Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's the Mother of Your Fear!

David Whyte in his book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America sees Beowulf as a story of the descent beneath the waters of the unconscious. “The early English teller of Beowulf asked his listeners to drop beneath the surface of their daily existence, where the rational mind continually prays for dry feet. Since that time the physical details of life may have changed. The elemental motifs have not. He was a prince and warrior who did not make his home in any one kingdom, but went offering his services to foreign kings for that same mixture of personal honor, self-education, prestige, and personal gain that motivates his modern consultative counterpart.” (pg. 36) When the monster comes again – he kills him. “The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim. Grendel’s mother. The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.” (pg. 38)

Why? You might ask are you talking about Beowulf in a blog devoted to Jonah the truant prophet? A good question. In both stories there is a going below the waters to face an ordeal. I return again and again to the passage I quote above. It is not just the thing we fear but the mother of the thing we fear -- to fear that we will not be enough in this life and then not to be at all afterwards is the mother of the fear of inadequacy.

"The only real question is not one of winning or losing, but of experiencing life with an ever increasing depth. Go down into the lake consciously, like Beowulf."(pg.71) Poor Jonah he couldn't even jump into the sea himself he had to wait until the frightened sailors would do it for him. Even then he was passive. Not to choose is a kind of inane choice. JWS

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