Friday, October 07, 2011

This island's mine

No man is an island, wrote John Donne, famously in a meditation.

Oh, I don't know. I rather like thinking of myself as an island. Part of an archipelago, to be sure, and not far off the continental shore, but an island nevertheless.

I like the possibility of solitude. Of not having to smile all the time. Just long walks in the woods. Alone. An hour by the pond.

Is that a bell tolling in he distance? Never mind. Listen! Just there, across the pond. A chickadee.

Sure, an island. I'd like to be an island. And I have a particular island in mind. Shakespeare's island for The Tempest. Before the shipwreck that brought intruders. Yes, that island. Full of strange sounds and sweet melodies that make you feel good and don't hurt anyone. Chickadees. Nuthatches. Crickets.

Who am I? Prospero? Miranda? Ariel? Caliban? All of them. All of them at once.

Prospero. The duke without a dukedom. Magus. Spirits to enforce, arts to enchant. Master of a full poor cell, surrounded by my books. Mediating between the superego and the id. Temperate. Deft.

Miranda. My anima. The archetypal feminine. Eve, Helen, Mary, Sophia. By her own assertion, plain and holy innocence. Unbesmirched wonder. How beauteous mankind is. Oh brave new world.

Ariel. Tricksy spirit. Fly, swim, dive into the fire, ride on the curled clouds, tread the ooze of the salty deep. Longing to be free of earthy service, afraid of freedom.

Caliban. The brain stem, all wound with adders who with cloven tongues do hiss me into madness. The animal within, the unchecked primal drive that would, were it not for the controlling ego -- language, books -- have populated the isle with Calibans.

And then the storm. The tolling bell. The wrack of the other. The despoliation of solitude. Come, Miranda. Come, Ariel, my chick. Come Caliban, too. Matter/spirit, body/soul, masculine/feminine -- enisled, inseparable.

No man is an island. The roar of the wind, the creak of the timbers. Now are my charms o'erthrown, what strength I have's mine own. Bury my staff. Drown my books. Gentle readers, your breath my sails must fill or else my project fails.