I love to write, but my current job (which I thoroughly enjoy!) doesn’t require me to do much of my own writing — mostly I post the publications of other more experienced writers on various websites. So, in part, this blog is just an exercise for me so my own writing muscles don’t atrophy any further. But I’ve also had the good fortune to have great English teachers over the years and have always wanted to share more of what they taught me. So most of these posts will take something from one of my old classes as a starting point — hopefully you can glean something of interest!
Why bother with things learned in English lit. classes? A maxim I learned from a professor at GMU sums it up best:
History tells you what happened; Poetry tells you what always happens.
Poetry, and literature more generally, have the ability to speak to the things that are lasting in human nature; to the things we in 21st century America with our blogs and iPhones and reality T.V. and human genome sequencing and nuclear weapons share with the likes of Saladin the Great, the house of Atreus, and the authors of the Psalms.
It’s tempting to look at the marvels of technology in our age and consider ourselves superior to men and women of the past, but the differences between us and them are not nearly as significant as the things we have in common. As G.K. Chesterton put it, these
things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. […] The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature.
Literature from all ages and all places helps us to better recognize the things we hold in common, and so helps us to a better understanding of what “the miracle of humanity itself” is. It requires humility to see what we can learn from an old king who wouldn’t have known the first thing about Facebook, but, as T.S. Eliot writes in his Four Quartets:
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
I try to post something once a week — hopefully it’s worth your while, at least every once in awhile!