life is poetry?

An Essay By Ben // 11/29/2001

Dear Homeschooling Friends,

Pacing sand,
Hating the land,
Catch a seashell in your hand.
Why are you crying?
Dream of windy Ithaka.

I'm writing music these days alongside my studies and other activities. What "writing music" usually means for me might make you laugh. I sit in my not-so-uncomfortable chair in my dorm room and hold my violin like it's a 1/4 size guitar. Then I pluck a few notes and think for awhile. If I like the sounds I make, I grab my cheap tape recorder and press the record button while I try to make the same sounds again. After that, if all goes well, I might begin typing random words on the computer that fit the melody. I put a few lines up above from a song I'm working on right now.... Amazingly, out of all the hours I have wasted doing this, I have written the lyrics for one song that we play in the band I'm in! (Of course, I wrote the words thinking of them as for a slow, slightly sad song, and we use them for a loud, fast song. But, I'm not complaining.)

Yes, I'm in a band. Like last year at UD, music has been a highlight for me. Thinking back over this semester I'm so glad I brought my violin with me. I feel a few real friendships are forming because of music. And real friendship is so important and hard for me to find. Anyway, "the band" plays blues and folk music. We're playing for ourselves, mostly, though we did play at a bar/restaurant a couple of weeks ago. That wasn't very fun for me (too much smoke, etc.). But, it was a learning experience.

I just finished talking to a guy who goes to Thomas More College (one of our 69 students). His name is Ben, strangely enough. (I'm always surprised by the number of people named "Ben" in the world.) We were talking about poetry, since we both enjoy reading and writing poetry. He showed me this diagram he thought up. It's pretty simple.

|_____________/___________John Donne

Okay, this is how to read it. Poetry aims at describing an experience so well that the person reading the poem can experience that experience. Doing this successfully is not easy, but it still remains a free and open art, full of life. Shakespeare and John Donne appear on Ben's list of poets who come closer than most to bringing life to the page. Then, lower down, we enter the level called "cliché." There is less room for greatness in it. It's so easy to write using cliché. Most of my poetry and lyrics fall in this realm. I'm able to describe things only in ways that are bland and ultimately shadows of reality. Finally, we reach the bottom of poetry, which Ben labels "Hallmark." He finds the words printed in the Hallmark cards so pitifully cliched that they are an insult to the senses and to truth.

Looking at the diagram, I immediately felt it was also a diagram for the different levels of living. I developed the idea a little. Basically, in my idea, living in the realm of experience or sense means accepting things, being open to reality. When we allow some music or art to affect us or change us in a positive way we are participating in this realm. When we enjoy a good meal or a sincere conversation with a friend we are living in the experience realm. When we look at ourselves as we are and begin working towards becoming the person we know we should be we are in the realm of experience. When we allow our experiences in life to lead us ever deeper toward truth we are living in this way. As a result, we may experience greater joys and sorrows than usual - more than we see other people experiencing, possibly. We may suffer more but also find real happiness more when we live in this way.

In the region called "cliché" we see life through half-open eyes. This is how I often live. We set blinders up so as not to see too much. We may be "free" from things we don't want to know or do, but we are slaves to unreality. Both joy and sorrow frighten us, so we may tend to stay safely in the land of cliché, of mediocrity. But, neither sorrow nor joy are bad things, while mediocrity is bad.

Then, the "Hallmark" region - or rock bottom - could be labeled "Hell on earth" in my take on Ben's diagram. For, living that way would be pure monotony, pure mediocrity. We would not participate in or even understand beauty if we lived this way.

Okay, okay.... I have to go to bed now so I'm ready for a new day of school. This leaves me no time to clean or fix or undo what I have said. I'm sure a lot of what I said needs to be clarified if I really wanted to lay out the idea better, though I have a feeling I'm just repeating something said a thousand times in my own way. But, just to protect myself, I'll say that most of what I've written about the diagram is just me thinking out loud. I have no set theory on all this. But I do find it intriguing. All's I can say is: life is poetry!

Enjoy apricotpie!



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