Semester Reflections on Poetry- 3 mins
This semester, I took a course on lyric poetry with Peter Sacks, one of the most sensitive and perceptive professors I’ve had. I asked Sacks how he got into poetry. He said that he set out in his early days to work in medicine; but, growing up in apartheid South Africa, human injustices perplexed and troubled him. He knew that at his core, he wanted to more deeply understand the human condition. And for that, he turned to poetry.
What struck me about him was his sensitivity and eloquence. Sensitivity, in the sense that he feels every word, carefully attuning himself to its impact. By bringing poems like The Armadillo and Hap into our emotional awareness, he inspired us to feel deeply on issues in the surrounding world, turning apathy into indignant anger or gentle affection: anything but indifference. Eloquence, in the sense that his words are strung together with such precision to illustrate subtle and layered concepts. To him, words hold a bewitching power, evidenced by the countless poems internalized into his being and the tattered, worn book of poetry he brings to class.
In our first section, our TF recited the following Emily Dickinson poem:
As if I asked a common alms-
And in my wondering hand,
A stranger pressed a kingdom-
And I—bewildered stand—
As if I asked the Orient
Had it for me a Morn?
And it sh’d lift it’s purple dikes
And flood me with the Dawn!
After he recited it, I had no idea what the poem meant—he might as well not have even recited it, I was so lost.
But he explained: if we open ourselves up to the poems we read, really trying to understand them, we too can lift up the dikes and let its contents flood over us. And I believe that’s true, with anything in life. A willingness to take something in—to lose yourself in a wonderful poetic metaphor, the climax of a musical masterpiece, or a calm moment alone—is one of the best parts of being human.
People are much like poems: there is so much depth and compression behind every complexion. The poetic element of humans is what delights and fascinates me, and it’s why I cherish intimate, one-on-one interactions. Behind every item of clothing we hide behind, every word we craft, every decision we make, lies the complexity and contradictions found in poetry.
We surveyed a thousand years of poetry. Over the years, the poetic form has shifted from ballads to sonnets to odes to free verse, but the human element has always remained the same: the desire to love and be loved, to remember and be remembered, and to bring something that matters into light. Poetry, from its earliest form to today, is connection. Connection to ourselves, to others, and to the surrounding world.
This class, combined with long conversations with great friends, helped clarify my life purpose: to see the world in a new way, and to share that with others. We will die, and we will die again when no one remembers us, and what then? What matters is that we have explored the various shades and corners of our mind. To me, the most important element of life is perspective. We may forget everything that happened to us as we age; the details will fade, but our perspective is built upon how everything we’ve ever known has made its impression on us. It’s why I was drawn to space exploration at a young age: contemplating the vastness of the universe brings a new perspective of our life on earth. It’s why I love art of all forms, and why I’m compelled to explore challenging questions and build things that didn’t exist before. Although my interests have and will continue to change, this fundamental desire to challenge and expand perspectives will always be at the forefront of my mind.