The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, is no stranger to flavors of the apocalyptic kind ( see “The Second Coming” ). He seems to have built himself a time machine that persists through the ages…one that certainly pops up at random intervals in my life to remind me of humanity, the void and other persistent existential (and highly important) musings. Today I thought I’d share his short poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” which features in a rather intense scene in one of my favorite Christian Bale movies. Yes, I’m talking about Equilibrium (because despite what people have to say about it, it really is BADASS!). Martial arts, long dark coats and rebellion…do I even need to justify myself?
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Art is truly a thing of beauty. It comes in colors, it comes in words. It comes in forms, sounds and feelings. And Yeats’s poem is a gentle wash of a watercolor brush against fine paper. I can fall into the thoughts. It moves me. It reminds me. It changes me. That is what art can do to me. It’s not something that exists in a vacuum, with its ideas and emotions looking at me from the other side of the looking glass: it extends its hand and grabs me. And does not leave me unaltered.
Every ‘creative’ has the potential to feel dystopia like a vast wasteland within themselves, when inspiration is scarce or the well of passion has been allowed to run dry. I can’t say I suffer from these moments in my own personal ‘wasteland’ because I tend to feel inspiration on both sides of the border. I am however, constantly feeling the barren abyss when it comes to questions of humanity. I live in a country that doesn’t make any sense to me right now. I used to (although not in agreement with either) be able to understand crime and murder based on social inequality. I could hypothetically reason that people were forced by the deep ruptures in our system to commit atrocities out of desperation or greed. But what I can’t intellectually reason- and what I never will- is pleasure in causing trauma to others. To breaking their souls. To sucking it out and leaving a gaping hole where a person used to be. WARNING: sensitive/uncomfortable content to be discussed. Yesterday, two stories out of thousands that occur in my city, scarred that area of my being that I like to refer to as my soul. The first was about a girl and her father out for a run and walking their dog. A group of males held them at gunpoint and gang raped the daughter whilst forcing the father to watch. After they were sure sufficient psychological and physical damage had been done, they let them go. They let their bodies go…but what happened to those people’s minds, hearts and souls? We’ll never be able to comprehend. The next was an elderly woman, driving her car innocently out her driveway and the same thing. Only there wasn’t anyone she loved with her. Only guns. Only fear. Only light taken away… “only”.
Every single day when I return home, I take a minute to understand that I made it through the day, without someone holding a gun to my head and taking away what makes me love, dream and hope. I say thank you- to whatever unseen forces may exist out there- that my humanity is still intact. But I wonder…about the things that make people emotionless. That make them want to harm others. Is it an inherent cruelty? Or is society creating these heartless mobs? Shaping and duplicating…in preparation for the apocalypse to come. How can intellectuals and creatives impact on these hardened monsters that are multiplying exponentially? How do we fuse ideas, words and art into a special inoculation that can remind people…yes, you do have a heart somewhere deep inside the mess.
Maybe it comes down to holding on tightly to those things that keep you feeling something. Maybe I’m asking futile questions. But maybe there is hope amidst the dystopia…if we can just ‘touch’ that point within other humans that ripples our benevolence
Poets write to make sense of the world. Poets write to understand. To make all the feeling inside subside…or to find feeling where there is none to be seen. To love when it’s not allowed. To bleed when it would be too messy in a physical capacity. Poets write to live…to breathe…to have something that defies death and the logics of society. In the lines of a poem, that’s where the secrets to humanity hide. Music is poetry. Art is poetry. Your mouth is poetry. Second chances. Extension of life. Beauty. Let the words come spilling out…and choose to live in the vibrancy of life while the lines dance around your lips. Smother yourself with love and the safety of imagery. Let the metaphors hold you. Let yourself believe in promises that never die in the confines of a stanza. Then put your pen away and return to the dark folds of the universe. The curse of having a poet’s heart.