It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be undertaken backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks over that proposition it becomes more and more evident that life can never really be understood in time because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting-place from which to understand it.
Christ says: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The Pharisee answers correctly, “The one who showed mercy to him” (Luke 10:36). This means that by doing your duty you easily discover who your neighbor is.… He towards whom I have a duty is my neighbor, and when I fulfill my duty, I prove that I am a neighbor. Christ does not speak about recognizing our neighbor but about being a neighbor yourself, about proving yourself to be a neighbor, something the Samaritan showed by his compassion. Choosing a lover, finding a friend, yes that is a long, hard job, but your neighbor is easy to recognize, easy to find – if you yourself will only recognize your duty and be a neighbor.
The poem, as it starts to form in the writer’s mind, and on paper, can’t abide interruption. I don’t mean it won’t but that it can’t. When writing, as nearly as is imaginatively possible (and that is very near indeed), one is undertaking the action, or has become the character (think of what Keats said), in the unfolding scene or action of the poem. To interrupt the writer from the line of thought is to wake the dreamer from the dream. The dreamer cannot enter that dream, precisely as it was unfolding, ever again because the line of thought is more than that: it is a line of feeling as well. Until interruption occurs, this feeling is as real as the desk on which the poet is working. For the poem is not nailed together, or formed from one logical point to another, which might be retrievable—it is created, through work in which the interweavings of craft, thought, and feeling are intricate, mysterious, and altogether “mortal.” Interrupt—and the whole structure can collapse. An interruption into the writing of a poem is as severe as any break into a passionate run of feeling. The story of Coleridge dreaming his way through Kubla Khan until the visitor from Porlock rapped upon his door is equally understandable whether Coleridge was actually asleep dreaming a dream, or dreaming-working. The effect is the same.
We experience the physical world around us through our five senses. Through our imagination and our intelligence, we recall, organize, conceptualize, and meditate. What we meditate upon is never shapeless or filled with alien emotion—it is filled with all the precise earthly things that we have ever encountered and all of our responses to them. The task of the meditation is to put disorder into order. No one could think, without first living among things. No one would need to think, without the initial profusion of perceptual experience.