**spins around, looking for Spock…**
Is this a longwinded way of discussing the virtues of studying?
What does it all mean?
When earth’s last thesis is copied
From the theses that went before,
When idea from fact has departed
And bare-boned factlets shall bore,
When all joy shall have fled from study
And scholarship reign supreme;
When truth shall ‘baaa’ on the hill crests
And no one shall dare to dream;
Alright. So this is in some ways a very simple poem to analyse, its style, forgive me if you don’t like the comparison, is of a very straightforward style similar to If, where there’s line upon line of if, if, if, if and then a THEN to conclude. I don’t, obviously, mean the content of the poems, merely the way they are written. What we have here in the first stanza is a long list of ‘ifs’: lines one and two point to plagiarism and our constant need to copy what has gone before rather than create something new. Lines three and four are similar, pointing to a tendency of the lack of educated reasoning and hypotheses in favour of plucking an idea out of thin air ‘just because’, and we’re at a stage in our ‘learning’ when we even tire of the most summarised of summaries. Lines five and six point to a loss of learning for fun and I suppose it’s a nod at those who say we have become saturated with university degrees which makes it hard for employers to choose between candidates based on education alone. Lines seven and eight point to truth falling on deaf ears and no more ‘dreaming’ – no more striving for something unique and truly new.
When all the good poems have been buried
With comment annoted in full
See that’s the thing with poetry. Poetry is supposed to inspire, and it is supposed to resonate differently with every ready. I imagine that each poet feels something entirely different or planned their poem to say one thing but for the reader it is entirely different. However. We have this thing with poetry where the ‘right’ answer is the ‘only’ answer. And surely that defeats the object. Yes, it’s important to understand themes and of course, if we know what the poet intended to say because they’ve said it, and absolutely a poem should move us all if it’s directed in a certain way. But isn’t it also true that we analyse and annotate and comment and scribble all over beloved poetry like we own it? Why can’t it just mean to each of us what it does?
And art shall bow down in homage
To scholarship’s zinc-plated bull,
Is this the talk of the loss of an appreciation of art in favour of more ‘useful’ subjects such as engineering? How many more students to do you know taking engineering rather than art? In my case, a distinct amount more. There’s less and less room for dreaming and creating are and more attention on business and economics and making infrastructure and life generally easier for us. We don’t give ourselves the time to appreciate all that there is out there because we’re just tied up in… working.
When there shall be nothing to research
But the notes of annoted notes,
Can we really research forever? Surely we will run out of things, and that will leave us reanalysing research?
And Baalam’s ass shall inquire
The price of imported oats;
Now I like these last two lines of this stanza. I had to look this up and will give a somewhat poor summary: Balaam was a prophet who had a donkey. An angel appeared to Balaam but at first only the donkey could see the angel. The donkey was given the power of speech and complained to Balaam about his treatment when in fairness, the donkey was just trying to protect his master. Balaam repented. For much, much better explanation, look here. Now. Can we take these lines as a ‘beast’ learning to speak for itself in a logical way asking about its food in a manner that suggests some sort of trade? Are we saying this ‘beast’ is, instead of seeing an angel of the lord, seeing someone to trade with? Is the donkey no longer looking out for its owner but for itself? Is there a parallel with our own ‘beasts’ – our pets, or is this a nod to Animal Farm (probably not…)? Are these two lines an ode to capitalism/consumerism and loss of faith? I have no idea! But I really really enjoy them.
Then no one shall tell him the answer
For each shall know the one fact
That lies in the special ass-ignment
From which he is making his tract.
Or… everyone will already know the story of Balaam’s donkey and will know to look out for the angel of the lord, so they know the donkey is trying to steer them away/to something?
So the ass shall sigh uninstructed
Oh. So no one’s telling the donkey what to do. He’s just evolved the ability to speak. He’s doing it for himself, not for any other purpose. Is that.. unsettling?
While each in his separate book
Shall grind for the love of grinding
Is this what we will become? We’ll ‘grind’ into pages nonsense because we no longer have the need for actual words – all we know or need to know already in our heads? And more to the point – we’ll do it separately – we’ll be alone?
And only the devil shall look.
So god will turn his back on us once we’ve learnt everything there is to know and summarised it to death? Are we saying that as long as we are striving to learn and better ourselves, we have a god, but once we know everything we won’t have one? It’s not as though we’re saying we’ll learn one doesn’t exist – after all, if there’s belief in a devil then there’s one in a god, yes? Very confusing!
Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Three stanzas, the first two of which list a long string of ‘achievements’ in academia followed by one entire stanza talking about the consequences of learning everything.
Hmm. Tongue in cheek? Condescending?
Suggested rhyme scheme
Similes and metaphors
I’m stuck. Aside from the whole poem being a metaphor for what happens when we put science, for example, ahead of faith, I do not know. I don’t really want to see it as that, either. I see it more as a fear of what happens when we lose our imagination and creativity in favour of churning out facts from previously known facts.
Author’s relationship with their subject
Like a grandfather of questionable views sitting with his grandson and NO Werthers Original, telling him what’s bad about studying – akin to turning his back on god?
Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
A general fear of what happens when we turn our backs on our imaginations.
I once taught a class who thought that they could fool me into thinking that their computer assignment was an original piece of text. It was pretty easy to tell that they were blatantly lying because a) the text was stolen from Wikipedia and b) it was in English, their first language was NOT English and their level of English was nowhere near all the big words they were trying to wrap their unpracticed teeth around.
Now, as much as I love the internet and all the wonderful things it can help you achieve, it has made thinking almost an option rather than a necessity. Don’t know something? Google it. Need facts? Wikipedia. Which, by the way, I love as a quick reference guide but when it is taken as fact and you can see there are no source citations, makes me very sad indeed.
I worry that creative subjects like music, art, drama are seen as soft subjects, time wasters, or for those who won’t amount to much. Business, maths, science, these are the important subject. It’s like saying there’s no room for dreamers and only for hard scientists with hard facts. That have been learned and are regurgitated parrot fashion. And if there’s no more poetry left in the world, no artist left to capture the perfect sunrise or that person’s portrait ‘just right’, no philosophical thinkers or new scientists daring to push boundaries, then tell me: what’s all the studying for if we’re never learning anything new?
What ever the ‘definitive’ analysis of this poem should be… I loved it 🙂
When I read this I think of the song… an incredibly tenuous link…