“In its full radiance
inks dry in their pens, pencils
flare like matchsticks, film
smokes in the camera.”
I walk past these lines every morning at the hospital. They hang in route to the cafeteria, my coffee source. My first thought was of the Nazi’s faces burning off while Indiana Jones made sure he and his girl kept their eyes shut and their faces securely attached. Upon further reflection, I realized this was a different type of "radiance".
Though this “radiance” will not Ark of the Covenant melt your face off, it will, apparently, leave you at a loss for words. The poem speaks of encountering something so radiant that is indescribable, something too grand to be captured. Ironically, these are the things that inspire artists to take up their pens, pencils, and cameras in the first place. Remember the spirit’s counsel to the Artist in The Great Divorce:
“Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”
The artist is born when he is struck dumb by a light.
In knowing my grandparents I witnessed a light. I caught glimpse of it as I began imagining the stories behind who they are. I chased it to their doorstep and into an interview, planning to capture it. Then, as I witnessed the tinsiest bit more of its radiance, my brain melted.
As it turns out, I cannot fathom a human life. I cannot capture it or do it justice with a summation. It contains too many characters, settings, conflicts, and resolutions. There are too many turning points. There is too much good and too much bad. It is too significant. Too radiant.
In my post-melt, vegetable state I read:
“Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
I have found that I will never comprehend the depth of my grandparents’ lives, or cram that heavenly expanse into my head.
It seems the better way, the only way forward, is as a poet: exploring and accepting, free of the burden that is understanding.
*G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy