Every so often, we hit those defining moments where we ask ourselves the all-important questions. What has made us who we are? Why do we do what we do? Why do we live the way we live? What do we value most in life?
And it’s hard, because to approach such questions risks revealing many difficult answers, or things that we never want to contemplate. I’ve been drawn to revisit a favourite post of mine again, which describes how things that we pretend are complicated are often remarkably simple. And so, with that in mind, I ask myself why I do what I do, and if it reflects the person I am and want to be.
I’m into poetry because it tends to weave and express thoughts in unique ways. Poetry is often a mystery, and always a challenge. Like a Rubik’s Cube, it’s a puzzle of different gradients that we try and shape back together and rarely finish. Poetry pleases the senses and teaches us new ways to express ourselves. Poetry has the power to make the most out of our beautiful language, and to strike our imagination with visions and sensations that aren’t found anywhere else.
Marvell, meanwhile, has long held my fascination for many reasons. I’m struck by his obsession with privacy; his stoic imagination; his brooding scepticism; and so much more. He had few quality friends, and there were hardly any signs of normal relationships. His writing shows an incredible ability to twist, conceal, and yet walk a tightrope. Marvell is not ‘closed’ in his writing but he still, somehow, gives remarkably little away. He’s the master of elusiveness; the perfect ‘ambiguist’.
On the one hand, he’s a fascinating and unique human being with a talent for writing that, to me, is unsurpassed. On the other, he’s somebody I seem to desperately relate to as I go through life. I’d rather not, of course. I’m no special poet, and I would rather find the kind of happiness that always seems to elude Marvell and his work. But none of us want to feel alone in the path of life we are taking. Marvell, I sense, has become almost a lifestyle rather than an interest. While there’s a certain perpetual charm to that, it really needs to stop.
I do love (select) poetry. Battling a great number of personal flaws, poetry has coloured my personality; it has extended my boundaries of creative thought and feeling; and it has delicately refined the way I use language and express myself. I have to believe in these attributes because they are the best I have to offer and contribute towards what makes me unique.
I still believe, though, that poetry is a compensation trail for loneliness. Regardless of how much has been written about the social function of poetry in the seventeenth century – groups writing for one another and so forth – there’s always going to be an element of writing and reading verse that is inherently private. For me, I genuinely don’t know if poetry has been about anything other than consolation: appreciating the creativity of solitude; understanding the depths of others’ hidden sorrows; and trying to shape my own feelings into something beautiful and special.
I’m under no illusions that while literature can illuminate our daily life, it barely has a function in the real world. Even for having done so well in recent months, I’m still scraping at the barrel of a life with genuine fulfilment. And so I ask: what do I value, and what do I want to be defined by? The number of books I’ve written? What I feel that I’ve achieved? Having a work-life balance that makes me happy? The love of others?
If I had a choice to make, to sacrifice my academic climes to leave loneliness behind, I think I would choose – in Marvell’s hallowed words – ‘to leave the books in dust’.