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The intellect of man is forced to choose
perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.
I found "The Choice" in a blog comment following an article written by a widow about her great bitterness towards her husband, a great legal mind, now dead, who had spent all of his earthly time writing, researching, and not living a life where she could be included.
I will make a confession, I am not one to easily glean the meaning of a poem, it is just not a talent I have ever possessed. It usually takes a lot of time to consider the individual word choices and the play between the lines themselves and the statement as a whole. I am not very patient so I usually skim poems and move on. Occasionally, I do still sometimes try to understand and am not ashamed to seek the meaning from others interpretations. (I often do the same thing with songs I hear but cannot understand, take "Skinny Love" for example). This inability to decipher and understand, however, was not a problem when I read the above Yeats poem. I was quick to see the choice and consequences as outlined by the poet.
As an attorney it is expected that the "norm" is to chose perfection of "the work", not the perfection of "the life." I myself knew of that expectation when I started down my path of legal studies. I didn't realize, however, how strongly "the world" expected this path to be marched down. Personally, I find little joy in devoting my intellect to the perfection of "the work." This idea of "balance" works so much better in my life than wholly devoting myself to one single pursuit.
The widow's bitterness in the wake of her husband's passing is a somber reminder of the impact of our choices on those we love. Of course, for her husband, I would imagine the entire purpose of his being was to follow that pursuit of perfection of the work, but how unfair to leave behind such remorse in the spouse who tried to love him as he walked a path that perhaps had no room for her. Maybe we just cannot have it all.