I am a Romantic Poet by birth. Though I be proud of it, I claim no more credit than I do for being born left-handed. They were both gifts.
From the earliest days, I recall that I required a great deal of solitude and that melancholia was kind of a permanent condition. I looked at clouds a lot, raindrops on a tin roof made me dance, and sunlight on the water made me cry. Ritual was important, as were the song and flight of birds. I stared at people’s faces a lot and could read their thoughts a little.
As a young man, I aspired only to sit by a brook and compose sonnets. In the fading light of day, I would strum my lyre and sing odes to beautiful and vulnerable young women. They would cry, I would kiss them and they would fall in love with me. But I would soon enough fall off a cliff or die trying to retrieve their kerchief or bonnet or something from a raging river. Or perhaps they would themselves fall off the cliff or be killed by a wild beast, and I would spend my life yearning for them. Either way, there would probably be some dying words involved, and it would be terribly romantic.
The problem with all of this was that I was painfully shy around girls, and there were no lyres anywhere in Washington Co. And if there were, I would not have known which end to hold. I couldn’t play a guitar if my life depended on it. Neither could I write a sonnet that was worth a lick. Romantic or otherwise. Couldn’t rhyme for beans. It was not a good start for an intense, young romantic.
I had the further misfortune of not dying young. Though it seems to me that I tried hard enough. I certainly put myself in harm’s way with enough regularity that I deserved to die tragically. On more than one occasion. But for whatever reason, it did not work out for me.
As it turned out, I have lived to a ripe old age now, with no poetic portfolio to show for it.
Nevertheless, I have remained a Romantic Poet at heart. Perhaps more specifically and to the point, I have remained an ardent admirer of Truth and Beauty. The unvarnished kind. I recognized early on that, when it was all reduced, Truth and Beauty, the glorious and eternal Twins, were the foundations upon which anything that was at all good and worth preserving had to be built. I understood, with some considerable clarity, that there were things that were good and decent, that needed to be maintained. Otherwise, it was not a World fit to live in.
Consequently, I am distressed by these times. I need not go into great detail here, but my soul aches each day for a World crowded with fellow beings who are at once gullible and angry and combative. They have been led by a wealthy, entitled class who are unscrupulous, deceitful, devious and amoral. I regret my own words here, but we have come upon hard times, this Land. It is a time to be honest. Truth and Beauty are at an absolute standoff with Lies and Ugliness. And it is dreadful hard to abide.
Though none of this, it now appears to me, is new. We have been a treacherous and untrustworthy band of louts, braggards, scoundrels, ignoramuses and scalawags since the very beginning. There have of course been exceptions, but by and large, we have always been an obstreperous bunch, obsessed by our own self-interests and unconcerned by anyone else’s. And in defense of those interests, convinced of our RIGHTS to those interests, we inevitably become loud and stupid, mean and cruel. It would appear to be some sort of genetic thing. And if a mob should assemble, why we all become oafs, cutthroats and hooligans of the first order. Forthwith. It is a proud tradition.
The truth is that we have consistently chosen poorly. Since the very Beginning. We have unswervingly chosen our own wants and needs and desires at the front of it. And there should be no argument that this mindset inevitably leads to a type of intentional ignorance, a purposeful arrogance, a calculated blindness which can have no other endpoint than conflict, war and eventual atrocity.
When one sets in place a system that pits one group against another, and when this is encouraged by those who would lead us, it sets up one dreadful calamity after another. And before you know it, 2000 years have gone by and we are still putting forward one religion over another, killing and demonizing indigenous people, eliminating their cultures, throwing our saints in boiling oil, beheading our enlightened ones and otherwise assassinating our spiritual visionaries. And all the while treating the Earth and its Creatures like something we bought and owned, over which we have conscienceless dominion. It has been a failed experiment, a disastrous chain of events, but time sure flies when you’re lost in delusion.
I have lived, it would appear, a guarded, a protected life. I have known mostly amiable and well-meaning people. Those countless men and women who have befriended me are largely delightful souls of logic and vision and wisdom. I have been taught by many of you, instructed in the ways of faith, hope and charity. Not as homilies, but as life skills. And others of you, romantics, mystics, artists, musicians of all inclinations and poets of all persuasion, have coached me in the virtues of humility and self-honesty. You have graced my life and saved it more than once. You have, in your own ways, outlined and defined Truth and Beauty.
So I confess that the understanding that our self-deception and duplicity is so prevalent and pervasive, so widespread, is new to me. I was unaware of the anger lurking in so many souls around me. They were perhaps well concealed, disguised. Or they were simply in early indoctrination, not yet properly propagandized. In any case, they held their opinions tightly, but now present them proudly. And it strikes me as a form of intentional dishonesty, in some cases hard and purposeful cruelty. Whatever, I grieve for the Country certainly, but for them as well. My anger is reserved for those who misled them.
So the challenge for the Romantic Poet in 2021, and to others who would survive these Dark Times, is to find Truth and Beauty. To find it, nurture it and focus on it. To sing odes to it. To stand firm against those who would trammel it and encourage and defend those who personify it.
And as it turns out, that is part of the job description. The transcendence of being a Romantic Poet is that one is forever on a Quest. Truth and Beauty are abstract and elusive. There is never a question that Lies and Ugliness will arise and that a multitude of trolls, scoundrels and orcs will promote them. The question is only when and how long they will persist. And how stridently we resist.
The Life-Affirming Twins come in and out of focus. They evaporate and are superseded, sometimes seemingly vanquished. It is a lifelong search, an enduring struggle, and does not always end well. But Romantic Poets are used to being outgunned, outmanned, outspent. Discouragement and despair are often the most important tools in the bag. They lead to resolution, they lead to determination. They lead to courage against all odds.
In essence, these are our defining moments, those of us who bear the mark of the Poet, of the Dreamer. Those of us who care what becomes of Truth and Beauty. The next generations await the outcome. It is a glorious time to be alive.