The Awakening


Ann Baranowski

Monday July 25th, 2005

RE 348DE

The Awakening

Everyone has to struggle with finding their own personal portion of peace in this world. In a modern world fashioned to draw us into its own reality of materialism and amorality, the struggle to find ‘self’ becomes every individual’s plague. Just contemplating the nature of one’s existence for a moment can lead a person down an ever-widening chasm of confusing thoughts that breed questions which have no obvious answer. Consequently, these train of thought can be a one way ticket to either clarity or confusion; sanity or insanity; and, in a sense, heaven or hell. But no matter where you end up after thinking about your life – which more often than not ends up in confusion – you will find yourself defending against your new found knowledge. Say for instance that after a great deal of thought you conclude, mentally exhausted, that life has no meaning and that everything is without purpose. A pessimistic and defeatist final stance to say the least, one must still decide what to do with this new outlook on life. They could crawl into a closet and cry or they could face the world as they see it and continue living, making some compromise with themselves to ignore, put up with, or accept life’s pointlessness. On the other hand, consider someone who comes to the conclusion that life is beautiful in everyway. In this case the individual might have come to grips with the reality of life and that all forms of it must deal with deal. Would this person then have accepted his or her own inevitable death? Emmanuel Ghent, a Montreal born psychoanalyst, says that “the superstructure of defensiveness, the protections against anxiety, shame, guilt, anger, are, in a way, all deceptions, whether they take the form of denial, splitting, repression, rationalizations, evasions. Is it possible,” he asks, “that deep down we long to give this up, to ‘come clean,’ as part of an even more general longing to be known, recognized? Might this longing also be joined by a corresponding wish to know and recognize the other? As to the developmental origins of such longings I would locate them as being rooted in the primacy of object-seeking as a central motivational thrust in humans” (Ghent 214). In the movie “Words of My Perfect Teacher”, a Bhutanese monk named Chygyam Trungpa Rinpoche – supposed reincarnation of an predecessing wiseman and thus raised as a teacher and prophet – teaches that enlightenment can not be reached by simply repressing life’s harsh realities or by rationalizing them. Rinpoche says that you could not want any more enlightenment “when you don’t have any obsession, when you don’t have any hang ups, when you don’t have any inhibitions, when you are not afraid that you will be breaking a certain rule, and when you are not worried about fulfilling someone’s expectations.” By this, I think he means that after we renounce the material world outside of ourselves and all the ways it affects our psyche we must move on from that point without denying or rationalizing anything, and “come clean” as Ghent says, by further renouncing the renounciation; in other words we must embrace everything. Essential to this enlightenment are the roles of a patient yet firm teacher and a humble yet ambitious student.

In “Words of My Perfect Teacher”, we get a clear view of a firm teacher. Rinpoche is often seemingly rude with students but not without reason. His frequent and mysterious disappearing acts force his students to learn patience while his own is displayed by even taking the time to work with them. Rinpoche is known as the Assassin because of his tendancy to be brutally honest with his students. He is said to kill them in the sense that he exposes and in some cases dismantles their egos. This shows them their false self throught the eyes of his true self and their own. When they recognize and identify one of their hang-ups, they are recognizing this through the eyes of their true self; standing back from the situation and looking at one’s self as if it were an object. Rinpoche, as a teacher, has the job or profession of helping sentient beings. A task which he says is not easy amidst a world of hypocrisy, pretense, and cultural hang-ups, that threaten to drag him back into the common and misguided way of dealing with life; with denial, splitting, repression, rationalizations, and evasions. Acceptance and confrontation of one’s false self, the self ruled by the outer world, is key to enlightenment and peace of mind. The problem, as Rinpoche puts it, is “believing one’s own thoughts”. By this I believe he means that reality is defined simply by how we see it, and most people see it as they are told you. With frequent meditation, and observance of how the world truly works, one can take the first steps towards basic enlightenment. But this can not be done alone. One has to be ushered along the proper path to enlightenment so as not to stray off onto some tangential path of anger or depression. One requires a teacher. The problem then becomes finding one who you can deem worthy to teach you. This may include getting over one’s own vain ego and “surrendering”, as Ghent calls it, “in the presence of another” (Ghent 214). Ghent explains how a student may find a teacher:

“It has been said that there are no gurus, only disciples. The guru creates an illusion – an illusion which permits the disciple to yield, surrender false self, and therein have a chance at finding himself. The process may be thought of as allowing the disciple to re-enter the exhilarating world of transitional experiencing – wherein the guru is the transitional object. The ego, false self, mind wants to argue; the guru won’t argue. He knows that all engagement at this level reinforces the strength of the ego (false self). Surrender in this sense does not need a guru. The indirect object of the surrender could as well be a tree, the sun, God…anything or anyone that will not impinge with its own ego. The process is what is important; the object to whom one surrenders is irrelevant.” (Ghent 217)

Therefore, a student must learn to shed his skin so to speak. Or to leave behind all that once hindered him from achieving the goal of enlightenment. These obstacles that lay infront of the path are not always crystal clear, let alone tangible. But an easy way to identify them would be to say that they are anything and everything that you know. After one lets go of these past attachments – whether they be to people, memories, attitudes, or materials – they can then focus their energies on the task of inner peace. With the false self subdued, the true self can surrender, and leave itself open to “liberation and expansion of the self as a corollary to the letting down of defensive barriers” (Ghent 213). Also important to the process of surrender is not confusing it with submission, which as Ghent says, is “in the service of resistance” and “at best adaptive as an expedient” (Ghent 215). According to the film we must resist the urge to find a teacher based on self-serving motives, because when we are in need of a teacher our false self is in charge of our decisions, thus we will be searching for a teacher who will reinforce our false selves. This is when people start looking for qualities in their teachers that they see in themselves; wanting their teachers to simultaneously be not so special and yet special enough to inspire awe. Ultimately, the student’s key to finding a proper teacher is being honest like a patient is to a doctor; revealing all symptoms (inhibitions) so as to obtain the best help possible.

After the student has humbled his or her self they must then learn as much as they can from their teacher until they feel confident that they can learn no more. The student must have ambition if he wants to reach enlightenment. Even Neo in “The Matix” triology broke free of Morpheus’ tutelage in order to make a self image for himself and for others who looked up to him. In this sense, Neo realized that the reason you go to a teacher is so you realize that your guru is only a bridge to the guru already residing within. Anakin Skywalker did the same thing in the “Star Wars” trilogy – though he sought out a teacher who developed his false self – and eventually stood up to his teacher. So, you must let go of your guru in order to become one yourself. This is a difficult task in itself because the student is always told not to challenge the teacher no matter how inevitable a result this may seem. However, because it is unavoidable, as the teacher should know, both student and teacher should watch their words and their minds while the challenge is being issued so as to monitor whether or not the student is truly prepared to move on to bigger things, and become a master in their own rite.

A sad reality, I think, is that the Western mindset, since the days of the Roman Empire, to the British Empire, and today with the American strangle-hold on the world, has been one of pride strength and that all too famous never back down attitude. This is a shame because it makes most of us brought up in the West unable to come to grips with the term ‘surrender’ let alone actually doing so to a freely acknowledged superior being. The result of that refusal is the continual breeding of hard-headed, ignorant youngsters, who do not wake up to their stupidity often enough and sometimes not at all; delinquents etc. I believe that the East has held the answer to world peace for far too long and that its message need only spread quicker and to more people for its fruits to be enjoyed by all people on Earth. Imagine for a second if everyone was a buddhist… would that not be bliss?

Kids with Guns

Another Religion class. Title taken from that Gorillaz song “Kids with Guns”

RE 348DE

Anne Baronowski

June 28th, 2005

Kids with Guns

The movie “The Followers” proves, from a Freudian point of view, that the followers of the Krishna Kahn way of life promote living in an infantile, immature, and unrealistic way. Infantile in that Krishna Kahn, like all religions, “builds on and reinforces the child’s dependence on an all-powerful father”; in this case Krishna – a lesser god who emanates from the Supreme Brahman in the Hindu religion (Jones 65). Freud would see this dependency as immature because in his mind an individual’s life should be focused on working their way out of their narcississtic tendancies; becoming strong, independent, and clear-thinking. When one is caught up in the ways of religion they tend to stay in their infantile and immature mindset; remaining the child who is absolutely dependent on the idealized father. Lastly, he would say following the teachings of Krishna – or any religion – and hoping for salvation or any kind of positive change through adherence and practice of tha religion’s rules is an unrealistic undertaking because it is all based on fictional stories, myths, and parables. Fictions that claim some fantastical story like the god Vishnu being incarnated on earth in the form of a heroic man (Krishna); or in Christianity, God becoming flesh in the form of the rebellious Jesus Christ. Freud says stories such as these appeal to people because they were constructed to breed “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind” (Jones 16). Wishes that hope for the actualization of the illusionary realities these religions put forth. Freud ascribes three functions to religion which he claims were “all derived from human wishes”:

First, civilization is a dominant source of human misery because of its imposition of instinctual controls. The rational person accepts this misery as the price paid for the advantages of culture. The immature demands to be rewarded in the imaginary, heavenly realm of eternal, narcissistic bliss that religion supplies. Second, science shows us that nature is impersonal, mechanical, uncaring. The adult accepts these objective facts and learns to live with the reality that his or her life, like all of nature, is meaningless and purposeless. The infantile flee from this assault on their narcissism into the illusion that a warm and caring God stands behind the impersonal facade of nature. Third, the greatest cruelty of fate is the finality of death. The realistic and rational person resigns him or herself to life’s transistoriness. The narcissistically inclined cannot accept that life is temporary and so cling to the illusion of life after death. Religion, then, appeals to and reinforces our narcissistic inclinations… Anything remotely analogous to primary narcissism must, of necessity, be discredited. No leniency is allowed when it comes to infantile wishes. Even more liberal or intellectual religious beliefs are impossible ‘so long as they try to presereve anything of the consolation of religion’. Any hint of consolation must be denied.(Jones 16)

It is not easy to agree with Freud’s logic, but one cannot deny that it can at times seems quite infallible. Life is irrefutably a mixture of ups and downs, satisfactions and disappointments; ostensibly good and evil. Furthermore, science has been known to break the world’s miracles down into understandable equations of constants and variables. However, many things have yet to be described by science, and yet still, the things that have been described are so fantastical in design – the human genonme for instance – that their very existence only gives strength to illusionary beliefs in a grand-designer or God. Freud’s stance on “the finality of death”, though just as much an assumption as the religious belief that life continues, does prove how desperate humankind is when it comes to trying to define an existence without any obvious purpose. Our attempts thus far to justify life are simple comforts and consolations used to fill that void common to all humans; namely our inquisitve nature. Since the beginnings of the human intellect, we have tried with a voracious appetite to gain knowledge of our surroundings so as to give importance to the world we live in. Freud understood this, and does not blame or condemn humankind for doing so as it is just another of those eventual evolutionary steps that we must undergo. What he did disagree with was continued endorsement of illusionary belief in the man-made stories of religion. He wished for humankind to move beyond this obstacle into a more rational, scientific way of thinking; whereby nothing is believed until it has been proved with overwhelming evidence. This ‘moving beyond’ the obstacle of religion – and its inherent narcissistic idealism – is what Kohut called transmuting internalization: a process “by which the idealizations of the parents and one’s self are gradually replaced by a more realistic assessment and the child assumes responsibility for the psychological functions previously provided by the idealization of the parents and their reinforcing the child’s narcissism” (Jones 19). Differing from Freud however, Kohut thinks that idealization and nacissism should remain part of an individual’s life after he moves beyond primary or infantile narcissism. He names idealizing, mirroring, and twinship as the necessary components “for a cohesive sense of self, the sine qua non of mental health”, saying that we all should make emotional investments “towards objects of idealization, towards objects which reflect back to us our achievements and successes, [and] towards objects which ratify a sense of belonging” (Jones 22). This self-cohesion is dependent on a strong sense of direction steered by “a core set of goals and amibitions the pursuit of which gives life zest and vitality” (Jones 22). Therefore, from a Kohutian standpoint, it would seem that religion is not so bad at all, as long as one approaches religion as a skeptic and not a devotee. As Jones says “if the relationship with the beloved, religious, or interpersonal object allows its shortcomings to be acknowledged, its failures recognized, and its limitations supportively worked through – something few religious institutions seem able to do – then there is the possibility for genuine transformation towards maturity…however, examples of such transformatice realism and humility seem to [be] all too rare in the history of religions” (Jones 65). Kept in what Kohut calls “developmental arrest”, devotees and religions are blinded by their own false idealization of what their texts claim to be perfection. It is naive at best to claim that perfection could have been reached so early in human evolution. It is only logical to assume that as time passes we grow in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Religion’s primary failing is its own over-idealization of itself, its secondary failing is to their devotees who they “keep infantilized” (Jones 65). For Kohut, living life according to the principles of a religion is not immature or unrealistic as long as it is done selectively and in accordance with rationality.

The National Association of Krishna Consciousness was founded in 1965 in New York and has spread throughout North America ever since. They acknowledge a spiritual master from India, who came to America to teach the road to salvation throught the repetition of the names of Krishna. If there ever was a religion that kept people infantilzed, it would have to be this one. Its devotees aim to achieve a sense of nirvana in the modern age of kali – age of war, quarelling, and hypocrisy. To combat this age of kali, thier holy scriptures recommend that devotees repeat their mantras at least one-thousand-seven-hundred-and-twenty-eight (1728) times daily. Exposing this farce, one critic in the film asks a devotee of Krishna “what are you doing? who are you helping?” Simply listening to the chanting is mind-numbing as it is no wonder that this religion came to fruition during the psychadelic sixties when mind-numbing drugs and experimentation was the popular fad. One can see the attraction of the movement nonetheless, in its abandonment of reality and focus on spirituality and happiness. However, if everyone lived as they did, civilization would crumble and society would transform into a passive-aggressive mass of selfish seekers of that natural eternal happiness or high. Notwithstanding, civilzation and society are not perfect as they are, but passivity is, in my opinion a step further away rather than one closer to happiness for all. Auxillary infantilizing is done by rules such as no sex, no gambling, so drugs, no meat. While no gambling and no drugs make moderate sense, no sex and no meat seem out of place among the four main principles of Krishna livelihood. Hardly a moral consideration, I find it hard to believe that my diet (cannabilism excepted) has anything to do with my spirituality. Afterall, meat is matter, and my soul, if I have one, is a form of energy neither bound by physical constraits or affected by them in any direct way. Also, sex, one of humankinds few natural euphoric vices should be condemned only if it is rape or promiscuous and therefore unsafe (unhealthy) and never when it is consentual, mutual, and within the confines of a loving relationship. Such criticisms are examples of what transmuting interlization can do to overcome developmental arrest while under the influence of a powerfully entrancing religion like that of Krishna. One father, who had ‘lost’ his son to the Krishna movement could not understand how his son had become brainwashed and hypnotized into believing so deeply that he had found the proper path for his life. The father even said that when you begin to go on a journey to find the absolute truth it is crucial to maintain a certain open mind and critical mindset; in other words, never stop asking questions.

The followers of Krishna do not seem all that blind to reality however, realizing that their six categories of aggressors is somewhat outdated: he who poisons another; he who burns anothers property; he who conquers another’s land; he who robs another of his possessions; he who attacks another with deadly weapons; he who covets another man’s wife; to kill such aggressors is not a sin but a duty that admits no delay. One senior member of Krisha Kahn said that these rules were not applicable andthat God’s laws must be applied to the present time and circumstances. On the contrary, the same member was unable to over Krishna’s view of the opposite sexes, maintaining that women are fire and men are butter and that men will melt (be destroyed) if they get too close to women. Also, women are said to have ten (10) inherent faults while men have only a few and one of them is due to the temptation of women. It is this kind of blind faith that threatens today’s civlization as idealist and fanatics take scripture written centuries ago and based on life a millenia ago far too literally. Evidence of such is seen in the recent rise in terrorist attacks and the rapidly growing movement of the Taliban and their twisted view of Islam which “paints the world in black and white, creating radical polarities between good and evil” (Jones 74). Passivity is certainly not the answer but the opposite extreme, terrorism, is no better. Religion has always been a weapon for either transformation or terror, and whether it is holstered or holding us at gunpoint, if humankind does not use their minds, we will remain on both sides of the extreme spectrum between war and peace, as kids with guns.

The Beneficial Mystery

A religion class.

RE 313 DE

C. Simpson

11 April 2005

The Beneficial Mystery

You can travel to any corner of the earth and find people who have pondered the meaning of life. Religion exists to give life purpose and there many different doctrines explaining life’s meaning in a wide variety of ways. The inception of all the different religions was an inevitable development in all human societies because we all have to deal with mortality. Death is feared by most because it has been known to unexpectedly take victims at random; striking some not until their physical bodies expire, while touching others before their bodies even get to develop. Death does not discriminate. To combat the feeling of death’s haunting ambience, religion often promises some sort of life after death. In most doctrines this ‘afterlife’ is completely opposite to the life as we knew it on earth’s physical plane. These belief-systems claim that within the human body there exists an undying essence or immortal soul that lives on after our human bodies are taken from us. Among the major religions that believe in some kind of life-after-death are Christianity, Islam, and some sects of Judaism. Other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism believe in the afterlife as well as reincarnation. All these religions attempt to lay out laws and guidelines for humankind to follow here on earth in the hope that adherence to these laws will guarantee safe passage to and the presence of a comfortable spot in the afterlife. Naturally, every religion asks of its followers that a certain degree of faith be put in their teachings. To strengthen our faith they have us worship likeable deities, prophets, and messiahs; in whose greatness we cannot help but cower and follow blindly.

One cannot help but ask in self-reflection: what if these man-made religions have gotten it all wrong? What if their endeavors to prepare us for the next life were all in vain? What can the religious institutions or anybody really know about the afterlife? True spiritualists, in the spirit of conspiracy theorizing, maintain that the heads of these religions are withholding some dangerous secret from the public that proves their connections with beings who are seemingly omnipotent in the next world (if there is one) and in control of life and death. Most of our knowledge about the afterlife comes from the near-death-experiences (or NDE’s) of those who claim to have some residual memory of their brief encounter with existence on the other side. In my opinion, such accounts are totally unreliable because they are shaped entirely by the discourses to which the person giving the account has been exposed to in their lifetime. I therefore automatically dismiss many of Sukie Miller’s findings as conjecture. As a psychologist researching what she has dubbed “afterdeath systems”, she found that there were four common themes. The first is a stage one Miller calls “The Waiting Place”, where the body is left behind and whatever remains is prepared – through the eradication of earth-bound addictions – for the next stage; that being the stage of Judgment. In this secondary stage one’s life is weighed in terms of the good and bad deeds committed while the individual was alive. In Christianity, if the bad outweighs the good, the individual is sent to sent, and if the opposite is found, the individual is sent to heaven. In Buddhism and Hinduism karma determines the future life of the person. In the Persian Baha’i religion your own view of your contribution to the evolution of humankind determines your direction in the afterdeath. In Tibetan Buddhism the idea of immediate reincarnation is put forth and it depends on one’s own ability to conquer the illusions and delusions projected by their own mind; failure to do so results in reincarnation into a lower and often animal or even insect caste. Following the Judgment stage, and depending how one was judged, the next stage is the Realm of Possibilities. In this stage many ideas of heaven and hell are put forth by all the doctrines. Lastly, Sukie Miller describes a stage called the Rebirth, whereby a soul is reincarnated into a different body. Reincarnation is not as widely believed amongst the religions as the actual afterlife is. This is most likely because the religions are hopeful that they will not have to return to life on earth. Those who created and who are adhering to the rules of these religions generally wish to move on to another stage of existence and transcend reality as they used to experience it. In this new and exciting place, life, for those going to Heaven, would be a walk in the park compared to life on earth. Therefore, they would not imagine a reincarnation in physical terms, but rather in spiritual terms, where the body is left behind for a new non-corporeal body.

In my opinion, the afterlife is most likely resembles the third stage Sukie Miller describes; the Realm of Infinite Possibilities. Logically, I believe the thing humans can expect at death is anything. My own personal vision of it is one that instantly places me in my new spirit based, intangible body, and leaves me completely and utterly alone. No white light at the end of the tunnel or a comforting guiding voice will greet me after I die; I will be confronted with complete solitude. And with nothing but my own consciousness to keep me company I will be left to either slip into the oblivion of eternal insanity or do what has been called “one-ing yourself”. The term comes from an urban division of the Nation of Islam called The Five Percent Nation, and it means to center, collect, and establish yourself no matter what your surroundings happen to be. Vowing to never adhere to one single religion, but instead to know what they all offer and apply that which personally applies to me from that religion to my life. I also believe the yin and yang are forces that act upon every aspect of life, taken from the Taoist Buddhist Theory, and that the afterlife will be no different with the opposing forces doing their battle there as well. I also believe there is not just one God, but two; actually a God and Goddess – which is very pagan. My point is that each individual’s afterlife will be different because their own minds will create it as they pictured it in life. With this is mind, I would have to note that the afterlife seems more like a collapse into one’s own self-made universe, where we see life after death through our own unique eyes.

I think that if humans knew what the afterlife actually held life would loose its mysterious and adventurous nature. For instance, if we knew that we would all go to Heaven and be greeted by our lost loved ones and be able to fulfill all our wildest dreams, people would be so eager to die that the average life span would be as long as it took for an infant to realize that paradise was only a wrist-slit away – assuming that suicide is not a sin in this afterlife. Life, with this model of the afterlife in place and acknowledge as true, would loose all its gusto and its beauty. Civilization would not have progressed as it has in the last two thousand years if people we just lining up to kill themselves. There would be no architecture, no music, and no romance, to name a few. Frankly, a world with such knowledge is one I would not want to be a part of because for all I know, my mother, with the knowledge that death was immediately followed by paradise, might have smothered me as soon as I exited the womb to protect me from the inevitable emotional roller-coaster that life really is. Imagining the opposite, that it was known by all that life after death was a terrifying Hell, its seems evident that civilization might even be further along in progression than it was know; maybe in that world, death and the life it brought would be feared so much that a fountain of youth would have been created, so that everyone could live forever and not have to experience the Hell that was the afterlife. Whatever the case is, it is clear that knowing what comes next would not be without its consequences to life as we currently know it. I see nothing but anarchy resulting from such knowledge.

Perhaps by the time the next millennium arrives and passes by mankind will have finally discovered the truth about life after death; simultaneously solving the great mystery while sucking the ‘joie de vive’ out of existence on earth. In retrospect, I’m sure the people of the future who uncover the truth – and they probably will, what with today’s boundary pushing scientists, who are only years from cloning an human – will have wished they had held back the truth, because living in uncertainty was so much more exhilarating. Presuming that today’s leading religions have not already uncovered the truth, I hope that if they have, they continue to keep the dangerous truth a secret from the public. My justification for this is simple and I think it can easily be agreed with: some things are better left unknown.

Works Cited

Miller, Sukie. AfterDeath: Mapping the Journey. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.

Untitled, from a Philosophy class 2005

Awareness of my mortality makes my life meaningful

           

            For those questioning the meaning of life, it is always difficult to keep on living. When questions about things on such a grand scale tie up the mind’s resources it is next to impossible to carry on with life’s day to day routine of seemingly pointless activities and exercises.  For instance, if one is constantly daydreaming about death; how it will come; and what if anything lies after it; then one will naturally find it difficult to divert attention to minute and meager junctions in time when they are tired, in bed, and reluctant to get up and get ready to go to a job that is so unfulfiling that it is painful.  What you would rather do is phone in to work, from bed, tell your boss that you quit effective immediately, and go back to sleep.  When you wake you will take steps that will immediately set you on course to fulfilling a lost dream that you had for the time being put on hold.  In other words, you fee like you are wasting your life doing somethign that does not fulfill your soul’s desire.  And the reason you may be so anxious is because you are preoccupied with death.  In Dying: Facing the Facts it says:

 

Death is difficult to understand. Death is mysterious.  It is almost universally feared. And it remains forever elusive.  This is especially so with suicide.  Almost all of us are perplexed, bewildered, confused, and even overwhelmed when confronted with suicide. Yet, for some it is a final solution.  It is actively sought. However, these same people are likely the least aware of the essetntial reasons for doing so. Understanding suicide – and death – is a complex endeavor ( Wass 19).

 

When such an endeavor is taken up and committed to by an individual they gein to live on the edge.  Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a cliff, with your toes gripping the earth tightly, and glancing over the edge to the ground far below, you find yourself looking death in the face.  A movement forward is indeed that; an immediate decision to confront every living human being’s greatest fear, death.  Is it the final end of life, or is death just another path; one that we all must take. Whatever it is, because your are aware of it, and of your mortality, you are inevitably destined to be preoccupied with making your life as worthwhile an experience as you can.  You want to enjoy life to the fullest – have fun, fulfill dreams and goals, fall in love, have a son, have a daughter, start a family, see the world etc.  If you do decide to step back from that cliff and return to the ‘safety’ of life, you are showing courage, because for the most part life is a gamble.  Afterall, nobody knows when death will come knocking at their door.  It is this uncertainty and the absolute frailty of life that makes it so unbearable at times.

 

            Awareness of your mortality usually arises when death rears its head close to, but not at you.  A family member may have recently passed, or close friend, or even a pet that has been in your life for a substantial amount of time.  When you see death, or when you see someone or something cease to live, you are bewildered by the spectacle.   Even when you are walking down the street and you accidentally or purposefully step on an insect, you think to yourself, as you stare at the squished bug: ‘where has the life that once coarsed through this vessel gone to?’  Those of the scientific mindset believe that energy never ceases to exist, that it just changes from one state to the next; like water into ice or fuel into fuems.  That is a scientific fact and personally, I refuse to believe that human consciousness – also proven to be a form of energy – is the sole exception to this rule.  Even in nature, death does not seem to be the end of things.  Consider a caterpillar, who disappears for days, seemingly dead and gone within a silken coocoon, only to reemerge from that hard chrysalis days later, an entirely different thing, a butterfly, ready to experience the world in a whole new way.  Seeing this evidence that death is not a line but indeed a circle, may convince those who are contemplating suicide – because life at the time seems too much to contend with – that it would be easier to kill one’s self in the hope of moving on to whatever may lie after death for the human immortal energy.  Relying on the consolation of oppression to be found in the afterlife is a cop out in my opinion.  Life is hard, but because you are alive, because you exist, you can only assume that it is for a reason.  In searching for that reason, I believe, you need look no further than inwards, to all you have, yourself.  Also, like the caterpillar, death, or change, comes at a certain time; when it is natural.  You often hear of people dying before their time, which indicates that they had much to accomplish here on earth, in this life, before moving on to the next.  I believe that suicide is not a sin, but a cowardly way to deal with life’s hardships.  Plus, most of the time there are people all over the world who have it much harder than you, and when you consider this, you may be able to find the courage to solve your problems by facing them rather than running from them.  Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  In extreme circumstances, such as euthenasia or in war, could I ever deem suicide morally permissible.  I suppose that is because I agree with John Hick, the philosopher, Presyterian minister, and a scholar of religion.  Though I am not Christian in the purest sense of the word – and who is these days? – I agree with Hicks view that life has a purpose and what does not kill you can only make you stronger:

 

Christianity, however, has never supposed that God’s purpose in the creation of the world was to construct a paradise whose inhabitants would experience a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain.  The world is seen, instead, as a place of ‘soul-making” in which free beings grappling with the tasks and challenges of their existence in a common environment (Hick 43).

 

If life on earth is indeed a place of “soul-making”, and if the experiences you go through make you who you are and define your strength and resolve, then no matter how hard life may seem at the time, one should weather the storm and allow for God’s molding of your soul – assuming that their is a God and that he or she has a plan for each and every one of us. 

Some touchy subjects here, I only read the first few lines and was like “whoa!”. I’m not sure how i feel about these things. I think now, three years later, that gendre roles are not so easily defined.  People, men and women, come in all kinds of forms. Anywhooo…enjoy.


PY 233b

C. Simpson

31 March 2005

If the Shoe Fits

Women are more suited for monogamy and marriage because they are naturally more inclined to develop emotional attachments to their lovers. Men on the other hand, we find it hard to view monogamy and marriage in anything other than honest, virtuous, and sometimes boring lights. Our own person aspirations toward complete honesty with regards to our sex-lives vary from man to man. However, I do not think any honest man or woman would deny that men are perhaps the more promiscuous of the two sexes. That being said, in accordance with the utilitarian theory that “acts are right if they bring about the greatest possible balance of intrinsic good over intrinsic evil for everyone concerned; otherwise they are wrong”, I believe the institution of marriage should be forgotten as a social norm because it is not equally beneficial to both parties involved (Regan 15) . While women are given exactly what they want, men are placed in a very uncomfortable position. Women often say that men are dogs because we will hump pretty much anything that moves. To the accused men, fornication is often unavoidable because of their inherent and natural sex drive. Monogamy, to them, is unnatural because men are biologically wired to spread their seeds. Nonetheless, these same fornicating men would not hesitate to admit that their infidelity does cause feelings of sincere guilt and regret. But are men feeling bad about breaking their word to a girlfriend or wife, or are they feeling bad because of more selfish reasons? For instance, they could feel scared because if their partner found out they would undoubtedly lose their partner; or they have tarnished their own self-image by going against their word, thus diminishing their own trust in themselves and their convictions. The truth is that most males probably think of these consequences first and the feelings of their female counterparts second. That is not to say that all men do this, or that men are naturally selfish; the point is that any person, whether male or female, naturally and instinctively think of their own well being before considering that of the other.

I have a friend who used to boast about never being unfaithful to a girlfriend. His initial stance on this subject was that ‘cheating’ was an immoral act because it defiles a sacred bond between lovers. He witnessed first hand the emotional and psychological damage caused by infidelity within his home. He saw what it could to a mother and her family and he vowed never to be an accomplice to inflicting that pain. Earlier this year, when he somewhat willingly cheated on his present girlfriend, he told me that his confidence in himself, in love, and in the institution of marriage was shattered. He saw how easy it was for infidelity to take place, and he began to project his own guilt onto his girlfriend; constantly accusing her of his own transgression. In return she blasted him with accusations of her own as if she had called his bluff. Ashamed of himself, he adamantly denied any wrong-doing. Although he is still with the same girl, and has yet to reveal the truth to her – though she has her suspicions – he often relates to me his regret for having betrayed a girl to whom he plans to one day be married to. He says that their bond will never be the same because of his secret trespass against her trust. I secretly laughed at him because I noticed the dramatic change in his attitude from when the act of infidelity was committed up until the present date. At first he could only think about getting caught, and losing a relationship that had become convenient to him. Months later, he began to contemplate her feelings, and in his outrospection he realized the wrongness of his behavior. My friend would claim that he one day marrying that ‘woman’ – as he now calls her, having gained a newly adopted respect for her – is an undeniable fact. From what I see happening with all my friends, it is an undeniable fact that he will either cheat on her again or catch her cheating on him. With that being established for the time being as a fact, it would be safe to surmise that marriage can not work if it is forced to be constrained by the rule of monogamy. A successful marriage is one that can forgive any infidelity and work towards the point when both are too old and only still attractive to each other. And to be honest, that is not a bad thing: to have someone fixated as a life companion so that you will never be lonely. I myself find the need for such a deep dependency on another human being to be a sign of weakness; though I am still searching for that one woman who will force me to make an exception. A contradiction in rational thought to say the least, believing simultaneously that marriage is good and bad is proof enough that it should either be reformed or forgotten all together. I would have to agree with Russell Vannoy when he says “that one should be a secure person, one who does not need to be loved in order to feel self-acceptance and self-respect” (148). I do not think that love and marriage can work without two secure individuals; and secure individuals are found few and far in between.

Marriage creates a bond that is the wildest roller coaster anyone could ever hope to survive under the guise of that enigmatic label of ‘true love’. Marriage, like any endeavor had its pros and cons. Allowing the pros to outweigh the significance of the cons is the essential key to a fruitful marriage. But just as one blemish on an individuals record can tarnish his reputation, so do the negatives in a relationship garner more attention than the positive. This is of course because of the natural human reactions to the emotions on either end of the spectrum; anger, fear, and hate are contrasted with acceptance, happiness, and love. As stated before, a thriving marriage would have to ‘rise above’ the negative effects of negative emotion.

I have often wondered how my friend could have become such a poster-boy for all the men out there who are actually faithful to their partners. He believed in power of love and the sanctity of any relationship whether it was premarital or marital. Remembering the words of Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, I find myself thinking that out of all the things Socrates thought a man should examine in his life, morality would be high on that list. But then I would have to examine the morals I am adopting for myself in terms of where they came from. My views of how marriage should be were created by the different discourses I was exposed to. As a youth I was exposed to the idealized depictions of marriage found in fairy-tales, comic books, and fantasy epics; as I am sure many children were. At the same time I saw how my parent’s marriage was unfolding and made a conscious choice to one day have the ideal portrayal become my own reality. To do this I would have to mimic the heroes of the fictional world and make all their virtues my own, while distancing myself from the ways of the villains and antagonists by condemning their sins. So I adopted basic principles to later discover they were deep rooted in established philosophy. For example, virtues like the Kantian precept, “Always treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, as and end and never as a means only” became words to live by (Vannoy 146). By that same philosophy, if I were to ever enter into a relationship, especially marriage, it would be essentially wrong for me to use “another in a sexual encounter as a mere means for [my] own selfish pleasures” (Vannoy 146). In other words, sex without love or sex without the one I love would be undeniably wrong.

Today, I ask myself if I set my sights too high with vows of being completely good and not at all evil. I also ask myself if the representations of good and evil as I knew them were accurate or even reliable. Could something as anciently taboo as adultery really be an evil act? In the eyes of a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim God, it most certainly is. However, these religions are man-made, and being a man I can only assume that I was created equal to those responsible for creating these religions. Therefore, my guesses about good and evil are as good as theirs; though I suppose that is a question of personal faith in highly scandalized, heavily hypocritical, outdated, and therefore irrelevant doctrines. Nonetheless, and because of the social milieu that seems to hang over western civilization, many like my friend adhere to the rules of popular dogma.

As a man with a certain degree of self-respect and self proclaimed nobility, I believe that a man’s word is and can be his only bond to any acquaintance, man or woman. The wrath of God aside, I would have to agree with Richard Wasserstrom’s view that “what makes adultery seriously wrong is that it involves the breaking of an important promise…that [the parties involved] will abstain from sexual relationships with third persons” (Wasserstrom 176). Within the confines of a marriage, monogamy has traditionally been the cornerstone. However, because men and women are not equally suited for such an undertaking, the institution should be done away with or at least rethought – the latter being highly unlikely due to orthodoxy in the church.

In short, because monogamy isn’t natural, does not mean it is not a worth-while enterprise. Promiscuity is in human nature but so is murder; therefore right or wrong is left up to the individual and their personal values. The fear of the church of course – a fear which has validity – is that if left to its own devices, humanity will drown in its own adeptness for doing evil. To prevent absolute chaos, some rules are needed. Some have proposed the idea that “such things as homosexuality, prostitution, and adultery ought to be made illegal” because they are immoral (Wasserstrom 175). Homosexuality and prostitution aside, adultery, because of the pain it can inflict and the guilt is causes, is irrefutably immoral. But does that mean it should be regulated by law? In conclusion, I believe it is only safe to say that marriage and monogamy, like any choice, should be left up to the individuals involved; excluding both the church and the law.

Works Cited

Regan, Tom. Matters of Life and Death: New Introductory Essays in Moral Philosophy. 3rd Ed. McGraw-Hill Inc.: New York, 1993.

Vannoy, Russell. “Sex without Love”. Philosophy of Sex and Love: A Reader. Robert

Trevas et al. (Eds). Pearson Education, 1996.

Wasserstrom, Richard A., “Is Adultery Immoral?” Today’s Moral Problems. MacMilllan,

1979.

Chivalry and its Faults

More Medieval Literature Examination.

I hope you understand Middle English.


EN 391

J. Weldon

4 April 2005

Chivalry and its Faults

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde is so intricate that it is called the first modern novel. In fact, Chaucer is often thought to be a modern poet writing in medieval times, as if he had access to some kind of time machine. If he did indeed come from the future his mission must have been to inspire new thought on subjects of racism, classism, and all such things ruled by persuasive stereotypes. Chaucer made his versions of Troilus and Criseyde, the protagonists of the poem, self-reflective beings while remaining as faithful to his sources as possible; those being Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato and Benoit’s Roman de Troie. He casts the doomed lovers in the same typical roles in which they were trapped in earlier versions of the story; Troilus was as a naïve courtly lover and Criseyde as a wanton woman of the court. In medieval times – as is the case today with the rich and famous – people of the court were the most revered in society. Their ways were valued and consequently imitated by lower class citizens who were so deeply immersed in their envy of the comfort in which the aristocracy lived that they rarely questioned whether their adopted habits were right or wrong. Chaucer clearly saw that changes were needed in the ways both men and women were constructed by this society; his protest coming through in Troilus and Criseyde just as it does in his other great works. Not to be overlooked is Chaucer’s reluctance to give us his own personal stance on the construction of gender. As a supplement to make up for that lacking, we are given an intricate comparison of the ideal and real worlds that make up this poem; a contrast that in revealing the causes of the characters’ inevitable fates also unmasks social ills that plagued Chaucer’s time. In this essay, particular attention will be paid to the characters of Troilus and Criseyde, and how their public, private and personal images of self conflict with each other to convey Chaucer’s messages of love being unfruitful, men being naïve, and women being fickle because love, men, and women, are constructed inappositely.

If one conclusion can be made from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, it is that there is a definite didactic voice underlying the veil of his poetry. It was dangerous to draw attention to oneself through revolutionary words at this unstable juncture of time and therefore it would be safe and logical to surmise that Chaucer had his own opinion of things which he cleverly chose to hide under poetry. To understand what sort of thing Chaucer would – if he did indeed do – preach about in his poetry it is important to consider not only the work of the poet, but also the life of the man.

Geoffrey Chaucer saw many things in his day. He lived through the Great Schism. A historic milestone that saw the Holy Roman Catholic Church split at its seams and create two Popes; one in Rome, Italy, and one in Avignon, France. Today, and especially in North America, the separation of a church would not be a significant concern of society at large. In 14th century medieval Western Europe however, just a short while after the future shaping crusades, the division of civilization’s driving force meant the world to everyone and everything. With the additions of the Bubonic plague and the 1388 Peasant’s Revolt to Chaucer’s list of experiences, it becomes evident that Europe’s people, and not just Chaucer alone, were in mental disarray. This time saw the largest flowering of literary and cultural movements since those of the ancient African Empires of Kush and Timbuktu take place in what would be later dubbed The Renaissance. Out of this explosion of artistic genius came countless people who rebelled against the social milieu through art. Chaucer was one such artist and his style of writing was one that forced the reader to look in the mirror and examine themselves and their communities. In what Lynn Staley in her essay “Chaucer and the Postures of Sanctity” from Powers of the Holy calls “deliberate irresolution”, the reader can assume that Chaucer wanted to get his message across subjectively, rather than objectively outline his arguments (Staley 180). This way of communication was Chaucer’s method to “force a listener or a reader to recognize the unmentionable”; namely “the mechanisms by which society might be reformed”. Staley continues to relate Chaucer’s poetry to larger things saying that he “frequently domesticates and privatizes social and political conflict”. That is to say, that Chaucer did in fact write with a motive, and shaped his versions of copied out texts like Troilus and Criseyde to his own personal liking.

Chaucer believed that there was something “threatening in an economy based on money” because he saw what it did to the unfortunate ones not born into nobility and wealth (Pearsall xiv). The gap between rich and poor in medieval times was considerably large compared to today’s most heavily civilized areas and the effects of this broad gap seemed to also be exponentially increased. The poor envied the rich and the rich treated the poor like dirt; all while the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. Apart from the economic effects, Chaucer saw the ill-treatment in both classes of women by men. Felicity Riddy suggests that Chaucer was misogynistic and wonders “why [it was] not possible to imagine an altogether different kind of story, in which Cresseid marries a Greek, establishes a household, even has children…” (Riddy 285). To draw such a conclusion, I think, would be a bit of a stretch – taking into account Chaucer’s often dim-witted and ill-equipped narrators who seem to represent the collective ignorance of society more than that of an anti-feminist. The more likely reason that Chaucer did not change the outcome for Criseyde is that in leaving the story as it was – displaying Criseyde as she was traditionally known – Chaucer is able to criticize her stereotypical portrayal or at least showcase it to the point that his readers to do the same.

Consider how Criseyde is constructed as a character. She fits the typical mold of a courtly woman. When the reader is first introduced to her the narrator is saying that

…in al Troies cite

Nas non so fair, forpassynge every wight,

so aungelik was hir natif beaute,

That li a thing immortal semed she,

As doth an hebenyssh perfit creature,

That down were sent in scornynge of nature. (1.100-105)

Apart from being portrayed as a fallen angel, Criseyde was also described as a widow; setting her up as a woman in emotional distress. Adding to her public persona, Criseyde is first perceived by Troilus, and assumingly in the same way by all men, as woman of “honour, estat, and womanly noblesse” just from looking at her (1.287). From Troilus’ judgment of Criseyde as a person, the reader gets a glimpse into Troilus’ own being, and what characteristics were collected to make his character. He, like any man, has a social identity that is crafted through race and class, and personal identity crafted through the discourses he was exposed to. Being a part of the royal family and not just of the court, Troilus is awarded a considerable level of respect in public. To himself, he is torn between two role models of how a king’s son should be: his brothers Hector, the great warrior, and Paris, the great lover. He adopts a portion of each of his brother’s personas as his own, and in doing so becomes the true embodiment of the courtly lover. Troilus himself does not realize what he has become until he first sets his gaze upon the lovely Criseyde; saying earlier that the men in his company were “verray fooles, nyce and blynde …” (1.202). Moments later he finds himself ensnared by the same force which draws their gazes from all over the room; the scene being when the people of Troy are having a great feast to honor their guardian Apollo. It is perhaps this scene that foreshadows the doom that lies ahead for the would-be lovers. The men of the court are said by the narrator to be “many a lusty knight” while the women are said to be “many a lady fresh and mayden bright” (1.165-166). If this was the common view of the court – that all men were like farmers looking for a fresh harvest of women ripe for the plucking – then it would not be difficult to imagine Troilus’ and Criseyde’s view of each other being influenced by this common view. Criseyde then, already a widow and seemingly sexually experienced, only viewed Troilus as one of the “lusty” knights out for sex. It does not help that she is introduced to him through her mischievous uncle Pandarus who says to her:

Now, nece, myn, the kynges deer sone,

The goode, wise, worthi, fresshe, and free,

Which alwey for to don wel is his wone,

The noble Troilus, so loveth the,

That, but ye helpe, it wol his bane be.

Lo, her is al! What sholde I moore seye?

Doth what yow lest to make hym lyve or deye. (2. 316-322)

Criseyde is at first hesitant to get involved with another man but then agrees to entertain this knight’s love for reasons that are not initially because of love. Although she later claims to genuinely fall in love with him, we must question her resolve as a traitor’s daughter desperately looking for the acceptance of her people. Her meeting Troilus and having relations with him in Book III seems more like a matter of convenience to her than that of love; her being single, in need of a man, and in a fragile place socially. Furthermore, the agency she shows after they consummate their love is looked back upon as deception and coddling of Troilus. All the while Troilus is actually in love with her. A fact he finds impossible to fight, and one he embraces on the battlefield while claiming that it makes him a better warrior. It is in his act as a great warrior that Criseyde sees and first decides that she could love him. Considering the outcome of the poem, love to her seems like the simple exchange of gifts and loving words; an act to played for the court. She beholds him on his “baye steede” drenched in the blood of his enemies and says to look on him is “to loke on Mars, that god of bataille” (2.324-330). Awestruck, and with mouth agape, Criseyde asks “who yaf me drynke?” paralleling her situation to a well known literary tale in which Tristan and Isolde are both given love potions (2.651). She reacts to this iconic image of Troilus and sees a romantic hero not unlike the ones she often read and heard about in court life. Chaucer is showing us how Criseyde is being constructed from discourses of literature of his age. Troilus himself places Criseyde in a high light, falling in love with his own idea of her before he even speaks to her:

Thus gan her make a mirour of his mynde

In which he saugh al holly hire figure,

And that he wel koude in his herte fynde.

It was to hym a right good aventure

To love swich oon, and if he dede his cure

To serven hir, yet myghte he falle in grace,

Or ellis for oon of hire servants pace. (1.365)

Being the conventional courtly lover, he is immediately hit with Criseyde’s beauty and sickened by the possibility of not being able to serve her as a lover. His idea of her however, comes from within the ether; her beauty being his only justification for her worthiness. In addition, Troilus is to some degree concerned with his own public image, not wanting it to get out that he has become enamored with a woman in the same manner he once criticized.

Both Troilus and Criseyde have different images of themselves and of each other. Also, the public has its own idea of how a man and woman of the court should behave. Keeping in mind that Chaucer is always talking about something larger than just the material he has “domesticated and privatized”, we can link his ideas of men and women in the private and public spheres as possibly being related to ignorance of men in general, the unfair demonization of women everywhere, and the social ills underpinning the current idea of love. The latter being a criticism of the Church’s treatment of women since Eve in the Genesis of The Bible, Criseyde was undeniably a fickle woman – her inevitable betrayal of Troilus for the more convenient arms of the Greek Diomede leaving no room for argument on the subject. One Andrew Hadfield, in an essay entitled “Reading Beyond and Behind the Lines” from Consuming Narratives, says that Chaucer “deliberately exposes some of the more pernicious effects of patriarchy and offers them up for critique”. Furthermore, he accounts for the demonization of women saying that “monstrosity, of course, is not the preserve of women, but of those discourses which define them as such” (Hadfield 179). In other words, Chaucer is not himself saying that women are fickle, all he can be said to be guilty of is criticizing the discourses in which women rely on to construct themselves within and outside of the public sphere; the role models of Isolde and Guinevere being more than inefficient. Chaucer thinks men –the ruling sex – are ignorant because they allow a chivalric code to be acted out by the upper classes and imitated by the lower ones; ignorant to the fact that the code is doing more harm than anything. Not only did it put more power into the hands of already misguided women, according to Gwendolyn Morgan in Medieval Balladry and the Courtly Tradition, it also “provided a justification for the feudal system” and bred envy as “the new urban middle class adopted its manners and ideals in their attempt to gain respectability” (Morgan 12). To Chaucer, not only was the code flawed, but so were the men who nurtured it and brought it to prominence. Therefore, as both men and women of every class acted out the roles of hero and heroine in an attempt to bring the love of the story books to life, they corrupted the ideas of gender and love so deeply that the effects are felt to this very day.

Chaucer’s satire on chivalry is a criticism of the public sphere, social institutions, and how they distort the private and personal spheres of life. He found the people of his era too encumbered by the so-called rules of propriety put forth by the aristocracy. He lamented the sight of every new man who pursued love with a set of rules in mind. He sympathized with women who were told by the highest authorities that they were the cause of the fall of man into the world of sin, and thus destined to live as secondary to men for all time. Above all still, Chaucer commiserated those who thought love could work under the restraints of code of chivalry and perhaps called for its very refinement.

Works Cited

Aers, David. Staley, Lynn. Powers of the Holy. Univeristy Park: The University of

Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. from The Riverside Chaucer. Ed Larry Benson & F.N. Robinson. Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Hadfield, Andrew. “Reading Between and Beyond the Lines” Consuming Narrative.

Ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy & Teresa Walters. Cardiff: University of Wales, 2002.

Pp. 178-179.

Morgan, Gwendolyn A. Medieval Balladry and the Courtly Tradition. New York: Peter

Lang,1993.

Riddy, Felicity. “Henryson’s Testament of Cressid” Chaucer to Spenser. Ed. Derek

Pearsall. Blackwell Publishers: Massachusets, 1999. Pp. 285.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Deep See Diving Poets

Romantic Poets Class…not the romance you think it is, this stuff is from the Romantic Period, there is a difference.


EN 294

M. Moore

29 March 2005

Deep Sea Diving Poets

To find the most spectacular and rare things in the ocean, whether they be forms of aquatic life or ancient shipwrecks containing priceless treasures, a diving team must prepare to go deeper into the abyss of the water than it ever has before. Things discovered there are usually spoken of as having unimaginable beauty because they are so rarely seen and appreciated. Just as divers have to delve deep within the ocean to find the most valuable treasures, so do poets tap into something sublime to get their message across. Some poets are more straight forward than others, relaying their intentions through precise language that can be easily grasped and understood. These would be the divers that limit their expeditions to the backyard pool. Conversely, just as there are those adventurous deep-sea divers, there exist poets who mask the meaning of their poems in heavily colorful and sometimes entirely metaphorical terms. Percy Shelley’s is one such author and “The Cloud” is one such poem. It would be simple minded and down right lazy for one to conclude after reading this poem that it is actually about a cloud and the water cycles of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation. This essay aims to prove, through sequential dissection of each stanza, that what Percy Shelley’s “The Cloud” is actually about is exposing the illusions of birth and death as beginning and ending.

The cloud in this poem is an autonomous being; referring to itself in the first person through all six stanzas. The reader’s very first impression of the cloud is one that depicts a being with the power to give and nurture life. From its “wings are shaken/ the dews that waken/” what Percy calls “sweet buds” and what the reader can identify as a metaphor for a sort of embryonic encasement that is brought out of stasis by the life-giving cloud (lines 5-6). With line nine’s third repetition of the word ‘I’ and the ensuing third proclamation of powerful ability, the reader starts to relate this boasting cloud to another seemingly all powerful being; God. In lines one through eight the cloud bore a countenance of a nurturing mother, bringing much needed sustenance to flowers and their buds, or, as the reader may see it, mothers and their children – a link Shelley must have wanted the reader to make with his line about buds being “rocked to rest on their mother’s breast” (line 7). This care-giving image is immediately contrasted with the destructive side of the cloud who gloats in its ability to “wield the flail of the lashing hail,/ And whiten the green plains under,/ And then again…dissolve it in rain, And laugh as [it passes] in thunder” (lines 9-12). At first glance, these lines may just resemble an artful description of the changing seasons. Looking closer, reading over, and viewing the first stanza as a whole, the reader can, if at all familiar with The Bible, analogously place these lines next to God’s famous Alpha and Omega speech from Revelations. This cloud has the ability to bring life and death, and it appears to take pleasure in displaying its awesome abilities in both ways while disregarding those who are consequently affected by its tyrannical rule over the terrain. After reading the first stanza, the readers are left with the impression that the cloud knows something we do not; its aptness for both creation and destruction hints that perhaps it does not take these things too seriously.

The cloud then appears less God-like in the following stanzas, attributing its travels “over Earth and Ocean” to a pilot called Lightning (line 21). Shelley’s “delight in scientific discoveries and speculations” is put forth in this poem as he attempts to deify this cloud, the Earth, and the Ocean as his own personal way of making sense of the world (Abrams 699). He thinks that lightning is “lured by the love of the genii that move/ In the depths of the purple sea;” (lines 23-24). Deconstructing this line we can uncover many things. For one, the cloud has lost, or been stripped of the ultimate power it seemed to have in the first stanza. No longer does its “lashing hail” seem all that intimidating or God-like with the appearance of lightning as its pilot; director; or boss. Even then, lightning is not ultimately in charge because it is being attracted by the love of geniuses. The sudden shift in apparent meaning of this poem at this juncture proves the editors statement that “Shelley in fact possessed a complex and energetically inquisitive intelligence that never halted at a fixed mental position; his writings reflect stages in a ceaseless exploration” (Abrams 700). So the question remains, what was Shelley beginning to explore in these lines? The meaning seemed certain in the first stanza – in at least that the reader could make some easy analogies – but in the second Shelley includes another player, lightning; the cloud’s pilot, who is in turn controlled, in that it is attracted to, the love of geniuses. But what is the love of geniuses? Other than being an alternative form to plural form of the word genius, according to Collier’s Dictionary, genii could be one of three things: a guardian spirit, as of a person or place; either of two warring spirits, one good and one evil, assumed to be fighting for control over one’s fate; or a supernatural being; spirit; jinn. Further more, the Latin word ‘genius’ translates as a talent or inclination. Putting the facts together – we know that the cloud, the earth, the ocean, and the lightning (along with the sun, moon, and other aspects of the natural world in later stanzas) are portrayed as gods; that the lightning guides the cloud – one can conclude that the love of the genii is “The Spirit” moving around “in the depths of the purple sea”, a place to which only the most imaginative minds dare travel, and that the degree of love of this Spirit determines where and when the lightning will strike (line 28).

To put it more clearly, Shelley seems to be saying that poets draw their brilliant ideas from a repository deep within the imaginative scope of the human psyche, and that they are capable of this because they love the realm from whence these ideas came. Examining the fact that this sea, or psychic storage area for The Spirit, is called purple and that those who swim in it lure the deified pilot called lighting, it can be surmised that those who dive in this sea are considered royalty – purple being the traditional color related to monarchs – and just as lightning rarely strikes the earth, so is inspiration infrequently conveyed as brilliant as it seems in ones own mind. Shelley certainly regarded himself and his contemporaries in a high light for being able to achieve such levels of aesthetic sublimity. Simultaneously, Shelley gives the impression that he is lamenting the fact that lightning never strikes the same point twice. His cause for sadness appears to be his realization that when lightning does strike it can bring beautiful results, but that after it does it is hard or impossible even to regain the that divine inspiration without more divine intervention; the effects of the lightning strike wearing off as time passes or “dissolving in the rains” (line 30). Shelley echoes his melancholy and that of William Wordsworth in “To Wordsworth”, where he says “Poet of Nature, thou has wept to know/ That things depart which never may return;/ Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow,/ Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn” (lines 1-4). In “The Cloud” Shelley offers a type of consolation for this fleeting glory, stating simple that “the Spirit he loves remains” (line 28).

In the third and fourth stanzas the Sun, Moon, and stars continue this consolatory work, letting the inhabitants of the Earth below know that they are there, watching over them and awaiting their return to the immutable world. The interpretation that forces of nature are watching over us comes from the third stanza’s depiction of a eagle on the “jag of a mountain crag” being bathed in the sunlight (line 35), the fourth stanza’s illustration of “that orbed maiden” peaking through the cloud and making way for the stars which are reflected in the very same sea through which the genii swim (line 45), and stanza five’s description of a beautiful rainbow that makes the Earth laugh and smile. The construal that all the inhabitants of the earth are somehow part of the natural forces around them comes entirely from the sixth and final stanza; which holds, as will be shown, the true meaning of this poem. Shelley conveys romantic ideas with lines like “Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,/ The Spirit he loves remains,” (line 28); hinting to Shelley’s preoccupation with neo-Platonist and Plato’s view of cosmic love being a force that is immutable and a natural adhesive for all things within the universe. Like his romantic contemporaries, Shelley believed that it was the imagination that told us the truth about life. His imagination told him that no one ever really dies and his proof for this fact was seen in nature. Just as a cloud could one day be a large mass, the next it could have disappeared from the sky entirely, but it is not dead, for as the cloud says itself “I cannot die” (line 76). The cloud then parallels its disappearing and reappearing act to that of a “child from the womb” and “a ghost from the tomb”, saying that it will always “arise, and unbuild it again” (lines 83-84). Like the Law of Conservation energy states, energy is constant; it cannot be created or destroyed; it merely passes from one form to the next. Being well-read in all arenas, Shelley was undoubtedly aware of this principle when he wrote this poem and used it as the main theme of the work.

This poem acts as the final consolation for those who like Wordsworth once did, began to lament their mortality and their ephemeral gusto for life’s pleasures. It is really about the next stages of existence past the one we know here on Earth. The poem suggests that birth is not the beginning and that death is not the end; that we were somewhere before our birth and that we will be somewhere after our death. Exactly where we were is left up to the thinking-man’s only diving equipment: his imagination.

Works Cited

Shelley, Percey. “The Cloud”, “To Wordsworth”. The Norton Anthology of English

Literature. Vol. 2A The Romantic Period (7th Edition). Abrams, M.H. et al (eds).

W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, 200.