Joy

It is a peculiar phenomenon in literature that nothing is quite so uplifting in its effect as odes to dejection. In seeking to rise above their doldrums poets soon become inspired and tend to inspire others. Gerard Manley Hopkins cries out: ''I need the rapture of an inspiration.'' And Wordsworth asks: ''Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?'' Merely to mention these things is to create their possibility. These poets can write joyously about joy, even as it seems to elude them.

It would appear from this that one of the conditions necessary for joy is a strong enough imagination to rise above depression. Maybe Shakespeare was right when he said: ''There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.'' We are not, after all, at the mercy of biorhythms and Seattle weather. It's possible to make inwardly merry regardless of physical conditions and to have the sense of flourishing even in rain and cold.

Surely this comes as good news to most of us. Just the other day my teen-age daughter said: ''The biggest duty of the middle-aged and the old is to be joyful. Young people expect it of them. Otherwise what's the point of having lived so long?'' Her position seemed well taken.

And I have noticed that young people, especially college students, fear more than anything the tight-lipped tiredness of middle age. They don't wish to get that way, where everything is a hassle and nothing is thrilling. They want to feel alive. And who can blame them?

What, though, aside from a healthy imagination, is the source of joy? What can rekindle us when we are depressed and more or less ''burned out''? Is it jogging five miles before breakfast, subsisting on wild rice and bean sprouts, studying birdsong?

I talked with my daughter about this and she said ''true love, that's the source.'' But when I pressed her she connected her own joy with a sudden expansion of energy and an unaccountable pleasure in things. It was compounded of newness and wonder and living with a lack of proof. Although the source of joy was in herself, the focus was always outside herself, on some perfection, something that was free, ''like Mozart.''

My other daughter reacted much the same way. Nature, she said, was what filled her with joy. Clouds in a blue sky, a bird on a tree. Something outside, and beautiful, and free. This direct and ecstatic response to nature in my daughter surprised me. I wondered if I shouldn't take a walk.

I thought about Wordsworth's ode on the beauty of nature and youth and also about his sadness over the memory of one tree to which he could no longer respond: But there's a Tree, of many, one, A single Field which I have looked upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone.

Wordsworth balanced his sadness by sympathetic imagination - rejoicing with those who could still rejoice over nature. Attributing his own loss of joy to habits of response developed over the years, he maintained that ''other palms are won,'' and these later accomplishments were his consolation for the lack of a more direct response to ''the splendor in the grass, the glory in the flower.''

But I wonder if Wordsworth is right. Must we become so worn out that we must depend on others for high spirits? Must we accept the dimming of the world and look now to ''other palms''? Having outgrown joy, must we groom our memories and settle for the vicarious? I don't think so. Because it strikes me that joy exists in a peculiar relationship to thankfulness, of which even the oldest among us is still capable.

It seems to me that one of the chief ingredients of young joy is the question: how have we deserved all this? When one is young and without the self-consciousness of accomplishment, one tends to be thankful for the smallest gift. Young people have not lost to acquisitions the openness of bare thanks. They stand in a field marking the loveliness of cloud, the perfection of leaf, the blue of summer. A two-year-old quietly pets a dog. The whole world has come to rest somewhere in that soft fur.

Such joy exists in the newness of things and is without ulterior reference. It is free standing and without background or history. But as we get older we think of what we are, our relationships to things, and the whole world begins to slip by. We are weighed down by acquisitions and become like winter birds, hovering over a bonanza in a shrill piping of plenty and not wishing to share very much. We suffer under the merriness of the countinghouse.

I for one don't wish to settle for Wordsworth's idea, ''other palms are won.'' I don't want the calm permanence of retrospect. I don't want to ask myself each morning with a shrug, ''What can be new?'' I still want to feel what Hopkins calls the ''abrupt self'' of things and know that the world is somehow made new for me each day. And I think such a state is still possible if one doesn't make a private acquisition of joy itself.

I remember at nineteen standing in a hayfield on a yellow afternoon in August and wondering how I could pay for the beauty. All I could think of was giving blood to the Red Cross. Maybe a pint a month, I thought. I was young and strong. And then I remembered Wordsworth's lines from an earlier poem: ''Surprised by joy, I turned to share the transport.''

That time I think Wordsworth was right.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK