Appropriately, this blog has been concerned the last few weeks with our sense of what is tragic. An irritated haiku by Issa, “The snow is melting and the village is flooded with children,” made me wonder about the conditions which can breed anger. They weren’t quite as simple as being old and needing quiet. They were less about actually obtaining what is good for oneself and more about the possibilities and limits which one perceives. To that end, one can use resentment as the fuel for a dark art, that dark art being no less than democracy. See Batsirai Chigama’s “Democracy” for more.
Resentment is only one part of tragedy, though. Disappointment characterizes Emily Dickinson’s “I’ve nothing else — to bring, You know.” She’s stuck giving her love to some clod who is hopeless: how much more can she give? Should she give at all? Dickinson, for her part, understands her value. Issa brings us (again) a portrait of someone irritated: “Mosquito at my ear– does it think I’m deaf?” A moment’s reflection, though, informs us that the speaker is far less angry about a mosquito than the condition of his own life.
Basho in “Climb Mount Fuji” and “Even in Kyoto” brings us to what is inevitable. All things pass away; we will grow old and die. He confronts these stark truths with full artistic command. “Even in Kyoto” powerfully resolves the problem of our being what we create. “Climb Mount Fuji” gives us a picture of an aging man who cannot keep up with a snail, and makes that inability seem like the truest, grandest virtue.
My younger, immature self would not have appreciated how careful, how musical Amiri Baraka is. My write-up doesn’t nearly do justice to the majesty of his words. It’s just a first attempt by me to try and understand his power, his pain. Maybe one day I’ll write a hundredth as well as he does. Amiri Baraka, “Legacy.”