Personification helps writers or speakers to emphasize how we may understand non-human entities. The technique creates visualization and sympathy. For some of us, it also reflects the reality that Spirit is in all, and as such, we relate to other entities, whether they be plant, animal, or mineral, in a way that makes sense to us.
Dr. Angelou personifies Nature in this powerful, evocative work. Why would she? Well, I wish I could have had the opportunity to enjoy a meal with her and speak about such ideas, but I did not. Perhaps she did such because in the normal course of events, we do not pay much attention, certainly political, ethical, or sociological attention, to rocks, rivers, or trees. They’re just there, we assume. However, giving them voice as Dr. Angelou does allows these elements of Nature the ability to evoke extraordinary human concerns — a very Romantic characteristic.
The Rock cries, which indicates an alarm, a call to attention and awakening for us to take stock of where we have been and where we are headed. The River sings in melodious beauty that allures and moves us to observe the inherent beauty in everyone. Music appeals to our emotions, and as the reader becomes enrapt in the song, we are suddenly directed to observe the ugly way we have polluted the River’s shores, symbolic of our society’s polluting the dignity of humanity with bigotry and hatred borne of ego. Such lower level energies produce even lower ego energies, which will always result in more unfavorable issues like war and destruction. Our history is littered with these as reflected by the littered banks of the River.
Maya Angelou is not interested in the explanation of the poetic, literary technique of personification. She chose it to leverage power to call us to awaken, and if we are to have any hope of movement towards the type of progress that will yield significance, fulfillment, and meaningful challenges and enrichment of this planet in all three kingdoms — plant, animal, and mineral — then we must hear Nature herself address us. We, apparently, have not had as much sense as the Rock, River, and Tree.
Here is my revised article from my original post on social media and my website.
What Can We Learn from a River’s Song?: Maya Angelou’s Personification of Nature
As I continue with this poem of Maya Angelou’s, so reminiscent of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and British Romantics in many ways, I wonder at the message this poem conveys, still applicable, now more than ever. The choice to personify elements of Nature like “the Rock, the River, the Tree” reveals Spirit-essence in all. The energies of life beat, vibrate, radiate from all in this Universe and wait to be tapped for their wisdom. We raise our minds, souls, and bodies to perceive these frequencies by choosing to hear Heart, discover Self, and create Purpose — and humbly learn. Here are my thoughts and response to you, Dr. Angelou, about your profound words of love and light.
From the Rock’s testimony of the past, pronouncements and observations of the present, and prophecy of the future, as we read we seamlessly slide into the voice of the River: “Across the wall of the world, / A river sings a beautiful song…” The River offers her shores, a place to consider her lament.
Not many of us consider the unnatural boundaries humanity has traced on the face of globes and maps, those shapes and entities defined by us as nations; somehow to Ego, they offer a sense of security in separation, arbitrary lines that many interpret as “This far and no further; we are better than you.” Quite often, rivers demarcate the borders: “Each of you a bordered country / Delicate and strangely made proud / Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.” One of the functions of Ego is to isolate. The existence of nations indicates Ego-energy. Their existence illustrates how people, mostly men, deliberately chose Ego and denied Heart in establishing distinctions that create discord and, ultimately, war.
April 18, 2019
I continue my offerings over the poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which Maya Angelou composed for the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993. She uses elements of Nature to speak to us, and she begins with the message of the rock.
Yesterday, we were invited by the rock to stand on its back to gain perspective about history and how our present will become history. We are asked, in essence, “What is your purpose?”
The rock offers its wisdom to us as it continues speaking.
We have the ability to reason, being on a scale of creation “only a little lower than / The angels.” Our natural state here is one of peace, acceptance, kindness, and compassion in the face of difficulties. We have the ability to work through challenges and resolve conflicts to the end of freedom, freedom to love one another, to live in light, and create as divinity.
The alarm of our doom, as the mastodon’s did, billows around us, joining that of the dust of ages past. The rock observes that we “have crouched too long in / The bruising darkness, / Have lain too long / Face down in ignorance.” In the ignorance of Ego, we have forsaken Heart-energy of love, light, peace, creative enthusiasm, empathy, compassion, and all those emotions and qualities of the higher frequencies of life. When we remain willingly ignorant, we lose knowledge, energy, and dignity. We lose the primary focuses of life we came here to enjoy.
Furthermore, the Rock tells us we should recognize the approach of our doom in the warlike atmosphere that grips the nations of Earth: “Your mouths spelling words / Armed for slaughter.”
War, destruction, and hatred are Ego-energies. We have Ego, and it helps form us; however, we have Heart, eternal Spirit as the mature operating system, the one we came to live. We have the ability to think, explore, and discover. War, hatred, bullying, bravado, and boastful power are Ego-energies we may rise above through toggling to the Heart Operating System. We need not remain in ignorance, an ignorance often adorned with the fineries of politics, government, and military considerations. No, peace does not sound from throats of nationalism or from those who trample everyone and everything to get to the bottom line.
The Rock tells us we can gain a vantage point to discern all this, and it willingly offers itself to us. The warning, though, is we have no right to hide at its base, in its shadow, to continue living in the low vibrations of Ego and claim it’s human nature. It’s not. It’s a choice.
Since this is National Poetry Month, I’m going to share some thoughts I have gleaned from several poets. I almost said favorite, but that would be unfair because on any given day, quite a few could be in the running for “favorite.”
With that, I will spend a few days sharing some thoughts from Maya Angelou’s excellent “On the Pulse of Morning.” Please look it up if it’s not familiar to you — so awesome!
Have you ever heard the expression “dumb as a rock?” Turns out, that might be a dumb statement. Listen to what Maya hears from a rock.
“The Rock Cries Out to Us Today”: Maya, History, Nature, and Us
Maya Angelou observes the state of humanity and responds to it through the natural elements of “A Rock, A River, A Tree.”
Why would she do this? It’s a literary tradition, but that’s not the reason. The reason it’s a literary tradition is the reason. Nature is the reason. Our intimate connection with and relationship to Nature is the reason.
Because of that relationship, the Romantics often used Nature to reflect the inner emotional state of humans, especially, as Maya does here, to expose the conditions of society or simply illustrate them, the aggregate expression of individuals. The Romantics were initiators of social change; the energy of their work fueled awareness and even some legislation. We are often slow to learn. We still need the lessons and always will; Dr. Maya Angelou knows that.
In the first eight lines of the poem, Maya introduces the Rock, River, and Tree as observers of history for eons, since the beginning of this whole ball of wax known as Earth. They witnessed the life, approaching doom, and extinction of the mastodon. Foreshadowing? Others in danger of extinction? Not if we listen to the wisdom of these elements of Nature, you know, the ones to which we wouldn’t normally ascribe wisdom.
And the Rock, River, and Tree point out that while we may see the dry bones of dinosaurs like those to which the Rock refers, what we have failed, Failed, FAILED to see — to perceive, to intuit, to conclude — is the “broad alarm of their hastening doom.” We did not witness the process of the destructive dynamics involved, but we should know.
Therefore, they will tell us, and we may learn, be warned, and rise to respond to the alarm, to all the alarms around us now.
“[T]he Rock cries out to us” by offering a vantage point. We are invited to stand upon its back, its solid, sure, unshakable back. For what reason? What purpose would that serve? Rock tells us that we “may stand upon [his] / Back and face [our] distant destiny.” We can see, know, perceive, and respond — if we would use Nature for the learning.
What might that imply? The Rock has a purpose that has not changed: it is solid, firm, unmoving, and collects evidence of history. Rock asks us, in essence, what our purpose is.
(April 16, 2019)
Simply as a word, philosophy bores most people. I mean, it’s four whole syllables. In this day of one-minute videos, one hundred word blogposts, or thirty-second news clips and commercials, who has time for four-syllable words? To even describe it requires the word syllable, three syllables in and of itself. Sheesh!
The push to shorten everything advanced with the advancement of history in the twentieth century — even with authors. Look how famous Ernest Hemingway is. He managed to win a Nobel Prize while writing at a fifth-grade level (in the year I was born — ha! I bet you have to look that up. I know I would). Fifth grade! They don’t use many four-syllable words in the fifth grade.
I remember that year of school, so I know it. I met one of my best friends that year. We remained friends into our thirties until life took us different ways. He didn’t use many four-syllable words. Everything is shorter these days.
Especially attention spans. I have been told — this is the truth! — by several professionals that I have Attention Deficit Disorder — which indicates a short attention span. I don’t think at my age I have the hyperactivity component (Oops! Sorry about that six-syllable word followed by a three-syllable one!). My interests and moment-to-moment occupations jump a lot in the course of a day, which makes setting goals a challenge. I have another friend now who tries to help people set goals.
Oh, I wonder if he has ADD (which I really don’t joke about not because it would be insensitive but because the “disorder” can help people be very productive, interesting, and even creative — oh, my friend!) He is all of those things. Get this: he is a visual artist, an improv comedian, a singer-songwriter, a musician, a spiritual guide, an author of something like fifteen books, a social media expert, a podcaster, marketer — and he teaches most of these things. Maybe he’s not ADD. Maybe he’s just a genius. Yeah, let’s go with that.
Wait! I forgot about philosophy. Well, I will get to that tomorrow. I really do think it’s important.
I’ve got to go now. My dog is barking at a squirrel.
April 15, 2019
Tax Day. Also, anniversary day — anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. Did you know that? Why does it matter? Death means much more than the cessation of life; it should evoke the celebration of life, acknowledging how a person’s life impacts us.
154 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln died. Walt Whitman’s responses to that in poetic form offer reflection and celebration with a melancholy overlay, all symbolized in elements of Nature in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Meditating with Nature, in her, can yield much expression of the human state.
Three natural elements of a lilac tree, the song of a solitary, unseen thrush, and the appearance and waning of Venus evoke these words: “Comrades mine and I in the midst and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well, / For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands and this for his dear sake, / Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul, / There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.” Death provides the time for reflection and evaluation. Our response to the death of others yields life and eternality in that reflection when we understand the nature of Heart within. Death frames and allows life energy to continue unobstructed by this body and the ego required to live in a physical body.
Whitman realizes that bright Venus in the western sky gradually fading into the horizon was a sign of the bright star of Lincoln disappearing. He says, “O powerful western fallen star! / O shades of night — O moody, tearful night! / O great star disappear’d…” He also refers to the title bush, the lilac: “…with many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love, / With every leaf a miracle…With delicate-colored blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, / A sprig with its flower I break.” He intended to lay this on the coffin of President Lincoln as the mourning train traveled past his city. He ultimately offers it up symbolically not only to Lincoln but also to death itself seen in all the coffins of all those slain in the Civil War.
Then, under the darkness of evening he attempts to reconcile the deaths of Lincoln and so many others as he walks along a path close to a swamp and hears the song of the thrush, which echoes his song to death: “Approach strong deliveress, / …when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead, / Lost in the loving floating oceans of thee, / Laved in the flood of your bliss O death.” He sings a carol to death using the voice of the thrush. Death highlights and showcases all that one’s life was about; it allows reflection and evaluation.
What mirror do we gaze in to see our own soul condition and to gain an appraisal of Self? Question your own heart, and then give your heart a means to speak to you. Walk and observe and listen to life all around you. Messages to you personally are there, waiting. If you walk in ego, you will not hear them.
Walt Whitman was unrestricted and didn’t care what anyone thought of his poems. He wrote his heart. Abraham Lincoln lived his heart truth for freedom. Since we know death comes, eventually, let’s engage the benefit of it now: reflect, evaluate, and value life through Heart energy. Today’s a good day to begin!
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!