Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Poison Tree, etc. (On anger)

"Ira furor brevis est." --Horace, Epistles

William Blake was oftener wrong than right in his conclusions, but he was arrestingly right in his observations. That these accurate perceptions compelled him to fantastical theories no more invalidates them than Lamark's data was invalidated by his laughable conclusions. Blake had it dead on when he saw anger as poison. Like poison, it fires the nerves, quickens the pulse, upsets the digestion, agitates all and draws all thoughts onto itself. That is as far as the analogy goes, however, for anger bears no fruit. It cannot be made into a grenade. If it were possible to make anger into a weapon, we would all be lobbing cyanide grapefuits at each other with superhuman strength and supernatural endurance until all the world was dead or deaf.

No, there is no poison tree, because anger is the quick lime that erodes and sterilizes the soul. As it summons forth monsters from the images of those who do us wrong, as it hits the "replay" button like an insane gorilla in our memories, or like a scourging devil, as it fills our hands with weapons, our mouths with insults, our days with malicious plans, anger does only one thing: it kills its host by parts. Our enemies and tormentors are unaffected by our misery. She will be just as happy with him, and he with her, and the gossip will go on lying, and with as much relish, and be heard as willingly, whether we boil in rage or not. As our nights are shaded red by anger, our sheets dampened and pillows smashed, the enemy rests peacefully, and sometimes even smugly snug. We breakfast on our own bile and dine on hatred, bu tthose who put us to these tortures have their blameless meals.

What, then, do we gain? Anger lies to us. It claims that it is like pain, that it has lessons to impart. It claims, too, that it can cure our diseases by teaching us to bring ruin to those who ruin us. Perhaps, in a state of raw fleshed nature, some part of its boast would be true. Since, however, we usually lack the power to peel the eyelids off our spurning lover as well as the legal license to fire some #3 shot from a 12 gauge into the kneecaps of the rumorsmith, anger feeds our wounds by telling us the remedies we cannot have. NOr is anger teaching us to avoid hurt, if we are at all mature. If it tells us to never love, it tells us an impossibility, and if it tells us to never speak, it cuts us from our reasonable remedy. It is, instead, if good in any sense at all, a cauterizing flame. There is no benefit to it by itself, but it kills the diseased affections, trust, and amity. The pain we feel of anger is the pain we would feel if bitten by a snake with necrotizing venom. Our nerves intact, our muscles -- our motives -- our will -- is turned to dead tissue.

There is no way to avoid some anger, for it is a poison fine enough to pass through any sieve and is a flood large enough to overwhelm any dam. I have found only that I can remind myself that I am doing my enemy's will with anger. I can use anger to quench anger, and that is my only way. I remind myself that my antagonist wants me to suffer, and I give him delight by consuming myself in hate. If she is indifferent, my range cannot impress her. I strengthen my anger's resolve, I trick myself, by refusing to rehearse bitter conversations to come and rehash painful conversations past. The deception is often successful, but it can only work against an enemy outside the walls.

The anger that cannot be dissuaded, misdirected, or fobbed off on a more practical subject (such as the Republican Party) is the anger I have at myself. If it were not forbidden, if I were not acting anger in doing so, I would wish despair on any who gave me despair, for it is the one anger that cannot be defended.

No one undergoes a stronger struggle than the man who tries to subdue himself." -- Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ I, 3, iii
Let us always wish, therefore, that we have enemies who stand firm and throw obvious rocks at us, lest the dog creep into our hearts in the night.

1 comment:

The Geogre said...

Anyone may now leave comments, and there is no need to be a "registered user." I may regret this.