Thursday, January 3, 2013

Looking at some Longfellow Lines

A friend sent me the following lines from Longfellow – apparently his Mother used to sing these lines in the family kitchen when he was a child -

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints that, perhaps another,

Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

If these words were sung today how would people react – what would be the objections given the sensitivities of today.

Before doing this let’s look at the lines and give some interpretation –

S1 – apparently ‘great’ men are a fine example and we can look to them to enrich our lives – to the extent that we will be remembered long after our departure. Sublime being the personal goal – a popular word at the time these lines were written

Sublime = so awe-inspiringly beautiful as to seem almost heavenly.

S2 – and if we do follow and so enrich our lives when we are long gone we may in turn be regarded as ‘great’ and others may look to us to take heart when they are in the storm of life.

Looking at the sensitivity of today –

S1 - Great men = sexist and elitist – and who are the great – presumably those in the public eye that have been labelled great … so can we find more appropriate language, for example –

Look to those that are inspirational so we can become likewise that when we are long departed we too will be remembered.

S2 – the occupation chosen is sexist and not relevant to today … so what occupation would you choose? The occupation is not that important the shipwrecked nature of a doomed life is mort to the point … so perhaps all we need to say is something like … and maybe someone in despair will look to you and take heart.

So the two stanzas could reduce to the following prose…

Look to the lives of the inspirational that you may become likewise that when you are long departed you too will be remembered and maybe someone in despair will look to you and take heart.

This may be more acceptable language … but it is not very inspiring… not exactly poetic and not a song or something memorable! So perhaps the next step is to transform these words and thoughts into a poetic voice. So if you are feeling creative - go for it.

Here is my response to these Longfellow’s lines -

inspiring words
be inspired by the inspirational!
live by their ever-living example
that in your own life
you too may become inspirational!

and maybe somewhere someone in need
will be inspired likewise by your life
that you may be alive
in the life of another

Richard Scutter

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