There's this great bit in Brave New World where Helmholtz inadvertently re-invents the lost art of poetry. In a lecture 'On the Use of Rhymes in Moral Propaganda and Advertisement', he introduces a technical example of his own:
'Pure madness, of course; but I couldn't resist it.' He laughed. 'I was curious to see what their reactions would be. Besides,' he added more gravely, 'I wanted to do a bit of propaganda; I was trying to engineer them into feeling as I'd felt when I wrote the rhymes. Ford!' He laughed again. 'What an outcry there was! The Principal had me up and threatened to hand me the immediate sack. I'm a marked man.'Being alone -- or feeling any type of mental or emotional 'excess' -- is some achievement in Huxley's imagined world of relentless social and emotional conditioning, meticulously designed to make sure everyone is happy, stable, and appropriately behaved. Right from (ectogenetic) conception, each member of society has been biologically and environmentally cultivated with the capabilities, predispositions and attitudes best suited to their predetermined status and occupation. Along with a carefully engineered culture of satisfying (but superficial) experiences -- with an emphasis on instant gratification -- there is seldom cause for discontent. And, when there is, there's always soma -- a recreational drug delivering "all of the benefits of Christianity and alcohol without their defects"..."one cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments".
'But what were your rhymes?' Bernard asked.
'They were about being alone.'
Bernard's eyebrows went up. (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1931)
The 'freedom to be a square peg in a round hole' has been contrived away -- small price to pay, surely, when you consider all the instability and misery this 'freedom' introduces? Happiness is championed, unquestioningly, as the greatest good, and by-and-large has been successfully attained for most of the people, most of the time. There isn't much of a place for poetry under such an arrangement; after all, as Helmholtz later observes "You've got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can't think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases".
I have been writing quite a lot lately. Or trying to. Thing is, I've been afforded ample freedom through the years to be a 'square peg in a round hole' -- a reality which has confronted me unpleasantly frequently in recent weeks. Unfortunately, it transpires that emotional excess and aloneness might be necessary ingredients for "X-rayish phrases" but they are by no means sufficient. In the hitherto absence of any of my own, I turn to those of someone rather more adept:
Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.Wow. For all that I'm tempted to envy his eloquent words, I can hardly envy the anguish that wrung them from him. Well might I aspire, though, to the gentle, weary wisdom he displays in relation to his bitter circumstance: "Can something..."
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
I learnt, some years ago, the importance of exercising whatever seemingly meagre choice remains in moments of 'emotional excess' -- of seeking to seek out the better thing, no matter how restricted are the options. By no means do I always do this. But I have done it enough to know that it is, well, it just is better: however looming the despair, however faint the hope, I know in the depths of my being that it is always in my interests to cling to the latter and eschew the former with whatever energy and undertaking I can muster.
Hope is not a mere feeling: it is a decision, an act of the will. The book of Psalms -- a collection of songs and poetry exploring a broad and emotional range of human experience and interaction with God -- is full of decisive statements and exhortations towards the act of hope...
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5)
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5-7)It is also full of accounts of God's past and present faithfulness -- testimony of hopes realised; reminders of the reason for continued hope. Psalm 40 has been close to my heart for many years, because it kinda resonates with my own testimony...
I waited patiently for the Lord;But the biggest reason for continued, real hope in God as real and loving and actively involving Himself in human lives came several hundred years after even the latest of the psalms were written down...
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)Despair, for me, can often be a tempting option. It is less exhausting than coping, continuing, persevering. It carries fewer responsibilities, and fewer risks of further disappointment. But I have to recognise that -- by the grace of God -- it (usually, in my case) really is an option, and not an inevitability. The alternatives are challenging, but not irrational; the 'hope' I contemplate is not a blindly optimistic one, but one based on historical and experiential evidence. For the current moment, then (for it will ever be, I think, a moment-by-moment decision), I can something.