Fading History

"Stat rosa pristina nomine; nomina nuda tenemus."
-De contemptu mundi by Bernard of Morlay

(Yesterday's rose endures in its name; we hold empty names.)

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Location: Northeast, United States

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good Friday

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central mystery of the Christian faith, celebrated annually upon Easter and honored as the feast of victory for the King. But what, exactly, is Easter to modern Christians and what exactly was it to the band of souls who gathered around the man Jesus Christ and chose to believe that he was something greater.

Most explanation of Easter focuses on the resurrection, its spiritual victory over death and the grace which it grants Christians through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But the victory of Easter morning is not as bright without the darkness of Good Friday, whose absence of light is often ignored. It is a solemn and a sobering day. It is not a day of celebration, and yet there is much in it which is crucial to the faith, and at risk of being lost in a casual oversight of its significance.

It is, I think, fair to say that in two-thousand years’ time those who continue the Christian tradition have grown separated from the emotions shared at the crucifixion by Jesus’ followers. The experience of that week, that day, and of the Sabbath which followed is inconceivable to those who have the benefit of historical perspective. Be it two thousand years later or just three days later, the emotional significance of this experience is markedly different from that period immediately following the crucifixion. For at that moment there was no resurrection, no lily covered altar or performances of Handel’s Messiah. More than likely, there was a vacuous sense of despair as the apostles and followers of the Nazarene carpenter were initiated with him into the death of hope.

Initiation is an interesting word, deriving from the Latin, initium, which means "entrance" or "beginning," literally "a going in." As Christians, our initiation into the faith typically involves the ritual of baptism, which Paul teaches us is symbolic of our ritual death and rebirth. Many of us undertake this initiation as infants, and whatever that child may feel, we can be certain that the physical and emotional experience of the baptism has long vanished by the time the Christian initiate has reached adulthood. Is there any value to the experience of initiation, or is it just a task to be checked off of a list, a “must do” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven?

The Greek philosophers on whose teaching so much of our western culture has been based would argue that initiation is a vital part of religious awakening. In the mystery schools of Greece, Egypt and Syria initiation often involved the concept of a grotto, or cave, in which man symbolically entered the underworld, imitating the death and rebirth of their gods. Initiation came to represent a death of the former self and a rebirth into one’s new self, which is so very similar to the Christian concept of being born again, and indeed the fundamental symbolism of Easter itself.

That the disciples saw this parallel is doubtful, on the Friday afternoon when their hopes were taken from them. It is more likely that the disciples felt anger at the crowds who turned so quickly on the one they had only days before welcomed into Jerusalem, shouting “Hosannah!”. It is likely the disciples feared the crowd, feared the turning tide of emotion and the officials who wielded it like a weapon. We know Peter did, from the tale of his rejection of Jesus three times on the night in which he was betrayed. The specter of death had not yet arrived on the scene, and Peter was already so afraid that he denied knowing Jesus when accused by a servant girl. And which of us would have done better?

Worse yet, though, must have been the fear that they had somehow been wrong. These men and women who followed Jesus had given up everything, from their families to their livelihood and their reputations to follow a man who challenged them to “let the dead bury their own dead”. He challenged them to join with him in life, and to abandon the world to the dead whom inhabit it. In so doing he set them apart, like initiates, into a divine knowledge which reclassified the material world, their friends and relatives as already lost, and more importantly set the disciples apart as those who were somehow in the know, set apart and above this world, both now and forever.

And yet, here was their leader, no longer the unstoppable wonder-working rebel, fearlessly pointing out the flaws of the religious establishment. Here he was, in the now, a prisoner of the establishment: dirty, beaten, bleeding and all but broken. He was mocked and abused and seemingly powerless to stop it. And then, after hours nailed to the cross, as some in the superstitious crowd thought he might be calling on Elijah, came instead the heartbreaking words: “eloi eloi lama sabachthani”.

Though John states that Jesus’ last words were “it is done”, the Gospel of Matthew states that his final words instead quoted Psalm 22, crying “Eloi eloi lama sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”.

These are difficult words. We are told that Jesus foretold his death and resurrection. But at that final moment, the moment of crisis, he was not filled with prescient and calming wisdom. He was instead filled with despair, a frightening loss of hope. If, at the edge of the next world, the all-knowing son of God loses all hope then all hope is truly lost. How do we make sense of this?

Perhaps the answer is glimpsed in the mystery schools of the pagan religions which one might say prefigured the death of Christ. For the Greeks understood that the ritual act of Theurgy, or becoming one with God, meant a death to God. Without total separation there is no vacuum, no darkness to set apart the light. To prepare oneself for union there must be separation, and for the ritual death and sacrifice of Jesus to achieve unity with the father it had to involve complete separation from him. No safety net, no understanding of the greater plan, no hope. And that is what the statement relays, a total loss of hope.

One can only imagine the horror of those who stood watching, or heard the report later, that his last words were full of despair and a very human hopelessness. What went through the minds of Peter, or John as he stood with Jesus’ mother and watched the very tangible spectacle before him. Dear God, what have I done? Was everything we believed in vain? Was I wrong to follow him?

And we can hear the devil’s advocate on their shoulder, like some worldly-wise and all too rational advisor: “He is dead, and you will die too. Let the dead bury their own dead. Bury the man you called Christ, it is getting dark.”

Good Friday is not a day of celebration; it is a day of sobering doubt and darkness. It is a day to feel the cracks in the foundation of your faith; a day to fear both the world around you and within you. For today we must forget what the Magdalene found on Sunday morning in the garden. Forget the comfort of your self-righteous belief, and walk today in the valley of the shadow of death. Feel what it is to despair, to doubt, and to truly walk alone in a meaningless and harsh world. Go home, lock your doors, and experience the terror of your mistake. Fear your neighbors, the spark of unrest and the electric hum of the mob. Fear your own misplaced passion and its foolish naïveté. Today, I challenge you to enter the grotto, the underworld of death, and to do so with no hope of salvation. Understand what it is today to die so that, God willing, we may be born again. And let us all hope that at the end of all things love will not suffer a vacuum.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Arcade Fire and the Gnostic Afterlife

Arcade Fire’s recently released Reflektor album is receiving critical praise, and as usual their music is being delivered to the public through a variety of entertainment mediums.  From the digital album to an SNL appearance, PBS audio concert, 30 minute short TV special, award show spots and music videos in multiple formats from traditional to the interactive. Case in point: with the single Afterlife, music fans can enjoy several video versions of the song. These include a live performance directed by Spike Jonze, a video version using footage from Marcel Camus’ “Black Orpheus”, and an official video written and directed by Emily Kai Bock.

Bock, a Canadian filmmaker who released her video as part of the Creators Project, has received high praise for the short film, featuring a Hispanic father and two sons who are suffering through the loss of their family matriarch. Christopher Rosen, writing in the Huffington Post, even declared that “Arcade Fire's ‘Afterlife’ video is better than a lot of this year's feature films.” Most reviews refer to the work as melancholy, emotional and struggling to make sense of personal loss. But, though true, these observations are just touching the surface of this piece of art, and the trinity of films in general.
Beneath the exoteric tale of family loss and coping lies a deeper philosophical theme which runs through many of Arcade Fire’s other works, as well. The esoteric ideas behind this Afterlife film explore a gnostic philosophy. These ideas clash against the backdrop of a traditional Latino family with Roman Catholic beliefs. This is a theme Win Butler often adopts, creating tension by exploring the contentious relationship between gnostic ideas and those promoted by Catholic and Evangelical Christians.
Just as the film “Black Orpheus” borrows from the classical orphic mystery school, telling a mythic story in which the male-female relationship bridges into the underworld that is the afterlife, Arcade Fire explore the same themes in Emily Kai Bock’s work. Except, in Bock’s work, the tension is developed through displaying the void created by a male-dominated system which eliminates the role of the feminine divinity.  

In Bock’s film, the father represents a version of the Gnostic demiurge, a male creator/provider. He is flawed without his female counterpart, and is not adequately able to provide for the family. It is this lack of the divine female influence that is the root of the family’s troubles, but the father is at a loss, unable to supply the feminine aspects of parenthood to his children and even failing in his own paternal role without the help of his soul-mate. His stern and controlling nature is hanging on to what he knows, but blind to his faults. He denies his eldest son’s request to go out into the world because he is overprotective and tired. In reality, the eldest son will suffer the same fate if bound to this hopeless, isolated existence. As the son sneaks off to enter the world, we are briefly shown a portrait of this him next to a portrait of Jesus, setting up a comparison of the sons and of the fathers as well.
In a dream the eldest son visits a housing complex and passes by three women, at least one of whom eyes him as a potential lover. But he passes them by without engaging them and instead focuses his attention on a baptism being performed in a pool behind a locked gate. He, too, is suffering because of his denial of the real sensual female presence around him and his fixation on a pure Christianized idea of the female that lies beyond his reach. By remaining pure and focusing on the promised afterlife, he is denying himself the female presence he so desperately needs in this life now that his mother is gone.
The younger son, too, dreams of a female figure but she is a burly matronly woman, dispassionately engaged in cleaning bed sheets in a Laundromat. There is no love, only antiseptic purification, and the boy is horrified to find that he too is being callously locked in a machine to be washed, as well.
Both boys are touched in their dreams by the comfort of their real mother, who is gone from the world they know. They clearly need her and she longs to be with them, but this reunification is impossible in their world. It is clear that in three different aspects, maiden, mother and wife, the female figure is missing and desperately needed.
Ultimately, the father makes a midnight dream journey through the streets and into the underworld to reach her. He passes a lamp which leans across the street and quietly falls to the ground behind him, symbolizing the female light of the gnostic Sophia falling to the material realm of earth.
He then journeys through the material world, represented by the mining facility filled with mountains of earth, and ultimately descends into the underworld through the cellars of the factory. In the basement he finds his love, dressed in mourning clothes, and upon embracing her is able to see shafts of light coming from heaven above. But alas, it is just a dream.

In the final moments of the film we are left with the despondency of the three men together on the couch, bathed only in the electronic light of the television. It is a lonely, desperate film, populated by characters who do not understand the root of their own problems, but who feel it deeply in their subconscious.

Curiously, the melancholy extreme of Emily Kai Bock’s film is counter-balanced by the exuberant joy displayed in the Spike Jonze performance. In fact, by creating three versions of videos for the song, Arcade Fire achieved some symmetry. In the center lies the version taken from clips of “Black Orpheus”, with both male and female elements struggling passionately with love and against their own mortality. To the right of this is Bock’s male-dominated version, unable to come to grips with its lack of feminine influence and mired in despondency. On the left lies the Spike Jonze version, which showcases a woman who, free from her male companion, dances joyfully on a stage amongst a bevy of young girls. In the end, perhaps the band is trying to tell us that unity and balance is the only path to happiness in this life, and perhaps in the next one as well.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Context is important. The word sounds a bit academic, but the concept it represents is incredibly strong. Considering something in its proper context can dramatically affect the meaning conveyed. We may not often think of our work as taking place within a certain historical context. Perhaps we see the concept at work in other aspects of our life, oftentimes without realizing it. Nevertheless, it is there, affecting our experiences and those we pass on to others.

Consider a few examples of context: a team wins a baseball game. Your child’s team wins a little league game. He or she catches the game winning ball. Bill Buckner makes a game losing error. The Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, defeating the 86 year-long curse of the Bambino. Each variable that leads up to an event or a moment in time contributes different levels of meaning to it, some more or less than others.

We recently changed the naming convention of our conference rooms at my company. “Why Turing?” I have been asked by some. “Why did the names change at all?” “What was wrong with Michelangelo?”

The answer is historical context. Nothing was wrong with our old names, but they really didn’t contribute towards or derive from anything that we do. My company is a manufacturer of services within the technology industry. When we look at the term “technology” we probably think about what is going on today and tomorrow at the bleeding edge of internet applications, personal gadgetry and electronic entertainment. But we are less likely to look over our shoulder, at the individuals whose contributions to the fields of science, mathematics and computing led to this era of exponential growth in technological achievement.

Our choice of names for the places where ideas are exchanged derives from a desire to understand and appreciate the context within which our business exists. Before BGP, Unified Communications and Vista there were super-computers, Enigma, Turing machines and punch-card tabulators. And before that there were the revolutionary concepts of physics, mathematics, geometry and the natural sciences which paved the way for those of us who follow.

History testifies that for hundreds of years, the sciences of the western hemisphere languished in the intellectually stagnant era commonly (and aptly) called the Dark Ages. Although Arab studies of mathematics and science reached a zenith of intellectual development at this time, Europe did not participate until the 15th century, when the fall of Constantinople and the opening of new trade routes brought a flood of new ideas, new cultures and new economic opportunities into the trade cities of Italy. With this long overdue arrival of the Renaissance, a new period characterized by innovation and the growth of scientific thought began to emerge.

This is where we begin to see the individual contributions of great minds to the growth of western science. The men who stood out made great strides, often at the expense of their reputations, their freedom and at times, their lives. The best, though, challenged the process and the accepted knowledge not out of the yearning for indiscriminant rebellion, but rather out of a quest to better understand the truths behind the mysteries of the world, and a desire to do something positive with the knowledge they might gain.

As a result, we see men like Copernicus, Galileo, and DaVinci challenging the intellectual culture around them with ideas which ultimately proved to be groundbreaking in the course of human development. Moreover, they were followed by contributions from minds like Sir Isaac Newton, who is famous for the statement “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton understood the tradition within which he operated, and the debt owed to his predecessors.

In our own century, Albert Einstein perhaps best typifies this sense of incredible talent, built upon the countless achievements of others before him and driven on by his own unique personal genius. Moreover, in our own specific industry, we must count the name of Alan Turing, the British logician, mathematician and cryptographer. Known as the father of modern computing and famed for his WWII decrypting contribution at Bletchley Park, his studies built upon both Newton and Einstein’s work in physics and mathematics, ultimately leading to the concept of theoretical machines capable of performing any given mathematical computation. Turing Machines are a central concept in modern computing theory, whose abstract properties lend many insights into both computer science and complexity theory.

We do not operate in a vacuum, and the work we do does not end when we are gone. Though we may not ever become the topics of university lectures, which of us would ever strive for obscurity? The contributions we make will extend beyond our lives, and any greatness we achieve in our own right may enable others to reach new heights of their own. We are a business, but we are also learning organization with a remarkable desire to propel self-development, taking what is good and making it great. We should never settle for mediocrity, and we should never forget the shoulders on which we stand.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rosslyn Chapel Stone Mystery Decoded

Check out the story below and play the video. It's well worth your time if you are as hip as most readers of this blog. For the uninitiated, Rosslyn Chapel is one is one of the most unique medeival churches in the British Isles, decorated with a host of cryptic stone symbols and architectural anomolies, and which is held dear by the Knights Templar and Freemasons alike. This is an unexusable oversimplification of hte site, but I will sum it all up with the additional statement that it is held to be one of several possible resting places of the Holy Grail.

ASSOCIATED PRESS- The stone carved angel, bottom, and cubes that lead a team of code-breakers to claim to have found music hidden for 500 years in the intricate carvings, are seen at Rosslyn Chapel, in the village of Roslin, near Edinburgh, Scotland Wednesday May 2, 2007. Father and son team Thomas and Stuart Mitchell say they deciphered a musical code hewn into stone cubes on the ribs supporting the ceiling of Rosslyn Chapel. The music has been recorded, and will get its official premiere in the chapel May 18. Rosslyn Chapel is where author Dan Brown set the climax of the best-selling book 'The Da Vinci Code.' (AP Photo/Gordon Frazer)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Return of the Magi

Christmas is here and once again I make my annual pilgrimmage to the works of T.S. Eliot to seek out The Journey of the Magi. I notice that last year I stated that I was beginning to understand it. This year I know more, but am less certain that I have any real understanding.

A quick search of Wikipedia reveals "The poem is, instead of a celebration of the wonders of the journey, largely a complaint about a journey that was painful, tedious, and seemingly pointless...The magus seems generally unimpressed by the infant, and yet he realizes that the incarnation has changed everything...The birth of the Christ was the death of his world of magic, astrology, and paganism. The speaker, recalling his journey in old age, says that after that birth his world had died, and he had little left to do but wait for his own end...His narrator in this poem is a witness to historical change who seeks to rise above his historical moment, a man who, despite material wealth and prestige, has lost his spiritual bearings."

All perfectly reasonable, but lacking something. The great rennaissance Magi, such as Ficino, Mirandola and Agrippa, saw the biblical Magi as symbolic of a proper place for Natural magic & astrology within acceptable Christian doctrine. The three sage's wisdom brought them to seek out and pay tribute to the Christ child, thus legitimizing their practices in the proper context. Nevertheless, this was a dangerous path in the eyes of the church, and those who walked upon it often faced the perils of human judgement. One only need reference the trial and execution of Giordano Bruno to understand the stakes at hand. And yet, the tradition persisted in the esoteric underworld, through the Rosicrucian furor and beyond, through the ultimate divorce of magic and science and into the uncertain vogue of the 19th century theosophists and occultists, as well as today's new age mysticism.

If the Wiki's analysis is lacking something, it is the framing of Eliot's poem within the magical mystery tradition which he and his writing seems to explore. He was not alone in this regard. Charles Williams and his fellow Inklings & associates, each in varied but thematically connected ways, managed to reflect the possibilities of a Christian magical theology, hidden from the profane, but once known, forever changing the way one views this world. There is a hint of this in Eliot's Journey, like a watery reflection of the night sky, with one bright star in the west winking through the ripples. Intentional? I'll leave it to the reader to decide.

T. S. Eliot. The Journey of The Magi:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him..." The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

[Matthew 2:1–10]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I began this essay and am not sure that I am done with it, even with my own thoughts on its point. I'll post it anyway, though, in the hope that another's thoughts may render me more eloquent...

In 1983 Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, coined the lyric “And the battle's just begun, to claim the victory Jesus won”. It was a line intended to shame both the Protestant and Catholic sides of the religious struggle in Northern Ireland, through its simplicity and its truth. In its naked, common-sense approach, however, the line also extends past its Christian context and symbolizes the crux of so many of the world’s religious conflicts: Possession.

There is something magic about ownership. It is a primal urge, born out of the fear of loss, and ultimately of the potentially tenuous nature of survival. If we do not obtain food, clothing, or shelter we will perish. How much more pressing is the drive to hold the key to eternal life, to extend one’s existence and lessen the fear of the great unknown?

On a physical level, the things we must produce for survival in this world have been translated into the language of commerce. Money is no more than a symbol of work, or of possessions. It is the great middleman which separates our physical toil from the fruit of our labors, allowing us to instead reap whatever reward we desire. It is an enabler, a middle-man, and, like the internet today, an accelerator of anonymity. If I hold money, who is to question how I made it? Did I work hard? Do I deserve its weight in the luxuries of trade? No proper merchant would question it.

In the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, money is really the loophole to the biblical curse: to atone for his sins Adam must work the land all his days, but not if he invests well or wins the lottery. In the undercurrent of logic here we begin to comprehend how some could see the dark attraction of a life of piracy on the high seas. Without God or country, and with money in your pocket, the yoke is broken.

It is, to some extent, this logic which Voltaire put into play in his examination of English religious tolerance in the reformation. Expounding on the subject in his Philosophical letters on the English, Voltaire points out the fact that the English do not embrace each other’s differing sects, but they do have a more developed economic system which justifies tolerance. While France still tried to recover from centuries of bitter religious warfare between its own populace, the English were learning to live with one another and to accept the more liberal ideas of human rights and the freedom of ideas. The concept that ideas could not be forcefully imposed upon a people was a major step, and it was driven, according to Voltaire, by economic progress best represented by the London Stock exchange. Voltaire writes:

"Go into the Exchange in London, that place more venerable than many a court, and you will see representatives of all the nations assembled there for the profit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel for those who go bankrupt."

While it serves a stabilizing role on both a political and a social level, the possession of money and a reliable means of commerce is hardly a source of spiritual satisfaction to the individual. Though he has himself abandoned the church, Umberto Eco relays this point well in his essay, On God and Dan Brown, when he states:

“…if you believe in money alone, then sooner or later, you discover money's great limitation: it is unable to justify the fact that you are a mortal animal. Indeed, the more you try escape that fact, the more you are forced to realise that your possessions can't make sense of your death. It is the role of religion to provide that justification. Religions are systems of belief that enable human beings to justify their existence and which reconcile us to death.”

So man is left, ultimately, to struggle for that greatest of possessions – faith. And faith is really the ability to be confident. It is a confidence that one is right, a confidence one possesses knowledge of all the mysteries, and likewise a confidence that one must live by the tenets of that faith to be saved by it. Why is it, then, that men so often jeopardize the high ideals of faith during the pursuit of religious ends?

Inevitably, we must come to accept the fact that all human institutions are plagued by the same corruption: the human element. Our greed, pride, passion, self-absorption, lack of confidence, you name it – it will creep its way into the most noble of causes, and it has for hundreds of years. All our works are tainted. And that which fosters those flaws is so often the emotion which drove our earliest quests for survival: fear. Fear, and the instinctive reaction to conquer that fear through Possession.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mixing Memory & Desire: An Arundel Tomb

We distort history everyday in our own lives, let alone in our distant comprehension of the lives of others. Memory, imagination, desire, fear and other emotions each taint the reality of the past, reforming it in our image.

Modern grail theory references occult knowledge which is based in hidden lore of mystery schools, passed down over hundreds of years through oral tradition. I am reminded of the children's game where we all stand in a line and repeat a whispered message, finding it drastically altered when it reaches the far end. I am also reminded of this poem by Philip Larkin, An Arundel Tomb:

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

— Philip Larkin (1922 - 85)

It is a marvelous examination of the idea that we often impress our own emotions onto our interpretation of history. When the facts are washed away by the years, we interpret what remains as we would like to see it. The great thing here is that Larkin's poem is itself tainted by the very point he makes. While it is true that the couple may not have been in love and the beauty that remains may be no more than the beauty imbued upon the pair through art, it may also be true that the love portrayed on the tomb was real, and Larkin has projected his own romantic pessimism onto it in his poem.

Perhaps the same may be said for the grail: many wish to claim possession of its mysteries. But whom of us know the truth, beyond the shadow left us by history? And if we convince ourselves that we do know, what have we known besides ourselves and our desires. They are projected out, only to be reflected back to us dimly, shadows rippling in the wine, winking at the brim of the chalice.

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