Lines Written During a Period of Insanity

This witty poem written by William Cowper sometime in the later decades of the 18th Century AD is one of my favourites. It is a disturbing tragedy with heavy Biblical references which makes it a difficult read for anyone with a less-than-par didactic knowledge of the Christian go-to book.

Judas was one of Jesus Christ’s disciples who sold out his ‘Master’ to the Jewish High Priests for a paltry thirty pieces of silver. It takes no great imagination to conceive that Judas was and still is disliked by Christians hence the line “Damned below Judas: more abhorred than he was.” This line is the pivot of the entire poem. In actual fact the entire poem sounds like a suicide note. The fact that Judas killed himself gives credence to my assertion.

The other character that needs unmasking is Abiram who is described in the book of Numbers as the leader of a group of dissidents who rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron. The poet laments that he deserves “to receive a sentence/ Worse than Abiram’s“. Self-pity is heightened when the narrator claims that even Hell will refuse to receive him after his death for his sins are so great than hell will actually feel like a sanctuary for a sinner of that stature – a sinner worse than a traitor and a rebel against the ‘Master’ himself.

When all these nuances are factored in it becomes somewhat more apparent that there is a tinge of madness in it all. We are left wondering, “how on earth can someone think they are that evil?”. The form of madness alluded to in this poem is not the psychotic Schizophrenia-type but the deep depression type. Depression was considered a form of madness in that era and the poet himself suffered from serious bouts of depression. It is believed that William Cowper wrote this poem around 1773 when he was in the middle of one of his dark days.

Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion,
Scarce can endure delay of execution,
Wait with impatient readiness to seize my
		Soul in a moment.

Damned below Judas:more abhorred than he was,
Who for a few pence sold his holy Master.
Twice-betrayed Jesus me, the last delinquent,
		Deems the profanest.

Man disavows, and Deity disowns me;
Hell might afford my miseries a shelter;
Therefore Hell keeps her ever-hungry mouths all
		Bolted against me.

Hard lot! encompassed with a thousand dangers,
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors,
I'm called, if vanquished, to receive a sentence
		Worse than Abiram's

Him the vindictive rod of angry Justice
Sent quick and howling to the centre headlong;
I, fed with judgement, in a fleshy tomb, am
		Buried above ground.
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BOOK REVIEW: UP AT THE VILLA – W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps it is because he tried to pursue a career in Medicine and fell in love with letters along the way. I can relate with that. His work Up At The Villa  however left me worried about this icon. I found the book heavily disturbing. I was as shocked with the book as the New York editor who commissioned the book. It left me wondering, ‘what on earth was Somerset thinking?”.

The book is about the immoral fling a beautiful and young widow has with a broke refugee who turns out to be mortally mentally unwell. The young man is so distraught with the inevitable after-the-one-night-stand rejection that he takes his own life right in front of his ephemeral lover, using her own gun. What is sad about the whole fiasco is that this was the widow’s first one-one stand in her entire life. It is as if the gods were telling the young lass ‘this is not your thing.’ To make matters more complicated she seeks the aid of a common playboy to cover up her mess. As if this was not enough she is tentatively bethroned to a highly successful but much older English diplomat who has a paedophile-type crush on her. Her chance at financial reprieve is brutally crushed after her confession to the the older suitor. In the end she settles for the roughshod Casanova.

Considering that the book was written in early 20th Century England it is entirely plausible that the novella was met with utter disdain upon its publication. It is highly probable that the book’s reception was somewhat similar to the initial reviews Fifty Shades of Grey received upon its release. Both works are an affront to the timeless values of morality that continue to simmer in the psyche of alert readers who open a book for its intrinsic value and nothing more.

My reading of Up At The Villa left me with a feeling of despair for the future of romance in the 21st Century. If such abhorrent ideas could be conceived and well-received in the ‘innocent’ decades of the 20th Century what hope remains for 21st Century literature? As I endured to the end of the book I kept asking myself, ‘is chivalry really dead?’

WHY I READ

A lot of benefits have been proposed and verified as proponents for the value of reading. From improvement of empathy to increase of intelligence and everything in between. I agree with all of them but my personal reason for reading is the therapeutic effect it has on me.

I have long struggled with cyclic variations of mood and affect for all my life; depression, anxiety, mania and even downright psychosis. Reading takes it all away. When I open a book and smell the pages (I know it sounds weird) I immediately divorce myself from reality. From the very moment I read the first sentence my imagination takes the pilot seat. I shut the world outside and immerse myself in the beautiful realm of possibilities and probabilities. I do not care whether it is fiction or not, I just enclose myself into a conclave which is far much wider than the confines of time and space.

As I read D.H Lawrence I find myself in the slums of England. As I read James Joyce I find myself in Ireland. As I read Dambudzo Marechera I find myself in the Rhodesian ghetto. Gunter Gruss takes me to Germany. Homer transports me to Greece. Stephen Hawkings gives me a ride on the shoulders of time itself. Wole Soyinka rents me a room in war-torn Nigeria. Henry Gray gives me a tour of the human body. Napoleon Hill teaches me all there is to know about success. Sun Tsu takes me through a crash course of military training. All these authors and more give me access to the deepest pits of their minds. At the end of it I come out renewed and redeemed. Reading to me is like charging a cellphone, it keeps me alive.

It is very hard to initiate and sustain physical human contact. Friends and mentors are always infallible. Relationships of any form take time to mature and take too much effort to leave room for self-introspection. Why should I invest years of my life gleaning life lessons from a few individuals when I can get the same wisdom and knowledge in a few hours? Books are my friends, mentors, teachers, therapists, medication and soul-mates. If I do not read I will die. It is that simple.

MUGABE IS BIG BROTHER – 1984

Long before Big Brother UK, Big Brother Africa, Big Brother here and Big Bother there ever graced (or disgraced…either one applies) our television screens with a revolutionary reality TV concept, Big Brother was in actual fact created in 1949. He (Big Brother of course) was conceived when Eric Arthur Blair (GEORGE ORWELL) had a fling with his typewriter and gave birth to a beautiful piece of literature christened ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’.

Big Brother depicted in the novel has eerily similar traits with a modern day dictator. Orwell’s Big Brother controlled every aspect of one’s life especially of members of ‘the Party’. He rose to power through a coup (called ‘the Revolution’) and assassinated all his comrades who also had claim to the throne. He pretty much ignored those who were not members of the Party (‘the proles’) who also happened to constitute the greater majority of his country’s population. Big Brother saw everything, listened to everything and controlled every aspect of member’s life. All crimes were punishable by death and even the word “crime” was controlled. Love, free speech, clothes other than blue overalls and even orgasms were punishable by hanging in the public square as entertainment for kids.

It has long been speculated that Orwell’s portrayal of his Big Brother was heavily borrowed from Adolf Hitler’s persona. Mugabe obviously resembles the Big Brother in George Orwells novel as much as he compares well with the modern day Big Brother and the author of Mein Kempf.

Mein Kempf and Mugabe….I will review that soon.

A SILENT MIND KILLS

That slimy pulp of tissue between your ears cannot function without functioning. The mind was meant to be used; when it stops working you lose your humanity. Note my graciousness to Science by stipulating the non-functionality of the brain as the loss of one’s humanity and not the end of one’s life. Reference is made to the thousands of patients on ventilator machines whose brains have thrown in the towel.

It is such a pity that the majority of this species voluntarily shut down their super chip. They have chosen to be sparkling tube gazers (couch potatoes), assassins of anything with more than two full stops and religious zealots who worship Time. Ever since our ancestors invented learning words have become the most lethal weapons in human existence. The more words one knows the more power they possess (thus explaining the power women have).

An idle mind, a silent mind, creates a vacuum in which unfiltered thoughts, ideas, emotions, beliefs and such invade docile nerve cell circuits. A lot of Science has been published on the subject and almost every blog in existence has had a say on the value of reading. Even Spiritualists bow down to the power of words; The Bible, The Quran, and other sacred texts. If the evidence is so overwhelming why do people continue to choose to destroy themselves? Have their minds been taken over by “neuronal viruses” in the form of thought insertion and withdrawal as in a classical Schizophrenic patient? Psychotic perhaps? What if everyone is mad expect for those who read? Open a book, read and save your humanity.

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