The Ancient Modern
Two Hearts, Two Paths, Two Ends/ Joshua Alan Sturgill
The task of poetry is consonant with that of prayer: to preserve the soul of the world by taking us continually back to the Origin of all things. Only by return to the Origin can we truly know purpose and meaning. Only by return to the Origin can we reliably evaluate progress. Only by return to the Origin can we orient ourselves to good and proper ends.
In a manner of speaking, the world has two Hearts: the Heart given at the Origin, and the heart we have made for ourselves. The First Heart has life in itself; it is organic, co-operative, prayerful. The second is an artificial heart, a heart that (fitfully and unreliably) supports us in our distractions and unnatural pursuits.
“The making of a second heart” alternately describes what religious traditions call “the Fall.” And it may also be true to say the second heart is our attempt to survive the Fall. Much of our culture is, in some way, an attempt to justify abandoning the past and manipulating the future. The second heart selfishly and incessantly describes the Fall as a necessary or even beneficial event, ensuring its own survival in a post-Fall cosmos.
But Poetry interrupts the monologue. Poetry gives the world a glimpse of what it lost or abandoned: the continuing, hidden existence of the First Heart. From our perspective, poetic thought appears to give the world a new heart, and transcendent visions. But truly, the poet (the Saint, the Sage) is only drawing back the curtain to show what is Old, what is Obvious, what is Normal.
Poetry is Old words on new breath. The Fall separates one thing from another, but Poetry reveals that each thing is more than itself. A tree, a story, a sunset, a beautiful face—each is the end of a string secured at the other end to the First Heart, to the Origin, to the unfallen soul of the world.
The second, artificial heart defends itself from this revelation by introducing categories in our thinking which become divisions in our perception. There are many examples of this, but in the current moment the divide between “physical/natural” and “spiritual/supernatural” is quite prominent. First, we think dividedly, then we see dividedly, then we live dividedly.
Because the Fall necessarily involves reduction and dismissal, once we divide natural from supernatural, we compulsively choose one over the other. Our choice becomes our preference. Our preference becomes our focus. Our focus becomes our capacity. We choose the natural/physical side of being and soon lose any ability to see or accept other sides.
Poetry reminds us that physical and spiritual are together, the one mode of our being. They cannot practically or ontologically be separated. Through a long series of steps, however, we may think them separate, concentrate on one over the other, and follow a course of action aimed toward the enhancement or development of one over the other.
But at the Origin, there is no separation, no categorizing, no division. Each thing reflects and surrounds each other thing. Each event reveals all other events. Light proceeds from and reflects from all. A priest, for example, is revealed by robes and a cross, but priesthood is a mark on the soul. A poem about love need only reference a rose or a smile. The outward and inward, specific and universal, are conversant and referential, because they are ultimately One.
Following the slow and difficult path back to this One, to the Origin, we find a strangely humbling re-integration of what were once separate ideas: beauty, philosophy (love of wisdom), holiness, industry, patience, simplicity, inspiration. The second heart fades and disappears; the pulse of the First Heart grows strong in our ears. Was the second even real? Was it a mirage generated by our exile in the desert of the Fall? Was it our own self-protection or self-ignorance?
The First Heart of our nature is immortal, therefore the substitute heart, being its opposite, must die. Individual and societal panic ensues as the second heart approaches its end. The second heart obsesses more and more intently on matter, hates spirit with more and more passion. Finally, the second heart tries desperately to organize political and technological systems that will keep humanity bound up even after it has died.
Poetry, therefore, reveals two endings of the story of humanity, mutually exclusive but equally at work in the current world. One ending is the artificial continuance of things as they are right now, the “life-support culture” and parasitic misuse of the natural world. The current system has the ouroboros for its sign and symbol: the snake devouring its own tail.
The symbol of the other ending is the Reborn God. This God allows evil the ghost of victory it craves only to reveal that evil can never be ultimately victorious. The forms of the Reborn God are most obvious in religious traditions, but material humanity has become desensitized to the language of the spirit. Still, the Reborn God speaks in spring flowers, fairytales, meditation, good wine, birthday parties, self-sacrifice, small acts of kindness.
The Fall is not yet over, but it carries its end within itself. For a moment, we all participate in the Fall to some degree. Poetry reminds us to reintegrate the physical and spiritual—that is, to make all things sacred—so we will weather the coming storm. While the world breaks further apart, the poet re-integrates all things with all truth and returns, like the Prodigal, to the Paradise of the Father’s House.