Thursday, August 8, 2013

Memorization Test: The Builders

This week's test was a little more arduous. The poem is a bit longer than last week's and the author uses words in a way that at first tripped up my mouth. The poem is called The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Longfellow is considered one of the great American poets and, rare for artists, was actually highly appreciated during his own life. In an age when poetry was read like TV is watched today, Longfellow became a superstar. Admirers asked for his autograph through letters and in person; to criticize him was a major social faux pas (a faux pas Edgar Allen Poe was all too eager to commit by the way). He also had quite the circle of friends, including Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He was a professor at Bowdoin and Harvard. He knew Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German.... and English. He lived through terrible grief brought to him by the death of two wives (his second wife died at home when her dress caught on fire while she was sealing a few locks of their children's hair in envelopes... absolutely terrifying). He received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge. He was summoned for a visit by the queen of England. His Robert of Sicily was translated by the Emperor of Brazil. Through it all, he did not glory in his popularity.

They guy had a vision for success. He built something incredible with his time and talents. His poem, The Buildersis an intimate sermon from a master on how to become successful and maximize the efforts of our time. I feel very comfortable taking these words to heart because I know that he followed his own advice. Had he not, this blog post wouldn't even be here now would it?

For me there are two bits of striking advice that stand out from the stanzas. The first: every thing we do will build to something larger. Whether it be working out, writing a novel or playing video games. It all builds up some grander habit, attitude, personality, etc... So we have to be very careful how we shape each day.

The second: laboring our darndest on things no one will ever see is just as important as working hard on the big show-stoppers. For Longfellow it seems clear that the quality of our fate is a reflection of the quality of our character.

The Builders

All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme

Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
From The Seaside and the Fireside published in 1846