This morning I felt a sinking regret and clutched with fear at the prospects of making something of my life. But despite these fears, I also knew a kind of courage forged in the adventures of the mind and the journeys of the spirit that have been my lot. I saw a few short years ahead for me before retirement, and wondered what might be the prospect of ever freeing myself from my office as a lowly under-castellan in a minor provincial government, and making a living instead as an author.
I had turned last night to AuthorTube and BookTube for guidance, but saw more appeals to enterprise and marketing than to the search for knowledge, wisdom and survival in the infinite conversation. These were not my goals, however practical they may be. If I do pursue an author platform – and I intend to commence in February a podcast and Youtube Channel of the Burning Archive, together with later in the year a sub-stack newsletter – it will not be for social media fame, but to find some heartfelt fellowship in tradition with a band of true seekers of the sinking star I search for in the infinite conversation.
To check the sparring of despair that I felt this morning, I turned for my daily poetry reading to Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses. Truly I felt this morning, outcast and downcast, like Ulysses, an idle king,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and doleTennyson, Ulysses
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
But more so than the moulted carapace of governing that lies at my feet, I connected to the adventurer of the spirit, weakened by age and misfortune, that Tennyson saw in Ulysses. It was this grey spirit that I turned to this morning for the courage to continue.
This grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thoughtTennyson, ulysses
I also saw in Ulysses’s contrast with his son, Telemachus – “centred in the sphere/ Of common duties, decent not to fail/ In offices of tenderness” – the wrestle between domestic settling and mindful stiving in my own heart.
But it is the magnificent final stanza where I sought the deepest courage to continue. This stanza – or most of it – is read so well in this Youtube video produced by Red Frost Motivation.
These closing fifteen lines gave me the courage I needed this morning:
….. Come, my friends,Tennyson, ulysses
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Harold Bloom wrote, in his introductory note to this poem in his selection, The Best Poems of the English Language: from Chaucer through Robert Frost, from which I read this morning, that these lines echo “the defiant Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost I-II.” But to me the closing lines are not a defiance of God, but a defiance of extinction. They clap the hands and sing into the tattered cloak on a stick. They call you to choose the way of life that is yours, even acknowledging how you differ from both those you love (domestic Telemachus) and the image the world gives to you (“I am become a name”).
The poem is not the poisoned illusion of a soul that defies God, but of the lay of a grey spirit who knows both his growing weakness and his true way of being.
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’Tennyson, Ulysses
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
This grey spirit strives to find some glimpse of immortality, to search for the sinking star that falls beyond the horizon, and to yield his treasures only to the infinite conversation.