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The Poetic Aspects of Deep Ecology

By Viktor Postnikov
Easter, 2008

The environmental crisis is a crisis of aesthetics
— James Hillman

Introduction

The whole human history can be viewed as a constant struggle between sanity and insanity. Countless saints and philosophers, poets and artists have strived to evolve our consciousness through meditation, science, art, poetry, music, architecture, etc. “Man shall not live by bread alone” – said one great man, and other great minds have echoed him accordingly.

And this striving for human consciousness continues. Moreover, it has greatly increased over time in view of the diminishing resources and a new threat of a global war, unprecedented in its scale. Many people feel they are being trapped in this horrible abyss. Some close their eyes in order not to see; others curse the warmongers; while some believe they could somehow escape the apocalypse. But the major players of the world’s tragedy are hellishly enthusiastic. Sober minds are trying to appeal to the power holders, poets seek the enflaming words, scientists and philosophers project grim pictures, but nothing seems to stop the lunatics.

In these circumstances, a speeded evolution of the human mind becomes critical for the survival. Now it becomes obvious to many that spiritual poverty, unbridled egoism, and lack of poetry are severe obstacles on this way.

In other words, mind has not yet taken its primary position in the human species. Moreover, the misconceptions of science, advancements in weaponry, and the destruction of Nature have put human intellectual powers under question. This is a tragic mistake. Only correct thinking can save us. But the time is running out for our species.

The human mind has always been the buttress of humanity, its true master and guide, but today it needs reassessment. Those who take it for granted do not realize its profundity and many-sidedness, as well as its hidden traps. Often, the mind is associated exclusively with intellect, consciousness, psychic activity, or “common sense.” But this is a very limited outlook. Human mind is our inherent ability to think, to do good and to experience good emotions; it incorporates such qualities as conscience, love, poetry, courage, mercy, empathy, self-sacrifice, etc. – what in vernacular is attributed to theheart, or soul. In the broadest sense, mind is the complex of intellect, poetry, and loving soul. It also can be regarded as a dynamic balance (interplay) between the poles of intellect and emotion. Thus, the prevalence of base emotions such as hatred, anger, greed, etc., in spite of the developed intellect may lead to the loss of mind and, indeed, life itself. And vice versa: narrowness of intellect can weaken the significance of positive emotions.

Humans are not the only creatures that possess mind. Literally, mind permeates the universe. We find it in the nature’s harmonious ways, in animals, in plants and even in non-sentient beings, such as rivers and mountains. It is a multi-leveled, all-inclusive, mysterious quality that gives life its grandeur. Through introspection humans are capable of perceiving the supreme law that governs the world from within, the Law of Poetry. Poetry bestows the greatest joy to the world and its inhabitants, and not only to humans. It is at these moments of joy that the idea of God is born. The violation of this law, or its reduction to sheer functionality or gain, will inevitably impoverish humanity and may even destroy it.

In order to grasp this universal law and act in accordance to it, the human mind must evolve, not purely intellectually but above all, morally and poetically. The Greek word poiesis (to make, create) points at the creative urge of evolution. The whole Universe is evolving, and we humans are no exception. Unfortunately, in the course of history human evolution took distorted forms (war, atrocities, cultural extremes, etc), or even devolved. At such times, the human mind is said to be “darkened.” Today it seems, we’re experiencing a major lapse of human consciousness. [1]

It is believed, though, that evolution still works positively for humans. As Nikolai Roerich once put it, “Happiness has been lost in the world, because happiness reigns in spirit. Those who turned away from spirit must experience misfortune. Otherwise, how can they return?”

What follows is an attempt to track the poetic vision of humanity in historical perspective as a constant struggle for greater consciousness, and to show its urgency for contemporary humans.

This vision may be called the poetic paradigm, in contrast to the scientific paradigm that has dominated human civilization for several hundred years and caused the current severe ontological and ecological crisis. Peering deep into history, to our joy we discover a string of thinkers and poets “on the other pole” who – quietly, yet emphatically – have promoted the “alternative” wisdom over the generations. We find valuable sources of poetry in ancient philosophies, especially in the Upanishads. Goethe and Pushkin, Petrarca and Dante, Whitman and Tagore, Blake and Shakespeare echo the Eastern sages who still encourage us, saying “Don’t be downhearted, you’re not alone, we’re coming right behind.”

The main premise of the poetic paradigm is that the mind has an intimate connection with poetry, which imparts greater meaning to life. This connection has been recognized by many poets and philosophers of the past; however, it is now that their ideas seem vital for raising human consciousness and saving the planet.

Poetry as Truth: the message of the Upanishads

Poetry is closely related to Truth. This has been known from the times immemorial. The first ever account of the spiritual truth we find in the Upanishads – the ancient treasury of spiritual laws believed to be revealed between 7,000 and 5,000 BC, transmitted via oral tradition and not logically systematized into a particular philosophy.

The Upanishadic teachers declared that Truth is open through inquiry and can be realized in anyone’s life, at any time. Its wisdom has the capacity to strengthen, invigorate and enlighten the seeker. The knowledge provided by the Upanishads is unique since it reveals the Truth, which is not attainable through pure intellect. We may call it the Truth in depth, or the Self, or the Ultimate Reality. It is said to be transcendent, infinite, and free of all relationships. Subject and object become one, as expressed in the Upanishadic statement “That thou art.” In other words, Truth is not an object to be known – rather, it is an intuitive knowledge of “oneness” or affinity between subject and object. The sages often revealed their spiritual insights through poetry as the most relevant means of expression.

Swami Vivekananda, a great Hindu visionary, notes:

“In the old Upanishads we find supreme poetry; their authors were poets… They never preached, nor philosophized, nor wrote. Music came out of their hearts. From the depth of their realization, they sang.” [2] (This is not accidental since the world can only be expressed through sound, resting within the deeper intuitive level of mind. Adds Vivekananda:) “We are taken, as it were, off from the world of the senses, off even from the world of intellect, and brought to that world which can never be comprehended, and yet which is always with us.” [3]

Though highly poetical, the Upanishads are also highly practical. Through yoga, they illustrate how these truths are to be realized in everyone’s life. A religion (and poetry) that is not practical has no value or meaning. It must enter every aspect of our life. The Upanishads abound in the number of disciplines recommended for raising moral culture. (What is morality if not the vehicle to attain truth?) First and foremost, one has to sharpen and strengthen his buddhi or higher intellect, which governs the (lower) senses. Buddhi is more than a mere ability to think; it includes intuition, aesthetic perception, insight and other higher mental qualities; they may be called “higher logic.” Furthermore, virtues such as truthfulness, chastity, usefulness, etc. are mentioned, comprising the mind along with buddhi, for without ethical training the mind is incapable of perceiving reality, which is extremely subtle. For example, in Katha-Upanishad we find the following lines:

Neither those who have not refrained from wickedness, nor the unrestrained, nor the unmeditative, nor one with unpacified mind, can attain this even by knowledge. [4]

Through attentive reading of the Upanishads, we begin to understand their hidden beauty and wisdom. Sometimes, even their contradictions and “unsystematic” character strike with deep insight and all-inclusiveness. Their penetration into the mysteries of nature is performed on an integral, mystic level, devoid of the deadly intellectual dissection endemic to modern science. Their deep insights – although may seem naïve, or even absurd to a modern man – are filled with practical experience and poetical metaphor, and therefore are true. Here is one example of the many gem-like dialogues:

“Just as, my dear son, the bees make honey by collecting the juices of distant trees and then reduce the juice to one uniform fluid… And as these juices have no discrimination so that they might say: ‘I am the juice of this tree, I am the juice of that tree,’ in the same manner, my child, all these creatures, when they have reached the Being (Sat, Truth), do not know that they have reached the Being (or that they are merged in the Truth).” [5]

Interestingly, modern consciousness theories are drawing to the parallel conclusions, stating that the self-consciousness and the revelation of the inner world of ideas cannot be understood solely on the basis of positivistic, logical knowledge. Similar to the Hindu concept of maya (creative, magic energy), the psychological state of man is under a constant spell of his mind; in other words, man is constantly creating himself (and his environment). We may also say that maya is akin to the creative energy, or indeed, the poetry that impregnates the Universe.

In the Bhagavad Gita – one of the most poetical and philosophical writings ever created by humans and which crystallizes the wisdom of Upanishads – we find the following lines:

Being steadfast in Yoga,
Perform actions, abandoning attainment,
Remaining unconcerned
as regards success and failure.
This evenness of mind is known as Yoga. [6]

Poetry, or higher Truth, or Beauty, cannot be revealed to an egoistic, insincere, or weak-willed person. His or her consciousness will be paralyzed by low desires, so that he or she is unable to see the truth. Generally speaking, it is very hard (if at all possible) for a common person to observe ultimate truth. He or she can only achieve certain levels of such understanding. Luckily, in the course of millennia, many sages and rishis have elaborated different practices (or yogas) tailored to various human abilities. [7]

The poetry of sound and image

In the tantric treatise we read: [8] “Supercharged with transcendent soul-force, Sound is in all creation the one powerful principle that widely influences and effectively brings under control all other manifestations.” Many examples can be quoted to bear testimony to this claim of sound with reference to both the individual and the cosmos.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine the world without sounds. How many people drown their worldly miseries and pain in rhythmic music? Even the ignorant man who does not know the musical alphabet stands spell-bound, as though transfixed by some magic, when he hears some sweet melodies. This proves that in the presence of rhythmic sound the mind cannot think about anything else. It dissolves into the music.

Animals also can be captivated by music. Their pre-rational response clearly shows that a relationship exists between sound and the mind, and that the mind naturally is drawn towards sound and in doing so, forgets the external world altogether. There is thus a natural tendency in all creatures to find solace and peace in sound.

In many spiritual traditions, sound is considered to be the first manifestation of the Absolute. Vedic philosophers tell us that we cannot know anything about the nature of the Absolute as it exists except that It is. Scriptures say: Brahman was one and non-dual. It thought, “Ekoham, Bahu syam” (Let One become Many). That caused a vibration eventually bringing in Sound and that Sound was Om, whence all other manifestations. (Cf: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”).

Swami Sivananda writes: “When the mind gets absorbed in the Anahata sounds, you will attain knowledge of hidden things. You will develop the eye of intuition.”

And as long as the universe exists, there will be the cosmic vibration and the Sound. When the vibration ceases the Sound also disappears into the transcendental Being. During the vibrant stage creation proceeds, the elements are successively born, and finally we have the world as we see it. During the cessation of the vibration, the reverse takes place and there is involution, all this world disappearing into sound, and sound disappearing into God.

All that is told of the Universe and cosmic creation, can be applied in to the individual.

Our physical and astral bodies, our indriyas (emotions) and the mind should have Sound as their basis. As we penetrate deep into them they should lead us to Sound. (It lives in the Anahata chakra, i.e. in the heart).

“The heart of man”, writes Tagore, “is composed of rhythm. But due to the times, and under the pressure of the machine, its rhythm is at present broken.” He, one of the greatest poet and musicians, notes, that “the life-substance is not an engine made of iron, to be run at frantic speed by electricity. It has its own inherent rhythm. This rhythm will stand the strain to a certain point, but not beyond. The trickery of a walk contains the entire rhythm of a verse. A tune sounds sweet so long as its beat and timing do not challenge the sensitive ears. If instead of a quick beat the timing is four times fast, then the tunes must shed its artistic form in trying to achieve an ingenuity with great discomfort. When the demand is for still further speed than the tune must sound quite crazy, meeting the disastrous end.” (Isn’t it the cause for the bankruptcy of contemporary pop music?) The same concerns our ability to see. As Tagore rightly says, “The living eyes are not, indeed, a motion camera. They take their own time to see things.”

There is an intimate connection between sound and image. Sounds are vibrations that give rise to definite forms. Each sound produces a form in the invisible world and combinations of sound create complicated shapes. Science textbooks describe certain experiments that demonstrate how notes produced by certain instruments create definite geometrical figures (patterns) in a bed of sand. It shows that rhythmical vibrations give rise to regular geometrical shapes. [9]

In the invisible world all sounds are accompanied by patterns that give rise to many-hued shapes. In the same way, all patterns are accompanied by sounds. In today’s world, unfortunately, the visual has practically ousted the audio, or the sound. Historically humans were communicating with the world and themselves through stories and songs. However, with the advent of literacy, and then television, cinematograph and, especially, computers, the visual became predominant. This resulted in the imbalances of the “interplay of senses” and impoverishing of human mind. [10]

Poetry and Breathing

Breathing, probably, is the primordeal characteristic of life. Paraphrasing the well-known Descartes statement “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore, exist), one may say, “Spiro, ergo sum” (I breathe, therefore, exist). The reason for such correction, I gather, is that, while there may be “dead” thoughts, breathing is indispensible for all living things.

Indeed, what is breathing if not co-creation with the universe? According to Zen master Kodo Savaki, “Each our exhalation is the exhalation of universe, each inhalation – an inhalation of universe. Thus we help universe to eliminate misfortune and beget absolute happiness.”

Soul, Spirit, Spiritus – all are the derivatives of breathing, nothing “other-wordly” or supernatural. Air is the first spiritual agent and it is imperative that it should be kept clear. Where air is stale or poisoned, there’s no spirituality, no poetry.

Tara is the tantric goddess of the purifying force of living breath. Breath as a spirit of life and the sound of this breath are identical, which is expressed by the mantra Soham (OM). Therefore, anyone who sings this mantra purifies and energises his or her mind. It is known that yoga extensively uses the pranayam, that is, the breathing exercises that balance the energy flows in human body. Thus poetry has a directly beneficial effect on both body and mind.

No wonder that the modern sound pollution caused by technogenic sources, such as automobiles, radio, television, etc, has an adverse effect on the psychological and physical state of human beings. It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the discordant sounds of civilization.

Each deity has its specific mantra, a sound-phrase that invokes a specific archetype. A special part of the mantra called the bija, is the seed-syllable of the deity (for example, the bija of the goddess Tara is the syllable AUM), while the whole mantra includes the name of the deity and its other characteristics. Each deity can be visualised as accompanied in yab-yum (sexual/spiritual union) by a consort who is a special deity of the opposite gender. (One can easily establish a direct association with the western concept of the Muse in which a creative person encounters or chooses a goddess, god, or other archetypal figure, who in turn nurtures the artist’s creativity.)

The world is full of deities, each with a yantra, a non-anthropomorphic image, that represents the divine energy features involved. Mandalas are symmetrical, usually round or square, four-sector extended yantras that include the meditative forms of the deity.

As a rule, tantric teachings offer certain forms (or murti) of deity for visualization and meditation. Each deity has a subtle body, dedicated for observation and meditation (dhyana-murti), its gamut of colours, a set of gestures or mudras, and certain weapon and ornaments. These specific features are reflected in different meditative poems called dhyana-shlokas.

Poetry as Enchantment

Non intratur in veritatem nisi per charitatem
– St. Augustin [11]

What is beauty? Has it a universal measure?

Beauty is not a human invention; it had existed before the coming of humans, and apparently will exist after they are gone. It is a universal Law of Poetry that we are only now beginning to grasp, as our humanity is only at its pre-mature stage at this time. It cannot be perceived through mere contemplation, logic, or language. All cultural strivings collectively experienced are only an approximation to it; our self-willed, anthropocentric civilization has created a synthetic beauty, expressing itself in artificial things or products whose limited function has ousted the primordial criteria of beauty. Our aesthetics (and ethics) essentially have a human-centered bias; they are severed from the basic laws of nature and are therefore false.

The female form is usually associated with beauty. Observing cosmic manifestation, we see that a female aspect of Nature often is embodied in beautiful divine forms, while the masculine aspect is hidden in the formlessness of spirit. Where should pure beauty be sought? Tantra invites us to search for the pure beauty, maintaining that “Beauty is Truth; Truth is Beauty.” Sundary is literally means ‘beauty’, and anyone who worships this goddess would follow the path of beauty and enchantment through the manifested world of Nature into the absolute world of the unmanifested.

When we think of beauty, we usually imagine some beautiful form (for example, a woman or a flower). But after having intently studied what seems to be perfect, soon we begin to notice a tiny defect. But even if we fail to notice a defect immediately, after some time we usually discover that our ideal is flawed. Form is transient, and beauty soon leaves it to take another form. Thus while the ideal of Beauty is absolute, its forms are transient. Rather, Beauty is what, according to Blake, “holds Infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

However, this can be grasped only after the individual consciousness has been purified. Only then will it perceive everything as Divine Light, whereby the individual spirit merges with the universal. Otherwise, our contaminated consciousness will not let through the light of these subtle energies.

Thus, for a purified consciousness, the absolute reality, which is Truth, is not alienated from the subject, since its nature would not allow it to place God on the other side of consciousness, somewhere in heaven; the enlightened subject observes the Absolute both internally and externally. And in whatever direction such an enlightened mind looks, it finds everywhere the divine light of the absolute consciousness. Even ordinary objects evoke in such mind a joyous response. Being free from the concept of time, space, form and other conditioning, such a consciousness constantly observes the universe from the state of samadhi (ultimate bliss).

The Japanese, who managed to combine natural and man-made beauty, apparently were the most advanced in conscious recognition of beauty in the world. In this respect they were guided by the ancient principles of Shinto, the oldest native religion which venerated natural beauty. Later, this indigenous religion mixed with Buddhism to form Zen Buddhism, a religion, particularly sensitive to beauty. The Japanese were probably the first to approach natural beauty through the practice of meditation, although the thirst for artistic creativity can be found in all ages and traditions – Egyptian, Maya, Greek, Roman, Orthodox, etc. [12] The Japanese constructed beautiful artifacts and attained very close to man-made perfection.

So two ways of perception of beauty – one as natural, spontaneous, mysterious (Yin) and another – artificial, conscious, man-made (Yang) are complementary and correspond closely to the ancient Chinese principle of Harmony (Tao). Moreover, one kind of beauty seems to accentuate the other, and vice versa. Thus, the task of humans is to balance both beauties and to attain perfection (which can be called The Middle Way). On the other hand, to perceive beauty we need to step aside and look for the framework into which this beauty could be fitted. Therefore, we need some distance; otherwise, it will not be recognised. Speaking metaphorically, humans are always in search for an appropriate framework and distance. (Heidegger speaks in this sense of poetry as a measure of such distance between a Man and God. [13]) But what is interesting is that as soon as we come too close to beauty, it vanishes. Today, this distance has dangerously shrunk. Our technologies, our cities have destroyed the space needed to acknowledge beauty. That’s why Japanese are so cautious about their expressiveness – minimum words and details, maximum suggestivity. This principle cannot be overestimated in view of the current ecological crisis caused by our brutal intrusion into nature’s sacred space.

The Japanese most likely came the closest to eco-poetry. [14] Budo, ikebana, bonsai, sumio, or haiku are designed to remove the borders between the inner and external worlds, and trigger initial transcendental consciousness. Now, you are free, bound neither by your body nor thoughts. You observe all things at once, without attachment to them; being imposed on circumstances — not depending on them. Your nature is pure, thoughts come and go, leaving no traces. This is not an absentmindedness as one might think. On the contrary, it is an ultimate alertness, or dhyana, which we cannot experience in an ordinary state of consciousness due to the impurities imposed by indryas (low passions). Even in our western world, when we swim in the sea or ski in the mountains, we may sometimes spontaneously attain a unity with nature. Even a walk in the forest, or enjoying the object d’art may evoke a state of wholeness of being, or dhyana. This is the “enchantment of truth” that was referred to by St Augustine.

Bias of consciousness in Western culture

In Western culture, poetry was an integral part of life (and truth) up until the Middle Ages. Until then, most of humanity had lived in some kind of a half-dream. All seemed wonderful, all was impregnated with meaning – heaven, nature, and humanity. This was a holistic, religious consciousness, albeit not devoid of great superstitions. Science put an end to this consciousness.

The objectivisation of consciousness has begun, apparently, since the introduction of scientific method by Newton and Bacon. [15] In other words, Nature was perceived as something objective, independent of human consciousness. At the same time, man looked upon himself for the first time and at once became the main actor. Allegedly, this turning point was marked by the famous Mona Lisa’s smile in Leonardo’s painting. [16] Out of new subjectivity, a new objectivity was born. Van der Berg further analyses the Leonardo’s painting:

“It is the first landscape painted as a landscape, just because it was a landscape. A pure landscape, not just a backdrop for a human actions: nature, Nature as a middle ages did not know it, an exterior Nature closed within itself and self-sufficient, and exterior from which human element has, in principle, been removed entirely. It is things-in-their-farewell, and therefore is as moving as a farewell of our dearest. It is the strangest landscape ever beheld by human eyes.” [17]

Van der Berg proceeds to quote Rilke:

“This landscape is not the portrayal of an impression, it is not the judgment of a man on things at rest; it is nature coming into being, the world coming into existence, unknown to man as the jungle of an unknown island. It had been necessary to see the landscape in this way, far and strange, remote, without love… It had to be almost hostile in its exalted indifference, if, with its objects, it was to give a new meaning to our existence.” [18]

Only man now possessed the ratio (Logos) and morale, whereas Nature had been reduced to irrational and immoral element. It is at that moment that we are witnessing the strict separation between soul and body, intellect and emotion. The human task became the penetration into the mysteries of Nature and subjecting them to mind. In this lie the roots of anthropocentrism (which, largely, is absent in the Eastern worldview). Religion had consecrated this new mission of humanity by exposing the science and experiments over Nature as “God-blessed” business. Since then, any mysticism, magic or poetry, coming from nature has been treated as witchcraft. Truth, henceforth, could proceed оnly from humans. Blake wrote: [19]

May God us keep
From Single vision and Newton’s sleep!

But poets found themselves in minority. The creator of scientific method, Francis Bacon, upon a blessing from Church, began an onslaught on nature, having proclaimed: “Knowledge is power.” Thus, scientists had to “bind her [nature] to your service and make her your slave.” [20] In this call we hear not only outright anthropocentrism, but a distinct male chauvinism. (How it differs from a reverence for goddesses in tantra, or the balance between feminine and masculine in Tao!). Soon the trials took place over pagans, witches and alchemists. Poets went into obscurity.

The conscious protest against desacralisation and objectivisation of Nature was initiated by English Romantics – Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelly and others. Let me quote from Mary Midgley’s Science and poetry: [21]

“Keats has just told the Greek tale of the mystery woman who is really a snake and who is unmasked as such at her wedding-feast by a philosopher. He [Keats] then suddenly steps outside the frame and points out something badly wrong with the story itself. He sees it, surely correctly, as anti-life, a piece of propaganda meant as a warning against love and, more particularly, a warning against women. Within the story, Lamia must of course be exposed. People can’t marry snakes. But the question is, ought we to frame our life-plans around such stories? Should we expect every woman to be a snake? Should our only reaction to a diamond be to explain that it is just carbon, and to rainbow to point out that it is just water? Keats thinks not, and gives the story a new ending. In his version the deserted bridegroom does not thank the philosopher and rejoice at his escape, as might have been expected. Instead he is desolated and dies from grief….”

Holistic science: an attempt to correct the situation

The bias of the objectivist knowledge has long been felt by poets. The English Romantics proclaimed: the division is false, and the thought can be understood only by holding the middle way through imagination. But this should not be an abstraction or delusion – on the contrary, a constructive vision. A poet, said Wordsworth, had to be “a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply… Our thoughts… are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings.” [22] Very interesting are his meditations on the synthesis of science and poetry (cited by Midgley):

If the labours of Men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present: he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but… carrying sensation into the midst of objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist or Mineralogist will be as proper objects of the Poet’s art as any on which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us… manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. (ibid, p. 939)

The similar attempts to unite poetic and scientific visions were made in the past by such geniuses as Wolfgang Goethe, Camille Flammarion, Rabindranath Tagore, Tehiard de Chardin. But for a modern man, it becomes increasingly difficult, if at all possible, to track the discoveries of science (having acquired highly abstract and specialized character) and to keep up with modern technologies. It is hard to name a modern thinker, who is able to tackle the superhuman task of developing the scientific-and-poetic picture of the world. In this respect, I should note that such attempts nonetheless have not ceased. Today many universities offer courses in holistic science,[23] human ecology,[24] eco-psychology,[25] etc., that tackle these issues. Recent decades have seen a significant number of studies by such authors as David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Theodore Rozsak, Fritz Schumacher, Ken Wilber, Brian Goodwin, etc. calling for a paradigm shift away from the reductionist approach of modern science.

Spearheads of Deep Ecology

With the impending global ecological catastrophe, we see the increasing attempts of people to save the beauty and wonder of the Earth. We see the rebirth of eco-poetry within human souls, a “new religion”, which, hopefully, could change the conceited, egoistic and fatalistic trajectory of our species.

Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher and a mountaineer, transformed the eastern wisdom of Upanishads into a “western” doctrine of Deep Ecology. His very concise, yet powerful and revolutionary doctrine (8-fold platform) has a flavor of Bhagavad Gita, and can be seen as a Manifesto of all “dark greens.”

The main premise of Deep Ecology is the need for humanity to reject its arrogant, anthropocentric status and start learning from other sentient and non-sentient beings. The philosophical and ethical ground for this “comeback” can be traced from Upanishads and earlier philosophers, as well as Spinoza, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Heidegger. The scientific core of the Deep Ecology stems from Goethean science, Gaia hypothesis, Jungian and transpersonal psychology. However, there is a whole constellation of poets who constitute the poetic background of Deep Ecology, among them such masters as Blake, Wordsworth, Whitman, Tagore, Jeffers, Snyder, etc, to name just a few.

Indeed, Deep Ecology has embraced all the noble ideas accumulated by humanity over millenia.

In the course of history, the quite voices of poets and philosophers of all nations were heard on top of the deafening roar of wars and gnash of machines. Such were English and German Romantics, Transcendentalists, Russian symbolists, Phenomenologists, Existentialists, poets of “beat generation.” We can’t mention them all, but, probably, two, most influential, deserve mentioning.

Martin Heidegger developed a solid theoretical base to the poetic paradigm through some deep philosophical articles about the relations of literature, language and nature. [26] It is amazing how deep are his thoughts about dwelling as a major characteristic of human being, about the necessity to learn to seek places on earth, where humans will neither dominate, nor pollute, nor destroy. Only poetry can provide such an existence, since poetry (or creativity) is the basis of any home. It is also through memory we “dwell on earth” fully conscious of the significance of the past and present. (This thought is very close to Goethe).

The flight from the “dead language of humanity” has been undertaken by another outcast poet, Robinson Jeffers. As already mentioned, poets have always seen the human predicament more acutely than philosophers; such were “eastern mystics”, authors of Greek tragedies, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Russian symbolists. [27] Today their legacy is being revived in view of an unprecedented humanitarian and ecological crisis.

William Everson calls Robinson Jeffers “a political poet par excellence” and gives an exact definition of what political poetry should be:

As a genre, political poetry is both didactic and rhetorical. To be effective it must be intensely involved and ideologically committed, though such commitment must be moderated by intellectual discrimination, moral courage, and, sometimes, irony. Within these bounds it is best when it is extreme: imperative, explosive, and scornful. Only when it shocks with relevance can it change the course of human inertia. Being poetry, it must be concentrated and blistering rather than rational and discursive, or we will cling to prose and remain in dispassionate analysis. As an axiom it can be said that the rougher political poetry is, the better we will like it, or, if it opposes our own predilections, the more deeply will we fear it. Political poetry speaks to the mind, certainly, but at beat it speaks through the mind to the passions. It spite of ourselves, hearing it, we are moved. [28]

But Jeffers is also a deeply religious poet. His “revolution” was mainly in language and bitter metaphor that helped to illuminate human species’ fallacy and set it off against nature in order to reach “transhuman relevance.” As Everson further writes, “He sought to wrench man’s attention from his own self-deceptions, and fasten his soul upon the naked divinity manifest in cosmos. This is a familiar enough religious tactic but Jeffers’ employment of it is extraordinary. Nineteenth-century science had presented Nietzsche with a universe in which there was no place left for God. Twentieth-century science presented Jeffers with a universe in which there is no place left for man… He turned the employ of science back from proliferation of creature comforts to religious contemplation.” And further, “the principal dispositive factor which Jeffers acquired from science was detachment, deepening to aloofness, and at times, remoteness.” In his controversial poem “The Inhumanist” (1947) Jeffers, in the words of Everson, “has created a savior figure– not in the traditional religious sense of a Buddha or a Jesus, but along the Nietzschean lines of Zarathustra – a savior figure, who constitutes some kind of model for human conduct, an intellectual and moral attitude appropriate to mankind in the dilemma of existence which now confronts it.”

All in all, we may say, that his poetry is revolutionary in many ways, being at once political, ecological, religious and prophetic. It is no wonder that the poet can indicate the way out for the wretched humanity.

Civilized, crying: how to be human again; this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.
Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star’s rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.
Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.
 
— Robinson Jeffers, Sign-post

About the author

Viktor Ivanovitch PostnikovViktor Ivanovitch Postnikov is a Russian-born independent scientist (DSc.) who lives in Kiev, Ukraine. A prolific poetry translator, he has also translated books on both eastern philosophies and deep ecology, and written many essays on Russian anarchism and eco-poetry for journals and other publications.

Aknowledgement

I wish to express gratitude to all with whom I have discussed the issues of science and poetry in the past and who have inspired me for this work. My special thanks to Patrick Curry who presented me invaluable books on the topic. Also my humble thanks to those who have supported and materialized the idea of DT on-line journal.

References

  1. Complete works of Swami Vivekananda. 2(1968): 140.
  2. Tagore’s Testament (trans. Indu Dutt) (Jaico, 1980).
  3. Tehiard de Chardin, Phenomene de L’Homme (M. : Nauka, 1987) (In Russian)
  4. Plato, Writings, v.2, (Moscow, 1970) (In Russian).
  5. Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, (Routledge Classics, 2006).
  6. Mircea Elliade, Yoga: Freedom and Immortality (Sofia, 2000) (In Russian)
  7. Swami Vivekananda, Lectures (Amrita, 1992) (in Russian)
  8. Richard Dawkins, Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976.)
  9. Fritjof Capra, Tao of Physics (Bantam Books, 1980).
  10. Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point (Flamingo, 1982)
  11. Swami Sivananda, Tantra Yoga, Nada Yoga and Kriya Yoga (The Divine Life Society, 1994).
  12. Marshall McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto University Press, 1962).
  13. John Lane, The Timeless Beauty (Green Books, 2003).
  14. V. Postnikov, Eco-poetry, The Trumpeter (2001)17,1
  15. C.G. Jung, Yoga und der Westen, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 11.
  16. Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes, and Allen Kanner, eds., Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, (San Francisco, Sierra Club Books, 1995).
  17. Ken Wilber, Integral psychology, ( Shambhala, 2000)
  18. M. Heidegger, Poetically Man Dwells, in The Green Reader Studies, (Routledge, 2000.)
  19. Maximilian Voloshin, “Ways of Cain” (A Tragedy of Material Culture) (Trans. by V. Postnikov) Drift Aweigh Press 2001. ISBN 1-896007-94-5.
  20. Robinson Jeffers, The Double Axe and Other poems, (Lightright, New York, 1977).
  21. Eckerman J.P. Conversations with Goethe, (London, Dent & Sons, 1935).
  22. Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1973).
  23. David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous (Vintage Books, 1996).
  24. Patrick Curry, Ecological Ethics (Polity, 2006).

Footnotes

(Click on the reference number to go back to the text)

  • [1] Consciousness can be defined (rather loosely) as the rational side of mind.
  • [2] Complete works of Swami Vivekananda. 2(1968): 140.
  • [3] Ibid., 3(1970): 385.
  • [4] Kathopanisad, trans. Swami Sarvananda (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1968), p.64.
  • [5] Chhandogya Upanishad (6:9), trans. Swami Sivananda (The Divine Life Society, 1997), p. 108.
  • [6] The Bhagavad Gita: 2.48.
  • [7] The reader can refer, for example, to the fundamental studies by Mircea Elliade (Yoga: Freedom and Immortality), or the practical aspects of yoga adapted by Swami Sivananda.
  • [8] Swami Sivananda, Tantra Yoga, Nada Yoga and Kriya Yoga (The Divine Life Society, 1994.
  • [9] Tagore’s Testament (trans. Indu Dutt) (Jaico, 1980).
  • [10] Marshall MacLuhan , Gutenberg Galaxy, Toronto, 1962.
  • [11] Truth is to be exposed through enchantment.
  • [12] An outline of the world’s man-made “beauties” can be found in an excellent book by John Lane “The Timeless Beauty” (Green Books, 2003).
  • [13] M. Heidegger, Poetically Man Dwells, in The Green Reader Studies, (Routledge, 2000..
  • [14] V. Postnikov, Eco-poetry, The Trumpeter (2001)17,1.
  • [15] Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point (Flamingo, 1982.
  • [16] Cited in Stephen Talbott, The Future Does Not Compute (O’Reilley & Sons, 1995). pp. 249-260.
  • [17] Ibid., p. 251.
  • [18] Ibid., p. 252.
  • [19] Cited in Marshall McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto University Press, 1962).
  • [20] Cited in Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point (Flamingo, 1982.
  • [21] Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, (Routledge Classics, 2006).
  • [22] Ibid., p. 75.
  • [23] Brian Goodwin, Stephen Harding, a course in holistic science, Schumacher College, UK.
  • [24] Alastair McIntosh , Soil and Soul (AURUM PRESS, 2002.
  • [25] Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes, and Allen Kanner, eds., Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, (San Francisco, Sierra Club Books, 1995).
  • [26] M. Heidegger, Poetically Man Dwells, in The Green Reader Studies, (Routledge, 2000..
  • [27] E.g., see Maximilian Voloshin, “Ways of Cain” (A Tragedy of Material Culture) (Trans. by V. Postnikov) Drift Aweigh Press 2001. ISBN 1-896007-94-5.
  • [28] See his introduction in Robinson Jeffers, The Double Axe and Other poems, (Lightright, New York, 1977).

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1 comment

1 Anna-Maria Galante { 04.07.09 at 8:22 am }

Namaste! This is great. You’ve put it in a nutshell, if anybody can!