Victorian Poetry + Beginning a Writing Career = No End to the Philosophy

Today, I’m writing this post after staggering upright from a wicked backhand rejection email. They say that email messages have no weight, no mass, but I’m convinced that this is a flat-out lie for rejection emails. The quicker they come back to you, the harder it knocks the breath out of you. If you don’t get one for a few months or more, at least most of the momentum has usually died away and you can handle it without too much trouble. 

(I haven’t played sports for years, and yet I still think about some things in tennis terms. That’s got to be strangely wired in my brain somewhere…)

That said, I thought I’d share a poem today, one whose subject matter has been on my mind lately. Some poems, I think, are a reflection of the time in which they were written. Others, I just know, a poet will find herself writing again and again, perhaps only gaining one more glimpse of understanding each time. This is one that I wrote while taking a tutorial on Victorian poets. At that time, I hadn’t finished the novel that I was working on, but my dreams were identical to the ones I have now. Now that I’m waist-deep in the process of trying to publish my words the traditional way, I find that my questions are the same, but the tone is definitely more…colorful. There is hope, certainly, but now there are some considerably heavier moods to balance, too. The journey is really only real when you’re trekking along the path through the swarms of mosquitoes and flooded creeks instead of planning a route along a line on a map, right?

Ambition is something that most people who consider themselves to be dreamers would hate to be accused of. Ambition has the idea of gain or selfishness, usually in a business sense, and dreams are positive and nice, if a bit airy. But something that occurred to me while I was working through the works of Matthew Arnold, a Victorian poet and philosopher, was that ambition and dreams have very much in common. We can’t help the connotations that words collect over time, whether positive or negative, but I wondered if “ambition” took on a more sinister turn from “dreams” because of the action that is implied by the word. A dozy lay-about who never gets up from the couch as he details his plans for hiking the tallest mountains in every country is never called ambitious. People tell him to “dream on” and leave him be. Ambition always has the suggestion of trying. You might try, and you might even fail, but you can still be ambitious. On the other hand, dreamers are characterized by inaction—daydreaming, sleeping, withdrawing. Ambition is dangerous, while dreaming is inconsequential.

You’d almost think that dreamers turned the word “ambition” into a negative trait out of jealousy.

Don’t get me wrong here. I fully believe that any endeavor in life, creative or not, can only be successful with a good deal of both working hard and standing still. Perhaps dreams and ambition are two halves of the same motion. My poetry is definitely nowhere near the caliber of Matthew Arnold’s, but this was written after his style. I hope that it’s some interesting food for thought.

I should warn you, though, before you begin, that I was once informed that I sound like a middle-aged man from the 1800s when I write poetry. I blame studying Romantic and Victorian poets. But at any rate…heads up!

To Become

To ask at what age we begin to dream

is an unreasonable enquiry,

for it is no less than humanity’s theme

to chase visions of what we can be.

Irrevocably bound to the present,

we can only look behind and forward

without moving, and be content

to leave much unexplored.

But in that territory of the unknown

is where the mind can wander free,

leaving time and body alone

to thrive on possibility.

When does a dream become ambition?

Is the line between them so fine?

How can you know if you’re the one

whose dream will truly shine

in the vestments of reality?

Under the double weight of today

and tomorrow, the dreamer can see

every path but can take just one way.

To change the world, you cannot simply do,

toiling with a burden only one carries,

but first you must be, and join the few

who do not just dream, but who are visionaries.

2 thoughts on “Victorian Poetry + Beginning a Writing Career = No End to the Philosophy

  1. Jacqueline Peveto says:

    I really enjoyed this post! It’s well said, and so thoughtful in many regards. I’ve often thought about the ambition and dream divide, but like you’ve pointed out, maybe there shouldn’t be too much of a division between the two. I may come back and read this a few times in the coming weeks. ^.^


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