“the only wisdom within our grasp during our stay in the insoluble mystery of who and where and when we are is the wisdom of humility?”

Comment sections have a bad press, and one can understand when even the most innocuous YouTube video can have all sorts of rabid anger unleashed below. Sometimes, however, comments can do what they supposed to do in the early years of the Internet; be a genuinely illuminating conversational source, a place one learns even more from the wisdom of crowds (not a phrase that has been getting much airing in recent years, has it?)

It’s been a while since I linked to anything on First Known When Lost,  Stephen Pentz’s gem of a blog. First Known When Lost is made by Mr Pentz’s individual sensibility; his affinity with nature and with poets deemed unfashionable.  I have discovered much from him, especially conquering my prejudices against writers who I had not actually read but had generally absorbed a critical antipathy to. And when the online world seemingly has transformed from an exciting frontier of creativity to an echo chamber of hype and hate

The comments on First Known When Lost are of a very high standard and Mr Pentz is scrupulous in replying to comments.

This comment from Bruce Floyd (with a bit of Eliot also)  is worth reading in its own right. For me, humility is at the root of science and religion and art and indeed any human endeavour. Anyway, here is the comment:

The second part of Eliot’s “East Coker”–from the “Four Quartets– clearly asserts that the knowledge gained from experience is of “limited value.” Eliot, late in his life, understands that the “autumnal serenity / And the wisdom of age” are not to be found..He concludes that “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

We stand pitifully mortal and profoundly ignorant under the stitched heavens, certain that our perception of our the universe, of our purpose, of ourselves is an illusion. Stevens tells us to beware of “the lunatic of one idea.”

The ideologue, his strident cries rending the stillness, howls into a vacuum. When the wisest know next to nothing, should not we cease our blustering and at long last [realise] that the only wisdom within our grasp during our stay in the insoluble mystery of who and where and when we are is the wisdom of humility?

from “East Coker”

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
That was a way of putting it – not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us,
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge inposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
but all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

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