Friday, February 12, 2016

Always the Hell…And a Little Bit of Heaven

The title for this post is taken from a video about the artist Jheronimus Bosch, which can be seen in an article that will send you to a wonderful interactive site, created to enhance appreciation for the exquisite details in his triptych, Garden of Earthly Delights.  This masterpiece is unparalleled for its depiction of humanity's progression as it was seen in 1500, beginning with creation and original sin on the left,

through a voluptuous orgy of carnal decadence in the center panel,

 to the deeply dark horror and tortures of hell on the right.  Not at all unlike how reality is shaping up.

Following is the transcript for the 23rd Dispatch From the Endocene, which can be heard at the archives of Extinction Radio.

Thanks Gene, and welcome listeners.  Trying to incorporate love into this 23rd Dispatch From The Endocene in recognition of Valentine’s Day wasn’t an easy assignment for me.  Not in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction, which feels a lot more like loss than love, much of the time.  But in deference to our fearless producer Mr. Gibson, for this episode I will set aside the growing catalogue of existential threats in the ecopocalypse - the beached whales and rotting trees, the mercury in the rain, a world where it seems that everything (except pollution and human population) is dwindling, from phytoplankton to Arctic ice.

While thinking about love in the end times, a well known but eternally powerful quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A.H.H. came to mind.  In this requiem for a lost friend, the poet explores his long journey of mourning over a 17 year period, completing the voluminous work in 1849.  He wrote:  

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

only slightly less well known is from Canto 56, where he referred to humanity:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

While Tennyson retains his religious faith, he aptly describes the conflict between the emerging science of evolutionary biology, and faith in a creator:

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope thro' darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

While Tennyson describes his trust as faint, he still retains the hope.  I can’t say I feel the same, but I do feel ’tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.  On a personal level, I wouldn’t trade the love I have known even for a place in eternity.  When I contemplate extinction and grieve for the loss of so much splendid flora and fauna on our precious planet earth, it helps to recall with gratitude how unlikely it is for any of us to have had a chance to live and love at all - and how marvelous, no matter how ephemeral it turns out to be.

In honor of Valentine’s Day I have also posted on my blog, Wit’s End, some other gifts.  One is a genuinely inspiring video essay about Wisdom, which describes the wise person as “…being alive to moments of calm and beauty, even extremely modest ones” and “…realizing that we are barely evolved apes and that half of life is irrational…”.  It tells us it is wise to “try to budget for madness” and “be slow to panic when it reliably rears its head”.  It reminds us to laugh at the “constant collisions between the noble way we’d like things to be and the demented way they in fact often turn out”.  It observes that the wise understand that most hurt is not from malice, but rather derives from “…the constant collision of blind competing egos in a world of scarce resources.”

I’ve also posted a few paintings in newly published, extraordinarily high resolution from Jheronimus Bosch.  I hope you visit and enjoy it all.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and thanks for listening.


  1. This is a fantastic post! Bosch was surely a man for our time - what the hell was he doing stuck in the 15th/16th century?

    Some of the music that comes from his time also seems to capture the Surrealist quality of his paintings. That of Johannes Ockeghem strikes me as somehow kin:

    The Tennyson verses are a beautiful touch. Thank you for including them.

    1. Thank YOU for this wonderful music, listening now! (and for all your symphony youtube series from the Atheist Codger!! - )

  2. lovely mix thanks, i wonder could images/phrases be as evocative in our times as we are told Bosch's work was in his times when they were not take as surreal but as realistic? are we beyond true shock and awe?

  3. Hi Gail and commenters: Bosch pulls no punches and let's us know what's in store for us. The Wisdom video speaks truth to the madness that is civilization. Your dispatch was wonderful.

    All the best to everyone!



Blog Archive

Follow by Email

My Blog List

Search This Blog