Solitude is Bliss
In 1742, the poet Thomas Gray captured a melancholic transition from innocence to adulthood with the signature line: ignorance is bliss. His poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” reminisces on the pleasures and playfulness of his schoolboy years hidden from a greater awareness and inevitable misery of adulthood. In the fantasy world of youth, there is the promise of freedom—freedom from burdens and the weight of time.
Like the realm of childhood, the fantasy of solitude is a safety valve. Especially for the artist, solitude suggests space, an unburdened breath in which to create free from a life crowded with unnecessary engagements. Yet the slower life of isolation and the limbo of quarantine during the pandemic, was disquieting. Solitude without a clear end takes the shape of a dream-gone nightmare. It is at once escapism and prison, an opening to the infinite, and a mirror boring into the imperfections of our former selves.
In these conditions, the illusion shifts. The things that we found taxing—the social engagements that entangled our calendars—appear as a haven. The pace and glamour of social life wove a cocoon of interactions that fed, inspired, and occupied our attention. Without this cocoon, our thoughts catch in the cinema of our minds. It is the uncomfortable look at self, at history, at reality, that Thomas Gray longed to avoid.
Almost 300 years have passed since “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” was published, yet its nostalgia is evergreen. What is precious is past. What is precious is temporal. What is precious is dreamt. It begs the question: Is bliss always elsewhere?
Somehow, the paradox gives me a sense of hope. What we cherish can also imprison us, and vice versa. There is sustenance and a different kind of freedom in this less romanticized, more nuanced existence.
Special thanks to PAIGE HARAN & KATRIEN DE BLAUWER
Image courtesy of the artist © KATRIEN DE BLAUWER
Katrien De Blauwer is represented by Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire and Gallery FIFTY ONE