Chapter 4: The Highest Flight
Vincent van Gogh has painted his trees so high that they reach beyond the stars. Somebody asked him, “We have never seen such trees. What kind of trees are these and how can they go beyond the stars?”
Van Gogh is reported to have said that “It doesn’t matter whether any tree succeeds or not. This is the desire of the tree that I have painted. This is the ambition of the tree, this is the very spirit, the longing of the tree. Every tree longs to go beyond the stars. I have seen it in trees, I have listened to the trees, I have watched them. I understand their language and the message is clear and loud from every tree, from the smallest to the biggest, that they all are trying to go beyond the stars. Whether they succeed or not is another matter. I am not concerned with it, I am concerned with the inner feeling of the tree.”
Now Vincent van Gogh is right in a poetic way, not right in a scientific way. In a scientific way he looks absurd, but in a poetic way he is absolutely right. He says, “Trees are nothing but longings of the earth to meet the stars, desires of the earth to bridge the gap between itself and other stars. It may succeed, it may not succeed, that is beside the point.” That is irrelevant for van Gogh.
The poet has his own vision. It is private, it is not collective. Hence all the people who believe in collectivity are anti-poetic.
Plato, the first collectivist in the world, writes in his utopian book, Republic: Collectivity is his idea of the future society as societies should be. In his republic, poets won’t be allowed. Particularly poets, nobody else is prevented, but poets are prevented. They should not be allowed in the Platonic republic. Why? Why is he so afraid of the poets? For the simple reason because the poet brings the individual, private vision, and that can create disruption.
Plato wants to impose a certain pattern, one type of lifestyle, on everybody. He wants a kind of unity, forcibly imposed, and poets in that way are not reliable.
It is not an accident that in Soviet Russia, after the revolution, poetry died. Before the revolution Russia had given the greatest poets and novelists the world has ever known, in fact incomparable. No other country can compete. Who can compete with Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, and Turgenev? Who can compete with these giants? No other country has produced such great artists. If one has to decide about ten great novelists of the world, then five will be Russians - but pre-revolution.
After the revolution, suddenly the poetic activity fell down. The country of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky and Turgenev simply disappeared from the earth. It stopped producing that kind of man, that quality; it stopped soaring high.