Poetic Memory III

By Stu Whitley

This is the third post in a four-part series. 

What may be demonstrated as a biological truth is intuitively
understood as we grow older. We become less egocentric, more aware that
the world has many centres of the universe besides our own, and that in
some mysterious way, these centres are all linked. In the mature adult,
we recognize as poets have before us, that we are round people on a
round earth, cognizant of being interwoven in a circular web of
connection with all human beings, which is among other things to
understand interdependency, forgiveness and the nature of healing. Hugo
wrote: “We are never done with conscience. Choose your course by it…it
is bottomless, being God.” And what is conscience if not memory?
Memory, that is, linked to consequences. No one can divine the future
with any exactitude. Yet we are capable of discerning the truths that
help guide us to it; I believe that those truths are at least in part
found in our collective memory.

the other hand, I am dismayed by the thought that the lessons I think
I’ve already learned, and learned well, must incessantly be
reconsidered and learned yet again, as if unremembered. All my life so
far, particularly as one who is trained and experienced in the
machinery of the law, I have understood the need to hew to certainty
and precision. It has been expected of me, if for no other reason than
the law’s sovereignty. I cannot count the times such a hard view has
let me down, for the truth of it is that our motives, our consequential
actions, our feelings, are often obscure—even sometimes unto ourselves.
Slowly I have let go of the idea that the law’s dominion does not
extend to every aspect of my life. This is true even though its
principles, born as they are of an ancient wisdom, can help me in the
important matters that concern me—as long as I remain aware that they
may not be definitive of an issue.

Moreover, we can dissect the
past for patterns that are capable of yielding insight, as much at
least as our editorializing memory permits it, recognizing that the
past will hold powerful sway over forthcoming events, so that the
future becomes more influenced by will, rather than by inevitability. I
think it’s important to add that in the accumulation of years, love
assists us to feel our way where it is not possible to see clearly the
end result. In youth, perhaps, we are all too ready to see the
obstacles—even if eager to collide with them head on. Daniel Maguire
wrote in The Moral Choice that the heart seems to have its own probes
on the future to be able to discover what is possible that is latent in
the actual. Love “thirsts for the more” that creative imagination can

So love, too, is memory. It is at its most basic
element a genetic code that impels us toward union, and at its most
expansive (usually the product of accumulated experience), something
that urges us to all of the possibilities that exist in that union.
Surely one of those possibilities is wisdom:

snippets of wisdom fasten to us like burrs
as one goes along this vital road,
occasionally depositing themselves
into controversy or conundrum.
once I read that love without strategy
is little more than fleeting feeling.
since moral living is the flowering of love
it behooves us to understand its method

what is (and is not) moral may not find
universal accord or even consensus
for we may not agree upon our obligations, and
there is less clarity still when our covenants collide
so the question obtains: how do we find the way?

limpid clarity is rare indeed
and rarer still for the arrogantly disposed
whose certainty should frighten anyone
modesty is essential to the task
for we must embrace the paradox.
our own sense of hope and tragedy
may well point in opposite directions
yet neither should be negated
as a means for achieving
a superficial complacency

sometimes all we can accomplish, after taking care,
is to lighten the gloom a little or so,
allowing only a partially guided leap in the dark
it’s arrogant to assume indubitable results
for as Aquinas said, truth cannot be exhausted
by any human knowledge; it remains open
to new, perhaps previously unthinkable
formulations and possibilities

truths are felt before they are expressed
no one knows that better than we
we cannot tell the future, but
there are things we can do in our effort to know it
love thrusts us toward the discovery of what’s possible
the heart has its own sense of direction
and it is the foundation of all that is,
and all that will be

© 2007 Stuart James Whitley. All rights reserved.