Before the genius of the Renaissance, the earlier classical period of the Roman Empire (400CE – 1100) in no small way encouraged and inspired the rebirth of arts and letters centuries later. Consider this: before the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of the Renaissance, remarkable things were already happening every day because of an earlier time. “All roads (led) to Rome” and from Rome; Roman conduits brought water from distant places; the Roman aqueducts made life easier for the populace. Commerce was no longer local: Merchants came from distant, exotic places with strange wares and properties. The arts had reached towering levels of excellence and civilization reached a sophistication beyond the comprehension of the common mind.
Religious protestations broke out in Germany, Geneva, and England: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin. All Europe was influenced by humanism and individualism. Da Vinci’s paintings of The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are tributes to his title, “The Renaissance Man.” He even modernized warfare. He had ideas for a flying machine, centuries before Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel with images that startled the soul. He turned a block of marble into Israel’s David, which continues to be a revered sculpture of exalted praise. There were others: Raphael, Titian, Donatello. The politics of Machiavelli’s, The Prince. The eloquence of Thomas Moore, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. At the forefront of science were Galileo, Da Vinci, the Medici family, Gutenberg’s printing press. Constant change left an affected public unsettled and confused. There were riots in the streets, little wars everywhere, popes and kings were disrespected. Humanism and individualism challenged religious power.
There’s a comparison here. Our technological age is moving at an incredible pace. Computers, cell phones, laptops, iPhones and the comforting voice of “Alexa” seem in charge of an age driven by speed, constant turmoil, and movement. Even our democracy is strained under the never-ending procession of this unpredictable, animated age. Congress is without direction or leadership. The Presidency seems to be collapsing. The population is frustrated and divided. There are moral and ethical questions that should be addressed.
I recall during the Kennedy years this confusion and alarm was present too. But there was something in the air that told us our best hopes and better angels would get us through that decade of violence and change. That decade was referred to as the “The Camelot Years.” King Arthur was facing a Round Table that was in disarray and confusion. His own son had betrayed him. Shakespeare’s 64th sonnet captures the chaos of such ages. And I have composed two poems that speak to the irony of that time and the present day.
When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age:
When sometimes lofty towers I see down raised,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore;
And the firm soil win o’er the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin has taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
The castle is in darkness. The King sets a ruinous course
The knights cannot agree. There is gossip behind every
door. Lies are everywhere. The noble spirit has lessened
Poetry is dead. A voluble sorcery let loosed upon the land
Pandora’s Box cannot be closed. Where will it end?
Even Merlin’s confounded by this grip of night, this long
passing of shadows, this low spreading blanket of irrational fear.
The once noble, fair-minded Camelot under siege! Confusion
sits upon a throne. Dark clouds crowd the sky. It is night
Things happen every bouncy day,
things we can’t bridle or control
Moments tear by you, like those
fast-moving films of earlier times
How to puzzle it out, to find the piece
that’s missing, when rationale and
reason seems an empty waste
of a mind, confounded and wanting
To find even a loose thread that could
unravel the blanket of uncertainty
to give some easement, a little hope
Could not a world-solving Zen Master
appear and set things, right?