And nothing is perfect
Today, two poets, two points of view about Perfection.
Walt Whitman and Leonard Cohen.
On the subject of perfection, they say opposite things. But, perhaps, from the deep well of inspiration that poets drink from, they’ve brought separate treasures to the surface, in order to help us really see and feel what life is all about.
In the original version of his ‘Poem of Perfect Miracles’ published in Leaves of Grass in 1856, Whitman implies everything is a perfect miracle:
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother . . .
Whitman marvels at all he sees – bees, birds, strangers, blades of grass, waves. To him the world is packed full of unspeakably perfect miracles, including his own reflection seen in a mirror.
The delighted energy of the poem convinces me. I smile. Yes. Everything is perfect.
But then I watch Cohen perform ‘Anthem’. It makes me weep. Especially the recurring lines:
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
How can I resolve these two opposite thoughts? Everything is perfect (Whitman), and nothing is (Cohen).
They can’t be resolved. They’re two points of view brought up from the deep well of inspiration. Two sides of life inextricably bound.
I blend the two poems into one and find that, together, they carry a message we must never forget if we are to live full, honest lives.
Years hence the Manhattan Whitman wrote about will be no more. Houses crumble. Feet falter. Trees fall. Lovers leave. Mothers die.
These are the cracks Cohen is singing about, along with ever-present war, injustice and pain.
Whitman reminds me to celebrate every moment and minutiae of life while it is here, and
Cohen lovingly reminds me that suffering is built into everything.
And with suffering is its counterpart – enlightenment.
If we look for it.
It’s the in-built fault lines and the inevitable endings of all things physical that provide opportunities for us to let light in.
Living with mindfulness
When life shows its inevitable imperfections, when cracks appear in the wonderful world Whitman beckoned us to revel in, that’s when we’re being called upon to be bringers of light.
That’s when imperfection becomes perfection.
To hear Leonard Cohen perform a moving rendition of ‘Anthem’ use this link:
With love, Marlane
First published on Medium.com/Illumination