Du Fu: My soul does not come when called

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How did I come to spend my life in this miserable valley?
In the middle of the night I get up. Ten thousand worries and griefs...
My soul does not come when called. It's gone back to its old home.

Du Fu (712–770). Although he was one of China's greatest poets, he lived in tumultuous times, lost two children to starvation, wandered as an exile with his family far from home, dependent on wealthier friends, and spent the last part of his life in great sickness and poverty.

我生何為在窮谷
中夜起坐萬感集...
魂捐不來歸故鄉

 


Kaysen: In the parallel universe

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In the parallel universe the laws of physics are suspended. What goes up does not necessarily come down….Time, too, is different. It may run in circles, flow backward, skip about from now to then….

Another odd feature of the parallel universe is that although it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from….

Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.

Susanna Kaysen (1948–), Girl, Interrupted

 

Photo by Gianni Crestani at Pixabay


Jenny Diski: There are no novel responses possible

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There are no novel responses possible. Absolutely none that I could think of. Responses to the diagnosis; the treatment and its side effects; the development of cancer symptoms; the pain and discomfort; the dying; the death … I am appalled at the thought, suddenly, that someone at some point is going to tell me I am on a journey.

But much as I hate it, the journey – that deeply unsatisfactory, often deceitful metaphor – keeps popping into my head. Like my thoughts about infinity, my thoughts about my cancer are always champing at the bit, dragging me towards a starting line. From ignorance of my condition to diagnosis; the initiation into chemotherapy and then the radiotherapy; from the slap of being told that it’s incurable to a sort of acceptance of the upcoming end. From not knowing, to “knowing”, to “really” knowing; from being alive and making the human assumption that I will be around “in the future”, to coming to terms with a more imminent death. And then death itself. And there is no and. Maybe it’s just too difficult to find a way to avoid giving the experience a beginning and an end…..

The end of the journey doesn’t come until you either die cancer-free of something else, or die of the effects of a regeneration of the cancer cells. Good and bad; from here to eternity, and from eternity to here. But I have been not here before, remember that. By which I mean that I have been here; I have already been at the destination towards which I’m now heading. I have already been absent, non-existent. Beckett and Nabokov know:

I too shall cease and be as when I was not yet, only all over instead of in store.
From an Abandoned Work

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.
Speak, Memory

This thought, this fact, is a genuine comfort, the only one that works, to calm me down when the panic comes. It brings me real solace in the terror of the infinite desert. It doesn’t resolve the question (though, as an atheist I don’t really have one), but it offers me familiarity with “The undiscovered country from whose bourn/ No traveller returns”. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And it soothes. When I find myself trembling at the prospect of extinction, I can steady myself by thinking of the abyss that I have already experienced. Sometimes I can almost take a kindly, unhurried interest in my own extinction. The not-being that I have already been.

  –Jenny Diski (1947-2016), in the Guardian, 29 April 2016. She died on 28 April.

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Bruce Kramer: Sadnesss is a way of sensitizing you to what really matters

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I had delved down into a space where I perceived this great pool of gratitude and sadness. And don’t mix sadness up with depression or despair… All sadness is is a way of sensitizing you to what really matters, what’s really meaningful.

And death does that.

I see my death. It looms in front of me sooner than I would like, but because it’s there, because we live with that, I am so grateful for just this moment, for this time together. And that is a great gift.

  –Bruce Kramer in an "On Being" conversation. He recently died of ALS and kept a blog about it. Thanks to Maria Popova for the link.


Emily Dickinson: Her final summer

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Her final summer was it,
and yet we guessed it not;
if tenderer industriousness
pervaded her, we thought

a further force of life
developed from within,—
when Death lit all the shortness up,
and made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness,—
when nothing was to see
but her Carrara guide-post,—
at our stupidity,

when, duller than our dullness,
the busy darling lay,
so busy was she, finishing,
so leisurely were we!

    --Emily Dickinson  (1830-1886) 


Virginia Woolf: ...when the lights of health go down

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Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul …it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature… literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.

  --Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) in her essay On Being Ill (1926)


Xin Qiji: I somehow cannot mention it

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To the tune "The Ugly Slave-girl"

When I was young and had never tasted grief, I loved to climb towers.
I loved to climb towers to write elegant poems about my grief.
But now that I have tasted the utmost dregs of grief, I somehow cannot mention it.
I somehow cannot mention it. Instead I say, "What nice brisk autumn weather."

      --Chinese poet Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 (1140-1207)

醜奴兒

少年不識愁滋味,愛上層樓。
愛上層樓,為賦新詞強說愁。
而今識盡愁滋味,欲說還休。
欲說還休,卻道天涼好個秋。