Born Before the Wind; or, On Encountering Christian Wiman’s He Held Radical Light, a Post in Two Parts: Part Two

If you missed it, here’s part one:…o-parts-part-one/

Wiman has been dealing with a disease that has made mortality a reality for him (whereas at this moment, my mortality is merely theoretical).

But here is what he says about reality: “If reality is, as this entire book has been arguing, perceived truly only when the truth of its elusiveness is part of that perception…, and if poetry has any reach into ultimate reality at all, it is the abstract element of music in which that connection is most deeply felt.”

Well, that’s one of those statements he puts out there as if there can be no argument. But music is music, and poetry is music with, of course, words, and all their layers and shiftiness, their sniffs of time past and echoes and currents, their pictures and arrows — their meaning, let’s just make it plain. Words have meaning, and poetry is made of words, chosen carefully for music and silence, for form and function, for all that’s conjured, for double-entendre and some je ne sais quoi. That’s why it’s so great. And “reality” is, of course, no different: layered, shifty, circumspect, changeable.

Wiman writes about “…bringing eternity into one’s immediate consciousness rather than, as so many poets have tried to do, as so many people try to do in one way or another, projecting their consciousness into eternity.”

Eternity. Art and faith — why is an old atheist like me interested in this stuff? Is it an anthropologist’s curiosity about a strange subculture? Do I long for some force that can act on my behalf in the face of the random clatter of life unfolding? Of course. Do I fear the loneliness of oblivion? Nah, I think when I’m dead I’m dead. Do I fear having come and gone with no impact? Well, I’ll be dead — so what do I care?

Maybe it’s that human impulse to believe in something larger than ourselves, and I’m too human to ignore that impulse, yet too hard-headed to indulge it. So I read about and contemplate it. And maybe that in itself is a kind of faith? Or an appreciation, anyway, of the process of thinking, a practice of consideration of the mysteries of this life thing.

Wiman says this: “…there is a persistent mystery at the center of our existence, which art both derives from and sustains.” And you know, I can’t really argue with that.

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