5 [More] Poems That I Like, of Inequality, Inspiration, Flings, & Lives

Last time, I began my journey into the lands of poetry books. Since then, I explored a number of anthologies, before deciding to buy two of my own, which I could mark up at will. From my many recent encounters with captivating poetry, here are five that definitely stuck out to me.

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“Summer Storm” By Dana Gioia

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.
Continue reading 5 [More] Poems That I Like, of Inequality, Inspiration, Flings, & Lives

4 Poems That I Like, Of Love, Of Travel, and Of Life

Although I often find myself writing poetry, I haven’t thought to pick up a poetry book until now. It’s an interesting experience, as well as a game of chance. You open a page, and who knows what you might find. To me these 4 stood out of the handy volume, “Americans’ Favorite Poems,” edited by Robert Pinsky. I hope that you’ll find them as fascinating as I do.

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The City
BY C.P. CAVAFY ( Originally Greek)

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

Continue reading 4 Poems That I Like, Of Love, Of Travel, and Of Life

Encore: Emerson’s Nature (A Chapter)

Why not praise an old, but “wordy” favorite once more? R.W. Emerson strikes again on The Contemplative Shelf with a suggestion of something you should try doing this week.

“Most persons do not see the sun…”

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Nature

Chapter I from Nature, published as part of Nature; Addresses and Lectures

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile. Continue reading Encore: Emerson’s Nature (A Chapter)

How One Philosopher in 1840 is Capable of Explaining America Today

As with all brilliant writing, one must share it if possible. This time it happens to be about a Frenchman, Alexis De Tocqueville (1805-1859), a philosopher who observed American society during his time and wrote two volumes called Democracy in America. De Tocqueville strove to explain every facet of American society and every underlying current at his time, but who would have known his work could be so relevant 175 years later?

My experience is with Volume II, covering everything from religion and public opinion to search for perfection, materialism, and gender equality. As with other works, I strive to portray a few interesting ideas from the text, but overall, as a book recommendation, it encourages a whole reading, at least in chapters. Here are some of his ideas:

Democracy Leads to Lack of Freedom of Thought
De Tocqueville was certainly not arguing against democracy, but he was noting on the phenomenon that may occur. The more equal people are in a nation, the more equal they feel to their fellow citizens and the more trust they may have in their opinions, enabling them to take them without question.  “In the US the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals” relieving them from having to make their own. Therefore, this increases the power which the majority holds over the mind, causing it to be a standard, and leading to lack of tolerance for individual thought.

Free Religion or Politics, Not Both
It’s often a wonder why a country such as the US, so liberated in many aspects, is still in the tight grips of religion. In De Tocqueville’s time, he had the chance to compare everything to the Enlightenment on the other side of the ocean. He remarks that Christianity seldom interferes in the political sphere so it is capable of holding a tight and unchanged grip, unlike similar establishments on the other side. Furthermore, he writes religious freedom (people not being firmly set on a religion) is incompatible with political freedom, because people need stability, which needs to be created by either a strong ruler, or a strong religion.

Search for Perfection
Why does the poor citizen of a hopeless village in Europe seem to be happier than the well taken-care-of middle-class American? You may read a tiny chapter on this here: “Why the Americans are So Restless in the Midst of their Prosperity.” De Tocqueville explains this is due to the fact that in the US, classes are in much closer proximity to each other, and therefore people perceive much greater mobility for themselves and are more likely to spend their lives chasing it. It seems “Man is endowed with an indefinite faculty for self-improvement” but not everyone is meant to reach the top.

Why Political Freedom Can Be Self-Destructive & Enlightened Self-Interest
Much like his worries on public opinion in a democracy, De Tocqueville also sees a path in a democracy for people to get too concerned with their private affairs  and he says “the better to look after what they call their own business, they neglect their chief business, which is to remain their own masters” and that “a nation that asks nothing of its government but the maintenance of order is already a slave at heart, the slave of its own well-being, waiting only the hand that will bind it.” Luckily, this problem is able to be addressed by the realization of the people that “chief business is to secure for themselves a government which will allow them to acquire the things they covet and which will not debar them from the peaceful enjoyment of those possessions which they have already acquired.” With that many Americans seem to have an “enlightened self-interest,” meaning even though their private concerns are of top priority, they recognize that they must participate in the political system as well, to protect their interests.

There is much more to be mentioned, but that’s why books are written, to be read. It is a striking work and hard to believe it’s not written for today as it glosses over so many problems we may think are only of this day. Timelessness is always a virtue, though one must wonder, is it the book, which is written to about democracies in general terms, or is it just history repeating itself in a country that hasn’t truly changed?

The Ultimate Call to Be Your True Self: Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

   A few weeks ago, I was strangely fortunate enough to be assigned to read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” a very in-depth 14-page philosophical essay. Upon closer examination, I realized the text is so brilliant that I must refer back to it at intervals of time as to not forget what it said. I also spread the word about it, but few people have the time or patience to take the hour to read it properly. I cannot do it justice by summarizing, however, I would be happy to even touch a little bit on its ideas.

 

    At the core of the text is the urgent call to be unique by submitting to your calling. Emerson’s proper person is one which is the least hindered by society, as he says “whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist” because “society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.” According to him, in modern day, we hold people of the past, such as George Washington, in such high esteem because they have exhibited honor we do not feel we are capable of in the present day. “Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright ; he dares not say ‘I think,”I am,” but quotes some saint or sage.” But Emerson believes, that we do not give ourselves enough credit. The humans of yesterday are no more brilliant than those of today. Perhaps many today have succumbed to trying to extinguish their passions or to conform with what they see. We more so hold the idea that one must be educated and aged to  be able to say anything of value. But we are simply not giving ourselves enough credit. For example “infancy conforms to nobody; all conform to it,” in speaking of the way children can gain command of a room with their unique and alive manner, a way few adults can.

 

For more, of course read the essay: http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm

 

But for now remember to “Insist on yourself; never imitate.” and “Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

The New Global Student – By Maya Frost

This book is specifically for any students from middle school to college and their parents, who are not 100% satisfied with the status of the education system.

At first it might seem like just another piece of college advice literature, but what it truly is is an offer of a brighter view point on the mess the college process is today. Not only does it encourage to look beyond the typical straight A’s, SAT score idea, but it really opens the mind towards going back to being human – spending time becoming acquainted with oneself and indulging in culture. Although the book is directed toward parents, anyone could profit from it, taking the information about fear of letting go and thinking out of the box of standard education. The second part of the book offers a great resource for actually planning global experience, whether in high school or college.

All around, The New Global Student is a must read to truly consider your options.

The Social Animal by David Brooks

If you want good change in perspective or are looking to  simplify your view on life, look no further, this book will help. 

The Social Animal follows the lives of the imaginary Erica and Harold. As it creates an interesting yet typical life story, the book explains grand concepts of sociology from the cultural influences to the desperate need for human contact. At the core of the book is the idea that we are guided by our subconscious, and as it does much more work on average than our conscience, it should be listened to more intently instead of being fought. It is self-discovering to become more in touch with the signals the subconscious has so carefully decided on and constructed.

Some of the ideas that caught my attention:
  • People are so drawn to familiarity that they’re even likely to pick a job that starts with the same letter as their name.
  • Different things in our lives send different “pings” of feelings that collect together in our subconscious to create an opinion.
  • The human desire for thumos (recognition and union) underlays the drive for money and success.
  • People who are “accordantly attached” have grown up not relying on the constant company of others, usually parents, and have trouble attaching emotions as grown ups.

Overall, it’s hard to describe what this book’s theme truly is. On one hand, you have your nonfiction information on human behavior, but on the other, you have the stories of a few somewhat ordinary yet different people.  Both can be great contemplative material.