Romantics make poor intellectuals.
They’re driven by inexplicable muses or drug-induced visions; they hate the rigors of memorization, repetition and duplication of existing systems; they despise the confines of rationalization and deductive reasoning. As Blake put it, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” That’s a fabulous attitude if you want to get tenure.
Reality is more brutal than this ideal, of course. Poets and artists have to start somewhere; expression doesn’t exist without an established medium. You learn to read and write through rote and repetition and rigor. But the Romantics understood a principle that I think we sometimes forget in our studying and blogging: that if left unchecked, the system can kill the soul, and our desires to address complicated questions can leave our spiritual roots out to dry and wither.
WB Yeats’ The Fascination of What’s Difficult gets at this notion, at least indirectly:
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road-metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.
“Our colt” above refers to Pegasus, the winged horse that embodies pure light, beauty and truth. Yeats, in brief, is tired of the way the details and mundane complexity of existence enchain the raw power of his art. The poem seems to hit on a common trope of Romanticism, that of the struggle between the Artist and a world who seeks to control his Art.
Yeats was far more of a mystic than I can pretend to be. My worry is a little different than his, one I admittedly wrest with difficulty from Yeats’ text: Mormon Studies, if left unchecked, may kill our Mormonism. Our endless discussions, exegeses and theories threaten to sap us dry, and rob our worship of natural contentedness. Some of us find God in the complexities of the system, the magic of the ritual and the hierarchy; I say, the Devil is in these details. I am beginning to believe that the more layers of rites, theories and speculation we have between us and the Creator, the more diluted our salvation.
When I think of the grandness of Mormonism, my thoughts lead to the possibilities of extending salvation to all the children of Adam and Eve, linking us all in a great eternal chain of family. The greatness of this notion is at odds with the parochial, petty squabbles we often have over minor points of doctrine or historical complexities. We are dealing with a faith that pretends to offer its adherents direct revelation from Heaven; why are we arguing over white shirts on Sunday? Sometimes I wonder why are we wasting time blogging on such matters, when we could be actually engaged in helping each other — in real life. These angels-on-a-pin debates seem far removed from the Savior. Ironic that I write this, given how many of these whimsical debates I’ve engaged in myself — chalk this post up to sleep deprivation if you will.
One of my favorite quotes of Joseph Smith’s is perhaps one we follow the least in our modern worship and study:
The most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians [is] that the latter [are] all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprive[s] its members of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.
As I read long debates over minor points of doctrine, as the Mormonism I love becomes more and more rigid and codified and full of half-baked creeds, my impulse becomes more and more like Keats: I swear before the dawn comes round again/ I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.