Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For Ralph Waldo Emerson (that's his Concord house in the photo), the crucial unit of living time was the day.  He was inspired by what could be accomplished or revealed in each new day, and frustrated by the lost hours, the plod of seemingly wasted days.

"Days" is probably his most famous poem:

Daughters of Time, the hypocrite Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent.  I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.

So in some real sense, the struggle to fulfill the potential of the day is the essential creative struggle. And it is renewed...every day. Elsewhere he wrote: "The days are gods.  That is, everything is divine."   In his great biography, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, Robert D. Richardson virtually outdoes the eloquence of his subject, on this subject:

"The personal consequences of such perceptions was an almost intolerable awareness that every morning began with infinite promise.  Any book may be read, any idea thought, any action taken.  Anything that has ever been possible to human beings is possible to most of us every time the clock says six in the morning.  On a day no different from the one now breaking, Shakespeare sat down to begin Hamlet and [Margaret] Fuller began her history of the Roman revolution of 1848.  Each of us has all the time there is; each accepts those invitations he can discern.  By the same token, each evening brings a reckoning of infinite regret for the paths refused, openings not seen, and actions not taken."

But the essence of it is "Each of us has all the time there is," but "each accepts those invitations he can discern."  This is beyond the irksome questions of "time management," or the conflicting demands, needs, temptations as well as falsely promising dead ends.  On good days, one may forgive the lapses, knowing that even apparently wasted time may contribute to something that arrives unexplained and redeems the day in a flash.  On bad days, the temptation of course is to wallow in that possibility.  The "divine dissatisfaction" jockeys with receptivity and acceptance, as the questions narrow with the numbered days. 

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