For men may come and men may
But I go on for ever.
Suppose you were one of those who seek public acclaim as an “intellectual.” How would you proceed? Would you not contrive brief, catchy phrases, slogans and the like which appeal to the millions who do no thinking for themselves, jingles which invite repetition? The aim would be to “sell the masses” on a notion or a program. In the politicoeconomic realm we hear such cliches as “Tax the rich to help the poor” or “One man’s gain is another’s loss” or “You can’t eat freedom,” sad sayings over and over again – packaged to sell.
Let us now shift to the poetic realm. Why? Because I wish to try a reverse twist or a different application of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous fable in verse, The Raven. Poe wrote an 11-page analysis of how he went about the construction of the poem. He had one aim and one only: “universally appreciable.” In a word, something saleable! To achieve this he had his narrator featured by sadness. In response to each forlorn hope, the Raven would repeatedly croak, “Nevermore”- sadness packaged to sell! Here is the penultimate -the 17th-stanza:
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!”
I shrieked, upstarting,
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy
soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!-quit the bust above
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form
from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Poe’s narrator was praying for surcease. Unlike our present-day seekers after truth, he sought only relief from the torturing memory of his lost Lenore. In his tormented musings, he fancies the bird is still perched above his chamber door, looking down at him with eyes that have “all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.” And he begs the bird: “Leave my loneliness unbroken, quit the bust above my door.” To which the Raven (i.e., the narrator’s searing memory and grief) croaks a hopeless “Nevermore.”
Poe touched here on a profound and universal circumstance; for the seeker after truth often experiences pain at its final discovery. Long-held dogmas are called in question. Old shibboleths are violated. Among the wraiths of dying error, there is always a “lost Lenore.” The birth of an idea, no less than that of a human infant, is a painful process. Nevertheless, the pain must be endured if life is to continue, and if truth is to live. Far better, then, that he for whom new light is dawning should modify (and, if necessary, mangle) Poe’s lines to read:
“Flaunt a white plume as a token of the truth
that has been spoken;
I am bowed but never broken when the old
things fall away.
Keep me ever seeking, turning to the
light of newer learning-
Thrust thy beak within my heart, and make me
search for truth today …
The narrator’s dilemma was sadness and hopelessness, nothing aglow for the future, life’s mission in the past tense. That’s why Poe had the raven repeat, “Nevermore.”
My mission and vision is precisely the opposite: one of happiness and hopefulness. This is why my Raven crows a hopeful, “Evermore.”
One participant at a recent Seminar remarked, “That’s the best lecture I have every heard; it hurts but it’s true.” A long-held dogma, an old socialistic shibboleth, down the drain! Of course it hurt. One cannot part with a notion held supreme without mental pain. But a seeker of enlightenment, as is this man, is happy with a newly discovered truth. Of such persons it can be said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Fortunately, my outlook is precisely the same as that of Tennyson’s brook:
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.
Why? Mine is a commanding ambition: To achieve an ever-improving understanding and exposition of human freedom. Such a goal is far above the mundane affairs of men and borders on the celestial. To make even a minor contribution requires that I go on forever. But the journey is a happy one. Like the brook, I pass scenes of beauty and of challenge:
By thirty hills I hurry down
Or slip between the ridges;
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.
Freedom, as I define the term-no man-concocted restraints against the release of creative human energy-has been approximated only a few times in the history of man. And, then, for relatively short periods. Otherwise, what has been the human situation? Long-held dogmas, old shibboleths, authoritarianism-one “lost Lenore” after another.
Finally, not the slightest progress can be made toward such a goal unless the quest is featured by happiness. Have fun or forget it! Keep in mind Goethe’s truth: “Miracle is the darling child of faith.” Have faith-hopefulness-or forget it!
The above way of life is why I say to my Raven:
“Thrust thy beak within my heart, and make me
search for truth today-and Evermore!”
My gratitude to Ralph Bradford. While this soliloquy was my idea, numerous thoughts and phrasings and the modified Raven are his. I am not a poet and know it!