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Meeting the new husband of an ex-fiancé, who had been widowed but is moving on to a new phase in her life. Patting the new husband on the back, Henry realizes that the man’s tweed jacket costs hundreds of dollars. Here’s a lucky guy, marrying such a woman, and wearing such a blazer to boot. Are we envious? “Vile envy did not enter his soul / but whisked around the corners all-right. Wow.” Okay. I take him at his word.
Shall he put in play again the broad esteem
in which his work was held
agonized? his lonely & his desperate work?
O yes: he would not trade: moments of supreme joy jerk
him on, his other loves quelled & dispelled.
It all begins with money in one way or another, doesn’t it? But while money and success, an expensive tweed jacket, communicate something important, in the end there is something worth more. The moments of supreme joy can’t be bought. The artist, Henry is saying, knows these moments.
Backpacking with my brothers and a friend once, we spent all day climbing a mountain—uphill every step, for six or seven hours, under fifty-pound backpacks in the summer humidity. Brutal. We had a car waiting in the parking lot up top. This was in the Smoky Mountains, a park crowded with cars and RVs, traffic and parking lots, but only along the main routes in and out. Hike for fifteen minutes and you’re alone, in some of the most spectacular forests of the Eastern US. So we had hiked all day, a brutal upward climb, reached the top tired but filled with a knowledge of accomplishment. We dropped our packs and walked to an overlook and marveled at a spectacular misty vista over the spectacular mountains. An RV pulled up, the driver and a couple people got out, regarded the scenery, snapped a couple photos, and drove away. They were there for five minutes. My brother and I looked at each other. “Do you think they’re seeing the same thing we’re seeing?” I asked. “No way,” he answered, but we both knew the answer before I asked the question. We had earned our view. It was objectively the same view, but that’s only the beginning, the raw material of experience. The mental and emotional apparatus that puts the raw data of a mountain view together—the light and colors, the shapes, the perception of distance—they were totally, totally different. Our brain chemicals were oozing, our hearts were beating, our blood was rushing, our bodies were humming, and we were exhausted and maximum alive, maximum sensitive. We had set ourselves up to process the sublime. We understood the desperate beauty in the scene. You earn such a vista. If you drive to it, it’s not the same. The process is different so the perception is different.
Money drives you to the vista’s brink. Accomplishment makes its terrible sublime all and only yours. Those moments of supreme joy that jerk you on, they can’t be bought. I’m with Henry: Nice soft blazer you got there. I bet that sucker cost you three hundred dollars!