Blog Archive

Transcendental Blog

Transcendental Blog


Regular readers of my writings-- and blessings on the few of you-- will be aware that the previous blog, the one announcing my hospitalization and illness, has been up for a very long time, and needs to be replaced. The problem has been that I haven’t been able to sit at the computer and type for long periods in my usual way. I have spent most of the time lying in bed, waited on by hired helpers, rising only occasionally to make my way, pushing my walker, into the study to sit for brief periods at the computer. I am no longer able to type long texts-- I never did master the skill of doing it with a laptop while lying down, and sitting up for long periods isn’t possible. So I have taken to dictating responses to emails and other materials into a small dictating machine that my daughter Sarah purchased for me, and then having them typed up by an assistant. Now I will try to do the same thing with this blog-- a first attempt at a dictated blog. 


A Dark Night of the Soul 


I am not sure what that phrase means, but I think I know when it happens to me, and one of them happened during one of my nights spent in Alta Bates Hospital, where I was for three nights and four days. Lying awake in the middle of the night, with no nurse there and only distant sounds audible, and after hearing some alarming news about my condition and my future, had left me in a very dark mood indeed. And then there came into my head, for some reason, of all the odd texts, a short German poem that I must have learned back in the 1940s when I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and studying German. It is by Goethe, and goes this way:


Über allen Gipfein

Ist Ruh

In Allen Wipfein

Spürest du

Kaum einen Hauch;

Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.

Warte nur, balde

Ruhest du auch.


On all hilltops

There is peace,

In all treetops

You will hear

Hardly a breath.

Birds in the woods are silent.

Just wait, soon

You too will rest.


I remember hearing it spoken of, perhaps by my German instructor of the time, as one of the really perfect pieces of writing in the language, and indeed it is, evoking a great deal in its few words. And what it is about, and what it roused in my head, is a sense of sound, and how much my whole existence is bound up with hearing sounds in the head.

My passion for classical music began all the way back in Berkeley High School, when I spent a great deal of time listening to records along with my friends Gordon Cyr and others. But even more than music as such, it was the sound of the human voice, or the sound of a musical instrument-- the texture of the sound more than simple pitch and sequence of notes. My passion, that is, has been for certain recordings: Maggie Teyte singing Debussy songs with Alfred Cortot at the piano, or Charles Panzera signing Faure; Joseph Szigeti playing the violin; Conchita Supervia singing the “Seven Popular Spanish Songs” of De Falla. These were the high points in my musical life, and they still ring in my head. 


Unless I improve in health more than looks likely, future blogs that will appear here will have to be dictated like this one. How that will change their character, we will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I remain hopeful.


James Cahill



Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...