The First Book of Urizen 12, by William Blake (1794)
I wouldn't be able to list all the kinds of heartbreak even if I tried. To list all the heartbreaks would not just mean that I'd have to live more years of life but I would actually have to live multiple lives spanning all the different worlds of people. Recently, though, I have experienced a heartbreak- the end of a friendship that I thought would be an endure forever, let's grow old and tell everyone our love has survived decades, kind of friendship. The circumstances are too raw to share. The wounds too fresh to become ink in such a way that it would do justice to the happenings that opened themselves out in catastrophe. Within the bounds of our friendship, I suffered many heartbreaks. However, these I like to think of as heartbreaks of the ordinary progression of a human relationship. These were the heartbreaks that occurred within a space between two people growing. My new heartbreak was different. This was the heartbreak of an ending, a heartbreak where a space between two people collapsed. It was a strange heartbreak; it wasn't the heartbreak of confusion. The heartbreak at the end of shared moments came with the coldness of a form of clarity. The sharpness of the space between us coming to a close brought with it a lucidity. A lucidity in terms of what was and what exactly is lost. It was a heartbreak that had a kind of hindsight in that it forced me to gaze upon the impossible view of finality.
This heartbreak felt so difficult to understand even in its transparency. And so I turned to the love that had not abandoned me yet- the Phaedrus. I've always thought philosophy was a way to healing, especially Plato. Reading Socrates' second speech on love, beauty and the soul, I suddenly felt panicked. What does my heartbreak mean for the state of my soul? And so I will move forward in writing, I will come to heal, with an understanding of how the heartbreak of endings is a heartbreak that mirrors love's ability to elevate the soul to see the truth. I wonder how far I am treading away from a scholarly understanding of Socrates' conceptions of love and the soul. But yet, I feel that there is something to the idea that heartbreak in its loss can possess its own kind of beauty and can allow a soul to grow its wings. Poets have always danced in the places of the heart where melancholic endings live. Plato and Socrates have always distrusted the poets. But I do not have it in me to do the same.
Heartbreak in its own way takes away our forgetfulness of what it means to have a soul. In our awareness of the wounds and cracks that heartbreak causes, it forces us to question the nature of the soul we in so many ways take for granted. We can ask ourselves, is it natural for a soul to be heartbroken? But as Socrates states:
To describe what the soul actually is would require a very long account, altogether a task for a god in every way (246a)
Therefore, a true account of what the soul actually is belongs to the Gods. So we have to grasp the nature of the soul in human terms, in earthly terms. According to Socrates, the soul has wings. When the soul's wings are in perfect condition the soul is without limitations for the entire universe can be its dominion. But when a soul loses the perfection of its wings, it wanders lost until it finds an earthly body to settle in. The power of the soul animates this body, gives the body life. And so we can say that heartbreak belongs to the souls that have wandered and settled on an earthly body for heartbreak belongs to the human. Heartbreak is for the mortals who are soul and body. Is this not why we feel heartbreak in the tightness of our chest or that our eyes can pour out tears? In my mind, this is because the earthly soul is a vulnerable soul. I imagine that a soul with perfect wings would be too high for heartbreak to even reach it.
The wings of the soul are the representation of the soul's potential to reach divinity. Divinity can be understood as the true essence of what is real. It is the essence of truth. It is pure knowledge and wisdom. It is in fact the realization of the whole of the Good. However, we know our souls have shed their wings, which is a fact of our humanity. Therefore, our soul's wings then need to grow in order to reach this state of divinity again- this sense of seeing the true with the brilliance of clear, reasoned vision. Therefore the soul needs to be nourished, the soul's wings need to be fed by the majesty of "beauty, wisdom and goodness and everything of that sort." This is so the soul's wings can grow as they "grow best in their presence." But Socrates warns us that "foulness and ugliness makes the wings shrink and disappear" (246e).
The question is, is heartbreak a foulness and ugliness that makes our wings disappear? Or can heartbreak as an ending lead us to beauty, wisdom and goodness so our wings can be nourished? There is great potential for heartbreak to be foul and ugly. My friendship ending has some ugliness in that it became easier to talk about the anger, the defects, the malignant growths that existed between us. But I still believe my heartbreak will lead me to beauty, wisdom and goodness. I have to believe that heartbreak even in the ugliness of loss and the torrent of emotions that come with it can nourish our souls. Maybe it's an illusion that I am seeing things more clearly. Maybe I am actually swirling in the mist of delusion. But yet I feel the sharpness of realization that the pain would be worse if I was still friends with her: is this not a coming into a kind of self-knowledge which is the beginning of wisdom? However, I am not going to look at heartbreak through the lens of wisdom. The elevation of my soul I know won't come with wisdom immediately. I am only in my early twenties, self-knowledge can be acquired but wisdom will probably need many more heartbreaks. Even more so, despite the clarity that this ending has brought me, I still have my irrational desires creeping into my mind threatening to throw my soul into a state of disorder. And this is where the potential for foulness and ugliness can come from- heartbreak's potential irrationality. But I don't want this to be my heartbreak. So the next question is: how to ensure that the irrational desires, the anger, the overwhelming emotions do not turn foul and ugly if wisdom and the goodness that comes with it, is not an immediate option? For me, the answer becomes beauty. Obviously, you might be thinking I am glorifying heartbreak, turning myself into an exaggerated romantic. But is it not important to acknowledge beauty when it can appear?
Socrates believes that our soul has the memory of the divine, of witnessing what was true. This, for Socrates, is one of the reasons why we are human. Beauty, wisdom and goodness then become means to recollect the vision of the divine that our souls glimpsed in varying degrees before falling into our bodies. But why am I looking at beauty? Beauty is the most accessible means to recollect the divine within our souls. It is the beginning of the path to true vision. Beauty is the aspect of divinity that is most easily graspable. Beauty is the divine most easily experienced. As Socrates pronounced:
Now, beauty, as I said, was radiant among the other objects and now that we have come down here we grasp it sparkling through the clearest of our senses...But now beauty alone has this privilege, to be the most clearly visible and the most loved (250d).
My heartbreak as an ending then can elevate my soul when it becomes beautiful. For I am too young for wisdom but I am not too young to experience the vividness of beauty. Heartbreak though will be a peculiar beauty. And so I will have to write with words that will reveal the beautiful. Let me then begin by saying that what makes heartbreak beautiful is the beauty that comes with a human being.
Human beauty is the beauty of presence. Socrates talks about the godlike form of a beautiful person largely in terms of appearance. I think human beauty comes with more than appearance. It is the beauty of presence even if there are thousands of miles between each soul. It is the beauty of a complex soul, a soul whose mind is a map of wondrous places. It is the beauty of a person whose experiences of the world have turned them singular and the patterns of their personhood make them a never-ending source of discovery. When you close to such a person you feel the sanctuary of a communion of souls. There is a space created through the presence of the beauty of being. We can see that beauty and love are inextricably linked. For love is this beauty in the space created between two beings. And it is in this way that beauty can elevate our souls to the divine, by loving one another. But how is it possible for heartbreak to relate to such a beauty? Heartbreak is not of presence but is defined by its absences. Do we make the absences beautiful? Or rather, is it that what is beautiful about heartbreak is that even if a space between two people collapses the love does not end? Where heartbreak can still retain the beauty of love because like all aspects of loss, beauty lives in the past and lives in memory. Heartbreak is not a beauty of present moments, there is too much hurt for that. Instead, as I said before, the heartbreak of endings is a heartbreak of hindsight. It is a heartbreak of what was and what is lost. And so the beauty of heartbreak is the beauty of the past, it is the beauty of retrospection, of what is not anymore. Heartbreak is the beauty of lost presences instead of complete absences.
We are left with the beauty of the past when we are heartbroken. One could argue that this is what in fact makes heartbreak so painful. This is the heartbreak of a kind of grief, even though the person lost is still living. However, this beauty must not be understood as being fantasy laced nostalgia. For the beauty of heartbreak is more than just reminiscing, what is at the core of a heartbreak of endings is a lucidity. To understand this is to understand that true beauty is that which awakens clear vision. It is a beauty of awe, a beauty of being struck by the realness of what one is seeing. And so the beauty of the past of a closed and finished friendship is the beauty that comes with the shining brightness of light that illuminates every detail of what was. Every moment comes under this light's microscopic focus to reveal itself. Therefore the beauty of the past that belongs to heartbreak is not the beauty that precludes the ugly and undesirable. The painful, as well as the joyous, comes to be laid upon the altar to be fathomed and understood. Heartbreak is the beauty of seeing exactly what was as it was. It is the beauty of the real and of divinity because there is no aspect of the ended relationship that can escape the glare. And in this sense, it becomes a beauty of a reconciliation of the truth of the past. For part of seeing the reality of divinity is to see the truth of what came before as a way to start to see the real in the entirety of one's life.
Heartbreak as an ending is beautiful because it is a way to heal one's soul. I know it’s strange to think of heartbreak as part of healing but it does because it heals one's soul by nourishing our soul's wings to be able to rise and see the real. A heartbreak is beautiful in its vision allowing us to enter into a new mode of seeing the past in order to move past it. Though, I will acknowledge that these things do take time. Heartbreak, even if the other person cannot provide a sense of closure, provides a way to apprehend what has happened and in doing so allows us to let go. The lucidity of an ending can only be realized when there is an acknowledgement of the beauty of not turning back.
I believe that heartbreak is slowly starting to nourish my soul's wings to grow. I believe that in the clarity of a heartbreak of hindsight I am seeing the truth of my friendship in its past glories and sadnesses so I can truly understand it for all that it was and is no more. My heartbreak has allowed me sight of a partial divinity for my heartbreak has allowed me to see the reality of my friendship. And it is this process of sharpness of recognition of what has happened, of what has unfolded as the space between us collapsed, that is what is allowing me to heal and know that turning back will not reclaim the beauty of presence that we used to possess in our hands. However, I must also know that the beauty of heartbreak can only nourish my soul's wings temporarily. The true beauty of heartbreak is to let the beauty go once one is ready. For there are other beauties that can nourish the soul even though I wouldn't be able to list all of them even if I tried. Nonetheless, as I write these words I know I need to gaze at the impossible view of finality one or two more times. My heartbreak demands that I experience the ending to its depths. Is this what it means to rise to the divine? Is this why heartbreaks as endings feel so momentous?