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Every civilized society lives and thrives on a silent and profound agreement as to what is to be accepted as the valid mould of experience. Civilization is the complex system of dams, dykes and cannels warding off, directing and articulating the influx of the surrounding fluid element; a fertile fenland, elaborately drained and protected from the high tides of chaotic, unexercised and inarticulate experience. In such a culture, stable and sure of itself within the frontiers of ‘naturalized’ experience, the arts wield their creative power not so much in width as in depth. They do not create new experience, but deepen and purify the old. Their works do not differ from one another like a new horizon from a new horizon, but like a madonna from a Madonna.

The periods of art which are most vigorous in creative passion seem to occur when the established pattern of experience loosen its rigidity without as yet loosing its force. Such a period was the Renaissance,  and Shakespeare its poetic consummation. Then it was as though the discipline of the old order gave depth to the excitement of the breaking away, the depth of job and tragedy, of incomparable conquests and irredeemable losses. Adventures of experience set out as though in lifeboats to rescue and bring back to the shore treasures of knowing and feeling which the old order had left floating on the high seas. The works of the early Renaissance and the poetry of Shakespeare vibrate with the compassion for live experience in danger of dying from exposure and neglect. In this compassion was the creative genius of the age. Yet, it was a genius of courage, not of desperate audacity. For however elusively, it still knew of harbours and anchors, of homes to which to return, and of barns in which to store the harvest.  The exploring spirit of art was in the depths of its consciousness still aware of a scheme of things into which to fit its exploits and creations.

But the more this scheme of things loses its stability, the more boundless and uncharted appears the ocean of potential exploration. In the blank confusion of infinite potentialities flotsam of significance gets attached to jetsam of experience; for everything is a sea, everything is at sea –

… The sea is all about us;

The sea is the land’s edge also , the granite

Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

Its hints of earlier and other creation …

-and Rlike tells a story in which, as in T.SEliot’s poem, it is again the sea and the distance of ‘other creation’ that becomes the image of poet’s reality. A rowing boat sets out on a difficult passage. The oarsman labour in exact rhythm. There is no sign yet of the destination. Suddenly a man, seemingly idle, breaks out into song. And if the labour of the oarsman meaninglessly defeats the real resistance of the real waves, it is the idle single who magically conquers the despair of apparent aimlessness. While the people next to him try to come to grips with the element that it next to them, his voice seems to bind the boat to the farthest distance so that the farthest distance draws it towards itself. ‘I don’t know why and how’, is Rlike’s conclusion, ‘but suddenly I understood the situation of the poet, his place and function in this age. If does not matter if one denies him every place – except this one. There one must tolerate him.’

The sea and ‘other creation’ lead Rlike to

  1. Define the place of the poet in his culture
  2. Reflect on the role of the oarsman and the singer
  3. Muse on artistic labour and its aim lessens
  4. Understand the elements that one has to deal with.
  5. Delve into natural experience and real waves
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