There is a point at which even the most sincerely held affections can also become an idolatry, where enthusiasm crosses the line into worship so that all other possibilities, all other moralities, become absorbed into the thing revered. Artists, perhaps most of all (except for those who merely worship money), seem prone to this sort of idolatry nowadays, so that– in the sanctified name of „art“– all sorts of travesties of human decency and earthly connectedness may be committed with impunity.
Poets, perhaps more than any other artists, have been guilty of this, no doubt because their very occupation is so deeply dishonored, so grandly unrenumerated, that only the kind of excessive zeal and compensatory aura of sanctity that borders on worship allows them to persevere at all.
Yet, howsoever understandable its roots, this idolatry too, like all its brethren, leads to a corruption, an imbalance of significance that endangers the entire enterprise of living. For if art at its best is always deeply moral (though never moralistic), as I would contend it is, then it must always carry on a deep, albeit often painful, dialogue with decency itself. The easy answer, of course, is one of powerlessness (i.e. that there is nothing we can do against the fundamental indecencies of life, therefore we may as well retire into the privacies of „pure art“), but it is precisely such a sense of powerlessness that fuelsidolatry.
And therewith the terrible dilemma of the poet (at least the American poet) in our time: Suffering a most un-benign kind of neglect (that of being licensed without ever being listened to), granted not even the honor of being considered
(as in more repressive societies) dangerous, he finds himself-unless he chooses a more blatantly active posture in the public world– rendered so powerless, taken so utterly out of relationto the culture at large, that he retreats into the shallow, defensive narcissism of his own idolatry: awards, prizes, the accolades of the already converted. Yet insistently– as if from a deep somewhere that will not rest-broader decencies, attachments, relations beckon.
And how will he answer– he who tried with all his eartly love to give a gift that everywhere seems to be refused? What deeper questions can there be for such an art… or for such a life?