Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A few thoughts on loneliness

"...nothing helps loneliness. I mean–you either feed off of it, or it feeds off you."

I came across those words last week while working on an article about Charles Wright, the new U.S. poet laureate. Wright said them years ago in offhand response to a rather silly interview question, but they struck a chord with me that has echoed for days now. I understand the ineluctability of loneliness, and lord knows I get the part about loneliness eating you up. But what does it mean to feed off of loneliness?

Loneliness pushes you into a state of uncertainty, silence, self-absorption. It's hard to know anything while dwelling in loneliness. The world is remote, and there's nothing to trust. A terrible sense of voicelessness takes over. Expression begins to seem worthless when there is no hope of response, no promise of communion. You're left looking deeper and deeper within, slowly but surely reaching the void at the center of everything you believe you are.

And yet...the writer in me nods in intuitive understanding of the nourishing, illuminating power of loneliness: Yes, of course. Embraced, loneliness can be a kind of magic potion that cures glibness and dissolves ego. It can offer a glimpse of the utter fragility we share with every living thing. It has something of the exquisite extremity of being in love.

Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Look, how tiny down there,
look: the last village of words and, higher,
(but how tiny) still one last
farmhouse of feeling. Can you see it?
Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Stoneground
under your hands. Even here, though,
something can bloom; on a silent cliff-edge
an unknowing plant blooms, singing, into the air.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Silêncio, Odilon Redon, 1900


Barbara said...

I'll take your Rilke and put a gendered twist on it with Adrienne Rich:

"Song", Adrienne Rich

You’re wondering if I’m lonely;
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawn’s first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I’m lonely
it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning

BitterGrace said...

Thank you, Barbara. I know that poem, but hadn't thought of it in a long time. The last stanza is astonishing, and I think it somehow captures the whole nature of creative loneliness, including the necessary pain.

Julie Price said...

Oh how delighted I am to discover your blog, Maria. And Barbara is here, as well! Beautiful thoughts on loneliness. I am mostly housebound with my illness, so I understand the depths of sadness and beauty in being alone.

BitterGrace said...

Hi, Julie. Nice to see you here! I've neglected the blog for a long time, but lately I've felt moved to return to it. Sending all good wishes your way. xo