I have tried to write Paradise
Do not move
Let the wind speak
that is paradise-- Ezra Pound
The winds of paradise-- like the wind of fate-- surely they are musical, potent, and exqusitely fragrant.
They say, Cleopatra herself lived in a cloud of incense and in a dream of purple. Perfumed in Frankiscence, myrrh, lotus, sandalwood, and rose water... she traveled the Nile on a boat, said Shakespeare, adorned with purple sails so perfumed, that the winds were love-sick with them …
Surely the winds of paradise are like that--perfumed and love-sick.
In Japan, the winds in May have traditionally been known as the most delightful winds of the year-- for May is "the time of perfume winds" (風薫る五月). And, closing my eyes on a breezy afternoon in late May, I am immediately transported by the sound of the wind outside my window.
I've long wondered, why it is that everyone prefers Dante's Purgatorio to his Paradiso?
Am I the only one who-- while utterly unable to imagine hell-- often finds myself lost in dreams of paradise?
For me, paradise is like a Persian garden. I imagine the fragrance of roses, jasmine and gardenias intoxicates. There is music, gently perfumed spring breezes and unending picnics. Adonis flies a kite as philosophers wander nearby discussing Aristotle with my friend Señor Borges. As they talk, they are looking for the name of God in the pattern of the rose petals. They are just close enough to hear-- just close enough to be able to join in in the conversation too. The great Sam Hamill is there reciting poems from Almost Paradise as Tullio draws maps of imaginary worlds in black ink.
Averroes and Avicenna are there. Izumi Shikibu and Lady Rokujo are also there debating with each other in the most charming way-- as are all Genji's lovers. But so too is Beatrice and Hannah Arendt (Heidegger, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear, didn't make it this far). My lover the Emperor sits not too faraway (while the object of my affection sits closer still).
The philosophers are speaking in all the great languages that could once be heard in the teeming markets of Chang'an. And, of course, Anna Karenina and her Beloved the Count sit cuddling under a great Chinar tree.
Picnics that never end include Persian yogurts and every type of biryani; the finest oolong tea, like champagne, from the misty mountains of Formosa, or green tea served in heirloom teabowls by Tea Masters with long lineages. The tea is served with beautiful sweets from my favorite shop in the Province of the Clouds faraway-- everything the verdant color of new grass. There is Japanese chocolates and dimsum from Hongkong so delicious I brush away tears of delight with 豆腐花 so divine-- well, I know that I must be in Paradise....
And pizza, in a garden with a view.
In the distance, a great ziggurat rises toward the shimmering blue sky. Containing every book ever written, it stands as a place of great possibility. Beijing is there in the ziggurat with Borges writing his books. I rarely go there. For I prefer my unending picnicking under the Chinar trees listening to the sound of wind in the trees. A book of poems, by Conrad Roth, lies there on the blanket-- just within reach. Icarus he writes,
the wind sang in his wings,
and his wings wandered
and wended their wanton way to the sun—
It's not just Icarus either, for everyone is wearing wings--rainbow wings.
There are long tunnels covered in wisteria-- white, yellow and purple... They remind me of the covered walkways at the Summer Palace outside Beijing that I have read about. Long covered walkways which the Dowager Empress in Qing China would walk for her exercise-- sometimes reading a book as she walked along. Long, shady flower tunnels-- all leading toward ancient wisteria trees, which one could circumnambulate like Mount Kailash, before choosing one of five other flower tunnels each leading in a different direction to travel down.
I am, however, still lazily sitting on a large quilt with a friend who has a giant pink peony tucked behind his ear. He is urging me to try another sweet as music from a harpsichord draws my attention toward the towering mountains in the distance. Beautiful animals wander among with gardens and palace interiors.
I see two little children in their kimono with the wings as they alight from a colorful dragon boat on the river with the 10,000 curves. They begin slowly walking toward me.
Watching them, I recall that Makiko-- 10,000 miles away in Turfan-- is probably seeing paintings depicting the same birds of paradise on the walls of the Buddhist temple caves there.
The Buddhist bird of paradise is known in Sanskrit as Kavalinka (迦陵頻伽). It is the bird whose singing begins before it even hatches from its egg. Little voices of paradise, their song was thought to be so beautiful, they were likened to angels.
Angels, arias and manicured gardens being common to most people's ideas of paradise....mountains loom large, rivers flow purely.
On the other side of the river of lights is the Double Greeting Wanton Shop with its $10 prostitutes and BBQ pork. You can take a number at the counter and have your fortune told in the back. The Ambassador is there, sitting with Professor Wang. Splitting a piece of Hungarian cheesecake, they are waiting their turn, happy.
In Dante's Paradise--there is no concept of enlightenment. The soul is not a resource to be improved or utilized and people do not aim for detachment or perfection of any kind. All that is required is love and hope.
That's it. Faith and Fidelity are just other names for it.
And in this place where poetry has been resurrected and playfulness rules the day (in the playground of the mind).
Kant would be displeased, not doubt, but in the realm of souls, reality is nothing but thought and spirit. And this, then, becomes the definition of inner freedom. For the burning hot Medieval heart; true love, true play, and any true heart's occupation (whether according to Kierkegaard or Proust or even Plato) will --no matter what-- be an end in and of itself. Like a kiss, like love, like everything worthwhile, paradise revolves around beauty and playfulness. Souls being guided by their metaphysical pursuit of the Good/God ---generate a reality that necessarily determines itself (rather than being externally or causally generated).
In my paradise, along with kant, Hume too doesn't have a leg to stand on.
And in this world of play and beauty, in addition to unending picnics, I imagine there is also an exquisite calendar of ceremonies, feasts and rituals---where just like in the world of Genji, sutras are read, incense is burned and dances performed by little children in wings-- not because anything will come of it, but merely because it is beautiful and therefore Good.
Paradise is like a perfect picture-- just as Lady Murasaki described. A vase filled with perfumes.
Heavenly photos by Karen Knorr.