The muse of epic poetry’s father? Zeus.

We commonly think of sports as war by other means, and some even think of love as war, and the beleaguered, the poor, the clinically depressed among us, sadly feel life is war. And, of course, Darwinian nature is war.

Not only is war everywhere—in addition, we are faced with this sad truth: everybody is in it for themselves.

Well, here’s the good news—perhaps.

We love ourselves.

Our life, our heritage, our struggles, our beliefs, our experience, our friends, as it all connects with ourselves—we love ourselves, and even if we hate parts of ourselves, it is always the disappointment for someone we deeply love; who else, how else, do we find what we know in order to know the world, but through our own selves? We open our eyes and see the world, or close them—our eyes—and the whole world goes away. So the world, as amazing as it is, is ours in the most complete sense.  Love exists—foremost and always—for ourselves.

So why is war better for us than love?

Because of what we just said.

The depressing reality of life: everybody is in it for themselves is a reality of love. Wrap that around your brain for a moment.

Can we blame people for loving themselves over everything else? Of course we cannot. Love is involuntary, as we all know. How can we not love ourselves? The unthinking will thump their umbrella on the ground, or thump their multicultural textbook on the desk and cry out, “selfish!”

No. Involuntary self-love is not selfish. Self-love is simply the greatest love there is. It may take a moment, but cancel your righteous indignation. Wrap. Your. Brain. Around it. Self-love is the greatest love. Not because we don’t love the world. But because—we, ourselves—do. We love the world. We love the world as ourselves, loving ourselves loving the world: loving what loves—ourselves—more than anything.

So love—happy, unhappy, all kinds—is actually lonely and individual.

Who knows Mozart’s music? Who knows and loves it? Who truly loves the most beautiful things worthy of our love?

A crowd?

Ha ha ha!

No, not the crowd.

The soloist. That rare, and gifted, and self-practiced, and devoted and unique, and monk-like human being who lives with Mozart—in their brain and in their heart and in their hands.

The audience at a concert hall may love the sounds of Mozart they are hearing, but where is the love (of Mozart) truly found?

In the individual—the master soloist playing Mozart.

Love lives in the individual, not the group.

Now, you might object—I know you will, if you are like most—“Mozart? That is a rather rare and elitist example! What about…table salt that a friendly crowd, eating together, are enjoying?”

Ha! I reply this way: how egalitarian and noble of you, to imagine people enjoying the taste of salt! I bet you think you are very community-minded and down-to-earth, but your example refutes nothing I am saying.

The taste of salt is a common thing, but we experience the taste in our own mouths, on our own tongue, and lick the granules from our own lips. Take salt away from any individual at that table and we will see immediately how that individual howls in protest, and cries out, bereft of all the apparent ” community” to which, moments ago, he apparently belonged.

The most irrational and indignant types are those who champion the entirely abstract reality of tribe and community.

They are very irrational and they are very indignant. Annoying, if we must say the truth.

Because they lack love. And they lack love because they think it is found in the “unselfish” love of community, when, as we have just demonstrated, it is not found there at all. It lives alone in the individual, who in the monk-like devotion of their cell (their self) they have practiced, with their own hands, for hours and hours and hours, Mozart, in an orgy of selfish passion and love—with breaks in-between, eating salt, that temporarily sticks to their lips.

So war is better—in general, and for most instances, and for most people—than love.

Because only with war are alliances necessary.

We would be terribly lonely without war.

And by war, we mean anything which materially advances a group, short of bombing and killing—though, as we know, it sometimes will come to that.

Friendship, then, belongs to war—not to the lonely intricacies of love.

She practiced for hours and hours her Mozart, and had no friends.

Only through war do people other than ourselves even exist.

You—truly alone and inviolate—belong to love—and its terrible loneliness.

War, if you hate the burden of love’s loneliness, is your salvation—because war belongs to the group.

The wars over the silk trade, the wars over tea and coffee and cotton and tobacco and sugar…all the alliances which war enforces…war is the terrible mother of friendship and sacrifice.

War is life. Love is you.

Most don’t even exist as “you,” but merely as a reactionary part of some war machine, indignantly defending their race, their group, their clique, their empire, their plot of woolly ground, their cold, salty, whistle of sea.

The others will defy you—ah, they will—for as others they all belong to war.

Even poetry is war.

Publishing, broadcasting, and reviewing is thick with alliances and conquest.

Mozart, the one you vaguely know, is war, an expanding empire—which is the goal of all written words and written music.

The drums, marked to be played just this way, the sound of them, fill the auditorium, the void, the world—and your neighbors stamp their feet.

This very essay is marching to war. War, here, is our aim.

In my poem you would hear the same.

Perhaps you love the soloist—(it depends on so many things!) as they exit the stage?

Are you conquered and alone?

If you are, let the rest applaud; you have gone into that happy dream: loving, helpless, unreachable.










  1. Brad said,

    September 17, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I believe the children are our future…

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 17, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Thank you Brad.

  2. Andrew said,

    September 18, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Good God, man.
    Whatever are you talking about?

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 18, 2015 at 10:06 am

      I left out God and Jesus?

      Andrew: radical individualism, but different from Emerson.

      I do confess to suspecting a thread dangles, and when pulled, there goes my whole argument. What about Agape? Worship of God? Well, substitute Jesus for Mozart. The ‘love of others’ for ‘love of self that brings one to others.’

      And I do think I’m correct about war.

      • Andrew said,

        September 18, 2015 at 12:43 pm

        Well – Emerson’s OK if you go for all that Brahman/Atman stuff…
        But substituting Jesus for Mozart – now that goes a bit too far.

        Tom, your threads never dangle. ☺

  3. maryangeladouglas said,

    September 25, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    I confess I do not understand this essay except the reference to war in poetry which I do see though I never regard poetry as anything but the joy of being in poetry: reading and writing it without reference to all the machinations that attach themselves (or try to attach themselves to its high serene). Anyway. America has gone group-mad. Being an individual, referencing the individual, even staying at home by yourself is regarded as near criminal. I try not to think about the war. I just want to be in poetry in the ideal sense the way I think and feel about it. I hate all this outer striving and I feel sorry for anyone engaged in it. It seems to me to suck all the natural joy and happiness out of not only poetry but anything that can be learned and enjoyed for its own sake in this world.

    Just be in it and be happy my soul says to me quite a lot and I find when I don’t do this discontent and irritable striving rolls in as quickly as storm clouds on a sunny day. Begone false clouds, false storms. I would rather have all my poems disappear than to be in the fray and anyway I believe no matter what it looks like the things that are done from pure joy are eternal and the rest of it is just driftwood.

    Not to necessarily connect this poem to the essay because I’m not smart enough to figure it out though I do appreciate the example of Mozart and as the music lives in the person performing it (a beautiful thought)..Anyway, a poem I wrote today apropos of nothing but thinking of how much I love in poetry that people hate or seem to for the most part – now.


    [for Gerard Manley Hopkins]

    I dreamed of ancient music
    fresh as cream; all honied
    dulcet, a bright stream

    visionary, winding through
    the wanded wounded
    worlds: trellised, trellised lily,

    and rose and star you are
    and deep embellishing.

    strummed on a lute in
    private chamber; recollected
    for the tarnished days impending;

    on the execution eves;
    failing towers long past Illium crumbling
    not yet not yet

    the sound of linnets lilting,
    don’t forget!
    princess, queen, or shepherdess.

    he sang the unknown;
    of the bright- through vanishing vanishing.
    though kings are poisoned and

    kingdoms withold through the
    terrible nights their gates, their gleams
    she sings, she sings at her work

    and it’s a fine embroidery;
    porcelain, quaint, of the
    highest order,

    o that
    the earth could be: just this.
    earth trembles and then quakes,

    not long in bliss;
    evoking everything made.
    in praise in direst straits sweet

    music remains in the sifted ruins.
    trembling in the leaves again
    on the mystical air, darning darling

    floating towards you, after a while
    a festive festooned tune in bloom

    forever its own Spring, sprung
    imagination’s queen recoronated:
    beyond death beyond dooms

    beyond all this so out of tune;

    stirring the withered blossoms in the courtyards
    the begonias of the poor who only hear begone
    in the semi golden world so rickety raggedy

    they may build their castles

    flame tipped on the tip of
    what could be said, even out-of-doors
    though it’s said no more,

    say again! cried the Lord
    dream again your dream driven out
    and cleaved though it may be.

    poured you out in my secret heart
    that you would adore

    even Beauty’s shadow and not
    not rend it, not buy or sell it
    or quelled, never may it be

    by any catastrophe.
    oh minstrelsy of the honey buttered
    livelong, livelong mornings.

    mary angela douglas 25 september 2015

  4. maryangeladouglas said,

    September 25, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    correction to poem (I Dreamed Of Ancient Music) should be trellised instead of trellished though I kind of wish trellish were a real word; it’s fun to say.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      I fixed it, Mary. I did like “trellished” too.

      What a beautiful poem. Your poems are pure expressions of the sweetest sweetness. “music remains in the sifted ruins” You have such a wonderful EAR for poetry. I would love to see you bury yourself in Keats and Shelley and Poe and write a masterpiece in that vein. Your poetry resembles beautiful birds twittering at twilight in hidden bushes. Snatches of tunes which sometimes rise to the pure sublime. Impetuous and gushing. And beautiful. Unashamed to make purely beautiful poetry. People are ashamed to do that these days.

  5. maryangeladouglas said,

    September 25, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Thank you so much Thomas Graves for your kind and generous comments. And also for your very valued poetic advice. I felt so much happiness in working on this poem and I appreciate your essay(s) and all your poems because I can feel that so much of your heart and thinking and really caring about these things goes into every word, sentence and the way it all flows together. I will concentrate more on Keats and Shelley and Poe. They truly are musical as you say and it seems more and more the music of poetry is what I find missing and what I cherish myself. Besides, one of my mother’s favorite poems was that Millay sonnet about hearing a symphony of Beethoven “music my rampart and my only one” and my sister played Mozart so many times on the piano as we were growing up so that your essay and your advice struck a very real chord with me. Thank You!!! Best wishes from Mary D. (and thanks for the typo fix)

  6. noochinator said,

    June 19, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Glenn Gould waging a mocking, playful war against Mozart — the fun begins at the 33:35 mark:

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