Fly on the Wall—Poetry and Wisdom in the Slipstream of Life

Tick Tock Part II

Fly on the Wall—Poetry and Wisdom in the Slipstream of Life

William Hazlitt described how life has more than one propeller driving us toward enlightenment.  “The child is a poet in fact when he first plays at hide and seek…the country man when he stops to look at the rainbow”.  With the turning of a mental page we can find ourselves face to face with the sublime.  Be they rays of sunshine illuminating the outline of clouds or an excellent metaphor prevailing upon our essay writing, moments of poetry juice up our daily discourse.  We students we can feel poetry when we get it – the it being a key learning objective in our coursework or a new manner of expressing a tired concept.

The matter then becomes an issue of explicating our learning back to the instructor in a manner that demonstrates what we’ve learned.  This requires us not only to reflect material but, as with a sunbeam, to reveal new facets of our personal enigma of existence.  “We see the thing ourselves and show it to others as we feel it to exist, and as in spite of ourselves, we are compelled to think of it” (Hazlitt, 6).  The power of poetry compels us, you might say.

Of course, one can become carried away tiptoeing through the tulips and stopping to smell the roses.  Being distracted isn’t constrained to being grabbed by the latest celebrity gossip or TikTok how-to video, either.  Footnotes in an essay can be treasure troves of insight but not necessarily useful quotes for our assignments.  The nature of learning involves a lot of perceptual decisions.  A leisurely stroll on a nature trail can reveals many walkers diligently focused on the breeze in the trees or the view to behold.  Conversely, meandering along a trail can reveal snippets of conversation about more mundane topics such as the body language of their pooch or the sniping tone of their human partner – cases based on managing assorted excrescences, verbal as well as corporeal.

Attentiveness, that unquestioned ingredient to life success, that skill above all others in many ways, begins with a flicker that becomes a flame – a sense of enlightenment within the happenstance of circumstance.  We have to know what we’re after while simultaneously opening our hearts to whimsy; that is, being attentive with multiple means.

The manner in which this or that reality appears, and the truths conveyed, sometimes takes the most illustrious of forms: sometimes poetic truth appears, like a bolt from the blue.  Hazlitt expresses a mission to discover the ways and wiles of poetic reality and it’s all-too-real consequences in terms of giving life its primal meaning.  “This passionate interpretation of the motion of the flame” is the manna of a life well lived.  Hazlitt enjoins us to become aware of how poetry “impregnates sensible impressions with the forms of fancy” – and with the inherent value of being open to such a process of artistic creation, even in unlikely places.

Hazlitt’s crowning achievements relate to the unique link of truth and poetry.  Poetry, he says, aids in the attainment of extreme states of mind “to the utmost point of sublimity or pathos” and, finally, lends an air of fiction and frisson to the arid realm of daily life.  Combining our senses and our sensibilities, poetic reality thus leads us to project our truths onto the world.

As goes our fancy so go our fears, however.  In our age of terminal anxiety, where diagnoses and traumas are the stuff of normalcy and most of us have a general dis-ease with culture and the planet poetry can be hard to find.  “Let an object be presented to the senses in a state of agitation or fear – and the imagination will distort or magnify the object and convert it into the likeness of whatever is most proper to encourage fear.”  Because we more or less find what we are seeking, due to our core beliefs about what matters and what sort of truths are truly true, any stick in hand, any port in a storm, will suffice as something to grasp on to, the better to have a sense of truthful permanence in one’s life.  Clearly, it behooves us to remember that in back of every truth we see is a whole scaffold of reality based on beliefs as much as facts, perspectives as much as certainties and, above all, on a stratification between those who hold the purse strings of societal power and we who, like Koi fish in a pond, gobble down whatever nuggets are on offer – toxic or not.  So, with poetry in our hearts, let’s avoid being bottom feeders under the troll bridge of life! And let’s remember that in digital as well as corporeal realms, the one clock that matters most isn’t TikTok but the biological and cosmic certainty that our days really are numbered in functional fact and ineffable feeling.  Tick.  Tock.

Hazlitt, W.  (1818).  ‘On Poetry in General’.  Retrieved from