Agonistes On The Edge

San Simeon, California. Photo courtesy of Karen Daniel

And I have felt a presence that disturbs  me with the joy of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean and the living air, and the blue sky, and in the mind of man: a motion and a spirit, that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things, from William Wordworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

We’ve spent a little time here on the topic of tension. We’ve addressed the notion of new romanticism—the postmodern age in which emotion and heart may take their rightful places alongside reason. New Romanticism not only amounts to the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling, but also asks us to set aside the pragmatic for the magical; the formula for mystery; the predictable for the unknown. At San Simeon, CA I was able to stand on what seemed like the edge of the world; beyond which at one time was identified on the maps as just that: “Unknown.” There on the rocks, looking out in the gray, was the sense of some sort of demarcating line between where I stood and the call of some other world beyond anything I could ever know.

In reality it’s the line we walk every day between comfort and calling. And here is where the tension builds—to take another step, forsaking the known world so to speak; or to wait another day. Standing on the rocks, feeling the cold air and the sea spray in such a real way, Wordsworth’s words echo with each lash of the waves on the shore. There certainly is the joyous presence. To be disturbed by the joyous presence is exactly what we wish to imply when we decide to embrace the tension, thereby refusing to abdicate the fights of our lives. To struggle with the line; to wrestle with tension is ultimately the culmination of life. The “sense sublime” is akin to Elisha’s “still small voice,” so powerful in its softness and subtelty. True majesty need not boast. But it does ask us to remain engaged.


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