Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Poems I Love Communicate

Commentary by Andy Hanson

The poems I love say something valuable about communication. That’s because communication makes teaching and learning possible. I know; I’ve been a Professor of Education at Chico State for the past thirty-five years. During that time I have instructed and supervised over 4000 beginning teachers and worked with over one hundred elementary and secondary schools in the North State. The following poems have important things to say to all of us about communication.

Sandburg speaks directly to the frustration that results in failure to understand exactly what it is another person is trying to say.

What is there for us two
To split fifty-fifty,
To go halvers on?
A Bible, a deck of cards?
a farm, a frying pan?
a porch, front steps to sit on?
How can we be pals
when you speak English
and I speak English
and you never understand me
and I never understand you?

And when we can’t communicate, things get desperate. Evangeline Paterson expresses that desperate feeling well.

The water that I live in
is full of piranha
and it doesn’t do
to have a bleeding heart
in this locality.

Please God
get me out of this water
or give me a shell
or teeth. . . .

Just don’t leave me here
with nothing
but the conviction
that piranha
are all God’s
children too.

Robert Graves provides insight into why this lack of understanding might happen between a person of a traditional viewpoint and someone with a skeptical or scientific outlook.

He is quick, thinking in clear images,
I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images,
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance,
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact,
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses,
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images,
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding,
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

e. e. cummings speaks to the tension that results when a social, political, and religious groups preach conformity.

To be nobody but yourself
in a world which is doing its best
night and day
to make you everybody else—
means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight
and never stop fighting.

Shel Silverstein reminds us that age can be a barrier to effective communication.

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?

Robert Frost lets us know that plain speech is indispensable if we wish to communicate our feelings.

We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Til someone really finds us out.

Tis pity if the case requires
(or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so it is with babes at play
At hide and seek to guard afar
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.

Fred Bremmer and Steve Kroese of Calvin College & Seminary of Grand
Rapids, Michigan that English itself is evolving in ways that make communicating the simplest ideas almost impossible.


This poem
can only be appreciated by reading it aloud, to wit:

Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
Vertical-bar curly-bracket
comma comma CRASH.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko knows first hand the destructive legacy of lying, even for what some people believe to be the “right” reasons.

Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God's in his heaven
and all's well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can't be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

Ralph Hodgson warns us of the dangerous values that are fostered by irrational ideas.

I saw with open eyes
Singing birds sweet
Sold in the shops
For the people to eat,
Sold in the shops of
Stupidity Street.

I saw in a vision
The worm in the wheat,
And in the shops nothing
For people to eat:
Nothing for sale in
Stupidity Street.

In her book, Mother Teresa, A Simple Path, she despairs of ever being understood. The demands of duty are paramount.

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered,
If you do good, people will accuse you of
selfish, ulterior motives,
If you are successful,
you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
What you spent years building may be
destroyed overnight,
People really need help
but may attack you if you help them,
Give the world the best you have
and you'll get kicked in the teeth,

So, how should we communicate, in what spirit? As Christians, our model is Christ.

Mathew 6:7-13 Jesus advises direct, straight-forward language. “In your prayers do not babble as the Gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So you should pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
and forgive us our debts,
as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test,
but save us from the Evil One.

Mathew 10: 34 As Christians, our speech, while not designed to produce dissension may create it, because it involves decision making.

Do not suppose
that I have come to bring peace to the earth:
it is not peace I have come to bring
but a sword.

Mathew 13:34,35 Mathew tells us that “Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables.”

I will speak to you in parables,
unfold what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.

Mathew 18:15 Brotherly correction was a topic addressed by Jesus.

“If your brother does something wrong,
go and have it out with him alone,
between your two selves.
If he listens to you,
you have won back your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you. . .
But if he refuses to listen to these,
report it to the community,
and if he refuses to listen to the community,
treat him like an outcast.

Mathew 22:37-40, Mark 12:28, Luke 10:42 All communication must be judged by whether it conforms to the “great” commandments. “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.”

You must love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.

You must love your neighbor
As yourself.

Mark 7:8,9 Traditional ways of thinking and speaking must be judged by these commandments. Rebuking the scribes and Pharisees Jesus said:

You honor God only with lip-service,
while your hearts are far from me.
Your reverence of me is worthless;
the lessons you teach are nothing but human commandments.

Luke 6:36, 37 Speak with words of compassion and generosity.

Be compassionate
Just as your Father is compassionate.
Do not judge,
And you will not be judged;
Do not condemn,
And you will not be condemned;
And you will be forgiven.

John 15:14,15 Communicate boldly. You are a chosen friend of God.

You are my friends,
if you do what I command you,
I shall no longer call you servants,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learned from my Father.
You did not choose me,
no, I chose you. . .

John 16:26, 27 Communicate fearlessly. Jesus does not have to protect you from the wrath of God.

The hour is coming
When I shall no longer speak to you in veiled language
But tell you about the Father in plain words.
When that day comes
You will ask in my name;
And I do not say that I shall pray to the Father for you,
Because the Father himself loves you
For loving me
And believing that I came from Him.

1 John 4:16-19 Communicate without anxiety. God’s judgment is nothing to be afraid of.

God is love,
and whoever remains in love remains in God
and God in him.
Love comes to its perfection in us
when we can face the Day of Judgment fearlessly,
because even in this world
we have become as he is.
In love there is no room for fear,
but perfect love drives out fear,
because fear implies punishment
and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.
Let us love then,
because God first loved us.

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