Gaia II – Truth and Beauty

James Lovelock ends ‘Gaia‘ with a rather profound summary: 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them 

Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I googled for the origins, and should have guessed the first two paragraphs – they are from the King James Bible; Ecclesiastes 3. 

But the third line is interesting too. If indeed ‘beauty’ is the lion’s share of ‘all ye know’ and ‘need to know’ on earth, and ‘truth’ the rest; does this give a simple recipe for the ‘good life’? 

Perhaps not quite that simple. The meaning of this line from Keat’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn‘ has been heavily debated down the years.

Still – this week I found from myself looking at nature more intently as a result of Lovelock and Keats. But Lovelock’s own ‘last word’ set me thinking too…

There can be no prescription, no set of rules, for living within Gaia. For each of our different actions there are only consequences.

This connected my with my developing ‘inner Buddhist’. Life takes is course; many thing happened before us and many more will happen after. 

This morning, I scanned my instagram photos from the last few years, to look at what I take photos of… 

Far from exhaustive; but a funny old selection of the beauty of nature, mankind’s profound and profane imprint on it – and our ongoing search for truth…

Truth and beauty might not be such bad guides. 


Ecclesiastes – King James Version 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Pig Ignorant

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Chugging my way through the 400th Anniversary Edition of the King James Bible, I discover the narrative pace slackens consideerrraaaabbbbbllllyyyy towards the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus.

Having knocked together the world and all that ‘creepeth’ on it in a few pages of Genesis, the fine detail and multiple repetitions of exactly how a Tabernacle should be built, the intricacies of priestly vestments and the finer points of ‘burnt’, ‘sin’, ‘meat’ (which isn’t) ‘waving’ and ‘heaving’ sacrifices are inescapably precise. And the punishments for waving what you should be heaving are heavy indeed.

Phew. Much like the Greek myths which are from a similar period in history, one senses a good deal of tradition, mythology, symbolism and practical wisdom merged together. Eating the meaty remnants of your ‘sin offering’ for two days is fine, but chew on it on the third day and you might well feel ‘unclean’ in what are often warm lands.

It is sometimes said that the Old Testament God is a fierce one. Indeed He describes Himself as ‘A jealous God’ during the Ten Commandments. But the precision of his strictures and fear of his wroth explains to me something I encountered when we lived cheek by jowl with a very Orthodox Jewish community in North London.

I think I knew that anything which doesn’t have both cloven hooves and chews cud is ‘unclean’ – pigs failing on cud. I wasn’t so clear it includes anything with paws. Our old dog used to like a curious sniff at passers-by – especially those wearing long black silk coats.

I always used to pull him close, but I now understand why the Hasidic Jews of Stamford Hill used to skirt and look terrified of him. Physical contact could have demanded a shower and a change of clothes.

I feel rather guilty, looking back, that I wasn’t more aware. I might not have known ’em, but the Old Testament rules are crystal clear for those who choose to follow them. Paws are out. People do live in myriad different ways

King James Bible

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Four hundred years
of the King James Bible.
The blood sweat and tears
Of six writing panels
Produced a text
Which united a kingdom
To post-Elizabethan revival.
Still read today,
Words of great majesty
Hell, fire and brimstone
Meet faith, hope and charity
A piece of England’s history
And linguistic gift to the world.
Can’t vouch for the science
But there’s power in the words.

Having read an interesting article about the origins of the King James Bible, I’ve decided to give it a proper read. Aside from its obvious religious role, it is the origin of so many phrases and sayings we still use today.

The skin of my teeth
How are the mighty fallen
Be horribly afraid
From time to time
As a lamb to the slaughter
Beat their swords into ploughshares
Turned the world upside down
A thorn in the flesh
Fell flat on his face
Get thee behind me
A man after his own heart
Set thine house in order

It’s interesting to read passages which are completely familiar, and not. Also to note things which myth, custom and the Disneyfication of culture have added to popular folklore but aren’t actually there – no unicorns perish in Noah’s floods, just a lot of un-named things which ‘creepethed on the earth’.

It’s also remarkable how little time, and how few words, are spent on massively significant and controversial topics – creation for example. The language though is rich, terse and magisterial.

A life’s work. For a disputed King and his ecclesiastical writing panels, quite literally.