Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some Holiday Thoughts

Well, its Thanksgiving week, and it's quiet here in town, a time for reflection.

A bit less thankful, perhaps

In a general sense, Thanksgiving is a rather odd holiday. Why we can act so 'thankfully' when what we have is bounty our forebears took by force from the original Americans, and when what we have is immorally excessive compared to much of the world. How some can think we're thanking God for providing us with more than others (even within our own nation) is also rather curious. Why aren't we saying a few words of guilt and culpability, rather than thanks, for the inequity of which we are the beneficiaries? Probably, even my question shows that I'm not thankful enough for the cosmic level of luck that has given me what it has.

Well, I'm not a total ingrate: if thanks is not the right emotion, I'm very happy for the meal, the warm comfort, company, family, friends, and good cheer. But it comes with more than a tinge of guilt for our collective lack of perspective.

In any case, we like to take holiday times to think about things other than genetics and evolution, or, perhaps about these same things differently. One of my favorite poets is William Wordsworth, because of his pastoral, contemplative rather than technical way of viewing Nature. Here are a couple poems that seem appropriate this time of year:

Wordsworth: contemplating Nature (hopefully not a headache from over-eating)

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room
Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

And here's one you probably read in school, but is worth reading again, and contemplating:

The world is too much with us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

We hope anyone who happens to dial into Mermaid's Tale this holiday is safe, happy, and
able to reflect on that good fortune.


Anonymous said...

You don't need to feel guilty for the crimes other people committed. You had nothing to do with them and you (or anyone else) can't help but benefit from them to some degree without asking too much of yourself.

Ken Weiss said...

True enough. My ancestors were no where near colonial Massachusetts! But to me, 'thanks' is the wrong term for appreciating the bounty some of us enjoy, that's all.

Anonymous said...

"You don't need to feel guilty for the crimes other people committed. You had nothing to do with them and you (or anyone else) can't help but benefit from them to some degree without asking too much of yourself."

Exactly. That is why I am all in favor of more drone strikes and bashing Bush for all of life's troubles.

Thinking Meat said...

Interesting thoughts, and I like the poems. It occurred to me recently how peculiar it is that a holiday that's about being thankful for what we have has become associated with over-the-top attempts to get more, especially since what we have is so lavish compared to some parts of the world.
I've also thought about things like the cynicism of celebrating Labor Day in an age when the working class is so widely exploited. I suppose it's at least as much inertia as cynicism, and I don't really know how we'd go about changing our holidays on a large scale, but it's good to think about.

Ken Weiss said...

Well put.