Subjects wrap themselves in poetry

Today, practically every consideration pales

In comparison with

Tens of thousands infected, thousands dead

Hospitals past capacity, protective gear spent, exhausted

Medical professionals sick, exposed

Failed containment

Considerations pale in comparison with COVID-19

You used to be IT if you had

A Cabbage Patch Doll

And liked Ben and Jerry’s ice cream

Or were hip in the bar

There was even a word for it—

“Trendy,” and yet people were

I wasn’t anybody until I went to Harvard

Yet, things in this world matter

Mean something even in COVID-19

It’s hard to play Mozart piano sonatas, now

But they matter, and my new book of Confucius’ Odes

(Ordered online, in social isolation)

The wind blows a lot of chaff away

In these days

As it carries the virus

Through the entire world

And wraps words around itself

My Journey with Mozart and the Taj Mahal

Lately, I’ve been listening to Mozart’s Symphony #41–the “Jupiter” Symphony.  I enjoy classical music, but Mozart has always eluded me.  Certain musicians, one a jazz musician, have praised Mozart exuberantly.  The jazz cat said of Mozart, “He’s a real entertainer!”  Ever since the ’80’s movie, “Amadeus,” the whole world thinks Mozart is The Man.

The thing, I think, that makes Mozart hard for me is that his music is subtle.  I am finding that Mozart is capable of startling tonal breaks, and also of breathtaking beauty.  His music is like a crystal, not a flame.  So, which is probably my failure, I find my mind wandering only to be recaptured when Mozart does one of those startling things.  I would say I’m at about 1/2 able to stay with Mozart’s 41st Symphony.

I think my efforts to get Mozart are of value.  I have been following a life-long course of appropriating Euro-American civilization.  My formal education was only a start.  I have broadened and deepened my learning of Euro-American civilization.

You can learn only so much in one lifetime.  When I taught Humanities, the department made me use a book that had Euro-American civilization parallel with Chinese civilization and Middle-Eastern civilization.  So you would get one paragraph on Julian of Norwich then a paragraph on the Chen Dynasty, then one page on the Golden Age of Islam, another page on Napoleon and another page about the Great Wall of China then a picture of the Taj Mahal.  I don’t think in that order, but you see how jumbled all this is in my mind, now.

I think the only way to get a handle on, say, Chinese civilization is to study it as a whole–not pieces of it parallel with Euro-American civilization.  I have studied Chinese religions as part of my theological education, and I understand them to some degree.  I have also participated in Chinese culture through the pockets of Chinese immigrants in some of the cities I’ve lived in.

But I am an Euro-American.  I don’t know if I’ll ever really grasp Chinese culture.  I didn’t grow up there, don’t live there now, don’t live in Chinatown.  There are limits to what a person can grasp honestly and really.

Then there is the fact of conflicting ideologies.  I have also touched base with Chinese music.  I would listen to it during the period when I was undergoing acupuncture treatments.  What I found, though, for me, is that the kind of psychic balance that Chinese doctors strive to manifest in their patients is antithetical to some Euro-American ideologies.  This may sound strange, but I found I had to make a choice.  I couldn’t be both Western and Eastern at the same time.

So I’m back home.  Trying to understand one of Euro-America’s geniuses.  I feel that I have an understanding of a little of Chinese civilization.  But I’m not Chinese, never will be.  I’m not denouncing Chinese civilization.  I am not a xenophobe.  I have great respect for the achievements of that culture.  But it seems more valuable for me to broaden and deepen my foundation in Euro-American civilization.  Then I have a shot at becoming masterful in my knowledge.

Perpetual Spring

As I age, the world ages with me

As it always has

Things I treasure go out of style

Live music, blues, jazz, the symphony

Peace and love

Mozart went out of style

And nobody knows where he is buried

Who performed for princes, kings, queens

High art, technique, form fail

Churches dwindle, consolidate, close

Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus shrugged off

They follow Zeus, Apollo, Heracles


There is no perpetual spring

There follows summer, autumn, winter, and spring again

As I autumn, I can’t see spring again

No, I don’t see spring

I will be leaving this world

And I look toward another

And as my world dies, perhaps it is well that I also with it

I think less of my legacy than I do my potential

In my autumn I see perpetual springtime