Poems You Should Know: Desiderata

From the Latin ‘Desiderata’, meaning ‘desired things’, this is a 1927 prose poem by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) which expresses a kind of non-religious life guidance with a spiritual slant. Because of this it has successfully transcended religious boundaries to appeal to the spiritual and the secularist alike. I bought it on a poster years ago and still have it.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Advertisements

Playtime: A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire 1.jpgAnger, deceit, snobbery, sex, madness: Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play about two sisters in a small flat in the French Quarter of New Orleans has it all.

The flat belongs to the younger sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley (that Louisiana observes ‘Napoleonic law, whereby the property of the husband is the property of the wife, and vice-versa’ is a plot point), who are poor, passionate, and apparently happy – until older sister, Blanche, turns up, broke and needing a place to stay.

Continue reading “Playtime: A Streetcar Named Desire”

Treasure Trove: The Photographs of Jamie Livingston

Recently a video popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. It was the story of Jamie Livingston, a New York-based filmmaker who, from March 1979 until his death on October 25th 1997, took a polaroid photograph each day. Taken together, these candid photographs chart the mundane and poignant story of a life lived in New York City just before the digital revolution.

Jamie Livingston

The original website is a bit clunky to navigate, and to be honest I haven’t spent much time there, but the video is like a visit to an exhibition of Livingston’s work. He took the ordinary and showed its beauty, and to me that is one of the most wonderful things an artist can do.

Check out the video and let me know what you think.

Author Profile: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Hemingway in later life
Ernest Hemingway in later life.

Born at the close of the 19th century, Hemingway embodied, for good or ill, a type of masculinity seldom encountered in the West today. He was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, into a conservative middle-class family. His musician mother, Grace, endeavoured to teach him the cello, but his physician father, Clarence, seems to have been more influential, spending their family vacations teaching his son how to camp, hunt, fish, and generally love and thrive in the great outdoors. In high school he was involved in a number of sports, but also excelled in English and wrote for his school paper. Continue reading “Author Profile: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)”

Poems You Should Know: Still I Rise

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

The 20th century was a time of tremendous social change as people began to question, and then challenge, the hierarchical concepts which had previously shaped the social order. From the suffragettes of the early 20th century to the mid-century Civil and Women’s Rights movements to the LGBT activism of the late 20th century ideas about who should have power, and why, have changed in ways that our great-grandparents would probably have struggled to imagine. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: Still I Rise”

Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry

American FlagOkay, I’ll be honest, I tried to research and write a detailed history of American poetry, but I decided I couldn’t be bothered, so here instead is a selection of the really important bits. Continue reading “Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry”

Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow

I first came across this poem as a Christmas carol adaptation by one of my favourite contemporary Christian bands, Casting Crowns (you can listen to their version here). Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote the original in 1863, in response to the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an intensely personal poem: Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the War in the Union cause without his father’s blessing, and had later been seriously wounded in Virginia.

sidney-e-king-capture-of-ricketts-battery
Sidney E King, ‘The Capture of Rickett’s Battery’

Although it has subsequently been adapted several times, with the more specific references to the War altered or omitted, the original runs as follows:

 

 

 

Continue reading “Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow”

Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

maya-angelouBest known for her 1969 autobiography ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, which detailed the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life as a Black woman in 20th-century America, Maya Angelou was deeply steeped in both the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition of the likes of John Donne and Shakespeare and the contemporary work of African-American women poets like Anne Spencer and Jessie Fauset, who are largely unknown today. Perhaps as a result of this, a woman who was an ‘outsider’ by race, sex, and class was able to speak in a way that could reach those who might otherwise have overlooked her, and those like her. In 1993 she recited one of her poems, ‘On The Pulse of Morning’ at the inauguration of US President Bill Clinton. Continue reading “Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)”