The last three years have spelled the death of me as a poet. And to be truthful, my life as a freelance editor cannot take much of the blame for this. It has been said that poetry is a young man’s game, and I have begun to feel the insurmountable weight of this statement.
Slowly nearing forty, I spent my late adolescence through my early thirties flooding pages with poetry, and now it seems that the high tides of poetic insight and beauty have pulled back into longer and longer lasting ebbs. When I speak of poetry as a young man’s game I do not mean that only the younger generation can find their work published in journals, magazines, or their own books, but that writing poetry is something more suited to the young, to those whose romantic dreams and ideals have not been crushed or become mainstream. I am forever haunted by the conservative Wordsworth, who was horrified and irrevocably discouraged by the aftermath of the French Revolution as it disintegrated into the massive bloodletting of the Reign of Terror and eventually Napoleon’s reign. I do not want to become that man. I do not want to lose my ideals in the quest for the betterment of humankind; I have always been and continue to be a believer in revolution, no matter the sacrifice, no matter how it ends, for an end is only a new beginning and harmony, through which rights and freedoms will be more equally shared, will one day come.
Yet I know that my poetry has evolved in the past two decades and has gone from frenzies of ecstasy and passion and professions of undying love and sorrow over it being unrequited that had no other channel but the poetic word, to moments of transcendence that have been borne of deep thought and reflection and more moderate feelings. The poetry of my youth was all about unleashing my passion, my fantasies, feeling so strongly and conveying this in the most poetic, romantic language and imagery possible. But in the last decade my poetry has begun to morph into more tempered expressions of love and desire; the romance of life has lost its vibrancy and the realness of the complicated nature of love has taken root in my soul and in my language. To counter this loss, my poetry has become increasingly more philosophical and spiritual.
Robert Frost wrote that a poem should “begin in delight and end in wisdom.” I cannot say that my poems do this, but that my evolution as a poet has. In this way I believe that poetry, the genre that exudes the beauty and faith of romantic love and ideals, among other things, is a young man’s (or woman’s) game. In youth, poetry breathes the ecstasy of possibility; in maturity and old age it grasps at the weakening beams of that possibility, trying to hold on to the memory of long-lost and forgotten dreams, ideals, and romance as it is forced to open a door that we cannot fathom even exists when we are young. This door, when we come to it, leads to a passage where wisdom and transcendence, and a deeper, more unwavering faith and belief, are found.
In youth, our professions of undying love and dreams for a more fulfilled and united humanity, with all their attendant ecstasy, desire, and loss are seen from the inside, by which I mean the intensity of our experiences are all we know; we do not see that they will not last forever; we cannot grasp the beauty of them in their highs and lows, moments to be savored as they pass. In maturity and old age we begin to see the beauty of our experiences, no matter how profoundly they move us (and have done so in the past), and they become moments of golden transcendence that we pan from the rushing river of our lives, giving them more permanent meaning and value. This is the more enduring beauty and wisdom that poetry imparts to us no matter when we write it or read it; but when we write it in our youth those fleeting experiences are recorded as testaments of the living ecstasy of our humanness. The poetry seeks to render our emotions into language and imagery for the understanding of readers and to illustrate the force with which they have consumed us. They are the most beautiful of our poems because they are the most natural and not subject to the passage of time and the reflection on our lives that accompanies this forward movement. They are not poems, as Wordsworth would have it, that are written from emotions “recollected in tranquility.”
Poetry written in maturity and old age brings new thoughts as well as emotions, but these are softer, quieter, as our emotional strength has withered with the countless seasons of our lives as we dance toward the everlasting embrace of Death. If we are lucky enough to write poetry past maturity into old age then our words will smolder with the embers of intellectual and emotional fires we experienced in our youth, as they become cold ash and wisps of dust. But they will hopefully have the serenity and wisdom we cannot know or imagine in our youth, which will teach us the truths of life that lie hidden in those ashes, after the conflagrations that we cannot see beyond, that burn us with the ecstasy of passion, love, desire, and dreams that seem to have no end, begin to lose their fervor and die out. This wisdom is of the beauty of the transcendence of the moments in which we have most intensely felt and thought, in which we have most fiercely, most thoroughly and blissfully, experienced what it means to be a human being throughout our lives.
So, it seems that as I continue to write poetry (and I inevitably will) it will not be with the misdirected fire and dreamy-headedness of youth and unscathed ideals of romantic love and a utopian human race, but with the reflective passion of illuminating the transcendent beauty of what it means to let yourself go and be human, by experiencing life in all its trials and triumphs no matter where they take you. The poet that I was in my youth may be dead but the poet I will be in adulthood and old age is only now being born. His poems may be fewer, his passions and dreams more serene and less ecstatic, but the depth and meaning of his words will have greater sustenance and wisdom—the wisdom of the spirit, not just of the flesh.