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07/26/2012

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Brad Cokelet

Hi Marcus,

In trying times like yours, perhaps it would help to read some Stoic or Buddhist philosophy. Seneca, for example, can offer some strategies for engaging with our (intellectually unendorsed) emotional responses in an intelligent way while encouraging us to to be realistic about the limits that most of us face when it comes to emotional self-governance.

These texts can also encourage us to take an intellectual interest in our responses to the situation, and, arguably, taking up that sort of perspective can undercut or mitigate the forms of identification with emotional responses that lead to avoidable misery.

In a similar vein, I find solace in poems that focus on mortality and which help us take up a detached perspective. Here is one of my favorites in that vein:

This Pleasing Anxious Being
by Richard Wilbur

I

In no time you are back where safety was,
Spying upon the lambent table where
Good family faces drink the candlelight
As in a manger scene by de La Tour.
Father has finished carving at the sideboard
And Mother's hand has touched a little bell,
So that, beside her chair, Roberta looms
With serving bowls of yams and succotash.
When will they speak, or stir? They wait for you
To recollect that, while it lived, the past
Was a rushed present, fretful and unsure.
The muffled clash of silverware begins,
With ghosts of gesture, with a laugh retrieved,
And the warm, edgy voices you would hear:
Rest for a moment in that resonance.
But see your small feet kicking under the table,
Fiercely impatient to be off and play.

II

The shadow of whoever took the picture
Reaches like Azrael's across the sand
Toward grownups blithe in black-and-white, encamped
Where surf behind them floods a rocky cove.
They turn with wincing smiles, shielding their eyes
Against the sunlight and the future's glare,
Which notes their bathing caps, their quaint maillots,
The wicker picnic hamper then in style,
And will convict them of mortality.
Two boys, however, do not plead with time,
Distracted as they are by what?--perhaps
a whacking flash of gull wings overhead--
While off to one side, with his back to us,
A painter, perched before his easel, seeing
The marbled surges come to various ruin,
Seeks out of all those waves to build a wave
That shall in blue summation break forever.

III

Wild, lashing snow, which thumps against the windshield
Like earth tossed down upon a coffin lid,
Half clogs the wipers, and our Buick yaws
On the black roads of 1928.
Father is driving, Mother, leaning out,
Tracks with her flashlight beam the pavement's edge,
And we must weather hours more of storm
To be in Baltimore for Christmastime.
Of the two children in the back seat, safe
Beneath a lap robe, soothed by jingling chains
And by their parents' pluck and gaiety,
One is asleep. The other's half-closed eyes
Make out at times the dark hood of the car
Plowing the eddied flakes, and might foresee
The steady chugging of a landing craft
Through morning mist to the bombarded shore,
Or a deft prow that dances through the rocks
In the white water of the Allagash,
Or, in good time, the bedstead at whose foot
The world will swim and flicker and be gone.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for this, Brad, particularly the poem. I've never read any Seneca. I'll give it a shot.

Chike Jeffers

This is a great post, and a great blog. As a junior faculty member, I greatly appreciate the very idea of the blog and I think it is coming along wonderfully.

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