Thursday, July 20, 2017

Since I haven't been here for awhile I thought I'd just post an update. I'm proofreading my new book, a collection of essays, and should have it out sometime in August. Some of the essays in the book were first published in this blog. I think those will be worth reading again in their final form, and I hope those who've enjoyed my work in this blog, rough as it has been, will get a copy of the complete revised essays. I'll of course post it here when they're released. I'll then be working on a collection of poems to be published at some date in the near future, but while I'm at that I'll return to publishing regularly in this blog, probably starting in September.

Thanks to all who have visited my blog! I hope to connect to you again soon!


*Image Claude Monet, public domain

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Word About My Recent State of Mind

It seems when a person retains the clarity of their own beliefs - remains true to those beliefs - and refuses to alter them to accommodate the Darwinian impulses of a failing social order, they are often ostracized. But in the understanding of how destructive so much of that consciously unacknowledged social code is - of how cloaked it all is in a continuous and deluded chorus of all is well, ostracism looses its sting. That sting is then gradually replaced by a kind of melancholy pride taken in the personal price one must pay to be guided by unadulterated impulses of love.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2017 Brent Hightower

*Image, Quasar, public domain

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Mysterious Phage

I'm not a biologist, but I found this book to be strangely intriguing nevertheless. It delves into life at the micro level more interesting to me than most works of science fiction. The phage, it seems, is a remarkable bit of life that may or may not actually be alive, depending on how one defines the concept of life. The aspect of the book that was most engrossing was the way in which these creatures invade larger host organisms, and then, like the key to some cosmic lock, turn the host's DNA towards their own purposes. The first of these purposes is, of course, self-replication, but that's just the start of the strange odyssey of the phage.

If the invasion of a living host organism seems macabre, it must be said that these entities are also responsible for much of the genetic innovation underpinning the evolving process of life. So these infinitely small, and incomprehensibly multitudinous creatures, both destroy life and bring forth new life in the process. So if I understand the thrust of this book correctly, admittedly a stretch for a layman such as myself, it seems the phage is a sort of cross between a magician and an engineer, recreating and redefining life towards it's own elaborate and mysterious ends. The process it uses to accomplish this task is what the book is about and it is indeed the stuff of real life science fiction.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2017 Brent Hightower

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Novels on Amazon Kindle for $2.99

7 June 2017

I'm finishing my collection of essays which should be out on Amazon in late June or early July. I've been devoting myself to the final revisions and proof-reading. I learned my lesson with my last novel that it's very difficult to get a good editor, or proof reader, so I'm back to doing it myself. That's unfortunate because that work goes slowly for me! Still, the book will be out soon! In the mean time I I'd just like to say again that my novels are available on amazon Kindle for $2.99. They are also available in the Kindle reading library for free! Please, if you have a Kindle, borrow one of my books for free. I really want people to have access to them. I'll be doing a new promotion later this year when my volume of essays is released. There should be deals on my new book also when that happens.

Thanks very much,


P.S. It is possible at the moment to get my novels on kindle for $.99. I recommend the paperback version. I'ts more legible; however the kindle copy is also legible if you don't mind reading a novel length book electronically produced.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ode To Belladonna chapter four

Before the shock of Theodora’s departure, or my dismissal from The Academy had fully worn off, sometime in early November of 522 I left for Athens. It was late in the year to sail, but I had nothing to fall back on in Alexandria except my apprenticeship to my father’s friend Petras, if he would have me, and I would rather have died than go back to that life. So I threw caution to the winds, cast myself upon the whims of Neptune, and prepared to sail.
I wish the reader could have seen me then and formed an opinion for themselves. In hindsight I believe I was a rather haphazard mixture of things - independent and adaptable, with a passion for living and an intelligence that even impressed a few of the prominent thinkers of my age. (I don’t say this out of egotism, being fully aware that these were not qualities of my own making, and therefore reflected nothing positive upon me at all. We are all often inclined to take too much credit for aspects of our being that are not of our own creation. Whether we are handsome or ugly, born rich or poor, brilliant or dimwitted - these things have little to do with us, but only with the hand of fortune, and all we can do is either make the most of them, or fail to do so.)
Another of the gifts I was handed was a seemingly indestructible constitution, enabling me to endure great hardships and deprivation with a minimal degree of suffering, but in the very areas where I might have actively forged a character to be proud of, I found myself beset by deplorable failings!
Not only was I was prone to sensuality, but to fits of melancholy. There were times when a great yawning chasm opened before me, simply at contemplating the fact of existence, and I would become petrified with fear for no other reason whatsoever. Also, I sensed that all my life I had been running from something! I didn’t know what, and I feared that if I ever stopped running that something, whatever it was, might be gaining on me.
So although I was gifted in those days, I also had my share of faults, and looking back now I realize that my youth ended the day I set sail from Alexandria, the reason being that I quickly became caught up in events that propelled me forward for years without rest, and when they were finally over I had more than a lifetime's experience behind me.

The morning I set out was cool and dry, with a stiff north wind blowing, and high waves cresting out to sea. As I remember it Alexandria had never looked so ... I must find the right word ... so jubilant as on that brilliant autumn day, and yet both the dark appearance of the sea and the strong headwind were disquieting.
Before embarking I paid my final respects to my father’s associate, Petras, and I gave him 50 gold pieces - far more than the trouble he took in teaching me the art of swindling passersby was worth, and the result was that he actually smiled, the first time I had ever seen him do so, discovering consequently that he had an almost as much gold in his teeth as I had given him; and if you have never seen a dissolute old rogue like Petras bearing a savage, gold-toothed grin of avarice, I can tell you that it's a vision to haunt your dreams! Leaving him to his exultation I then walked to the harbor. The trees along the way, the walkways, and the streets, were filled with an abundance of ripening lemons scattered everywhere, filling the blustery air with their sharp, fresh scent. Thousands of parrots had entered the city to feed on them, making a deafening cacophony, so that the morning was a panorama of green birds, green lemon leaves and yellow-fruit; the buildings glowing in the morning light and prismatic reflections dancing in the midst of salt spray in the air. I was heartsick then to leave this city that I loved.
The ship Ammonius hired to sail for Athens (not simply for my conveyance, of course, but for other business as well) lay at anchor in the harbor, and I was rowed out with my sack of things to climb aboard. Its polished bronze fittings gleamed in the sun as I came alongside, its planking was new and also polished below a fine, new, indigo sail that made a good impression. But I had never trusted the design of these flat-bottomed, Egyptian ships that one saw everywhere in Alexandria. They were good enough for plying the Nile or skirting the coastline, but when it comes to the open sea give me a Greek or Roman trireme! These damned Egyptian things hadn’t changed in 2000 years and in free water they handled like nothing more than glorified barges, and so I felt even more misgiving, and considered paying my own passage later.
The captain, however, struck me as a capable old sailor with a healthy, seasoned crew, and this along with the fine condition of the ship eased my apprehension somewhat.
I had another apprehension as well, and that concerned the gold I was carrying. Never having had much money I wasn’t accustomed to the craftiness of men like my father and Petras. Nor on the other hand did I relish the reputation of being a careless fool who loses his money to the nearest sneak-thief, so I contrived a strong leather waist belt to hold my remaining gold - by far the most money I had ever had, and going out to sea, it gave me the alarming sensation of donning a leaden anchor round my waist.
The crew was about thirty men and there was a heavy supply of barley in the hold. Climbing aboard, I found a place to sit for awhile under the mainmast, enjoying the wind and the fine spray erupting from the prow as we got under way, our oars cutting into the oncoming swells. A flock of gulls followed us out from the harbor, gradually replacing the cacophony of the parrots with their distinct piercing screeches, and my last sight of Alexandria was of the giant lighthouse on Pharos, receding slowly into the distance.
Beside me under the mainsail sat a giant sailor of some Teutonic origin who wore surprisingly fine and colorful silk that appeared far too expensive for his position in the world. Over his mane of tawny hair frizzled by the sun, the wind, and salt air he wore a red cotton turban.
“This is a heavy headwind.” I said to him. “Do you think it will be a rough trip?”
He glanced at me skeptically, then at the onrushing swells and merely grunted so I went back to watching the gulls.
“Damn them all,” he said after a few minutes, seemingly apropos of nothing at all.
“I beg your pardon?” I said.
“The trips . . .”
“...That bad?”
“Fuck all!” he said, and he produced a great hunk of smoked fish from his knapsack, which he began to chew, and somehow at the same time he was eating it he began to whistle a startlingly clear and complex melody. I tell you, as a whistler that man had no equal!
“Been sailing long?” I asked him when he had finished eating that tremendous portion of fish.
“What ...this ...?”
That was all he said and then he resumed his whistling, and damn it, I didn’t know what to make of him at all!
“Cram the fuck-all anchor!” he said abruptly. Then, shuffling away in that strange gait of the eternal seaman while stuffing some more fish in his mouth, he picked the anchor up off the deck with one hand and tossed it into a well near the center of the hull. The damned thing must have weighed two hundred pounds with its chain! Then he began whistling again, gradually working his way up by fits and starts, into an actual song: “I’m a rover, a lily-livered rover, and my bones are all but flotsam on the bottom of the sea. My bones are all but flotsam on the bottom of the sea!”
These were his very words, as near as I could understand them in his thick Teutonic accented Latin, and the song went on and on in that ridiculous vein for a long while with little variation. His tone was cheerful at this lighthearted prospect of becoming flotsam. If I recall right, there were verses about sharks, and gulls, and fishes picking at his bones . . I don't remember, but it was unnerving and exasperating, and yet his voice was resonant, clear, and powerful, rendering an effect that was somehow heartbreaking. I found him utterly outlandish!

“Don’t mind him, he’s crazy,” someone said behind me.
I turned around and saw a former scholar from The Academy ... Olympiodoros. For one reason or another although we had both been at The Academy for many years together we had never gotten to know each other. He always seemed to be away, traveling here and there on some sort of business or another.
“Olympiodoros!” I said. “I didn’t know you were onboard.”
“I am ... and I might as well tell you right off that among other things I’m going to Athens to inform them that Ammonius has chosen me to be his successor in Alexandria.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I’m sorry Simplicious.”
“I don’t hold it against you.”
“That’s generous of you. Were you really Theodora’s lover . . .?”
Added to the import of his first revelation, the second question struck me as insufferable.
"We haven't been together for one minute," I said, "and you have already said three things to seriously irritate me."
“I’m sorry...”
"First you said, 'Don’t mind him, he’s crazy.' Was I supposed to find that reassuring? A man who can toss two-hundred pound anchors around like horse shoes? ... 'Don’t mind him he’s crazy. . .!' Well that was reassuring! Then you said you'd been chosen as Ammonius' successor. Well, that’s straight forward enough, but also irritating. Finally you asked me if I was Theodora’s lover. How the hell did you know that... and how the hell, if you don’t mind my asking, do you even know who the hell Theodora is? And finally, what business is it of yours? It seems that everybody in the whole goddamned world knows more about my own business than I do!”
“I’m sorry Simplicious.”
“Well, as our eloquent Teutonic friend here said, fuck all!”
“All right then let me be straight with you as well ...You have the reputation for being brilliant but also for being an absolute idiot.”
“Look, I might take that kind of rebuke from Ammonius, but I’m sure as hell not going to take it from you. I’ve practically never even seen you before. All I’ve seen is your coming and going like you have a goddamned bee in your shorts. If you’re a scholar, or a philosopher, or even a lecturer I’ll be damned if I’ve seen any evidence of it. How did you manage to become my replacement anyway?”
“Calm down, calm down I was giving you a sort of compliment. You are unaware of certain things because you simply aren’t interested in ... let's say certain aspects of the world. That is what a philosopher is supposed to be, sort of ... but some of us can’t afford to live in such a fine state of detachment.”
"I'm sick of such backhanded compliments. And now I’m just a rover, my bones flotsam for plover and my toes are growing over with the fungus of the sea!” I sang to him.
Olympiodoros glared at me as if I’d gone mad, and then he broke down laughing so hard that he had to brace himself against the mast, and all my anger vanished in an instant, in the shared absurdity of our situation.
When he finally finished laughing he said, “I hope to God that Teutonic behemoth with the turban didn’t hear you! Look, I have the only private room in the ship besides the captain's... the crew sleeps on deck ...and I’ve got a bottle of half decent retsina, so why don’t we go polish it off?”
“Why not?” I said. “The sea-sickness will undoubtedly set in before long, and the wine will either prevent it or get it over with!”
“I wish you hadn’t mentioned sea sickness," Olympiodoros said, looking a little pale. "Damn it, let’s grab that bottle before it's too late!”
The cabin was more the size of a bread box, and hunching before a tiny table jutting from the bulkhead, he opened the flask and set it on the table, and the swells were so high that we had to take turns holding the bottle to prevent it from slipping off. Over that bottle, in spite of a rocky start, we inaugurated a lifelong friendship. It would be one conducted over many years, occasionally in person, but mostly by letter, between Alexandria, Athens, and far-flung points north, south, east, and west of there.
First, talking onboard that ship I soon discovered that he was a complex man, a philosopher and a diplomat, (when he wanted to be), of the highest order, and yet in direct communication he didn't beat around the bush at all. Along with an incisive mind, he had an intolerance of personal formalities that at times bordered on outright rudeness, an aspect of his character that I would eventually come to appreciate.
“So ... ” he said to me after opening the wine, "I hate to ask you again but I’m insatiably curious ... (it's a flaw I know, but it has its uses) ... you were Theodora’s lover?”
“Yes. One of many.”
“But they say that you were real lovers.”
“Who are they . . .? Anyway, you’d have to ask her.”
"For the love of God, would you tell me once and for all what this is about? What exactly is everyone's fixation with Theodora, anyway? Why did I lose my position in Alexandria because I was living with her? Ammonius always let my personal life remain my own, until now.”
“You are a most unique person, Simplicious.”
“Unique meaning idiot? Thanks.”
“It seems that although you have been her lover, you are also the only person in Alexandria unaware that she’s been involved in I don’t know what kinds of intrigue. She's been in company of Theodosius, the Patriarch, and also with the monastic leaders.
"The Theodosius? The Patriarch of Alexandria?"
"Yes, but that is nothing. You had better know this at once if you don’t already. She’s become the consort of Sabbatius.”
“Sabbatius...? You mean of The Sabbatius?”
“Yes, the Emperor's nephew or the real Emperor, Sabbatius.”
“But that’s impossible! I mean that’s truly impossible! She left Alexandria just a few months ago!”
“She was acting as his spy the whole time she was here, among other things. they've had a secret, long-standing relationship.”
“I don’t believe it! She never said one word to me about Sabbatius!”
“Simplicious, she's his consort. They are living together openly now in the imperial palace. I’ve had word from not one, but three different correspondents that that is the case."
“How could you have possibly gotten word from Constantinople so fast?”
“I have contacts, quite a few, and some of them travel fast. To be truthful, that was why Ammonius chose me as his successor. I'm not the philosopher you are, Simplicious. I read your commentary on The Phado and it was brilliant - the best since Plutarch or Hypotia. But these are troubled times and we can't afford to be as detached from brutal realities as we once were.”
(I was completely taken aback by all of this ...I simply had no idea Theodora was involved in such things, and couldn't then begin to fathom the implications!)
“I don’t know what to say ... this is all unbelievable to me. Of course I knew Theodora was an amazing woman – her knowledge is amazing for her age. But if I had known any of this I wouldn’t have associated with her.”
“If you had known that, or more importantly, if others knew you knew those things, you would probably be dead.”
"But, God! Sabbatius must have heard by now that we were lovers."
"Apparently, at least so far, he hasn't obligated her to chastity," Olympiodoros said dryly. He's well aware of her history. I don't know what goes on between the two of them on that score."
The full weight of what I’d been dallying in so lightly then came to me suddenly.
“My God, I’ve been a complete fool!” I said.
“Yes, but everyone loves you for it.”
“If they learn this in Athens I’m done for! There’s no future for me.”
“Don’t worry about that; Ammonius has sent me to give them the highest recommendation of you, and also to tell them what a fool you are! Ha, ha, ha! You’ll be fine Simplicious, and yet let me give you one bit of advice. This philandering of yours will be your downfall.”
“I know. I'm through with it."
“Good, we'll say no more about it then. But since you don't know I must tell you the rest of Theodora's story. I don’t know exactly what game she’s playing, but she’s our adversary, and a worthy one. As I said, when she was in Alexandria she became associated with Theodosius and the Monophysites - who are on the verge of being declared heretics by the Holy Roman Church (the chief figure of which is of course Sabbatius himself). From what I have been able to gather, her sympathy with them is genuine, which means she is playing a double game. She’s living on a razor’s edge - to what end at the moment, I cannot fathom. Furthermore she's an outspoken enemy of the Academy's, and now she is the Imperial Consort.”
“My head's swimming.”
“She's very clever, Simplicious. Given her sympathies I don't know why she was with you, but she must have - have really cared for you, or you wouldn't be alive. Anyway, from what I've heard as bad as things are for us, they may well become a lot worse before too long.”

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2013 Brent Hightower
Image Public Domain

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Down And Out in Paris and London

I've been looking forward to reading this book for a long time. This and "Homage to Catalonia" are two of Orwell's books I've never gotten around to, so it was good to get my hands on this volume. After 1984, Animal Farm, and many of his essays my expectations for this wok were very high and Down and Out... didn't let me down. Down and Out... falls a little short compared to his later great classics, particularly 1984. Still, his prose is exceptionally clear in this work. I love Orwell's prose style for it's clarity and concision and in this book I can feel him developing the themes that were later the foundation of his genius - his great concern for human welfare and a fascination with society in it's relation to the individual. This was one of the attractions of this book - seeing a genius at work on the development of his absorbing themes.

"Down and Out..." is an observation of life in the Parisian and London barrios of the early twentieth century that also conveys many of the cultural difference between Paris and London themselves, and I found that fascinating. In the opening of the book Orwell sketches the Parisian barrios so well that (for better or worse) you feel you've been there, and for all the filth, hardship, and desperation, it seems that in Paris life under these conditions more than endures, in its peculiar way even flourishes. So many great artists have emerged from the Parisian barrios one sees them as almost an asset to the society. Yet Orwell does not in any glorify such an existence. He's upfront about it's suffering and its great risk to even one's survival.

The overall theme of the book, which is a work of fiction that reads like autobiography, contrasts these lives in Paris and London is that if one were poor in Europe at the time it would have been for one's chances of survival to have been stricken by poverty in London, but that such a live in Paris was not so utterly without purpose or hope. In London one would have probably had less chance of dying outright from deprivation, but also (without an extraordinary stamina and imagination, as exhibited by one particularly clever character in the novel, a street artist) life would have been drudgery beyond endurance.

Orwell clearly makes the point that lives of such hardship and hopelessness are unnecessary, and he even addresses a little of that question directly, but as in his later genius for social criticism, his best work is fictitious revelation rather than direct explanation. The virtue of this book is its direct and detailed observation of life at the margins, its empathy for its subjects, and its manner of allowing you to live that life vicariously - a life that, like it or not, is an enduring condition of the great multitudes of mankind. It's virtue is in giving a window onto a tragic and pervasive aspect of existence and allowing you to experience it without having to pay the terrible price inherent in actually living it.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2016 Brent Hightower

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Concentric Dancing of the Suns

For so long I did not understand,
The concentric dancing of the suns,
Casting spears of light into the heavens,
In revolutions of darkness and of light,

Apprehension out of darkness comes,
Every darkness bares its apprehension.
From the eternal round of night and day,
Sounds the archaic song of love and hate.

From the first springing of the sapling,
From every refrain springs every refrain.
From each chrysalis springs a metamorphosis
From every breeze the current of our fate.

Fear is the daughter of a misconception,
The dancing of suns sparks new creation.
Our mortal time passes into timelessness
From the mud we pass into pure light

Out of what region rides our delusions,
From the lower order forged of strife
And if looking upwards we see only night
We may still hear the ode of the divine.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2016 Brent Hightower
*image believed to be in the public domain

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Revenge of the Common Man

Other than as satire perhaps I will not be writing about American Politics in this blog for a long time. I decided I wouldn't do so earlier, after the failure of the Sanders campaign wherein I believe lay our final hope to restore America to something approaching the state we once knew it. (In the light of this, I see Trump's slogan Make America Great Again as some sort of macabre joke.) After The Sanders campaign I thought I was reluctantly ready to accept another mediocre administration under Hillary Clinton to mark the gradual toll of our national decline. I say this acknowledging it doesn't give Hillary Clinton the benefit of the doubt. She may have proved our fears unfounded regarding her complicity with big business against the common man. She may have had a great administration. We will never know.

Normally I do my best to be diplomatic but the election of Donald Trump, with a Republican congress and the ability to form another reactionary Supreme Court is a national disaster. Those who bought the ludicrous assertion that this arrogant, boorish, immoral, impious, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, divisive, authoritarian, narcissist is a populist should be relegated to the infernal regions of hell reserved for the willfully and utterly insane. Apparently a vast number of Americans are absolutely incapable of distinguishing a populist from a demagogue, if they even know what those terms mean. The results of their elections of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, do not even phase their certainty that they understand the the world we live in. They do not, not the first thing. After choosing such leaders they should crawl into a hole somewhere on election day in shame rather than go out to vote.

This desire for a return to the past when America was a far better nation to live in is perfectly understandable. We would all like to return to a simpler age, but that isn't possible, and those who think Trump can perform this miracle are those who adamantly refuse to admit that that decline is based on the very racist, militaristic, union busting, tax cutting agenda they themselves have voted for time and time again. In short their idiocy is the reason for America's decline. In the notion of Donald Trump as populist they are just confirming that idiocy on a colossal scale. What they are advocating, whether they know it or not, is not a return to a simpler age in America, but to the dark ages. They are the modern equivalent of the followers of Savonarola.

Many of these people are, on a personal level generous, kind, and patient, but they are insufficiently educated to be making the kind of decisions necessary to conduct a nation in the modern era. Their lack of education isn't shameful or insurmountable, but furthermore they often have outright contempt for education. Thus they act simply through blind emotion rather than reason. Such a vehement opposition to Donald Trump they can't seem to understand because they can't see that educated people are terrified by of a Trump administration. As a result they think educated people are wicked. They want to be equal to the educated, and they are equal to them... In the words of The Declaration of Independence, a document that arose from the secular humanism they so detest, all men are created equal. They only perceive themselves as unequal due to their profound insecurity and so can't see that the educated are actually advocating for their interests.

Connecticut, Vermont Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, California and the of the highly educated states consistently vote for the policies and programs that would improve their lives vastly, but in their imbecility they think those people are their enemy and they very people who have brought them to the sorry state of their present lives they are determined to see as being on their side. We must have the only country in history where out of sympathy, and just plain economic practicality, the educated vote for the working class and the working class votes for the wealthy whom they believe are populists. It's madness. Rather than feel inferior to those wicked secular humanists they'd tear civilization down out of spite. They would rather be leaders in hell than followers in heaven.

That desire for equality is also perfectly understandable but the underlying condition we are all are fighting, that of either nature's or God's unequal distribution of intellectual gifts cannot be remedied. Those whom they hate so bitterly are products of the very universities where they aspire to send their children. They think they are just as capable of governing as the intellectual elite and should be equally allowed to do so. But in order to survive they must accept that in the context of nations they need intelligent people to lead them in order to compete against other nations who so appoint the intelligent of their own societies. They see no contradiction in this, or they refuse to see any, because it hurts their little egos, and so the nation must teeter decade after decade on the brink of collapse.

I hope those who elected Donald Trump fully enjoy their final victory over the "educated elite," because their victory will likely be their utter downfall. They will revel in their feelings of personal vindication while this once great nation declines into oblivion and they will have insufficient self-awareness to know their real motivations and insufficient humility to admit they are responsible for a political disaster, just as they refused to so many times before. It is here that lies something we do not discuss out of diplomacy but national disaster overrides etiquette. The plain fact is that their is a gigantic disparity in intellect among mankind.

Those of low intelligence are not inferior, and they should have rights exactly equivalent to the intelligent but they should not be allowed to lead the nation. To allow it is to court disaster and we have been courting it casanova courted his lovers for decades.

In the end we are all products of the struggle to survive and our consciousness is divided, enabling us to do things which our reason and more humane selves would not allow us to do, such as to make war. They unintelligent differer from the intelligent, in their frustration level; in the speed to which they resort to the emotional side of their being rather than to the rational, and the degree to which we can stave off our demons through reason is the degree to which we can not only prosper but survive in modern civilization.

The state of the world is merely a reflection of the state of our souls. In the end I love the people who voted for Donald Trump because ultimately we are all baffled by life, we are all incapable of even fathoming, much less overcoming, the complexity of existence. The only difference is the degree in which we are baffled. I wish those who voted for Trump well. I hope Donald Trump actually is the person they think he is, because if not the damage he can do to our world cannot be over estimated. Tragically the paramount thing people are most incapable of is understanding themselves. It is hardest for all of us to look in the mirror, right wing and left, myself included. I know this essay seems arrogant. It is merely stating what I believe to be true, and which is to some degree self evident. Yet all of us are groping through life which I well know, and which is the only reason I've bothered with any of this over the years. We're all just human trying to cope with a very difficult situation in this world, and so it is more in sorrow than in rancor that I go.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2016 Brent Hightower
*Image drawn from source believed to be in public domain

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Letters of John Keats

It might be surprising to a lot of people to know that John Keats, the great 19th century English romantic poet, was best remembered by other children at school as a fist fighter. A prominent aspect of the best portrait we have of Keats, a pencil drawing by his friend, Charles Brown, is his surprisingly large and powerful fist which he is leaning his face against. It is a very interesting portrait in that it presents not just the true image and un-sentimentalized vision of Keats himself, but also some of the great conflicts that defined his life. On the one hand we see the powerful boxer's fist and the broad shoulders of a young man in his prime. On the other had we see him supporting his head on that fist in exhaustion, and we see his flushing cheeks, both indications of the tuberculosis that would soon take his life.

There's been so much written about John Keats that it might seem pointless, or even pretentious to add anything more. I write about him here partly because he was my favorite poet, but more so because not just his poetry and his biography, but his ideas are still very worthy of study. These ideas, put forth mostly in his letters, offer terrific insights to those struggling to write and understand poetry, and to the struggle to understand life itself. I myself have taken up poetry again, after a 35 year hiatus, and in that process I've come back to study Keats. The reason I've come back to Keats at age 54 is that he became arguably the best poet in English before his death, at just the age 26, and only composed poetry in the last 5 or 6 years of his life. Such a rate of achievement was meteoric, and having made the decision to write poetry at this relatively late age I feel I can greatly benefit from the ideas of a poet who's work advanced at such a rate.

The perception of Keats today it seems, at least in the popular consciousness, is that he was a dreamer; a sort of wilting flower too delicate for this world who wrote pleasingly effeminate lyrics of little or no interest to the world today.* This conception of him as a mere dreamer is a reversal of the truth. As I said Keats was a fighter. In his short life he fought bullies in the schoolyard when teased him about his small stature (he was just five feet tall) and later he fought against class prejudice, against time, against poverty, against disease and against death. In spite of all this he became a doctor, but gave that up to become a poet, a notoriously difficult career to live on. Through it all he never let himself be influenced by other writers to the point it hindered him in the search for of his own voice. The incredible courage of Keats' is at the root of his unparalleled achievement. So much for the wilting flower view of John Keats.

Thou was not born for death, immortal bird!
No hungry generations tread the down,
The voice I hear this passing night was heard,
In ancient days by emperor and clown,
Perhaps the self same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth when sick for home
She stood in tears amid the alien corn...

-John Keats

Perhaps it was all that Keats endured that enabled him to write such immortal lines as those above, lines of great beauty but also steeped in the inexplicable suffering, frustration, and injustice of life. Such lines would represent genius at any age but written at just 24 they show a remarkable ability to convey tragic experience. Yet in spite of such mature ability, in my estimation these lines couldn't have been written by an older poet. They retain the freshness and sensual clarity most often lost with the passing years: a loss that too often makes the writing of older poets feel wooden and academic. Keats was able to combine this sensory clarity of youth with the method of composition and life experience of a much older poet and in his letters Keats chronicles much of the artistic territory he crossed in the process of becoming a great writer.

He was born a Cockney in London, the son of a livery stable owner who died when John was a child, after being thrown from a horse. His mother died soon afterwards as well of tuberculosis. Perhaps a decade later his younger brother Tom also preceded him in death from tuberculosis, the same disease that would kill Keats himself at the of age 26. Added to the difficulties and misfortunes alluded to above his inheritance from his father's business was tied up in court all his life, and never seeing a cent of it he and his siblings lived in desperate poverty. Lastly, Keats fell in love with a woman shortly before he died and so suffered the full awareness he would die before his love could be requited. The notion that someone who faced such a life with courage and dignity was a pansy says nothing about Keats but everything about certain aspects of our own society.

This last point has a deeper relevance I believe than simply to literature. Our misconception of Keats seems to arise from a larger misconception of courage as a whole. Those who display the greatest virtues such as the self-sacrificial stamina and the endurance needed to hold society together - often in spite of gteat social disadvantages - are often vilified and denigrated as being weak, while those who live primarily for themselves and their self-aggrandizement are often admired and seen as courageous. So in the general consciousness a man with the courage of John Keats comes to be seen as a pansy while men such as Donald Trump or John McEnro are seen by many as being courageous, as winners.

Keats was a fighter who confronted terrible adversity; a compassionate man of exceptional sensitivity he was not afraid to engage that compassionate side of himself. So let us presume that what mankind does best; what is at the root of our dominance over the earth is our ability to communicate. This is where the the unseen power of a poet comes into play. The ability to write exercises real, if somewhat abstract power in the world, because it influences the intellectual climate of the age - which in turn influences everything. This was true in the time of Byron, in the in time of Homer, and in the time of the King James Bible and is still true today. Ideas are power, therefore studying the letters of Keats is powerful, for it may allow us a greater effect upon our times. Those who have dismissed Keats as an inconsequential pansy might take that into consideration in forming their concept of a real man. I would highly recommend a study of Keat's letters to learn about writing, and about the brevity of life. John Keats didn't have much time.

*Please understand that I'm not condemning the feminine here. Women have, of course, written great poetry. I'm condemning the effeminate in the context of an affectation, not femininity itself.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2016 Brent Hightower
*image John Keats, pencil on paper, by Charles Brown

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Night Bus

The Western fire is burning down to cinders;
Retreating traffic is subsumed in immolation.
And I see dark shapes pass me on the roadway,
Born from darkness, to darkness they return.

It's ages since the brightly lit buses came,
In sunshine, festooned with bright balloons,
I had bright hopes setting out that morning,
But the sun's low and I'm stranded at dusk.

Once they scheduled many buses on this route,
And from among them I could pick and chose.
But I've missed the last bus from Desolation
So I'll watch as the day burns down to ruin.

Now the cheerful riders have passed beyond,
They seemed to look past me in the gloaming.
But I've walked this road before at night,
The whole way from Prospect to Desolation.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 1016 Brent Hightower
*image public domain