Thursday, December 2, 2010

Romantic Life

     "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
From Ode to A Grecian Urn by John Keats

Here we go into the month of December: cold and dark but filled with great hope and anticipation.  If ever there was a time for poets with their understanding of the bitter-sweetness of life, this is it.
John Keats lived at the time of the Romantics along with William Blake, Percy Shelley, and Samuel Coleridge.  His love affair with Fanny Brawne was depicted in the movie Bright Star which was recently shown at the Haliburton International Film Festival.  Fortunately, for those in attendance, there was an introduction to the movie by Rhodes Scholar and poet, Professor Emeritus John Unrau. 
Unrau put Keats’ life into perspective by describing the Classic and Romantic eras. The former, he explained, stood strongly opposed to anything fanciful, improbable or extravagant.  In literature, he said, Classical authors strove for precision, polish, decorum and control.  Their aim was to write, as Alexander Pope said, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”.  “Note the lack of interest in originality: what oft was thought,” Unrau emphasized.
Romanticism began after the French Revolution and its credo was “Whatever is, is right.”  Whether they were political, religious, philosophical, scientific, or literary figures, Romantics understood life at deeper level.  As their name implies, heads and hearts connected, they could appreciate the many forms truth could take.  They applauded originality, intuition, imagination, the realms of the mythical and mystical, the rustic and natural, and especially solitude where they were happy to be away from society's judgements and restrictions. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven were also classified as Romantics.
The Classicists, Unrau said, believed from the conception that poetry was something that could be learned, and that poems were “made” or “constructed.”  The Romanticists believed that poetry was a gift of nature; poems were “grown”, organic. Or, as Keats put it: “...if Poetry comes not as naturally as Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”
After Unrau’s introduction, we settled in, watched the movie, and revelled in the beauty of Jane Campion’s production – a piece of Romantic art in itself.  The picturesque scenery invited the body and mind to relax, releasing the heart to pulse with the joy and tragedy of young love. 
The beauty of this film could have easily been missed if only the logical mind was watching, for it worked on a different level.  There were no bang’em up mysteries, no spectacular special effects, and no graphic sex scenes.  What there was an abundance of, however, were powerful scenes of empathy and intimacy and it was glorious to watch: so human, so humane.
I am a romantic at heart and am pained to see the latest cultural swing back to Classicism. 
Gated communities and an us or them mentality may preserve the body but at what cost?   To be living is not the same as to be alive.  To live without freedom of choice and to repress feelings is the pathway to depression, so is there any wonder we have a society rife with grief and addiction?  How free are we really when box stores and fast food joints are idealized places?  Where’s the intimacy?  Where’s the originality?  Are we truly making these choices or have we been manipulated into them with the promise of comfort and safety? 
CEOs are laughing because they know most consumers only think about the bottom line.  But what really is the bottom line?  Our financial statement or our aliveness?  They’re making fortunes because we don’t seem to care where our purchases come from.  Are we alive?  Are we capable of caring anymore? 
I’ve spent most of my time restraining my emotions like a good girl. It was despairing at times because I knew there was more to life but didn’t know what it was or how to get it.  Somewhere along the way I must have been traumatized and begun to believe it was no longer safe to be enthusiastic or express my truth, so I turned off and shut down.   But to be dead inside is a shallow way to live.  How did I let it happen?  How have so many of us let it happen?
Life is a gift that so often makes no sense, which is why we need artists.  Their words, their colours, their acts, bring us down in to that calm place below the stormy surface where we are reminded how truth, simplicity, and love are what we truly long for, all that we truly need.  Then from there, as Jane Campion says, we can build up our enthusiasm so it’s higher than our fear.  And when that happens, we will soar.
Yes, there is hope; from darkness comes light.  That is the way.
Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for another revolution?