I am a small “R” romantic and I’ve a few mottos I live by and more than a few I’ve given up. Of the first, my favorite is: only talk to trees that talk “back” and I’m firm about it. No Ariel, no yakkity yak. And I do talk to trees. It’s a Finnish thing. I even know a banker in Helsinki who talks daily to a birch. (He also talks to stones.)
Concerning the small “r” I’m more of Coleridge than Wordsworth. I don’t think we achieve tranquility. We can only imagine it. Buddha had the strongest imagination in history. John Keats may have been second.
Donald Trump destroys trees, rivers, mountains, waterways—kills wildlife, harms the vulnerable in every quarter. Against this my “r” is infinitesimally small.
I’m animated by the minuscule nature of my “r” for I’ve William Blake on my side. My grain of sand is ineluctable.
Because I know what is true I am healthy. Strong. Flexible. Loving.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “He is the best physician who is the most ingenious inspirer of hope.”
Coleridge: “Poetry has been to me its own exceeding great reward; it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.”
If this sounds like “paper wraps stone” (and it does) one has already given away phenomenology, has bartered it if for meager coins—the junk bonds of aspirational happiness. My students want instant careers. Deep in debt, terrified for their futures, they’ve little time for Coleridge’s “exceeding great reward.”
My banker friend in Finland talks to a certain tree on his way to work.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger