Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Buried Life

In case I haven’t told you about it, the show “The Buried Life” is one of my new favorites. It’s a documentary made by some Canadian 20-somethings who decided to step away from the emptiness of modern life and set about accomplishing their real goals in life. Stuff like #18: tell a joke on late night TV, or #41: make a toast at a stranger’s wedding were on their list of 100 goals to do before they died. Originally they posted their mini-episodes on youtube, and gained quite a following until MTV bought up their show and started producing full episodes to be aired on TV. The show is inspiring, especially since after the boys accomplish one of their own goals, they help someone they’ve met along the way accomplish one of their dreams.

But what exactly is the “Buried Life?” I was wondering where they had come up with that title myself and decided to do a little research. I discovered that it comes from one of Matthew Arnold’s lesser known poems of the same title, written back in 1852. I read through the poem and it has become one of my favorite pieces of literature, right up there with Tennyson’s Ulysses and Eliot’s Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. Here are a few excerpts from the poem:

Matthew Arnold in all his handsome glory

Lines 12-23:
Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal'd
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal'd
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick'd in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves--and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

Lines 45-63:
But often, in the world's most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us--to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves--
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress'd.

Lines 77-90:
Only--but this is rare--
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd--
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.

Amen Mr. Arnold, Amen. You’ve really got a great insight into human nature here. Who doesn’t conceal their inner most thoughts and feeling for fear of being hurt? I know I do. We all have on our facades, our faces that we put on. Eliot wrote about this in Prufrock as well: “There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” It simply is a natural emotional self defense mechanism we have in place in our relationships. We are so reluctant to trust anyone enough to allow them to see into us, to know how we really feel and what we really think. And yet, by keeping ourselves safely tucked away, we hinder ourselves from finding a fullness of beauty in life. That life, that beautiful life remains buried until we can trust ourselves to someone else. That is when we find the “lost pulse of feeling” and life becomes full, complete; perfect.

1 comment:

J.M. said...

Greg, Arnold couldn't have summed up his poem better than that. Awesome. Read his Critical Essay on Poetry, it rocks. I like the part where it talks about looking inward at our heart and discovering it. As much as we are afraid to reveal our innermost desires, we are afraid to discover them for ourselves, we fear discovering our dreams as much as we fear sharing them.