Ghost and Spirit

In the King James Bible the third person of the Trinity is referred to as Spirit or as the Holy Ghost. In parts of the Christian liturgy Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit are used interchangeably. I am not knowledgeable enough to know if there is any method behind the variations but I have been unable to identify one. It is interesting that the word for both spirit and ghost is pneuma in Greek and Geist in German. In English ghost comes from the Old English, gast, and spirit from the Latin, spiritus. In all these words there is an association with the breath, but ghost is associated with death, as in giving up the ghost (last breath, expiration) while spirit is associated with vitality and invigoration, as in taking a deep breath (inspiration) before effort.

Negative capability, that profound notion of Keats, is a passivity and receptivity in which judgement is withheld. In electronics the difference between a receiver and transmitter is absolute, and it is the receiver which has memory. We should notice that speaking requires expiration to allow phonation, and even whispering requires slight expiration. Sometimes it is advisable to save one’s breath.

The first breath is inspiration in which air enters the unexpanded lungs for the first time, and the last, of course, is expiration. As nurses who have laid out bodies will tell you, the final expiration may occur several minutes after the body has been removed to a side room from the main ward.

At the very last minute, before I published my translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, I managed to write a poem about Rilke, which because of its late arrival, had to be placed in front of everything else in the volume. I was pleased to be able to use the different meanings of ghost and spirit within the poem, Nothing but a Breath, which follows:-

Double beat of the heart
pulse of the dance.
Breathing's two-step
binding ghost and spirit
what is gone to what is present.
The rhythm of the earth
phases of absence and abundance. 
like lovers who strengthen their bond
by being apart
or brothers who again and again
quarrel and come back together,
are the poles of hoped for renewal.

In the end
there was no tug of relatedness
just the counterpoint of his past
and astonished return 
to a world that was younger than before.

And there grew in him
a tender regard
for all those, carelessly ventured, 
vulnerable as fledgling sparrows,
who bear their sufferings alone.

Somehow we worry about his dying.

Still he sings.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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