Art Books

Review: Endymion by Kurt R. Ward

Kurt R. Ward. Endymion or the State of Entropy: A Lyric Drama. Illustrations by Rebecca Yanovskaya. Amsterdam, 2022.

“The shades of Dawn begin to descend / As the Days subtle murmurs / Pass softly into Nights long dark train. Day is but a shadow of the Senses, / A Cave which refracts all light, / Memories penumbral Chasm / Saturates each impending thought, / The eyes betray the Soul, / What our Silence cannot disguise.” You’d be forgiven for thinking these lines were written by the likes of Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, or John Keats. Instead, they belong to a remarkable new lyric drama by Kurt R. Ward, an American now in Holland, attempting to live and revive the spirit of poetic existence. In doing so, Romanticism looms large over Ward’s life and work.

What is Romanticism? Romanticism is one of the most important modern movements that has shaped our culture and lives, both subtly and explicitly. There are many attempts to understand Romanticism, none seemingly sufficient. Some see Romanticism as the genesis of our modern identity dysphoria. Others see Romanticism as having laid the groundworks for fascism and Nazism. Others more, see Romanticism as a continuation of the medieval and Renaissance hermetic tradition. Romanticism is equally credited with the philhellenic revival of the nineteenth century so instructive on English and German poetry, in particular, which also laid important groundworks for the modern university and scholarly disciplines that shaped the formation of the humanities in high education.

At its core, though, Romanticism may best be understood as a protest on behalf of nature against the encroachments of the sterile, rationalist, and mechanistic philosophies of the so-called Enlightenment. In Irrational Man, William Barrett wrote, “Romanticism [was] the protest of feeling against reason…or the protest on behalf of nature against the encroachments of industrial society.” Romanticism celebrated passion and vitality as the creative force of all life vis-à-vis the cold, rational, and logical empiricism of analytic deconstruction.

In Endymion, a lyric play in four acts, Kurt R. Ward reimagines a poetic world of vitality that our contemporary world so desperately needs. When the goddess Diana declares in debate with Jupiter, “Logic cannot subvert Imagination, / The Laws of Science cannot Infinity divide, / Nor calculate Eternity in Divine proportion,” one should immediately hear the echoes of the Romantic spirit. I agree, “Logic cannot subvert Imagination.”

The play takes us to the abode of the antique divinities using the backdrop of the conflict between the Olympian gods and the Titans who have given mankind the gift of fire. Jupiter reacts viciously and violently to this violation of the realms. Diana tries to persuade him out of his rage but fails, and therefore descends into the mortal world and meets the shepherd Endymion and ultimately brings him enlightenment. This contest of Greco-Roman gods and the sleeping-turned-awakened Endymion is also the author’s own psychological battles, a poetic confession with the ghosts of Percy Shelley and John Keats hanging around us. (The awakening of Endymion, it should be pointed out, is beside the grave of Keats in the English/Protestant cemetery in Rome.)

The story of Diana and Endymion was once well-known, and to those of us educated and teaching in the classics, or just lovers of the classics, the story remains well-known. As we know, Diana catches sight of the shepherd Endymion, asleep on the mountaintop with his flock, and falls in love with his perfect beauty. Ward, however, brings his own unique gifts and imagination to bear on this timeless story. It’s not just a great poetic reimagination of the romance between Diana and Endymion, it is a profound work of beauty reborn in a world starved for beauty—the story is Ward’s life which is also the life that many of us are living and hoping to wake up from (we are all Endymion, sleeping beneath the restless quarreling between logic and love). How apt, then, that our author chose this particular mythic story for his lyric drama.

This contest of tyrannical logic and the heart of love is the central spirit of Ward’s drama. In our own world, this is revealed through many cultural artifacts and constructions. None, more visible, than in science-fiction filmography, where the tyranny of logic, science, and mathematics leads to a heartless world of exploitation and oppression. What is the resolution out of this destructive tyranny? Love. Usually in the form of the protagonist forsaking his original companions in the tyrannical brigade of scientism for the romance offered in “primitive” existence. When Diana, for instance, says, “What the Monarch cannot conquer, / The Tyrant will seek to repress,” we might as well have in mind that monarchs cannot conquer love and, therefore, will seek to repress it. Diana, then, is the vessel of love seeking freedom from the heartless logicism of Jupiter who embodies the very spirit of technocratic modernity. This leads us to Diana’s exclamation, “The more you impose Order, / The great the force of Entropy.” Too much sterile rationality leads to death, the end of love which is the spirit of life.

In some ways, Endymion is also a poetic reimagination of Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. In the contest of Apollo and Dionysus, there is an irony in the Apollo being the god of music and poetry while also being the god of cold order and rationality which suppresses the pathological creativity of Dionysus, dangerous as that pathological creativity sometimes is. So too does that spirit invade and permeate Ward’s drama. Diana, undeniably, is on the side of pathological desire:

Extremity is the road to Elation,
Adversity is bound with Delight,
Felicity and hardship flow together,
No Beauty without Tragedy,
No Concord without Strife,
We are unmapped inhabitants
Steering an uncharted course
Across the immensities of Desire and Loss,
Both must be circulated in equal measure,
Each granted at the dearest cost.

So Diana follows the strife of her emotions and begins a metamorphosis into Selene. At the same time, Endymion is introduced and meets Diana-Selene, before Diana-Selene reveals herself as the true Diana of love—the beautiful moon—to which Endymion now enters a relationship. The concluding act, which deals with Endymion and Diana-Selene-cum-Diana, reveals what I take to be the impetus of this short lyric drama: we live not in a cold and isolative universe but a beautiful and loving cosmos of intimacy and relationship. As Diana says to Endymion amid the struggles that Endymion is wrestling with, “Life suspends from impenetrable Opposition, / The Paths must be forged again and again, / Nothing remains insolation.” The drama of beauty and love is nothing short of a drama toward enlightenment, a new birth of life.

This short poetic play is equally filled with allusions and references to Plato, Dante, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell (among many others). Ward reveals to his readers, at the end of his work, an index of references which helps illuminate the work—both for those already familiar with those allusions and references and those who are not. If poetry and music still have a place in our lives and can influence our conceptual relationship with the cosmos we inhabit, Ward’s short but engaging and beautiful work helps revive what mystics of old and romantics of yesteryear sought—immersive enchantment with Beauty. Endymion represents, thus far, the triumph of Ward’s resurrection of the imagination in a world that shuns the imagination. And the illustrations by Rebecca Yanovskaya add to the enchantment of this brief but bright moonlight sonata.

*This review was first published at VoegelinView, 13 November 2022.


Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of Finding ArcadiaThe Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.


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