Michael's Senior Column

Goethe once said, “At the end of their lives, all men look back and think that their youth was Arcadia.” When I think of Arcadia, the first thing called to mind is not flowers, nor ideality; it is music, the subtle and gentle chiming of celestial bells and the muted chorus of an unseen choir. So is life. My youth, and all our youths, have until now been magnificent concerti, each voice rising in aria against our collective orchestra. Every voice has found notes, and formed stanzas, changing; rondo, con dolcezza, mezzo forte. Every petty feeling, every aching regret and shallow triumph, every word and thought and action immortalized in chords hanging, silently now, in the recess of memory, fading softly. My Arcadia is no longer a city; it is a dream, a conjurer’s trick, a poet’s invention – Utopia is “no place”, Heaven and Hell ad hoc distortions of the human comedy crafted to synthesize a celestial triptych. Perhaps they too will retreat into memory, joining eventually all creation’s immortal antithesis, void. Death bound, I wonder if they are as beautiful as you are to me now, Arcadia. There are things in the past, however, that are not dreams, constructs, or visions; there are in equal measures reality and possibilities, realized and not, to taunting and triumphant by turns. I would not be myself if I were not proud of what I’ve done, and ashamed of it; consequently, I would not be who I am if I were not plagued by thoughts on which I have not acted, feelings which I have not pursued, futures which I have neglected. In a decade, what of Arcadia will remain? Shelley’s “shattered visage”, More’s Utopia, Freud’s repression – the possibilities the future holds for the past are endless. From our time in these halls will be created something new, to be sure; memory is fickle, and fastidious, erring to either apotheosis and demonization for expedience, but never to accuracy. I am not a pessimist wholesale, however. Whatever crimes Mnemosyne may commit against reality, against us as we are now and have been, cannot efface a thing of consequence. I cannot offer proof; I have only these words, and a promise. I may forget you, Arcadia, everything about you. But this I will remember: you were, and it was perfect.