Saturday, May 8, 2010


"Every man has his own destiny," wrote Henry Miller, "the only imperative is to follow it, to accept it, no matter where it leads him."  Wise counsel, for sure, but it is seldom followed.  Many people, perhaps most people, are so conditioned by family, culture, and experience that they never discover their own destiny, and if they do, they usually lack the courage to follow it. More often than not, they end up leading what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation."

Consider the pathetic narrator of The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, the powerful poem by T.S. Eliot (left) on the horrors of the inauthentic life. Prufrock is a man who always needs "to prepare a face to meet the faces" that he meets; who always thinks he has "time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions;" who desperately wants to "disturb the universe," but, sadly, cannot muster the courage to do so.  He is a man who has measured out his life with coffee spoons; who feels that he is "pinned and wriggling on the wall;" who doesn't know how to "spit out all the butt-ends" of his days and ways.  

Dare to eat of peach?  Dare to part your hair from behind?  Dare "to force the moment to a crisis?"  Not Prufrock.  He can do none of these things, for he lost his authenticity long ago, and now thinks it might have been better if he had been "a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas."  His destiny unfulfilled, Prufrock is left with nothing but a sad admission:

 I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

If Eliot's Lovesong tells us about the tragedy of an inauthentic life, other poems point us to the joy that awaits those who have the courage to recapture their personal authenticity.  Two of my favorite poems in this regard are "The Journey," by the wonderful American poet, Mary Oliver, and "Love After Love," by the Caribbean poet, Derek Walcott, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. When I begin to feel the slightest deviation from my own authenticity, I return to these two poems and always find inspiration.

Mary Oliver

The Journey

              One day you finally knew
              what you had to do, and began,
              though the voices around you
              kept shouting
              their bad advice --
              though the whole house
              began to tremble
              and you felt the old tug
              at your ankles.
              "Mend my life!"
              each voice cried.
              But you didn't stop.
              You knew what you had to do,
              though the wind pried
              with its stiff fingers
              at the very foundations,
              though their melancholy
              was terrible.
              It was already late
              enough, and the wild night,
              and the road full of fallen
              branches and stones.
              But little by little,
              as you left their voices behind,
              the stars began to burn
              through the sheets of clouds,
              and there was a new voice
              which you slowly
              recognized as your own,
              that kept you company
              as you strode deeper and deeper
              into the world,
              determined to do
              the only thing you could do --
              determined to save 
              the only life you could save.

Derek Walcott

                             Love After Love

    The time will come
    when, with elation
    you will greet yourself arriving
    at your own door, in your own mirror
    and each will smile at the other's welcome,

    and say, sit here.  Eat.
    You will love again the stranger who was your self.
    Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, whom you ignored
    for another, who knows you by heart.
    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    the photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your own image from the mirror.
    Sit.  Feast on your life.



  1. What a pleasure to read this George. I especially enjoyed how you made your point weaving threads of thoughts from such great poetic works.

    I have always found Eliot's words, '...measured out his life with coffee spoons...' to be such an apt, if haunting, description of so many lives today.

    Such a paradox that in this world of rampant narcissism, most are afraid to make the journey inward to meet self. They do not realize that such a embracing of our authentic self then enables us to just BE, and 'forget' self. It becomes a move away from narcissistic preoccupations.

    It is truly fear that keeps us from being authentic. Fear that what/who we truly are will not measure up, will not be good enough. If they only knew, that it is the vapid mask we construct to present ourselves to the world that does not measure up ... The authentic self is always beyond good enough!

    I have copies of Oliver's poem The Journey in my office to share with clients - when appropriate. Such a powerful exhortation.

    Thank you for this post.

  2. Feast on your life ... such simple but wise and powerful advice. Great choice of poems, today, George, and I appreciate how you have woven them together with your thoughts.

    I am here returning your kind visit the other day. I like what I see and will come back for more.

  3. To Bonnie,

    Thanks for the note, Bonnie. I like your point about the paradox of one having to embrace the authentic self in order to forget the "self." Interesting, isn't it? People who are obsessed with themselves are often the people who cannot find their authentic selves.

  4. To Lorenzo,

    Great to have you visit my blog and I'm especially glad that today's posting resonated with you. I look forward to the continued following of your site.

  5. 'Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.' (St Francis)

    Overcoming the ego-ridden, grasping, inauthentic 'self', the Laurentian 'persona', in order to reveal the real, authentic, intuitive, un-self-seeking, 'soul-self'?

    I think most of us probably spend a lot of our lives in limbo somewhere between Prufrock and the Oliver/Walcott potentialities.

    Let us feast on our lives. Oh, yes.

  6. You are absolutely right, Robert, about the fact that most of us spend most of our lives in limbo between Prufrock and the authentic self envisioned by Oliver and Walcott. By citing these poems and talking about this issue, I certainly do not mean to suggest that I have mastered authenticity. Given the relentless conditioning that begins the day we exit the womb, relinquishing the false self and embracing the true self is a lifelong task. It reminds me of the Eliot's line from "The Four Quartets:" "We are only undefeated because we have gone on trying."

  7. A lifelong task, indeed. 'Where is there an end of it...'

    Thanks for this post, George - one that reaches out and gives inspiration to our own deep real true selves...

  8. Hello fellow dog lover, hello from Nova Scotia from me & my Missy D (Winnie Dixon) and hello also to Derry. Your paintings are magnificent - a little shy with colour though aren't you. Largest wink. xo les Gang at Black Street

  9. Nice to have you visit, Susan. Glad you like the paintings. I look forward to following your own postings.