Monday, August 29, 2011

This is my dance - Guru Nanak

I have started a new translation of this poem by my dear Guru Nanak about dancing. The original translation and poem is below.

With intellect as my guitar, and love as my drum;
the music resounding bliss in my heart
with this very devotion, and this very penance,
I dance in this color step after step ||1||

Know that the perfect beat is the singing of eternity;
the dance that fills the mind with pleasure. ||1||Pause||

Beating cymbals of truth and contentment
my ankle bells chime my lasting love.
Many melodies become one vibration,
duality eliminated step after step ||2|

Fear spins around my heart and mind,
whether sitting or standing.
when I finally lie down it will just be ashes
I dance in this color step after step ||3||

I go as a beggar in the company of the inspired
With their spirit may I be inspired myself
O Nanak, chant over and over again
the dance of angels step after step ||4||6||

ਆਸਾ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥
आसा महला १ ॥
Āsā mėhlā 1.
Aasaa, First Mehl:

ਵਾਜਾ ਮਤਿ ਪਖਾਵਜੁ ਭਾਉ ॥
वाजा मति पखावजु भाउ ॥
vājā maṯ pakẖāvaj bẖā▫o.
Make your intellect your instrument, and love your tambourine;

ਹੋਇ ਅਨੰਦੁ ਸਦਾ ਮਨਿ ਚਾਉ ॥
होइ अनंदु सदा मनि चाउ ॥
Ho▫e anand saḏā man cẖā▫o.
thus bliss and lasting pleasure shall be produced in your mind.

ਏਹਾ ਭਗਤਿ ਏਹੋ ਤਪ ਤਾਉ ॥
एहा भगति एहो तप ताउ ॥
Ėhā bẖagaṯ eho ṯap ṯā▫o.
This is devotional worship, and this is the practice of penance.

ਇਤੁ ਰੰਗਿ ਨਾਚਹੁ ਰਖਿ ਰਖਿ ਪਾਉ ॥੧॥
इतु रंगि नाचहु रखि रखि पाउ ॥१॥
Iṯ rang nācẖahu rakẖ rakẖ pā▫o. ||1||
So dance in this love, and keep the beat with your feet. ||1||

ਪੂਰੇ ਤਾਲ ਜਾਣੈ ਸਾਲਾਹ ॥
पूरे ताल जाणै सालाह ॥
Pūre ṯāl jāṇai sālāh.
Know that the perfect beat is the Praise of the Lord;

ਹੋਰੁ ਨਚਣਾ ਖੁਸੀਆ ਮਨ ਮਾਹ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
होरु नचणा खुसीआ मन माह ॥१॥ रहाउ ॥
Hor nacẖṇā kẖusī▫ā man māh. ||1|| rahā▫o.
other dances produce only temporary pleasure in the mind. ||1||Pause||

ਸਤੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਵਜਹਿ ਦੁਇ ਤਾਲ ॥
सतु संतोखु वजहि दुइ ताल ॥
Saṯ sanṯokẖ vajėh ḏu▫e ṯāl.
Play the two cymbals of truth and contentment.

ਪੈਰੀ ਵਾਜਾ ਸਦਾ ਨਿਹਾਲ ॥
पैरी वाजा सदा निहाल ॥
Pairī vājā saḏā nihāl.
Let your ankle bells be the lasting Vision of the Lord.

ਰਾਗੁ ਨਾਦੁ ਨਹੀ ਦੂਜਾ ਭਾਉ ॥
रागु नादु नही दूजा भाउ ॥
Rāg nāḏ nahī ḏūjā bẖā▫o.
Let your harmony and music be the elimination of duality.

ਇਤੁ ਰੰਗਿ ਨਾਚਹੁ ਰਖਿ ਰਖਿ ਪਾਉ ॥੨॥
इतु रंगि नाचहु रखि रखि पाउ ॥२॥
Iṯ rang nācẖahu rakẖ rakẖ pā▫o. ||2||
So dance in this love, and keep the beat with your feet. ||2||

ਭਉ ਫੇਰੀ ਹੋਵੈ ਮਨ ਚੀਤਿ ॥
भउ फेरी होवै मन चीति ॥
Bẖa▫o ferī hovai man cẖīṯ.
Let the fear of God within your heart and mind be your spinning dance,

ਬਹਦਿਆ ਉਠਦਿਆ ਨੀਤਾ ਨੀਤਿ ॥
बहदिआ उठदिआ नीता नीति ॥
Bahḏi▫ā uṯẖ▫ḏi▫ā nīṯā nīṯ.
and keep up, whether sitting or standing.

ਲੇਟਣਿ ਲੇਟਿ ਜਾਣੈ ਤਨੁ ਸੁਆਹੁ ॥
लेटणि लेटि जाणै तनु सुआहु ॥
Letaṇ let jāṇai ṯan su▫āhu.
To roll around in the dust is to know that the body is only ashes.

ਇਤੁ ਰੰਗਿ ਨਾਚਹੁ ਰਖਿ ਰਖਿ ਪਾਉ ॥੩॥
इतु रंगि नाचहु रखि रखि पाउ ॥३॥
Iṯ rang nācẖahu rakẖ rakẖ pā▫o. ||3||
So dance in this love, and keep the beat with your feet. ||3||

ਸਿਖ ਸਭਾ ਦੀਖਿਆ ਕਾ ਭਾਉ ॥
सिख सभा दीखिआ का भाउ ॥
Sikẖ sabẖā ḏīkẖi▫ā kā bẖā▫o.
Keep the company of the disciples, the students who love the teachings.

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੁਣਣਾ ਸਾਚਾ ਨਾਉ ॥
गुरमुखि सुणणा साचा नाउ ॥
Gurmukẖ suṇ▫ṇā sācẖā nā▫o.
As Gurmukh, listen to the True Name.

ਨਾਨਕ ਆਖਣੁ ਵੇਰਾ ਵੇਰ ॥
नानक आखणु वेरा वेर ॥
Nānak ākẖaṇ verā ver.
O Nanak, chant it, over and over again.

ਇਤੁ ਰੰਗਿ ਨਾਚਹੁ ਰਖਿ ਰਖਿ ਪੈਰ ॥੪॥੬॥
इतु रंगि नाचहु रखि रखि पैर ॥४॥६॥
Iṯ rang nācẖahu rakẖ rakẖ pair. ||4||6||
So dance in this love, and keep the beat with your feet. ||4||6||

Music and Morality - Quotes from Plato, Aristotle and Socrates

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.”

- Plato

"Music directly imitates the passions or states of the soul...when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued withthe same passion; and if over a long time he habitually listens to music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form."

- Aristotle

Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful.

- Socrates

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking - Walt Whitman - Analysis

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking

OUT of the cradle endlessly rocking, 
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle, 
Out of the Ninth-month midnight, 
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child 
leaving his bed wander'd alone, bareheaded, barefoot, 
Down from the shower'd halo, 
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting as if they 
were alive, 
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries, 
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me, 
From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and fallings 
I heard, 
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as if with 
From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in the mist, 
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease, 
From the myriad thence-arous'd words, 
From the word stronger and more delicious than any, 
From such as now they start the scene revisiting, 
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing, 
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly, 
A man, yet by these tears a little boy again, 
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves, 
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter, 
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them, 
A reminiscence sing.
Once Paumanok, 
When the lilac-scent was in the air and Fifth-month grass was 
Up this seashore in some briers, 
Two feather'd guests from Alabama, two together, 
And their nest, and four light-green eggs spotted with brown, 
And every day the he-bird to and fro near at hand, 
And every day the she-bird crouch'd on her nest, silent, with bright 
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing 
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.
Shine! shine! shine! 
Pour down your warmth, great sun.' 
While we bask, we two together.
Two together! 
Winds blow south, or winds blow north, 
Day come white, or night come black, 
Home, or rivers and mountains from home, 
Singing all time, minding no time, 
While we two keep together.
Till of a sudden, 
May-be kill'd, unknown to her mate, 
One forenoon the she-bird crouch'd not on the nest, 
Nor return'd that afternoon, nor the next, 
Nor ever appear'd again.
And thenceforward all summer in the sound of the sea, 
And at night under the full of the moon in calmer weather, 
Over the hoarse surging of the sea, 
Or flitting from brier to brier by day, 
I saw, I heard at intervals the remaining one, the he-bird, 
The solitary guest from Alabama.
Blow! blow! blow! 
Blow up sea-winds along Paumanok's shore,- 
I wait and I wait till you blow my mate to me.
Yes, when the stars glisten'd, 
All night long on the prong of a moss-scallop'd stake, 
Down almost amid the slapping waves, 
Sat the lone singer wonderful causing tears.
He call'd on his mate, 
He pour'd forth the meanings which I of all men know.
Yes my brother I know, 
The rest might not, but I have treasur'd every note, 
For more than once dimly down to the beach gliding, 
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the shadows, 
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds and sights 
after their sorts, 
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing, 
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind waiting my hair, 
Listen'd long and long.
Listen'd to keep, to sing, now translating the notes, 
Following you my brother.
Soothe! soothe! soothe! 
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind, 
And again another behind embracing and lapping, every one close, 
But my love soothes not me, not me.
Low hangs the moon, it rose late, 
It is lagging-O I think it is heavy with love, with love.
O madly the sea pushes upon the land, 
With love, with love.
O night! do I not see my love fluttering out among the breakers? 
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?
Loud! loud! loud! 
Loud I call to you, my love! 
High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves, 
Surely you must know who is here, is here, 
You must know who I am, my love.
Low-hanging moon! 
What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow? 
O it is the shape, the shape of my mate.' 
O moon do not keep her from me any longer.
Land! land! O land! 
Whichever way I turn, O I think you could give me my mate back again 
if you only would, 
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look.
O rising stars! 
Perhaps the one I want so much will rise, will rise with some of 
O throat! O trembling throat! 
Sound clearer through the atmosphere! 
Pierce the woods, the earth, 
Somewhere listening to catch you must be the one I want.
Shake out carols! 
Solitary here, the night's carols! 
Carols of lonesome love! death's carols! 
Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon! 
O under that moon where she droops almost down into the sea! 
O reckless despairing carols.
But soft! sink low! 
Soft! let me just murmur, 
And do you wait a moment you husky-nois'd sea, 
For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me, 
So faint, I must be still, be still to listen, 
But not altogether still, for then she might not come immediately to 
Hither my love! 
Here I am! here! 
With this just-sustain'd note I announce myself to you, 
This gentle call is for you my love, for you.
Do not be decoy'd elsewhere, 
That is the whistle of the wind, it is not my voice, 
That is the fluttering, the fluttering of the spray, 
Those are the shadows of leaves.
O darkness! O in vain! 
O I am very sick and sorrowful
O brown halo in the sky near the moon, drooping upon the sea! 
O troubled reflection in the sea! 
O throat! O throbbing heart! 
And I singing uselessly, uselessly all the night.
O past! O happy life! O songs of joy! 
In the air, in the woods, over fields, 
Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved! 
But my mate no more, no more with me! 
We two together no more.
The aria sinking, 
All else continuing, the stars shining, 
The winds blowing, the notes of the bird continuous echoing, 
With angry moans the fierce old mother incessantly moaning, 
On the sands of Paumanok's shore gray and rustling, 
The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, drooping, the face of 
the sea almost touching, 
The boy ecstatic, with his bare feet the waves, with his hair the 
atmosphere dallying, 
The love in the heart long pent, now loose, now at last tumultuously 
The aria's meaning, the ears, the soul, swiftly depositing, 
The strange tears down the cheeks coursing, 
The colloquy there, the trio, each uttering, 
The undertone, the savage old mother incessantly crying, 
To the boy's soul's questions sullenly timing, some drown'd secret 
To the outsetting bard.
Demon or bird! (said the boy's soul,) 
Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it really to me? 
For I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping, now I have heard 
Now in a moment I know what I am for, I awake, 
And already a thousand singers, a thousand songs, clearer, louder 
and more sorrowful than yours, 
A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me, never to 
O you singer solitary, singing by yourself, projecting me, 
O solitary me listening, never more shall I cease perpetuating you, 
Never more shall I escape, never more the reverberations, 
Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me, 
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was before what 
there in the night, 
By the sea under the yellow and sagging moon, 
The messenger there arous'd, the fire, the sweet hell within, 
The unknown want, the destiny of me.
O give me the clew! (it lurks in the night here somewhere,) 
O if I am to have so much, let me have more! 
A word then, (for I will conquer it,) 
The word final, superior to all, 
Subtle, sent up-what is it?-I listen; 
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-waves? 
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?
Whereto answering, the sea, 
Delaying not, hurrying not, 
Whisper'd me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak, 
Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death, 
And again death, death, death, death 
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my arous'd child's 
But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet, 
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all 
Death, death, death, death, death.
Which I do not forget. 
But fuse the song of my dusky demon and brother, 
That he sang to me in the moonlight on Paumanok's gray beach, 
With the thousand responsive songs at random, 
My own songs awaked from that hour, 
And with them the key, the word up from the waves, 
The word of the sweetest song and all songs, 
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet, 
(Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet 
garments, bending aside,) 
The sea whisper'd me.

The plot:

The plot is about a young boy walking on the beach, who finds two mockingbirds nesting and watches them. The female bird fails to appear one day, and the male bird cries out for her. The bird's cries create an awakening in the boy, who translates what the male is saying in the rest of the poem. As this happens, the boy recognizes the impact of nature on the human soul and his own burgeoning consciousness.

Criticism of this poem:

We have searched this "poem" through with a serious and deliberate endeavor to find out the reason of its being written; to discover some clue to the mystery of so vast an expenditure of words. But we honestly confess our utter inability to solve the problem. It is destitute of all the elements which are commonly desiderated in poetical composition; it has neither rhythm nor melody, rhyme nor reason, metre nor sense. We do solemnly assert, that there is not to be discovered, throughout the whole performance, so much as the glimmering ghost of an idea.

Another Critic: "My private opinion expressed to you confidentially is, that Whitman found a lot of dictionary-pi going off at auction, bought it for a song, employed a Chinese type-setter from the Bible House to set if up in lines of unequal length, and then sold it to you as an original Poem."

Friday, August 26, 2011

You have to go on and be crazy. - Jimi Hendrix Quotes

I'm the one that has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to.
Jimi Hendrix

I feel guilty when people say I'm the greatest on the scene. What's good or bad doesn't matter to me; what does matter is feeling and not feeling. If only people would take more of a true view and think in terms of feelings. Your name doesn't mean a damn, it's your talents and feelings that matter. You've got to know much more than just the technicalities of notes; you've got to know what goes between the notes.
Jimi Hendrix

You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven.
Jimi Hendrix

Castles made of sand fall in the sea eventually.
Jimi Hendrix

Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.
Jimi Hendrix

When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will finally know peace.
Jimi Hendrix

You have to forget about what other people say; when you're supposed to die, when you're supposed to be lovin'. You have to forget about all these things. You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven.
Jimi Hendrix

Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel.
Jimi Hendrix, Quoted in Charles Shaar Murray,Crosstown Traffic, ch. 6 (1989).

Irena Sendler - Nobler than a Nobel Prize

Meet Irena Sendler (1910-2008)

She was a 98 year-old Polish woman at her time of death. During World War II, Irena worked in the Warsaw Ghetto as a plumbing/sewer specialist. She dedicated herself to smuggle Jewish children out. Infants were carried in the bottom of the tool box she used and older children in a burlap sack she had in the back of her truck.

She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids’ and infants’ noises. Irena managed to smuggle out and save 2500 children during this time

She eventually was caught and the Nazis broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and in a glass jar buried under a tree in her backyard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and reunited some of the families but most had been killed. She then helped those children get placement into foster family homes or adopted.

In 2007, Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected. Al Gore won for presenting a slide show on Global Warming.

Dorothea Grossman - Proof again that best poetry does not have to come from academics

Dorothea Grossman, called Dottie by her friends, is in her 70s. She has hardly ever been published except for one album with a Jazz musician and a few poems on "Poetry." She writes beautiful short, concentrated, poetry -- which leaves a lasting impact on your mind because of the emotion, surprise and hummor.

The tradition of Emily and Walt continues. Dorothea is inspirational for those poets who are not published. Keep writing poets!

I knew something was wrong

I knew something was wrong
By Dorothea Grossman Dorothea Grossman
I knew something was wrong
the day I tried to pick up a
small piece of sunlight
and it slithered through my fingers,
not wanting to take shape.
Everything else stayed the same—
the chairs and the carpet
and all the corners
where the waiting continued.

I have to tell you
I have to tell you
By Dorothea Grossman Dorothea Grossman
I have to tell you,
there are times when
the sun strikes me
like a gong,
and I remember everything,
even your ears.

Love Poem
Love Poem
By Dorothea Grossman Dorothea Grossman
In a lightning bolt
of memory,
I see our statue of Buddha
(a wedding gift from Uncle Gene)
which always sat
on top of the speaker cabinet.
When a visitor asked,
“So, does Buddha like jazz?”
you said, “I hope so.
He’s been getting it up the ass
for a long time.”


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cultivate a white rose for one who breaks your heart too - A poem by José Martí

Here is a beautiful poem by José Martí, a celebrated poet from Cuban.

"Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca" - José Martí

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
en julio como en enero,
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni oruga cultivo:
cultivo la rosa blanca.

English Translation:

I nurture a white rose
in July as in January,
for the true friend
who offers me his loyal hand.

And for the merciless one who wrenches out
the heart by which I live,
thistle nor thorn do I nurture:
for him, I nurture a white rose.

If this poem would be sung in Indian classical music, it would be sung in Raag Gauri. The raag of beauty and purity. (Symbolism, White rose:

This poem is what true love is all about. The poet aspires to cultivate a white rose, a labor of love, for a true friend. But he also labors a white rose for one who wrenches out his heart. He is declaring that he will treat everybody the same, irrespective of whether they are good or bad to him. This is truly how the song of oneness is sung. This poem has become one of his greatest poems because the poet can be heard singing the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to sing of oneness with angels; and the goodness of angels has to be discovered in everyone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seene Main Jalan - Translation

Listening to the great Suresh Wadekar today ... among male singers in Bollywood, he is probably the most refined in his classical technique. Here is a translation of Seene main jalan. Its a ghazal in form (end of first two lines of the first couplet and the second line of each couplet rhymes):


Storm in my eye, burning in my chest, why?
In this town, every person seems upset, why?

If there is a heart, let it find a reason to beat
Like a stone it sits numb and lifeless, why?

Is there a new thing he sees in me
the mirror stands surprised today, why?

Which path of loneliness is this my friends?
Until the vision goes, there is wilderness, why?

Original Lyrics:
seene mein jalan aankhon mein tufaan saa kyon hain ?
is shahar mein har shaks pareshaan saa kyon hain ?

dil hain to, dhadakane kaa bahaanaa koee dhoondhe
patthar kee tarah beheesa-o-bejaan saa kyon hain ?

tanahaee kee ye kaunasee, manzil hain rafeekon
taa-hadd-ye-najar yek bayaabaan saa kyon hain ?

kyaa koee nayee baat najar aatee hain hum me
aaeenaa humei dekh ke hairaan saa kyon hain ?


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Life is heaven on earth - A song by Ashley Alexander

I was reminded that the purpose of life is to sing by a Ashley Alexander today whose music I am listening ... I really love the lyrics of her first song in her debut album:

You've gotta ...
dance like no one is watching
You've gotta ...
love like you have never been heard
sing like no one is listening,
live like its heaven on earth
Life is heaven on earth

If you go to her website or facebook page you can hear the rest of the album. The cool thing about the album is the variety it has. Country, folk, pop, jazz ... every song sounds very different. This is the mark of a future star. Keep an eye out ... buy her album and like her facebook page. Get to know her while you can ...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to be Alone - By Tanya Davis

I was looking for poetry on youtube and hit upon something really innovative done by Tanya Davis from Canada done in collaboration with filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. A must listen:

I browsed through Tanya's website and blog. I think it is pretty interesting. It is really fascinating; take a look at it:

Friday, August 19, 2011

We are throwbacks in a brook - Analysis of Robert Frost's "West Running Brook"

Here is a Robert Frost poem called "West Running Brook" -- its a conversation between a couple who are visiting a brook. The poem starts out as a simple conversation, but is ends up figuring out the essence of human beings.

The brook flows from its source to nothingness, like life flowing into the unavoidable "cataract" of death. So life is moving in a stream of the universe; everyone in unison going into nothingness. But there are some exceptions to this current; where the brook counters a rock which throws back the water in a white splash. That is what Frost thinks we are. We think back and regret the past; we go contrary to the flow of nature; we constantly attempt to go against the current "back" to our source. We are from the throwbacks in this brook. But my question, Why is the source different from nothingness?

"... See how the brook in that white wave runs counter to itself. It is from that in water we were from ... "

West Running Brook
'Fred, where is north?'

'North? North is there, my love.
The brook runs west.'

'West-running Brook then call it.'
(West-Running Brook men call it to this day.)
'What does it think k's doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you -- and you with me --
Because we're -- we're -- I don't know what we are.
What are we?'

'Young or new?'

'We must be something.
We've said we two. Let's change that to we three.
As you and I are married to each other,
We'll both be married to the brook. We'll build
Our bridge across it, and the bridge shall be
Our arm thrown over it asleep beside it.
Look, look, it's waving to us with a wave
To let us know it hears me.'

' 'Why, my dear,
That wave's been standing off this jut of shore --'
(The black stream, catching a sunken rock,
Flung backward on itself in one white wave,
And the white water rode the black forever,
Not gaining but not losing, like a bird
White feathers from the struggle of whose breast
Flecked the dark stream and flecked the darker pool
Below the point, and were at last driven wrinkled
In a white scarf against the far shore alders.)
'That wave's been standing off this jut of shore
Ever since rivers, I was going to say,'
Were made in heaven. It wasn't waved to us.'

'It wasn't, yet it was. If not to you
It was to me -- in an annunciation.'

'Oh, if you take it off to lady-land,
As't were the country of the Amazons
We men must see you to the confines of
And leave you there, ourselves forbid to enter,-
It is your brook! I have no more to say.'

'Yes, you have, too. Go on. You thought of something.'

'Speaking of contraries, see how the brook
In that white wave runs counter to itself.
It is from that in water we were from
Long, long before we were from any creature.
Here we, in our impatience of the steps,
Get back to the beginning of beginnings,
The stream of everything that runs away.
Some say existence like a Pirouot
And Pirouette, forever in one place,
Stands still and dances, but it runs away,
It seriously, sadly, runs away
To fill the abyss' void with emptiness.
It flows beside us in this water brook,
But it flows over us. It flows between us
To separate us for a panic moment.
It flows between us, over us, and with us.
And it is time, strength, tone, light, life and love-
And even substance lapsing unsubstantial;
The universal cataract of death
That spends to nothingness -- and unresisted,
Save by some strange resistance in itself,
Not just a swerving, but a throwing back,
As if regret were in it and were sacred.
It has this throwing backward on itself
So that the fall of most of it is always
Raising a little, sending up a little.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us.'

'To-day will be the day....You said so.'

'No, to-day will be the day
You said the brook was called West-running Brook.'
'To-day will be the day of what we both said.'

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Comparing a horse with a train - Emily Dickinson

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop--docile and omnipotent--
At its own stable door.

This is a representative poem about a train, now well known as the "iron horse". The train is so powerful, it laps around the valleys and mountains, and looks "down upon" those surrounding shacks by the roads as it whizzes past. It complains loudly all the time when in motion. Still it is in control ... it is as punctual as the stars roaming the skies and stops at its designated station. The train is omnipotent, but docile when stopped.

The rhyming is not perfect in this poem like in some other Emily Dickinson poems, and phrases don't necessarily end at the end of each line of the poem. She focuses on one image -- comparison of a horse and a train -- and really describes it throughout the poem. This is how meditation is done through a poem.


prodigious: enormous;
supercilious: condescending, arrogant, proud;
Boanerges: a name Christ gave to the disciples James and John, meaning "sons of thunder"; also, a loud preacher or orator;
docile: obedient, submissive;
omnipotent: all powerful.
shanties: roughly built, often ramshackle cabins; shacks.

Note her use of sounds:

"like," "lap," "lick"
"supercilious," "shanties," "sides"
"horrid, hooting"
"star," "stop," and "stable"
"docile" and "door"
Other repeated sounds:
"stop," "prodigious," "supercilious," and "pile"

More info on Boanerges
1. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) New Testament a nickname applied by Jesus to James and John in Mark 3:17
2. a fiery preacher, esp one with a powerful voice
[from Hebrew benē reghesh sons of thunder]

Bo·a·ner·ges   [boh-uh-nur-jeez] Show IPA
1.a surname given by Jesus to James and John. Mark 3:17.
2.(used with a singular verb) a vociferous preacher or orator.

Mark 3:17
And James, the son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James, and he gave them the name Boanerges, which is Sons of Thunder.

Luke 9:54
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Die like a cicada, singing - A mexican folk song

While we are vacationing in Palm Desert, we are listening to Cicadae on trees. Cicadae generally come out for 2-3 weeks in the summer (after 2-3 years of hibernation), shed their exoskeleton and shrill incessantly to attract females, before dying. Their sound is very loud here and it soulds like a buzzing that comes from electring wiring gone bad.

So I learned a lot about Cicada today ( The section on symbolism will interest poets. Especially this section about Aesop's fables:

The cicada has represented insouciance (i.e. nonchalance or indifference) since classical antiquity. Jean de La Fontaine began his collection of fables Les fables de La Fontaine with the story La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant) based on one of Aesop's fables: in it the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.[25]

So I am listening to La Cigarra (The Cicada), a Mexican folk song about how a Cicada dies singing. The lyrics in Spanish are below, followed by an English translation. Its a "huapango" was written by Ray Pérez y Soto.

La Cigarra Lyrics
written by Ray Pérez y Soto

Ya no me cantes cigarra
Que acabe tu sonsonete
Que tu canto aquí en el alma
Como un puñal se me mete
Sabiendo que cuando cantas
Pregonado vas tu muerte.

Marinero marinero
Dime si es verdad que sabas
Porque distinguir no puedo
Si en el fondo de los mares
Hay otro color más negro
Que el color de mis pesares.

Ay-la-la-laaa ...

Hay otro color más negro
Que el color de mis pesares.

Un palomito al volar
Que llevaba el pecho herido
Ya casi para llorar
Me dijo muy afligido.
Ya me canso de buscar
Un amor correspondido.

Bajo la sombra de un árbol
Y al compás de mi guitarra
Canto alegre este huapango
Porque la vida se acaba
Y quiero morir cantando
Como muere la cigarra.

Ay-la-eee ...

Y quiero morir cantando
Como muere la cigarra.

English Translation
The Cicada

Don't sing to me anymore, cicada
Let your singsong end
For your song, here in the soul
Stabs me like a dagger
Knowing that when you sing
You are proclaiming that you are
going to your death

Sailor, sailor
Tell me if it is true that you know
Because I cannot distinguish
If in the depth of the seas
There is another color blacker
Than the color of my sorrows.

Ay-la-eee ...

Ay-la-la-laaa ...

Ay-la-la-laaa ...

There is another color blacker
Than the color of my sorrows.

A little dove upon flying
Bearing a wounded breast
Was about to cry
And told me very afflicted
I'm tired of searching for
A mutual love.

Under the shade of a tree
And to the beat of my guitar
I sing this "huapango" happily
Because my life is ending
And I want to die singing
Like the cicada dies.

Ay-la-eee ...

Ay-la-la-laaa ...

Ay-la-la-laaa ...

And I want to die singing
Like the cicada dies.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Singing is the spoonful of sugar in life

I had a great time watching Mary Poppins with the kids today. Shilpy, my wife loves old classics and encourages kids to watch them. This was my first time watching it and I really enjoyed it. Its one of those movies you wished never ended; the joyous feeling is such that you want to savor it again and again. One of my favorites from the movie was the song, "A spoonful of sugar." Indeed, all we need in our lives is a spoonful of sugar, and it makes everything sweet.

The power of optimism is powerful; when you add optimism to plain bread, it becomes a cake. I remember those syrups of medicine growing up in Delhi that were quite tough to ingest; and so I understand how a spoonful of sugar can let the medicine go down. Our purpose is to sing like the Robin -- he has to work hard to build his nest; but he never stops to sing. Shiv, learn from the Robin; singing is the spoonful of sugar in life.

A spoonful of sugar

by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman.

In ev'ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
you find the fun and snap!
The job's a game

Nad ev'ry task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! Aspree!
It's very clear to me

That a...
Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

A robin feathering his nest
Has very little time to rest
While gathering his
Bits of twine and twig

Though quite intent in his pursuit
He has a merry tune to toot
He knows a song
Will move the job along

For a...
Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

More on the song:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Obedient to the Amber hands - Emily Dickinson

I read this poem this morning from Emily Dickinson:

The Moon is distant from the Sea –
And yet, with Amber Hands –
She leads Him – docile as a Boy –
Along appointed Sands –

He never misses a Degree –
Obedient to Her eye –
He comes just so far – toward the Town –
Just so far – goes away –

Oh, Signor, Thine, the Amber Hand –
And mine – the distant Sea –
Obedient to the least command
Thine eye impose on me –

And how true it is that we don't have control. There are invisible, amber hands that guide us along appointed sands. We are obedient in our singing.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Listening to Raveena Dawn Aurora's music today ...

Today I got a surprise from my niece in Connecticut ... she is just finishing high school and has done her first demo album with some of her friends. Our TV's and minds have in the past week been focused on these teenagers rioting in London, and here is my niece, who has done something quite different this summer. She sings in the way life should be sung. So I am filled with pride and inspiration as I listen to this. Thanks Raveena, for affirming that, the purpose of life is to sing!

The lyrics are very interesting. You can download the songs and read the lyrics on her bandcamp site:

And like her on facebook:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There is bliss in the repitition of oneness - Guru Arjan Dev

"The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself" - Robert Hass

Repitition is natural. So when you repeat, you find you are home. Thats what makes meditation so powerful. The act of repeating the idea of oneness in your consciousness is called Simran in Gurbani. As I was reading this message from Robert Hass, I was reminded of Guru Arjan's "Sukhmani" or Pearl of bliss.

Here is a poem inspired by that:

That very one

I meditate on that very ONE,
That very ONE, That very ONE,
Source of Light, yes, that very ONE
That very ONE, That very ONE,

With the radiance of that very ONE,
darkness of all doubts undone
and by singing of that very ONE,
whose song is sung by everyone.

Scriptures spin that very ONE
who initially had the scriptures spun.
A single Iota of that very ONE,
adds weight to glory by a million tonne.

I meditate, not hesitate,
I meditate on that very ONE,
not hesitate, from that the very ONE,
in asking for a wish, A simple one

"Disabled I am, You know as much;
And a million miles I have to run.
Lend me your angels as my crutch,
So like them I pine for Your one touch."

For that one touch, that very ONE,
grant my wish, I pray as much.
So I may reach out to that very ONE
He'll give me limbs, I know as much.

More on this:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Even with insects— some can sing, some can’t - Issa


Even with insects—
some can sing,
some can’t.

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.

Goes out,
comes back—
the love life of a cat.

Mosquito at my ear—
does he think
I’m deaf?

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.

Under the evening moon
the snail
is stripped to the waist.

Read these today ...
Source: The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho Buson and Issa (The Ecco Press, 1994)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Did that red-headed girl disappear around the corner of your dream? - Edward Hirsch

Early Sunday Morning

I used to mock my father and his chums
for getting up early on Sunday morning
and drinking coffee at a local spot
but now I’m one of those chumps.

No one cares about my old humiliations
but they go on dragging through my sleep
like a string of empty tin cans rattling
behind an abandoned car.

It’s like this: just when you think
you have forgotten that red-haired girl
who left you stranded in a parking lot
forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing
around the corner of your dream
on someone else’s motorcycle
roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I’m sitting in a dimly lit
café full of early morning risers
where the windows are covered with soot
and the coffee is warm and bitter.

Understanding Emily Dickinson's love - "Unto my books so good to turn"

Interpretation of an Emily dickinson poem, "Unto my books"

I have discovered the poetry section in our local library at Dougherty Station. It has quite some selection. Yesterday I started reading Edward Hirsch's book, "How to read a poem" -- my reward for suffering through a terrible week on wall street last week. Any American poetry book starts out with glowing perspectives on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson's poetry.

According to the book, Emily Dickinson's biographer Richard Sewall loved the poets she read and found herself amongst them. Emily apparently called her poets "the dearest ones of time," "Kinsmen of the Shelf," "enthralling friends, the immortalities." I wanted to find the context of of these poems.

So I started with the most interesting phrase here: Kinsmen of the Shelf. And I found this poem:

UNTO my books so good to turn
Far ends of tired days;
It half endears the abstinence,
And pain is missed in praise.

As flavors cheer retarded guests
With banquetings to be,
So spices stimulate the time
Till my small library.

It may be wilderness without,
Far feet of failing men,
But holiday excludes the night,
And it is bells within.

I thank these Kinsmen of the Shelf;
Their countenances bland
Enamour in prospective,
And satisfy, obtained.

"Kinsmen of the shelf" refers to books and not poets. Its close, but there is a difference. Emily's love are books and she personifies them as kinsmen

Even in the worst of times, those far ends of tired days, it is good when I turn to my love, these books. You may call this abstinence from the rest of the world, but it is a endearing experience for me. Lost in the praise of these books, I do not have any of the pain of giving up what others consider joys of the world.

I am attracted to the wise books like retarded guests are cheered by the flavors of food from the banquet. They keep the nonsense chit chat in hope that they will eventually get to savor the food. Similarly, the spices of these books keeps me alive in the the wasteful time that I spend out of my library.

The wilderness of my library might be far from the paths of those men who have failed in love of books. They do not recognize that the holiday I get in this wilderness does not have a night, and in this holiday bells of ecstasy are ringing from within.

The outer appearance of these books -- these siblings of mine and the shelf -- might be bland. But I am hopeful about the prospective of their company and am satisfied when I have it.

This is how Emily sings her love for books and her library, her Kinsmen of the Shelf.

Nov 4, 2012 - I found another explanation of this poem that includes the civil war reference in this poem that I missed in my earlier assessment. Here it is:

Perhaps “Unto My Books…” was written during one of these times, since the house is full of “retarded guests” from whom she flees to find introspection and seclusion among the “bland countenances” of her “kinsmen of the shelf”.   The sober personality she attributes to the books for which she has such comfortable affection are in contrast to the animated, wine-flushed faces of the real kinsmen the reader is drawn to imagine are visiting the household.   In this poem, she seeks sanctuary inside a crowded house from the lavish banquet with all of its exotic flavors and spices in favor of the “abstinence” of her “small library”.   This poem is a thankful reference to the refuge from the world available within the pages of books, particularly during the holidays, or “tired days”. Dickinson objects to holiday feasts, parties and all of the “bells within” when the outside world is practically falling apart due to the civil war.   She seems to find it in poor taste to celebrate when the outside world is “wilderness” in which there are suffering soldiers far from home whom she sympathetically refers to as “far feet of failing men”.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The beauty of the first step - My interpretation of Walt Whitman poem

Beginning my studies
- Walt Whitman

BEGINNING my studies, the first step pleas’d me so much,
The mere fact, consciousness—these forms—the power of motion,
The least insect or animal—the senses—eyesight—love;
The first step, I say, aw’d me and pleas’d me so much,
I have hardly gone, and hardly wish’d to go, any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time, to sing it in ecstatic songs.

I would have called this poem, "the first step." The poem is all about how Whitman loving the journey that he has embarked upon. This is a journey of a student, a journey of a "Sikh"; he calls it "beginning my studies." From what I have read from him, I believe Walt Whitman could have been America's first celebrated sikh, one who realized the need for learning.

When Whitman started learning, he was so pleased by the first step. Every little detail of this step, the knowledge that he was taking the step, the power of moving that first foot, and the smallest lives he sees on his first step. Whitman is awe struck. He does not need to go any further. He has reached a state of bliss in his first step. He loiters around on his first step. Enamored, he keeps singing about his first step. Coming to the conclusion that every learner of life, every sikh comes to: that the purpose of life is to sing. Whitman sings his first step of learning. He is ecstatic.

Whitman is not so much different from a child in this poem. And I often think children do not have the baggage of adults and can really enjoy learning. They are awed by every new shape, every new color. The world seems so exciting. The child in us smiles when he is learning. Why is there a need to grow. If you remain at the first step you can make this smile stay forever.

Whitman is right. How beautiful is the first step! The first motion, first shape, first colors, first snow. Exhilarating! Shiv, savor the bliss of the first step of love until you can. It does not get any better.

This song would be sung in Raag Ramkali, the melody of "anand" or bliss.

Why be just a man, have an ideal and be a legend!

"If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can't stop you. Then you become something else entirely. A legend."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Truth does not become error because nobody sees it - Mahatma Gandhi

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Timeless Truth Meditation

Although the idea of "One Truth" is inscribed in one of the mankind's oldest scriptures (Rig Veda 1.164.46, 1500BC), the beautiful couplet I am singing comes from Guru Nanak (around 1600AD).

Thanks to George Couttolenc from Mexico for composing and playing the beautiful music!

"Satnaam" literally means "True Name" and refers to God, the one who's identity remains true always. It was used as a mantra by several saints in India including: Bhagat Kabir, Guru Nanak, Guru Ramdaas, and Bhai Gurdaas.

"Aad Sach, Jugaad Sach
Hai Bhi Sach, Hosi Bhi Sach"
- Guru Nanak's first couplet that marks the beginning of his beautiful poem "Japji Sahib"

The rough meaning is

In The Primal Beginning True, Throughout The Ages True,
Here And Now True, O Nanak, Forever And Ever True.

And here is the poem that this inspired:


Rising with the sun
What was true
Will be at sunset
Still golden truth

Its Summer's warmth
Grey winter's dew
Autumn's red fall
And Spring's life too

Like hours pass
So Seasons do
Grey has a range
But Truth stays true

So In this new year
Last year's white truth
Like bygone millennia
will again ring true

Its reign will sustain
With it's royal blue
For ages and eons
Forever true

So Hold still my dear
As Vapor Flows through
You too will Be clear
In a moment or two

Why shy away from
Truth's boldness due,
And Why seek outside
For what's inside true?

Credit: Guru Nanak, George Couttolenc

Listening to awesome sounding "Sweet Love" from Anna Johnson @themusicanna

Anna Johnson is one of my favorite reverbnation musicians. Her music is really very pure and touches your soul. And I just discovered some new music from her, temporarily called "Sweet Love" -- my prediction, this will be a big hit:

The other video that I like from her:

Her reverbnation profile:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Morning poetry: WB Yeats sings in The lake isle of Innisfree

Here is what I read this morning. This is an island that Yeats wants to go to. Although the island and the lake exists, this is really a fantasy, a utopia that Yeats creates. He sees, hears things that are beautiful to him and imagines them. This is how Raag Asa is sung ...

The lake isle of Innsfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 5
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 10
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Monday, August 1, 2011

16 Habits of Mind by Professor Arthur Costa

The Habits of Mind are a collection of 16 thinking dispositions identified by Professor Art Costa. Costa defined the Habits of Mind as the dispositions skillfully and mindfully displayed by characteristically intelligent people when confronted with problems the solutions to which are not immediately apparent. The Habits of Mind are not thinking tools, rather they are dispositions that inclines one to adopt a thinking tools and strategies.

Professor Arthur L. Costa is currently Emeritus Professor at California State University at Sacramento.

The 16 Habits of mind
1.Persisting – Stick to it.
2.Communicating with clarity and precision – Be clear.
3.Managing impulsivity – Take your time.
4.Gathering data through all senses – Use your natural pathways.
5.Listening with understanding and empathy – Understand others.
6.Creating, imagining, innovating – Try a different way.
7.Thinking flexibly – Look at it another way.
8.Responding with wonderment and awe – have fun figuring it out.
9.Thinking about your thinking (metacognition) – Know your knowing.
10.Taking responsible risks – Venture out.
11.Striving for accuracy and precision – Find the best possible solution.
12.Finding humour – Laugh a little.
13.Questioning and problem posing – How do you know?
14.Thinking interdependently – Learning with others.
15.Applying past knowledge to new situations – Use what you learn.
16.Remaining open to continuous learning – Learrning from experiences.

Remembering the mad pursuit of Moby Dick on Melville's birthday

On Melville's birthday today I remembered his most revered work, Moby Dick. This story reminds us not to be egotistical maniac like Captain Ahab, who for his personal revenge destroys his voyage along with all its people. The story reminds us to sing; and one cannot sing if one is seeking revenge.

Shiv, don't use a harpoon to destroy an enemy that your revenge has created ("Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"); that harpoon will drown you in the end. The purpose of life is to sing, and singing begins where ego ends.

Following is the plot and characters. For more see:


"Call me Ishmael," Moby-Dick begins, in one of the most recognizable opening lines in English-language literature. The narrator, an observant young man setting out from Manhattan, has experience in the merchant marine but has recently decided his next voyage will be on a whaling ship. On a cold, gloomy night in December, he arrives at the Spouter-Inn in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and agrees to share a bed with a then-absent stranger. When his bunk mate, a heavily tattooed Polynesian harpooner named Queequeg, returns very late and discovers Ishmael beneath his covers, both men are alarmed, but the two quickly become close friends and decide to sail together from Nantucket, Massachusetts on a whaling voyage.

In Nantucket, the pair signs on with the Pequod, a whaling ship that is soon to leave port. The ship’s captain, Ahab, is nowhere to be seen; nevertheless, they are told of him — a "grand, ungodly, godlike man,"[26] who has "been in colleges as well as 'mong the cannibals," according to one of the owners. The two friends encounter a mysterious man named Elijah on the dock after they sign their papers and he hints at troubles to come with Ahab. The mystery grows on Christmas morning when Ishmael spots dark figures in the mist, apparently boarding the Pequod shortly before it sets sail that day.

The ship’s officers direct the early voyage while Ahab stays in his cabin. The chief mate is Starbuck, a serious, sincere Quaker and fine leader; second mate is Stubb, happy-go-lucky and cheerful and always smoking his pipe; the third mate is Flask, short and stout but thoroughly reliable. Each mate is responsible for a whaling boat, and each whaling boat of the Pequod has its own pagan harpooneer assigned to it. Some time after sailing, Ahab finally appears on the quarter-deck one morning, an imposing, frightening figure whose haunted visage sends shivers over the narrator.

“ He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness... Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. ”

One of his legs is missing from the knee down and has been replaced by a prosthesis fashioned from a sperm whale's jawbone.

Soon gathering the crewmen together, with a rousing speech Ahab secures their support for his single, secret purpose for this voyage: hunting down and killing Moby Dick, an old, very large sperm whale, with a snow-white hump and mottled skin, that crippled Ahab on his last whaling voyage. Only Starbuck shows any sign of resistance to the charismatic but monomaniacal captain. The first mate argues repeatedly that the ship’s purpose should be to hunt whales for their oil, with luck returning home profitably, safely, and quickly, but not to seek out and kill Moby Dick in particular — and especially not for revenge. Eventually even Starbuck acquiesces to Ahab's will, though harboring misgivings.

The mystery of the dark figures seen before the Pequod set sail is explained during the voyage's first lowering for whales. Ahab has secretly brought along his own boat crew, including a mysterious harpooneer named Fedallah (also referred to as 'the Parsee'), an inscrutable figure with a sinister influence over Ahab. Later, while watching one night over a captured whale carcass, Fedallah gives dark prophecies to Ahab regarding their twin deaths.

The novel describes numerous "gams," social meetings of two ships on the open sea. Crews normally visit each other during a gam, captains on one vessel and chief mates on the other. Mail may be exchanged and the men talk of whale sightings or other news. For Ahab, however, there is but one relevant question to ask of another ship: “Hast seen the White Whale?” After meeting several other whaling ships, which have their own peculiar stories, the Pequod enters the Pacific Ocean. Queequeg becomes deathly ill and requests that a coffin be built for him by the ship’s carpenter. Just as everyone has given up hope, Queequeg changes his mind, deciding to live after all, and recovers quickly. His coffin becomes his sea chest, and is later caulked and pitched to replace the Pequod's life buoy.

Soon word is heard from other whalers of Moby Dick. The jolly Captain Boomer of the Samuel Enderby has lost an arm to the whale, and is stunned at Ahab's burning need for revenge. Next they meet the Rachel, which has seen Moby Dick very recently. As a result of the encounter, one of its boats is missing; the captain’s youngest son had been aboard. The Rachel's captain begs Ahab to aid in the search for the missing boat, but Ahab is resolute; the Pequod is very near the White Whale now and will not stop to help. Finally the Delight is met, even as its captain buries a sailor who had been killed by Moby Dick. Starbuck begs Ahab one final time to reconsider his thirst for vengeance, but to no avail.

The next day, the Pequod meets Moby Dick. For two days, the Pequod's crew pursues the whale, which wreaks widespread destruction, including the disappearance of Fedallah. On the third day, Moby Dick rises up to reveal Fedallah tied to him by harpoon ropes, clearly dead. Even after the initial battle on the third day, as Moby Dick swims away from the Pequod, Starbuck exhorts Ahab one last time to desist, observing that "Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"

Ahab ignores this voice of reason and continues with his ill-fated chase. As the three boats sail out to hunt him, Moby Dick damages two of them, forcing them to go back to the ship and leaving only Ahab's vessel intact. Ahab harpoons the whale, but the harpoon-line breaks. Moby Dick then rams the Pequod itself, which begins to sink. As Ahab harpoons the whale again, the unfolding harpoon-line catches him around his neck and he is dragged into the depths of the sea by the diving Moby Dick. The boat is caught up in the whirlpool of the sinking ship, which takes almost all the crew to their deaths. Only Ishmael survives, clinging to Queequeg’s coffin-turned-life buoy for an entire day and night before the Rachel rescues him.


The crew-members of the Pequod are carefully drawn stylizations of human types and habits; critics have often described the crew as a "self-enclosed universe".


The name has come to symbolize orphans, exiles, and social outcasts — in the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells the reader that he has turned to the sea out of a feeling of alienation from human society. In the last line of the book, Ishmael also refers to himself symbolically as an orphan. Maintaining the Biblical connection and emphasising the representation of outcasts, Ishmael is also the son of Abraham and the slave girl Hagar, before Isaac is born. In Genesis 21:10 Abraham's wife, Sarah, has Hagar and Ishmael exiled into the desert. Ishmael has a rich literary background (he has previously been a schoolteacher), which he brings to bear on his shipmates and events that occur while at sea.


The character Elijah (named for the Biblical prophet Elijah, who is also referred to in the King James Bible as Elias), on learning that Ishmael and Queequeg have signed onto Ahab's ship, asks, "Anything down there about your souls?" When Ishmael reacts with surprise, Elijah continues:

Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly. "No matter though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any — good luck to 'em; and they are all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon."

Later in the conversation, Elijah adds:

Well, well, what's signed, is signed; and what's to be, will be; and then again, perhaps it wont be, after all. Any how, it's all fixed and arranged a'ready; and some sailors or other must go with him, I suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity 'em! Morning to ye, shipmates, morning; the ineffable heavens bless ye; I'm sorry I stopped ye.

Ahab is the tyrannical captain of the Pequod who is driven by a monomaniacal desire to kill Moby Dick, the whale that maimed him on the previous whaling voyage. Although he is a Quaker, he seeks revenge in defiance of his religion's well-known pacifism. Ahab's name comes directly from the Bible (see 1 Kings 16:28).

Little information is provided about Ahab's life prior to meeting Moby Dick, although it is known that he was orphaned at a young age. When discussing the purpose of his quest with Starbuck, it is revealed that he first began whaling at eighteen and has continued in the trade for forty years, having spent less than three on land. He also mentions his "girl-wife," whom he married late in life, and their young son, but does not give their names.

In Ishmael's first encounter with Ahab's name, he responds "When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?" (Moby-Dick, Chapter 16).[28] Ahab ultimately dooms the crew of the Pequod (save for Ishmael) to death by his obsession with Moby Dick. During the final chase, Ahab hurls his last harpoon while yelling his now-famous revenge line:

... to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.
The harpoon becomes lodged in Moby Dick's flesh and Ahab, caught around the neck by a loop in his own harpoon's rope and unable to free himself, is dragged into the cold oblivion of the sea with the injured whale. The mechanics of Ahab's death are richly symbolic. He is killed by his own harpoon, and symbolically killed by his own obsession with revenge. The whale eventually destroys the whaleboats and crew, and sinks the Pequod.

Ahab has the qualities of a tragic hero — a great heart and a fatal flaw — and his deeply philosophical ruminations are expressed in language that is not only deliberately lofty and Shakespearian, but also so heavily iambic as often to read like Shakespeare's own pentameters.

Ahab's motivation for hunting Moby Dick is perhaps best summed up in the following passage:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;

Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

Moby Dick

He is a giant, albino sperm whale and the main antagonist of the novel. He had bitten off Ahab's leg, and Ahab swore revenge. The cetacean also attacked the Rachel and killed the captain's son. Although the novel is named for him, he only appears at the end of it and kills the entire crew with the exception of Ishmael. As he is a whale, the reader does not have access to Moby Dick's thoughts and motivations, but he is still an integral part of the novel. Moby Dick is sometimes considered to be a symbol of a number of things, among them God, nature, fate, the ocean, and the very universe itself.


The three mates of the Pequod are all from New England.

Starbuck, the young first mate of the Pequod, is a thoughtful and intellectual Quaker from Nantucket.

Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that sort of superstition, which in some organization seems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance... [H]is far-away domestic memories of his young Cape wife and child, tend[ed] to bend him ... from the original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to those latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain the gush of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale." By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.

Little is said about Starbuck's early life, except that he is married with a son. Unlike Ahab's wife, who remains nameless, Starbuck gives his wife's name as Mary. Such is his desire to return to them, that when nearly reaching the last leg of their quest for Moby Dick, he considers arresting or even killing Ahab with a loaded musket, one of several kept by Ahab (in a previous chapter Ahab threatens Starbuck with one when Starbuck disobeys him, despite Starbuck's being in the right), and turning the ship back, straight for home.

Starbuck is alone among the crew in objecting to Ahab's quest, declaring it madness to want revenge on an animal, which lacks reason. Starbuck advocates continuing the more mundane pursuit of whales for their oil. But he lacks the support of the crew in his opposition to Ahab, and is unable to persuade them to turn back. Despite his misgivings, he feels himself bound by his obligations to obey the captain.

Starbuck was an important Quaker family name on Nantucket Island, and there were several actual whalemen of this period named "Starbuck," as evidenced by the name of Starbuck Island in the South Pacific whaling grounds. The multinational coffee chain Starbucks was named after Starbuck, not for any affinity for coffee but after the name Pequod was rejected by one of the co-founders.


Stubb, the second mate of the Pequod, is from Cape Cod, and always seems to have a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face. "Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests." (Moby-Dick, Ch. 27) Although he is not an educated man, Stubb is remarkably articulate, and during whale hunts keeps up an imaginative patter reminiscent of that of some characters in Shakespeare. Scholarly portrayals range from that of an optimistic simpleton to a paragon of lived philosophic wisdom.[29]


Flask is the third mate of the Pequod. He is from Martha's Vineyard.

King Post is his nickname because he is a short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great Leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honor with him, to destroy them whenever encountered.



The harpooneers of the Pequod are all non-Christians from various parts of the world. Each serves on a mate's boat.

Queequeg hails from the fictional island of Kokovoko in the South Seas, inhabited by a cannibal tribe, and is the son of the chief of his tribe. Since leaving the island, he has become extremely skilled with the harpoon. He befriends Ishmael very early in the novel, when they meet in New Bedford, Massachusetts before leaving for Nantucket. He is described as existing in a state between civilized and savage. For example, Ishmael recounts with amusement how Queequeg feels it necessary to hide himself when pulling on his boots, noting that if he were a savage he wouldn't consider boots necessary, but if he were completely civilized he would realize there was no need to be modest when pulling on his boots.

Queequeg is the harpooneer on Starbuck's boat, where Ishmael is also an oarsman. Queequeg is best friends with Ishmael in the story. He is prominent early in the novel, but later fades in significance, as does Ishmael.


Tashtego is described as a Gay Head (Wampanoag) Native American harpooneer. The personification of the hunter, he turns from hunting land animals to hunting whales. Tashtego is the harpooneer on Stubb's boat.

Next was Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly promontory of Martha’s Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers. In the fishery, they usually go by the generic name of Gay-Headers.


Daggoo is a gigantic (6'5") African harpooneer from a coastal village with a noble bearing and grace. He is the harpooneer on Flask's boat.


Fedallah is the harpooneer on Ahab's boat. He is of Persian Zoroastrian ("Parsi") descent. Because of descriptions of him having lived in China, he might have been among the great wave of Parsi traders who made their way to Hong Kong and the Far East from India during the mid-19th century. At the time when the Pequod sets sail, Fedallah is hidden on board, and he emerges with Ahab's boat's crew later on, to the surprise of the crew. Fedallah is referred to in the text as Ahab's "Dark Shadow." Ishmael calls him a "fire worshipper" and the crew speculates that he is a devil in man's disguise. He is the source of a variety of prophecies regarding Ahab and his hunt for Moby Dick. Ishmael describes him thus, standing by Ahab's boat:

The figure that now stood by its bows was tall and swart, with one white tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips. A rumpled Chinese jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black trowsers of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning this ebonness was a glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled round and round upon his head.

Other notable charactersPip (nicknamed "Pippin," but "Pip" for short) is a black boy from Tolland County, Connecticut, who is "the most insignificant of the Pequod's crew". Because he is physically slight, he is made a ship-keeper, (a sailor who stays aboard the ship while its whaleboats go out). Ishmael contrasts him with the "dull and torpid in his intellects" — and paler and much older — steward Dough-Boy, describing Pip as "over tender-hearted" but "at bottom very bright, with that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe". Ishmael goes so far as to chastise the reader: "Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant, for even blackness has its brilliancy; behold yon lustrous ebony, panelled in king's cabinets."[30]

The after-oarsman on Stubb's boat is injured, however, so Pip is temporarily reassigned to Stubb's whaleboat crew. The first time out, Pip jumps from the boat, causing Stubb and Tashtego to lose their already-harpooned whale. Tashtego and the rest of the crew are furious; Stubb chides him "officially" and "unofficially," even raising the specter of slavery: "a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama." The next time a whale is sighted, Pip again jumps overboard and is left stranded in the "awful lonesomeness" of the sea while Stubb's and the others' boats are dragged along by their harpooned whales. By the time he is rescued, he has become (at least to the other sailors) "an idiot," "mad." Ishmael, however, thought Pip had a mystical experience: "So man's insanity is heaven's sense." Pip and his experience are crucial because they serve as foreshadowing, in Ishmael's words, "providing the sometimes madly merry and predestinated craft with a living and ever accompanying prophecy of whatever shattered sequel might prove her own." Pip's madness is full of poetry and eloquence; he is reminiscent of Tom in King Lear.[30] Ahab later sympathizes with Pip and takes the young boy under his wing.

Dough Boy is the pale, nervous steward of the ship. The Cook (Fleece), Blacksmith (Perth), and Carpenter of the ship are each highlighted in at least one chapter near the end of the book. Fleece, a very old, half-deaf African-American with bad knees, is presented in the chapter "Stubb's Supper" at some length in a dialogue where Stubb good-humoredly takes him to task over how to prepare a variety of dishes from the whale's carcass. Ahab calls on the Carpenter to fashion a new whalebone leg after the one he wears is damaged; later he has Perth forge a special harpoon that he carries into the final confrontation with Moby-Dick.

The crew as a whole is exceedingly international, having constituents from both the United States and rest of the world. Chapter 40, "Midnight, Forecastle," highlights, in its stage-play manner (in Shakespearean style), the striking variety in the sailors' origins. A partial list of the speakers includes sailors from the Isle of Man, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, the Azores, Sicily and Malta, China, Denmark, Portugal, India, England, Spain, and Ireland.