Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017.



He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.



Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.



After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

On Ongoing Presence


These days I miss, but am also very aware of the continuing presence of, my Spiritual Advisor. (She departed this physical frame about three years ago at the age of 78.) She was a non-resident or external member (the technical term is ‘oblate’) of a Benedictine monastic organization. Her monastic name was Mary Magdalene. In what follows I will call her Madeleine.
        Before her retirement, in worldly life Madeleine had been active in the world of education as a counselor, administratrix, and textbook editor. She was successful and well known in that world. All this fitted in well with her brand of spirituality, which I would say was of the Active Service rather than the Contemplative type. (Since my own natural bent is incurably the opposite, we sometimes had to work at translating our spiritual experiences into each other’s terms.)
She was tremendously critical of the official Catholic hierarchy and was not afraid to confront even high ‘prelates’ face-to-face. On one occasion, she was talking to one of our notoriously conservative Dutch bishops while both were looking at an Eastern Orthodox icon of the Crucifixion. This type of icon shows the crucified Christ flanked by his mother Mary and St. John the Evangelist, who is traditionally also called ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’[1] Madeleine said to the bishop: ‘You don’t like this one, do you? The ones closest to Jesus are a woman and a homosexual.’
        She once told me she believed Jesus himself had been bisexual. She was proud of the legends associated with her monastic namesake, the original Mary Magdalene, which say that she had been a prostitute. In general, she took a bread-and-butter rather than an exalted view of sexuality. I remember once when I ‘confessed’ to her that in my own prayers I much more often addressed myself to Mary than to Jesus, she said: ‘Well that’s just natural, after all, you’re a man and Mary is a woman!’
        But as far as I know, this matter-of-factness never implied anything outside the straight-and-narrow in Madeleine’s private life. She was a married woman and had vowed to interpret the traditional monastic vow of chastity as commitment to a ‘special’ relationship with her own husband. I think she was one of those people who are perceptively open to all manner of erotic potentials without falling into the trap of thinking they must be put into physical practice at any cost. Personally, I also thoroughly support both clauses of this traditional Pauline attitude (1 Corinthians 6:12) that all things are allowable but not all are expedient.
        The same practicality applied in her approach to etheric and mysterious and invisible things. She believed in them, hoped for them (isn’t that really the same?), and had no problem with her own role in making them actual. Regarding the human personality’s survival of bodily death, she told me frankly that while out driving her car, she often talked out loud to her long-deceased father. And as for the existence of God, to me her classic statement was ‘I just plain want God to exist!’
        Like many people in my church, at home she was liable to pray while standing in front of an icon on the wall. I can still see her (I never saw it objectively) getting up in the morning, feeling as she put it ‘amazed to be still alive,’ pouring her first cup from the automatic coffeemaker, stepping with that cup of coffee in her hand right up to the nearest icon, and greeting the Presence at the beginning of a new day.


--Lloyd Haft
October 2014



[1] The Bible passages used to support this association, whether or not they are historically valid, are John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20.