Tag Archives: Poetry

Culture and Poetry (Part 8)

In my last post I included a poem by Kipling.  This very famous poem is instructive in helping all of us live our lives so that we eventually find the meaning of life and happiness.

This is a powerful work deploring the son to listen to his father’s wisdom of what it takes to be a “Man.” Perhaps more accurately, it reflects the poet’s vision of the preparation needed for the journey of life, encouragement to accept risks in one’s vocation, the alertness and wisdom required to recognize the call once sent, and then the strength, courage, temperance (Casey at the Bat), and justice needed (Under the Greenwood Tree) for the trials to be won, the boon to be captured, and the return across the threshold to be successful (Written in March).

Perhaps the most moving lines, represented in all the work are: “If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;” and the following two lines: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,”  Perhaps nothing else need be said in preparation for life’s quest to find the meaning of life.

The great poems are great because they help us answer the ultimate question – What is the meaning of life?  I think that the last four poems are great examples of what each of us need to consider in our lives.  And this is just the beginning: not only is there much more great poetry, but there much more great art, music, and dance!

More to come in the New Year!

Culture and Poetry (Part 7)

I wold like to end this series of posts on poetry with one final work.  This work is more instructive and provides guidance on how best to travel the road of life.

I will discuss the poem in my next post.

If (Kipling, 1895)

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;


If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;


If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster


And treat those two impostors just the same;


If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken


Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,


Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,


And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 


And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,


And lose, and start again at your beginnings


And never breathe a word about your loss;


If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew


To serve your turn long after they are gone,


And so hold on when there is nothing in you


Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,


‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,


If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,


If all men count with you, but none too much;


If you can fill the unforgiving minute


With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,


Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,


And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Culture and Poetry (Part 6)

The Wordsworth poem in my last post is one of optimism.  It is more abstract than other poems, perhaps adding to its beauty and power to move us forward in finding the meaning of life.

It concerns a traveler witnessing the changes in the countryside as spring arrives. The poem speaks of an “army defeated” in the past, and now a feeling of “joy in the mountains” and “life in the fountains.” The lone traveler is the hero with the trials and ordeals left behind.  With the blue sky now revealed and any clouds brushed aside, the “rain is now over and gone!”

This is symbolic of the hero crossing the threshold back to the everyday world and into a state of happiness.  There is no longer any sense of yearning or desire, just peace. The love of one’s neighbor for the returning hero is the presentation of the vista for us to witness. The trials have been won, the decision has been made to cross the threshold: it is the unfolding of the countryside that has pulled the hero back to the everyday world and to the happiness that lies ahead.

What is the lesson learned?  That with proper preparation and the virtues, as well as the love of our family and community, we can all return from our personal adventures to a state of happiness, as revealed by the great works of art like this one by Wordsworth.

Culture and Poetry (Part 5)

Below is a third poem by a great poet helping us to better understand the meaning of life.

In my next post, I will discuss the intention of the poem and why it is so important to us.

Written in March (Wordsworth, 1807)

The cock is crowing,


The stream is flowing,


The small birds twitter,


The lake doth glitter,

The green field sleeps in the sun;


The oldest and youngest


Are at work with the strongest;


The cattle are grazing,


Their heads never raising;

There are forty feeding like one!

 

Like an army defeated


The snow hath retreated,


And now doth fare ill


On the top of the bare hill;


The plowboy is whooping—anon-anon:


There’s joy in the mountains;


There’s life in the fountains;


Small clouds are sailing,


Blue sky prevailing;


The rain is over and gone!

Culture and Poetry (Part 4)

In my previous post, I included a poem by Shakespeare, Under the Greenwood Tree.  This poem is from the play, As You Like It.

It is a song praising a life in the forest, away from the demands of the sophisticated court. The character, a wealthy member of the court, expresses the sentiment that it is much easier to bear the hardships imposed by nature than the cruelty all too often found in human society. This is a song in praise of a simple life lived in contentment, away from the demands of those in society.

However, this is not necessarily Shakespeare’s conception of happiness.  He was presenting the reality of the day: the Elizabethans were active, ambitious people constantly seeking wealth and power.  This piece represents the hero among us who has decided not to return to the everyday world but remain in the Adventure.  The hero knows that this is not happiness as the winter has “rough weather.”  The poem expresses the concern that the risks of returning to society are too great and a life lived in the adventure would be better than one lived among others in the renaissance culture of Elizabethan society.  Nonetheless, the life lived in the adventure is still harsh and not one of happiness.

What is the lesson learned?  That we must resist the temptation to remain in the adventure too long before attempting the return back to the everyday world.  This requires the virtue of justice.  This virtue is a concern for others around us.  Even though the society that we live in can be full of hardships and disappointments, we must persevere and try to return from our adventure so that our society can benefit from what we have learned along the way.  This virtue is less concerned with making us good people, and more concerned with our relationship with others around us.  Even though others may not understand or appreciate the road that we have taken, we must return to our society if we are to attain happiness and our society is to benefit.

Culture and Poetry (Part 3)

Continuing with how great poetry can help us answer what is the meaning of life, below is a poem by Shakespeare.  It is from his play, As you Like It.

In my next post I will discuss its meaning and how it can help guide us on journeys through life.

Under the Greenwood Tree (Shakespeare, c. 1600)

Under the greenwood tree

Who loves to lie with me,

And turn his merry note

Unto the sweet bird’s throat,

Come hither, come hither, come hither:

Here shall he see

No enemy

But winter and rough weather.

 

Who doth ambition shun

And loves to live i’ the sun,

Seeking the food he eats,

And pleased with what he gets,

Come hither, come hither, come hither:

Here shall he see

No enemy

But winter and rough weather.

Culture and Poetry (Part 2)

In my last post I included the last lines of the great poem, Casey at the Bat.

What does this poem tell us about the meaning of life?  The poem gives us a glimpse into what can send us careening off the road to happiness – the lack of the virtue of moderation or temperance.

This poem is one of the most beloved in American literature.  A baseball team from Mudville is losing the game.  Both the team and its fans are confident that they can win the game if Mighty Casey, the team’s star player, can get to bat.  He gets the chance with two men on base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  Casey is so confident of his abilities that he does not swing at the first two pitches, both called strikes. On the third pitch he swings, striking out, ending the game and sending the crowd home angry at his arrogance.

This poem represents a hero, the star player, who, with great athletic abilities, was given the opportunity to fight the many trials of an adventure in search of a great gift – a winning season and a winning team.  However, this hero lacks the virtue of moderation needed to fight the trials and win the game.  His lack of humility causes the game and the season to be lost.  As a result of his arrogance, Casey, the hero, returns to the everyday world and becomes another average player, and his society (his team and fans) are without the joy of a winning game.

So, Casey became a hero on an adventure due to his great athletic abilities.  But, he was destined to fail.  Why?  Because he lacked the virtue of moderation or humility.  He gave into the temptation of arrogance or pride.  He had some of the virtues needed to be a hero – perhaps wisdom and courage, but he lacked a third vital virtue.  Without this third virtue, he would soon lose his hero status and return to being an average baseball player, and his society would not benefit from the great gifts (a winning season) that Casey was sent to capture.

What is the lesson learned?  The virtue of moderation is needed to resist the temptations along our personal roads to happiness.

Culture and Poetry

In my last few posts I have talked about how important it is to study the humanities to see how those great thinkers and artists before us dealt with the many issues in life.  More importantly, these great thinkers and artists have spent their lives thinking about the one question that all of us ask: “What is the meaning of life?”

There is perhaps no greater question that demands an answer.  The humanities have given us the answer, but it needs to be uncovered.  If it were that easy to see, then no one would need the question answered and we would all be happy and content in life.

I would like to spend the next several posts discussing how great poetry helps us find the meaning of life.

Let’s start with a poem well-known to most Americans.  The following are the last lines of the poem.

Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, 37-52

(Thayer, 1888)

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;

He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;

He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;

But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

 

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;

But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.

They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,

And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

 

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;

He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.

And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,

And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

 

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

In my next post, an analysis of this great poem.

Self-Esteem 2: Artworks

Three posts ago, I talked about artworks that show characters which have separated themselves from others by being members of a group dedicated to a certain task.  They had not yet been exposed to actual gains and losses of reputation or finances.  This is the first part of building self-esteem; developing strength, confidence and independence from others.

Once this first part is completed by being accepted into prestigious clubs, schools, civic, cultural, and religious organizations, job positions, tournaments, etc., then success at these positions will give rise to recognition, prestige, importance, and appreciation.  This second part, involving risks to one’s reputation and financial position, will complete the satisfaction of the self-esteem need.  The individual is now at Maslow’s and Csikszentmihalyi’s second to last level of human development.

It has taken a long time to get to this level and, according to a 1998 Gallop poll, less than 15% of the American population ever reaches this level.

Below are selected artworks from my book that present the achievement of this second to last level of human development.  Pay particular attention to the painting by Bellows.

The Organ Rehearsal (Lerolle, 1887, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

Organ Rehearsal by Lerolle This great work of art is a prime example of the self-esteem need being satisfied.  The singer’s friends and family, situated behind her, are prominent singers and musicians themselves.  Even though only a rehearsal, the singer is exposed to the risk of failure before her family and friends should she not sing beautifully, on time, and on key.  The scene in the darkened balcony overlooking a great open and well-lit space is thick with apprehension.  Even the onlookers on the left seem concerned with her performance.

Dempsey and Firpo

George Bellows, 1882-1925, Dempsey and Firpo, (1924).  Oil on canvas, 50 1/4 x 62 3/8 in. (127.6 x 158.4 cm).  Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.95.  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Dempsey and Firpo by Bellows This work presents an historic fight; the first time that a Latin American fighter (Firpo in purple trunks) would challenge another boxer (Dempsey) for the World Heavyweight title.  The fighters in the ring bring front and center the culmination of the self-esteem need with the ultimate success of the fight leading to high self-esteem.  The fighters, exhibiting strength and confidence, are much larger in scale than the spectators.  The flash bulbs in the background have the appearance of a group of spirits awaiting the outcome of the match in order to approach the winner (this is significant imagery foreshadowing the next level of human development).  

Death Be Not Proud, Holy Sonnet 10 (Donne, ca 1610)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

In this famous poem, the poet has personified death.  He argues with death stating that death is a slave of man and can be overcome in the afterlife.  He states that with the death of one’s body, the spiritual life is awakened and man is victorious.  This is a metaphysical fight and one that the poet believes, through logic and faith, he has won.  Another example of the self-esteem needs being satisfied through success of an “exposure” activity.

   No Rack Can Torture Me (Dickinson, 1890)

No Rack can torture me—

My Soul—at Liberty—

Behind this mortal Bone

There knits a bolder One—

You cannot prick with saw—

Nor pierce with Scimitar—

Two Bodies—therefore be—

Bind One—The Other fly—

The Eagle of his Nest

No easier divest—

And gain the Sky

Than mayest Thou—

Except Thyself may be

Thine Enemy—

Captivity is Consciousness—

So’s Liberty.

The poet proclaims that no one will be able to torture her and that she is too strong inside.  She cannot be killed, for her spirit, the second body, will live on.  She will be as free as the eagle.  She mentions that while she is being held captive to the torture, she is about to be granted liberty.  While those torturing her will win the day (and her “mortal Bone,”) she will win her liberty and freedom (the “bolder One”).  This is a powerful representation of the ultimate independence and freedom gained by one fully prepared for the “exposure” activity.

Belongingness – Great Poetry

In my previous post I talked about how great art can depict the feelings that we all share when our belongingness needs are being satisfied by being with friends and family.

In this post I would like to present two poems.  Both of which use the art of poetry to express the same feelings that are expressed in the art of painting.

Friendship, verses 46-55 (Thoreau, 1840-1844)

Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,

Withstand the winter’s storm,

And spite of wind and tide,

Grow up the meadow’s pride,

For both are strong.

Above they barely touch, but undermined

Down to their deepest source,

Admiring you shall find

Their roots are intertwined

Insep’rably.

Many of the artist’s poems are concerned with issues expressed in his essays: nature, truth, and social justice.  This poem uses his love of nature to evoke the feelings of simple friendship.  This is a powerful interpretation of the desire to satisfy one’s need for belongingness with others.

 

I Hear America Singing, from Leaves of Grass (Whitman, 1867)

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off 
work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand

Singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or

At noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of

The girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows,

Robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

The poem, one of Whitman’s most famous, presents an image of America as a collection of proud, individualistic, healthy and productive individuals.  The poem’s genius is that the individual songs are blended together to create a unified and strong America.  The poem provides a clear interpretation of belongingness and involvement, and the benefits of each to the individuals as well as society. 

Both of these poems depict the satisfaction of close friendships and ties to the community.  Both go a long way to accomplishing our need for belongingness.