Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging and Humiliation

A blog that I find fascinating, the Bioethics Blog, recently had a discussion about how ethical discussions of aging might reflect the age of the ethicist (or in the case of this blog, in the case of the person responding). Down in the comments, there's more discussion of whether one's ethics can really be objective, or should in fact be subjective. Is objectivity something to be desired, if even possible? Or should we value subjectivity?

I have a smart and thoughtful colleague who's a few years older than I, and recently we were discussing organ donation. My colleague said that when he was younger, he'd easily checked the organ donation box and signed up, but that as he got older, he felt increasingly less comfortable about checking the box. We talked about how feeling closer to death or old age changed his views.

Another time, we were discussing aging, and how we feel about growing older, and my colleague said that as he'd grown older, he'd grown to see how one might find death almost a release or resolution, explaining that he felt increasingly less in touch with younger people and with our technology, and he could see that at some point, it would be a relief to let go of that sense of alienation.

Now, what does a bioethics blog have to do with Friday poetry blogging? The entry starts out with a poem, a poem which was written by an author who died in her 40s, probably of appendicitis. It seems to me that a lot of the very best poetry about old age and such gets written by fairly young poets.

Shakespeare was, what, in his 30s when he wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang;
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest;
In me thou sees the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by;
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

But Shakespeare's not, surprisingly enough, my Friday poetry blogging, because good as he is, I don't think he's any better at obsessing about youthful loss than Milton, who was all of probably in his 40s when he wrote

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied,"
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Nope, it doesn't get a whole lot better than that, does it? I love wrist slitting poetry.

Having pulled out my old ratty Milton, I had to reread some of my favorites, of course.

Remember the game "Humiliation" in David Lodge's book (Changing Places? Small World? One of those)? The basic idea is that you get a bunch of lit types around a dinner table, preferably including a job candidate. One person names a book s/he hasn't read, and everyone who HAS read it raises his/her hand. The number of hands raised is counted as that person's score. So, the idea is that you have to humiliate yourself by admitting that you haven't read a text that everyone else has read. As I recall, the candidate in the book wins the game by confessing that he hasn't read Hamlet; and of course, he loses the job by admitting as much.

When I was in a study group for the GREs, we assigned ourselves to read Samson Agonistes, but I just couldn't manage to get through the text. (I not so secretly hate closet dramas.) For a while, I thought that I could win "Humiliation" with that one, but apparently almost no one has actually read it.

Round's up! What text wins "Humiliation" for you?


  1. As much as I hate to admit it, Jane Eyre. And The Great Gatsby. Okay, I have to go hide my head in shame, now.

  2. Tom Sawyer. But I had a thing about male protagonists--couldn't stand them. I used to have a bunch more, but MA and Ph.D exams have pretty much brought me up to speed.

    However, during MA exams, I traded the Faerie Queene (which I'd read) for Gravity's Rainbow (couldn't stand it).

  3. Moby Dick's mine. But I've actually read Samson Agonistes, and I liked it. I mean, would I pick it up for pleasure-reading, no, but I found it interesting when I studied it in grad school. Actually, I think I read it in two different seminars....

    I've also not read Gravity's Rainbow, but I own it... does that count?

  4. In Modern Drama Circles, I could (for a long time) win with Godot (for shame!) but in the last couple of years, I've read it, seena nd taught it, so now that's out. And my wife got me to cross Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice off the list.

    So I think Milton is mine, although not just Samson Agonistes, but Paradise Lost, too.

  5. Still haven't read Moby Dick, although I have ready Billy Budd (and liked it).

    Since I'm a medievalist, it's probably supremely shameful that I haven't read Piers Plowman all the way through. But I really, really can't stand Piers Plowman.

  6. Gosh, you guys, I love your choices. Ancrene, I only WISH I hadn't read Piers Plowman or Moby Dick!

    Cats and Dogma, Yeah, this teaching thing messes up the game big time! (But Godot? I think you'd get a lot of points for that one.)

    Dr. Crazy, I think you'd get good points for Moby Dick, but not many for Gravity's Rainbow. I just think most people haven't really read it, sort of like Finnegan's Wake.

    I think you'd win for sure, Laura, with Tom Sawyer.

    Haha, a, I think you'd come in a close second with Jane Eyre. But I have to admit, it's another book I could have lived without reading. What is supposed to be so attractive about loving an abusive man? I never got it.