In the Land of One-Sided Virtue
“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.” [William Blake, Proverbs of Hell]
It’s autumn in Canada, so I guess that means it is time to teach. But, I am misquoting William Blake in terms of his intention as I understand it. By autumn, I am assuming he is referring to the autumn of one’s life, for the poem, Proverbs of Hell, is about living a full life. I am well into autumn in terms of my life span, the time for me to share with others, to give back to the world which has nurtured me, fed me and allowed me to live a productive life to this point in time.
I looked for this poem as a few of its words were quoted by Thomas Moore as his introduction to Being Smart About Life Leads Us Down A Narrow Road of Self-Deception, in his book, Original Self. That being smart is about being prudent. Being prudent is based on taking a look around us in the outer world, noting what works and doesn’t work, attending to the rules of society, not stepping over arbitrary lines in the sand that tell us what is virtuous and decent. Here is what the dictionary tells us:
pru·dent (prdnt) adj.
1. Wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment or common sense.2. Careful in regard to one’s own interests; provident.3. Careful about one’s conduct; circumspect.
prude (prd) n.
One who is excessively concerned with being or appearing to be proper, modest, or righteous.
Thomas Moore suggests that doing “the prudent thing may prevent us from following our passions.” Of course, following our passions is what the modern man doesn’t want to do if he is to be considered normal. Moore goes on to say: “In fact, prudence may often be little more than a defense against making mistakes.”
“Generally, if we follow the prudent path, we will live in the land of one-sided virtue, where difficulties abound. But if we can find some wisdom, we will not limit our actions to what seems prudent at the expense of romance, passion and occasional folly.” [p. 13]
What is lost when one is prudent? What is gained? Well, in the eyes and minds of most in our modern world, more is gained than lost. In fact, one could say that engaging in folly, passion and romance is the “paved road to hell.” Perhaps this is so, but what is lost when one is prudent? Soul. It’s that simple. We lose depth, we lose character, we lose all of what lies within us that would make us whole.
Strange how we accept poets and artists who live with depth, as worthy of life but we would do our utmost to steer our children away from these soul-rich lives in favour of a life of comfort, safety and homogeneity in keeping with the status quo. But, it comes at a cost. We medicate ourselves, drug ourselves, give up our richness for sitcoms or twenty-four hour a day news. If that doesn’t work, eat, drink, and lose yourself in a book or video or social media. We deny our very core, in hopes that somehow we will be declared fit enough to be an acceptable human by some unknown authority. Sad thing is, each of those in our communities who prudishly constrict the souls of others, also constrict their own souls leaving the world a much poorer place.