Jack Lindsay

SPINOZA

No man can act against his nature. Yet

a pity stirred his hands that such a host

of men should live unknowing; a regret

that men should fret on light's tremendous coast

in gnat‑excitements. Then his thoughts again

saw beyond petty whirrs, beyond the dark of pain –

 

saw gnat‑like frenzy of entangled shapes,

saw pain a fungus on the brightest growth,

saw infinite power descend to trivial rapes,

saw ugliness and beauty pledge their troth,

saw all as real, all as much a part

of the one life which tapped its message in his heart.

 

Men strove for this or that ambition, fought

for gawds of pain, to bring a fancy true

of fear or love; and all the while they sought

only to know their natures. Yes, they knew

the truth, but feared it; feared the full release

of resting on the earth, deep in accepted peace.

 

Was it so awful to be still awhile,

to ask no more than life? Men feared the pause.

Their thoughts were gnats, a fretful net of guile,

or sadness drifting back. They fled the cause,

the Whole, which, contemplated, soon resolved

to powerful calm the forms so clashingly involved.

 

He called it God because his mother spoke

that name when softly in the night she bent

with dark eyes wet above him, and he woke

to scents of her dark hair. Too soon she went

back rustling to her own forbidden bed;

too soon, he wept, too soon, she sickened and was dead.

 

God is exalted past all cruelty

and love. He works out his unending life.

All things are knitted. Strange, that love should be

a figment bannered on these fields of strife,

the earth, the stars; and yet not strange. Her eyes

still wetly looked on him, glistening in dusky skies.

 

They all were dead or broken, put aside,

the men whom he had loved, thrust underground.

Adrian, perished in his wilful pride,

his brave strong body shamed, then vilely drowned,

because he cried for truth and spoke too loud

against the gruesome god who soothed and stirred the crowd.

 

Jarig was drinking still by candlelight,

sogged in the drunkard's sense of aimless power,

a vague delirium that yet guessed aright

far deeper than Descartes, though turning sour

at dawn. Good, Jarig! drink. Your daze, my friend,

refutes philosophers, and priests too, in the end.

 

Outside of God is nothing, yet we know

that sin and pain exist. Then tell me how

your God stands evil's test. The breezes blow

along the Hout Gracht, and the topmost bough

rustles, like Hannah's silk. The limetrees wake

and murmur in the peace that fragrantly they make.

 

All sin and error's necessary. All

in Nature is divine. Freewill's a word.

The Kermes roared. He watched the peasants sprawl,

and Adrian's strong and joyous voice he heard.

They talked of Bruno, in the bookshop, while

grave Meyer smoked his pipe and gave a sudden smile.

 

The shouters in the synagogue were stilled,

caught in the aftermath of utter hate.

The market‑hours droned on. A girl had spilled

some milk across the steps. The day grew late.

His fellow‑Jews were trembling in the spell

of wild Anathema that doomed his soul to hell.

 

"We execrate, we excommunicate

Spinoza . . . cast him out . . . now may the ban

of Joshua on Jericho, the weight

of all Elijah's curses crush the man,

and all the maledictions of the Book . . . "

The jealous god must speak, the Law that he forsook.

 

 And Rembrandt standing wetted in the mud

with golden light within his ruthless eyes . . .

The oakgroves by the dunes, the tide in flood

along the Vliet, the chimes of evening‑skies . . .

Thank God his father died and never heard

before the Torah shrine the bestial cursing word.

 

"He flees from God like Adam from the Fall,

The wrath of God shall find him." Tenderly

the heavens darkened at the swallow's call

to green, at Rynsburg; and he sighed to see

the treetops flatten, while a thrush sang twice,

and then he warmed his milk and ate his sweetened rice.

 

Claria Maria and the summer‑maze

faded. The grinding wheels now screeched no more.

He coughed. So Hannah coughed. Her delicate ways

bleached Clara's graces; and the griefs she bore.

Da Costa fought the world's great lie, and died;

he gave his dreaming heart to bless what he defied.

 

To fight in vain! Yet fighting‑men must fight.

The face of Adrian came back, to blench,

befouled in prison; then, by lanternlight,

flushed in the barn beside the dancing wench.

God, Adrian, you died well . . . and Jarig blinks

in that old airless room, and nods awhile, and drinks.

 

Yes, it was good to fight, but better still

to have come to fighting's end. His driven race

had fought, and out of stricken passionate will

there broke his understanding: Hannah's face

when, coughing done, she brooded, wholly free

from anger or despair, serene with ecstasy.

 

Yes, luck to Jan de Witt, who'll doubtless fail.

The pulpits blaze with rancour. Tricked, the crowd

will rage with black religion and assail

the man who works for freedom and is proud.

Yes, luck to Jan de Witt, who cannot fail:

he proudly follows out his nature's dangerous trail.

 

The difficult thought burned ghostly in his brain,

tingling his fingertips, a plea for aid.

The way held come: he saw it all again,

rich with the light‑core and converging shade;

and for one throb of unifying thought

he passed into that light, and found the thing he sought.

 

Spinoza left the past, the many men

crumbling in time's dark acids; left today,

the urgencies that sometimes drove his pen.

He rose up from the pallet where he lay,

went to the window, breathed the evening air,

and watched below the dusk invade the garden‑square.

 

There thirty‑six small cottages stood round,

and thirty‑six old women sat and looked

at dusk‑fumes rising coolly from the ground,

all silent at their windows, dinners cooked.

The gossip‑time was ended, and the flowers,

which day had tended well, now preened for lazy hours.

 

He knew each peasant face beneath its cap

of rearing white, heoknew the peasant‑lives,

he savoured there the strong and patient sap,

the fullness held in these old sturdy wives

who murmured like the bees amid their beds

of rose and cabbage‑lines, nodding their wise old heads.

 

He coughed. The damp had rasped his throat. He heard

the uneasy blur of traffic, which went by.

Slowly the evening sighed. The pensioners stirred

and mused beneath the star‑thatched sheltering sky.

"The Institute of the Holy Spirit:" well,

their faith went past their creed, they knew but could not

tell.

 

And he could tell. One pulse, it bowed his head

and hurt his life, the desperate need to speak,

to speak, ah God . . . and when the word was said,

to have no answer. Yet why should he seek

an answer save from the sustaining voice

of life itself? Ah, God, he had a heavy choice.

 

The choice of joy! Were he to choose again,

held choose his way, he's choose it, though the track

had been a thousandfold more strewn with pain.

On such a journey there's no turning‑back.

Held gone with nature, and now death was near,

he knew the power of peace which drove away all fear.

 

Joy of the unbared world! The dance of stars

that deepened in his eyes as now he gazed!

The roses in the gloom, the windowbars

closing the small clean kitchens, God be praised!

Only the pang was left, the piteous ache

to show the truth to men, to bless their souls awake.

 

And vanity returned, then died away.

The deepening space of stars remained above;

The gloom of roses hid the busy day;

and Hannah's face came closer, grave with love.

There's nothing perfect or imperfect. See

the present moment shrined as clear eternity.

 

And in eternity all sin and error

are pure things as the ebb and flow of seas,

the movement of the stars. The abrupt terror

flashed out, and he coughed blood. This knowledge frees

the man who lives it. Beautiful the night,

and from the murmuring glooms a lingering bird took flight,

 

as gently on the cracked old windowsill

he laid his hands, and saw the heavens outspread,

the whole necessity, the darkening will,

life's garments and then life ungarmented,

he saw it all, within himself he saw,

and human life a mounting wave of perfect law.




SOURCE: Lindsay, Jack. Collected Poems, illustrated by Helen Lindsay. Lake Forest, IL: The Cheiron Press, 1981. xvi, 605 p., [40] leaves of plates. Signed. Copy #31. “Spinoza” (written in period 1933-1935): pp. 223-227.


A Checklist of Jack Lindsay's Books
Includes all of the following Lindsay links & more

Collected Poems [Section Headnotes] by Jack Lindsay

"Giordano Bruno" by Jack Lindsay

"A Note on My Dialectic" by Jack Lindsay

"Towards a Marxist Aesthetic" by Jack Lindsay

Adorno and the Frankfurt School by Jack Lindsay

A Garland for Jack Lindsay

Jack Lindsay and British Poetry in the 1930s by Adrian Caesar

"The Origins of Jack Lindsay's Contributions to British Marxist Thought" by Joel R. Brouwer

Spinoza & Marxism: Selected Bibliography (with Basic Spinoza Web Guide)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Offsite Links:

Jack Lindsay - Wikipedia

Papers of Jack Lindsay (1900-1990) (MS 7168, National Library of Australia)

The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt by Jack Lindsay
Poem To Marie Delcourt-Curvers [HMTL]
To Marie Delcourt-Curvers [pdf file]
The First and Concluding Chapters


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