Last week I touched on Passion and linked to an article which suggests it’s not necessarily a universal attribute of all people. I’m not sure I completely agree: I think for some of us there’s a passionate, empathetic and emotional being trapped, for one reason or another, beneath a thin, hard barrier we’ve grown comfortable maintaining. Exploring the dimensions of that topic will take more space than I’m prepared to put in this week’s post, but I’ll go with the notion that passion, empathy and emotion are present in all of us. I think it’s art’s ability to draw on this in ourselves which makes it compelling, turning a piece of music, a film or a novel into a deeply personal experience.
I’ve spent far too little time reading poetry; recently I was reminded of how poetry can tap into our emotional core in only a few words.
I encountered a reference to John Gillespie Magee Jr’s poem High Flight. While it elicits well the passion and romance of flight, to me the poem is also bittersweet: I can’t help but recall that Magee died in a mid-air collision aged only nineteen, or recalling Ronald Reagan’s quotation of the first and last lines of the poem following the Challenger disaster in 1986. In it’s full form, it reaches beyond the familiar Reagan sound-bite; in absence of the absurd contrast of a 1984 Bloom County comic it’s allowed to be itself: pure, undiluted and transcendent.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
For humanity, learning to fly over these last hundred-and-some years has come at a great cost in personal tragedies. When we join the queue at the ticket counter or are stuck waiting on the tarmac I think we’re apt to forget the passion and blood spent to get us to our interstate meeting or holiday.
Our newfound ability to fly isn’t always tragic, bittersweet or even routine. Sometimes, like a good poem, it’s inspiring.