Friday, February 19, 2010

On Being in Over Our Heads

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
--Shakespeare, Sonnet 64

A hand-lettered copy of Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 64 hung on the wall just below the second-floor landing of the house I grew up in.  I read it over and over for years and barely understood a word.  In fact, because of the calligraphy, I mistook all the "I"s for "3"s, and read, "When 3 have seen by Time's fell hand defaced".  I still have to catch myself.

But it was wonderfully mysterious and beautiful, and not understanding it did nothing to lower my respect for poetry.  In a way, maybe it became something to aspire to.  Many things about the adult world may have seemed boring to me, but that blue-and-green-illuminated poem in the heavy silver frame sure wasn't.  Somebody respected those words.  They were good enough to hang on a wall like a piece of artwork.  When I stopped on the stairs and read them it felt like I was reading some sort of magical incantation.

I think it's okay to be in over our heads sometimes.  Certainly it is appropriate to have literature, music and art geared towards children.  But if we leave them there with the "kid" stuff and nothing else, I think they're missing something.  Let them find a big art book and bring it home from the library.  Let them read over your shoulder.  Let them pick a classical CD just for the cover.  Let them dabble in the mystery a little before they go back to their age-appropriate materials. 

How about you?  Was there a piece of music you listened to that you loved but didn't know why?  A book you read even though you didn't understand it?  A piece of artwork you were drawn to but couldn't make sense of? 


  1. LOVE this post, and yes, I'm often overwhelmed and over my head with art, music, or literature!!


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