You’d Be a Idiot Not to Listen

When I finally discovered many years ago that the source of my violent sinus headaches was book mold, I felt it was my body confirming that I shouldn’t become a scholar. I could no longer go into the University of Washington Library stacks without taking a Benadryl or two first, which, of course, made it nearly impossible to understand what I was reading.

I can’t even go into used bookstores today. I’m particularly prone to mold from paperbacks. As a result, I seldom keep a paperback book around longer than a year to two.

It’s surprising, then, that I still have a copy of Idries Shah’s Wisdom of the Idiots on my bookshelf. It’s my favorite of several Shah books I read nearly thirty years ago. I’m actually having a hard time reading it without my eyes watering or without sneezing. Since I probably don’t have another thirty years to read it again, I’m going to scan a few of my favorite tales and get the book and its mold out of the house.

Since I put a check mark in the table of contents for tales I liked best when I first read the book, it’s interesting to see how many of those are still favorites this time around. Apparently my taste has changed somewhat, though I’m finding several tales that relate to teaching that I still identify with.

Here’s an example of a tale that I liked thirty years ago and still find enlightening today.


Bahaudin el-Shah, great teacher of the Naqshhandi dervishes, one day met a confrere in the great square of Bokhara.

The newcomer was a wandering Kalendar of the Malamati, the ‘Blameworthy’. Bahaudin was surrounded by disciples.

‘From where do you come?’ he asked the traveller, in the usual Sufi phrase.

‘I have no idea,’ said the other, grinning foolishly.

Some of Bahaudin’s disciples murmured their disapproval of this disrespect

‘Where are you going?’ persisted Babaudin.

‘I do not know,’ shouted the dervish.

‘What is Good?’ By now a large crowd had gathered.

‘I do not know.’

‘What is Evil?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘What is Right?’

‘Whatever is good for me.’

‘What is Wrong?’

‘Whatever is bad for me.’

The crowd, irritated beyond its patience by this dervish, drove him away. He went off, striding purposefully in a direction which led nowhere, as far as anyone knew.

‘Fools!’ said Bahaudin Naqshband, ‘this man is acting the part of humanity. While you were despising him, he was deliberately demonstrating heedlessness as each of you does, all unaware, every day of your lives.’

It seems like we can never be reminded too often just how unaware we really are and how easy it is to judge right and wrong merely by whether it’s good or bad for us.

Of course, if it were easy to remain aware, I probably wouldn’t like this same tale so much after thirty years of trying to attain a greater sense of awareness.

Still, it’s nice to be reminded of this in a simple, well-written tale that doesn’t belabor its message.

Larkin’s “Breadfruit”

There are nearly fifty pages of Larkin’s unpublished poems in his Collected Poems, including his much cited “Aubade,” which may be my favorite poem from this section. However, considering the number of excellent articles on this poem, in particular this one at New Criterion, I decided to mention one I liked nearly as much and probably comes closer to my own view of the world:


Boys dream of native girls who bring breadfruit,
Whatever they are,
As bribes to teach them how to execute
Sixteen sexual positions on the sand;
This makes them join (the boys) the tennis club,
Jive at the Mecca, use deodorants, and
On Saturdays squire ex-schoolgirls to the pub
By private car.

Such uncorrected visions end in church
Or registrar:
A mortgaged semi- with a silver birch;
Nippers; the widowed mum; having to scheme
With money; illness; age. So absolute
Maturity falls, when old men sit and dream
Of naked native girls who bring breadfruit
Whatever they are.

I’m not sure whether this reminds me more of Yeat’s“The Wild Old Wicked Man”which ends

That some stream of lightning
From the old man in the skies
Can burn out that suffering
No right-taught man denies.
But a coarse old man am I,
I choose the second-best,
I forget it all awhile
Upon a woman’s breast.’
(Daybreak and a candle-end.)

or Shakespeare’s more famous Seven Ages of Man, but I like it either way.

Yeah, I know it’s a stereotype, but it’s my stereotype, and even if it’s not true it helps to explain why my all time favorite TV shows are Benny Hill, Married with Children and The 70’s Show.

The poem does a nice job of contrasting the dream of endless sex with the real cost of that dream, the same cost Al Bundy had to pay every time he came home from selling women’s shoes. Do you think it was pure coincidence that someone who loved hooters so much had to spend his whole day groveling at the feet of women?

I just hope I can maintain my lust (for life) when maturity finally befalls me.

I’ll have to admit that I much prefer Larkin when he leavens his work with a little humor, something he doesn’t always manage. Of course, I also like a few of his bleak poems about country workers that remind me a lot of Hardy’s poems.