Laying Waste Our Powers

I always thought the first poem I ever learned was by William Wordsworth, but it turns out it was by Kenneth Grahame (who wrote The Wind in the Willows). I’ve often stumbled as I’ve tried to recall it because my seven-year old self learned “Through the rushes green” instead of “Through the rushes tall.” Easy mistake to make, no? But it buggers up the rhyme completely.

Anyway, it’s the season during which many people suspend their disbelief and submit to the celebration of conspicuous consumption and the elevation os ‘family’ to a kind of hyperbolic spiritual absolute. Both make me feel a little sick. So, my antidote is something as unlikely to generate material gain as it is for most families to sit together and discuss the nature of ultimate reality rather than watch the Dr. Who Christmas Special: read a poem or two.

First the Kenneth Grahame, then one of Wordsworth’s most famous sonnets.

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


Christmas Organ Concert

The best bit of the concert we went to yesterday was that it took place in the beautiful Konzerthaus in Berlin (see photo). Not the greatest concert ever, I’m afraid. As we talked over the experience on our way to supper with friends, we came to the conclusion that the organist was at least half-cut and probably sight-reading.

Dinner was fun, but brought home to me just how middle-aged I really am. Although I was violently left-wing in my youth, even volunteering at CND for a while (in the parliamentary department where I learned all about lobbying—or should I say the ‘information-for-sex’ trade), as we ate I expressed affection for Prince Philip and Enoch Powell.  It was immediately pointed out to me (very sweetly) that both of them are considered to be rabid ‘racists’ these days (by the press, at least). And it occurred to me that if I were true to left-wing politics, their names should probably never have even passed my lips. So another self-affixed label has now hit the dust!

The truth is that I have a tremendous fondness for all individuals who refuse to toe the line, party-political, spiritual, or whatever. And neither the Prince nor the great parliamentarian (who was also an accomplished classicist) ever do, or did.

Sadly I’m too lazy to write about it properly today. But Enoch Powell also wrote poetry, once saying that when a poem came to him he had no choice but to write it down, however inconvenient the inspiration proved to be. So as a way of celebrating his sense of personal honour, regardless of the consequences, I have typed in one of his pieces for you to read. He may not have been a great poet, or even a good one, but I love the fact that he couldn’t resist the urge to paint a picture of his inner world in words.

(I should add that even in my dotage, I perceive not one redeeming feature in Margaret Thatcher, who was nothing more than a rapacious bully and devoid of any human feeling, let alone poetry. It was her pogrom of deregulation that laid the foundations of today’s financial crisis, so please don’t be taken in by the glamor Meryl Streep currently lends her.)

Strange, that neither wound nor sight
Nor least perception of our plight
Passes to the world without,
Though earth and we are whirled about
Into darkness crashing down,
Unrescuable there to drown.
All the air between is crying
And the walls vibrate with sighing
And our cheeks are drenched in tears –
But no one sees and no one hears. 

Senge Dzong (4)

The last photos of the pilgrims on their way back to Paro. The injis (six of them) shared the floor of a cupboard to sleep in on this occasion. Quite luxurious in comparison to some of their bedrooms, I gather. Thanks again to Emilie and Philip for these great photos.

Senge Dzong (2)

Here are a few pictures taken after Chokling Rinpoche and OT Rinpoche’s party arrived at Senge Dzong. All these images were snapped on the same day. And I’ve chosen pictures of the Rinpoches because there’s really nothing at Senge Dzong except a valley. Don’t panic, though, there will be a couple of photos of the landscape in the next post, so you’ll be able to see for yourself.

Senge Dzong (1): The Voyage Out

After the Chigme Phakmé Nyingtik drupchen in Bir last September, Chökling Rinpoche and his wife, OT Rinpoche and his wife, their kids (I think all of them), his brother Khyentse Yeshe, plus an assortment of monks and six westerners all set out for Bhutan. The westerners included Philip and Emilie H, and Emilie has very generously allowed me to post a few of her photos for your delight and delectation (thank you once again, dear Emilie).

I think I should point out immediately that this wasn’t an ordinary trek. It certain wasn’t an easy one. Senge Dzong is extremely remote and even the Bhutanese take three days to walk there up a narrow, treacherous path. And for Injis, altitude sickness is a constant companion. But no deterrent for hard-line Guru Rinpoche fans (like OT Rinpoche), for whom it’s a ‘must see’ pilgrimage spot, and particularly special for devotees of Yeshe Tsogyal who did all kinds of mind-boggling things there.

This particular trek wasn’t made any easier by the earthquake that struck Sikkim in the middle of September. Many of the roads and tracks in Bhutan were blocked and as the weather had been particularly wet, there was a great deal of mud to wade through. It ended up taking Chokling Rinpoche, OT Rinpoche and their party five days to get there, with no hotels or guest houses or even tea shops on the way. Everyone slept in tents and all the food for the journey (plus all the drupchen substances) had to be carried by the monks and cooked en route.

Once they arrived at Senge Dzong there was basically nothing there except a shrine room and a couple of outhouses. The drupchen etc. took ten or twelve days, and then they had another five-day trek back to civilization. Well, civilization of a sort…

I confess, I can’t imagine taking on such a challenge, but our intrepid friends tell me it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

With luck Emilie will post some comments once this piece and its sisters are online, and maybe Philip will too… let’s see.

Paro, on the voyage out to Senge Dzong

Eric and Ernie

Gott im Himmel, poxy Christmas. I can do without all the glitter and rich puddings these days, but the one thing I really miss about the Christmases I was brought up on is the Eric and Ernie Christmas Show and their silly, light-hearted humour.