I love our American Independence Day. Why? The wisdom and spirit of those who worked to bring about a new nation stands as words and works that reveal a group who, for a little while, operated under the filter and motivation of their hearts over egos.
Notice, I put a qualifier in that first paragraph: “for a little while.” Even though I’m not a historian, I know that there were problems among those working for independence.
Though not a historian, I will never get away from being an English and literature teacher. What does that have to do with history? This morning one of the first things that I thought about as my brain started wandering over this topic was John Keats, an English Romantic poet. One of the brilliant works he wrote in his short, short life was “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The poet looks at an unearthed urn and sees a scene captured in the decorated marble from several thousand years previous. Isn’t that an image of historical accounts? Words about a time, frozen, locked, somewhat out of context. What else was going on? We don’t have tone; we rely on the accounts of people we don’t know, and we can’t verify any of it, really. But it’s the best we have.
Listen to Keats: “Sylvan historian…Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter…/ Thou silent form? dost tease us out of thought…” about what else was going on before and after the moment portrayed by the sculptor’s hand. He even calls the sculptor a historian of the pastoral setting on the urn. Those forms are frozen in time. The words of history are, too, but the issue of those words, the works resulting from them, are not.
So it is with Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. We don’t hear all the back and forth, or we don’t see or hear Jefferson’s words or thoughts for the most part; it’s a little unnatural, so the best we can do is to discern the motivation behind the words by other words and by the results. Keats addresses this concept, also, in his poem: “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought / As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! / …to whom thou say’st, / ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’” A message was drawn from the frozen, somewhat out of context scene, indicated by the words “Cold Pastoral.” A pastoral scene is supposed to be evocative of a warm serenity and peace — not coldness. Yet, a warm and powerful message results. One did, too, from Jefferson’s words.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident.” I wonder if the sculptor of the Grecian urn or Jefferson and the others working with him worked through heart or ego. In some ways it doesn’t matter; what matters is how we respond to anything — with our heart or ego. However, when such powerful words, whatever the context, result in liberation, joy, promotion of peace and growth, then I can see someone who has worked from the heart. I think I can do this because of other words of Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
Did he know the future that he was creating, sense the power of those words? Over the months of producing the Declaration of Independence, did those men have any inkling of the gestalt that they were creating? Yes, it’s true that some of the ideas had been given before, but Jefferson refined and applied them with power and impact and significance that still move people 240 years later, words that have been used to help us recognize the destruction of would-be tyrants, and they abound.
Yes, recorded history is often distorted, but when we have documented words that still generate power, just like the cold pastoral that produced its own truth, those words remain powerful.
And yes, Jefferson worked from ego, too, for which he is often criticized, but to minimize the work and words issuing from his heart is the work of ego, too. How can words that have yielded freedom to so many millions throughout history be disregarded? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”
Yes, I know — “men.” I know about Jefferson’s slaves. I know that he was a man and perhaps didn’t grab the full impact of his words. That does not minimize them, for they freed many, even the people who he overlooked in his lifetime.
I hold to his spirit, though, that reflects his heart: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” I hope that some of my works, imperfect though I am, will help create a brighter future for many.
Yep, I like the Fourth of July!
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!