February 21, 2013

An occult relation between man and the vegetable

One of my favorite Dylan songs is an early acoustic effort, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, which is about how the music of nature outdoes any human effort. The chorus goes,

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

Around here, a lot of the best music comes from the wind through the trees. Dylan put it this way,

The branches bare like a banjo played
To the winds that listened best

Not surprisingly, Emerson noticed that in his early essay Nature,

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

MOMENTUM. The big political news yesterday was the announcement that Republican governor Rick Scott of Florida, a major foe of the Affordable Care Act, intends to expand Medicaid coverage to low wage workers in that state. That makes him the 7th Republican governor to make that decision. Meanwhile, West Virginia's Democratic governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, hasn't made his decision yet. I hope this makes it easier.

FOLLOWING THAT THREAD, this item from Politico highlights the conflicts the Affordable Care Act has caused among Republican governors between pragmatists and ideologues.

PRISON REFORM should also be on the agenda in WV now. Here's a call for making it better.


February 19, 2013

Their admonishing smile

This is a busy time for El Cabrero, so rather than hunt up stuff to post each day, the theme for this stretch is the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essays and poems had such a huge influence on much of American life and letters in the mid 1800s. This week, we're looking at his essay Nature, in which he makes more than one good point.

I admire this passage, which is in part about solitude and in part about how we don't value that which we take for granted.
To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches  One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years  how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty  and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

It really is true that if these celestial lights were only visible once in a great while we would give them more of the attention and reverence they deserve. The same is no doubt true of many other things.

WAR ON COAL? Whatever.



February 18, 2013

A transparent eyeball

Caricature of an image from Emerson's essay "Nature" by Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892).

The theme at Goat Rope these days is Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great 19th century essayist and Transcendentalist, whatever that means. This week, I'm looking at his seminal essay/lecture Nature, which not only has many memorable passages but, as the picture above illustrates, sometimes lends itself to amusing images.

Here's Ralph on what a good walk in the woods does for the soul:

In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith  There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,--no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. 

And here's an image for you:

Standing on the bare ground--my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,--all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing  I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
Although some of this essay seems a bit loopy to me, I love those lines and have even felt them a time or two. Except maybe for the transparent eyeball thing.

LET'S DO IT. Here's Paul Krugman on raising the minimum wage.

REGRETS. Here are the top five at the end of life.


February 17, 2013

An original relation to the universe

 This is the time of year when things get a bit crazy for El Cabrero, so it might be good to have a theme around here to tie things together. And the theme at hand is the work of America's first (or maybe second, behind Franklin) sage, or at least one of its leading early public intellectuals, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over the coming weeks, I plan on sampling some of his essays and poems and trying to figure out whether he was a wise man, a wind bag, or some combination thereof.

And what better place to start than his signature essay and speech, "Nature," which has had a huge impact. I have to admit that when I first read it, two kinds of thoughts ran through my head. The first was, the boy can turn a phrase. The second was, this is SOOOOO pre-Darwinian as to seem loopy. Maybe it's just a temperamental thing, but I wonder about people who seem too smug about their place in the universe...

Anyhow, the first lines of the essay are pure Emerson and are keepers. They express his signature idea that the same spirit which inspired the prophets, poets and seers of old is right here with us today and that we shouldn't settle for their leavings but have and trust our own immediate experience. (That kind of thinking helped end his career in the Unitarian ministry, which was quite a bit more doctrinally strict then than today.)

Here goes:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we enjoy and original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out its faded wardrobe? The sun shines today also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.
I guess times have changed. These days, people tend to credit their own insights and neglect the wisdom of tradition.

ACTION ITEM. If you're concerned about the corrosive effects of money on our democracy, Tuesday is a day of action by West Virginians for Democracy. They plan to lobby legislators in support of a resolution calling for "ending the corrupt practices enabled by the Citizens United decision 3 years ago." They will hold a rally on the ground floor of the Capitol rotunda from 11:30-12:30. For more info, call WV Citizen Action Group at 304-346-5891. Read more here.

HEALTH CARE REFORM is coming. It looks like WV is taking some decent steps towards its implementation.

IT'S A LITTLE LATE FOR VALENTINE'S DAY, but here's a look at animal love.