Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden

I’ve long been fascinated by this picture, statue, or representation of “Death and the Maiden” as it relates to Freemasonry. I first saw the picture when I became a Freemason, in one of the many books that I was able to pour through. Masonic art in general has fascinated me because it is, generally, not only beautiful but also weird; it was weird in a way that made you ask “why does that bird sit on the oddly-shaped stone” or “why is that man holding the woman’s hair while carrying a scythe?” It spoke to me, begging me to figure out what it was trying to tell me. Still, today, I can sit for hours and look at paintings, engravings, and statues and wonder what their creators meant to impart.

Death and the Maiden isn’t a new concept. Artists as far back as Duerer, Baldung, and Beham in the Middle Ages were showing that “all human beauty is ended in death (Beham.)” Shubert and Dorothea Tanning created at least two pieces of their art around the concept of Death and The Maiden. Yet, the pictures attributed to the Freemason’s ideas of Death and the Maiden seem to be very specific and rich in symbolism.

The Freemason’s “Death and the Maiden” seems to be attributed to a 19th Century Freemason named Jeremy Cross. A student of Webb and follower of Preston, he taught and lectured on Freemasonry extensively at the beginning of the 19th Century. General knowledge about him seems to be all we can find, according to Phoenix Masonry scholars and articles, but it seems the idea of the entire composition is attributed to his genius.

The composition has been recreated by others, but the basic design is as you see it above. Some have the maiden holding specific tools with an evergreen and others have her holding a piece of Acacia and an urn. The latter is a modern invention as cremation is a relatively modern invention. However, for my purposes for this post, we will still talk about it. It’s important to reflect on how symbols may change but meaning remains the same – and in this case, the emphasis is to see death on one hand, and everlasting life on the other.

Ostensibly, the winged figure behind the Maiden is Death. Shown as an old man, long-bearded, with wings and a scythe, he seems to be, as one author put it, removing the tangles from her hair. When one looks at this picture, it appears that he is about to cut her hair; taking a purely Judaeo-Christian point of view, from the inventor, the inference is that this is about the moment before death, before life is cut short. Tearing of hair and cutting hair were signs of grief and distress to the Israelites, and even implied the whole destruction of a people. Women’s hair was grown long to distinguish them from men but hair overall was a sign of health, virility, and life. That Death’s scythe is not raised implies that death of the physical world is not imminent but it is on the horizon. Death prepares the youth for what may come at any time, as implied by the hourglass sitting beside the figures. As one is born and grows, Death is always behind them, preparing.

The broken column seems to be the main figure of the composition, and implies that it is a symbol of the Freemason who is viewing the piece. Why not “every man?” Because columns are, symbolically, the individual Freemason. Freemasons are columns to uphold that “temple not made with hands.” Freemasons are there to hold up the ideals for others to emulate and must be strong and sturdy enough to do so. As we age, we start to crumble, become weak, and eventually our “bent backs” signify the end of our contributions to Humanity. Again, the broken column sitting beside its foundation shows that while Death is not ready to strike, we must prepare for it by the time our moment draws near. Hence, what appears to be a book of sacred knowledge, of whatever kind speaks to us, sits beneath the Maiden’s hands. She is studying intently, in quiet contemplation and thoughtfulness. She is not distraught or upset. Both figures are somber and still and accepting.

Then what is the Maiden? The Maiden seems to represent the essence of Life, the Will, Wisdom, and Beauty that we all can tap into to do whatever work calls us. This work is not fixing plumbing or diagnosing code or mopping floors; this work is the Work that is remembered when our time is done, in the Service of Humanity. Someone may remember that we always cleaned up the dishes or swept floors, and in that memory they see the love and dedication we had to a principle. That principle might be as material as “cleanliness” or it might be more virtuous, such as loyalty or dedication, sacrifice and service. The floor will get dirty again but the memory of the work we put into keeping it clean is what we bring to the world. The memory of Service to Humanity. The Maiden represents the potential we all bring with us at birth.

The most interesting of the symbols is the acacia plant. There are many, many theories regarding the use of Acacia as regards Freemasonry. I choose to take a more practical approach, beyond the poor or convoluted translations of the word and speculation as to Acaciaits use as a sacred symbol to the mystery school of Freemasonry. It is, generally, a low shrub or tree that grows in all parts of the world but appears to have originated in Africa and the Middle East. It is evergreen with watering, and is still cultivated mainly in the Middle East, Africa, and Australia for its gum. Besides being an evergreen plant and symbolizing ever lasting life, its qualities as a gum make it far more interesting in relation to Freemasonry.

Since ancient times, the gum or sap of the tree has been used as a fixative. Powdered, the sap is a powerful glue that can be ingested by humans. It is used to combine, fix together, and generally adhere human consumables; this includes things like beverages, soaps, and icings and sweets. It is also used to combine and emulsify paints, slips for ceramics, printing inks, and photography. Thus, it is used to bring together individual components into a sooth solution, able to create works of art as well as feed the human body. Weird as that may be, these attributes show it is directly related to our Work as Freemasons – to bring together, to combine into a well-oiled “machine” to nourish the body, mind, and emotions of the Human Being.

Lastly, there is the myth of Osiris’ death at the hands of his brother, Typhon, and his body being placed into a coffin, and the coffin being thrown into a river. Presumably, Osiris dies and the coffin is captured by low hanging Acacia plants by the river. Over time, the Acacia tree is cut down to create a column for a new temple, and in the cutting of the column, the body of Osiris is found by Isis and she uses her wings to breathe new life into her fallen husband. Many myths of Osiris’ death and resurrection are found, in parts or in whole, throughout literature and this is only one of those (Plutarch). What I find this particular myth explaining to me is that the physical form can be had once again, if the aspirant is understanding the nature of everlasting life and perhaps of the lessons that nature and Freemasonry have to teach us. In this, the column and the acacia seem to go hand in hand.

Thus, in one hand we have the energy of our lives holding onto the evergreen which brings us all together, and the ultimate symbol of our physical passing – the urn. In ancient cultures where the belief in the physical body’s transference to the Underworld was prevalent burning of bodies was not performed, namely China and Egypt. In general, however, bodies were burned using many methods, and the remains were sometimes kept in a funerary urn. Additionally, the remains of skeletons and internal body organs were also kept in urns as a sign of respect and reverence. The practice of cremation became even more prevalent in Western cultures after the creation of the first cremation chamber in 1873. For some, the urn is one of those symbols that is still a little vague as regards a deeper meaning. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it is simply the reminder of our physical passing, and the fact that we keep the ash-filled urns of our loved ones near us is a constant reminder of the transient nature of this mortal life.

Death and the Maiden is better for its whole than its individual parts. It is a story of humans who strive for better, only to be still chained and linked to the eventual death we all face. That the Maiden is not facing her Death but still working to better the world is hope to me. It is the hope we all bear that in our work as Builders and Creators, we have left Humanity a little better for our having been part of it. We leave behind our passions, our principles, and our virtues to be passed on to further generations of humans. Our ripples effect the ocean of Mankind. While I live, I can carry on the Work of those who have passed before me, and I hope I leave a good enough legacy that others may find their burdens lighter.


For Joy Cornell, who will always remind me to be Authentic, Passionate, Joyous, Lively, and Loyal to home and hearth. Thank you for your Light. And May Light Perpetual shine upon you, my dearest brother and friend.

Trust and Where to Find It

Trust and Where to Find It

Having just come off an ugly few weeks at work, the issue of trust has raised its ugly head. Bosses not trusting the people they hire; employees not trusting managers to look out for them; gossipers and those who malign out of jealousy or fear. The workplace seems to be the last place trust is formed. The specter of what passes for trust in the modern world of North America, well, it leaves something to be desired. Many books have been written about the subject, by various authors, from Dale Carnegie to Malcolm Gladwell.  We could talk about being a leader and being an employee ad nauseum, as most of us have performed one of those tasks in some way shape or form. We’ve talked in the last several articles about work, industry, and the idea of being a contributing member of society. We’ve also talked about the value of Social Capital. I find that many of these topics come to a very core value of trust. Where do we find it?

A friend once said that “trust can never be earned. It must be granted and only when you are ready to grant it. It’s yours to give, yours to take away. It’s not something that is a wage to be paid.” Wise words, although at the time, it didn’t seem so. It seemed judgemental and hollow. Of course we can earn someone’s trust. Can’t we? Work hard; be upright; and show our integrity. Right?

Confidence, belief, faith, and rely upon – all synonyms for trust. Yet, who creates trust? In short…we do. In our heads, in our minds, and in our hearts. Trust is a construct of our own internal making, built on ideas, expectations, and beliefs that have been gathered over the course of creating our relationships. The building of trust is a wall, brick by brick, that is made from repeated incidents that end up the way we believe they should or would end up. We’ve played out a scenario in our mind and the members of the play have participated correctly and created a lasting impression on us. The integrity and trust of these impressions is built on not  who the individuals are but to what we believe. That is, trust is in our own minds and our own reality.

In trust, both risk and reward are built in. The trust we create in our own mind, oddly enough, is the both the judge and the distributor of the decision. We need trust to be able to form relationships with people; long lasting relationships where both parties are mutually benefited by trust. Marriages, life-long friendships, even employer-employee relationships are trust built brick by brick. We might even consider that when we engage in commerce – it is an act of trust. We call AAA, and they say they will come to our aid. When that request is granted, trust has been gained. Never show up and well, trust has eroded or is gone completely. We decide in our own minds what constitutes the willful crowning of trust on a person or company; the decision lies solely within us. Trust seems to be the glue that maintains a civil and coherent society. Let’s face it – locks only keep out the honest people, yes?

0721_trustThat trust involves risk means that we place a value on trust that is above much of our common interaction with people. Having trust in something or someone can create a dependency that may be “warranted” or not. We need to see value in something in order to actually grant trust. Ergo, that value can be lost if trust is broken. We gain much when we trust – opportunities for cooperative activity, meaningful relationships, knowledge, autonomy, self-respect, and overall moral maturity. Perhaps trust itself has no value – that is, we grant trust not because we will obtain something for ourselves (and the trustee) but “just because” we find the person to be upright. Should we trust them solely out of respect for their person? If trustworthiness is a virtue, and we seek to grow it in ourselves, then doesn’t it behoove us to show respect for another simply because we see they are trustworthy? Shouldn’t others afford us the same quarter? “Trust would be a sign of respect for others if it were an attitude of optimism about the trustee’s character: that is, if it assumed that virtue resided within this person’s character. Moreover, trust that has intrinsic value of this sort presumably must be justified. If optimism about the person’s character was inappropriate, then the respect would be misplaced and the intrinsic value would be lost.” *Article on plato.stanford.edu here*

The author of the article noted above continues on from the quote above to drop the idea of the virtue of trust as simply respect for another person. However, I think it does merit talking about. The term “authenticity” sprang to mind while thinking about this and I think that is where the core of trust begins. Authenticity is not being false or an imitation of something else; it is “worth of acceptance or belief; true to one’s own personality, spirit, and nature.” Being authentic is first knowing about yourself – who are you and how do you show up in the world. Once you know that, being authentic is about letting no one sway you from that way of being. It’s not about conforming – it’s about being who you are regardless of the situation. There was an explosion of authenticity articles and movements between 2010 and 2014; what’s interesting to note is that we’re not, as a culture, talking about authenticity now. Is it because we have new leadership that, in their authenticity, are cultivating chaos? Or is it because the ability to be authentic is too hard or scary, and the movement is gone? Culturally and sociologically, it would be interesting to reflect on why there was that surge in “being authentic” and whence that movement has gone. However, not right now, another time… If you want to read more on authenticity, check out the plato.stanford.edu site which houses many articles both on trust (referenced above) and on authenticity.

All of these concepts seem tied together: autonomy, self-realization, authenticity, and trust. While the core of creating trust is authenticity, there has to be a certain willingness for the trustee to put a personal stake in the relationship. You can be as authentic as a fresh baked apple pie but if someone else has inherent trust issues, you’re never going to trust1be invited to dinner. As the cliche goes, “It’s not about you. It’s about me.” I feel as if I am in constant discovery of myself so to be authentic for me is to be present. As long as I am thoughtful and searching my feelings with honesty, that is as authentic as I can be. Like everyone else, I change my feelings and mind, as I learn more about myself and knowledge about the world. Am I still worthy of trust if my authenticity is fluid? I hope so.

Two of the core values, in my mind, about Freemasonry, are “authenticity” and “trust.” Like any society of men and women where people to come together for a common cause, Freemasons have a structure and codified ways of acting and being together. We are separate from the outside world because of the Fraternity. We don’t treat our fellow members with the same casual demeanor that we would the people we work with or classmates or even some of our family members. From the onset, we must consider the people that are bringing us into the fraternity with some measure of trust. This makes the vetting process not only important but critical; not for the Lodge or Order but for ourselves and for the aspirant. Freemasons themselves are under the microscope of the aspirant’s eye – will we meet their expectations?

The Virtue of Industry

The Virtue of Industry

In the modern era, we hear the word “industry” and tend to think of large brick buildings, chimneys billowing smoke, workers trudging in through large iron gates to manipulate gears and cogs to produce… something. We might think more progressively of large steel buildings of assembly lines of safety-goggle-bedecked workers, busily whirring a drill gun or acetylene torch as some piece of car-part moves slowly towards its birth. We have to thank the industrial revolution for the transformation of industry from something denoted a type of work to something that denoted a much larger vision of work itself. 

The term “industry” was first noted in the Middle Ages in France, coming from the Latin industria, which means “diligence, purpose.”  Mackey noted in his Masonic Dictionary, that the “Medieval Freemasons thought much about and had a wide knowledge of the forms of work. There are some fifty-two of these.” Mackey goes on to reflect that Industry is different from industry, in that industry is just one of the forms of work, “it being the most dramatic, but not the most important.” He provides examples of other forms of work, such as the worker who collects all the important bits and puts them together to produce a “thing,” or the assembly line type of producing goods. Industry, with the lowercase “i” is, to quote Mackey again, “industry was the employment of a very large number of men, tens of thousands in many20-Aerial-view-of-Industrial-Roubaix-ca-1900-650x551 instances, on one undertaking at one place and at the same time, and they might or might not use machinery.” In other words, a factory is industry but building a skyscraper is also “industry.”

Industry with the capital “I” is more in keeping with the idea of “diligence” and “purpose.” Much as there is a difference between a virtue and Virtue, there appears to be a difference between industry and Industry. It’s funny that sociologically, we classify societies as either “pre-industrial” or post-industrial. Whenever a place has an “industrial revolution,” which usually indicates the influx of machinery to replace human work of hands, we call that an “industrial society.” This may not be incorrect; yet, it smacks of some kind of idyllic life, lazily milking cows, getting up with the sun and sleeping at sunset. It seems to reflect a more pastoral, almost aristocratic sort of life prior to the onslaught of manufacturing as a way of life. A pre-industrial life was generally agrarian and had limited production, with artisans crafting limited items over longer periods of time. In general, communications took place within smaller communities, and villages were far more common than today’s large city and urban living. One might automatically assume a feudal society, with a Lord providing shelter and protection to his subjects, and his subjects providing him the substance to live. While this is true for a good deal of the European Middle Ages, that is only a small part of human history. Even after the advent of the creation of “cities” 10,000 years ago, humans have, for the most part centered around their small community, generally never being bothered by outside events.

To think that this way of life did not have industry is backward; however, it appears that they had was far more Industry than post-Industrial Revolution humankind. There is a certain value in working hard and achieving success into which we put physical labor. Horace said “life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.”  We often speak that platitude to our children or co-workers without really understanding that hard work is more than just “working a lot.” Thoreau “wished to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well.” While Thoreau might have been hinting at more of the “purpose” side of Industry, Horace is leaning more toward diligence. They both have one thing in common: the influence of Industry on the human psyche and perhaps, soul. [As a weird aside: an interesting definition of courage is “learned industriousness.”]

One of the most interesting, and perhaps hard to grasp, ideas that we should understand is that the concept of “work” is a fairly modern Western invention. Most cultural and social anthropologists today note that modern people tend to see work as something that obtains value, or has a “yardstick” attached to it, as Erik Schwimmer notes. However, ancient Greek and Roman authors, such as Cicero (Officiis), Xenophon (Cyropaedia), and Horace (Odes),  looked at work in more moral and political terms; anyone who would be part of an “industry” for a salary or specie was little more than a slave and not ever worthy of  citizenship status. However, if you worked on your own farm or in your own workshop, and brought those goods to the benefit of the community, were seen as an industrious person, a hard worker, and one whose work should be praised. Traders who brought far off goods to the community, and traded them for the communities goods were praised as industrious and good. While the origin of wealth via industriousness was important, it was where that wealth was applied that made all the difference. Community was everything, as was the freedom of depending on others to provide for family. From the time of Ancient Greece to Medieval Europe, very little had changed, save for the advent of larger cities. Still, the agrarian “industriousness” held true.

While working for the wealth of the community and not having to depend on others for your livelihood might seem at odds, they are not. Interestingly, the Freemasons utilized the symbol of the beehive for just such a concept, and Lodges work mainly in the same format. An interesting article on the Beehive in Freemasonry, reprinted from a Masonic research society (AQC, 1923) is located here, on the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon’s website.  While the concept industry and the beehive (and their associated bees) may seem to some a Christian or Mormon symbol, its use denoting “Industry” appears to date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Like a beehive, a Freemasonic Lodge is a community of people who have gathered and work for common purpose: to continue to provide an opportunity for others to enjoy Freemasonic teachings. Through diligence, purpose, and Industry, the group prospers. The wealth of the Lodge, the knowledge and learning of working together – is the honey of the beehive. This honey is shared in the community; thus, by diligence and purpose is individual, and his connections, nourished. Another aspect of this beehive concept is that while the individual may gain “wealth” from his Freemasonic work, it is not the reason that the group works together. In other words, the question is not what the Lodge and Freemasonry will do for you – it is what do you, the diligent and purposeful worker, bring to Freemasonry? The bees do their work, reflective of their offices and attention to the quality of the work, and the whole is rewarded. This is not an easy concept for our modern minds, which have been trained to that work is “trading time for money” or “talent for money.” Work is drudgery and work is mundane. Perhaps what we modern humans should focus on is the idea of Industry, not of industry. Perhaps our ancestors were not so off base when it came to the virtue of Industry.


For the reference on Erik Schwimmer, please go to this link: http://ehrafworldcultures.yale.edu/ehrafe/citation.do?method=citation&forward=browseAuthorsFullContext&id=oj23-027 . Referenced 4/2/2017 

Further interesting information about workers in the ancient world can be found in the article, “Workers of the Ancient World: Analysing Labor in Classical Antiquity,” by Arjan Zuiderhoek, found in Volume 1 Number 3 2013 of the WorkersOfTheWorld international journal. This can be referenced on Academia.edu.

Columbia: An American Goddess

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, 1883

If you were to ask the average American which mythical figure best represents the national character, most would reply with a household name: Uncle Sam. The genial yet intimidating patriarch has dominated artistic and poetic descriptions of the American nation-state for a hundred years. However there is another, more deeply ingrained avatar of the American populace, the omnipresent Columbia. Most famously depicted as the Statue of Liberty , upon which is inscribed Emma Lazarus’ poem reproduced above, Columbia was the mythical figure adopted by the founding generation of the early United States. After the defeat of the British in 1783, America found itself free from international harassment and a wide open frontier of unknowable bounty. What was needed was an icon, a symbol by which to galvanize and direct the consciousness of the American people. By the late 1790’s, Columbia was born.  Columbia quickly became the patron saint of Manifest Destiny, the doctrine of westward expansion embraced with genocidal fervor by the pioneers and politicians alike.

american_progress

Columbia advancing towards the darkness of the West, bringing light and civilization in her wake.

Columbia’s figure appears on or within many state and federal buildings constructed in the 19th century, usually cast in bronze and often pointing or facing West. She adorns the Wisconsin Capitol building, sculpted by the same Daniel Chester French who constructed the greatest rendition of Columbia in history, the 65-foot-tall Statue of the Republic commissioned for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. She reposes atop the Texas Capitol holding the sword of Justice and raising aloft a blazing golden star. She lends her name to numerous towns across America, she is the patron of Columbia University and the seat of governmental power stands in a district built in her honor: The District of Columbia.

Columbia as a symbol is far too complex and deeply-rooted to be ascribed as a creation of political machinations. Columbia is only the latest name given to a goddess who is older than recorded history and can be traced in her modern form to the early Egyptian dynasties. She has been known throughout history variously as Inanna and Ishtar by the Sumerians, Kali by the Hindus, Freya by the Norse and most notably as Isis by the ancient Egyptians. She is the goddess of love, wisdom, warfare and destiny and is venerated by all cultures as the mother of civilization. In the original

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Isis suckling the infant Horus at her left breast.

Egyptian telling of her tale, Isis is also the goddess of magic, friend of slave and aristocrat by equal measure. It was Isis that kept the veil of night cloaked about the light of wisdom and it was her name invoked in the rites and rituals of the numerous fertility cults that sprang up along the banks of the Nile. The pentagram, or five-pointed star, the primary symbol of magical and initiatory societies across the world, is the shape traced in the heavens by the transit of the planet Venus throughout the year. In this Roman context the parallels between Isis and the western conception of the Virgin Goddess in her myriad forms become starkly apparent.

She has also enjoyed considerable veneration throughout history as a figurehead of Freemasonry or as Manly Palmer Hall put it, “The Virgin of The World”. Numerous Masonic writers have expounded lengthy treatises on the Masonic symbolism inherent in the legend of Isis, it being so closely tied to the inner curriculum of Masonry. In the pre-Christian Mystery traditions, Wisdom was always depicted as feminine. In Greece, Wisdom was personified as Athena, Goddess of Knowledge and Crafts. The seven liberal arts are given female representations and the nine Muses invoked by countless artisans and artists are all of female form. For an organization with an historical opposition to the admittance of women, Freemasonry has an oddly persistent fascination with feminine representations of their Craft.

charles-mercereau-freemasonry-instructing-the-people-1875

Freemasonry Instructing The People by Charles Mercereau – 1875

It is often acknowledged that many, if not most, of the founding figures of early America were Freemasons. Could it be that this small group of men, working with the vast repository of Masonic symbolism, crafted a symbol to forge a specific path forward into the future? Is it coincidence that Columbia led the waves of settlers of the New World from ‘sea to shining sea’, transporting the light of civilization from its birth on the Eastern horizon to its maturity in the West? Though she has been subsumed in popular understanding by the withered visage of Uncle Sam, Columbia keeps constant vigil from the forgotten and overlooked corners of American history and geography, a testament to a different time. She may remain cloaked behind the veil she draws so closely to her breast yet the light of her torch still burns for those with eyes to see.

 

Therapeutic Poetry: Connecting with Words

Therapeutic Poetry: Connecting with Words

Poetry: often regarded as the domain of lofty, high-brows: difficult to understand, and even more difficult to write. In its traditional sense, it almost could be argued that poetry has lost its flare, its ability to connect. When I say traditional, I mean rhyming couplets, clear stanzas, sonnets, etc. Stuff dead people write. My response would be that that is absolute nonsense.

Poetry today is dominated by slam poetry. The outcries of the young and the broken, the abused. The neglected. Simply, those who want to be heard. Poets loudly project their stories, and through public events and the power of the internet, people everywhere can listen and appreciate. Now I mention slam poetry not because there is anything wrong with it, in fact one might say that it is the next step in the evolution of poetry.

It has become popular, and it is meant to be heard by many. Some people benefit much from it. But its purpose is to excite–it can be chaotic in its ferocity and passion.

I am not arguing for a step-back in poetic technique, but I do think that some of us could benefit from experimenting with closed form poetry–as a sort of therapeutic device. An almost zen-like state can be achieved through simple, closed poetry.

The Haiku

matsuo-bashoOnce again, I know what your probably thinking: in the first sentence you mentioned that poetry is “difficult to understand” and “difficult to write.” Poetry, in many forms is actually quite simple, at least in a basic sense. And what I am trying to push is not brilliant poetry for the masses, but private, calming poetry. Sort of like knitting or cross stitch. A mix of accomplishment as well as focus and harmony.

Consider this haiku by Matsuo Basho:

Spring going–

birds crying and tears

in the eyes of the fish

This poem comes from Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, in which he wrote based on his travels through Japan. It might be a tad intimating at first, considering that Basho is considered to be a master of the haiku, but the haiku is one of the most accessible forms of poetry.

A common technique is the first and last lines consist of five syllables, while the middle line consists of seven syllables. Anyone can do it. Many haikus have nature themes, but the syllables are variable. For example, Jack Kerouac wrote hundreds of “American haikus,” which rarely ever followed the rule. Take this one for instance:

The-Beat-Generation-007.jpg

Glow worm

sleeping on this flower–

your light’s on.

Simplicity. That’s the emphasis in these poems. They allow you to simple process the world around you, and document your experience. Poems like this allow one to condense the complexities of life into a few short lines. And I mentioned before, it can be extremely calming.

The Sonnet

Moving towards more complex poetry, one might look at the sonnet–popularized by none other than William Shakespeare. Again, sounds intimidating, but it’s not. A few more rules are required than in a haiku, and it takes more time, but it can be quite a rewarding process.

There are two main types of sonnets: the Shakespearean, consisting of three, four line stanzas, followed by a couplet (two lines), and the Italian, which is broken into two parts, an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the last six lines). Additionally, both types of sonnets follow specific rhyme schemes.

The Shakespearean: william-shakespeare-portrait11

a b a b

c d c d

e f e f

g g

The Italian:

a b b a a b b a

c d c d c d

Okay. Maybe it’s a tad more complicated than a haiku, but that’s besides the point. Once you get going, the sonnet can provide a frame for your life experience. A meticulous mosaic, simplifying the complicated and providing closer. Sometimes, the best thing for someone is a bit of restriction, some rules to provide organization for the chaos that can be life. The sonnet provides that. For example, here is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73”

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st 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 see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

In Conclusion…

Poetry allows for people of all ages to connect with the world around them, and more tradition forms like the haiku and the sonnet allow them to do it simply and privately. It can be a modest form of expression and analysis, and can be done on a personal level.

Poetry can be found in all things. Anything and everything can be poetry if the effort is put in–if the author has purpose. I argue that poetry can be used as a tool to mend, helping one understand that facets of one’s own life and connect with the nuances of others. A means to serenity and awareness, realization and unity.

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