It’s a quiet time in the realm of Robert Lax. Philip Glass’s opera based on The Circus of the Sun was supposed to go on a world tour after its premiere at the Malmö Opera House last May, but Covid forced the premiere online and the tour has yet to be rescheduled. I know of no new Lax books coming out. And any forthcoming creative works based on his life or poems are still percolating in secret. Even the internet search I always do before putting this newsletter together yielded nothing fresh.
Which seems just fine for the end of winter, when nature pauses before offering the fireworks of spring. In Lax’s later years on Patmos, when visitors arrived from spring through fall, winter was often the only time he was truly alone. The wind would blow and the rain would pelt his modest house, where it could be quite chilly inside as well as out. He’d dress in two layers of clothes, pull a watchcap over his ears, and sit on his bed, sometimes under the covers, with a small pad in one hand and a pen in the other.
There, he’d write poems to the wind and the rain, just as in summer he’d write them to the sun and the green on the hills. He understood that acquiring both wisdom and greater awareness of the presence of God meant being fully alive to every moment, every emotion, and even every hardship. He once wrote:
to be wise is to know, for one thing, which way the wind blows…
knowing how to stay alive & healthy (well-fed & with adequate air
and sleep) in all kinds of conditions is also a part of wisdom
the wisdom of survival.
wisdom for survival.
he who is imbued with the wisdom of survival is not only fit for “sur-
vival” himself, but for teaching it to others. (even to generations of
“the survival of the fittest”–not of the fiercest, not of the fastest–
the fittest, among men, may, after all, be the wisest.
In the same year he wrote these lines, 1969–a time when he was still growing used to living in the islands full-time–he also wrote:
as a child (it seemed) he had played alone in the living room most of
the time, dancing to records on the gramophone and performing in
an imaginary theater.
(now it was only when he was quite alone that his imagination began
to come alive.)
what he needed was not only quiet, but solitude: a solitude that honed
itself against solitude.
It seems, of course, that we’re about to exit not only the quiet of winter but also the quiet of these lockdown years. In these final days of relative solitude, of conditions I would not normally choose, I ask myself if I’ve grown wiser in the ways of survival during this time–wise enough to teach others down the line, as Lax did. I ask, too, if I’ve put my fears and anxieties aside long enough for my imagination to come alive–to be like a child again, dancing to a gramophone.
In winter, when Lax was alive, I’d often picture him sitting placidly on that bed in that room with the wind and the rain making their assault outside. There was little to envision really–a man in a watchcap on a bed, writing on a cheap pad–but that image always made me more comfortable and more courageous with my own aloneness–my own attempts to create or discover something valuable, wise, and true.
(The quotes used here are from pp. 216 & 243 in Love Had a Compass by Robert Lax.)
This post originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of The Robert Lax Newsletter. To sign up for this free bimonthly publication, click here and enter your email address on the left-hand side of the page.