Only with the Heart

What a whirlwind of thoughts today! The morning began with Byron, the afternoon with Shakespeare, the evening surprisingly with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The unifying theme has been finding solace in language when the world goes all awry.

When I was very young, my mother read to me every night. I sort of thought I had forgotten most of the books she selected for recitation all these years later. But one by one, a number of them are slowly coming back to me. Tonight, I was jogged to recall The Little Prince. Do you know it? It was penned by the third author mentioned above.

Pretty mature stuff for a "kid's book." I just looked it up and see it is ranked number four in the list of most translated works ever.

When checking out the spelling of the writer's name, I bumped into a quote from the novella which, quite by synchronicity, gels with what George and Will were whispering earlier today. 
It is only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
And then, after a cocktail or two, Sherlock Holmes paid a visit:
Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.
That's when it really struck: a sociopath pretending to join in the festivities better have an escape route planned.

Language has been mine. The one fixed point.  
  
So, while showering this morning I recited Byron who has curiously (and quite unnecessarily) been absent these past couple of years.

In my life, I've been fortunate to have had a couple fine writers as friends, colleagues from Gustavus Adolphus. While recalling them, it suddenly occurred to me:  there's a bit of Byron in every writer I've ever known.
 
Why the Byron fetish? That's easy:
passion, in word and in deed. Actually, with a guy like that, the two are indivisible, which is why he caught my attention almost thirty years ago. In those days, I was an assistant professor of computer science, and yet every Friday I would set aside ten minutes to make sure the students were exposed to great poetry. Some thought I was nuts, but I'll always remember the following incident.

At the end of the semester, a student approached me after class and wondered if I would be attending the graduation exercises. I asked why he needed to know, and he responded:


"I've spent four years here and never encountered nor would have encountered Byron, Shelley, Keats, Blake and the other poets you read to us, had I not signed up for your class in computer science. This is my last semester, and I'm grateful that door was opened before I escaped. I want my parents to meet the man responsible for that."


If you'd like to know, this student was perhaps ten years older than the rest, balding, shy, and was clearly coming back to college to prepare for a new career. If memory serves, he previously
had been an accountant. I will never forget him, nor the value of poetry in computer science. I felt vindicated, too: a professor is supposed to profess, which is why I never fit so well in a later incarnation as an instructor who instructs. I can easily be the one, but not the other.

So many students, especially the dull ones who end up running the country for the rest of us, feel that learning something new is an imposition, especially when it's not "practical." Do you see Babbitt here? I've perpetually admired and respected people who think there is always room for "one more thing." The brain is not subject to Mr. Creosote's problem of wafer-thin mints.


May I leave you with the one (of two) works from Lord Byron which has most moved me? I hope you'll consider reciting it aloud, for like all great music it deserves to ring in the ear. 
She walks in beauty, like the night
  Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
  Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
  Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
  Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
  Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
  How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
  So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
  But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
  A heart whose love is innocent!
--Lord Byron, 1814
When I first read this back in 1984 or thereabouts, I grew quite envious.

A poem may seem a poor consolation prize to many. Not me. One can see it rightly only with the heart.

Next installment: The Love That Dare Not Pique Is Lame

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