“Death and the Miser” by Hieronymus Bosch
As for your name and your body, which is the dearer?
As for your body and your wealth, which is the more to be prized?
As for gain and loss, which is the more painful?
Thus, an excessive love for anything will cost you dear in the end.
The storing up of too much goods will entail a heavy loss.
To know when you have enough is to be immune from disgrace.
To know when to stop is to be preserved from perils.
Only thus can you endure long.
Once again, Lau Tzu offers a pearl of wisdom that is important today. Our present culture is one that encourages constant striving for more, regardless of how much you have. Corporations must always show higher earnings and growth, and the measure of personal success is determined by the rate of increase in wealth.
The problem with this mentality, as Lau Tzu points out, is that it is not sustainable. Eventually, there will be suffering as a result of this paradigm, and we are beginning to see this suffering manifesting in the world around us. It is time for people to step back and realize when they have enough, and not be in constant competition with everyone around in an attempt to prove that they are somehow better at the “Game of Life” than the next person.
For myself, I have found that an attitude of gratitude helps me keep the urge for excess at bay. I have much to be grateful for in my life. And yes, there are things that would be nice to have, but I don’t have the burning desire to accumulate and accumulate.
Thanks for stopping by, and take a moment to reflect on all the great things in your life.
Duccio di Buoninsegna
It’s been a while since I read any Poe, so I got my Complete Tales and Poems and looked for a short poem which I had not read before. I came upon this one.
At morn — at noon — at twilight dim —
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe — in good and ill —
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!
The speaker here is a Catholic who is devoutly praying to the Virgin Mary. It seems that the speaker is currently in pain and is seeking solace through prayer. Although the gender of the speaker is not known, I am just going to refer to him as he, since Poe was male.
The lines imply that the man’s past was happy and that his previous prayers were offered in gratitude. But then something tragic occurred which not only cast a cloud over his present, but also his past. My impression is that it is the death of a loved one, either a spouse or a child. He is currently suffering the loss while his memories of past times, whether they be joyous ones or feelings of regret for things not done, are now rising to the surface.
In the time of crushing sorrow, he turns to the traditions which have providing grounding throughout his life, which is prayer. The fact that the word “Hours” is capitalized in line 5 implies that he is practicing the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, where he prays eight times a day at regular times. He has faith that by turning his pain over to the Virgin Mother, that his suffering will be eased. Mary suffered through the death of her child, so he is turning to her for support in his time of loss.
The death of a loved one is one of those events that often lead individuals to seek spiritual guidance and support. It is important to note that the person in this poem already has a firm spiritual foundation in his life, so it is easy for him to turn to his faith in his time of need. I guess the moral is that we should not wait until tragedy strikes to build our spiritual connections, we should begin doing so now.
Photo from Poetry Foundation
I recently downloaded an app for my iPad from the Poetry Foundation that spins subjects and then displays poems that match the subject criteria. I gave it a whirl today and it generated a list of poems dealing with Gratitude & Commitment. The first poem on the list was “Drycleaners” by Dave Smith, so I gave it a read (click here to read the poem online).
For me personally, I wasn’t crazy about this poem. I think that it was because I could not get a sense of the rhythm or cadence. To me, it seemed more like a narrative slice-of-life. When I read a poem, I am specifically looking for a musical feel, and I just didn’t get that from this piece.
What I did like about the poem was the imagery and the emotion that was expressed. I have often felt the impatience described in the beginning of standing in line behind someone who is talking, rambling on and on about what appears to me to be senseless babble. But as the poem continues, it takes on an almost voyeuristic feel, where one is surreptitiously listening in and getting a brief glimpse into a stranger’s life. This brief glimpse is what stirs the feeling of gratitude within the person, as he begins to empathize with the woman sharing her story with a stranger at the counter. Often, when we shed our self-centered absorption, we have that moment when we can connect with another person and feel compassion for what another is going through. I think this poem captures that moment very well.
Poetry, like all art, is highly subjective. Just because the style in which it was composed was not my preference, that should not prevent you from reading it. I encourage you to read the poem and see whether you connect with it. Feel free to share your thoughts. Cheers!!