I literally wrote myself sick last week. Mostly I think this was because I stayed awake for twenty-four hours the day of the big snowstorm to finish a series of poems, which I began perhaps a week before that. I don’t know what else the poems may have discovered – perhaps nothing much – but I know I realized something: I can’t stay awake for twenty-four hours anymore. I didn’t feel right for days. Finally, I’m more myself. And I’m thinking of starting a new project, though I’m not sure what or how or if.
I did come to something else after writing like that. The gist of which goes like this, and stems from the question why should one write poetry? If the purpose of art is to find and love the universal in the particular, then wouldn’t it be better to pass on this activity and love the particular in the universal, which may be – actually, I’m not really so tentative on this point – the aim of all living? I guess this boils down to an understanding that being a good, great or even decent poet doesn’t guarantee one will be even a marginal human being. This has always been my great hope. That through poetry someone might, if not become a good man or woman, then at least he might become a better one than he otherwise would have been. But perhaps this is still the case.
Here is what I mean. If one finds the universal in the particular, and loves it, one experiences what Freud called the oceanic effect. One may be transported into that richer atmosphere, where all is one. Here we exist as pure principle, where merely to will something is to accomplish it. I know that this sounds like a bit of mumbo-jumbo, and it is, but I don’t think that this should mean we ought to completely dismiss the experience this formula suggests. It happens. It is. And yet it isn’t, too, because while the effort it takes to achieve such an insight produces the desired effect, the effort can’t be sustained very long. One must return to earth, to its obligations, its push and pull. Here, on the flat ground, one’s will is thwarted, and the supreme virtue is humility.
And this may be the point. This is how the change occurs. Having been lifted into that realm, where to will is to do, and now having returned to this ordinary earth, one must don new duds. The old clothes of peacock don’t suit, and the celestial robes of the ether don’t either, but one asks now for a rough tunic. Now one crawls along the ground, loving particular stones and particular grains of sand because having seen the large one comes to value the small. Even the stars might come to this conclusion, and cease pitying us. They may be, indeed, the gods we hope they are, who love us because we are more fragile than they. Or as fragile as they, who aren’t really abundant, but as unlikely and uncertain as we.
This world, all of creation, wants our love. It asks fiercely for it. And still remains aloof. It is our one gift to motion toward. It is our one human virtue, and it is rare – it must be – to love this weakness in ourselves and in all things. Better, it is our triumph to see it isn’t weakness at all. It is our crown. It is our strength. We love, as if it were forever, that which may not even be. The light of stars, to which we pray and on which we wish, is gone before we open our eyes. And yet that oughtn’t change a thing. And, it seems, as if it doesn’t. Still, we lift our voices to sing or cry to that which can’t or won’t hear or understand. Love, the kind I mean, requires the knowledge that all love is wasted. And yet seems more precious because it is. It is. And we are, however small and insignificant, fierce in love with that which is ours to love and can’t last long.