Guest Conversations: Life Lines

Tell me about a poem/lines that have become a sort of a daily mantra for you, or words to live by. How did you find these lines, why has it become important, and/or how has it affected you?

 

Hannah Love, theater student. T: @hluv311 I: @h.l0v3

Act II, Scene VII, Shakespeare (complete text here)

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…

To be completely and utterly honest, I have never seen a performance of or read As You Like It by William Shakespeare. However, I have definitely heard of the Act II, Scene VII monologue that begins with “All the world’s a stage” (I mean, who hasn’t heard of it?). I couldn’t tell you who or when or where or how I first heard this poem, but the one thing that is definite is that it has played a pretty significant part of my life. As a performer, the metaphor in comparing life to a play is pretty fitting for who I am.

The part that strikes me hard every time I read this monologue is the second line, “And all the men and women are merely players.” It is so humbling. When I come into times when I start valuing my life over others in the small things and in the big things, it always a good thing to step back and remember this line.

 

Sam Gray, actress + artist. W: www.samgrayactress.com

Bitter-Sweet, George Herbert

AH, my dear angry Lord,
Since Thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

Bitter-Sweet keeps coming up in my life lately and it has become my current favorite. George Herbert beautifully and truthfully illustrates life’s trials and tribulations and how we respond to them in a mere eight lines. I enjoy this poem because it’s a raw picture of humanity and how one deals with what comes their way — almost lovingly blaming their Creator for their state and actions that flow from it. Hebert gives a sense of powering through the storms of life and enjoying the moments of peace. He is well aware of how he will act in his life, no matter how messy or honeyed that may prove to be…it’s all glorious and not without cause.

Strange Interlude, Eugene O’Neill

No, I’m not myself yet. That’s just it.
Not all myself. But I’ve been becoming myself.
And I must finish!

This is a quote from Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude. I’ve attached an image [below] of my artwork, using this quote as an aspiration I want to live by. I have played Nina [speaking character for these lines] before, and this was by far one of the most impactful quotes that I’ve read in a play. I think it perfectly describes me (or anyone for that matter), that we aren’t necessarily ourselves. Or maybe we are, but it takes a lifetime to realize and become who we are meant to be. I find this relatable and comforting knowing that we are in an ever changing process of the “self.”

Eugene

 

Amanda Savino, social work student + humanist helper. T: @amandaginny

Tonight in Yoga, Sierra DeMulder (complete text here)

tonight, you say: I was made to
breathe and move and give, which is to say
love. Love. I was made to love…

When I first read this poem, it rocked me to my core: the words seemed an x-ray of my apprehensive trajectory of childhood into adulthood. There’s something sacred about reading lines and thinking, how does this get me on the deepest level possible— so it became both reflection and mantra. I love that most of it is one long sentence, at first propelled with an urgency and punctuated by staccato breaths before launching into the bold, forgiving last lines. I also love what DeMulder does: she follows the thread of fear through the act of meditation and into self-doubt, and right before the plunge she tugs skyward, at that epiphany of a breath, to say it’s okay.

I find so many gems in this poem. One is the act of breathing. I am an asthmatic who, ironically, neglects to dwell on the breath; it hurts a lot of the time and is restricted, as my lungs lack the capacity to hold the proper amount of air. It was revelatory, then, for me to think of breathing as “the act of actually making love to the whole world” (19-20). Another is the reflection/mantra I found within a few particular lines.

First, the reflection: “…I have not been myself my whole life/ which is to say I’m sorry, which is/ to say my whole life has been oh, I’m so/ sorry which is to say don’t meditate/ just apologize…” (7-11). Still, at almost 25, I have to be prompted to stop apologizing, that I have nothing to apologize for, that it’s good—even necessary— to take up space and own it. Sometimes I imagine the woman I would be if I’d grown up without a suspension of self, if I’d been allowed to claim my own identity and not been a vessel for what others felt I should be, for their selfish pride and disappointments and standards. And for the record, I’m no good at meditating either.

Next, the mantra: “…love all/ the no, and the no, and the no/ that brought you right here, to this moment/ and love the yes” (26-29). It’s a hard ask, to love the no. And yet I choose every day to do so, consciously or not, because all of it was the doorway to a life now so full of glorious yes.

 

Jay Campbell, pilot. I: @william_bigmac

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost (complete text here)

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I can’t recall the first time I was introduced to this poem or these lines; I’m sure way back in my school days. I like it in particular because it’s succinct, and it can be interpreted both literally and allegorically. The line “miles to go before I sleep”: I appreciate it in the context of my life because of its literal application – I am constantly on the move to the next location as a consequence of my job, and it reminds me that I need to keep moving for a purpose. Also, I love the simple allegory it draws to life in general – life is ideally a perfect balance between slowing to appreciate the beauty around you and finding inspiration or purpose to keep moving, working, fighting, and living.

The true beauty in Frost’s words is that it took so few lines to be relatable on both a personal level and at the most base level of humanity; case in point, it took me several hundred words for what Frost was able to fit into 16 neat lines. Additionally, the repetition of the words in the last two lines emphasizes the striking importance and duality of meaning. Those lines, as well as the entirety of the poem, speaks to me personally and ties me to the greater human experience as a whole. That’s why it’s great as a life mantra, in my mind.

 

Katharine Diehl, poet + academic. T: @KElizabetta

For the young who want to, Marge Piercy (complete text here)

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

I found this poem on one of the poetry livejournals I frequented in high school. Tumblr poetry blogs are not as good, somehow. I write and read a lot of poetry. I am confident about my weird little poems but anxious about the whole project of publication and submission.

I also work in/adjacent to academia. I perform a lot of work in solitude. I chose to pursue social science because I wanted to “help people” or maybe “change the world,” whichever comes first. But research is all delayed gratification and I mostly have to trust that what I do matters.

All that said, I love Marge Piercy’s “for the young who want to” especially the last stanza. [above] Identity is beside the point. It’s OK to be unloved. Integrity matters. Also I tried to be a kind of teacher’s pet in undergrad and now I am trying to undo that bad habit. Education research might talk about intrinsic motivation and expectancy value, which means the same thing as this poem.

(Buy her 24 poem chapbook here)


*some responses edited for clarity.

*artwork submitted by Sam Gray

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