Consolations is the latest collection of prose from David Whyte (b. 1955), a contemporary British poet of Yorkshire and Irish heritage whose clear words kiss our heads like the bright sun and prick the conscious like a south-travelling wind.
Heartbreak is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control, of holding in our affections those who inevitably move beyond our line of sight.
This collection pulls words back from their overly laden meanings and resuscitates them to honest simplicity.
Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not.
These feelings and terms are common enough—heartbreak, genius, confession, touch—and yet Whyte renders them anew.
Trained as a marine biologist and naturalist, Whyte instils physical, natural, and even primal attributes to things. Like American poet Wendell Berry’s, who has spent a life farming, Whyte’s writing is rooted outside of contemporary and cosmetic context and is, thus, easy to enter.
Confession is a stripping away of protection, the telling of a truth which might once have seemed like a humiliation, become suddenly a gateway, an entrance to solid ground.
Like Japanese author Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, who believed beauty emanates from our daily and worldly needs and necessities, Whyte writes in Consolations that poetry originates in “the conversational nature of reality.”
Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.
Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who, nearing death, wrote a few essays on life called “Gratitude”, would have agreed. His essays radiated energy. “I am now face to face with dying, but I am not finished with living,” Sacks wrote.
The reclamation of words is quite common now. (Read more from Mark Strand, Denise Levertov, Dani Shapiro). Words are collected, owned, held close to the chest, ready to do battle, ready to express our innermost sensitivities.
Language is a contemporary sword; it can easily be what sets us apart. And yet, I prefer to see language as what American novelist Marilynne Robinson called a “grand collaboration.”1
Whyte’s reclamation, like Robinson’s, is pure healing and generosity. Of “anger,” he writes:
Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all possibly about to be hurt.
T. S. Eliot once wrote that fellow poet Marianne Moore “expanded language” with her imaginative verse. To affect language thus, not just use it to convey meaning, is the remarkable gift of Consolations.