Friday, August 12, 2011

"The Cool Web"

If the World is either reticent or mute, we humans, for our part, do not know when to shut up.  Lao Tzu's well-known dictum is a good starting point:  "Those who know do not talk.  Those who talk do not know." Perhaps.  Po Chu-i puts Lao Tzu in humorous perspective for us (the translation is by Arthur Waley):

                  Lao Tzu

"Those who speak know nothing;
Those who know are silent."
Those words, I am told,
Were spoken by Lao Tzu.
If we are to believe that Lao Tzu
     Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book
     Of five thousand words?

Robert Graves suggests that yakking may serve a purpose.  But at a cost.

                        The Cool Web

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose's cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

Robert Graves, Poems, 1914-1926 (1927).

                                     Norman Rowe, "Span" (1985)


Fred said...

That's always intrigued me--maybe those who know don't talk, but they sure do write!

I read the following somewhere, sometime:

Q: What should one do when one becomes one with the Tao?

A: Quietly walk away.

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Stephen we musn't count writing as speaking!
I find the best thing about people who talk alot is that I don't have to.
I can be silent and think about my garden, or birds, or poetry....even by Lao Tzu. (that babbler).

zmkc said...

I suppose no comment would be the appropriate response, but I can't help saying how much I like that Graves poem.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: yes, the writing does pour out, doesn't it? I don't know about the rest of the world, but in the U.S. there certainly is no shortage of those willing to explain Taoism and Buddhism at length. But I guess we can make an exception for Lao Tzu, eh? After all, he is pithy!

Quietly walking away sounds correct. As I have noted before, Wittgenstein has it right: what we cannot speak of, we must consign to silence.

As always, thank you for visiting and commenting, Fred.

Stephen Pentz said...

Julie: of course, I qualify as one of the yakkers myself, given these blogging circumstances! I can throw no stones from this glass house, can I? Unless, as you suggest, writing doesn't count. Good idea, that.

Thanks for stopping by again. It is always good to hear from you.

Stephen Pentz said...

zmkc: as I noted in my response to Julie, I am in no position to call for silence, given the circumstances. I'm glad that you like the poem.

(By the way, the painting by Norman Rowe is purportedly located at the British High Commission in Canberra. I thought of you when I found the image, which noted its location.)

As ever, thank you visiting.