The Poetic Nuisance
WE are, says an ancient philosopher, merely the cells in the brain of the world. When her sleep is broken by nightmare, we perish in war; when she falls in love with some gypsy of the zodiac, nations vie with each other in loving-kindness; when she thinks of her God, a redeemer, slain with bitterness, arises with words of redemption.
Yet note how, for example, the quality of wars has changed. There were wars over the possession of beauty incarnate in a single woman; there were wars to deliver a holy city; there were wars to achieve the Sangraal. These were the half-sweet, halftroubled dreams of the young world. To-day her nightmares are of oil wells, concessions, stocks and bonds — all the interests, in short, of a middle-aged being. Our world is middle-aged. Her thoughts are practical. She yearns for comfort as once she yearned for constellations so remote that they were merely daydreams in her consciousness. We are the thoughts of an established lady of independent, but not large, income; we are the record of her fifties. Her childhood is chronicled in anthropology, her adolescence in the mysteries of the vanished races. And her youth brought forth the poets.
Her thoughts raced in those days. Clean out of the bounds of reason they leaped, striding out in rhythm to chase the ineffable beyond the family hearth of our solar system and to lose themselves in the uttermost reaches of space. The poets, who were the thoughts of her adolescence, raised their chorus as lustily as frogs peeping in an April tarn. But poetry, romance, imagining, are qualities of youth which never yet have been known to survive the climate of maturity. The world’s romantic days are over. There are realities to be dealt with, bank accounts to be balanced. Her only child is lunatic. Brother poets, in the mind of this cosmic Hetty Green we are unwelcome memories.
This is the explanation of much that has seemed strange. The world in her middle age dislikes to be reminded of her youth. Was she disappointed in love? Did her father die leaving much less than was expected, so that she had to devote herself to making both ends of her orbit meet? Or has she merely succumbed to astral conventionality and decided that she has a place to maintain in Zodiacy? Certainly, whatever may be the cause, the effect is apparent. Since poets, these rebel cells in an otherwise efficient, brain, insist on haunting her with their twaddle, down they must go, out of her consciousness, down to her subconsciousness, to the dark cerebral labyrinths of poets’ clubs and Greenwich Village, where, utterly ignored if not forgotten by the healthy thoughts of finance to which are dedicated the upper spaces of the brain, they mill round and round in their own company. Or they may be sublimated and thus fitted for her consciousness. Their dreams may be turned into something practical; they may conform to a scheme (paying, of course) of uplift, service — all the greeting-card sentiment which, in the middle-aged mind of the world, passes for noble thinking.
Brother poets, we are silly to continue our futile strife. Were our world to visit a psychoanalyst, we should all be hauled out of her subconscious memory and set to work. Let us await a season when we shall again be welcome, when the world, grown old, drowses at twilight in the universal autumn beside the embers of the sun. She will welcome us then. We shall ring in her mind the bells of remembered happiness. We shall be the voices of her dotage.