Saturday, July 7, 2007

Gazing into the Abyss

One man's escape from the tedious hell of existentialism.
“It is necessary to have had a revelation of reality through joy,” Weil writes, “in order to find reality through suffering.” This is certainly true to my own experience. I was not wrong all those years to believe that suffering is at the very center of our existence, and that there can be no untranquilized life that does not fully confront this fact. The mistake lay in thinking grief the means of confrontation, rather than love. To come to this realization is not to be suddenly “at ease in the world.” I don’t really think it’s possible for humans to be at the same time conscious and comfortable. Though we may be moved by nature to thoughts of grace, though art can tease our minds toward eternity and love’s abundance make us dream a love that does not end, these intuitions come only through the earth, and the earth we know only in passing, and only by passing. I would qualify Weil’s statement somewhat, then, by saying that reality, be it of this world or another, is not something one finds and then retains for good. It must be newly discovered daily, and newly lost.

This essay is so good that I don't know what to say about it. But it sets up modern skepticism, romantic love, death, religion, and poetry - and shows them colliding in one very real life. It's not really an essay, it's more of a confession or an act of witness. I know that I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

The scariest passage in the piece was this unsparing look at the connection between spiritual health and the writing of poetry:
On another level, though, the decision to stop writing wasn’t mine. Whatever connection I had long experienced between word and world, whatever charge in the former I had relied on to let me feel the latter, went dead. Did I give up poetry, or was it taken from me? I’m not sure, and in any event the effect was the same: I stumbled through the months, even thrived in some ways. Indeed — and there is something almost diabolical about this common phenomenon — it sometimes seemed like my career in poetry began to flourish just as poetry died in me. I finally found a reliable publisher for my work (the work I’d written earlier, I mean), moved into a good teaching job, and then quickly left that for the editorship of Poetry. But there wasn’t a scrap of excitement in any of this for me. It felt like I was watching a movie of my life rather than living it, an old silent movie, no color, no sound, no one in the audience but me.

Inspiration is a mystery. It was the subject of Hopkins's last poem - and he, of all people, was complaining about the lack of it. A number of things - now including Christian Wiman's account - are moving me towards the belief that poetic inspiration really is a spiritual event.

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Rodrigo said...
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