The ubiquity of joy and poetry

Is it really so strange to speak, to write about the so-called ubiquity of joy, to assert that in fact joy is everywhere to behold in a world rife with poverty, warfare, deceit and the man-made destruction of the biosphere?

Frankly speaking, yes. But just as frankly speaking how can one get around this most basic aspect of existence? Around us in the infinite hues of the sky and shades of green, in the fires of foliage, in the hum of animal life oblivious to human drama, are unfathomable opportunities for exaltation. In the wavering reach of a slender hand or the unasked-for unanticipated kindness of a fellow human being who has extended himself or herself with no greater gain than the satisfaction of having done some good—are there not choruses for us to celebrate? In the immensely rich language of our great writers and poets—and forgive me my bias towards Shakespeare, but surely the treasures this most exceptional of chroniclers has left us cannot be overestimated—there are marvels galore, ripe for the plucking.

In my career as a psychotherapist whose duty and privilege it has been to work with people from all walks of life, rich and poor, riven by traumas great or small, assailed by the vagaries of fate and temperament, I have found that helping to catalyse the creative element has been the common thread in recovery.

It seems that humankind, however hell bent on destruction—and there is plenty of evidence for this dark side—seeks also to play, to make wonders, to weave enticing dreams that celebrate the good that abounds despite all else. It’s what I like to call, broadly speaking, poetry, no matter what form it takes: a knitted scarf, a planted seed, a scrap of verse, a joke, you name it. But whatever name it takes it speaks to a drive that is as fundamental as the quest for power.

When I gaze at the landscape of politics, when I view and review the utterances and actions of politicians, elected or otherwise, I see a legion of doom more often than not, a battalion of troopers whose main purpose seems to stamp the life out of the poetry of the earth with their plots and machinations, their petty connivances, their backroom deals.

At the Piazza della Signoria in Florence the great bronze statue of Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini stands presiding over the square. Medusa, as we know, was the Gorgon whose snake-like hair turned all those who gazed upon her into stone. She was outwitted by Perseus who used his mirror-like shield to guide him towards her slaying. If one looks long and closely at Cellini’s great sculpture, one will discover that the Medusa he depicts bears an extraordinary resemblance to the hero who has slain her: that Perseus and she are nearly identical.

It’s as if the secret—or perhaps not so secret—message is that we may choose to live our lives like stone, deadened to the possibilities of creative joy while in the grip of destructive power—or not.

I remember musing that evening at the Piazza della Signoria, about the streams of young people filling and moving through the square, youth who would at some point soon decide to cross the line and succumb to the blandishments of power and convention, or who would keep alive the fire of youthful aspiration, dreams for a world in which poetry has its rightful place as an essential beacon. A world in which the explorations of nature, the contemplation of art and the bringing together of people concerned not so much with what they can amass, with what fortresses they build, with what territory they can extend, but with what they may share, would prevail. A world of delight in the subtleties of the word, person to person, lip to ear. A world in which life would be all the more precious for its transience and fragility. In fact, I even wrote a poem about it.

Dr. Garcia is a poet, novelist and physician who resides in New Zealand.

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