WHEN IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR LIFE WE FIND OURSELVES IN A DARK WOOD WHERE THE DIRECT WAY IS LOST—HOW “WILD, HARSH AND INPENETRABLE”—“SCARCELY LESS BITTER THAN DEATH”—“THINKING OF IT RECREATES THE FEAR”—(Dante, The Inferno), HOW AND WHY TO GO ON:
When Fear Blocks Our Way Love is the Answer
Slowing Down Our Heart Rates with THE POETRY SLOW DOWN, Rx for the heart-stopping, heart-breaking, heart-making news, the news you need, the news you heed, the news “without which men die miserably every day” (William Carlos Williams), on which so much depends: poetry’s role in our crying days. My Poetry Flight o’ Listeners, as we read the news these days, we need poetry more than ever. It’s crying time again, and we’ll hear people in the midst of the race who write, when no one tells them to do it, and their thoughts of why they do it. It may be like what Dr. Sing Wing Poon tells our son, after his surgery, when his heart is pounding so fast (and mine is, too, watching from the corner of the room)—the Yogic breathing slowly, in and out, by which you can change the brain, fool the brain into thinking that everything’s all right . . . that sounds improbable, but it’s physiological fact . . . if we slow down, we can calm down, keep calm and carry on, with purpose, for as Nietzsche said, the person who has the why to live has the means to the how. Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor, says, purpose can help you endure—our purpose is to find the answers to problems life gives us, in love and through love, with our ultimate goal to love:
the grieving father of one of the children killed at Sandy Hook says our job is to make our hearts bigger than the loss we suffer, to make decisions out of love, not fear . . and Lin-Manuel Miranda, our composer/star of Hamilton, which we ARE getting to, O Poetry Slow Down, we are, we are—did you hear Hillary Clinton did a fundraiser at Hamilton?—poetry is being embraced on Broadway, the Great White Way to the White House, as hip hop meets Rogers and Hammerstein, and America comes of age, a new age whose soundtrack may invoke Ralph Ellison, and Einstein, avatars of love, its role in our civic, global lives . . . In these weeks we hear from authors who find meaning and solace and forgiveness and heart and courage and love in human catastrophes and turbulence, poets and poetic writers including the seminal Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Bruno Bettelheim and Einstein on Fairy Tales, Daniel Quinn from Ishmael, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, Robert Bly’s Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, with fierce sweet notes of e.e. cummings, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, William Stafford, Walt Whitman, and my own reflection on fear and poetry’s Rx. So let’s begin, with words from someone whose world was shattered, who no longer belonged, a persona non grata, who finds himself lost, in the middle of his life . . . lost—and worse—Dante! In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to find myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there. So we on the path of what good there is to be found, with one’s “beautiful, precious eyes” (Coates) if we tell our story finding ourselves in being lost. Following Dante’s engagement with civic headline violence, we hear about Vaclav Havel, Pablo Neruda, Abraham Lincoln, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the sonnets of Miranda and e.e. cummings on love and forgiveness. Our music ranges from Ray Charles to Miranda Lambert, Carousel to Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Marley, Beatles, and Stevie Wonder. Thank you for listening, and being part of this Poetry Slow Down of ours: you know you move too fast!
“I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way. But when I reached the foot of a hill, where the valley, that had pierced my heart with fear, came to an end, I looked up and saw its shoulders brightenedwith the rays of that sun that leads men rightly on every road. Then the fear, that had settled in the lake of my heart, through the night that I had spent so miserably, became a little calmer. And as a man, who, with panting breath, has escaped from the deep sea to the shore, turns back towards the perilous waters and stares, so my mind, still fugitive, turned back to see that pass again, that no living person ever left.
Now we can relate to this, yes? To experience fear on our path, terror—and what leads him out? Poetry to the rescue, Virgil, epic poet! Who covers Homer! The Poet leads him, yes, through hell, but out to the other side, to Paradise . . . And as we struggle today to deal with our own fear of what is happening to people all over earth, in our own neighborhoods, as we shop and eat and walk and push strollers, I think of how Dante identifies love as the answer—and that he called his work Comedia, Comedy. It has a happy ending–poet Rx-style.