How do you forgive someone whom you think has abandoned you? It’s a bitter struggle and it never stops. You’re eleven years old, a moment on the threshold of changes coming in your life, and you’re young and it’s proper and right to expect the guidance that will help you make the transition from boy to man. But Bang! is what happens? Bang! right outside your window? Once that gets set, there’s no growing back. I’m sympathetic to Mr. B. today, yesterday’s sadness transforming to this today—caught and frozen in an emotional snapshot, that one instantaneous flash-illuminated crescendo in the up and down, give and take, back and forth—to an unassailable indictment. The Crown finds him guilty, “The Man Who Did Not Deliver” who did not deliver. I can see how it’s an endless goad and nauseous push, the thing the boy tries to write away, to make something of it, express it for a moment so it can hiss out before the pressure builds again. Writing is to vomit. Then there’s all that drinking to help numb it away for long hours, which is what works best, with the payment due still worth the blankness, and sex to soothe it for a time in build-up and then obscure it beautifully for infinite seconds in another kind of flash. There are the accolades you strive for, where people tell you, You: You’ve done it. You’ve risen. You’ve overcome. Have a prize! You are a Person of Tremendous Value—after all. It’s a lie, of course, you know that, because you wouldn’t have been so ruthlessly abandoned otherwise, so you drink and sex and write, in desperation, for those brief stretches of oblivion that appear, in the critical moments, to be worth all the corrosive cost. Any consequence is worth oblivion.
I’m pissed off enough about something else today that I get it. At least in part. That the Crown would “split him” open, physically—I’m not that far, but I acknowledge the hot and bitter place from which such hard pronouncement is conferred: Behold the awful wage of treason. Something tremendous and implacable and bigger, sterner, and more impassive than you makes a decision, makes a “tough choice” and decrees that your horror is much, much less than its towering judgment.
And that is the evil that arises from an institution.
In the heart of a human being, such stuff ascends to its fulfillment for a moment and subsides. In a poet’s heart, it gets its moment too and then subsides as well, back into sorrow and decency. When the artist fixes it, then it can ring for centuries, pure and perfect and isolated in a timeless righteous fury. “I must sting.” Of course you must! It’s justified in that ringing instant, and here we are, readers, insinuated. We let it go too. But the institution, the soulless social machine of the government, the church, the Crown, the administration, management…in their soullessness they study how to hold such stuff constant, raising feeling to sustained blasphemy, hold it, and act. The Crown has spoken—it’s a metaphor in the poem, providing for the timelessness of an emotion marble-sculpted. The institutionalization of the same thing suspends in blasphemy. We sting in a terrorized sympathy.
Q: And what of the “grave ground-rhythm” of a forgotten “makar” (a Scottish bard) that reverberates? That reminds us of the human ebbing and flowing?
A: So what?