Saying It Well...

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"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."— Mark Twain

Modern Muse

Modern Muse
Adriana Lima in Elle Magazine

Monday, September 08, 2008

Poetry Essay

The poem “So Much Happiness” by Naomi Shihab Nye is, as the name implies, a meditation on happiness. The speaker begins by contrasting happiness with sadness. When one is happy, one does not really know what to do. Nye compares sadness to a wound, something that can be dealt with and treated. We may have souvenirs from sadness, much like we would have a scar from a wound.

Happiness, on the other hand, cannot be held. Any souvenirs do not begin to touch the actual emotion involved because happiness “doesn’t need anything.” The only thing it leaves one with is a different perspective. With happiness we “wake up with possibilities”. Sadness may make us look to the past, but happiness makes us look to the future. For example, compare being in a relationship and being happy with it to being in a once happy but now unhappy relationship. In the former, one may be filled with hopes of dates, stolen kisses, plans to travel, to marry etc. All of these are hopes for the future, whether distant or near. If the relationship has turned sour however, even the sweetest memory of the lover is made bittersweet.

Happiness is transient; it “goes away when it wants to”. Upon reading this, one might wonder if Nye is saying happiness is hopeless. While Nye speaks of the initial cause for joy being temporal, she leaves us with the feeling that the new perspective gained is not. Even moving from a paradisiacal tree house to a quarry “cannot make you unhappy”. We are still left with the idea that “everything has a life of its own”.

Nye concludes by saying that happiness is too large to be held inside. Instead happiness radiates into everything that surrounds the happy person. We cannot take credit for this beneficence, just “as the sky takes no credit for the moon,” we simply hold it and let it radiate from us. Through this simile we are able to see happiness as a glowing orb that lights our way, once again into the future.

This last stanza can be compared to the first which speaks of holding sadness in one’s hands. This is an interesting progression: first the speaker talks of sadness as something one holds, then she says that happiness doesn’t need one to hold it, and finally she admits that one holds it the same way the sky holds the moon. This last claim implies that sadness does need to be held to exist. This comparison is the key to understanding the true result of Nye’s meditation. Happiness happens, while sadness is something we must take responsibility for. If we let go of sadness, instead of radiating, it will simply cease to exist. By showcasing our happiness, we not only have a better chance of gaining perspective, but shine a light for everyone as well.

The following is a poem with the same basic theme that I wrote as response to Nye’s poem.

I am banishing you,

Small pitiful you,

Undeserving you,

Undeserving of any tears, time, or thought.

I made a mistake, but I won’t let you tell me that I am one.

I embrace You

Grand, shining You

Triumphant You,

Conquering the doubt, fear, chaos.

I embrace You lightly like light, knowing You will come back over and over again…


mudderbear said...

This is awesome. I love your poem and your comments...very enlightened.

Jak said...

Very insightful! Great poem at the end! This helps me to understand, perhaps, some of what I've been reading about Buddha and not holding onto things. That's a really hard thing to do I think.