More On The Solitary: The Search For Self

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.

On The Solitary

“A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute – the poet has none; no identity – he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures… not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature – how can it, when I have no nature?”
John Keats

There is an expression I sometimes hear: ‘Can you meet my needs?’ I feel this very question is false and cannot be asked. Needs cannot be met by another. Another can only meet transient wants, desires. Others can only meet you where they are, which will leave you wanting. Needs that can be met by others are not true needs.

The single need of the solitary is to become unified in solitude, with the help of all the other solitaries of the ages.

One characteristic of the solitary, and one reason he remains alone, is because he knows how quickly he can attach to others. Do not suppose he always loves his solitude. He experiences both the joys of solitude and the pains of loneliness with greater intensity than the outward directed man. Unlike the outward directed man, who typically attaches to one person and remains with that person, a choice that alleviates loneliness as well as passion, the solitary attaches quickly and detaches just as quickly. He has had past experiences of falling for those who he felt understood him, though he could not know beyond doubt. But the solitary is without fail a deeply intuitive person in the sense that Carl Jung defined it when he wrote,

“In intuition a content presents itself whole and complete, without our being able to explain or discover how this content came into existence. Intuition is a kind of instinctive apprehension, no matter of what contents…Intuitive knowledge possesses an intrinsic certainty and conviction.”

So the solitary has felt understood intuitively, not knowing why he feels this way but knowing it is so. He also intuitively understands that the vast majority of people who he meets do not understand him, and this is why he attaches to those very few who do. However, knowing he is not yet unified and knowing he can only become so in solitude, the detachment comes not long after the attachment, and the solitary keeps within himself the one who is gone. He introjects the other, in psychological jargon.

We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart

The solitary needs to be intuitive and intellectual, emotional and physical. Only if he is balanced in these ways can he maintain his sanity while being alone. Only by being balanced can he become unified. Having a balanced array of strengths allows the solitary to stave off excessive loneliness and do the necessary work which must be done alone, the work of creation, of ecstatic vigil, of maintaining and strengthening a private love that has the unified strength of being undistorted by object, that is not lost to unloving institutions or diminished by a constant search for someone who will receive it and return it in whole. Love cannot be returned in whole because it cannot be given to another as a whole. To be kept whole it must not be revealed directly. To attempt to reveal it directly is to split it.

At the same time, there is a way of not revealing it that does not leave it whole, when the not revealing is not chosen, when the love is held in out of fear while the person desires to find an object for it. In the solitary poet, this holding in of love can exist with the desire to keep it whole. He understands that his very self, what Keats calls his unpoetical character, his lack of identity, makes a long-term love relationship where he keeps his love whole impossible. He is not nearly consistent enough, not at all certain enough in himself, far too doubtful of any possibility of happiness with another. The solitary would need to be given the opportunity to spend months at a time out of sight of the other. If this is not possible, he will probably make both his and the others’ life a misery. He will look for some way to feel in a more intense way than it’s possible to feel in a day-to-day relationship, at the expense of the relationship itself. In a life of routine where passion must necessarily be deadened in order that work can be done, the solitary feels himself deadened and can do no work, for his work is the work of passion.

The solitary is nothing if not a passionate person. One reason he remains solitary is because his passion is so deep down, so invisible to the eyes of others. The only way he can express it is through nonverbal forms, through music and dance and art. It is not possible through conversation, so he tends to be silent because he desires to be authentic more than he wants to be on good terms with superficial relations, if good terms are synonymous with inauthenticity. What are good terms? Usually terms that lack passion. Unspoken terms that everything will be out on the surface and spoken, except for the terms of course, which remain unspoken. When all is ‘open communication,’ then communication opens no doors to the unseen. Doors remain closed and people remain divided.

Even if the solitary believed in being on good terms, if he could not speak to the other of his terms — that there are things that must remain unspoken — it would not be worth his effort. For one thing, he could not help but become aware that he is going against his own essence by doing so, moving away from unification by attempting to be on good terms with other divided people. Though he does not know who he is, he knows he acts as someone he is not when he tries to be on good terms.

And the solitary draws a line here. In art, it is acceptable to speak out of character, in the voice of another real or created person, for in that case he is empathizing in a deep way with another, he is actually becoming that other — “filling some other Body”— taking the form of another for the sake of expressing a truth beyond himself. But what truth is he expressing by being someone else in everyday relationship? He is only exposing himself to the untruths necessary to be on good terms — unspoken terms of repressed passion — in society. In society, the solitary must be another, as he can only be himself when alone, though who he is remains in a constant state of change and flux. What does not change is this: Who he is only reveals itself when he is alone.

But let the solitary be careful not to create an identity out of his solitariness, for the creation of identity is the work of the social world. In creating an identity out of being solitary, the solitary will not be a solitary — in fact, he will be renouncing who he is by saying he is that — because identity and solitude are opposed. The solitary is such as he is because he lives with the tension of having no identity, of being no one to others, so he can discover who he truly is. Being ‘unpoetical,’ having no ‘unchangeable attribute,’ he writes poetry until he is what he writes and no longer needs to write himself into Being.

It is also crucial that the solitary not avoid others solely because it is with them that he feels most alone. In that way he would be like the other-directed or outer-directed man who does not want to be alone because that is when he feels most alone. Whereas the solitary feels least alone when alone, in solitude.

Either the solitary will make an identity out of his solitariness, which is actually a renunciation — though it may be meant to be a celebration — of true solitariness, or he will renounce being a solitary with the knowledge he is doing so, go against his identity-less nature to try and find some niche where he can be someone, using some talent or other he might possess and being rewarded for that talent. But that talent will only come from what solitariness remains in his compromise. There can be no compromise in the solitary. Having an identity as a part of the social world is a compromise, and compromise itself belongs to the social world. Therefore, the solitary cannot compromise. He can write as long as he does not call himself a writer. He can dance as long as he does not call himself a dancer. He can teach as long as he does not call himself a teacher.

Instead, he must aim to accept his own solitariness. One way to do this is to learn to be comfortable with his silence, to refrain from speaking unless he feels compelled from within to do so. There have been and will continue to be many times when others try to compel him to speak, or gently push him to do so. That others will feel uncomfortable with his silence cannot be denied, and whether their approach is forceful or gentle is due to their own personality and makes no real difference. It is still an effort to coerce no matter how gentle.

The solitary must maintain his silence until the words are compelled out of him from within rather than from without. Maintaining his silence will also increase the tension in him. What is in him will strive with more desperation to find its way out. Unable or unwilling to turn to relations, he will be forced to find another outlet. His creative work will begin to take on the aspects of the solitary — passionate, intense longings unable to be communicated in any other way.

“These Are The Nights”

There are nights when you can’t sleep until you’ve made efforts to awaken,
nights you feel fully the futility of all your efforts,
your eternal failure to wake up in time.

These are the nights when the knowledge that you are spirit is simply that,
for these nights you feel spiritless,
and the feeling in you masters the knowledge.

These are the nights you pick up book after book, putting each one down
after a few sentences. You turn off the light to go stand on the porch,
and you hunger for the moon to give you one true word.

These are the nights when you know the dawn
will not revitalize or exorcise, will only terrorize you as only it can,
nights you wish would last longer so you could remain hidden in darkness.

These are the nights you spend weighing your options,
oscillating between extremes, unable to balance unstable dreams
of who you might have been with the unmovable weight of who you are.

“Crouched Creature of the Plains”

Do I have it in me to write a poem tonight?
Some poems are written like an elk hide is tanned.
I fix my posture, sit up straight in this chair:
A straight-backed poem, coming right up.

Not strait-laced but shame-faced,
Dismayed that this need to write these words
Will not let me rest, will not let me alone.
What is it in me that will not let me alone?

Now that I’m sitting up straight, I wait
For the poem to come.
Some poems are written like a gazelle leaping over a fence,
Other poems are written like a lion devouring a gazelle.

Will the lion in my heart devour the lion in my mind?
No, more likely they will meet as estranged sister and brother,
And one will chase the other through the savannah in the noonday sun
As I sit here in the midnight darkness, waiting.

To chase yourself is to admit both your speed and your lack of speed:
The self you chase is fast, while the self who chases could not be slower.
Then again, the self who chases can run as fast as it is possible to run,
But it will be never be fast enough to catch the invisible self he pursues.

The problem here can be stated quite simply:
There is a self that chases and a self that is pursued.
And there are many more than these two.
Why this multiplicity of selves?

Why can there not be one self, one man?
If the man were one, he could let himself alone.
He could make great efforts and enjoy his work,
He could rest and enjoy his rest.

But there is a self that chases and a self that is pursued,
And these are only two of many.
One self gets out of bed in the mountains at midnight, sits up straight in a chair,
As the other self gets away, a crouched creature of the plains hidden in noonday sun.

“Not Yet Midnight”

This cabin is a mess, clothes and books strewn about, but I can’t imagine cleaning it.
There have been nights when the music of crickets has brought me to tears;
Tonight I look back on my weeping with pitiless scorn,
And I look on my despair with detached indifference.
My pain feels like it belongs to someone else who I don’t even know well.

I remember nights when I’ve roamed the town, looking for music to dance to,
And the wild-eyed despair of drunks I do not know has filled my heart with tears.
I can no longer weep for the pain of someone I do not even know,
I can no longer feel that anyone belongs anywhere,
I can no longer listen to the sounds of night and feel silence deep within me.

It is Friday, not yet midnight.
If I went down to town I could probably find a place to dance for an hour or two.
In fifty years I won’t be able to dance like I can now; Maybe I will not be able
To dance at all. If I am living, I hope I will not be speaking.
These are the thoughts that came just now when I thought about dancing.

I want to feel that everyone belongs somewhere,
I want to listen to the sounds of night and feel silence reverberate all through me,
I want to weep for the pain of all the ones I do not know and will never understand.
I remember evenings when I’ve sat naked on Spruce Mountain, looking down on town,
And the sun going down on me has filled my heart with glowing laughter.

“Muse”

I shatter and break,
I heal and take heed,
I heed a call I no longer hear;
I do not know if what I do not hear
still calls me.

I cannot wake up early enough
to cover the distance
that divides me from myself.

I haven’t heard from you
since I wrote you that long letter.
I can’t remember
if I put my return address.

Would you have me say,
“Please return to me?”
You know I have too much pride,
too little faith, too much doubt.
I don’t know if I’ve ever believed in you,
and I’ve always struggled to believe in myself,
never knowing who I was
struggling to believe in.

Would you have me say,
“I was wrong, I admit my error,
I open myself to your truth?”
You know I am much too stubborn;
I resist too much
And am too opposed
to any truth not my own.

But I hear you saying,
“This is not a truth that is not yours
nor is it believing in your self alone.
This is opening to a truth
that is mine and that is yours,
a truth between us
that covers the distance
that never existed,
that unites what was never divided,
that heals and makes whole
what already is.”

I hear you saying,
“How could I return to you,
I who never left you?
How could I write you a letter,
I who am written in your soul
when you see a cloud lit up by the sunrise,
when you see a man on a bridge over a freezing river,
when you see a child standing in the light?
Is not each true word you put down
written by me,
with me in you?”

I hear these words,
but is it you I hear
who speaks them?
Or do I only hear the empty space
between you and me
which these words cannot fill?
Is there space between,
and is it empty?

I do not know
where each true word comes from.
I cannot say it comes from me,
not knowing what that would mean.
You ask if it is written with you in me.

Is that true?

Do I ask myself,
or do I ask you?
Who do I ask if I ask you,
and how will I know your answer?
Do I ask to receive an answer?

“She came back up one night”

She came back up one night,
but it was only to return a shirt.

      I won’t be needing this.

No, she would not be needing the shirt.
There was no reason for her to keep
what she did not need.

    It is still quiet up here, as I remember it.

Yes, she remembered it well.
It was still
and it was quiet
up here.

    I remember it well, though it was too small for the two of us.

Yes, again she remembered it well.
It was indeed too small to hold us both.
It could only hold one.

    I guess I won’t be coming back up here anymore.

No.
It was no guess;
It was the truth.
She would find no reason to come back up here.
She had returned the shirt.

She left and I hid the shirt away.
I would not wear it
but would keep it 
where it was hid.
I could find no reason to get rid of it.