Those of you who read the last post will remember that I began with a quote by John Keats. He said that the poet has no identity, that he is the least poetical of creatures. This is the case when he first begins to write poetry. His task is to be what he is not yet but could become. His task is to become the invisible that he can express but cannot yet be. Expression can lead to Being. He must be what he is not now; He must be what he really is. When he is that, there will be no need to express it. The greatest poet does not write a word. Other people take down what he says, for he has lost the need to record that he is and who he is. He only needs to record it when he is not yet it and writes as a means to become it, and to record the distance between how he is at present and who he could become, which is who he truly is.
Some say that who we are can only be discerned in the present. I cannot verify this belief in my experience. Who we are at this moment can only be discerned in the present, of course. But is who we are in this moment who we truly are? The poet, at present, is no one. He has no identity, as Keats makes clear. He strives to have an identity, but only if that identity encompasses his whole person, if it is a complete identity. As one who writes poetry, he must go through everything. He must be divided, he must suffer, undergo all sorts of humiliations, but above all he must not accept the designation of ‘Poet,’ for that would give him an identity, which he does not have. People when they look at him or read his work and think ‘Poet’ would be thinking of their own ideas of ‘Poet’ and so would not see him as he is. If he sees this and continues to allow it, he also will begin to see himself as he is not, as they see him. He is the poet; he writes poetry. That is his identity; that is who he is.
But what does this mean? He does not know who he is. Only those who do not know who they are can write poetry. But now he is a poet; that is who they say he is. That is who he is and he knows it. Bob Dylan, who everyone labeled ‘Poet’ from the very beginning said in an interview, “A poet is anybody who wouldn’t call himself a poet.”
It makes little sense for someone who writes poetry to have that poetry published, to have his poems critiqued by people who already know, or at least think they know, who they are. A poem can only be read truly by those who truly do not know who they are. Only the ones who do not know are able to understand another who also does not know. A man who does not know who he is does not necessarily write poetry. Writing becomes necessary according to the intensity of suffering that having no identity and not being whole entails. The more suffering, the more dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, the more necessary it is to write. Colin Wilson writes, “Language is the natural medium for self-analysis; the idea of ‘a way back to himself’ cannot be expressed in any other medium.” Writing is the way back to oneself, to unity, away from self-division. If someone is divided but neither knows nor cares, why should that person be concerned with the search for self and wholeness, a search in which the seeker will remain in a constant state of tension and angst, will feel alienated from others, and will be unable to find peace or rest? But the solitary, the one who knows and cares about his self-division, does not seek peace or rest. He knows that he will find neither as long as he stays divided. Peace may come for a time, but it cannot be sought.
The more the solitary writes, the deeper he goes into the search for self and wholeness, the less present he becomes to the surface. It is almost as if he exists only in solitude. Amongst people he might as well not exist. This is because with others he is especially aware of his lack of identity, since most all communication with others comes from identity, what is called ‘personality.’ For one who knows he has no identity, what can he say? Someone who is perceptive about surfaces may get the distinct impression, “This person does not exist.” Someone who is perceptive to depth may feel there is much more and will be drawn to the unseen in that person.
The unseen in the solitary person is really the whole person, for almost everything about him is unseen. So the one perceptive to depth will intuitively understand the other’s essence, though the personality on the surface appears non-existent. The less false personality, the truer to essence. But there can be a personality type that is proud of its lack of falseness, its lack of false personality. Instead of making a false personality out of his lack of false personality, and having some sort of distorted pride in that, the solitary, the one searching for himself, must undergo the suffering inherent in this non-identified state, the humiliation of having no identity to fall back on. It is most important not to alleviate this tension in any superficial way. The only way out is through.