“So much of what we live goes on inside—
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.”
The most noxious slogan is now half a century old: “The personal is political.” No, the personal is the stronghold that protects us from the intrusions of the merely political.
Our most precious right, after all, is the right to be left alone. That interior space, where the self germinates, must be respected as we would respect a shrine. All that is worthy in us, and all that is vulgar and destructive, begins there. We can’t permit professional busy-bodies to invade that autonomous realm. Perhaps there are people in the world without interior lives, and they are to be pitied. In his wonderful essay about The Tempest (1907), Henry James writes:
“It is true of the poet in general—in nine examples out of ten—that his life is mainly inward, that its events and revolutions are his great impressions and deep vibrations, and that his ‘personality’ is all pictured in the publication of his verse.”
Something similar is true of non-poets. Great revolutions and hurricanes happen all the time, unseen and unsaid. Poets and novelists would be out of business without “what we conceal.” Listen to Gioia reading “Unsaid.”