Just saw this Graham Greene quotation on another blog.

“Time has its revenges, but revenge seems so often sour. Wouldn’t we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another, not a wife with a husband, nor a parent a child? Perhaps that’s why men have invented God – a being capable of understanding. ” – The Quiet American

I remember, when I was investigating mindfulness and meditation, watching a Jon Kabat-Zinn video where he said much the same – you haven’t really got a hope in hell of knowing or understanding anyone at all, truly. At the time I found this very bleak indeed. What? Impossible?

If it is true – and it may be – it is perhaps cruel that we possess such a burning desire to be known and understood (which Graham Greene attributed as the precursor of the invention of God).

This sent me on a hunt for a quotation by Jean Cocteau, which it turns out I had mis-remembered. What he actually said was

“The poet never asks for admiration; he wants to be believed.”

In my head it was “understood” not “believed”, but nevertheless I think there is something of the vulnerability and truth-telling of poetry that speaks to that same insane and perhaps futile desire to be “known”, and perhaps give solace to others in that shared experience of truth. Personally, I think it’s a better solution than God.

While I was at it I found a couple more Cocteau quotations.

“An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture”

I hate it when people ask me what I write about, the why, the how. Just bloody read it, OK? I have a morbid (and probably unnecessary, to be fair) fear of ever being stuck in some dreadful Q&A session where I discuss my own poems. Hopefully, in the hugely unlikely event that I become well known, it will be after I am dead and I won’t have to answer silly questions.

“A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.”

I come out in a rash when I see “Poetic” poetry. Verbs, man, verbs, nouns and nouns. Not some orgy of adjectives, it’s tedious.

Also this:

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does. — Allen Ginsberg

Which rolls back round to the Graham Greene thing.

Enough with the quotations.


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