When you experience that heartbreak and humiliation, are you able to make it useful in your work?
David Whyte- I would certainly say so in poetry, and I hope it’s so in human relationships too. I’ve learned there’s a cycle of grief in every art form and relationship. When I finished my last book of poetry, Pilgrim, I realised the tide was about to turn, so I started writing furiously.
There’s that great line at the end of As You Like It, where Shakespeare says: “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.” The songs of Apollo have poetry and lyricism, and Mercury is the messenger god who is getting the work out in the world—through printing it and reading it. I remember when I suddenly wrote a poem in a very different voice and I knew that particular tide was over. There was a kind of a beautiful, poignant grief to it. At the same time there was a sense of completion and harvest, and a sense of thankfulness.
If you read the great German-speaking poet Rilke, around the Duino Elegies, he had an experience of this visitation—of an enormous tidal current of creativity and presence and then the sense of suddenly being left. This feeling of being left is just the fact that you don’t recognise the new territory. You’re meant not to know. I think one of our great tasks as human beings is to find the part of us that is big enough for life, that can put its arms around the part that finds things difficult, that wants life to be different.