Sometimes, I forget that I don’t look at life the same way that most people do. Today in my poetry class, my professor was talking about a famous 20th century poet (whose name I don’t remember) who was very well-liked by critics, but not always so popular with readers. The only real reason was that his poetry was famous for being dark. An interviewer once asked him why that was.
The poet told a story about how he had once talked to a priest about what the priest thought of human nature, specifically what the priest had learned by listening to so many confessions over the years. The priest told him that people are so much more unhappy than you might think they are. He also said that humanity is so broken, and so is our world. The poet relayed that he wanted to stay true to that.
But, he also said that humanity, essentially, is a bunch of muck that came out of nothing, and soon became aware of itself, picked itself up and began to walk on two legs, began to think and talk and create. And that, he said, is a miracle. He said that he always tried to form his poetry, however it dark it was, against that miracle of a back drop.
My poetry professor finished reading that out of the book he had about the poet, put the book down, and said, “Isn’t that sad?”
I had been smiling. The question surprised me, though it didn’t seem to faze anyone else in the room. No, I thought. It isn’t sad. The fact that humanity is a miracle is sad? That isn’t what he meant, of course. He meant the fact that our only glimmer of hope is that humanity’s existence is an inexplicable miracle is sad. Which, I suppose, would be, if you took it at face value.
But here’s where I differ from most people. I both firmly believe that humanity is broken and fallen, our nature is bent and twisted out of the shape that it was meant to be, and that that shape was beautiful and perfect and flawless. So I hold a sort of cognitive dissonance about humanity: on the one hand, we are tragically fallen and flawed. On the other, the nature to which we long to return, the way we were meant to be, is a thing full of beauty, a thing bearing the fingerprints of its Maker. I am both devastated by the tragic state in which humanity finds itself and chronically optimistic about its true nature, the nature it was meant to have, the nature that sometimes manages to peek through all the grime and grit and destruction.
Humanity is a miracle. A God-breathed, blessed miracle. And that, and its cause, has to be the backdrop of everything. Our poetry may be sad, dark, broken, but it sits upon the promise of redemption and restoration. And that, I think, isn’t sad at all.