John Keats, the great 19th century Romantic poet, was humble and obscure during his short lifetime, but his youthful and hypersensitive appreciation of the senses and the fragile nuances of beauty in nature, rendered him a unique and invaluable soul to the poetic sphere and the world at large decades after his death.
I have been reading through his poetry and letters, and was struck by some things he said...
Saturday, 22 November, 1817
To Benjamin Bailey...
"I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination."
Like many things, Keats conviction got me thinking quietly to myself about imagination. The value of imagination...the value of mystery. In one sense, the idea of Mystery is the child of Imagination. And I'm convinced all people are captivated by Mystery; thrilled, fascinated. The opposite of mystery must be predictability, or maybe, that which is mundane. The mysterious and the mundane, two opposites, and naturally people are repelled and repulsed by the mundane and invigorated and intoxicated by the mysterious.
Mystery and Imagination are closely related, yet why are they forsaken so soon in life?
The most Imaginative stage in a persons life is their childhood: make-believe friends, secret worlds and made-up languages, hide and seek, treasure hunts, personified dolls, bears, cars, figurines. Yet these are seen as childish, and through the sort of austere conditioning in society, the Imagination is put aside for the pursuit of the soulless and mundane. We must be mature and 'grown-up': we are men and women, we have more serious pursuits - education, and responsibilities, duties and 'knowledge'. One of the only accepted outlets of the Imagination is art: painting, sculpting, drawing, making, shaping; an inner release of the eccentricity of the Imagination, of the repression of Mystery. Maybe those who are "poor artists" are only really those who are too comfortable with the soulless and mundane, those who are less resilient, those who are more deeply crippled with an inability to use their Imaginations? It's like a survival of the fittest of the soul, and the fittest are those who manage to cling to the few dregs of Imagination they have left from childhood, plant them in the earth of the soul, and water them with attention and affection.
An 'artist' is only really a proud little child, with an officious 'mature' title. The 'artist' title is only really like a security blanket, or a rape alarm against the uninspiring, unimaginative and critically narrow minded world. To avoid rejection. We are all scared of rejection. Apart from breathing air, that is one thing we share; fear.
Is there any less truth in the beauty of the Imagination and Mystery, of the truth of childishness, than logic and facts and knowledge and "adulthood"? No! Yet the latter is emphasised more greatly, leading many I believe, to place more value and trust in it; to respect cold and bloodless data over ethereal and vivacious imagination. But which one brings life and happiness? The latter obviously, imagination! So why do people avoid happiness, avoid the invigorating feelings of mystery?
When I look at the world through my youthful eyes and fairly precocious mind, I'm afraid, afraid of the lives I see around me, the lives of the 'average Joe's', and what this could mean for me... This same Mr. Joe's life seems to be duplicated a million times over: the same struggles, the same stresses, the same strains and duties and obligations reflected in the daily existence of every person I see. And all lacking the potency of Imagination and Mystery. Smothered, repressed, stifled, dead. What makes me think I'm so special and will be able to avoid all the unnecessary unhappiness I see?
I guess it's time to grandly adopt the title of "artist".
Or maybe I already have?