There is only one human race

No man is an island, entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main:
If a clod be washed away by the sea
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manor of thy friends,
or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XViII 1624

John Donne

Quoted so often, people nod sagely and agree, then forget.

But right now, these words should be engraved on everyone’s brain, their sense and meaning hammered into us. They are as true, even truer in our globalising world, than they were 400 years ago when Donne wrote them on his sickbed.

Whether we are referring to Brexit or ISIS (remember those?), the Corona virus and various forms of lockdown, or the recent inexpressible events that have lit the powder keg of protests, violence and horror in the USA and Hong Kong, these words apply.

The funeral bell tolls. Every time a person dies, each one of us is something less than we were because we are all part of a whole. Selfishness, arrogance, hatred, violence can only lead to the destruction of us all, body, soul and spirit. The bell tolls. Heed it.

A Night That Began 700 Years Ago

In the last couple of weeks, while recovering from an unpleasant cough and cold (no, not the Coronavirus) that kept me isolated at home and at something of a loose end, I have been involved in some digital detective work involving an unsuspected treasure that has been lying hidden for almost 70 years.

The father of my dear friend Kathie was an extraordinary man of high principles and vivid imagination, with a great gift of expression: a Jewish Hungarian poet, novelist and above all screenwriter, he began with screenplays for silent films in 1920’s Berlin, starring famous names such as Willy Fritsch and Marlene Dietrich, then moved to Hollywood in the 1930’s and 40’s, culminating in an Oscar for Best Original Story for the anti-Nazi film Arise, My Love (1940). He also published a couple of novels that were very well received.

The only Oscar with red pants – due to over polishing!

Then he fell foul of Senator McCarthy.

Having experienced first-hand the regimes of Horthy and Hitler, Janos Szekely’s sympathies understandably lay more to the left than the right. Along with many other successful and talented people in Tinseltown, he was blacklisted and forced into exile. He continued to write nevertheless, but what? Who knows? Not allowed to publish anything under his own name, he used pseudonyms and today there’s no way of knowing what they all were. His daughter is aware that during their time in Mexico, her father was constantly writing and assumes that somehow he managed to earn enough money to support his family. But she was a little girl, and those were Adult Topics that were kept from her. There are consequently many questions in her mind about this period of her life that will probably never be answered properly.

Eventually, they were allowed to return to the USA but only for a limited time. In 1956 Janos Szekely was offered a contract by DEFA, the state-owned film studio in East Berlin, and the little family moved there. Unaware that he was terminally ill, he was able to adapt the stage-play Geschwader Fledermaus into a highly regarded film, but sadly died just days before it was premiered.

His work has been rediscovered in the 21st century.

His best-known novel Kisértés (Temptation, 1947) written originally in Hungarian, has been re-published in new translations (French, German, Spanish and English). The newest English version is already available in the UK and due for release in the USA in April . It’s a remarkable book, very readable in spite of its bulk – almost 700 pages – and very hard to put down. I certainly recommend it. It deserves to be a best-seller.

Right at this moment, however, comes a discovery that is so timely, you really have to wonder whether you believe in coincidences – or is it Providence?

At the beginning of this year, an old family friend in the USA contacted Kathie to say that while he was decluttering his attic he had come across an ancient cardboard box containing a carbon copy of a typed manuscript that Kathie’s mother had given him many years ago. This is a translation into English of another 700-page novel by Janos Szekely, and probably all that remains of that work. Is this what he was writing during those years of exile in the early 1950’s in Mexico?

The friend sent Kathie the manuscript, and she was so excited, she asked me to read it too. I couldn’t put it down – it’s a real page-turner in spite of the somewhat dated English.  

“Where’s the original Hungarian version?” I asked.

Kathie shrugged. “My mother probably burnt it,” she replied. “There’s certainly no trace of it in the archives in Budapest.”

What a loss! But what a miracle that this translated version has survived!

Under the intriguing title A Night That began 700 Years Ago it tells the gripping story of a number of gypsies, peasants and Jews whose paths cross and whose lives intertwine in 1944 in rural Hungary during the German occupation of WWII, when arbitrary harsh decisions made in high places affect personal destinies at every level of society. As in Temptation, these are fully fleshed out characters, with faults and foibles as well as strengths, who draw the reader in as their fates unfold. But there is also humour as well as profound thought and insights. Suspense is maintained right to the last page. I could imagine this as a multi-part TV dramatization that would have people rushing home to watch in eager anticipation.

Will it go into print? The time seems ripe. It’s an ideal follow-up to the new edition of Temptation and  tentative discussions are about to start with the publishers of the German version of that book (Verlockung, Diogenes, 2016)

Where does the detective work come in? Well, first there’s the question of exactly when this novel was written. Kathie is pretty sure that this must have been what her father was working on between 1950 and 1955 – perhaps not the entire 5 years, but certainly part of that time, and he would have written it in Hungarian. When was it completed and in which country – Mexico, USA or Germany?

Secondly, who was the translator, when was it translated, and what happened to the original English manuscript, since what she has now is only a carbon copy? It says on the title page “Translated by Frank Gaynor”.  The New York Times published an obituary for a well-known editor, author and translator of that name who died aged 49 in February 1961 in New York, so that is probably our man, but we have been able to find out very little about him. He appears to have translated mainly from German, though there’s also a novel translated by him from Spanish, and most of his work was on scientific and esoteric subjects. So did he also translate from Hungarian? Or was there an intermediate German version that he translated? Or was there more than one translator called Frank Gaynor?

Thirdly, there are two notes enclosed with the manuscript saying that it should be returned to Paul Jarrico at a London, England, address. Why? Who was he? Again, thanks to Google, we found that he was another well-known Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted by McCarthy, who moved to Europe in 1958 and may have been a friend of Janos Szekely. Was Jarrico supposed to get it published, or adapt it into a film? Presumably, this instruction to return the manuscript to Jarrico was ignored – or did Paul Jarrico give it back to Mrs Szekely after her husband’s death in December 1958? Why and when did she give it to Kathie’s friend in the USA (the writer son of another McCarthy victim)?

Was it ever offered to a publisher? If so, was it rejected? Is that why his widow destroyed the Hungarian original, thinking it wasn’t worthy of publication? Or – exciting possibility – does the Hungarian original still exist somewhere, gathering dust? Kathie’s mother died ten years ago in her nineties, so she can no longer give any information, but some of her father’s papers were archived in a Budapest museum. Could there be more clues there?

The final question is, where did all of this come from? What experiences – if any – did Janos Szekely have with gypsies and peasants and all the other strata of Hungarian society that live and breathe in both this and Temptation? How much is from his own life and how much is based on research, and if research, what were his sources? Again, there is no one left alive to answer this.

A Night That Began 700 Years Ago is a mystery that began 70 years ago: will it ever be solved?

P.S.      You Can’t Do That To Svoboda, 1943, under pseudonym John Pen, is another very readable (and short!) novel by Janos Szekely.

The need to forgive

i mentiond in my last post that I had finished translating another book, so this is just to satisfy any curiosity which that may have aroused. If you have been following me for a long time, you may remember that back in 2013, 2015 and 2016 I reported on an African family separated by the war in Rwanda who were finally, after several years, reunited here in Switzerland.

The posts were Perseverance Rewarded, When life becomes a fairy tale, Book launch and Book launch: Postscript.

My friend Josêphine and her husband Désirė described their traumatic experiences and adventures in a book published first in German as Auf der Flucht getrennt which I translated into English under the rather lame title of On The Run (see my blog post Synopsis of On The Run in 2016 – ISBN 978-3-7407-1525-0, available as paperback or Kindle edition from

A few months ago, friends who had spent many years as missionaries in Africa asked me if I would be interested in tackling a book that had just come out in French, with another story from Rwanda. Once again, it’s a Christian testimony by an amazing woman. The title in French is Pourquoi je leur ai pardonnė, and is also available from Amazon (ISBN 978-2-8399-2477-6) for those of you who read French. The autthor, Apollne Dukuzemariya, has also given a TV interview that can be viewed here The English version will hopefully be published later this year. Here’s the synopsis:

Rwanda1994. Pastor’s wife Apolline Dukuzemariya is beaten andg butchered by militia who leave her for dead in front of her children. Physicians doubt she can survive with an open skull and without suitable treatment; her life hangs on a thread, while murderous raids contnue daily even inside the hospital. Despite all odds, she holds onto life.

Eventually, Apolline is able to get to Europe on humanitarian grounds thanks to the intervention of long-time mssionary friends. The long slow healng process allows her opportunity to reflect, read and pray. Today she is able to talk about the inner workings of her soul and spirit that led to this miraculous outcome.She also describes her childhood, her vocation to become a nun that turned out so differently, her marriage and the events that prepared her to face the indescribable. Far from being a chronicle of the genocide, this book is the story of a woman’s spectacular resilience and those who accompanied her on her journey, making her triumph possible. A first-class testimony to the power of forgiveness in a generation that, more than ever, needs reminding of what it means to forgive.


Synopsis of On The Run

This is a true story

Two young people, Désiré and Joséphine, growing up happily in secure loving families and making plans for their future careers, are suddenly torn violently out of their peaceful everyday lives as civil war destroys everything they ever cared about. They flee from their homes in Rwanda, Africa, to neighbouring Congo-Kinshasa. They survive in desperate conditions in refugee camps, are forced to flee again and spend months wandering through the jungle where they encounter all kinds of danger from wild animals, pygmies, pursuing armed forces, and even nature itself, until they again reach safety, this time in Congo-Brazzaville. They settle down, have two sons, and then have to flee yet again.  Although they manage to build a new life for themselves, they are homesick for Rwanda and so in 2000, six years after the civil war, decide to return. This is a disastrous decision. Désiré is arrested, jailed and tortured but manages to escape and get back to his family.

They find themselves fleeing a fourth time, to Cameroon, where they are attacked and the family is split up. All alone with her third son, still a baby, Joséphine is taken in 2004 to Switzerland where she applies for asylum. After a long battle, this is granted but she has no idea what has happened to her husband and two older sons. Fortunately, the Red Cross succeeds in tracing the two boys and after yet another battle they are admitted to Switzerland to join their mother and little brother in 2006.

Although she has no news of her husband, she never gives up the search for him and remains convinced he is still alive. Meanwhile, Désiré has been close to death from sickness and disease, enslaved in Chad, escaped, and finally arrived in Nigeria. Here he tries to search for his lost family and finally discovers that they are all together in Switzerland. 9 years after the family was split up, Désiré is finally allowed to enter Switzerland and be reunited with his wife and three sons.

Throughout these harrowing experiences, Désiré and Joséphine never lose faith in God, constantly give thanks and recognise His hand over their lives.

Now available in English from

Wedding Joséphine + Désiré

Finally – A white wedding in church, with their children present



When I gaze into the sun
Half veiled by a cloud
Mayhap its full
Round shining spreads out into a coloured ring
Like the glory around the throne
Of the Christ figure in Mistra.

When I fly above the clouds
I can also see that glory.
Beneath me, opposite the sun,
The same ring lies in the clouds,
My shadow resting in its centre.

When I fly through rain
While the sun is breaking through the clouds
I see the great rainbow
That I know so well from the Earth,
But now I see it as a full circle.

I flew a lot in my youth
And this truth has stayed with me all my life:
The rainbow is a full circle
And we see only half of it
Because the Earth is too close.

This has stayed with me:
All clouds are brilliant white;
Dark clouds are only clouds in shadow
But above every dark cloud there is light.

Jörg Zink

I have mentioned Jörg Zink before, here and here . This is another of my translations of one of his poems. For more information on Mistra, click here.

We all know about the clouds’ silver linings, but did you know that the rainbow is really a circle and not just an arc? Too often, the things of earth just get in the way and prevent us from seeing so many lovely truths.

Birthday Tribute

I don’t have a huge following on my blogs – you are basically the same trusty few who comment regularly and one or two people who say shyly to me, “I read your blog sometimes.” And I say once more that I’m very grateful to you for your feedback and support, expressed or silent. At least I know I’m not talking to myself.

How surprised I was yesterday when WordPress suddenly notified me that my Nelly Sachs website was getting more traffic than usual. I looked at my stats and my jaw dropped. Almost 10,000 views, just under 5,000 visitors! Was it Holocaust Memorial Day? I checked – no, that’s in January. Then a message popped into my mailbox and all was explained. It gave me a link to and I realized that 10 December was Nelly Sachs’ 127th birthday.


I was very touched that this was being commemorated and a bit overwhelmed to see that so many people had followed the link to my translation of O die Schornsteine (O the Chimneys). This is probably the most accessible of Sachs’ poems, but I was very pleased to find that several people had moved on to other pages, and left comments there (mostly complimentary). By the end of the day my site had been visited by over 12,000 people and there were more than 20,000 views.

Considering the millions of people still classed as refugees (which is fast beoming a dirty word) I feel it fitting to link here to two of Nelly Sachs’ many poems on the subject of displaced persons.



Flying Elephant …

There was an elephant in my room last night. A pink one.

It flew in through the open French window at dusk, clattered about a bit and then hid itself where I couldn’t chase it out again. Seeing that it had apparently settlde down for the night, I gave up the hunt and went to bed myself.

This morning it was clinging to the inside of the curtain; I opened the window and poked my visitor out. It sat trembling on the windowsill, evidently traumatised, so I did what I would have done for a bee and gave it a large blob of honey. Maybe I killed it with kindness? Eventually it stopped fluttering and lay perfectly still, its nose and feet in the honey. Dead.

What a privilege for me to have been honoured by its visit. I feel quite sad that I wasn’t able to save this very beautiful creature. RIP.



My gorgeous elephant hawk moth

Another elephant-related incident – a tenuous link, only because elephants never forget – occurred a few days ago. An old school-friend contacted me to ask, given my elephantine memory, if I could recall a song we sang in primary school (that’s over 60 years ago!). All she could remember was that Miss Stevenson had taught it to us and it contained the word Innisfree. As far as I was aware, we never sang Yeats’s poem so I knew it wasn’t that, but from deep in the swirly mists of my childhood arose a faint melody, flitting in and out of my consciousness but – like my moth – never quite catchable.

However, the following day I suddenly knew the title: The Flight of the Earls. Instantly, the melody returned and most of the words. Not Innisfree but Innisfail, the old poetic name for Ireland. I googled it, and found that it was a poem by Alfred Perceval Graves, set to a haunting melody by Charles Villiers Stanford. Neither name meant anything to me, but I was glad to be able to free my friend from her torment of forgetfulness.

What bothered me in all this, though, was that the name Miss Stevenson also meant nothing to me, although I distinctly remembered singing the song at school. My friend sent me a succinct description: “Grey hair, straight style, usually in grey clothes. lived till she was 102.” Sounds like a typical schoolmarm, but despite racking my brain nowhere can I find either an image of her or an echo of her name. The melody, however, lingers on. And so do the lyrics. I’ve been singing this old song as I go about my chores. Poor neighbours!

The subject of memory has been quite topical for me lately. In Sanibel library, towards the start of my vacation, I found a thousand-page biography of Marcel Proust on sale for two dollars. The size of this is commensurate with its subject, of course: A la Recherche du Temps Perdu may not be quite the longest novel ever written but it certainly looks impressive on a bookshelf (over 3,000 pages).

Now when I was about 20, my BA (Hons) course included a couple of trimesters studying the French novel. My reading list included hefty tomes by Balzac, Hugo, Zola, Flaubert, Gide – and of course Monsieur Proust, whereby the book on which we were to be examined was the double volume of Le Temps Retrouvé, which is the final link in the chain bringing the story full circle. That of course obliged us to read the entire set of seven volumes – no easy task in the limited time available – and it was competing with such heavyweights as Les Misérables, L’Assommoir (which is also one of twenty books in the Rougon-Macquart series) and my candidate for the most boring book ever published, Bouvard et Pécuchet.

I was able to boast truthfully that I had read all of Proust in French but I didn’t admit I had retained nothing! There just wasn’t enough time to digest all the imperfect subjunctives and unfamiliar vocabulary, and I was lucky in the exam that I was able to choose other works to write about. During the intervening half century, I’ve played with the idea of re-reading this magnum opus but – until now – it’s remained a vague idea.

Although the Proust biography was a bit heavy going for beach reading, I did manage to finish it (and bring it home for future reference), as it piqued my interest in Proust once more. Then I discovered I could purchase the version intégrale of A la Recherche for Kindle for a mere 2 euros! This time, I have the leisure that was lacking in my youth, the patience to linger over the notoriously interminable, serpentine sentences and the maturity to discover the charm, humour, profundity of thought, intensity of analysis, richness of language, the vivid evocation of la belle époque, and the sheer poetry of Proust’s account of his search for lost time.

I’m normally a fast reader, but here I have met my match. In four weeks, I’m only two and a half books down, four and a half to go, halfway through Du Côté des Guermantes. I know already that when I finally reach the end, I’ll have to start re-reading from the beginning to refresh my memory: maybe this is a project for the rest of my life! I think I will have to buy the hardbacks. Surely I’ll find a set in the brocante.

They will look very impressive on my bookshelf.

Uwe Schade – The Harmony Of The World

This is my translation from the German of Uwe Schade’s “Die Harmonie der Welt – Lyrik eines Landstreichers”. Other versions may exist, better or worse. That is irrelevant. I have tried to stay true to the spirit of his work, and to reflect something of the beauty of his words. Like everything else on this blog, the copyright for this translation is mine.   

For some information about Uwe Schade, see my blog post The Vagabond Poet and for the German original, click on one of these links or

I hope that my contribution will help to keep alive the spirit of this Gentleman of the Road, tramp, vagrant, vagabond, wanderer, child of nature, old hippy – whatever label you want to give him – may this lyrical Landstreicher speak to you.

The Harmony of the World – Lyrics of a Vagabond

What The Wind Told Me

Your destiny doesn’t surprise you
For you are your destiny
Your encounters don’t amaze you
For you are not separate from them
Your death doesn’t scare you
For you have died a thousand times.

Your movements are the movements of the world
Your changes are the changes of the world
Your standing still is only illusion
Your dying is only a word.

You think you are something particular
Yet you are only a wave in the ocean of the world
You think you are independent
But you are only a meeting point for a hundred thousand forces.

You think you can direct yourself
Because you don’t see what pushes and pulls you
You think you ought to do something
Yet your effort is only resistance.

If you have pain, don’t run away from it
If you have hope, don’t hang on to it
If you seek freedom, you are bound by your search
If you grasp good, your grasp is evil.

Because you are unhappy, you strive
Because you are afraid, you think
Yet your striving misses happiness
Your thinking brings no peace.

You seek a refuge
But there is no shelter
You seek an escape
But there is no opening.
In your speech, a thousand people speak
In your gait there are toads and horses
Out of your eyes peer bird and deer
The grasp of your hands is that of stone-age man.

Your feeling is truth
Your imagination is illusion
You hunt for illusion
And truth pursues you.

You feel the world’s pain
And seek comfort in pleasure –
They cut through your soul with knives
And comfort you with sweets.

Your eyes turn a thousand rays into a colour
Your ears turn a thousand vibrations into a note
Your feeling hands turn a thousand movements into a body
Your thinking turns a thousand perceptions into an idea.

Your perception is filtered world
Your thinking is filtered perception
Your striving is filtered thinking –
What is it you are trying to grasp?

The circling bird is aware only of its prey
The listening deer is aware only of danger
The snuffling dog is aware only of scents
Your wandering thoughts are aware only of satisfaction.

You go to the pleasure-seekers
But their laughter holds no joy
You seek wealth
But it burdens your soul
You seek success
But its brilliance blinds you
You go to the wise
But their wisdom is a bottomless barrel
You call on your God
And hear only your echo
You flee into silence
Yet no one wants to hear your screams
You seek death
But your search is life –
Whatever you seek, you cannot reach
Whatever you flee, it will not leave you.

When every support is smashed
You do not fall down
When every house is destroyed
Nothing touches you
When every desire is poisoned
Nothing tears you away
When all is lost
The world comes to you.

The world is open
You seek to close
The world is bound together
You seek to separate
The world is change
You seek to mould and form.

In your centre you feel the world
With your senses you change the world
With your thinking you flee the world
In your striving you destroy the world.

You force materials into your mould
Yet they crumble
You force children into your mould
Yet they turn against you
You force society into your mould
Yet it doesn’t bring forth humans
You force yourself into your mould
And it shatters you.

The rays of the world pierce you
The vibrations of the world shake you
The forces of the world move you –
Your talk about freedom deceives you.

You talk about freedom
And your motive is coercion
You talk about safety
Because that is what you seek
You talk about independence
And expect applause –

You cannot do evil
For you are the constellation
Of a hundred thousand constellations.

You have courage to fly into space
Yet you tremble at ghosts
You command atoms and rockets
Yet your thinking is not in control of itself
You order the lives of nations
Yet your thinking is in disorder
You dispose of the death of others
And don’t know whether you are not your own destruction.

The mechanics of your logic deceive you
What lives does not move in straight lines
Matter does not move relative to nothing
If you can understand crooked movement
You can see relativity everywhere
The mechanics of your logic are done with.

You maintain your deception
And experience your power
You maintain illusions –
And feel your powerlessness.

You talk of progress
And you are running on the spot
You make revolutions
And repeat oppression
You believe in what’s new
And your thinking is directed by the old
You strain forward
And look backward.

Your living space rises from the darkness of the world
You look at your crown
And feel your roots
Your life stretches taut between the two –
You cling to one
And avoid the other.

If you want to find rest in the world
You must love the taste of the world
If you want to love the taste of the world
You must get to know it
If you want to get to know the world
You must fine-tune your senses
If you want to fine-tune your senses
You must give up all resistance
If you want to give up all resistance
You must stay sitting in one place
You must stay where you are standing –
What you hold tight escapes your grasp
What is suppressed is drawn to you
Your self dies a thousand deaths
The world is born in you.

In your resistance the world grows tense
In your striving the world rises up
In your actions the world changes
In your death the world relaxes

In tension and release you can hear
The harmony of the world.

You reach out for wealth and condemn the thieves
Your resistance acts in both
The tension of the world acts in both
You build atom bombs and condemn their effect
Your resistance acts in both
The tension of the world acts in both
You build a world and fear destruction
Your resistance acts in both
The tension of the world acts in both
A self arises in you and seeks its salvation
Resistance and the tension of the world act in both.

Evil is only an illusion
In the mirror of your morals
Destruction is only an illusion
In the mirror of moulding and forming
Loss is only an illusion
In the mirror of your grasping
Your lingering is only an illusion
In the flow of eternal movement.

The work of your senses is grasping and resisting
Resulting in the beautiful and the ugly
Harmony and disharmony, tasteful and distasteful,
The work of your thinking is grasping and resisting
Resulting in understanding and incomprehension.

Your loving is failure
Your dying is failure
Your openness to the world is failure –
Failure to follow your hidden yearning.

Your cells are permanent exchange
Your blood is permanent flow
Your brain is permanent reaction
Your idea is the attempt to hold back everything.

The foundation of your idea-tower is your resistance
The stones of your idea-tower are your imagination
The cement is your grasping
The spire is your SELF.

In your play opportunities emerge
Your thinking recognises these opportunities
Your striving grasps these opportunities
Your life becomes dependent on these opportunities.

Your thoughts rest in repose
When they are led by a book
When they are amused by a game
When they are disciplined by a task
When they are released in a dream
Your thoughts are in repose
When they are not held fast by you.

When life suffers from itself
Life heals itself
If an idea intrudes
Your suffering remains sterile.

You don’t want to see your pain
For you’d rather look at the remedies
You dare not acknowledge your torment
For you think you have to be its master
You dare not curse your God
For you think he must be your image.
You don’t want to get to the root
For there you are small.

You say you don’t like this food
It’s your taste that you don’t like
You say you don’t like this weather
It’s your expectations that you don’t like
You say you don’t like this company
It’s your attitude that you don’t like
You say, if you dare, you don’t like this world
That is the taste of yourself that you are tasting.

You think you can stay like a little child
The fact you think that shows that you aren’t one
You think you can remain without ideas
What you think is an idea
You think you can stay without disaster
When you hope for that, that’s when it’s close.

In your body, what is alive develops hardness
Then breaks down, returning to you as change
In your ideas what is alive develops confusion
Then breaks down, returning to you as truth
In humanity what is alive develops brutality
Then breaks down, returning as beauty.

You must go terribly wrong
To experience the truth in depth
You must triumph terribly
To experience your nothingness –
Do you believe you can shorten anyone’s journey?

You tidy up matter
And your efforts are endless
You tidy up creatures
And your killing is endless
You tidy up the world
And destruction returns to you.

Can you make a copy of a cobweb?

Just as you experience this moment
Is how what is alive in you wants to experience this moment
Just as humanity experiences this moment
Is how what is alive in humanity wants to experience itself.

If you condemn a thought in yourself
You condemn a living cell
If you curse a feeling in yourself
You curse living blood
If you judge a guilty person
You judge a human being
In whom your thought becomes flesh and your feeling blood.

Your houses lock you in
Your knowledge enchains you
Your wishes pull you hither and thither
Yet life is movement that comes from itself
Your breath is not made by you
Your fire is not kindled by you
Your actions are not caused by you
Your life is movement that comes from itself.

Sometimes you break the stone
Sometimes it breaks you
You see your colour standing out from the usual grey
Yet there is no variety in the universal context.

If what is alive is stimulated
Resistance or desire starts to grow
If people are stimulated
The self grows
If the self is strong
Blindness is great
And destruction never ends
Therefore those who wanted to change people
Had to flee from them
Therefore the words of those
Who meant well with people
Became the source of endless destruction –
Because the self was strengthened.

If you have something in your eye, your eye doesn’t see clearly
If your thinking is bound, it is immobile
If your self is strong
Your orientation is weak.

The grace of your sickness is
That it doesn’t let you see you are sick
Thus you are spared great pain
The curse of your sickness is
That it doesn’t let you see you are sick

Thus you remain sick
But when what is alive suffers from being alive
It goes forth out of everything.

When the feeling of want begins to grow in your centre
It makes your edges keen to grasp
Your eyes seek pleasing images
Your ears pleasing sounds
Your palate pleasing tastes
In your mind pleasing ideas spring up
If you stay in your centre
It will satisfy itself.

If carnal pleasures bind you
What is alive will find release in carnal pleasures
If words and books bind you
What is alive will find release in the use of words
If mysticism and faith bind you
What is alive will find release in mysticism and faith
If high and low bind you
What is alive will find release in striving ever higher
If anyone tries to untie your bonds
You will defend yourself
No one likes being robbed of their means of redemption
Yet what is alive seeks release
So it will happen –
Yet you cannot alter the breathing of your soul.

It is so difficult
To climb from the illusion of power
Into the truth of powerlessness
You are as addicted as a mosquito
That risks everything for a drop of blood
You are dazzled because you can say
“Let there be light” when you press the switch
You conquer the highest peaks
Yet your triumphs will run through your fingers
And the valley of pain awaits you
For look, it is easy to recognise your non-existence:

Day and night
Ascent and descent
Growth and decay are reactions
Hunger cold fear are reactions
Seeing feeling recognising are reactions
Understanding and incomprehension
Attraction and repulsion
Opening up and closing are reactions
Devouring and excreting
Grace and curse
Darkness and enlightenment are reactions

Yet you are all of these.

What is alive experiences the illusion of form
In repetitive motion
In cycles of birth
In cycles of feeding
In cycles it experiences the bliss of being-in-the-world
Yet nothing is repeated
The compulsion to recur is in everything you do
And the circles easily turn sterile.

Matter organises itself
Into recurring motion
To experience in tension
Its own form of motion
Its own circling
From mystical energy
To maintain its rhythm
That is the interest of the vital spark
Destruction of the rhythm
Is experienced as death –

When the rhythm of your sterile circles is disturbed
They shatter
And you experience the grace of death.

The new is interference
In the circles of your thoughts
The new is interference
In the direction of your walk
The new is interference
In the doom of your striving –
The world brings back the one who goes astray
Yet you cannot see the door to freedom.

Once you saw the land of nameless beauty
Have you forgotten?
Once your deeds came from the source of innocence
Have you forgotten?
Once the whole world was in your feeling
Have you thrown it away?

It is still all there inside you.

The Vagabond Poet

I have few regrets: life’s too short to waste time contemplating what might have been, murmuring “if only” – and the path not taken may well not have led to better things, or even to anything much different.

However, there is one occasion where I have often wished that I’d had the courage to follow my impulse. Maybe my curiosity would have been satisfied, more likely not – but at least I wouldn’t be haunted by the thought that I missed a golden opportunity.

One wet, windy day about ten years ago I saw an elderly man sitting on the pavement in the old town of St Gallen, with several A4-sized bundles laid out before him, carefully covered in polythene sheeting as protection against the weather. I wasn’t in a hurry, and went over to see what he was selling. “Gedichte,” he said – poems. His poems. I picked up a bundle to see what they were, and he looked a bit irritated that I might get them wet. I reassured him that I would be careful with them, and asked how much he wanted for them. “Whatever you think they’re worth,” was his reply.

I’m ashamed to say that I gave him only five franks – I hadn’t really read them, only glanced at them. He raised his eyebrows as he thanked me, and at that point I went on my way, looking for shelter from the weather. His reaction made me feel uncomfortable: was it ironic? did he expect more? I read the poems on the train going home, and immediately regretted not giving him notes rather than a coin.

Had I only stayed a little longer, invited him out of the rain and wind to a warm drink or even a meal! We were only a few metres from one of my regular haunts, a small, cosy Greek restaurant run by a big-hearted couple and their sons who treated all their guests like extended family. If this vagrant poet had accepted my invitation, he would have received a welcome as warm as the food. And perhaps I could have found out more about him, who he was, where he came from, how he lived, what inspired him to write …

He was not unkempt, though his clothes were obviously well worn, and all his worldly goods were neatly piled up on his bicycle that was propped against the wall where he was sitting. But he wasn’t a beggar. Also, there was something in his self-assured manner that didn’t encourage familiarity, and I was too shy to intrude into his privacy.

I looked out for him whenever I was in town, but never came across him again.

The poems – or rather, poem, as the stanzas actually form one long lyrical piece – were entitled “Die Harmonie der Welt – Lyrik eines Landstreichers” (The Harmony of the World – Lyrics of a Vagabond) and I passed them on to my granddaughter as a birthday present.

Since then, I have found out a little about this man through the Internet. It seems that many other people had a similar encounter to mine, including one man who sent the verses to a publisher. They were released anonymously in a 56-page illustrated edition, which sold very well. A television appeal brought this fact to the attention of the poet, who identified himself as Uwe Schade and informed the publisher that he didn’t want the royalties or the copyright: the money should be given to people who were in real need. He was content with his way of life, and saw no need for any more than he already had.


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How did he come to write this lyrical poetry? He claimed that he had a vision, and wrote it all in one nocturnal burst of creativity, having never written anything before or since.

Who was Uwe Schade? Google brings up very little. It seems he was a typesetter from the GDR, born in 1923, who set off on his travels with his bike after the Berlin Wall came down. There are Internet accounts of meetings with this real-life Steppenwolf in towns throughout German-speaking lands. He died in Schleswig in 2009. If 1923 is correct for his year of birth, he was already around 80 when I met him. And still cycling his way around Germany and Switzerland.

The published edition of his work is now sadly out of print, but can be found second-hand. There is no copyright, and so many people copied the photocopies they bought from him “for what it’s worth to you” that it is hardly surprising to find the full version – usually with an account of meeting the author – on several web sites, for instance here and here.

Why do I come back to Uwe Schade today? Because I came across another vagabond poet this morning, this time in Brazil. Though this is a slightly different story, and hopefully with a happy ending because someone did have the courage to stop and spend time with him.

Must Read: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

My apologies to anyone who has been peeking in here to see if they have missed anything. You haven’t. I just haven’t posted anything in the last 3 weeks. Life took over, inspiration dried up, and I’ve been reading rather than writing.

My reading has included some of the best I’ve come across for a long time: a casual recommendation by an old friend of an author I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of, and I deeply regret this Bildungslücke which I am eager to fill.

Patrick Leigh Fermor is the name to remember. An enfant terrible, a gifted linguist, lover of literature, extremely intelligent, adventurous – and according to a school report “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness” – he was expelled from schools where his individuality caused upheavals, nevertheless acquiring an admirable education en route. He must also have possessed tremendous charm, something that was far better appreciated in continental Europe than in the stifling atmosphere of the English educational institutions he attended.

In December of 1933, two months before his 19th birthday, and long before the gap year had been invented, he set off on a lone hike from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, taking only essentials in his rucksack, including Horace’s Odes and The Oxford Book of English Verse. His only financial support was the promise of an envelope from his mother containing £4 awaiting him at pre-arranged post offices spaced at monthly intervals. His account of his journey, mostly on foot, is multidimensional, told not only from the perspective of the eager young adventurer, but also with the insights and wisdom of the mature man he later became and who finally wrote down this remarkable story many decades after the events. His all-encompassing curiosity and willingness to share the everyday lives of all he meets on his journey – from respectable burghers and innkeepers to monks, drop-outs and gypsies, from peasants to barons, counts and princes, and  whether sleeping in a hayrick or in a mediaeval castle – make his story one that you don’t want to interrupt. Start reading after a hearty breakfast because you won’t want to stop for lunch, tea or dinner! Unputdownable!

There are historical digressions woven into the narrative that bring century-old events into the present, and of course there is the inevitable bittersweet awareness that the world he experienced in the years between 1933 and 1935, with its unique culture and centuries-old traditions, was doomed, and would never, ever be the same again.

The author, sadder, wiser, older, leaps ahead occasionally with forays into his experiences during the Second World War, with unexpected encounters and links with people and places that figure in his earlier travels.

His gift for story-telling and incomparable command of language, his knack of bringing characters to life with a few strokes, and his fascinating summaries of deep research into whatever caught his interest, make Patrick Leigh Fermor into one of the greatest twentieth-century travel writers. Richard Woodward, a BBC journalist, described him as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”.

I am wondering how I managed never to have come across him before! These are most definitely my books of the month: A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, available in hardback, paperback and – in my case – downloaded as e-books for Kindle. The end of this journey is told in the book he failed to finish before his death, published as The Broken Road and based on his draft. That treat still lies in store for me, but in the meantime I am reiterating the old saying: Es ist die Reise und nicht das Ziel – the journey, not the destination.

PS: I have just discovered that Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods & the Water and The Broken Road by Nick Hunt, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) has been shortlisted for the 2015 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year.