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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, June 16, 2024

Finding Comfort in Prose

Like many, I was shocked by the results of the election last week. The country is incredibly divided and there are various groups of people who face the prospect of policies that threaten their homes, bodily autonomy and safety. While there is uncertainty about whether and in what form these policies will be enacted, the reports of harassment and hate crimes across the country in the past week alone are terrifying. It is unlikely I will be directly affected by most of these policies, but I am fearful for my friends, loved ones and people in general who will be.

When I returned home last Wednesday morning, reeling from the previous night’s events, I immediately began looking through my books for something comforting or hopeful. I first thought about William Butler Yeats’ prose “The Second Coming.” The poem’s first stanza reads:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

This poem speaks with relevance of a world coming unhinged. The “ceremony of innocence” is the current electoral system. People have various views on the Electoral College, the two party system, etc. But whatever your opinion, it’s hard to have confidence in a system that would elect such a regressive, hateful and utterly unqualified person.

While “The Second Coming” matched much of what I felt, it was hardly helpful in moving forward. I thought next about William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” a piece Nelson Mandela would recite to himself during his darkest moments of his 27 year imprisonment. It reads:

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“Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.”

The poem is a mantra of resilience, a reminder of our agency, appropriate when in despair. While I think this poem important, this piece is not the right poem for this time. “Invictus” is about stoicism, but what we need to do now is listen to those in pain. To tell someone who lives in an oppressive system that they are the masters of their fate, is to ignore the barriers they face.

I don’t know what poem is right for our time, but I know it will be written. History shapes art as much as emotion. What people find helpful in this time will vary. I encourage people to find the right art for them, whatever it may be.

I personally keep returning to a single line from Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Everything is Illuminated,” in which a character describes what they did when the Nazis came to their town during World War II: “I saw [him] and he saw me and we stood next to each other because that is what friends do in the presence of evil or love.” I imagine the next four years filled with evil, but we cannot forget love. We must stand with our friends, listen to their fears and not deny the oppressive darkness around them that we may not always see. And we must also look for the embers of hope in the world and fan them strong. We must act on hope at every level, in our community, our county and our state, until action spreads in a widening gyre centered on friendship, empathy and solidarity.

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