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The Poetics of Tragedy – excerpt
Integral Realist: The Journals of Lewis Thompson Vol.2 1945-1949


Bitterness All

Poem for Sri Krishna Menon

Bitterness all, and yet all bitterness
is but our zeal, our prowess, our desert
For the unceasing nectar of the heart.
It is not pride, then, that will not confess,
Play out and profit by, not even observe,
That all our life is tragic innocence,
But counters pain with its own violence:
It is not pride, and not despair, but love.


[The Poetics of Tragedy was conceived as a letter to Sri Krishna Menon but never sent. It is an undated statement of which some passages came from his Aphorisms, some from his Journal and some were written for the occasion. It is a unique Testament that stands on its own. To it he appends his poem above, “Bitterness All”, the only individual poem he dedicated to Sri Krishna Menon. The whole piece was put together in the last year of his life. ]

"The guru provides a short-range focus onto the Divine, something within our constant capacity. Next—but the two things are inseparable—he makes possible the full concretisation of our relations with the Divine, he gives them immediately their full all-or-nothing Realism and Practicality at all levels of our being. Correlation with him immediately transcendalises our life as it is, interprets it entirely as our spiritual path and destiny. But each must tread his own personal way to the City of God. Each of us in his own way is on pilgrimage. We can only encourage each other's faith and steadfastness, and the opening of vision to the real joy and splendour of Life. Every soul in God says to every other: I am with you to the end of the world.

Gautama was no guru: he was able for himself to say ‘I do not know' without working out the superstition of knowledge at the feet of a teacher.

The serious man can only learn, he cannot be taught.

‘The teacher exists only while those, whose prestige and hypnotism entirely is that they arrange their sentences as if they were speaking with authority, still and always will have an audience—that is in terms of incapacity and sentimentality. Whoever addresses your geniality cannot do it deliberately, has no authority but Love and Joy, or only their primary authority, their authority in you by which you recognise and sport with him—by which all authority is irrelevant and unnecessary. — Except for the slaves who define it for themselves, or those who can only live within limits, wish to defend and idealise their poverty. — Anchylosis, stiff joints.

Only by the extreme, by the paradox, of humility can I at once and actually become greater than myself, can I receive into myself that against which myself is the barrier—so that myself is really nothing but this arbitrary partition, held in position as and by this arbitrariness, the arbitrariness which is its self-intoxication, the self-intoxication which is its rightness and necessity, its fate and doom, its need and joy and immortality, the need of the desert and of death. ‘Ye shall be as gods.' With this futurity we join the devil, the devil for whom it is necessary to worship God. Only the ego can want to involve another. It is its greed, a function of self-division by which it continues, that wants response from others, so far as they are contingently involved. Nothing else can lead towards the Love that needs and demands nothing, which can betray neither itself nor another, and because it is absolute can only be universal.

Conflict with spirituality, or an ambivalent attitude towards it, is often rooted in a suspicion (which survives, with my critical sense, my sensibility, against most prolonged and ingenious generosities) that it is simply the completest barbarism, the most mean, treacherous and stupid collapse into generalisation. At the summit of his anguish Rimbaud dismissed the Eastern wisdom that had so long pre-occupied him as “un rêve de paresse grossière”, a dream of gross idleness.

The spiritual cannot be recognised. It is action, and otherwise always the lie to which corresponds no truth. The word ‘Spirit' is ignorantly romantic and thus entirely bafflement and stumbling-block.

Religion is the wholesale human failure of intelligence, the apotheosis of all incapacity, confusion, sentimentality—the shameless or maudlin confession of incapacity for the spiritual, which demands a complete athleticism. Otherwise, there is magic, yoga and the absolutely intelligent dialectic of the Buddha. It is the intelligence of men like Shakespeare, Pascal, Goethe, Keats, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Dostoievski that put them beyond all religion. Humanism continues (and such men are absorbed into its tragicallyinconclusive tradition) by failure to overpass the fatal eternal laziness of religion.

The labelling of some men by others as ‘ordinary worldly people' is a religious attitude and necessary to no other: we are all in the world. Religion having failed to face this fact, is dependent upon dogma and ‘believing-to-be-true'. But it is still the untransformed ego that is religious and it is this ego indeed that thus evades transformation. The ego is idolatrous—of ideas (including the idea of God), of occult beings or powers, of teachers, of immortality. Religion is simply the recognition, by worldliness, that there is something that surpasses it, which existed before and continues after it, but which will leave it alone and with which (vague guilt, bewilderment, calculation, 'magic', fear) it is better to be on good terms—on the safe side, for you never know: and besides, humility is one of the virtues of our egoism. This is why religious people, the scribes and the Pharisees and their flock, are the most impervious of all to spirituality, whether of heart or intellect. Religion depends upon presumption of the Ultimate Reality. Man-as-he-is can only satisfy his questionings by means of the
enclosed image of Reality, the image of an Otherwhere, a dream after death which thus expresses the pathos of his subjection to time. But Integral Realism begins and must find completion Here and Now. The Kingdom of Heaven is.?.?. it comes not by
‘observation'. The Christ and the Buddha are entirely Existential thinkers: they begin with the whole-man-as-he-is, their thought is the
reverse of abstract, it is existence itself, it is the Way, they are themselves the Way.

There is a great difference between religious devotion and the bhakti of yoga—bhakti meaning not ‘devotion' but reciprocal participation, sympatheia, the Sufi ma'luhiya. The one is the expression of spiritual ignorance, the other, as the Gita makes very clear, is the crown of spiritual knowledge. As soon as a man lives consistently according to his deepest and most disinterested vision—acquirement of which is a mature achievement in itself—no doubt his consciousness becomes at all levels consistently symbolic: he need not think and analyse—he sees and no more needs to discuss with himself what he sees than a man the colour and form from which in his personal case directly and sufficiently convey an apple.

Truth—‘what it hears, that will it speak'. Thus the Teacher speaks. He of all men knows that there is nothing to be taught.

All true miracle is symbolic, ‘a sign'—semeion as the Gospels call it. And for him who always sees, who is spiritually awake, there is always, there is only, miracle—only the Divine Harmony, the Divine Play. ‘For the man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself' (Blake). And the symbol is dynamic, the very mode and axis of the cosmos.

The attack of Jesus and Rimbaud upon art and every kind of temporary organisation is the attempt at fullness and kingdom now. The arrival now of the truth, exact, simple, monstrous, super-beautiful, must indeed produce the chaos of the world that has delayed from it in laziness, incapacity, inconclusiveness. Everyone has at some moment known that the truth about his life, exact at its level, is subtle, momentous and, for reason, fantastic and terrible.

The truth can not be told. The highest value in expression and even the only measure of frequency is simplicity. But for those who still think the truth can be told simplicity is baffling or scandalous—the simplicity of the Buddha or the Christ.

The poet begins and ends outside art. For literature, Villon, Shakespeare, Rimbaud are virtuosos and menaces.

Only the poets—Jesus, Rimbaud, Dostoievski, Baudelaire, Kafka, Blake—are real for me. All the rest—philosophy, history, art—I am forced to conquer just because it is irrelevant and because nothing real, concretely unnecessary, can for a moment be presumed or rested in. This demands completed athleticism, descent into Hell. The Supreme Poets are the Buddha, the Christ, men like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Milarepa. The Complete Poet lives and penetrates and explodes the myths of mystery. He achieves and exhausts his person into the Light of the sole Personality beyond all Truth and thus alone Immediate. He alone fulfils the immediacy of Sunlight and blood, passion and violence, love, birth and death, all Sensuality. From the point of view of Poetry it is a delay to write poems—absurd, darling, exigent, forgettable evasion. The subject of Poetry is the Reality more concrete and specialised than visible, felt, or accessible to the intellect. The poem is ordained by a sensuality more than usually profound, plastic and illuminated, but which is still sensuality and not Action, enjoyment, proud or pathetic and not immediate and past-annihilating Luxury.

Because of its brilliance, delicacy, the subtle, immediate and evanescent qualities of a perfume one could call a poem in its separateness as a flower; but a flower is not a fragment, it is an incident of a continuous force and existence. But a myth, a ballad, a primeval symbol is a flower.

Modern poetry—all literary poetry is no longer primary expression—acts entailing the whole disposition and potentiality of the organism and releasing mind as action. But in the most ancient works poetry entirely serves spendour of Action, Intention, Experience or Vision, it is expression as a work of nature, a manifestation not an occasion. Thus its author, serving only primary release or enjoyment, is nameless or a mythological symbol only of the same Splendour, undivided by egoism. If Poetry is real and continuous, poems (if any) are masks, false doors, spontaneous alibis. If Poetry is real and continuous, poems are perfect as illusion. This is their solidity in a world falsely and helplessly thought real.

Rimbaud seeking to become ‘voyant', a seer, to pierce the veil and enter the world of autonomous causes, the wide and intense occult universe of which he had so acute a premonition, proposed ‘un long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens', a long, immense and consistent derangement of all the senses. This is a typically romantic Western method—a reaction against materialism. And Rimbaud found that reaction is inconclusive.

The Supreme Yogin, as the Gita testifies, is also the Supreme Poet—Krishna is called Kavi. And these two natures seem to have been united in the Christ. Rimbaud experienced to its depth the conflict between them in the individual who has to choose the mode of his spiritual fulfilment. And in this he went to the heart of the Western conflict between the Christ, or the kingdom of heaven on earth — ‘La verité dans une âme et un corps', the spiritual, and this world—or art and science as human invention and experiment, knowledge of good and evil, magic.

For the being who is now completely genial, experience can no longer be progressive for him, he enjoys pure Quality, his rebirth among forms is his play among them: he combines and recombines them, continually inventing new possibilities, in every appearance he has a light and freedom and mystery by which all are attracted, or a terror by which all are repelled: even his ruin only enhances this quality and he becomes a legend defining the human as a tragic closed circle.

You will not understand Arthur Rimbaud's life except as a whole—as the paradox of the human lived by Christ—releasing lightnings, crepitations, perfumes—splendours and vertiges. The whole point is that there is only a romantic language for these things, and this is intolerable for the man who intends them, who is without prejudice. With this fact Rimbaud, having approached them through literature refused to compromise and abandoned literature at the age of twenty-one. It is otherwise.?.?.yoga or magic. This also will sound only, in fact supremely, romantic. — Until, perhaps, you remember the entire and remainderless emphasis of the Christ and that it can only be lived and involves the ‘losing' of human life, the step into the Abyss, the only decisive step—since this Abyss is otherwise the unsurpassable romantic myth. — That you can only first seek the kingdom of heaven. 'Thy kingdom come' is otherwise only a prayer, religious. When he taught it them Christ had evidently given up his disciples. It is another of his inevitable—for humanism—bottomless Hypocracies. They wanted only this literary definition of the kingdom.

The Christ may have been a hunchback but people saw him transfigured. He overcomes the idea of justice exploited by Pythagoras; he storms heaven in the power of the irrational, in the power of Anguish, in the power of passionate disobedience, the disobedience of love. Bitterness All For Sri Krishna Menon Bitterness all, and yet all bitterness Is but our zeal, our prowess, our desert For the unceasing nectar of the heart. It is not pride, then, that will not confess, Play out and profit by, not even observe, That all our life is tragic innocence, But counters pain with its own violence: It is not pride, and not despair, but love.