Once in antiquity, a wise and noble judge crossed the great desert in search of an epiphany. Along the way, he lectured the shifting sands, interrogated every mirage, and even thrashed an almost naked apostle. In the end, he came to the great river, dried out and thirsty. Behold, he said to himself, the river is pure and I thirst, but I have nought with which to draw water–neither stone jar, nor earthenware cup, nor glass bottle, nor leather wineskin. And the judge sighed. Not long after, a caravan arrived, glorious and terrible as an army of many banners. One by one, the dromedaries, sheep and traders knelt down to drink, but the naked apostle who had come with them leapt into the great river to swim and drink as his heart desired. The judge eyed such savagery with disgust, and prayed that the whole caravan would drown in the tainted waters. The shadows passed, the clouds and stars passed, the very hawks and kites passed. And the skeleton of the judge passed not, but remained by the edge of the sparkling river, bone-dry.
There is an old proverb that says three monks cannot haul water to provide for themselves. There happened to be three real monks discussing this actual story from every angle at their small, new monastery on the cliff. One, who happened to know a bit of math and logic, which is poetry after all, suggested that they remain as three monks but pretend to be alone when it came to chores. The other two readily agreed and the rest of the day was spent in hauling water, each one carrying his own bucket. By nightfall, they had stored the equivalent of a reservoir and decided to celebrate with some tea. Apparently, we have no firewood for boiling tea and making dinner, said the first monk, a little disappointed. To hell with proverbs! said the third monk. Tonight we will fast, said the second monk, and tomorrow we can talk about economics, which I happen to know something about. Perhaps some division of labour might be necessary. The other monks agreed, for economics is also poetry, and there is nothing more beautiful than a life of contemplation and poetics in the wilderness of mountains and waters.
An alchemist once accidentally followed a river backwards, starting at the source, not knowing at the outset that the tiny spring would become a stream, the stream a creek, the creek a river, the river an estuary, and the estuary an endless ocean. Being an alchemist, he took samples of the water at every stage, storing them in little glass bottles. On the seashore he tested them all. And aside from insufficient variations in impurities, salinity or mineral compositions, he noted the obvious but inscrutable fact that all the glass bottles contained the same element of water, regardless of the stage of the journey during which they were filled. The alchemist watched the shore birds and tried to remember all of the fading landscapes.
There was a corrie of stone and ice where the travelers would gather by the light of certain stars, ambiguous solstices and unthought eclipses to pass through time and space and harvest the good light, the good water, the good wind and the good fire, for with these the sons and daughters of men and women were healed and built into great giant cities of stone and strength. One opened the gate through speaking the old language. One traveler loved the language; he loved and spoke all languages and remembered the times, but the old language was best and was like a fountain within his body and soul. They called him the bear, for bears have big jaws and love rivers. As time went by, the bear noticed that fewer and fewer travelers could speak or revere the old language, and took no precautions as they traveled. They brought illness into the corrie and spoke deplorable words. The gate of stars would often not open. Pilgrims who came to the travelers for guidance and healing became increasingly lost and sick. At times it seemed as if the very stones of the corrie were shifting and crumbling. The travelers still came in the seasons of traveling, but instead of speaking the old language, they forbid others to speak it, and sat around discussing the beauty of their sickness as if it were a gift from heaven. They were dying from their deplorable words and killing others as well. One day, the bear fell sick from an ordinary disease, and wandered into the high peaks to cough and sleep in solitude. While convalescing in the high land, he spoke the old language to himself and found himself traveling high roads through stars and black holes he had not thought possible. In those heights and depths he found great worms of stone, oarfish of mists, and krakens of water. There were silver trees of lightning and golden whirlpools of fire. The earth drew light and strength from the heavens, through his body, and he felt well again. On rising, he surveyed the sad earth from which the old words were vanishing, and knew now that every broken stone and dried up river is a forgotten word, an irreverant grammar, a deplorable sentence, a blasphemy. When he went back down to the corrie, he found that more than half of it had crumbled into a glacier, and the other travelers sat oblivious on a shifting precipice, reading their sores and scabs as if practicing divination, and cursing everything above and below heaven. It was then that the bear realized that he had been transformed into a real bear.
A logician spent years testing word problems, striving with paradoxes and studying all the arcana of mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Through various tests and formulas, he came to the conclusion that there were many logics—some which worked together well, some which contradicted others, and even some which contradicted themselves while remaining valid. There seemed to be no way to unify and map all the logics into one great logic.There were days when logic seemed to darken his mind like the desert sun; there were nights when logic lifted him on the wings of white birds to sail off to the stars. The poor man grew tired and ill. At last, he traveled one day and one night over the desert to an old weathered church, and confessed to his priest: I believe in the faith, I do not believe in logic, but I do not believe in an illogical faith. Worried for his health, the priest blessed him and sent him on a pilgrimage, giving him a map of the exact route to take. On the first segment of the journey, he encounteed the smallest oasis he had ever seen. On the second segment of the journey, he passed through the mountains and watched racing clouds and falling rain. On the third segment of the journey, he arrived at the shore and beheld the sand dunes and the immeasurable sea beyond. As an apostle once said, perhaps mystically or symbolically, everything was made of water and by water. There on the beautiful shore the logician wept, for a saint who weeps is analogous to a saint who walks on water.
[credit to Simone Weil for the last analogy]
Once, a scholar received an inheritance of five keys and a codex of the highway to the abandoned city. The codex was an almanac and a map. Not long after he set out, the codex fell into a well and half of it was drowned and blurred. Some nights later, the wind was blowing, and sparks from the campfire landed on the remaining half of the codex, burning it. Nevertheless, the man resolved to be the codex and find his inheritance of which he vividly dreamed. When he arrived at the abandoned city, he wandered the streets, trying his keys in every lock of the gates to its houses and gardens. At long last, one key finally turned, and he entered into his estate, but there were ghosts there who asked him to leave. They had their own keys and deeds to the estate, and they had already summoned the oligarchs, knowing this day would come. The sergeants and men of law came to arrest him, but after hearing his tale, they allowed him to stay in the empty city, as long as he never entered a house or garden. And for this reason, the scholar became an arsonist, a veritable pyrrhomaniac, burning down the city one house each night, while hiding in the water of the wells by day. The abandoned city thus became a great and enduring smoke signal for wayfarers who might be walking the endless highways.