I came across the following quote two weeks ago, from John Milton’s Apology for Smectymnuus:
“…He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy.”
There’s much Milton’s arguing for in the connection between ethics and aesthetics in writing; that one has to be something in order to have the right to write about them, to do honor to their subject, and that poetry–the one you become or the ones you write–is essentially undefinable. That’s something I’d like to write in-depth on sometime; but now for several thoughts on becoming a poem that has floated to the surface of the abyss of my mind.
Poems are composed.
They are not without themes, without patterns, without a foundation in rationality and a recognition of reality, truth, and beauty. They take different forms; fall into different rhyme schemes; speak of different truths, express different emotions, lead to different conclusions. They maybe be fragmented and almost unrecognizable; they may be rhythmic, sung by millions; they may be perfectly composed Shakespearean sonnets. They maybe scribbled onto a napkin hidden in the garbage bin of some tiny cafe; they may be whispered from ear to ear, down through the generations; they may be drawn in gold calligraphy onto cream-colored cardstock, then framed and hung.
Lives are like that. The innumerable variations, themes, patterns, and messages they tell. Some seem intentionally lived, thoughtfully designed. Others read more like blank verses–you can’t really tell where they’re going, or why, but it seems like they know, and you sense its meaning. Some come across as haikus; short but succint, sometimes so condensed to the essentials that it takes longer for you to understand and appreciate it than it did for them to live it. Others are long masterpieces (like Rabbi Ben Ezra) that seem to just keep going on and on, some drying up as they go, others growing deeper and richer as they age. And some, sadly, don’t read like poems at all…they read as a mess of words thrown onto a page without anything connected to anything else.
Milton’s quote reminds me of another thought I’ve come across elsewhere, that the History of Man is but a grand play of Life, and each of us adds our own stanzas to it. Each of our lives, a wrinkle in time that takes from what’s happened in the past and affects what comes after.
(We’re straying off-track from what Milton has in mind; for he speaks of being a true poem as something that brings out only what is true and honorable and heroic, while the point I’m focusing on is on life composition, with all its imperfections.)
When you look back on your life, could you see a sense of beauty and rhythm flowing through it, a ribbon of truth that pointed you to where you are now in your personal legend?
I’m often not who I think I am, or the me I want to be; theories and strategies take place in my mind, but very few of them reach reality; I make decisions barely conscious of what might happen if I made them, always wondering what it’d be like if I made different ones.
What matters is that, as I look back on the past three years, I see a reflection getting clearer. I see a jumble of words coming together to form phrases and sentences, forming the key beliefs, bottom-line assumptions about reality, and principles I live by. It’s not pretty or perfect to look at, but some things are starting to make sense.
Life is much more than just making sense, though.
It’s about seeking and finding truth anywhere there’s any to be found, and to create something that shares that with as many people as you can. It’s about being a poem that doesn’t only show others what you, or this world, or God, or whatever else is about, but does so in a way that’s unmistakably beautiful, thoughtful, and intentional. It’s about not letting your environment, age, upbringing, and other things you couldn’t control be reasons for not living the life that only you could–being intentional with how each minute’s invested, being conscious of each emotion rolling its wave through your heart, being unsatisfied with living life on autopilot.
Everything I read, listen to, think about, write, and create, everyone I talk to and talk about, everywhere I’ve been, seen, and dreamed about becomes fodder for the poem I’m living. What ends up in the poem that is the inner being of Odelia gets reflected raw, without filter in my life.
It’s a reality that’ll fascinate me for life—how what we are translates into life no matter how hard we try draw a line between them.
Don’t be satisfied with writing poems. Live one. Become one.