Monday, July 30, 2007

Dragons, Dragons Everywhere

Keats had a presentiment.

WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be," he wrote,

"Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance..."

he was the better part through a sonnet, and if my math was correct, he was only twenty-two. Which meant of course that his presentiment was closing in on him fast. 

In 1821, a scant twenty-six, John Keats was toast, having written some of the most remarkably wonderful lines the English language has yet known, and having ventured such risky business as The Mermaid Tavern, which simply doesn't sound like him. My favorites of his are La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and The Eve of St. Agnes if for no other reason than the plangent line "The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass."

Keats could not have been a pleasant person to have been around while he was alive; he had, as someone I know is fond of saying, issues. But he endures, warts and all, illustrating, I think, the two sides of the artistic coin, the desire to get "it" all down, right off the truck, as it were, and the fear, the numbing fear that the last good idea was literally the last idea, that there would be no more, zilch, circus left town.

By no means a bi-polar person, although certainly given to highs of enthusiasm that could, I suppose, be characterized as manic, I have vivid memories of the seemingly endless tingle of an idea and the mad race to trap it, drive it to a tree as my blue-tick hounds did their quarry, then set about capturing it. I also recall the numbing fear that such creativity as I have is like Net-Flix, they say the next movie is in the mail, but you know better; they've lost your address. Of all the customers they've ever had, you're the one they've dumped.

John Keats would likely have traded away what he could to have had the eleven added years of life Mozart had. And our own American version of Mozart, George Gershwin, scarily had only what seems a scant thirty-seven years.

Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you, shoulder-high...

That's Houseman, actually celebrating in To an Athlete Dying Young those who were gone before suffering such indignities of age as he himself suffered, scarcely able to mount the stairs of his splendid Cambridge apartment, the acclaimed Latin scholar, the accomplished poet.

I now begin to fear as well that I may have introduced a funerary note into this essay, when what I intended was to celebrate that polar tug of not being able to get done all the projects that seem so attractive and the bug-hitting-the-windshield smack of emptiness, the sense of it all having been used, these two polar opposites being infinitely preferable to the drone and lurch of boredom. If there is a hell, it is boredom.

My great favorite, Mr. Clemens of Hannibal, inspires me by having stayed on, as well as by the things he did and the things he tried while he was with us.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of all is to be taken from Sally, who just roused from one of her deep, snorry sleeps to essay dragons or possibly raccoons or coyotes outside. It is long past the time when the squirrels are bedded down, and besides, what menace were they in the first place? 

 Once again I am saved from the menace of a Grendel or worse, and if put in perspective, a dragon or monster is infinitely more scary than not finishing a project or, worse, finishing it but mucking it up.

1 comment:

Lori Witzel said...

Just a quick, early-morning drive-by to tell you I so love this post, and the typewriter post...ahhhhh. Now, off to get ready for work.