Margaret Albanese Interview—2/5/1976
MARGARET: I just happened to take this top letter out. It's dated Aug. 17, 1952.
You were mentioning these early versions and I noticed here in the letter he said (I love this, even in his prose he rhymes) "sent out things whether favorable or malefic, my writing is more prolific than at any time." He said he encloses snapshots "for my latest epic, part 2 of 'What Christ, What Peace?'” This is 1952, and I was trying to remember specific titles of works which he read on a radio program which I did in 1944. As closely as I can remember, that's when I met him. I was doing a program of contemporary poetry on KTIM weekly, I think it was 8 years back, typed scripts, interviews or simply readings from contemporary poets, and I could issue an invitation to Marin County poets to get in touch with me. And Sam called, we had a meeting, and I was struck immediately at that time. He seemed like a person, you can't describe it. He was completely unique, we know that. And, I thought, Wow!, I have never met a man in my whole life who had this encyclopedic knowledge, this passion for Epic Poetry! And Epic Poetry is something which almost no modern poets can recognize.
WALI ALI: I know nobody touches it, Robinson Jeffers a little bit.
MARGARET: Yes, right.
WALI ALI: There were a few people who touched it.
MARGARET: And so the first program that we did was a discussion of Epic Poetry, in which he explained what he believed the function of Epic Poetry should be, and read from some of his Epic Poetry.
WALI ALI: You don't think by any chance, I know now everyone always saves tapes of radio programs.
WALI ALI: Nothing was ever saved?
MARGARET: I checked. We had scripts, they didn't do tapes of the radio shows. We kept scripts for something like 10 years after the end of the series, and then hauling these boxes and boxes of them around was impossible, so I, unfortunately, I don't have that.
WALI ALI: You don't mind if I interrupt as we go along? And ask questions?
MARGARET: I'd be delighted if you'd interrupt and ask questions, because, as I told you my memory, I probably will jump along.
WALI ALI: Alright, that's O.K. with me, as long as you don't mind my interrupting.
MARGARET: No, No! In fact that's helpful. Question?
WALI ALI: That was in 1944—he said he was living in Marin County?
MARGARET: As closely as I can recall, it was 1944, and can you tell me, do you recall the time when he left the Sufi School in Fairfax?
WALI ALI: Yes, the Sufi School in Fairfax burned down in 1949.
MARGARET: Oh, not the house where he was living.
WALI ALI: Yes.
MARGARET: Because friends of mine bought that.
WALI ALI: Yes But part of it burned down and part of it didn't. The part where all the papers were and that's one of the houses that burned down. I know the Brown family now owns the property, and we've been wanting to go and talk to them at some point also, but there was a big fire in Fairfax at Kaaba Allah. 1949. By that time, the curious thing was, that he was leaving, he had gone in and he had taken some of his papers the previous day. In fact he was blamed for the fire, that was one of his very unpleasant things.
MARGARET: Oh, I remember, his talking about the very unpleasant time that he had there.
WALI ALI: That was a very difficult period in his life in 1944. He was working. He had a job with the "G-2" and the war as a secretary. I'm not sure exactly whether that continued through the end of World War II?
MARGARET: That I don't recall, he didn't mention anything of the kind at the time when we were first meeting on the subject of poetry; he did tell me later about some of the difficulties at the school.
WALI ALI: That was around that period when the school was turned over to Meher Baba.
MARGARET: Ah, I have a poem in here, which he sent to Meher Baba, have you seen that?
WALI ALI: Maybe, I don't know, I'd have to see.
MARGARET: I can look for that later.
WALI ALI: What I'd like to do is take and Xerox them, then I can return them to you.
MARGARET: Oh, surely, you're welcome to, there's a page, possibly a page and a half which he mailed at some time or other to Meher Baba.
WALI ALI: So you met him and he appeared on your show on one occasion, or more than once?
MARGARET: Twice. Another time he brought his friend, Francis Barbizon, who later went back to Australia, He was really a fine poet, and they were good friends. And Francis was a very interesting, very warm sort of person. They came, and I think possibly they both read on that second program. And Francis would come with Samuel once in a while to visit me. It was really interesting over all these years, during his travels he'd write letters, sometimes I wouldn't hear from him for three months or four or five months, next thing I know, the phone would ring "This is Sam" and he had this great sense of loyalty and continuity over all that time.
WALI ALI: It was interesting what he did with his friends.
MARGARET: Really, it was a marvelously heartwarming thing, and he had a great sense of accommodation to various kinds of people also. My husband and I happened to have quite different interests, many in common but poetry was not his field. And so whenever Samuel would come to visit, there would be a general conversation first. Joe wasn't yet in politics, but was interested in local politics and later on a school board, but Sam had this marvelous love for Marin County. He wrote that series of poems on "Marvelous Marin."
WALI ALI: Yes, was that around that time?
MARGARET: I think it was possibly a little later, but not very much later.
WALI ALI: It was in that general period.
WALI ALI: He was living in Marin and….
MARGARET: …he used to tell me about his work as a landscape gardener.
WALI ALI: Was he being hired out by individuals? Did he have a certain project?
MARGARET: He worked on an estate, that was another thing I was trying to recall. As I remember, he worked on an estate in Ross, and he told me about two or three other places. But it was usually individuals. And as he worked, he would carry on experiments of his own in horticulture.
WALI ALI: I know he went back to school in horticulture in the fifties I believe.
MARGARET: Yes, he was always involved in some kind of class, and challenging, stimulating.
WALI ALI: We're going to talk to Harry Nelson, I don't know if you've ever met. He was his principal teacher in horticulture, in San Francisco.
MARGARET: No, I haven't met him.
WALI ALI: City College.
MARGARET: Yes, good.
WALI ALI: That'll be interesting too. He was living in Marin County at that time. Was he living at Fairfax?
MARGARET: I really can't remember that part of it. I have great gaps (laughter); it was a long time ago.
WALI ALI: That's all right, I understand: Your common interest with Sam was Poetry?
MARGARET: It was more than that; I think the role I played in his life was that of a good listener, and he needed that quite desperately.
WALI ALI: He sure did. Very definitely.
MARGARET: For a number of years, because it seemed that everything to which he turned his hand, he met opposition. And this was quite real opposition. He was really like a stranger to this world, wandering in a sort of wilderness for a great many years and having close friends there were some people who lived near us, who were good friends of his. He would come and visit them, and then visit us. And I don't know how many really close friends he had then. I knew he was a friend of Gavin Arthur's, and his friend, was it Bill Hathaway?
WALI ALI: Yes.
MARGARET: I met him on a number of occasions.
WALI ALI: I’d very much like to locate him.
MARGARET: The last I knew, he was in Southern California and I really don't know now. Bill probably could give you a lot of information. He was at the Memorial service.
WALI ALI: I know he could, and I saw him after that, but now that we've been trying to locate him, we haven't been successful.
MARGARET: Yes, and I think it's important to mention this, because this is part, I feel, of the overall development of Samuel into a fully realized teacher and spiritual person. There was a period of years following the experience in Fairfax, when I was really concerned about him.
WALI ALI: Like he was having a nervous breakdown or something?
MARGARET: It was close to that. He felt that a many people were attacking him, which really was true. So it wasn't all imagined, by any means. But I felt that he had reached a point where it was almost teetering on the edge.
WALI ALI: I know, he referred to this, he talked to me about that.
MARGARET: Yes he did. And I was aware of this for quite a number of years. And then, somewhere between 10 to 15 years, the last part of his life, this began to melt away, and his own inner development and his relationships with people began to change and the last 10 years were the most marvelous flowering. It was one of the greatest joys of my life, to see what came out of all that suffering (and there was a great deal of suffering).
WALI ALI: There was definitely a lot of patience and late blooming involved in that whole human side of his life.
MARGARET: Ahhhh—that gets me!
WALI ALI: His poetry had come before?
WALI ALI: And he'd had tremendous inspirations and so on, but he never has a human communication…
MARGARET : This was something he needed very very much and I have a feeling that he always felt he'd sort of "touch down" at our house. It was sort of a home base and it was sort of a little anchor there; a small one, but nevertheless.
WALI ALI: I'd like to go a little bit back into this period, where you felt he was teetering, and get a little more on it, because I think you're one of the few people that knew him during that period. And it's important. It's of special interest to me, because of the sense that people only focus on a person's fulfillment.
MARGARET: That's right!
WALI ALI: And then they lose the fact that a human being has to go through all these various things in his life.
MARGARET: This evolution which leads to the flowering, yes.
WALI ALI: Can you recall, let's say, any kind of examples of what his state was like, anything he might be talking about in an obsessive sort of way?
MARGARET: I can't recall the specific individuals, but he would say, "This group is trying to destroy me," or "These people are trying to destroy me." And it was pushed beyond what we usually think of as a normal reaction to opposition. And this went on for quite a long time, and this was what made me concerned about him. And there were people to whom he wrote in other countries; he met opposition there also. However, he was much more greatly accepted in other countries, particularly in the Orient, where they welcomed him with open arms. But, that was what was typical of that particular period.
WALI ALI: This was prior to his first trip to the Orient, would you say? That was in 1956?
MARGARET: No, part of it continued after that, it moved slow and it reached a peak, I would say in the late forties, and then sort of a downward curve through the fifties.
WALI ALI: He worked with a woman who was also close with Gavin Arthur, whose name was Blanche Baker, who was a psychologist. He always said she helped him with some of this too. Did you know her?
MARGARET: I didn't meet her, but I recall his talking about her.
WALI ALI: Do you recall anything he happened to say about her or about how he went through some of this, his own rejection feelings, which were so strong in him—it was in relation to his family, too, of course.
MARGARET: Oh, of course it was! He had this total rejection, total human rejection, so it's very understandable that a person should go through a long crises of this kind. I don't recall anything he said in specific reference to working with the lady, but he did express himself very freely to us, about his feelings about all this. And there seemed to be, at times, just a real rage in him; he was reaching so hard at the time to accomplish what he always was convinced was his mission.
WALI ALI: That's true. He never lost sight of that.
MARGARET: He never, never lost sight of that, he never lost faith in it. And he knew, even in the fifties, he said, "These things are going to be published, I know," He said, "It may not be in my lifetime, but they will be."
WALI ALI: That really was a feature of his.
MARGARET: It was. It was very strong. And that was the thing which helped me to realize that he would work out of this period in his own way, which he did, and of course, he had the saving grace of his fantastic sense of humor.
WALI ALI: That's right.
MARGARET: And he was just a constant source of delight. Shortly after, let me see it wasn’t too long after the first two programs on the radio, he began visiting us. We were living in downtown San Rafael, in an old Victorian house. One day he came—this must have been in the late forties, somewhere around '47 -'48—and my daughter had three friends there, and he began telling them fairy stories. In his own inimitable way! I asked Gay about it last night—she happens to be staying with me right now—and she said, "All I can remember is that he was telling us this story about the Wolf and the Well. And he'd stick up this way, raise his head up, and then down this way and he was convincing. That was her recollection from childhood and all these children, the way they were all sitting on the floor in a circle and just absolutely in rapt attention listening to Sam, telling the stories. Then, he decided they should have some root beer floats, and there was a little tiny old fashioned corner grocery store about two or three blocks away. So he went down, and he got ice cream and root beer, and came back and got into our old fashioned pantry and fixed these root beer floats. And she said, "I really didn't like root beer; but I drank it anyway." (laughs) And she never forgot that. As a matter of fact, when I had the news of his death, I heard about it on television, I just sat there, and at the same time (of course I was shocked, I didn't even know that he was ill, that he'd had the accident), but here he was, dancing in my heart—he's still dancing! I'll try to go back now to that period of his life, I can't recall in sequence his travels or the dates of them.
WALI ALI: We have that.
MARGARET: I know you do. But I would say that probably—beginning with that downward curve, of which I spoke—from a great many of the contacts which he had in other countries he was accepted as an equal spirit in his own full right, which was an acceptance he didn't have here at that time.
WALI ALI: Yes, I'm sure that's true; he had this tremendous feeling of what he had to accomplish.
WALI ALI: And he had this power, and was meeting with opposition, as you say, with no receptivity in any case.
MARGARET: This completely negative atmosphere around him.
WALI ALI: This just drove him more and more until finally when he was able to meet some people that he could communicate with from that depth then he was able to release some of that.
MARGARET: Yes, yes, that's it.
WALI ALI: And of course, it happened more and more in the last five years when he attracted students who really were looking to him as a teacher.
MARGARET: Oh, that was the greatest flowering of all! And I recall quite vividly his great excitement when he was speaking to young people. They were coming to him. I could see this great warmth pouring out of him and this beautiful feeling of love for the young people he was working with, it mattered tremendously.
WALI ALI: I know it unlocked all this love that he'd always had.
MARGARET: It did!
WALI ALI: And he hadn't been able to really give too much on the human level.
MARGARET: Yes, yes that's right.
WALI ALI: That was the key. Your relationship with him reminds me very much of the relationship he had with Vocha Fiske, I don't know if you know her. Did you see the movie "Sunseed" by any chance?
WALI ALI: She's the woman who was at the very end. She was at the memorial service.
MARGARET: Yes, yes, she was beautiful.
WALI ALI: She passed on about three years ago, she was living at the Zen Center. He communicated with her for many, many years, and she, through all these periods, had always a very sympathetic ear for him.
WALI ALI: And she used to say, "I'd get a letter from him and then, I would…." she was into semantics, and she'd been Korzybski's secretary and so on she said, "I would always write him back, pointing out, re-quoting some of the things he'd said and leaving out all the criticisms and stuff."
MARGARET: (laughing) I know, I know!
WALI ALI: She was trying to point out the acceptance.
MARGARET: This is what I did with him always, I tried to stress always the positive achievements and I went through a period of really learning to love epic poetry as a result of this, because I'm a poet, and this was one of our meeting points. He also knew that as a child, and in my earlier life, up until my marriage, that I had had been extremely fortunate in that I had parents who were studying mysticism, and were reading Ouspensky, and that I had heard Krishnamurti when I was 21. At the Mission in Santa Barbara, I sat there under the oak trees, and it was a very beautiful experience. I had told him some of the inner experiences which I had had, and this established a contact between us which grew over the years. We would share the poetry, and of course, I didn't understand the deeper levels of Sufism and the tremendous range of his knowledge and experience until much, much later. In fact in the last four years it began happening. About a year after his death, I had a tremendous awakening in my life which resulted in that program which I did for your Sufi group and began to have inner visions and different experiences. I felt a very, very strong presence, always. I had a very strong sense of some kind of guidance. And even as I was preparing this morning, I thought, "I'm really not prepared," and it was just as though someone was saying, "Yes! You're prepared," (laughter) Oh! Little things come to mind.
WALI ALI: That's good, that's just what we want.
MARGARET: Little things I recall his saying, when he had to change his diet—I don't know whether it was pepper or salt, or what it was he couldn't use—he said, "I just use a tiny pinch of curry in my eggs." When I had to go on a salt free diet, I remembered that, and every time I'd put a little tiny pinch of curry on that egg, I'd think about Sam. (laughter)
I have a letter from 1955 here, some 1952. This most delightful letter here. He was very helpful in other ways too. He spoke of my dual role as a housewife and mother and—these are his own words—he said, "In your own case, I see two quite different careers of housewife and mother and of creative genuine and adventure type, which must be reconciled. From the standpoint of time, one works in one direction and from the standpoint of eternity, in another." That was beautiful, and it really was very helpful and then he mentions Mama St. Denis.
Oh! I recall that in another letter in the fifties, he referred to Paul Reps as his closest friend, at that time. And this letter is absolutely delightful, it was after my husband's death, of cancer, very touching. He came to see Joe as often as he could (my husband had cancer for 3 years). And shortly before his death, Sam came and performed a laying on of hands, which is a very beautiful and moving experience. Of course Joe accepted it in that spirit, though he didn't understand it, but he accepted it. It was a very beautiful thing. This particular letter is a letter of contrition, and it's really charming. He felt that he talked too much (laughter) and it's absolutely delightful, and the very last line says "With all love and blessings and assure you of a clothespinned tongue." You know Sam never could do that! (laughter). A clothespin on his tongue, he, couldn't manage! Thank heavens!
WALI ALI: He would let himself go in social context—he had this "Puck" streak.
MARGARET: Oh yes! He always was telling me he was Puck; it was one of the most charming and delightful things about him. A great sense of fun! Just a delight in life and of course my husband has a fantastic sense of humor and the two of them would have a marvelous time together. Sam would start with something and Joe would counter. It was just a marvelous game of words.
WALI ALI: You didn't know his family?
MARGARET: No, I didn't. I heard him talk about them, not a great deal. He evidently had put a good deal of that behind, although he mentioned that he was, as a teenager, very lonely. I recall that, and he spoke of rejection by his family. Oh yes, difficulties with his brother—were there 2 brothers, I've forgotten?
WALI ALI: No, there was Elliot and him, they were the only two. There was a half-sister? Was it Mildred?
MARGARET: Yes, that’s where I got the idea, but I do recall his telling me about the difficulties with the brother, over a period of several years.
WALI ALI: I know that was a saga.
MARGARET: Yes, it certainly was. And several times he asked me to phone Mr. Rockwell, which I would do.
WALI ALI: His attorney in San Rafael.
MARGARET: Yes, messages that he had, usually when he was traveling.
WALI ALI: Do you recall any of the details of this episode? I don’t know how closely involved you were.
MARGARET: With his brother? That again is something that's faded into the past.
WALI ALI: Some of these things might just as well fade away, I'm just conscious of trying very much to put together a full picture.
MARGARET: Yes, I know that’s important. I'll have to dig back a little more. It may be that some of that will come back if I, really give some time to it.
WALI ALI: I have a feeling I'm interrupting you too much that I should just let you.
MARGARET: No, because it is good to have these questions.
WALI ALI: But you used to give messages to Mr. Rockwell?
MARGARET: Yes. In fact there are one or two references in here.
WALI ALI: And they dealt with matters usually pertaining to his estate?
MARGARET: Or sometimes in one or two cases about getting manuscripts published.
WALI ALI: Oh yes, he was concerned that if he died before he had any people that were some sort of trustee.
MARGARET: Yes, those were the kinds of messages that I gave him. When he started having students, he would come with some of them. I think this had been going on for two or three years. I went to a dinner with him in Corte Madera in a house way upon top of the hill, remember whose house that might have been?
WALI ALI: In Corte Madera it must have been Amin and Amina's, the Garden of Allah?
MARGARET: Way up on top of a hill, that must have been it. That was my first introduction to the entire group. And it was a beautiful evening, I think it was either Mansur or Moineddin, it may have been Mansur, who picked us up. He picked Samuel up first and then came over to pick me up. I was living on Forbes Ave. Then we went on to the house and it was really beautiful. I thought, "Wow! These Sufi's certainly are great cooks," and so was the whole evening, the ceremony and the chanting.
WALI ALI: Did Sam ever cook for you?
MARGARET: I don’t think he was a good cook. Yes, he used to go out in the kitchen once in a while and fuss around with things.
WALI ALI: He made a horrible mess in the kitchen.
MARGARET: Oh yes! right (peals of laughter) but I don't recall his ever preparing a complete meal. But he loved good food. One time, shortly after he'd been in the Middle East, he was telling me with great excitement how someone was going to prepare Couscous. And he was just looking forward to this Couscous, and he was going on and on about the Couscous.
SITARA: Do you recall any time when you might have had any differences with Sam?
MARGARET: Oh, we'd argue occasionally about politics or whatever, but we never had any real conflicts.
WALI ALI: It was interesting the way he had friends, many different types of people, and acquaintances, and within certain context. Some people he was always harmonious with, and there were certain subjects with other people—it was always like a battlefront—I was thinking of Lloyd and Mary Morain for example.
MARGARET: It was never like that with us. We were, I would say, about 99% of the time on the same beam. It was a very harmonious relationship, a very happy one. And I was always so delighted when he'd call. It was just, all of the sudden, there was Sam! He phoned me just before he went to Geneva. He always would phone to let me know where he was going and what he was planning.
WALI ALI: Did he send you letters also during his travels?
WALI ALI: Oh! I had letters from everywhere! And this is the thing that just breaks my heart, when I moved from my home on the hill, somehow that packet of letters got lost, and I had a few more somewhere. I had all his letters from his travels when I was thinking of preparing for this, I just thought, Oh, what a loss.
WALI ALI: A lot of the letters that he wrote from oversees were diary entries, and he saved copies and they were put into the diaries.
MARGARET: Good! Yes, so you have them.
WALI ALI: Yes, did he have any particular political views that you recall?
MARGARET: Oh, you know his universality? I can't even remember what our differences were at the time. It was so seldom that something of that kind did come up. He was a very strong individual, And I, for a number of years, could never stand up and speak my own mind—I was going through a period of development of my own. So when I reached a point where I could speak my own mind, then I started speaking my mind. (laughs) He was a little surprised, he said, "Good for you!" He was congratulating me. Oh, this is really funny. We had planned this home, had it built, it was on a hill and you could see Mount Tamalpais. We moved in. Oh! did my daughter ever fix me up with the neighbors, she went up to visit—we had only been there three or four months. She went up the street to play, and of course I knew the people well enough, they themselves told me what she said. And they said, "Where's your 'mother?," she said, "Oh, she has a man down at the house." She said, "They looked a little surprised." I said, "I hope to heaven she told them it was a friend!" (laughing) Oh dear these things are coming through slowly. Oh, something else. When he came back from Pakistan—I still have them, I have to have them remounted—he brought me an exquisite pair of silver filigree earrings, they're really lovely and that was, I think, the only time he gave me a gift of that kind and I was very much touched.
WALI ALI: He didn't think that way.
MARGARET: Because he wasn’t the kind of person who would generally do that. I was very touched by that gesture.
WALI ALI: His concern for young people was so tremendous. He had a lot of strength and yet at the same time I recall instances when he was like a mother hen, worrying and fluttering over his brood.
MARGARET: Yes, yes.
WALI ALI: I think he always felt that because he had gone through a difficult childhood, he had compassion to share with people.
MARGARET: And he did, a great deal, I recall the last few month of his life. He kept saying, “I do want to see Gay, I want to see Gay," it was almost an obsession. She was having problems then, also, not at the same time, and he said, “I know that if I could teach her to breathe properly, that I could help her.” And he just kept saying he wanted so much to see her, but her path was off somewhere else and they just never came together. He came to see me, the last time I saw him well it must have been about 10 days or 2 weeks before Christmas.
WALI ALI: That would be 1970, because he died Jan. 1971.
MARGARET: Yes, it was that Christmas. And he was going up the street to the Ashram. He was going on to my house up there.
WALI ALI: Oh, to the Yogi Bajan?
MARGARET: Yes, I lived just about a block and a half from there and he had brought some friends and we were talking. I’m trying to recall, I think it was Fatima. How old is her oldest child? Noor?
WALI ALI: Around seven.
MARGARET: She would have been a baby, yes. I'm sure it was Fatima and the baby were there and I got out some measuring spoons for the baby to play with, and she was just absolutely delightful and Sam loved the children, as you know. That evening, I gave him a copy of a booklet in calligraphy. He took the calligraphy and he just sat there, and he burst out, "See!" and he showed it to everyone in the group, he said, "This is what I've been telling you: heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads". It was a quotation from Thoreau, which I had lettered, and he went out very happily with it. He seemed to be interested in what I was doing with calligraphy. It started, first of all, because I was so completely dissatisfied with my own handwriting, and then I did a project, a sort of an Elizabethan Fantasy for performing with recorder music, modern recorded music. I did the booklet in calligraphy and he loved this combination of the various media, and was really delighted with it.
WALI ALI: He was always interested in the arts, and he attracted people who were interested in the arts, and inspired people in the arts and now there's a tremendous amount of artistic representation. There are classes in music and classes in all forms of dance, there are classes in art that just grew up out of the people who were studying with him and now they're taking it into their own realms and using it.
MARGARET: Yes, when I think of the total influence of his life, in the context of the whole period of time which I knew him, it really is a miraculous thing. To see that core of realization was always there. It was always there.
WALI ALI: That's right, it was.
MARGARET: But how it moved through all this real trial of fire, and came to the point of this tremendous opening.
WALI ALI: It’s very interesting, because some people, who didn't know him as well, said, "He had a great breakthrough at the end of his life and so it was always there, it was seeking outlets all the time and then it found an outlet.
MARGARET: Yes, yes, it, was always there.
SITARA: Were you aware of his potential, his greatness?
MARGARET: Yes, I was aware of it, I was puzzled at times by it and frankly, his knowledge went far beyond mine, I certainly didn't have the kind of mind which could understand the range of some of his. He would start talking about Oriental Philosophy, and although now I understand much more about it, but at that time it was really almost a foreign world. Although I had read a great deal as a child and as a teenager. My parents, as I said, were interested in that, and I started reading Lao Tsu at twelve.
WALI ALI: This is very interesting, this letter here, dated Jan. 1955, tells the background of some of his poetry, his inspiration, which I'm sure we don't have.
MARGARET: Yes, oh, and he said he began "Saladin" within one hour after finishing…
WALI ALI: …"Shiva Shiva."
WALI ALI: That I'm just reading, very interesting, the end of "Shiva Shiva” is the dance of Shiva, which is a glorious thing, one of the high points of his poetry is not always lyrical, in fact it is often very weighty an it has so much intellectual content, it's not light footed, but I think that end of "Shiva Shiva" is one of the few places where he was able to combine that weightiness with a real lyrical quality.
MARGARET: Yes, he achieved that beautifully. I believe there are other manuscripts somewhere else. I think I have another envelope and I hope there may be other letters in it.
WALI ALI: He was engaged in the writing of "Saladin" at the time when he wrote these letters to you in 1955.
MARGARET: Yes, yes, some of the early versions.
WALI ALI: We’ve not been able to presage the date when "Saladin" was written. We said “59, I think, in the "Jerusalem Trilogy."
MARGARET: Yes, now I wonder if they're dates on these selections from "What Christ, What Peace." These came in the fifties. Ah, here's the "Meher Baba" from Samuel July 6, 1952; this is the poem about Kukulcan. Do you have that?
WALI ALI: I don't think we have a copy of this poem That word isn’t familiar to me.
MARGARET: It's a beautiful thing; I've been racking my brain; I have the feeling that it might be from the "Mayan Civilization," I'm not sure. And I have a great deal of information about that in the house. Those particular civilizations interest me, so I could look it up. And I have selections from the "Carols of the Artist's Embassy," "The Black Christ," "Gathas of the New Age". I didn't really expect that I'd have anything that you didn't have.
WALI ALI: But you do have versions that we don't have, I can tell that, and this, if I'm not mistaken, is a poem that we don't have.
MARGARET: Good, I'd be delighted to have you copy it.
WALI ALI: This is definitely an earlier version of "Saladin." Did you read year poetry back and forth to each other? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
MARGARET: Yes, we did, At the time, I didn't do very much of that in the last few years. I would usually spend my time just talking about what he was doing, but in the earlier years—my style was changing, I was going through a sort of transition myself—we would discuss the poetry. I had a great deal of difficulty becoming accustomed to the particular style—the repetition. And it was only much later, when I became better acquainted with Oriental literature and the poetry of the Orient, the classical poetry, that I realized the roots of his style. It was like reading Kazantzakis' "Odyssey." I had a terrible time reading that book, becoming accustomed to that six-beat. It took me the first 50 pages before I felt myself flowing with the rhythm of it, and I went through the same kind of experience with Samuel’s poetry at the beginning, and then could feel this. I questioned him many times as to the need for the constant repetitions. Part of it, he said, was the tradition from which he was working, or traditions. He said also that repetition is extremely important because repetition is not only a rhythmic, bit a musical device, which is similar to that of the dance, that certain movements are repeated, and this forms the whole effect of the poem. And repetitions all throughout the poem create that overall pattern. That was the way he explained it at that particular time. And I could accept the repetitions.
WALI ALI: You mean, repetitions of the same line?
MARGARET: The same line would be repeated, yes. I could accept—as we do in Western contemporary poetry—repetition with a lot of variation, because that's our tradition. But, of course, if you go to the Psalms, you have the device of repetition used magnificently.
WALI ALI: I think that is probably where he was most strongly influenced, by the Hebrew Prophets, his identity he felt in that way. I am interested now in the period where you did read poetry back and forth. Did you have a group of poets who would meet together or anything?
MARGARET: No, just the two of us. If he were there in the evening, why we'd have a family visit first and then Samuel and I would start talking about Philosophy or Mysticism or Poetry, and Joe would excuse himself and go off to bed (laughter). It was really funny, but Sam understood, and he didn't mind. They really had a great love for each other. I always knew when Sam was on the phone, I'd hear Joe' say, "Hello," and then a few words of greeting, and then he would say, "Would you like to speak to Margaret?” ”Here's Sam!” (laughter) He brought a lot of joy into our house.
WALI ALI: What would you say, as a poet, about his poetry? Did you notice changes?
MARGARET: Yes, from his early versions, when I read the "Jerusalem Trilogy," through as published, I was really impressed by the overall effect. In the earlier stages, I had the feeling that he was—as he told me—experimenting with various kinds of things, and I felt that sometimes contradictory elements can be included in a poem for great effect. But there were times when he's got the wrong things put together, and he was going through a period of experimenting and seeing what worked, seeing what he wanted to put together and have a total unit of work. And so that was an interesting process to watch. And his sense of sureness of the line, of the exact way in which the line functioned grew. He had a growing sense of mastery in that sense—again I feel is strange, I just have a very strong feeling about it right now—that that followed his own personal development, his own inner development in this outer thing. It's the first time I've ever expressed this in those words; there's just something as though he was telling me this right now; it's just a very strong feeling.
WALI ALI: As a stylist, Richard Tillinghast for example, is one of our group, he's a poet in his own right.
MARGARET: Yes, I know.
WALI ALI: He has on a few occasions remarked to me that he has a tough time reading Samuel's work as poetry; it's so prophetic. I know Samuel felt that his poetry was akin to prophecy.
MARGARET: Yes, this is precisely it. I read his work as a unique type of work. You simply cannot apply to it the same criteria which a person would apply to, say, a poem you would run across in a magazine, because he had Purpose, with a capital "P" and what he was writing, this was not just a "Poem" poem, these were poems of prophecy and in that context, it’s the same as going back and reading something written in another age, as though we might be able to read something which might be written in a future age, one must translate oneself into that time. When I move myself into the context in which he's writing, and then it's extremely powerful. And one of the things which used to disturb me in the beginning was what I felt was too much intellectual content. And there are times when I feel that he slips over from the epic poem into exposition or sort of editorial. Occasionally, this does happen, but it happens less and less as the years go along. I think you may find some interesting differences between the early versions and the later ones.
WALI ALI: Yes, I expect to. He would make a point philosophically, and then he would go back, and editing it, would try to say it more poetically, but he always did have philosophical points that he wanted to make in his poetry, he had some teaching that he wanted to give and this is probably the difference between what's going on in modern poetry.
MARGARET: Yes, of course, that is the difference; there was purpose in what he wrote; there is purpose there if a person reads it in that context. I don't approach the "Bhagavad Gita" in the same way I would approach a modern poet. I approach it in a different way, and it’s the same way in which I approach Samuel’s work.
WALI ALI: Not all his poetry was in the dimensions of the "Jerusalem Trilogy" and "Shiva Shiva." He tried his hand at some lighter things.
MARGARET: One or two here, some of it was just uproarious! It was really funny. He would write just very light verse and just have a great time doing it. Do you have some of that?
WALI ALI: I think we probably have most of everything, I think his poetry was saved from the fire, whereas most of his prose writings were burned in the fire in 1949. He lost almost everything that he had written prior to 1949, with the exception of his poetry and his one book called "The book of Cosmic Prophecy," and some of his commentaries on Sufi stuff he got back some years later. They were taken from him. That was another story, there was this whole argument about ownership of materials.
MARGARET: Now, was that "Book of Cosmic Prophecy" the one that was published, which he co-authored with Luther Whiteman?
WALI ALI: No, this was something which he was writing during the period prior to WWII, which was very much in the style of the Old testament prophets, the Jeremiahs and so on, speaking to the nations, talking of the karma of what's going on and that kind of making predictions. He predicts everything … he predicts the coming into Palestine, in fact, I think I quoted in the introduction to that first poem, one of his things from "The Book of Cosmic Prophecy" where he was predicting the return of the Jewish people to Palestine and so on.
MARGARET: And he predicted Hitler's fall, I recall certain things that he said were going to happen, as a matter of fact, now I remember his talking about Vietnam 10 or 12 years ago, and it was brought to my attention very vividly. I was in the Orient in '65 or '66, somewhere in there. And I had the good fortune to visit Abu Said Ayub, the Indian Philosopher in Calcutta. And he was questioning me very sharply about Vietnam then, and Samuel was very much concerned about that.
WALI ALI: There was the other side of Samuel's life that dealt with world events. He was very concerned with it, and he was a close friend of Phra Sumangalo, who lived in South East Asia, who was a Buddhist Teacher—actually he was English and he lived in America for so many years. He'd seen just the first influx of the Communist Guerrilla movements in that part of the world. He was a Buddhist Teacher, and he was in touch with him, and he came back over here and he tried to contact the State Department and tried to inform Dulles and all of these people what was going on and got a closed door and worse than that, a black ball. Because they weren't interested in working with the Buddhists, and they weren't interested in working with the culture of the people, they were interested in simply supporting the Catholic Regime, and pushing that and so on and so forth and ignoring it. So it was just one of his bitter points about the American Foreign Policy. He was almost invariably right about those.
MARGARET: Yes, he was! He met either the heads of State or the Prime Ministers of practically every country where he went. And he would tell me about all these things. In Egypt, since you speak of the State Department, I shook my head in disbelief, when the statements were made by the State Department that the 1967 war was so totally unexpected. I happened to get stuck in Egypt with Phlebitis. I was there alone and I was 350 miles up the Nile when it happened. The Airlines were suspended, I was in a town of 5000 people (laughter), I weathered that one.
WALI ALI: And that was in the '67 war?
MARGARET: No, it was before that, and I had to stay in Cairo for a month to recuperate. And what broke my heart was that I had an appointment to meet an Israeli poet on a Kibbutz near Jerusalem and I was going from Egypt to this Kibbutz, and I had to leave Cairo and fly straight home, Doctor wouldn't allow me to do anything else. But when the State Department made these remarks, that was unexpected. I thought, didn't anyone in the State Department in Cairo listen to the television or the radio? Because it was never in the English Broadcast, that was the one thing I had to do as well as talk to the people there, which was a marvelous experience. But they never once referred to Israel without following it with the words, "With which we are at war.” This was before ’67.
WALI ALI: Incredible is the word for what our foreign policy has been over the years; now I feel optimistic because it looks like some of these Communist countries are going to get their turn to make their mistakes and we're not going to look so bad after all!
MARGARET: And it's pretty tragic in some places.
WALI ALI: But I’m afraid world events go so much by the pendulum.
MARGARET: Countries, just like individuals, have to live through learning experiences and trial and error. The first one begins, just suggestions for the "Black Christ" to be combined with “Carols of the Artist's Embassy":
"How shall I begin,
I'll send forth my grin,
I'll send my smile before me,
Tho you may not adore me,
I shall feel quite satisfied,
I should feel quite edified,
If you'd praise God."
But he'll start on a very light note, and then pow! I don’t know if I can think of any incidents right now.
SITARA: After Sam's death, were you aware of his presence at that time?
MARGARET: Yes, very strongly.
SITARA: The reason I asked was that on the first day that you contacted us, his cat had died, and to me, it was like a message from Sam.
MARGARET: And the day I sent the clipping from the “Independent," about his working in the Middle East, the day you were giving a lecture, a meeting, or whatever it was, that was the day that I sent it. Happens to me quite often. There times when I knew Samuel was going to call I was just waiting for it, but this happens in my whole life, those things just happen.
WALI ALI: Were you a gardener yourself?
MARGARET: Do you know, I have never been a gardener in my whole life until I moved into this place. Day before yesterday, I planted a rose. (laughs) "Seashell," an exquisite rose, the blossoms are like iridescence, in a seashell, and the colorations, colorful, very, very beautiful.
WALI ALI: As I remember, I know he was involved at some point with the Marin Garden Club.
MARGARET: I wonder if there are people in the Marin Folk Dance group that remember him, because Joe and I went to see him over at the College of Marin Stadium on the Campus. I think this was in the fifties possibly the early sixties, but I think late fifties. He was a member of the Marin Folk Dance Group, whatever it was called, and they would have a festival every so often. A couple of times Joe and I went and watched the group dance. Sam was with the group doing various dances.
WALI ALI: I know he had something to do with the Jewish Orphanage, or was it the Pacific Orphanage or something like that. He used to work with the children. He used to go over there and do things with the children. You mentioned something about his working with your children. Did you see him other times with children?
MARGARET: Yes, with my daughter; and later on, at the Khanka, or with his disciples and their children.
WALI ALI: That reminds me, yesterday we signed the papers on a new Khanka in the city that's going to be right down the street from this house, two houses on a lot. About a block away from this house.
MARGARET: That’s really wonderful.
WALI ALI: Named after him his Sufi name, Sufi Ahmed Murad, A lot of things are happening, you would be surprised.
MARGARET: No! I probably wouldn’t be surprised at anything! At the Khanka, Samuel was playing this game, and as I recall, he said, “Alright, now everybody, we're going to play a game. There is someone here who's father is me. Can you guess who it is?" And of course, he had everyone in an uproar, a lot of fun going on. Finally, he told them that my father's name was Samuel L Lewis.
WALI ALI: No relation, I'm sure.
MARGARET: No, there was no relation.
WALI ALI: My friend, Jonathon Lewis, who I introduced to Murshid, he always referred to him as his cousin, because his name was Lewis.
MARGARET: Yes, yes, Samuel and I weren't so very far apart in age. I'll be 65 in May. I can hardly wait, it's great to be 65; it's a mark of honor.
WALI ALI: He was born in 1896.
MARGARET: There was 15 years difference. He always looked and acted so young, physically! I told Gay once. She asked about it, she just looked at me in blank astonishment. "I don't believe it!"
WALI ALI: Once he grew his beard, he began to look his age. Before that, he didn't look his age at all.
MARGARET: You have a snapshot of him; he sent it to me, and on the back he wrote, "Please save." I saw it in one of the books, I'm sure you have a copy of it, of Samuel standing in front of the Temple, of Queen Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings.
WALI ALI: That's in one of the books? I must not have known what temple it was, in any case.
MARGARET: It's across the Nile from Luxor; the temple is way in the background, I’ve been in the same place. Oh, something else, I was absolutely amazed when I read that Samuel had had this vision at the Tomb of Selim Chisti in Fatehpur Sikri, because I had been to Fatehpur Sikri on this trip ten years ago, and I had a very moving and deep experience going to that tomb. I didn’t have the faintest idea that Samuel had his tremendous experience there at the tomb.
WALI ALI: That’s very striking.
MARGARET: Yes, I had ridden up the hill on an elephant which was quite an experience in itself. And when I arrived in the central courtyard, there was this group of people women in saris, all smiling up at me, and I was really communicating when I got down from the elephant, this woman came over and handed me her baby, which is almost unheard of; they won't hand a baby to a westerner, and I was so deeply moved I just loved that woman and her trust and I admired the baby and patted it, and then I went on the tour. This unbelievably beautiful place. And you look out, as I recall, over a flat area which was once flooded with water, it was an island, an enormous thing, a garden, which had been planted in the pattern of a Persian rug. And I could visualize what that must have been like at one time. The mural is beautiful. And then they urge you to go to the tomb, to see this tomb, and I remember the women coming praying for children and tying ribbons in the very intricately carved marble lace (that's exactly what it looked like). I stayed there a very long time—I was by myself.
WALI ALI: It's curious, because so far as the Sufi's are concerned, this was a period in the history of India, in which there was a real effort on the part of the Sufis represented by Selim Chistis communication with Akbar to bring universality into government. And not to have a government that was a partisan Muslim government as opposed to the Hindus, but to integrate the whole thing. And that is what he is known for, aside from the fact that he gave Akbar this blessing and a child.
MARGARET: And this is what women come to that tomb for.
WALI ALI: For children, that's right.