The Thread of Permanence

William Zorach - USA
Broadcast during the 1950s

It is strange how certain things make a great impression on us in childhood. I remember these verses by Longfellow:

“Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust returneth,
Was not spoken of the soul.”

And also:

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”

Of course, my generation was much more sentimental than today’s youth, but whether or not this was great poetry, it communicated in simple language a message, and made a lasting impression upon a small boy.

When I was 15 years of age, I had an imaginary guardian angel, and when I went to the country to sketch on Sundays, I asked for guidance, praying that someday I would be a fine artist and paint nature as beautifully as she really is. What this little ceremony brought me was faith in the world and a belief in myself.

Our faiths and beliefs have been badly strained. The Atomic Age has caught us, as it were, in a web of fear. Our lives seem so impermanent and uncertain. There is such a waste of human potential, of things worthwhile in people, which never find expression. I sometimes think it’s a miracle that anything survives. Yet, I believe that a thread of permanence runs through everything from the beginning of time, and the most valuable residue will survive.

I believe everybody has an urge to somehow spin his own life into a thread of permanence. It is the impulse of life. Some would call it the drive to immortality. Now artists are supposed to be notoriously impractical, but for myself, I found I had to make decisions and plans if I were to try to create anything. I realized that I must approach life not only with a sensitivity, a perception of beauty, but with a feeling of humility and reverence.

My creed as an artist is to love life and liberty and the world of people. A man who works and loves his work is often a man dreaming, and the spirit of his dreams will find forms and symbols to express those dreams. It is a wonderful feeling to create something. But today, I think there is a lack of power of communication. If people—not just artists, but all kinds of people—could only open their hearts and express their sorrows, their happiness, and their fears and hopes, they would discover that they have an identity with the main stream of life, which they never saw before.

Sometimes, fear and cynicism so grips our minds that we lose heart. Then I try to remember how the great artists of the ages had the power of expressiveness. Theirs was the power to communicate, to exalt; to move the observer to joy or to tears; to strike terror in the hearts of men; not just to decorate or merely entertain.

If we can expand the boundaries of men’s thoughts and beliefs, we will discover that we all have creative possibilities—talents to make ourselves real identities as individuals, with a hold on the thread of immortality. If we can awaken ourselves to it, I am convinced we shall find that this is an alive and an exciting age of adventure and experimentation from which a new beauty and a finer world will emerge.