Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Cloud of Unknowing


I’m starting to read The Cloud of Unknowing which I have looked into before but don’t recall ever reading through and yet it’s familiar because it follows the apophatic line which is the bright rubric of all wisdom teachings. Leaving the justification of that assertion aside, perhaps for ever, the good version to read for the purposes of edification becomes an issue. I have two printed versions in the house, the Evelyn Underhill and one that calls itself a ‘new paraphrase’ by Halcyon Backhouse. Out on the net I’ve seen the original Middle English from Rochester University, just the text with a minimum of critical apparatus and another modern English version from a Robert Benson put out by the Paraclete Press. The latter seems to me to depart from the intent and the language of the original into dubious paraphrases which run counter to the general intent of the ‘Cloud’. Underhill’s version seems somewhat Jacobethan and fake. The original I can make out if I imagine a crowd of Brummies shouting in a tin tea hut in a heavy shower of rain. So I’m left for meditational use or undistracting clarity the Halcyon Backhouse, sowise yclept I wot for the pur stryn of Romaunce. It calls itself a paraphrase but it stays close to the shore of the original and if I read anything that jars I can refer to Anon and Underhill.

If you ever come to this cloud to live and work in it, this is what you must do: just as the ‘cloud of unknowing’ is above you, between you and God, so you must put a ‘cloud of forgetting’ below you, between you and all creation. Perhaps you think you will be far away from God, with this cloud between you, but surely it follows that you are further away than ever if there is no cloud of forgetting between you and ‘all creatures’? By ‘all creatures ‘ I mean not only the creatures themselves but everything connected with them, including physical and spiritual beings, irrespective of their state or of how good or evil they are. Everything, without exception, must be removed, hidden under the cloud of forgetting.
(From Chap. V: Hidden under the Cloud of Forgetting)

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