You Will Lose Your Nerve
I'm not sure when I first came across the work of the Swedish poet, Edith Södergran, but it stays with me. She died at 31 from tuberculosis and was only recognized after. Such is often the fate of poets. And yet, at such a young age, she had already come into her own, she had developed a self-confidence.
I've said this before in a few places, but it remains true.
There are times, long stretches even, in your so-called literary career where you hardly exist. You will contemplate and maybe even fantasize giving it up, living as a civilian. You do this many times through your career, but there will be one time when you are entirely serious. You feel like surrendering in the same way a person who has hypothermia wants to go to sleep in the deepening snow.
You lose your nerve.
Is surrender the way out, or is there another way? There is the point in my writing life, my life, where all I can think of doing is asking every soul, what is beauty? I ask my own soul, what is beauty what is beauty what is beauty?
by Edith Södergran
What is beauty? Ask every soul –
beauty is every overflow, every glow, every overfilling and every great poverty;
beauty is to be faithful to the summer and to go naked until the autumn;
beauty is the plumage of the parrot or the sunset that bodes storms;
beauty is a sharp feature and an accent of one’s own: it is I,
beauty is a great loss and a silent funeral procession,
beauty is the fan’s light beat that wakes the breeze of destiny:
beauty is to be as voluptuous as the rose
or to forgive everything because the sun is shining;
beauty is the cross the monk chose or the necklace the lady has from her lover,
beauty is not the thin sauce in which poets serve themselves,
beauty is to wage war and seek happiness,
beauty is to serve higher powers.
Beauty, says Sodergran, is not the thin sauce in which poets serve themselves. She also says, “it is I.” Which reminds me of the magnificent and holy line by Sylvia Plath from The Bell Jar, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” We who write, know just how much it took for her to arrive at that line, and what was exacted from her.
When you realize that beauty is you, when you have discovered your own dimensions, if you persist in the writing life, or the art-making life, then you will arrive at this point of quiet confidence. For some it comes earlier, and for some later. You will lose your nerve. You will get it back. It returns. Your heart will remind you. Listen to it. Take a deep breath.
When you get there, it's good, but it's not simple. It's beautiful and there's no time to waste. By the time you understand your own dimensions you'll have lost people you love. Others will have slipped away. Hard truths will have sunk in. But you will know who you are and what you are capable of, and you will know: that is enough. It is all.
When you know your own dimensions, you can be silent. You can be silent and write. The following words are under the glass on my desk.
If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!
- Feofil, The Fool for Christ (1788 - 1853)
If you need somewhere to start, there is always: I am, I am, I am.