Less Blame, More Peace: My Plan. (with Wordsworth’s “Ode of Intimations of Immortality”)

20 12 2012

Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

By William Wordsworth

(Note: this is a much longer poem than I usually write about.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can get the flavor of it in the boldened stanza below.  However, I do hope you read the whole thing sometime.  It’s worth the read. Promise.)

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight

                 To me did seem

            Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;–

             Turn wheresoe’er I may,

              By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

            The rainbow comes and goes,

            And lovely is the rose;

            The moon doth with delight

     Look round her when the heavens are bare;

            Waters on a starry night

            Are beautiful and fair;

     The sunshine is a glorious birth;

     But yet I know, where’er I go,

That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,

     And while the young lambs bound

            As to the tabor’s sound,

To me alone there came a thought of grief:

A timely utterance gave that thought relief,

            And I again am strong.

The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep,–

No more shall grief of mine the season wrong:

I hear the echoes through the mountains throng.

The winds come to me from the fields of sleep,

            And all the earth is gay;

                Land and sea

     Give themselves up to jollity,

            And with the heart of May

     Doth every beast keep holiday;–

                Thou child of joy,

Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy

        Shepherd-boy!

Ye blesséd Creatures, I have heard the call

     Ye to each other make; I see

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;

     My heart is at your festival,

       My head hath its coronal,

The fulness of your bliss, I feel–I feel it all.

         O evil day! if I were sullen

         While Earth herself is adorning

              This sweet May-morning;

         And the children are culling

              On every side

         In a thousand valleys far and wide

         Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,

And the babe leaps up on his mother’s arm:–

         I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!

         –But there’s a tree, of many, one,

A single field which I have look’d upon,

Both of them speak of something that is gone:

              The pansy at my feet

              Doth the same tale repeat:

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

          Hath had elsewhere its setting

               And cometh from afar;

          Not in entire forgetfulness,

          And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

               From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

               Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

               He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

     Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,

          And by the vision splendid

          Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.

Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;

Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,

And, even with something of a mother’s mind,

               And no unworthy aim,

          The homely nurse doth all she can

To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man,

               Forget the glories he hath known,

And that imperial palace whence he came.

Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,

A six years’ darling of a pigmy size!

See, where ‘mid work of his own hand he lies,

Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses,

With light upon him from his father’s eyes!

See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,

Some fragment from his dream of human life,

Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;

          A wedding or a festival,

          A mourning or a funeral;

               And this hath now his heart,

          And unto this he frames his song:

               Then will he fit his tongue

To dialogues of business, love, or strife;

          But it will not be long

          Ere this be thrown aside,

          And with new joy and pride

The little actor cons another part;

Filling from time to time his ‘humorous stage’

With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,

That life brings with her in her equipage;

          As if his whole vocation

          Were endless imitation.

Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie

          Thy soul’s immensity;

Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep

Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind,

That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,

Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind,–

          Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!

          On whom those truths rest

Which we are toiling all our lives to find,

In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;

Thou, over whom thy Immortality

Broods like the day, a master o’er a slave,

A Presence which is not to be put by;

          To whom the grave

Is but a lonely bed, without the sense of sight

Of day or the warm light,

A place of thoughts where we in waiting lie;

Thou little child, yet glorious in the might

Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,

Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke

The years to bring the inevitable yoke,

Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?

Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,

And custom lie upon thee with a weight

Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!

          0 joy! that in our embers

          Is something that doth live,

          That Nature yet remembers

          What was so fugitive!

The thought of our past years in me doth breed

Perpetual benediction: not indeed

For that which is most worthy to be blest,

Delight and liberty, the simple creed

Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,

With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:–

          –Not for these I raise

          The song of thanks and praise;

     But for those obstinate questionings

     Of sense and outward things,

     Fallings from us, vanishings,

     Blank misgivings of a creature

Moving about in worlds not realized,

High instincts, before which our mortal nature

Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:

     But for those first affections,

     Those shadowy recollections,

          Which, be they what they may,

Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,

Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;

     Uphold us–cherish–and have power to make

Our noisy years seem moments in the being

Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,

               To perish never;

Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,

               Nor man nor boy,

Nor all that is at enmity with joy,

Can utterly abolish or destroy!

   Hence, in a season of calm weather

          Though inland far we be,

Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

               Which brought us hither;

          Can in a moment travel thither–

And see the children sport upon the shore,

And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

Then, sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!

          And let the young lambs bound

          As to the tabor’s sound!

     We, in thought, will join your throng,

          Ye that pipe and ye that play,

          Ye that through your hearts to-day

          Feel the gladness of the May!

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

     Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

          We will grieve not, rather find

          Strength in what remains behind;

          In the primal sympathy

          Which having been must ever be;

          In the soothing thoughts that spring

          Out of human suffering;

          In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

And 0, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,

Forebode not any severing of our loves!

Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;

I only have relinquish’d one delight

To live beneath your more habitual sway;

I love the brooks which down their channels fret

Even more than when I tripp’d lightly as they;

The innocent brightness of a new-born day

               Is lovely yet;

The clouds that gather round the setting sun

Do take a sober colouring from an eye

That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;

Another race hath been, and other palms are won.

   Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

   Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

   To me the meanest flower that blows can give

   Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Do you remember when you realized that the world was not all a perfect place, and our lives, at least our earthly lives, have ends? 

 Luckily, I do not remember. 

Obviously it happened at some point, but it must not have seared an indelible brand on my memory.  Maybe it’s hidden deep in there somewhere, but really, I don’t care to look around and find it.  One thing is definite; it was nowhere near as horrific for me as it was for many of the youngest kids in our country today.

That evil, evil man not only took babies away from their mothers and fathers and teachers away from their students and families, he also destroyed that fleeting innocence of six-year-olds everywhere. (As Wordsworth details in the seventh stanza in the Ode.)

He explains how the very young are innately joyful because before they were born they were with God.  Through this closeness to the divine, children have a natural ability to see the beauty in the world.  As we age, we become more and more “humanized” and the world becomes merely ordinary, or in worse cases, evil.    

Wordsworth says that at times, through a communion with nature, he is able to get his childlike joy back for a moment or two, but it is not the same.  He says, “ But yet I know, where’er I go,/That there hath past away a glory from the earth.”

All over the country and probably even the world, little kids are hearing the news of the massacre, even if their parents think they are trying to shield them.  Kids have ways of finding out these things, didn’t you?  They know, and their innocence is gone, all because of this one evil person. Many kids are waking up without seeing the “celestial light” in the world. 

Instead, they are scared to go to school. 

We want answers. 

Our brains can’t comprehend an evil mind who would do this; our brains crave order and good, so we have to turn to something that makes us feel better. 

We cast blame. 

We blame the guns, the mental health care system, poor parenting, security at the school. . . the list is endless.  I’m sure blame will continue get spread around pretty liberally for a long time over this.    

And YES, all these things deserve to be a part of the discussion.  As a nation, we can make improvements in all these areas, but none will not stop evil from existing. 

Wordsworth’s lines , We will grieve not, rather find/

          Strength in what remains behind; stick out for me.  What is the strength that remains behind today? That is a real question.  I don’t have an answer, but   

 Please.

We need to teach peace and respect for all life. 

Here are some ways we can be more peaceful with very little effort.  I’m sure there are at least a million more ways, but these are just off the top of my head.

  • I will not watch violent shows, especially the ones that claim to be reality shows where they do evil things to each other.
  • I will not let the little ones play violent video games.  People become so saturated with violent role play, that it makes sense to me that the mentally fragile could easily get lost in the fantasy.
  • I will not play them myself. 
  • I will try to give my children the gift of faith by going to church and trying to live a good life.
  •  I will not watch television shows that, while not technically violent, belittle and exploit those who are different from myself, like Honey Boo Boo, for example.
  • I won’t seek the drama of little catty fights with anyone.  If I don’t like someone, I will just leave him alone as much as possible and limit my exposure to him.
  • I will live in a way that makes it clear that I believe every single person on this planet has worth. 
  • I will teach by action and words that every single person on this planet has worth.
  • I know that every single person on this planet has worth. 
  • I know that my life is important, but it is only one

 Tiny

 Little

 Life.   

 And I have no right to bring pain to anyone else,

 ever. 

How will you be peaceful and show respect for all life? 

 christmas_tree_peace_sign_

 

 Merry Christmas to you all.

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Have a Contentious and Uncomfortable Holiday; You May Save Humankind: Thoughts on “A Poison Tree”

19 11 2012

 A Poison Tree

By William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

 

There’s a whole spectrum of confrontation styles out there.  On one end we have people who do almost anything to avoid it, and on the other we have people who seem to thrive on it.  You know the type; they throw conflict wherever they go as haphazardly as a little flower girl tossing flowers before a bride. 

Happily, with the exception of teenage girls, most people occupy a space somewhere in between the two extremes. 

I don’t think Blake is espousing an overly combative lifestyle in this poem, but he does have a pretty strong message for those of us who lean too far toward avoiding conflict at all costs.  He reminds people like me, who tend to avoid conflict like I would avoid a snotty nosed child, that when anger is not expressed and resolved, it is dangerous. 

This poem consists of four quatrains, or four-lined stanzas, and the first couplet of the first stanza covers what happens when you tell your friend that you are angry—just like in real life, it is over and done with fast. 

The rest of the poem, however,  delves into what happens when you swallow that anger and “plant” it like a seed inside you. The tree metaphor extends throughout the poem. 

Blake believes that when you swallow your anger, the seed that grows within you is nurtured by all the attention you give it.  Let’s face it, when you are mad at someone, don’t you just keep stewing over it until you do something about it?  It can take over your whole life if you’re not careful.  Anger can easily turn into hatred, and hatred and fear are really indistinguishable twin sisters.  I can’t think of a time when hatred exists for a reason other than fear.  Can you? 

The tree grows and grows with your fears and the tears you water it with. 

Eventually, you start to grow fond of  it and really care for it.  There is a sick pleasure in holding onto grudges—all the rehashing, the plotting for revenge, the sneakiness, the victimized feeling. 

The tree grows and grows till it bears fruit, a shiny poisoned apple, which you offer to your enemy. 

He takes a bite, dies, and you are glad to see him dead beneath your tree. 

Harsh. 

Poison Apple

Poison Apple (Photo credit: andy castro)

What Blake is saying is that anger, when not dealt with, can take hold of your life and destroy it.  You can become transformed from someone who may have been legitimately wronged into  someone who, like a wicked stepmother, delights in murder—or if you want to take it down a notch—delights in hurting other people. 

Alert! Anytime you see an apple in literature, especially one that brings about destruction, you can be

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and ...

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and Eve. Beech wood, 1533. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Erworben 1830, Königliche Schlösser, Gemäldegalerie Kat. 567) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

pretty sure it is an allusion to the biblical apple in the Adam and Eve creation story.  The apple represents man’s downfall, so it is possible that Blake is saying that one of the faults that leads to man’s destruction and fall from a utopic life is repressed anger. 

This anger too easily develops into violence. 

 

Hopefully this poem can help us all deal with the uncomfortable nature of confrontation and calmly tell people when we are mad for any reason.

 Maybe we can stop some of the hatred/ fear in the world by doing so. 

For many of us, there is going to be a lot of family time coming up soon with the start of the holiday season.  Consider blowing away any seeds of anger that you may have by expressing your feelings, even if they are slightly confrontational.  You don’t want to grow any poison trees. 

And, if you happen to have a poison tree already fully grown, chop that sucker down before it bears any poison apples.





Finding Peace by Listening to Your Deep Heart’s Core and Yeats

14 11 2011

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to

      Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of

     clay and wattels made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a

     hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud

     glade.

And I shall have some peace there,      

     for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the

     morning to where the cricket

     sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and

     noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s

     wings.

I will arise and go now, for always

     night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low

     sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or

     on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

When Yeats was a teenager, he planned to emulate Thoreau and live close to nature on his “Walden”, Innisfree.  Years passed, and while feeling very homesick, he wandered Fleet Street and heard a fountain in a shop window.  This sound brought him back to his personal utopia, Innisfree, and the desires he had about living there.  Hence, this brilliant lyrical poem was born.

We all have so much in our lives.  We each have our own challenges and stressors.  I like to focus on this whenever I encounter a particularly miserable person.  Instead of reacting with anger, I try to remember that this person has challenges that I do not understand.  Sometimes thinking this way really helps my reaction and averts a potentially hostile exchange.

 Sometimes, nope! But I try. . .

 yes.

That said, people, on the whole, are able to withstand so much; we are inordinately strong.   I could go on and on here listing examples, but I don’t think I need to. You hear me. We also have our breaking points, our moments of calling out “Calgon, take me away!” or other more colorful, expletive-filled exclamations.

Often, when these moments arrive, we can not afford to physically leave.  For example, when my babies are having fits of extreme crankiness, I may wish to leave and NEED to leave, but obviously, I can’t always do so. 

So what is one to do to maintain a bit of sanity?

Yeats’s answer was to envision a personal utopia, a clear, specific place.

Notice how specific he is about Innisfree:

  • It is not just a cabin, but a cabin built of “clay and wattles”.  What the hell are wattles, you ask as I did before dictionary.coming it? Wattles are rods or stakes interwoven with tree branches for making walls, roofs, etc.
  • He will not simply plant beans, but have nine bean rows.
  • There will be a sound of humming bees.
  • There will be the feel of peace dropping slowly like dew drops
  • There will be the sounds of crickets
  • There will be the sight of stars shining brightly as is only possible in remote areas away from light pollution.
  • There is a purple glow from the heather during the day.  (Innisfree means heather.)
  • There will be the motion and sight of linnets, which are finch-like birds, flying in the evening.
  • There will be the constant lapping of waves on the shore

I think it’s the details that are most important in this poem’s ability to create peace in the speaker and also in the reader.  We get a tranquil feeling if we read this poem a few times.  Even if our personal utopias may not include being a bean farmer alone in the woods (with the exception of an ever-present swarm of bees, of course), we still are lulled by this poem.  When I read this,  it soothes me; I can feel my blood slowing a tad bit. 

There are other reasons why it is so calming.  Yeats is a lyrical genius, for one.  That helps. There is a iambic pattern and line lengths that closely imitate the lulling sound of the waves hitting the shore.  Yeats also uses quite a bit of repetition in each stanza, repeating calm sounding vowels in go, bee, peace, and dropping.  The images he creates are also rather Irish-mystical, too, especially in that third stanza with the purple glow and glistening stars.  It is very “otherworldly” in effect, as it should be to help create excellent contrast as he jars us back into the reality of where he is present physically in the next stanza, the grey and dismal streets of an urban setting. 

You definitely can’t discount the sound of the poem in communicating the calming message here, but I think the attention to detail is something useful that we may borrow to construct our perfect worlds.  When you need to escape mentally, where do you go? Follow Yeats’ example, and build it closely. What are the sounds, sights, motions, and feelings in your place? How many bean rows will you tend?

My Innisfree has sounds of happy toddlers in jammies preparing for bed well before midnight.  I’m still sorting the out the other details.