Friday 1 October 2010

The Book of Pots

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

If I were to name just one book which has inspired me most in both my approach to pottery and to the way I live my life, it would be the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam". Written by a Persian poet in the twelfth century and rendered into English by Edward Fitzgerald in the nineteenth, it teaches about life and the miracle of the ordinary.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

Probably not what one might expect, but more than any other work it has inspired me to live in the moment. I know as much as anyone the ephemerallity of life, yet the Rubaiyat puts it into sharp focus.

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and - sans End!

It has taught me to recognise that I am a part of nature and that, though I cannot control the challenges which fate puts before me, my actions and choices are completely my own.

For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch'd the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd - "Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

Perhaps my favourite section is the "Kuza Nama" or the "Book of Pots". One day I shall have an exhibition with that title, for it has taught me that the making of pots is a process of self development, and that a potter is defined by his works, just as a human is defined by their actions.

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried -

"Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

When I was a boy trying to deal with the difficulties and injustices of life, struggling to find some self esteem, watching helplessly as fate stripped away the possibilities of those I loved and searching for hope and a path forward; my Aunty Thora introduced me to Omar.

None answer'd this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of more ungainly Make:
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

She was a philosopher, and eventually gained a University Degree in Philosophy at the age of 72. Sitting in the light of the oil lamps in the kitchen at the farm, surrounded by cascading mountains of books, She and Omar taught me to accept the world as it is; for the world, as it is, is a beautiful and wondrous place. No nonsense, no facade, they taught me to face myself. Many of the things which society teaches us are "Important", politics and power, fame and fortune, are illusions that will blow away with the sands of time, and that true happiness can be found in the simple things of life.

Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit

Of This and That endeavour and dispute;
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

And so I chose to become a potter, not because of what I wanted to do, but rather who I wanted to become. I do not have the things which most people associate with success; but I love my wife and my children and they love me, and I sleep with a clear conscience. As I write I hold one of my goblets and sip plum wine that a friend made. It is sweet and has a subtle almond fragrance which goes nicely with the cheese toasted on our home baked bread. I have today and it is good. I cannot heal the world, nor can I always take away the anguish from the hearts of those I love, though I wish with all my heart that I could. But I can give form to my passion, and through these vessels perhaps give joy to others and help them find succour in simply living. And perhaps in a hundred or eight hundred years this clay that my fingers have touched will touch the lips of another and give them hope. Just as Omar's words reached over eight hundred years and all the barriers of language and culture to touch my heart, and these words I write tonight may reach some anonymous reader elsewhere on the globe.

Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past Regrets and future Fears:

To-morrow! - Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n thousand Years.