A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Someone with keen powers of observation counted the waves that come ashore and realized that the ninth wave is the one with the most power and causes the most devastation. Whether this is based on fact or is a product of sailors and shore dwellers imaginations, the ninth wave has become a metaphor for destruction, either by the power of nature or by the destructive forces of human actions. Destruction is not an odd theme for artists to illuminate. The saying “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush”, popularized by Anton Chekhov, is used in Russia for describing something incredibly beautiful. I suppose there’s a particular beauty in power beyond our control, even power that causes loss, if we are capable of disconnecting it from the pain of attachment, even the most powerful attachments – love.
Pro tip in interpreting these sonnets. The line, O sightless bard, England’s Mæonides, is a very wordy way for Longfellow the say that Milton is England’s Homer, the Greek poet Homer sometimes referred to as Mæonides. In Milton’s sonnet he refers to Latona, which is an alternate name for the Greek Goddess Leto, who conceived Juno and Apollo, a feisty couple of Gods who still battle in our heavens. I am very fond of Milton’s sonnet below and timely for the lack of leadership that pervades politics and diplomacy here and around the globe. Men and women everywhere still “bawl for freedom,” but have we the wisdom to manage it when the human condition trends towards selfishness and not a broader democratic approach to safe guarding us from the worst of us, and inspiring us by the best.
Longfellow and Milton both explored the beauty of loss and immortalized it in poetry. They both experienced loss at the most profound level in their lives and moved forward, resiliency infused into their words, a backbone for their art. Beauty that lacks the fullness of our human experience risks being superficial. What agony have you endured that had a semblance of beauty? How does resilience manifest itself in your experience? How does destruction inform your art?
by John Milton