the funeral service of my very dear friend Niki who prompted me to start this blog in the first place. I suddenly remembered that Niki had been reading this book to her little boy - my godson - in the very last holiday we took together in Cornwall. I also found that The Little Prince was the very first book Niki gave to her husband. It seemed to be very important to her so I thought I'd read it and I'm glad I did.

One of the times when Niki had to cancel a visit from me because she had to go to hospital she said, "it's not fair, there was so much I wanted to do this month". 

It's very sobering to measure out your life in months. It’s why I started this blog. I wanted to define the things I really love. Many of these things have been introduced to me by dear friends like Niki and remind me of them. I wanted to understand why I like them so much and make them a central part of my life. I thought it would help me find new related things too - like a cross-genre version of The idea was that people might say…”oh you really like X, I think you’d like Y too.” It's all too easy to amble along in life and not focus on the things that really matter.

Anyway, the oven’s just pinged so I’m going to go eat. It’s really difficult to do justice to such a profound…albeit whimsical book as The Little Prince. So I’ll just have to urge you to go away and read or re-read it.