The greatest foe to our collective unbreaking is disillusionment. It is not hatred, not sorrow. The very existence of humanity (and maintaining that humanity in the face of those who would strip us of it), relies upon that which moves us; whether it be to despair, joy, or something in between. That movement in and of itself is action, and action is what propels us forward.
In a post-pandemic era, what does this look like? When the amount of hurt and pain in our world and in our own communities surpasses our ability to process it, how do we continue living, breathing, loving one another?
In 1919, Edgar A. Guest, a British-born poet living in Detroit, published a small collection of poems. In late 2005, while wandering the aisles of the local bookshop in my hometown, I picked up this small collection from the bargain shelf, intrigued by its slightness. What small amount of content could be enticing enough to justify an entire publication? (Those were the days I fell victim to the fallacy of thick volumes– “classics” as defined by some white men in a board room — where girth and dense prose equated to literary value). The $4.95 price tag written in pencil on the inside cover was within my budget. I began to read.
Simple in structure, mainly written in rhyming couplets, the poetry of The Path to Home vibrates with sweetness and nostalgia. This is not a nostalgia bred of the micro-aggressive “those were the good ol’ days!” ideology, but one bred by honoring the beauty of simplicity, something that perhaps seems elusive in many ways today.
There’s the mother at the doorway, and the children at the gate And the little parlor windows with the curtains white and straight. There are shaggy asters blooming in the bed that lines the fence And the simplest of blossoms seems of mighty consequence. Oh, there isn’t any mansion underneath God’s starry dome That can rest a weary pilgrim like the little place called home.
–Excerpt from “The Path to Home”
For historical context, Guest’s words are tangled with the circumstances of his day. The Spanish Influenza and World War I had colored his experience, much as the current pandemic, divisive politicizing of the female body, and humanitarian crises in Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, Syria all color our world. Ultimately, the simplicity of Guest’s poetic themes is not turning a blind eye to the dark realities of the world. Rather, he finds beauty despite.
While our own lives have become irreparably convoluted, while the promises we were made as children about the relationship between hard work and success have proven to be untrue for the majority, while the concept of “fairness” is not a consistent standard but rather is as random and unpredictable as lightening, there is something comforting about the charm in Guest’s words. Even as an angsty sixteen-year-old, not yet sharpened to the ways of the world and brimming with dreams, I carried his book around as a talisman. And now: grown, a wife and mother of two, I still find myself reaching for my small, faded copy, spine frayed, the binding disintegrating from frequent consult (more frequent these days, it seems). I am reminded each time I read Guest’s poems on love, on fatherhood, on home, that there are still simple things in this life that can cut through the noise if one can step back from the fray that arises from simply being a human being in modern day. This book, for me, at least, is a way back to the idea of “home,” the one I was promised as a child, but the safety of which I am still looking for.
This review is less an entreaty to read Guest, specifically, and more a call to reach for what brings comfort to you in these trying times. Reach for the book you’ve read a hundred times, the one that is annotated and dog-eared (should you be a blasphemer such as me who vandalizes books this way). Take comfort in familiarity. Put down your shield, your sword, the quest to always gain knowledge from the new. The familiar holds knowledge, too, when looked at through new eyes. You’ve been permanently altered by circumstances out of your control. Take comfort from the ways in which your life continues to bend and break, to veer and to sprout new growth, and hold these new realities up to the light of consistency: those same words you’ve been reading for years.
As author Susan Cain puts it, “…our longing is the great gateway to belonging.”
Allow yourself to long for things; for the simple, for the innocent. In this way, you can find your path to home.
The Path to Home is [available from ]