I can’t tell you how to live or what to do but literary history is jammed with this expectation, indeed its often the subject of great novels and poems. Who after all is Dorothea in “Middlemarch” but a barometer of sorts—a soul in suspension whose works and days are a struggle for Epicurean good?
Me? I’m a weak fellow. I have for many years tried to be decent. This has meant not worshipping easy satisfactions but learning to use life with an eye toward assisting others. And yes I can’t tell you how it’s going. I don’t have enough vanity to pretend I’m anything much. Still I’d like to be a barometer of sorts like Dorothea.
As the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelof wrote: “you see your life for what it ought to be,/and ought to have been.”
The prose above is vatic and bordering on sanctimony. Here is where I need to pull a handkerchief from my pocket—one of those Harpo Marx hankies that keeps on coming.
In the Way of Poets I Was Sad All Day
For each person is a world
Peopled by blind creatures in revolt
As Ekelof said—though
I know a horse without eyes
Who’s gentle and who
I’m certain has a thousand souls.
Of sadness I know so little
Though I just read about
A scientist who makes music
From the strands
Of spider webs
And cold voices
Rise and fall there
And tonight in my absentmindedness
I listen to the wind
Which is a way
Of sensing things
I’ll never hold—
That audible cemetery.
Whenever I say peace I mean something different.
When I was young I thought poetry would fix everything. I was a real fool. But I had a saving grace or two. I didn’t think my wounds were significant. I wouldn’t bend your ear about them.
Of sadness and goodness I know so little. But I know this much. I know.