The Silenced Tomb Of Romantic History

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In the middle of two poems, on two separate lines, W.B. Yeats writes in one, “For peace comes dropping slow,” and in another “With beauty like a tightened bow.” And for years, I have repeated aloud the former to explain to others—and muttered to myself—not quite the arrival, but the coming to the arrival of a foreseeable calm. And as for the latter, I have known the tense, unforgettable shiver away from such things I cannot keep either my mind or my memory away. But they are both seen here, heard here, united in a silly sounding rhyme, as plain as the buoy ding-donging from afar throughout the day as well as throughout the night when all the sleepers are sleeping.

And somewhere I had thought the great Susan Sontag wrote long ago that when we take a picture we have no memory, though I can’t find this anywhere today. But just as Plato through his Socratic mouthpiece argues that the written word is a silent tomb, she made her pact with time that photographs, all of them, were memento mori. This is pretty well known. But, I would argue: not quite! For these pictures, and stars, and all of the world’s mislabeled books no longer need us. Sadly or not, that great, once-lasting Romantic notion of being rang itself out in the clanging and wrangling that took place as the world’s now fallen empires—blowing themselves to smithereens—fought and fell apart during the first half of the twentieth century.

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