Below is the first part of an extended prose poem on the nature of the poetic vocation (though it may apply only to a particular species of poet rather than the class as a whole). Like all poetry, this should be read as fiction, not fact; myth, not history; symbolic expression, not literal doctrine. The relation between poetry and truth is always complex and mysterious.
Dream of a Depressed Poet
In daylight, I saw nothing but emptiness.
In the oblivion of night, my blinded eyes met with a strange and sparkling truth.
It has been said unto you: "Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
But I say unto you: "Do not let the good be the enemy of the perfect."
--Unless you wish to avoid becoming the most miserable creature under heaven.
you are capable of avoiding this fate, by all means avoid it. It is
better by far to enjoy the good that is possible than to desire
the perfect that is impossible. Some of your kin lack this capability,
and are called Poets.
My friends cannot be blamed for believing me to suffer over the fall of
my kingdom; their eyes cannot perceive the more cosmic passion of which
that collapse was but an unhappy effect.
Buildings burn and collapse all around me, but my heart is afire with a far different flame.
The fall of my kingdom, tragic though it was, merely cleared a space so
that I could see, at last, the true emptiness of my existence, the sublime Olympian emptiness that is the peculiar gift of poets. I have been able to think
of nothing else since.
If the gods have made me to suffer, it is for the good of my fellow mortals. No suffering happens in vain.
way to Olympus is not smooth but strewn with rocks; not straight but
winding and obscure; not safe but careening precipitously over
darkened my eyes at birth so that I might see another light than that by which my fellow mortals see the world. This is the way they mark poets and
set them apart from those who are destined for happiness on this earth.
The bright and cheerful sun was blotted out for me by the fair and gracious moon so that I might behold the wondrous, eternal stars.
Wandering birds never light until they find their true home.
--For this reason, the poet is doomed to be a lifelong wanderer on the earth.
This world is an unfulfillment; it cries out for another.
--So says the poet, and the happy ones laugh and turn again to their feast.
is a fearsome thing indeed to awake to a dawning awareness of one's
destiny, when that destiny is to be a poet. Few fates are more fearsome
The angel has blocked my way to the Gates of Happiness, and will not be moved.
Do not be despondent, my friend, if you find you are unable to lead me through those gates. You are, after all, only human.
No mortal, however pure of heart, may overturn the will of the gods.
It was said unto me:
not be disdainful of this cup of suffering, O mortal. If God saw fit to
sacrifice His own dear Son, and to let Him bleed and be broken for your
pitiable race, then consider it an honor to be chosen for your painful
calling. Your blood shall produce Beauty, and your tears Truth, and
these shall be your gift to Man."
destiny was revealed to me: strange, terrible, and fearsome it was, yet
also good and lovely and true, and full of tender grace.
The poet is sentenced to perpetual loneliness and heartache. For this reason his days are shortened.
--At least in some things there is a mercy.