Flits from theme to theme
What is this post, after so much silence here? It is in part about the changing weather I saw this morning because I ran for almost four hours, watching flood waters reflect moss greens and pastel blues that were nowhere else, the fog lift into heavily etched clouds shadowing the swans all gathered at water's edge, promiscuously revealing their stalky legs - only one flying high above like a Concorde.
Weaving in and out of "distance": the word ceases to have a fixed meaning because some miles pass undiscernably while others are a test of faith. And all for what? Any running metaphors end in the face of the "have not" that understands not the expenditure of time and effort, not to mention cost of shoes, on "superfluity".
But I need that Concorde.
Just to see it, as if the landscape remembers to remind the looker. A mirror of greens and blues that otherwise and mysteriously are seen nowhere else but in that mirror.
A friend of mine died this week. I was not there to share those final moments because he is in Nueva York and I am not. When I got the news, I looked for old photos of him, and found one where we were making dramatic faces outside of a church gate with a sign affixed: PARTY SITE CHANGED, and I wondered at how strange it was that this was one of the photos that has survived so many moves and the one that I found; his party may have changed location, but I hope to be a reflection of him here.
"Gold shows its nature when it is tried by the touchstone, and so does a right-thinking mind," Pindar writes in Pythian 10. To this day, we call some people "good as gold". But unlike today, Pindar in his tale includes a cautionary warning that people's minds are easily tricked: he hopes to win them over to remember the miraculousness. Great things happen through good people, but life can also change: "It is impossible to foresee what will happen a year from now", so it is wisdom to use good memories as ballast for harder times. Amazing occurrences are not precluded by difficulty but are to be held onto and developed. "It is not mine to wonder; when the gods appoint it, nothing is too strange. Hold the oar! Quick, let the anchor down from the prow to touch the bottom, to protect us from the rocky reef. The choicest hymn of praise flits from theme to theme, like a bee." (trans. Lattimore and Svarlian)
In so many of his odes, including Pythian 10, he writes of friends. "Reverent gratitude is a recompense for friendly deeds," he sings in Pythian 2, and I would like to record some gratitude here of my own. Some friends bring wisdom but some friends bring humour, style, family, a roof, economic support in hard times. And never revealing the burden of help. What rocks some people are - not necessarily obvious ones, in any stereotypical sense, but hidden rocks, like that mysterious face in Munch's painting, "The Mystery of a Summer Night".
The most obvious and important things can perhaps escape notice. "I have a good friend in [his friend] because of him" read an email about my friend who passed away that just arrived. Pindar writes: "If one man has any benefit from another, we would say that a neighbor, if he loves his neighbor with an earnest mind, is a joy worth any price." Imagine that doubled - as it is through the example of my friend. Also in Nemean 7, Pindar writes that were it not for song, even the greatest deeds would remain hidden: the eyes for good deeds should be praise. "If someone is successful in his deeds, he casts a cause for sweet thoughts into the streams of the Muses. For those great acts of prowess dwell in deep darkness, if they lack songs, and we know of only one way to hold a mirror up to fine deeds: if, by the grace of Mnemosyne with her splendid headdress, one finds a recompense for toils in glorious song."
This is the ode in which he writes that death meets everyone: the wise are those who are not preturbed by want. My departed friend used to joke about his "ship's" kitchen and having an east and west wing in a tiny apartment. "Yet we do not all draw our first breath for equal ends. Under the yoke of destiny, different men are held by different restraints. ... Skillful men know the wind that will come on the day after tomorrow, and they do not suffer loss through the love of gain. The rich man and the poor man alike travel together to the boundary of death." Pindar also writes, surprisingly - to my mind at least, that Homer exaggerated his praise of Odysseus - as comparison to his own, just praise. I will attempt no such feats here.
"As for [a] justly earned good name, a few words will suffice: ... for respite is sweet in every deed. Even honey may cloy, and the delightful flowers of Aphrodite." While happiness is never allotted fully to man, he defends his right to sing one man's praise. "Each of us differs in nature, for we were each allotted a different life. One man has this, others have something else; but for one man to win the prize of complete happiness is impossible. I cannot say to whom Fate has handed this consummation as a lasting possession. ... I am your friend; averting the dark shadow of abuse, and bringing genuine glory, like streams of water, to the man who is dear to me, I shall praise him. ... I have not overshot the mark". A fine line between abundance and superfluity...
Nemean 7 is also interesting for the rising and subduing of tone and voice: "Strike up the song!", "but", then, in remembrance of Zeus at that spot, he sings softly, and "with a gentle voice". And at this part of silence, which is perhaps what the busy life craves, that the "have not" lacks contextual idea of - having superfluity of it as "happiness is never fully allotted to man", I would like to be grateful for anchors and the stability of that "worth any price". I miss my friend and send him a Concorde of thought: of thanks, of the prismic colours I saw this morning, the freedom to flit at will, on what is valuable, fruitful, abundant; what smiles, what endures the mysteries of distance.
P.S. As a gesture of links forged through friends of friends, a link to a blog of one such link: on traces of the rock scene in NYC.