Hey, I’d like to give you an assignment. Sound good? Okay, Describe thirty-one characters who you feel would represent your culture today. Go!
How would you do with that? What if I gave you a year, maybe? Would it help? Perhaps, but it really doesn’t matter because I have an ulterior motive. That motive is about the value of literature, and how undervalued it is in most of today’s modern world. The assignment I suggested illustrates the value of literature. How? This is exactly what Geoffrey Chaucer started in 1387 with The Canterbury Tales.
In his thirty-one characters, he crafted a microcosm of the late Middle Age society of England, so masterfully, so accurately, so entreatingly and engagingly, even though he never finished the work over the last thirteen years of his life, he is still considered the Father of English Poetry.
I’ll get to my point. For several millennia, literature in various forms communicated the big ideas of the day and the great thinkers, politicians, rulers, and complete cultures depended on literature in various forms for many things, the most important things, about their society.
Modern society seems to have little apprehension of how important literature was in the past, recording characteristics of culture and civilization, how it provided the basis of decisions and actions of everyday life, and how they even memorized it, especially poems. I’m glad that there are still many prizes given out recognizing powerful works that give insight into the human condition, especially the Nobel Prize. There are many more prizes, but, unfortunately, not much influence from the literature itself.
Now, some consideration comes — thank goodness for NPR — and I believe such influence will increase. We simply cannot afford otherwise. Why? Writers, way more significant than me, explore life in deep ways, not simply describing life but exploring the significance of humanity, the ethos of cultures. And whether we agree or disagree with them, they make us think, evaluate, analyze, and draw conclusions, and such actions forge connections. If policy-makers, leaders, and governments heard and understood the ethos, the deep underlying basis of it, how it was created, and true heart needs of people, AND acted on them, this could all be better.
I want to point out, though, that such evaluation, appreciation, and understanding depends on Heart. Some great writers, well, at least influential, have undoubtedly written from Ego, but that is what we explore. In this world where all around seems to be focused increasingly on ego concerns, what “I” get or how “I” profit, and less on longer term Heart propositions, we must listen to the great thinkers, like Maya Angelou — (Yes, I literally just heard the poem I’m referring to tonight used in another commercial. I acknowledge it last night, but not tonight!)
“Still I Rise,” presents a commentary on the attitudes of society at large concerning African Americans and how such attitudes, any negative attitudes, may be processed, and it’s through Heart, not angry ego.
No matter what history has done, what society assigns to her race, or what the future holds, Maya gives the message that anyone should be able to identify with, at least anyone who has suffered or experienced oppression and suppression. This is one mark of great literature: the applicability, the broad scope of people who may be touched by it, whether in discovering identity, feeling solace, acknowledging shortcomings, or any of a thousand possible responses.
Having experienced oppression, the individual must hear Heart and live it, whether actions are perceived as weakness, strength, or defiance of those who have systemically and organizationally sought to squash people. This is what Maya addresses in her poem when she defiantly presents the treatment of her race, the attitudes toward her race, the prejudicial expectations, the hatred and ill will of white ethos, and ultimately, her varied responses to it all.
Historically, the account written by those instrumental in the oppression is “bitter, twisted lies,” and their intention she experienced was to “trod me in the very dirt.” Her response? Basically, it’s this: I will give no credence to your actions, assholes. “I rise.” How? She asks, “Does my sassiness upset you?” Oh, too bad; does it make you sad? “Why are you beset with gloom?” It’s taunting, and I love it because I can hear staid, conservative, self-righteous, oh-so-holy jerks resent it.
Her inspiration, those elements that speak to her Heart and give the response? Nature. How many times have I noted this? “Just like the moon and like suns, / With the certainty of tides…” Nature shows things, if we look with Heart, the way they should be.
How do oppressors want to maintain power? By keeping the oppressed fearful and defeated: “Did you want to see me broken? / Bowed head and lowered eyes? / Shoulders falling down like teardrops, / Weakened by my soulful cries?” Any policies, laws, or institutionalized efforts to create these effects, ever so discreetly, should be clearly exposed and not only rejected but also scoffed at.
Yes, even civil, non-lethal, non-destructive disobedience. Dr. King would approve.
Once again, can’t and won’t do the whole poem here, so maybe listen to the commercial! The final response, already established throughout the nine stanzas is this: “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise / Bringing the gifts my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and the hope of the slave. / I rise / I rise / I rise.”
How? Through one individual, oppressed woman who heard her heart, came to know herself, and live her dreams, passions, and life purpose. When we do that, when anyone does that, they rise. Rise. Rise.
I am thankful that Maya Angelou rose in response to her heart and created and fulfilled her purpose, and the effect of that shot waves and oceans of her love to all who experience suppression and oppression from those who live their ego.
Heart, always choose heart, because that is where the victory is — onward and upward — Rise!
Yes, literature can inform us mightily. Those living, controlling, manipulating, ruling, and demeaning others, any others, need to be extinguished by those who, one by one, choose to live Heart.
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!