Illuminations Along the Way

I will only add, to what I have already written of my perseverance at this time of my life, and of a patient and continuous energy which then began to be matured within me, and which I know to be the strong part of my character, if it have any strength at all, that there, on looking back, I find the source of my success. I have been very fortunate in worldly matters; many men have worked much harder, and not succeeded half so well; but I never could have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time, no matter how quickly its successor should come upon its heels, which I then formed. Heaven knows I write this, in no spirit of self-laudation. The man who reviews his own life, as I do mine, in going on here, from page to page, had need to have been a good man indeed, if he would be spared the sharp consciousness of many talents neglected, many opportunities wasted, many erratic and perverted feelings constantly at war within his breast, and defeating him. I do not hold one natural gift, I daresay, that I have not abused. My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that, in great aims and in small, I have always thoroughly been in earnest. I have never believed it possible that any natural or improved ability can claim immunity from the companionship of the steady, plain, hard-working qualities, and hope to gain its end. There is no such thing as such fulfilment on this earth. Some happy talent, and some fortunate opportunity, may form the two sides of the ladder of which some men mount, but the rounds of that ladder must be made of stuff to stand wear and tear; and there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could not throw my whole self; and, never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.

— Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Ch. 42

Aristotle

Aristotle

… we ought, so far as possible as in us lies, to put on immortality, and do all that we can to live in conformity with the highest that is in us; for even if it is small in bulk, in power and preciousness it far excels all the rest. Indeed it would seem that this is the true self of the individual, since it is the authoritative and better part of him; so it would be an odd thing if a man chose to live someone else’s life instead of his own…. [w]hat is best and most pleasant for any given creature is that which is proper to it.

— Aristotle, Ethics, X:vii

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu

There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
At the center of your being:
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn:
The way to do is to be.

— Lao Tzu, The Way of Life, 47

W. Somerset Maugham, in Points of View, “The Three Novels of a Poet,” writes:

Art is an effect of design: life is so largely controlled by chance that its conduct can be but a perpetual improvisation. (p. 25)

I should have thought it obvious that the best life is that which enables each to make good use of such qualities and aptitudes as nature has bestowed upon him. (p. 41)

W. Somerset Maugham (Courtesy: Fine Arts America)

W. Somerset Maugham (Courtesy: Fine Arts America)

          In his final years [Maugham] confessed to an interviewer that ‘the main thing I’ve always asked from life is freedom. Outer and inner freedom, both in my way of living and my way of writing.’ The course of his long life was indeed a succession of attempts to find complete freedom — not merely physical liberty, but true independence of spirit. This freedom meant more than mere escape from duties and obligations, financial dependence, or the restraints of time and place. These were only the surface of a search for a deeper liberation — intellectual freedom and emotional detachment. In one way or another almost everything Maugham willingly did was motivated by this vision.

—  Robert Calder, Willie, p. 29

The beauty of life … is nothing but this, that each should act in conformity with his nature and his business.

— Fray Luis de León, cited by W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, lxxvii

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en.
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, I.i.36-40, Tranio

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, I.iii.78-80, Polonius

Horace

Horace

.

In his reply Horace told [the young poets who had come to him on his birthday] that there was only one way of touching men’s hearts, and that was by showing them that you had touched your own.

Percy C. Buck, Psychology for Musicians, Ch. 6


Y cumplo mi destino con mi canto.
And I fulfill my destiny with my song.

Pablo Neruda, Oda a la alegría (Ode to Happiness)

Pablo Neruda (Courtesy: This is Chile)

Pablo Neruda (Courtesy: This is Chile) 

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

.

denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.
for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Archaïscher Torso Apollos

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

 

Denn selbst mußt der Freie sich schaffen.

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre, 2r Aufzug, Wotan


Always and in everything strive to attain at the same time what is useful for others and what is pleasant for oneself.

— G. I. Gurdjieff, citing Mullah Nassr Edin, Meetings with Remarkable Men, Introduction

G.I. Gurdjieff (Courtesy: Digital Seance)

G.I. Gurdjieff (Courtesy: Digital Seance)

[My father] told me many times in my youth that the fundamental striving of every man should be to create for himself an inner freedom towards life and to prepare for himself a happy old age.

— G.I. Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men, Ch. 2

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V

.

.

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

Die liebe Erde allüberall
Blüht auf im Lenz und grünt aufs neu!
Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen!
Ewig, ewig … ewig, ewig …

Gustav Mahler, Das Lied van der Erde, Der Abschied

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