In Chapter 4 of Assagioli’s book Harmony in Life, he invites his readers to:
“Reread Giosuè Carducci’s poem ‘Il poeta’ (‘The Poet’) as it expresses in a wonderful way … through which the psychic elements are fused and shaped in an inner fire, producing works of beauty.”
Inspired by Assagioli’s suggestion, I searched the internet for the poem and found it in Italian along with a translation by G. L. Bickersteth published in 1913. While Bickersteth’s translation is true to the meter and rhyme of Carducci’s poem, the language itself felt antiquated – for example, his use of ‘merry-andrew’ in the third line. So, I decided to attempt to translate Carducci’s poem myself from a more literal perspective.
Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907) was a poet, writer, literary critic and teacher. During his lifetime, Carducci was regarded as the official national poet of modern Italy, and today he is studied by nearly all Italian students during high school. In 1906 he became the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature “not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces.”
The Poet by Giosuè Carducci
(translated by Catherine Ann Lombard)
The poet, oh foolish folk, is not a beggar crashing other’s banquets with vile jokes and crazed antics to steal away the bread he robs from the pantry.
Nor is he a loafer with hazy daydreams his head forever in the clouds his eyes roving in vain search of angels only to see swallows nesting in the barn.
Neither is he a gardener enriching life’s paths with manure only to offer cabbage flowers to the men and violets to the ladies.
The poet is a mighty blacksmith, a bare-chested artisan who everyday with pride makes for steely muscles and sturdy neck, sinewy arms and lively eyes.
Just before the birds twitter their morning song, and the dawn shines upon the hills, the blacksmith’s bellows awaken flames to roar his forge to labor in.
And the flames flash and shine sparkling boldly audaciously glowing whistling, hissing, and then roaring finally soaring crimson embers in the grate.
What will be, I do not know. God only knows while smiling upon the poet smithing the flame so fervent upon the elements of love and thought.
Elements that he throws into the furnace along with memories and the glories of his forbearers and his people past and future flowing into one incandescent mass.
He seizes his hammer to toil and tame the molten mass. The hammer beats and sings upon the anvil. The sun rises and is resplendent upon the work so laboriously won.
He hammers! For freedom Swords and shields of fortitude Garlands victorious Life glorious And Beauty’s coronation Majestic and sweet.
He hammers! And lo! Tabernacles decorated for the household gods and their rituals. Tripods and altars embellished with rare frieze. And rich chalices for the banquet.
For himself, the poor blacksmith makes an arrow of gold and shoots it towards the sun to watch how high it flies and how splendid it glows; To watch and marvel at its graceful brilliance and nothing more.
After two years, aren’t we tired by now of hearing, talking, reading about but mostly fearing Covid-19? My biggest heartache is witnessing the disintegration of the social fabric that once united the villagers where I live. Many of the agricultural traditions were already wobbling on creaky foundations. It’s as if the big bad wolf of fear has blown it all down.
Located in the heart of Italy, the village has about 100 inhabitants; nearly 30 of whom are over 70 years old. The town’s activities revolve around feast days and holidays, mainly associated with the village’s Catholic Church. Nearly every month there used to be a celebration with most of the villagers gathering for a communal meal afterwards.
The spring feast of Ascension had us in procession around the town’s fields, blessing the earth, sun, and rain for providing us with nature’s abundance. In July we honored the local Franciscan Saint Marzio with porchetta sandwiches and homemade wine. August brought the entire village together for the three-day preparing to make gnocchi Sacra di Gnocco. In early December, we climbed the hill out of town at dusk with lit torches, song and prayer to celebrate Saint Barbara, her statue atop the shoulders of four strong men.
But all these celebrations have since disappeared. Even the village’s most famous – the day long Feast of the Madonna of Monte Camera celebrated on the Tuesday after Easter. Ironically enough, in 1647 when the pest was devastating the village population, the town dwellers who were well enough went in procession to this sanctuary (about 6 km away) to pray to the Madonna so that she might intercede on their behalf.
When they returned to their village, everyone who had been sick was miraculously cured. For 372 years, the villagers have returned in procession to this chapel – without fail – to commemorate the miracle. Every year… even during the last century’s World Wars, even during the time of Napoleon. Every year… except for the past two. Even though such a miracle is needed more than ever.
Personally during these past two years, I have witnessed many of the Italians I know tightly close ranks around their family life, walling themselves inside a circle of quiet desperation. Rarely does someone pause to chat with me anymore. What few smiles remain are hidden behind our masks. I am no longer invited in for a coffee and chat. All kisses are gone. The spontaneous touch of a hand is only a distant memory. We stand at a ‘safe’ distance, feeling unsafe.
An Open Door, An Open Heart
And then one afternoon, Maria Grazia[i] deeply touched me and my soul.
Maria Grazia is 91 years old. She grew up in the village, worked with her family on the land, married the village carpenter, had two children and now lives alone (her husband died three years ago). She is one of the few people whose attitude has not changed towards me. Always happy if I stop in to see her (along with my dog), Maria Grazia always insists on giving me something… creamy chocolates wrapped in shiny foil, a few fresh eggs from her chickens, and one time a small pot of honey from her son-in-law’s beehives.
Last week, I decided to pay her a visit. With all the fear that is running wild in the world, and despite her vulnerability, Maria Grazia attends to a quiet fearlessness. The key to her front door is always in the lock. As usual, I rang the bell and before any answer could come, I simply walked in. Maria Grazia was sitting next to her wood-burning stove, her legs up on a chair and covered with a blanket, rosary in hand. Despite my interrupting her quiet prayers of Hail Marys and Our Fathers, Maria Grazia welcomed me inside.
She did not quaver from my touch or worry about my wearing a mask or not. She was simply glad to see me. In fact, I often had to slide the mask to my chin and repeat myself, her slightly deaf ears unable to decipher my heavily accented Italian. We had met briefly the day before when I went to the mass for Saint Anthony Abate, the patron saint of domestic animals. As always, the villagers brought their animal feed to be blessed by the priest after the mass, and I too had attended with buckets of chicken feed, dog and cat food for the ritual sprinkling of holy water.
“I’m always so happy to see you in church,” was the first thing she said. I can’t remember when anybody told me that they were happy to see me anywhere! Slightly embarrassed to be caught with her legs up on a chair, Maria Grazia explained, “I have fibrosis in my legs.” She lifted up the blanket to show me her swollen, discolored calves and ankles, and then, despite my protests, insisted on getting up.
Hobbling to her cupboard while supporting herself against her kitchen table, she brought out a box of dates and insisted I take them with me. “But don’t you like them?” I asked.
“Oh yes, I like them. But I have another box,” she said. “And besides, I want you to have these.”
Maria Grazia put the box of dates into a plastic bag. I gratefully accepted them and thanked her. We kissed each other goodbye on both cheeks and I went on my way. As I was leaving, she sat down again by the warm stove. I offered to help her replace the blanket over her legs, but Maria Grazia insisted that she could do it herself.
The box of dates meant little to me, but her loving attitude of just being present, without terror in her eyes, without my having to feel awkward or afraid to be with her, was her true gift. Nothing between us had changed, despite the world being so radically altered. It was a moment when everything felt normal… when human relationship once more felt peaceful… We were just two human beings – with all our limitations – together, acknowledging each other’s presence, the beauty of each other’s soul.
The Pandemic of Collective Fear
Assagioli writes how “waves of collective fear and panic” are like a widely diffused psychological poison or smog, he says:
“So often when we feel a sudden fear with no apparent reason, it is not ours at all. It is a psychic infection —like a virus.”
It can be encouraging to know that these virus-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. In order to deal with fear effectively, Assagioli urges us to eliminate or minimize the fear within ourselves. He also warns us of a vicious circle that can occur – our personal fear can open the door to the influence of external fear, and external fear feeds the inner one. Again he says:
“We have so much fear that is not ours. It’s stupid to let these fears invade and dominate our being!”
To break this vicious circle, we need to use our skillful will to withdraw our attention deliberately away from the psychological poison of fear. Assagioli suggests that we dis-identify from the fear by simply saying, “That’s not me.” At the same time we are dis-identifying from the fear, we need to not suppress it. Most importantly, we should not be afraid of the fear! Otherwise we can quickly descend into a vicious spiral of fear feeding fear.
Once we are able to release the energy that is holding and nurturing the fear, we can then redirect this new-found energy to do the most good in our lives.
You might start today to consciously ‘vaccinate’ yourself against fear. Anytime your fear appears during the day, practice using skillful will to redirect your thoughts to something beautiful and positive that you recently experienced. You can also use the Evocative Word exercise, calling to mind the words: Calm, Tranquility, Fearlessness.
At the same time, try to face your own personal fears. They are the fears that we all must individually examine and exhume in their full force. Transmute and redeem to their full glory. Without being fully realized, personal fear bubbles over and is projected outside, contributing to the psychic poisons that are already whirling around us.
Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! But with patience and Love, along with the guidance of the Higher Self, the virus of fear can be cured.
After the COP26 ended in Glasgow, and I couldn’t help feeling like a lemming caught in a mass migration off a towering cliff. It’s difficult to stay grounded and hopeful when faced with the empty actions of our political leaders and the 100+ coal, oil and gas company lobbyists and their associated groups who welded influence during the conference.
Even though the U.S. military pollutes more than 140 countries combined, their emissions are not included in any calculations (due to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude them). And since the 2015 Paris Agreement, 1005 land and environmental defenders have been murdered, with one out of three being an Indigenous person.
According to scientist Ken Anderson, “net zero,” is meaningless rhetoric (or more simply Blah, Blah, Blah) that allows us to move the burden in reducing emissions from today out to future generations. He said, “Net zero is Latin for kicking the can down the road.”
On a personal level, I have struggled with watching in quiet desperation as neighbors cut down their trees for firewood. My nearby neighbors are a farming family, four generations that have lived here for more than a century. They own most of the surrounding land and they do not hesitate to cut down trees and hedges, in order to turn fields into plowable acreage, which they mindlessly kill with fertilizers. Continue reading →
Now is the time to walk into the Italian hillsides and search for edible mushrooms. Nearly twenty years ago, I experienced my first expedition for these savory funghi while living in Italy. During this search, I realized how much my life had changed. Signora Maria was partly to thank for this revelation, for it was she who invited me to venture into the bosco (forest) with her to search for funghi.
I have recently had a story published about this adventure entitled Sacred Journeys: Buried Treasure. This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Unity Magazine; unitymagazine.org.
As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has always played a great part along our journey to our Higher Self. Throughout the world, holy places have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience within the architectural space.
Assagioli noted that:
“Matter is the highest form of Spirit and Spirit is the lowest form of Matter.”
In this way, spirit seeks matter to express the full beauty of the transcendent. Assagioli also noted that Plato, Plotinus, and Christian mystics have recognized and proclaimed that “beauty is the essential attribute of the Supreme.” Continue reading →
In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.
We are now at the end of Lent – a time before Easter when Christians seek purification through fasting, prayer, and charitable acts. The forty days of Lent are, in many ways, similar to the Islamic time of Ramadan, which I was fortunate enoughto experience while living in Egypt. During Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast as well as give alms and read the Qur’an.
Assagioli wrote extensively on what he called “the science of applied purification”, insisting that this work must be undertaken in order to transform the lower characteristics of our personality and bring unity to our soul. He described purification of the personality as a process of re-orientation and elevation of the higher mind. Using our will, we burn the dross of our affective and instinctual energies, habits, tendencies and passions. Once clear of the obstacles that prevent us from receiving our higher intuitions, we are free to receive wisdom from the Higher Self. In other words, purification is a necessary process that we all must endure along the journey towards personal psychosynthesis before we are adequately equipped to seek spiritual psychosynthesis.Continue reading →
Lately, I have been attending a series of talks about the Maternal Gift Economy. It’s an interesting concept that challenges our preconceptions of how the exchange of services and products must take place.
Some might say we have an exchange economy, but the reality is (and has been) that the global economy is an exploitive economy. As Assagioli wrote we are driven by Original Fear – fear of not having enough food, fear of hunger – and by Original Greed, which fundamentally is the desire for unlimited growth. Hence our tendency to consume and purchase, possess, save and hoard.
In contrast, a gift-based economyis grounded in the values of nurturing and care rather than competition and greed. To begin with, we might change how we talk about our services rendered. For example, when speaking about the medical staff who are having to deal with the onslaught of Covid-19 patients, we say they are ‘sacrificing’ themselves. But what changes inside us when we exchange the word ‘sacrifice’ for ‘gift’? Try saying: “Our doctors and nurses are gifting their expertise, care, time, and lives” and see how that feels.
In Umbria, it all happened gradually. Like contracting the virus itself, I suppose. One person wearing a mask at the supermarket and everyone trying to act normal about it. The fervent washing of hands upon entering home. The silly jokes. Do you know the latest Italian slogan? Meno tasse, meno tosse (‘Less taxes, less coughing.’ But in Italian it’s funnier because it rhymes.) The collective denial when everyone shook hands as they offered the Sign of Peace during Sunday Mass.
Then things started to heat up. Like the feverish heat of the virus, I suppose. We were only allowed to go out to work, for food shopping and emergencies. Signs warned us at the supermarket to stand at least a meter apart while waiting on line. But I wondered about buying fruit and vegetables that anyone could handle and easily sneeze on. All the flour was missing from the shelves and the mozzarella nearly gone. Schools were all closed, but bars were open and restaurants too. People were still making plans to meet for dinner. Continue reading →
The day started out normal enough. Breakfast of homemade bread and jams, creamy sheep cheese from Sardinia, ricotta, and peanut butter from a large jar brought long ago from the Netherlands, all swallowed down with cappuccinos in our usual breakfast cups. That morning we were just a bit more rushed, hurrying out by 8 am to attend the morning mass at the Monastery of St. Luca in Fabriano.
Benedictine nuns in the sober habits sang the psalms in clear – sometimes wavering – voices accompanied by one of the sisters playing the dulcimer. A monk priest said the mass. Afterwards we stood around the 16th century pews listening to Don Ephrem tell stories of when he was first ordained as a priest in Syria. Barely speaking Arabic, he was sent off to a high mountain village to say the Christmas mass.
But first he had to hear confession. The problem was nobody spoke Arabic, they all spoke a mountain dialect. Behind the confessional screen, he begged for mercy, asking the elderly women penitents to recount their sins in a language he might understand. French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, slowly spoken simple Arabic? No, none of those. Only mountain dialect, a slowing dying blend of indecipherable Arabic and language once carried on the wind.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
Joy at nursery school.
Ten months ago, I wrote a blog about a Nigerian refugee family living in Italy who I and my husband are trying to help through the Catholic charity Caritas. In January, Samuel and Rose (not their real names), at the advice of their lawyer, were hoping to marry in order to strengthen their case. With gratitude, we were able to raise the money they needed to obtain the necessary documents and they were happily married on 15 March.
But like most immigrant stories, their lives continue to be difficult.
Samuel has not been able to find work, partly from pride, partly from discrimination, mostly because he doesn’t speak a word of Italian despite living in the country for five years. We have done our best. Kees accompanied him to an interview at the diocese in Assisi that had 30 job placements for immigrants. But afterwards they told the Director of the local Caritas to not send any more applicants who have zero Italian language skills. Continue reading →