Poetry - Learning and Wisdom
William Blake (1757-1827), The Fly
The English poet (pictured right) emphasizes the importance of thought:
If thought is life,
And strength & breath,
And the want
Of thought is death;
Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live
or if I die.
(last two verses)
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Where The Mind Is Without
The Indian poet (pictured right) describes his ideal society based upon learning and wisdom:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Walt Whitman (1819-92), Stronger Lessons (1867)
Included in his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, the American poet (pictured right) says
that you can learn from anyone, friend or foe:
Have you learn'd lessons only of those who admired you, and
were tender with you, and stood aside for you?
Have you not learn'd great lessons from those who reject you,
and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with
Contempt, or dispute the passage with you?
Walt Whitman,Song of the Open Road
This poem in the Leaves of Grass says that wisdom comes from the soul and life’s
experiences, not formal education:
Here is the test of wisdom;
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools;
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it, to another not having it;
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities, and is content,
Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the excellence of things;
Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul.
(part of verse 6)
Whitman says a few lines later in verse 7 that the soul (and so wisdom) is enriched by “ever provoking
John Keats (1795-1821), Ode on a Grecian Urn
The English poet (pictured right) finishes the poem by emphasizing that beauty is vital to truth and wisdom:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
(last two lines)
John Keats, Endymion (1818)
In this poem Keats continues his praise of beauty:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower [home] quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
(first five lines)
A. E. Housman (1859-1936), When I Was One-and-Twenty
The English poet (pictured right) says that learning is difficult (particularly when you’re young) but
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
"The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue."
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true”.
Thomas Hood (1799-1845), I Remember, I Remember
The English poet (pictured right) describes how difficult it is to learn and find wisdom as a child and an
I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.
Piet Hein (1905-96),The Road to Wisdom
The Danish poet (pictured right) says that wisdom depends on continuous learning from experience:
The road to wisdom? Well, it's plain
And simple to express:
and err again,
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92), To
The English poet (pictured right) praises beauty, good and knowledge:
That Beauty, Good, and Knowledge, are three sisters
That doat [dote] upon each other, friends to man,
Living together under the same roof,
And never can be sunder'd without tears.
(selected four lines)
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), The Rock
The American-born British poet (pictured right) distinguishes information from knowledge (wisely selecting
relevant information to solve life's problems):
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T.S. Eliot The Dry Salvages (1941)
In this poem Eliot says that saintly behaviour and wisdom come from love and
....But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint -
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
Roald Dahl (1916-90),Television
The English poet (pictured right) says that reading is much better for your brain than television.
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
(last 14 lines)
Robert Browning Hamilton, Along the Road (1946)
The American poet says you can learn more from sorrow than pleasure.
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), Little Gidding (the last of his Four Quartets) -
The American-born British poet (pictured right) emphasizes the importance of inquiry and
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.