This poem has lingered in the reaches of my consciousness for decades. I don’t recall where I first read it, only that I shared it with my Dad, who understood the feeling it conveyed.
Who Has Known Heights
Who has known heights and depths shall not again
Know peace – not as the calm heart knows
Low, ivied walls; a garden close;
An though he tread the humble ways of men
He shall not speak the common tongue again.
Who has known heights shall bear forevermore
An incommunicable thing
That hurts his heart, as if a wing
Beat at the portal, challenging;
And yet – lured by the gleam his vision wore –
Who once has trodden stars seeks peace no more.
Mary Brent Whiteside
I remember how strongly I felt, reading this poem, how well it expressed my experience then. But now that I’ve found it and read it again, after these decades of life have washed over me, I can see that it is no longer all of my experience.
I do seek peace now.
The heights and depths are there, but they exist more in my inward thoughts. I have learned to guard them, and I have learned that sometimes weariness trumps artistic exuberance.
The memory of those heights tinges my quest for peace with guilt sometimes, and I believe that’s good. I don’t want to be a seeker of peace at any price. I want only to maintain the balance I hadn’t yet discovered in those urgent younger days.
Whether I will or no, I exist within limits. I reread books I’ve read dozens of times. I decide not to watch a film I know will make me cry. I accept the spiritual poetry of scrubbing dirty dishes in warm water in a home of my own.
I choose my quests more cautiously, remembering that final victory may elude me or, more likely, appear in ways and times that can’t be prophesied.