The Responsibility of the Dreamer

In dreams begin responsibilities

W.B. Yeats

When I first savored this line in college, I was too high on the poetry and dreaming to realize it was a simple phrase that ends with thud of adult responsibilities. By graduate school, Yeats was as much vocation as avocation, and I was so chilled by watching literature become a responsibility that I left the path of academia before I had really begun. Once I was marooned in the “real world” and trying to forget about poets and their dancing words, I eventually realized I was ducking both dreams and responsibilities. Now that I am carving out a new space for myself and trying to balance the poetic and the pragmatic, I am figuring out the relationship that Yeats described.

I have surprised myself over the last few days with my entries that call for a focus on individual choice and change even at a moment when we are all captivated by events on the national stage will shape our lives. “Responsibility” has not come up in my writing yet, but I think it is inevitable when we think about finding hope and renewal within ourselves rather than relying purely on the inspirational tones of a man at a podium.

America is the perfect example of a dream that became a most certain reality. It has not been sustained by idealists alone, but by people willing to bear the burden of its reality. It hasn’t just been perpetuated by the politicians who believe that they follow in the footsteps of the framers of the Constitution either. If we want to take part in this dream of America, if we want to resuscitate this once mighty icon and save it from its nightmarish state, then we all must take part in weaving the visions of what we want this country to be and then tend those visions as they become reality.

Dedicating oneself to birthing any creative impulse, be it a work of art, a piece of writing, service to another person, or the invention of a country quickly divests the dreamer from her airy throne. There is criticism and exhaustion and fear and doubt to contend with at every turn. In the end, finding yourself in charge of your own brilliant fantasy made sweet flesh must be worth sacrificing the freedom of being devoted to nothing in particular.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

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