We should wonder why humanity’s most awesome creations came into being against a backdrop of social violence, political turmoil and religious hypocrisy. These symptoms of our flawed humanity might be neatly labelled, ‘moral breakdown’ and a society ignores its driving moral forces at its peril. I have the Renaissance and Reformation of Europe in the Christ-like figures or mother and child motifs of the grand masters. Cezanne’s apples are closer to God than many of Renoir’s voluptuous portraits of the Madonna. Let us refer to some outmoded Freudian thought. Narcissism or self-love is the chief reservoir of the creative spirit. In other words our most beautiful creations are the fruit of immature self-love.
Narcissism is also people’s most basic defense against society especially in a conflict with the modern world. Self-love seems to be the best way of coping with anxieties and tensions of modern life but the chief features of a narcissist are fantasies over realism; this might make for fine artistic creation. The narcissist is autoerotic, a habit which can spill over into the realms of exploration of the world and foster a tenuous self-consciousness. The marrying of these two functions makes for some fine creative work. If the narcissist persists with these functions late into life s/he learns to dread old age and death; is unable to mourn adequately and might become a shallow hypochondriac. This can be sublimated into a religious fervour or a noble preoccupation with society. All these assertions might define the man behind the poet in La Fontaine as he wove his moralistic fables in the draughty court of Louis XIV. I mention him because he is regarded as the classic poet, the observer in tune with his society. “Relentless caper of those who tread the legend of their youth into the noon.”. This becomes the price of those who persist in tapping the source of their youth for their creativity. It is a heavy price for any human being.
Let me quote some peculiarities of modern life as defined by Max Nordau. ‘Our society abounds with criminal law and psychiatry to cover the peculiarities of neurasthenics, hysterics, and the diseases and degeneration conditioned by them’. This was written in 1897. Against this backdrop was written some of the finest poetry in any language. I refer to the French romantics of the nineteenth century. Whatever they were as human beings, their use of the language was impeccable. Writing poetry is a way of life and if it is to be a long life we do need some stability and a sense of peace. Can peace only be an illusion?
We simply need a long life span to produce the quantity of material needed for what we aspire to be perfection. So ultimately, the best poetry has a stillness of religiosity, not the excitement of turbulence and turmoil.
Ultimately fine poetry and peace of mind, that is a positive reflection of the world we live in, are synonymous. Let us strive to make a peaceful world and let us be proud to be poets. Is not poetry the most personal of artistic endeavour? Let not our poetry be the result of unreal dreams. Let it reflect a real world with which we need to come to terms; a world which we can accept and work in.
The greatness of the poet as in any artist lies in her/his ability to create beautiful work where others submit to despair. Every poet, indeed every one of us, needs to come to terms with the conditions of life or else our poetry will not be of the finest and we will sell our souls cheap. Let us remember that to write fine poetry is to be in lyrical tune with oneself, with others and with the universe. This is my definition of peace!
by Mike ScheidemannNow I know why it took so long
For some great poet to sing his song
Of the lotus rose and of the silence
That did not signal his demise.