The poet has the capacity to seize, understand and show what his age is. He must resist the temptation to merely seize and show what he has, and get beyond that to showing that which he has in common; he has to be able to speak for many and not just for himself. What Eliot did, and also explained in his essay, was that the individual talent must be put in service, not only of his age, but of the ages, putting the personal moment into a context that is in no way parochial, describing the intersection of time and eternity.
This poetic capacity is why poets must be the legislators, if unacknowledged legislators of mankind. It is a sort of leadership, if not the very essence of leadership.
Fundamentalism cannot produce poets. Not only are we unfamiliar with poetry, fail to cultivate those things which will put poetry in us like no classroom can, and do our best to permanently destroy the capacities required simply to appreciate poetry, but if somebody suggests to us that we should raise our eyes beyond the most limited concerns this is received with scorn, derision and even fury. A leader needs to be able to raise his eyes to be able to see beyond point A to point B.
But there is more. In order to get from point A to point B it is not only necessary to be able to see point B, it is necessary to be able to recognize point A. This we are unable to do. To be told that we squat on a pile of rubble cannot even be considered. I think this is because we have invested so much in the rubble. It may be that we are unable to put our hearts around more than rubble, having twisted them into the shape of the fragments we cherish. Our heart, that greatest of all our organs, that greatest of all our organs of knowledge, has been atrophied and made small through misuse and neglect.
There are consequences, everlasting consequences that make all our choices significant. The day we went to war with our own hearts we made a choice with consequences unimaginable. We begin to catch a glimpse of the scope of these consequences when we realize that they have made us completely helpless. And the best thing we can do at the moment is to stop using our hearts the way we have. But when the proper use of our hearts is considered so drastic as to be ludicrous, when we refuse to consider and to reason correctly, but instead reason badly and even without integrity on the matter of greatest importance, the end for which we were created, then how can we even contemplate a return to the proper uses of the heart?
This requires far seeing men. That is what we must be, in an age of darkness like few or any others. We must look to find the horizon, not in daylight, not in twilight, but with the light of a candle, while living among people who place a premium on myopia and congratulating ourselves we chose it over blindness. Just trying to be aware of the situation is beyond the limit of our capacities, let alone our inclinations.
And it is with our inclinations, our shriveled hearts, we must begin. The first thing is not to recover our sight, but to recover our desire to see.