Tag Archives: Poetry

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.

 

Great Poetry, Enough Said!

Great poetry, like all great art, convey a sense of something very human that is nearly impossible to put into words.  If were easy to put human experiences and motivations into words, we wouldn’t need the poets, artists, composers, and choreographers.

As explained in my upcoming book, all of us begin our lives needing our basic physiological needs (food, clothing, warmth) and safety needs (freedom from crime, disease, education/training) satisfied by a loving family and a caring community or society.  The psychologists and even the philosophers are very clear about this.

But what is being experienced inside themselves or what are the feelings of those who have had these two basic needs satisfied, and are ready to move forward in life?

The following two poems, and a brief explanation in italics, are from my book.  I hope that you experience the feeling of contentment, comfort, and safety that these two short poems are meant to represent.

Pippa’s Song, Pippa’s Passes (R. Browning, 1841)

The year’s at the spring,

And day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven;

The hillside’s dew-pearled;

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn:

God’s in His Heaven –

All’s right with the world!

This poem provides a clear representation of tranquility and safety at one’s home.  The sense of order and predictability in the world helps to gratify the safety need.  With “God’s in his Heaven” it would appear to most that “All’s right with the world.”  A sense of innocence and order is perceived for those whose first two needs are being satisfied.

 Time to Rise, Child’s Garden of Verses (Stevenson, 1913)

A birdie with a yellow bill

Hopped upon my window sill,

Cocked his shining eye and said:

“Ain’t you ‘shamed, you sleepy-head!”

This poem is included not just to be playful but also to illustrate how four lines of verse can so clearly convey an image of innocence and safety brought about by the implied love of the child’s family and the safety afforded by society.

Robert Frost’s – “The Road Not Taken”

Following along the same theme as the last post, I would like to present a very famous poem as well as a discussion of the intent of the poet in writing the piece.  This poem is one of Robert Frost’s most famous works.  It has been studied by experts since it was first published in 1920.

The analysis after the poem is an excerpt from my upcoming book.

 

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost, 1920)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

This famous and beautifully written poem by Frost is not what it seems.  One would think that it is inspirational in its suggestion that selecting the road less traveled is the path to happiness.  However, upon closer reading, the traveler in this poem sees two roads that diverge into the woods and both roads look identical in wear.  In addition, the traveler mentions that, “with a sigh,” he/she will recall in the future the “one less traveled by” was chosen at the fork in the road. 

This poem is one of disappointment by the traveler at not being offered the opportunity to see the less traveled path.  The traveler knows that selecting the less traveled path will “make all the difference” and is necessary if happiness is to be achieved.  Unfortunately for this traveler, such a less traveled path is never encountered.

The fork in the road of this poem is not that exceptional; it is just one of many everyday decisions that all of us make in our lives.  No call to adventure was ever given or, if it was given, the traveler never recognized it.  The traveler simply remains in the everyday world without the opportunity for adventure.  The traveler knows this to be his fate and realizes that in the future he will sigh with disappointment at not being given the opportunity for a more complete life.  Vividly represented is the resignation to the future of an everyday existence.