The New Colossus, A Poem on the Statue of Liberty

Emma LazarusThe New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus, circa 1880

(A part of this poem is inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty:)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



Photograph by Daniel Schwen – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4170638

Two Poems about Freedom

Thomas Moore once wrote that it was

“Better to dwell in Freedom’s hall,
With a cold damp floor and mouldering wall,
Than bow the head and bend the knee
In the proudest palace of slaverie.”

In other words, it’s better to be free and living in a simple place than it is to be a slave in an extravagant palace.

What is the place in which I live? I have heat that I can turn on when it gets cold, air conditioning to turn on when it gets hot, running water (hot and cold), a carpeted floor, electricity, plumbing, etc. I have so much. My floor isn’t “cold” or “damp,” and my wall isn’t “mouldering.” Not only that, but I have wireless internet. I have a laptop computer that I can connect via the internet to just about anywhere in the world.

Here’s another one by T. Buchanan Read:

“Oh, joy to the world! the hour is come,
When the nations to freedom awake,
When the royalists stand agape and dumb,
And monarchs with terror shake!
Over the walls of majesty
‘UPHARSIN’ is writ in words of fire,
And the eyes of the bondsman, wherever they be
Are lit with wild desire.
Soon shall the thrones that blot the world,
Like the Orleans, into the dust be hurl’d,
And the word roll on like a hurricane’s breath,
Till the farthest slave hears what it saith–
Arise, arise, be free!

When I read this, I am persuaded to believe that freedoms of all kinds are something important, something to defend.

What do you think about these poems? Any thoughts?

Percy Shelly’s Ozymandias

In a footnote of the Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume D: The Romantic Period, on page 768, we have this statement: “According to Diodorus Siculus, Greek historian of the 1st century B.C.E., the largest statue in Egypt had the inscription ‘I am ozymandias, king of kings; if anyone wishes to know what I am and where I lie, let him surpass me in some of my exploits.’ Ozymandias was the Greek name for Ramses II of Egypt, 13th century B.C.E.”

That footnote acts as a brief introduction to this 1818 poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land 

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 

Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand, 

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed: 

And on the pedestal these words appear: 

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: 

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, 

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“Ozymandias Shelley draft c1817”.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ozymandias_Shelley_draft_c1817.gif
#/media/File:Ozymandias_Shelley_draft_c1817.gif


A Brief Poem From a Japanese Teamaster Who Lived from 1158-1237

Fujiwara Iyetaka writes,

“To those who only pray for the cherries to bloom, 
How I wish to show the spring
That gleams from a patch of green
In the midst of the snow-covered mountain-village!”

In other words, while there are some who anticipate the coming of spring, Spring in its entirety is implicit in a tiny, seemingly insignificant “patch of green.”

Daisetz T. Suzuki comments,

“Here is just a feeble inception of life power as asserted in the form of a little green patch, but in it he who has an eye can readily discern the spring shooting out from underneath the forbidding snow. It may be said to be a mere suggestion that stirs his mind, but just the same it is life itself and not its feeble indication. To the artist, life is as much here as when the whole field is overlaid with verdue and flowers. One may call this the mystic sense of the artist” (Zen and Japanese Culture, 26).

Some Larger Way, Path, or Errand

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

“‘That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo’s rhyming,’ said Pippin.

. . .

“‘I don’t know,’ said Frodo. ‘It came to me then, as if I was making it up; but I may have heard it long ago. Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?” He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.'”

(The Lord of the Rings, one volume edition, p. 73-74)

An Excerpt from Leticia Elizabeth Landon’s Poetry

This was written in or around 1830 by a poet named Leticia Elizabeth Landon. I had never heard of her before, but stumbled on this passage which made me think about Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”:

“Methinks we must have known some former state
More glorious than our present, and the heart
Is haunted with dim memories, shadows left
By past magnificence; and hence we pine
With vain aspirings, hopes that fill the eyes
With bitter tears for their own vanity.
Remembrance makes the poet; ’tis the past
Lingering within him, with a keener sense
Than is upon the thoughts of common men
Of what has been, that fills the actual world
With unreal likenesses of lovely shapes,
That were and are not; and the fairer they,
The more their contrast with existing things,
The more his power, the greater is his grief.
–Are we then fallen from some noble star,
Whose consciousness is as an unknown curse,
And we feel capable of happiness
Only to know it is not of our sphere?”

Leticia Elizabeth Landon, The Poetical Works, 118

“This World is Not Conclusion,” by Emily Dickinson

“This world is not Conclusion.

From Wikipedia

A Species stands beyond–
Invisible, as Music–
But positive, as Sound–
It beckons, and it baffles–
Philosophy–don’t know–
And through a Riddle, at the last–Sagacity, must go–
To guess it, puzzles scholars–
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown–
Faith slips–and laughs, and rallies–
Blushes, if any see–
Plucks at a twig of Evidence–
And asks a Vane, the way–
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit–
Strong Hallelujahs roll–
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the Soul–“

– Emily Dickinson

Music and Its Influence According to Shakespeare’s Lorenzo

On a calm evening with a bright moon, “When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees / and they did make no noise” (Merchant of Venice, 5.1.1-2), Lorenzo sends for musicians, who come and begin to play for him and Jessica. 

Title page from Wikipedia Commons.


Then Lorenzo begins to comment on the influence of music on its listeners. He says that when a herd of wild colts, whose natural tendency is to pretty much just go crazy, neigh loudly, and anxiously race about, whenever they hear “any air of music,” they immediately stop to listen, and their nature is changed by its sweetness. Indeed, Lorenzo continues, the poet Ovid once wrote a fictional story about the legendary musician Orpheus who had such musical power that he could allure trees, rocks, and waters. Here is the passage:


For do but note a wild and wanton herd
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood,
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turned to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music. Therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones, and floods,
Since naught so stockish, hard, and full of rage
But music for the time doth change his nature. (70-81)

But it gets even more interesting. Lorenzo then concludes with the famous statement that the person who has no appreciation for good music and cannot feel its harmonic melodies must therefore have affections as dark the place of shadow between the earth and Hades, the Greek Erebus:

The man that hath no music in himself, 
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music. (82-87)

For Lorenzo in these passages (which are actually just two parts of the same passage) music has a massive amount of influence on humans and on animals. Could we translate this into modern speech? Let’s try to do it.

First, what exactly does Lorenzo mean by music? Well, his statement in line 82, “The man that hath no music in himself,” is repeated in different words in line 83, “Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds.” In other words, to have music in oneself means something like having a capacity to be “moved with concord of sweet sounds.” So, just hearing music, what Lorenzo is calling the “concord of sweet sounds” is not enough. The word moved is important. One must be moved by music. 

Next, what does it mean to be moved? To move is to go from one place or state to another. In this particular case, I think we are not talking about moving in the physical sense, but moving in a symbolic sense, where symbolic, could mean emotional or spiritual. I use the word spiritual because Lorenzo uses the word spirit in line 85 when he says that the person that isn’t moved by music has a spirit whose motions are “dull as night.” And I use the word emotional here because Lorenzo says that this person who isn’t moved by music has “affections dark as Erebus” (86 emphasis added). 

Let’s also briefly discuss “concord of sweet sounds.” Concord means harmony. So “concord of sweet sounds” would become something like “harmonious or melodic sweetness.” We left out the word sound just now, but the word melodic denotes sound, so we’re good. Harmony is the one in the many and the many in the one.

While we’re talking about harmony, let’s cite Paul Woodruff, who teaches philosophy and ethics at the University of Texas at Austin. In his book First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea he writes that harmony is the agreement that human beings make to live together even though all of us are not exactly the same. In terms of music, “Harmony,” he says, “is not singing one note; it is singing different notes in a way that makes one texture of music” (99). Musical harmony is symbolic (or synecdochic) of political harmony. 

So, we can now translate Lorenzo’s Elizabethian iambic pentameter to modern day speech this way: “The person that is not emotionally moved by harmonious or melodic sweetness is dangerous to society because that person cannot feel–and thus cannot understand–the necessary political principle of harmony.” That person is hence “not to be trusted” and is thus “fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.” Furthermore, if we recall the herd of wild colts that Lorenzo mentioned earlier, we note that the herd is actually better off than this person who has no capacity to be moved by music because the wild colts, though their natural condition includes a savage gaze and untamed craziness, at least understand–and submit to–the principle of harmony. 

An Awesome Poem About Aragorn, Son of Arathorn

Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry have just narrowly escaped into the town of Bree, and they’re just arriving at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Gandalf said he would meet them there, but there’s no sign of him (other than a letter they receive from the innkeeper), and the person showing the most interest in the party is a strange and untrustworthy-looking man named Strider, a wandering vagabond with a mysterious past.

But at the end of the letter, Gandalf tells the party that Strider’s true name is Aragorn, and Gandalf includes a poem that Bilbo Baggins had written years earlier about Aragorn, a poem that includes the wise counsel to think twice about the way they judge the enigmatic figure. There’s more to him than meets the eye. Here it is:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. (Lord of the Rings, 
One-Volume Edition, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, page 170).

I don’t own this picture, but I found it on lotr.wikia.com

In other words, things may not always be as they seem, and we should not be so quick to judge. Though the first thing that may come to our mind when we hear the word gold may be something shiny and polished, we must recognize that not all gold glitters; and though those who may wander might seem lost or homeless, that may not actually be the case. Just being old doesn’t mean that one is also weak, and below-zero temperatures do not necessarily kill plants that have deep roots–there’s a lot that happens underground that we do not always (or even sometimes) see. Ashes don’t necessarily mean that the fire is completely out because there may still be some coals within from which one can start a flame. Aragorn, you’ll remember, was the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. 

In addition to its counsel to beware of poor judgments, I think this poem is also a poem of hope–like the entire Lord of the Rings saga. During the War of the Ring in Middle-Earth, when the dark Lord Sauron was waging war in order to dominate and take control over the known world, there was still hope, and that hope came from a small band of seemingly insignificant creatures–a handful of halflings, or hobbits. 

Many terrible things happened in Middle-Earth, but the good eventually did prevail. It took many long struggles and sacrifices, but a new era of peace eventually was established. 

On Death and Life and Kindness and Respect

Well, friends, there’s no reason for us to lie to ourselves, so let’s be honest: someday we will all die. We’re by no means invincible or immortal. We feel pain, we get sick, and our bodies grow older and decay. And just as our life began with birth, so it will inevitably end in death.

Is this an uncomfortable topic, and if it is, why is it? I mean, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, but I admit it is certainly an unusual thing to talk about–after all, who thinks and writes about these sorts of things? Death is (by definition?) a topic we tend to avoid unless its necessary (or unless we’re compelled to face it), and we want to write about things that people enjoy so that we can get views and hits and stats and likes. Right? Nobody is going to like an article or blog post on an uncomfortable topic. 

Maybe it was the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing that set this whole thing off. Or maybe it was any number of other news stories carefully written to tell some kind of sensational or emotion-evoking story under the guise of “journalistic objectivity.” Or maybe it was something else. I don’t really know. But whatever it was, the anger and violence and unkindness in the world is painful to watch, read, and listen to. Why do some people treat one another with disrespect? Why is there hate? Don’t we intelligent beings know better, deep down? And isn’t it a bit strange that all of us–all human beings–may come from different countries and backgrounds, we may speak different languages, eat different foods, and have different pastimes, but isn’t it a bit strange that all of us, no matter what we believe, may still–and must ultimately–define ourselves as human beings? Let’s admit it: there is something that transcends our differences and enables us to finally unite together as members of a human family instead of pretending to be divided as nations or races or parties or platforms. No matter what we believe or think, we must at least recognize and acknowledge that we’re all human beings, we’re all living out mortal lives on this earth together, and that we should treat one another with kindness, respect, and love. There is no argument that will justify any degree of hatred, prejudice, or bigotry–as human beings that value life, we know better. We know that these things don’t get us anywhere. We know that these things lead to a symbolic death.

This idea of symbolic death is an interesting one, but there’s more to say about physical death. (A discussion about symbolic death will have to wait until another day.) Far from being pessimistic or melancholic, these thoughts about physical death and dying motivate me to ask myself if I am doing the things that really matter the most to me: I know that my mortal life will not last forever, so am I becoming the kind of person I really want to become? Am I living the kind of life I really want to live? Who am I, anyway? 

Serious questions like that cannot be answered in a non-serious manner. They involve expressing what one really believes, deep down. But before I do that, let me say that I do not wish to impose my beliefs on others. Actually, I claim the right and privilege to believe what I choose to, and I believe that all people have the same right and privilege–let all people believe what they may. Let us all believe what is in our hearts and minds, and let us listen to, understand, and compromise with those whose beliefs differ from ours. We may believe different things, but we are also human beings. We can live together in peace. We can live together in harmony.

But I got off on an idealistic tangent again in those last two sentences. I was about to say a few things that I really believe. So who am I? The answer to that question depends not just on who I am today, but who I have been in the past. Where did I come from? Is death really the end, and was birth really the beginning?

The English poet William Wordsworth gives an interesting answer. He completed the poem in 1804, but it was not published until 1807. He wrote that 

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 (Ode: Intimations of Immortality 5.58-65)

In other words, Wordsworth is saying that there is some part of us that was not created when we were born. The poet says here that “our life’s Star,” or “The Soul” “Hath had elsewhere its setting.” Our birth may be “a sleep and a forgetting,” but it is not an “entire forgetfulness” because there’s still something that longs for what we might call our real home. I believe the principle Wordsworth is teaching. I believe that birth was not the beginning and that death is not the end. We lived before we were born, and we will live after we die. While mortal life is only a temporary thing and will not last forever, there is a part of us that existed before we were born and will continue to exist after we die.

This belief gives my life direction and meaning, and it also gives me peace. It gives me direction and meaning because I believe there is a purpose to my existence. It gives me peace because while I may be called “Jarron Slater” during mortality–and although I may have been called by another name before I was born and I may be called something else after I die–I have been, and I will still be, me. 

Let me be even more specific. My own personal belief is that all of us really are a part of the same family. But we are not just all a part of the same human family: as beings who have been created after the very image of heavenly parents, as beloved and literal spirit sons or daughters of those heavenly parents, and as sons or daughters with a divine nature and divine destiny, we are also a part of God’s family. I find abiding peace in believing that there is a God and that He, as a loving Father, has a plan for each of His children. And I find lasting comfort in believing that He wants to help us be happy now and in eternity. 

But whatever any of us believe, we must at least admit that we’re here on this earth to live out our lives together, and we should treat one another with kindness, respect, and love.