Issue 20 — 1 August 2019

In the Region of the Heart (Jack Cain)
Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff (Paul Beekman Taylor)
Gurdjieff’s Age
Further on Gurdjieff’s Age
Again, Gurdjieff’s Age

In the Region of the Heart (Jack Cain)
I entered a strange but not unfamiliar world of experience and expression when I opened this book and began to read the eighty-two short poems that are found in Jack Cain’s first collection of poetry. The volume is called In the Region of the Heart and it takes the form of a paperback edition that is eighty-eight pages in length, basically a poem per page. Included are eight photographs that display in black and white the beauty of the natural world, plus a few poems also written by the poet in Spanish and French.
All in all it is a very attractive and unpretentious publication issued by Codhill Press, a specialized imprint for quality writing in prose and poetry founded by David Appelbaum and based in New Paltz, N.Y. The publishing house’s website ( offers more details. The author’s website ( offers the opportunity to view the photographs in colour and to hear him reading the text.
I feel the poetry exists in “a strange but not unfamiliar world” in the special sense that as a serious-minded reader of contemporary poetry I found myself being wafted back in time to the 1920s, to a pre-Modern period, and that I kept recalling echoes of the characteristic expression of Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese mystic and author of The Prophet, and of the perceptions of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy who instituted a number of modern movements including a school of art but no literature except for some drama.
Cain’s expression is not aphoristic like Gibran’s, who writes sentences like “Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror …. And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.” Nor is it at all like Steiner’s characteristic perceptions. Steiner was a philosopher and teacher and his writing is straight-forward and anything but poetic: “Love starts when we push aside our ego and make room for someone else.” … “If we do not believe within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve into something higher.” Gibran and Steiner paid little heed to the poets around them and certainly imitated the writings of none of them.
Aside from these differences in approach and style, I find that Cain has a world-view that shares much in common with those of Gibran and Steiner. Both of them see man as living in a world that is on the verge of absorption by another world, a higher world, a world of greater values than those of our own. Cain’s poem “Life after Death” concludes in this way: “ … I will be accompanied / As I continue to move on and on / In another life / A life that is the same and not the same.”
Essentially from poem to poem the reader is offered the sensation and the emotion of the surprise yet the expectation of the dawn of “another life.” Indeed, a number of poems end with exclamations like “Hallelujah” or “Glory Hallelujah” or even “Holy, Holy, Holy / On wings most high.” Yet not one of the poems here offers anything like an intellectual or a cerebral account of the transformation of the speaker or the assumption into a new world order.
Rainer Maria Rilke was a contemporary of Gibran and Steiner but he, like his Irish counterpart W.B. Yeats, succeeded in finding “objective correlatives” for his thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and so wrote Modernist poems. Gibran and Steiner did not, and that applies to Cain too, not to his discredit, yet it is an uncontemporary characteristic of his work which might be considered part of the Age of Symbolism of the late nineteenth century.
The speaker in these poems is “I.” Indeed, of the eighty-two poems in this collection, sixty-two of them employ the first-person singular (“I” or sometimes “me,” “mine,” and even “Jack”). Yet even those poems that are not personalized or individualized in this way, like “Sacred Fire,” make use of minimal reference points. For instance, the poem begins with this sentence: “There is a sacred fire that burns unnoticed in the hearts of men.” It ends, “No need to say, but only feel that there is neither man nor God / But only love.” Hardly contemporary, yet it does come from the heart if not the head.
In this regard I recall the suggestive subtitle of Jeffrey J. Kripal’s mammoth study, the one called Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Is Cain finding in the world of nature, in human nature, and in everyday life and society affirmations of the spiritual foundation of human life? The religion of no religion? The religion of the heart?
In the poem “Just This,” he sees “a figure clothed in light and dark” which seems to be moving towards a star, Sirius. He senses “a whiff of cinnamon and jasmine,” and oddly the figure “Enters / Circulates / And I realize that I am born. Born of this. Just this.” It is an odd and appealing poem accompanied by “A shock / A shock somewhere in the chest.” The chest is where the heart is. There is no creed or deed or theology here that I can sense but there is an emotion that I can feel.
“A Golden Disk” is one of the few poems with a something that approaches a mystical semi-symbolism. The narrator sees or visualizes “a golden disk that is “quivering with life. / My mind wants to know. It is hungry for meaning / But something says, ‘Feel.’/ I pause and wait, / Noticing an opening my chest, in the region of my heart. An opening that allows the passage of light / A play of light.”
This is certainly taking place “in the region of the heart.” What is seen and felt? “Meaning abounds – / The meaning of why I am here / For which there are no words. / No words but correspondences / That are perceived and tasted.” The poem concludes with a vision: “something golden is embodied. / Golden and inscribed.” The reader would like to know what the inscription says. But, wisely or otherwisely, the poet himself does not divulge the meaning of the words , or if he knows the words,  he prefers not to share the insight, perception, message, whatever.
W.B. Yeats dramatized and personalized the same theme in this stanza from his poem “Vacillation” in The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933).
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
By now the reader has guessed that Cain’s book is a collection of epiphanies that affirm through individual transformation the existence of and sometimes the actual presence of a world of higher and even holy values perhaps co-terminous with our own yet only intermittently accessed or realized. What are those values?
Perhaps, as Samuel Johnson suggested, it is in the life of the poet that we discern with clarity the poet’s message. Jack Cain was born in Newmarket, Ontario, on December 16, 1940. He has been awared by the University of Toronto a B.A. (English and French) in 1962 and a B.Sc. (Library Science, now considered a Master’s degree) in 1966. Since then he has worked in a number of technical fields connected with the computerization of library cataloguing records. He was in the forefront of the movement that computerized the Eskimo language, Inuktitut. Over the years he has spent time in Toronto, Brockville, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Mexico City. He regularly visits Mexico, having perfected his Spanish to the level of his French.
He is a Certified Hypnotist accredited by the Ontario Hypnosis Centre. He has certification for Clinical Training and Basic Regression Work (now called Quantum Healing Hypnosis Training). He began his practice in Montreal in 2008. He regards forms of regression therapy as forms of alternate consciousness.  He currently lives with his wife Diane in the family home in Brockville, Ontario. “Now my hypnosis and energy work is mainly virtual through phone or Skype connections. I still go to Montreal every few months or so for in-person sessions.”
I first met Jack (to use his unassuming first name!) when we were university students and we later established a loose friendship in 2002 and 2004. When I learned last month that he had published a book of poems, I purchased a copy and then decided  to review it, so I emailed him and requested an author’s photograph to reproduce here. He sent me the present head-and-shoulders photo and I remarked on the superb image and how much it resembles Jack (as I remember him from a decade and a half ago), for it captures some of the sense of the man’s honesty and precision, characteristics that I identify with the man, the hypnotist, and now the poet. “Yes, the photo is great,” he replied on July 25, 2019. “The photographer was Michel Zabé, a Frenchman who was well known in Mexico as a photographer often of museum artifacts. It would be good if you could add a photo credit for him as in fact I’ve done in my book.”
He reminded me that in the years since we had met he has progressed as a translator of metaphysical texts. “I’m now working on what will be my eighteenth book for translation by the French author Stéphane Allix …. You might enjoy his previous book which has already been translated into English as The Test – about his work with psychics to contact his father and brother who died. He’s a wonderful writer.”
He added, about his work as a translator: “The one I’m working on is on reincarnation – sort of; very interesting in his analysis of how it is and isn’t about reincarnation.” The word Trylus has special meaning for him – it is a name that runs in his family and it is of course related to the fate of young Troilus, the lover of Cressida in Shakespeare’s tragic play. Details are available on the author’s website which directs students curious about liminality and such matters to verbatim transcripts of sessions of hypnotic regression. The descriptions in them remind me of the world as it was experienced by Gibran and Steiner.
I will name two of the eighteen or so books that he has translated from the French for the Inner Traditions publishing imprint. The earliest text seems to be Geneviève Dubois’s Fulcanelli and the Alchemical Revival (a biography one would expect to be translated by Joscelyn Godwin rather than Cain) and the latest which has just appeared: Jung, Buddhism and the Incarnation of Sophia, a collection of the previously untranslated papers of Henry Corbin, the French philosopher and metaphysician (who is credited with the coinage of the term imaginal and the popularization of the notion of imaginality).
More than most people whom I know or have read, Jack lives in two places at the same time: in the real world (or the world we call real) and the imaginal world (a realm that exists in some other fashion which he finds to be wondrous and accessible). In the Region of the Heart is a lovely title but it is also a quasi-geographical location for the poet. Do not assume that the human heart is limited to the region of emotion. In Sufi life and lore, it serves also as (or in place of) the realm of the intellect. To think with the heart … to act in a heart-felt fashion ….
There is another facet of Jack’s work, one that is immediately relevant here. This facet is his respect for the Fourth Way. He is one of the principals behind Dolmen Meadow Editions, the publishing house that is associated with the Toronto Gurdjieff Group. In fact, according to historian Paul Beekman Taylor, Jack is the person responsible for the appearance in the Dolmen Meadow Editions catalogue of the first authorized Russian-language edition of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. Not only is he responsible for its appearance, he keyboarded the entire text, acquiring some Russian in the process!
So the poems in Jack Cain’s In the Region of the Heart are set in “a strange but not unfamiliar world of experience and expression,” one that assimilates many of the traditions and insights characteristic of the early years of the twentieth century rather than those of our time, the early years of the twenty-first century. At the same time the poems home in on the experiences of one human being, a representative man of today perhaps, who may in these poems be regressing to an earlier period in the history of man to embrace the innocence and wisdom if not knowledge of the heart.
P.S. Lest the reader be confused or bemused rather than simply moved by this account of his poetics, here in its entirety is the text of one lyric poem from the collection. It is called “This Moment.”
This moment
White and crystalline
As we fall toward
The nadir of the year
Letting go of me, and mine
I join, I become
A part of what is cradled
In the winter light.
A joy so quiet it cannot speak
But only shine.
15 July 2019

Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff (Paul Beekman Taylor)

About nine years ago, out of the blue, I received an email from Paul Beekman Taylor. It came as a surprise because I had never met the scholar and historian of the Work, although in the past I had reviewed a number of his books for Sophia Wellbeloved’s website. In his email Dr. Taylor mentioned that he was completing another book and was writing to inquire whether or not I would consider contributing a Foreword to the work-in-progress.
I was, frankly, flattered, as I have long appreciated the man’s knowledge, grasp, and approach to the history of the Work. One learns much from reading his prose. But why me? (I have not been able to answer that question. Some of us are lucky, I guess!) I replied in a positive way and asked to see a few of the chapters of the book. I read them as soon as they arrived, I responded with some editorial reactions, and I agreed to contribute a biographical foreword, as long as the author felt he was free to accept or reject the text or suggest modifications.
Here is that foreword. There were no modifications. I hope it helps to draw readers to Dr. Taylor’s current book and also to his past publications. Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff: Chapters in the Life of a Master (2012) was issued by Siebold and Patricia Tromp-Guégan, proprietors of Eureka Editions, an ambitious publishing house with an interesting history based in Utrecht.
Foreword / John Robert Colombo
This book is about G.I. Gurdjieff. But this foreword is about Paul Beekman Taylor. In common with the majority of the readers of this book, I have yet to meet its author, if only because he lives and works in Geneva and I live and work in Toronto. Even thought we have not enjoyed a face-to-face meeting, that does not mean that we do not see eye-to-eye. I think we do see eye-to-eye, though he might have some qualms when I resort to the use of a tried-but-true phrase to characterize him. That phrase is “a scholar and a gentleman.”
Paul Beekman Taylor is certainly a scholar; there is no questioning that. He is a scholar in a number of fields, in addition to his leading role as a student and chronicler of the life and work of G.I. Gurdjieff. But let me make a few general points before considering the scholarship and the gentlemanly nature of the man.
If I may generalize, readers of this book will be people who belong to one or the other of two groups. One group consists of people who know next to nothing about what has been variously called “the Special Doctrine,” “the System,” “the Fourth Way,” “the Work,” or more explicitly “the Gurdjieff work.” The other group consists of people who are widely and perhaps even deeply read in the “literature” of the Work; they may even be members of groups or centres that put into practice its principles.
In my own mind, I dub any member of the first group a cheechako or “tenderfoot,” and any member of the second group a sourdough or “old hand.” Here I am employing words that were popular during the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898, words that were popularized in the ballads of the “Bard of the Yukon,” Robert W. Service. What the cheechako and the sourdour have in common is that each person has been drawn to the work by its enchanting features or driven to the work by the disenchanting features of man and his world.
Both the “tenderfoot” and the “old hand” will find in the pages of this book fascinating information, little if any of it of public knowledge. It is information that will expand one’s understanding of the everyday life of Mr. G., and extend one’s sympathy for this enigmatic man and the problems he faced on a daily basis. No reader will reach the last pages of this book without evincing an admiration of the man and his mission … the work of the self-styled “Teacher of Dancing.”
Every reader will then begin to ask for more information about “the scholar and the gentleman” who wrote this study of Mr. G.’s life and times. Some biographical and bibliographical information about Paul Beekman Taylor will certainly help the reader to appreciate the unique qualifications of its author and how it seems he has been “tailor-made” to research and write this book. Here goes ….
Taylor was born in London, England, on 31 December 1930. He describes the unusual nature of his upbringing in one of these chapters much better than could anyone else. His childhood in Mr. G.’s extended family is indeed a remarkable biographical fact. In brief, he was raised by a lively mother within an enchanted circle of men and women involved in the Work, and somewhat later he was raised by a leader of the work in the United States.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1954; his master’s from Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut, in 1958; and his doctorate from Brown again in 1961. Among his many academic honours is the fact that he has served as a Fulbright Scholar and a Fulbright Lecturer. Thereafter he taught in Departments of English at Brown University, University of New Mexico, and Yale University, as well as at universities in Oslo, Ireland, Tel Aviv, Lausanne, Fribourg, and Zürich. He is now an Emeritus Professor of the University of Geneva and retired from teaching but not from searching and writing. He has been thrice married and has seven children. People whom I respect speak very highly of him; indeed, with considerable respect for his personal qualities as well as for his scholarship. He is truly a gentleman.
In academic life, Professor Taylor’s speciality is Old Norse; indeed, his 1963 doctoral dissertation bears the title Old Norse Heroic Poetry. Among his many scholar papers and book-length works are three volumes of translations from the Old Norse which he undertook with the great poet W.H. Auden. In addition to Old Norse, he is a specialist in both Old English and Middle English; he has also taught courses on modern American literature and Chicano writing.
Taylor has contributed mightily to “the Gurdjieff field.” He is one of the founding members of the All & Everything International Humanities Conference, a group of independent scholars and thinkers who have been meeting annually in various cities since 1996. He has researched and written six studies of interesting and important aspects of the work:
* Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer (Weiser Books, 1998)
* Gurdjieff and Orage: Brothers in Elysium (Weiser Books, 2001)
* Gurdjieff’s America: Mediating the Miraculous (Lighthouse Editions, 2004)
         reissued as Gurdjieff’s Invention of America (Eureka Editions, 2007)
* The Philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff (Eureka Editions, 2007)
* G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life (Eureka Editions, 2008)
* Gurdjieff in the Public Eye 1914-1949 (Eureka Editions, 2011)
* Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff (Eureka Editions, 2012)
His biography of Gurdjieff takes its place alongside James Moore’s classic Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth (Element Books, 1991). Gurdjieff’s Invention of America is the product of prodigious scholarship. If The Philosophy of G.I. Gurdjieff is a little diffuse, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye is right on the ball! There is no real precedent for the present book, Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff, which consists of the discoveries made following a lifetime of immersion in the work and a half-century of research conducted with primary materials in private hands and public institutions, as well as with the ever-expanding “literature” of the work.
The literature is vast for it embraces a multitude of books (patiently annotated by J. Walter Driscoll) as well as published and unpublished memoirs in the languages of Eastern and Western Europe and the anglophonie. In the process of researching and writing the present book, which is essentially a collection of essay-length studies, he has revealed most surprising and interesting aspects of the social and personal life of Mr. G.
For instance, new light is shed on members of his family in the Caucasus and on his meetings with members of the artistic community in Paris, creative people like Ezra Pound and Lincoln Kirstein. Then passages are quoted from the transcripts of secret intelligent reports from the dossiers the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (These are eye openers!) How was Beelzebub’s Tales written? How was its publication financed? Is there a ur text in Russian? The answers appear here in more detail than ever before. Unexpected light is shed on the man’s deep love of children and the way he would tweak them to remember him, his message, and themselves. This relationship resonates with the author – and by extension with the reader – because in his childhood he benefited from the largesse of Mr. G. I could go on.
The final chapter is remarkable for its insight into the life that Mr. G. kept secret, and the insight into why he did so. All in all, this is a remarkable book for cheechako and sourdough alike. It gives everyone the flavour of the man and his times.
I have no idea where Paul will next “strike” … what part or aspect of the work that he will stake out in order to unearth its termas, its buried treasures. But from the correspondence that we have intermittently conducted, I am led to believe that future forays will take him into archives and personal records that will bring to light further hitherto hidden material – on Gurdjieff’s Caucasian roots, specifically the connection with the Mercourov family in Armenia and Russia, on the Russian years in general, and on the man’s role as a “Teacher of Dancing.”
I look forward to rereading the present work, now that it is appearing in print, and to reading forthcoming essays and books written by Paul Beekman Taylor … in the same way that I look forward to meeting the scholar and the gentleman in person.
Afterword (June 2019)
The cubist-style portrait of G.I.G. on the cover of this book was drawn from life by Kiril Zdanevich in 1920.
Paul Beekman Taylor expressed pleasure with my modest foreword; I am only sorry there was no room in the short text to describe in detail his scholarly and biographical discoveries, for in a way this volume is an “Open Sesame” of a book, with a valued word or intriguing insight or pleasant surprise on every page.
I am unaware of any new books to add to the canon of Fourth Way books written by PBT since the appearance of Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff in 2012. Yet in addition to his seven basic books, there are scholarly titles like Chaucer’s Chain of Love that would reward the interest of the specialist in literature. Still not all things have yet to come to pass. For instance, JRC has yet to meet PBT!
3 June 2019

Gurdjieff’s Age
There are some questions that defy easy answers … and there probably will be such questions as long as the human species is characterized by its curiosity about itself and its surroundings … and as long as mankind demands pat answers to its demanding questions.
One such question is the purpose and authorship of the Voynich Manuscript which resides in  Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Another question that is ever likely to be definitively answered is the following “What year G.I. Gurdjieff was born?”
Every biographer of Mr. G. faces this problem – in what year was he likely to have been born – early on in his or her biographical study. It may ormay not remain integral to any biography, but such matters do appeal to readers. There seems to be something quintessentially human in yearning for an earlier rather than a later year for the nativity. It may be that a Young Earth is what delights Christian fundamentalists; it is certainly so that an Older Gurdjieff appeals to the imaginations of practitioners of the Fourth Way.
I have considered the question and have tried to answer it, based not on research in archives or in the field, but on popular and scholarly accounts of Mr. G.’s life, especially those written by men and women who knew him before his death in 1949.
Some early speculations are included in Volumes II and II of The Notebooks of John Robert Colombo which appeared in 2018. Since then I added to the confusion about dates with two short feuilletons. Here they are.
3 June 2019

Further on Gurdjieff’s Age
There are two earlier récits like this one included in Notebooks that address the minor yet interesting question of the year of Gurdjieff’s birth. They rely as much as possible on the published testimonies of those men and women who had personal knowledge of G.I. Gurdjieff, the founder of the Fourth Way. Here is another contribution to the question of his age.
“When I knew him, in 1943, he was no longer young …. He had both the majesty of an old man and the agility of a fencer capable of delivering a lightning thrust …. ”
So wrote René Zuber (1902-1979), one of Gurdjieff’s French followers, in his memoir Who Are You, Monsieur Gurdjieff? (London, 1980) which was translated into English by Jenny Koralek. The memoir was originally published as Qui êtes-vous, Monsieur Gurdjieff? (Paris, 1977). Zuber, the author and observer, worked as a still photographer and documentary film-maker, so he could be expected to have a sharp eye when it came to assessing a subject’s age and appearance.
If Gurdjieff was “no longer young” in 1943, it is presumably safe to assume that he would be at least in his mid-seventies at the time of their meeting. That would mean he was born in the year 1868. While it would be nice and neat to stop here, the words “no longer young” have something of a history to them with respect to Gurdjieff’s age.
These words were earlier used by P.D. Ouspensky, the Russian metaphysician and sometime follower, who first met Gurdjieff in Moscow in 1915. As he wrote in his masterwork In Search of the Miraculous (New York, 1949), “I saw a man of an oriental type, no longer young, with a black mustache and piercing eyes, who astonished me first of all because he seemed to be disguised and completely out of keeping with the place and its atmosphere.”
If Gurdjieff was seventy-five in the time of that momentous meeting, his year of birth would be 1840. If that was the case, he would be 109 years old at the time of his death in Paris in 1949. That seems highly improbable, proving if nothing else that “no longer young” is an elastic term.
Yet Ouspensky’s account comes from In Search of the Miraculous which was not published until 1949, the year of Gurdjieff’s death. Still, it is possible Zuber was familiar with the work in manuscript form, though it is unlikely he saw it in 1943 while Paris was an occupied city.
18 Aug. 2018

Again, Gurdjieff’s Age
Kenneth Walker, the distinguished Harley Street physician and surgeon, was an astute observer of people. This is apparent from a reading of his memoir Venture with Ideas (London: Jonathan Cape, 1951).
In October of 1948, Dr. Walker was able to observe George Gurdjieff at close range at the latter’s flat at 6 Rue des Colonels-Renards in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. He wrote about “the full splendour of his clean-shaven head,” and added some details: “The next most remarkable feature about this head of his was that although he claimed to be over eighty years of age, his face was completely devoid of wrinkles. His olive-coloured face was smooth and serene, and at the same time charged with virile power …. ” At the time of their meeting, Walker was sixty-six years old. On another meeting, not much later, Walker was the oldest of all of Gurdjieff’s followers who were present.
“Over eighty years of age?” Assuming that Gurdjieff’s age at the time was eighty-five, Gurdjieff’s birth would have taken place about the year 1863. This information appears on page 147 of Venture with Ideas. If only the man’s age was so simple a matter to calculate. Dr. Walker returns to the subject on page 158 where he writes, “There is clear evidence that our host was not quite so old as he had made himself out to be and everything points to his having been born in Alexandropol, near the Persian frontier of Russia, on January 1st, 1872. He came of Ionian-Greek stock and his  family had emigrated to the Southern Caucasus in the year of the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire.”
Dr. Walker then opts for a younger Gurdjieff rather than an older Gurdjieff, despite Gurdjieff’s own account of his age!
More complications! No doubt there will be yet more to come in the future.
30 Aug. 2018