The Poet with Bright Eyes

The Poet with Bright Eyes

January 2, 2022 0 By Anton

In the final hours of winter dawn, while the night was reigning over the last moments of cold darkness, Zechariah finished his poem. It was the last one in a collection of twenty-three which Zechariah planned to submit for publication.

He had done his research thoroughly and, as a result of his assiduous efforts, Zechariah had identified a number of literary agents and publishing houses that could had been interested in his creations: long verses with elegant flow, well thought through metaphors, precisely placed words and punctuation marks, unveiling themes of love and death, beauty and tragedy, courage and tradition, all matters from which the heart of our civilisation arose like a glowing rose.

The poet looked over the final elegy and, with a soft but confident smile, he saw that it was good: the rhythm of the words sung beautifully as they guided the reader towards the inner realm of dangers and immortality.

It was now time to polish the collection by arranging the poems in a way as Zechariah felt right to do so, for reason could not play any part in a matter of creation – it was inspiration and revelation that directed imagination and instinct, and only this mix alone allowed the poems to be written. And so, the man, who was only twenty-five years of age, began at once to put the pomes in order, like a demi-god imitating creation, making order in the little chaos of his pages.

Zechariah placed the poems on death and freedom first: five of those made up part one of the submission. He then ordered the poetry on love, sacrifice and beauty – another ten poems followed. Finally, the poet, following a few long hours of serious debate with himself, ordered the remaining eight poems, all on various aspects of humanity: war, folly, progress, tradition and so on.

The resulting collection was the product of three years of studying, thinking and writing. A lot of time and effort and, above all, hope, went into this collection of Zechariah’s. The list of publishing houses and literary agents included seven such organisations that seemed most promising, based on the work they previously published. The other three publishing houses were speculative submission.

The poet sent his work to all ten venues, respecting each one’s submission policies – drafting and editing personal statements that explained why he wrote the. In it, Zechariah expressed a “deep desire to contribute to the enrichment of mankind, especially during these times of cultural depravation, spiritual slaughter and nihilistic ideology”. With his sparkling grey eyes, the twenty-five year old man read and re-read the statement, hoping that those who were meant to read it would see the sincerity in his words.

A month went by and Zechariah heard nothing from any of the publishing houses or literary agents. One Saturday afternoon, as he was looking over some documents for his day job – that of a solicitor at an international law firm in central London – the young poet noticed something rather queer about the rusty evening light that fell on his wooden desk: upon touching the dark brown wood, the rays of light formed silver-like puddles of brightness that invited Zechariah to indulge in melancholy that tasted sweet and old.

Above the desk, next to the ivory window frame carved from old oak, a realistic painting of Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion located in Kyoto, hung over the neatly arranged towers of documents and books. The image was painted with acrylics by a European artist who was a close friend of Zechariah. His friend drew inspiration from Hasegawa Sadanobu’s “Kinkakuji seen in Falling Snow”, created in late nineteenth century in ink and colour on paper.

Zechariah’s gaze, guided by the afternoon light through which glittering particles passed gently and faded like dust from butterfly wings, stopped on the painting, looking at the Kinkakuji with his mind blank. The temple was shrouded in shadows – it felt colder up there, on the wall, and the icy white snow that surrounded the bright golden construction produced a shattering inside the young poet’s heart: that melancholy he felt earlier collapsed into bitter pessimism – sadness won the fight and annihilated the small amount of hope that all melancholic musings bring with them. That is, hope for re-living some episode from the past, a past which need not be personal at all.

The next Monday morning, before heading to work, Zechariah checked his email and saw that he had received some response from three publishing houses. Two of them were polite rejections which did not say anything about why his poems were not meeting their criteria. Only one of the three replies wrote something more than a polite refusal. In the body of that email the following words were addressed directly to the poet:

“Zechariah, please do not take this the wrong way, but do you not know that the readership of poems such as yours, as touching and as unique as they are, is very small, almost non-existent? Indeed, if, after twenty years in this business, I have to guess, the men and women who are likely to read your poems out of curiosity, let alone who would engage with them out of pleasure, are probably confined to theologically-orientated ways of life or to some niche areas of philosophy. In other words, they are a species on the verge of extinction. Have you not heard that aesthetics are dead? You are quite familiar that God is still dead, as your work demonstrates, and that art too died some time ago. Now the final refuge of “the human soul”, as you call it, the aesthetic realm, has been torn down by ugliness and meaninglessness. Please, revise your interests and apply your skilful lyricism to other areas that are more…consumable.”

His bright grey eyes went over the paragraph multiple times, uttering its words out loud as if he wanted to make sure that he really understood the message: change and accommodate the wants of society or take the chance of being unread by anyone but a tiny minority.

Disappointed, but not defeated, Zechariah went to work. An important client was waiting for documents in order to conclude a large deal: the economy was booming, as it had always been roaring for some, lucky few.

‘You must have a really easy job,’ the client smiled as he took the stack of documents from Zechariah’s hands. ‘Just do what the client asks, and you get paid. How wonderful it must be to feel so productive, so useful. The economy wouldn’t work without people like you: you make it possible for our businesses to sell and for the wonderful consumers to do what they do best: buy our stuff and consume, keep that economic growth going. Demand and supply? I say supply and demand. If you keep on this path, I can see in your eyes that you will have wonderful success.’ The client let out a respectful giggle, shook Zechariah’s right hand and left the office building.

A month passed and he tried again to publish his poems. This time he wrote a dozen new ones, all simpler in structure and meaning. However, as he did so, because Zechariah deviated from his true self and betrayed the duty that he had towards himself – the most sacred of duties – upon finishing the new creations, a strong sickness overcame his body: he dashed to the toilet and vomited violently throughout the night.

The dawn came late, finding the young man pale and with barely any energy left to get out of bed. Fortunately, it was a Sunday and the economy did not demand anything of him. He could rest. But, even if his body was immobilised, his mind was restless: Zechariah felt disgusted with himself, although he felt hopeful that some of his work would be published now. And he was right.

Almost all of the easier poems were published. Their themes were more mundane, discussing relationships and the flow of time, nothing really substantial, all too human and lacking any tangent into higher ideals.

A few months later, he submitted again new work. This time, every poem was short and easy to consume: anyone, regardless of education or inherent ability to perceive or feel works of intellect or of art could read the poems and nod their heads in understanding. Sex, fashion, luxury and progress were the themes of his new poetry. A blasphemy to art itself.

The topics were so common and ephemeral that Zechariah started smoking to be able to write them. The grey perfume of burning tobacco concealed his pain, but only temporarily for he knew that the cherry blossoms of Japan, the pine trees of Alaska and the tall, bright blue glaciers of Patagonia, all witness the destruction of his soul. Nature, if not God, saw everything: how one man, gifted to speak of more than the slew of mankind sold out for a bit of fame and some worthless monetary gains.

‘Congratulations on your literary success,’ a partner at the law firm said to Zechariah, patting him on the shoulder. Many more compliments followed, some from clients, others from colleagues and professionals from nearby firms in London.

Time flew by and Zechariah became very good at churning out cheap poetry. He now had contracts with two publishing houses to produce a certain amount of poems each year. As with everything else in the world he was living, as it is the case with our own society today, art too became industrialised and now it ought to be produced, instead of created.

Zechariah signed his name to that chain of production. The cost: twenty-two cigarettes a day plus his soul.

Suddenly, a rough cough developed at the back of his throat and thick, yellow mucus accumulated in his mouth. These persistent biological developments affected Zechariah’s writing: he no longer spoke of hope or joy but of despair and desolation. To his surprise however, people loved these topics because they were thrilled to feel victimised. In fact, what Zechariah quickly observed was that there seemed to be a perverse force in society which manifested in a weird but very clear desire of many people to be enslaved.

‘Man is born free, but he puts chains around his neck as he cannot bear his freedom,’ Zechariah noted on a piece of paper on which he placed a glass of red wine. He then gazed at the acrylic Kinkakuji frozen above his desk. It was the middle of the night on a Wednesday. Tomorrow was a difficult day but, for now, the young man was lost in the snow of a mythical island.

The next morning, before heading to work, as he was washing his face, Zechariah began coughing and after a few vicious coughs, spots of blood fell on the white sink. He knew what that meant: cancer was eating his body from the inside.

In a couple of days, a doctor confirmed the self-made diagnosis: lung cancer, to be more precise. His bright grey eyes read the note from the doctor which stated clearly to quit smoking. As if out of spite for the fate that he chose, Zechariah lighted up a cigarette which hit his chest lung a sledge hammer.

He continued to write dull and commercial poems which sold well. The more his body weakened from the mutation, the more his poems seemed to gain traction: success appeared to grow proportionately with his impending death.

After a year or so, Zechariah was an internationally known poet. Stylish and cosmopolitan magazines from America and Europe lauded his work, calling him a “brilliant voice of his generation” and an “innovator without ink”. Just stupid advertisement language, buzzwords that meant nothing and only appealed to those vaguely defined as consumers. Zechariah knew that that was the case, but there was no turning back now, or so he thought. He plunged deeper into the process: writing, smoking, success and repeat.

It was a Sunday morning when the young poet was completing yet another batch of simple lyricism. He stopped however: a pungent taste of iron and bitterness filled his mouth. It felt as if death made a nest between his teeth. With a flimsy gesture, he put out the half smoked cigarette and went to the bathroom to wash his mouth.

After he spit the cold water out and watched it go down the drain, Zechariah looked up into the mirror. He saw the consequences of his weak character: a yellow face that barely covered the bones, a dry set of lips that had an earthly look to them and a thin veil of whiteness, like the caimac that forms above fresh boiled milk, coated his grey eyes which lost their sparkle.

Sickened by the reflected image, Zechariah went back to his desk, intending to finish writing. Sitting down on the chair he felt a powerful, burning sensation inside his chest, around where the heart was. A warm dizziness engulfed the young man. As his sight weakened, he pushed aside the papers and rested his head on the colder wooden surface of the desk. A vision flashed in the blackness of his shut eyes: a dried out pine tree was shedding its brown and rusty needles in the warm sunbeams. Around it, other trees were green and vigorous, only this one was dying. Beneath the small mounds of dead needles, Zechariah saw a bunch of papers covered in dirt. Words were written on them. Kneeling, he looked closer at the odd pieces of paper. In a second he realised what they were: his published poems. Quickly, Zechariah picked them up. Underneath the pages a toxic puddle of nuclear waste was bubbling, eating the ground and the perforating the roots of the pine tree. He could see that the sap was no longer a beautiful golden liquid that smelled sweet and raw but a crimson, thin, watery fluid that resembled blood.

A strong thud woke the young man up. He fell on the floor. Opening his eyes with difficulty and stretching his arms out, Zechariah got up, stood next to his desk, looked at the Golden Temple with fury and pushed aside with a quick sweep all that was on the table surface. After a few minutes, as his rage disappeared, the young man took a piece of paper and a pen from the floor and sat down at the desk. Zechariah began to write.

He knew that what he was writing now was not going to see the light of day, but it had to be done: for the sake of the poisoned tree.

The poem’s title: “The Road to Elysium”.

The theme was morally important and the flow was urgent: a return of the future to its own true nature, that of wild savageness, or a total decay into the enslavement of modernity.

However, Zechariah never submitted the poem. In fact, he never wrote anything else, nor did he serve other clients to make the economy roll over.

As he finished revising “The Road to Elysium”, the young man stood up from his desk and walked towards his bedroom. It was well passed one o’clock in the night. Upon reaching the door to his room, a powerful pain stroke his chest and his body slammed the floor like a frozen block of meat: a heart attack claimed his life. “The Road to Elysium” would never see the light of day and the world remembered Zechariah only for his mundane and easy to digest poems. His true self, the one, true face of his humanity that mattered more than anything, the source of his art, left the reality of man, forever remaining unknown.