Poetry, the Cab Driver, the Moon and a Life Well-Lived

As one grows older, hopefully the wisdom one possesses reaches an equivalency to the extent of gray in one’s hair, or the depth of wrinkles; and perhaps that wisdom is expanded in direct correlation to the differing breadth of perspectives and stories which one has encountered and collected throughout the years. By ‘stories’, I don’t mean fictional make-believes; rather, everyone has a story to tell, and that story of one’s life is a collected stream of events, encounters, vignettes of joyful explosions, puddles of grief, streams of memories with pock-marks of tragedies, comic situations, and in the end, a determination as to the life well-lived, or?

Read Anton Chekhov’s brilliant short story, Grief, in which the death of a cab-driver’s son leads to a multiple series of attempts to speak to passengers about his tragedy, and the utter lack of compassion between the strangers who wish to go about their lives; the clash of the humanity of the driver with the perspective which we all have — that the person we pay to transport us to a destination is not treated as a subject, but rather an object. That relationship is one of a contractual obligation — he is being paid to provide a service of transporting me to a specific destination, and of course we do not have time to listen to his subjective life — of personal grief or tragedy.

A ‘life well-lived’ — that is a difficult concept to embrace. Like grasping a fistful of sand and watching your palm become a swift and unforgiving hourglass the harder you close your fist. Once, a Japanese woman commented to me that we Americans destroyed all poetry by landing upon the moon, and showing the world needlessly that the moon was nothing but a composite of rocks, craters and lifeless soil; that the poetry which once filled the night air with its grandeur and beauty was forever relegated to a memory, now nothing more than a round tundra of cold, sallow realities; poetry died with the landing of man on the moon; romance was murdered; beauty became defined in systematic, scientific terms; and metaphor melted away with an avalanche of pragmatism, forever banished to the dusty bookshelves somewhere in the darkness of forgotten works, with Homer, Shakespeare, Blake; for who reads poetry? Who needs poetry? Science has taken the helm of hero-worship; we look only for what works, and what is profitable to man. But at the end of it all, one still has a need to ask: What is a life well-lived? And to answer that question, we need to look not only at the moon to see the poetry within the lifeless rocks and craters of shivering darkness; we have to look at the cab-driver and hope that he does not have to tell his story of grief to the horse at the end of the day.

Story for the Day

We are sitting in front of a fire; outside, ice covers the trees; snow has fallen. In days past, white was the color of purity; but then minds greater than poetry analyzed such metaphors and determined that white was not a color at all, but the absence of color; that black was the collection of all color; and so white lost its stature and meaning; purity was lost; angels fell from their pedestals, and no one could speak of snow, purity, covered trees or angels flying through the air from clouds casting dark shadows and snowflakes with designs carved from the mind of God.

No, poetry was never to encounter the rational; mathematics was poetry for those who sought certainty in a world of certitudes lost in the beauty of words; but then the fallen nature of man came to mold beauty in the mirror of himself, and from the fallen nature came the hunger for power; and from that hunger for power, beauty was lost forever. White lost its color of purity. Snow no longer fell. God no longer carved each snowflake. Instead, the birth of a juggernaut came to be: science, analytical philosophy, Darwinism, the rise of man, and the loss of poetry. Nietzsche declared, Ecce Homo. Years later, when men lamented the loss of youth, the casting away of innocence, a young boy looked out through a frost-covered window pane and dared to ask, “Is one snowflake different from another?” From that question, poetry was born anew, and angels began to fly with renewed vigor, and God picked up his carving knife and began working again.