Saturday, September 1, 2007

I am a part of all I have met

I was struggling with an appropriate intro for this blog, but I think Tennyson did a good job for me in this excerpt of his poem Ulysses:

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

I'm no poetry-buff, but IMHO, he captures the idea of living an inspired life. Admittedly, I had to read it a few times to get the gist of it, but this poem uses the character of Ulysses to describe what an inspired life is like.

Ulysses starts off by saying "I am a part of all I have met" which poetically says that we are a compilation of our experiences, the people we've interacted with, everything we've learned, our challenges, our successes, etc. The same things that helped create who he is also show him that there's more ahead, "Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world" and there will always be more ahead as we continue to go through life, "whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move."

There should never be an end to our experiences - "how dull it is to pause, to make an end" and those who do would "rust unburnished" and not "shine in use!" I can definitely think of a few periods in my own life where I felt I was rusting unburnished... Ulysses says that just breathing does not mean we're living, rejecting the uninspired definition of life of "as though to breath[e] were life."

I get lost in the middle a bit (feel free to help me out in the comments!), where he talks about "life piled on life", but I like the verse "every hour is saved from that eternal silence" as a reminder that life is short and that every hour could be a valuable "bringer of new things."

The "grey spirit yearning in desire" could easily be any of us, especially when we're feeling trapped in our cubicles/offices. Then he creates this image of us chasing "knowledge like a sinking star," which is less about learning a lot and more about the deep stirring of our spirit to seek out more knowledge (experience, wisdom) as part of our journey in life, and perhaps the driving force in how we approach life.

The last part "beyond the utmost bound of human thought" creates a feeling of unbounded potential; we don't even know what's out there but we're going to search for it.

Quite an inspirational and exciting description. Those poets sure had a way with words :) Thanks, Tennyson.


Rob said...

Great post, Lee! That's actually my favorite poem.

When I first read the poem long ago, I also read the line beginning the excerpt ("I am a part of all that I have met") as you do, about being the sum of your experiences. But when I came back to it, I re-read that line as Ulysses saying that he has left his mark on the world; everyone he has met will remember him, he made himself a part of them.

Either sentiment is wonderful and poetic, yet each captures a different aspect of living an exceptional life.

Wahoo said...

Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Lee, your post is simply brilliant!!
The line beginning the excerpt ("I am a part of all that I have met") as you do, about being the sum of experiences and the people who touched his life and visa-versa.
Leaving a "part" or impression on the world and everyone he has met as well as the world remembers his "part" or impression of him.
Love It!! =:)

Anonymous said...

well, u have surely chosen your words carefully and thank you so much for this excerpt. it surely will help me understand ulysses and tennyson and make an answer.. thanks once again... your appreciation of tennyson and personal touch gives it a better meaning and helps to understand....

Anonymous said...

Lee: check the original it should be "breathe" not "breath".; that's a critical difference. Bob

Rohit said...

Inspiring poem no doubt! Thanks Lee.
I'm also wondering about the 'life piled on life' part.
Maybe it means years and years of mundane existence. Can someone pls enlighten?

Chris said...

As far as I can read the middle part, 'Life piled on life were all to little, and of one to me little remains'. Life piled upon life is referencing the idea of life being simply to breath, to live only because you are not dead. 'Life piled upon life' to me suggests that this mundane existence is simply repeating over and over, as a breath would be followed by another breath. 'Were all to little' seem to suggest that Ulysses was disillusioned with what his life had become and wanted to set out with his crew once more. 'and of one to me little remains' means that he feels unfulfilled with his current existence and can only feel alive when he is traveling or exploring. That's how I understood it anyway, hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

"I am a part of all I have met" is undoubtedly the most profound statement in the history of man. It is as close to enlightenment as you can ever get. When you really understand the full implications it is a 'nirvana' moment. God has shared a thought with you.

Linda said...

"Life piled on life", I think, refers to having the chance to live the span of more than 1 life - "Life piled on life were all too little, and of one to me little remains". In other words, he has had much to little time to live his life - he would like to have had many, many more years to experience all that he could - the span of many lives instead of just the one that he has been allowed. Even the span of many lives wouldn't be enough.

Lon Caldwell said...

I came across your blog and enjoyed reading your observations concerning Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson. For several years I have been sending out a weekly note that I call the 'Monday eMail' which highlights a scripture and then I add my comments to it. The following was my use of a portion of Tennyson's poem...

An Agent of Change
Matthew 9: 9-13 (NRSV)
Lonnie (Lon) Caldwell, Evangelist, Community of Christ church, Independence, Missouri

Matthew 9: 9-13 (NRSV)
Jesus Calls Matthew
(Also see: Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.
10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.
11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
13 Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

In the TV series, The Beverly Hillbillies, they came into a fortune (money) but it didn't change them at all. It changed where they lived but only because they were led (told) that they should move to Beverly Hills, but still they were the same as before. How can this be?

When something good happens to us... we should be changed in some way. The same goes for us if something bad happens.

In the poem Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “I am part of all that I have met” and it captures the idea of living an inspired life. It indicates that we are a compilation of our vast experiences, and of the people with which we have interacted. Everything! All that we have learned, whether actively or merely as an observer, has changed us in some way.

But wait! The opposite is also true. We have, in some way, also changed the lives of all that we have met in the same manner. That is an awesome responsibility.

This is exciting stuff! We can expect to continually change as life happens. Good, and unfortunately, bad parts of life will continue to become a part of us.

Jesus called men and women to be different and because Jesus was different... they became different. Their lives were changed for the good. Just as the 'twelve' were called to follow Him, we are still called today.... out of our sinful, petty lives we are called to become new persons with a part of Jesus melded into our being. We are called to change so that others that we meet can also be changed.

Matthew is just one example of a life being changed by association with the Christ. Just look at the other disciples and those many who saw and were the recipients of this miracle called 'the Christ'.

It is the Christmas season. This week, get the Christmas spirit and be an agent of change for others and so be changed yourself as you associate with Jesus Christ.

Have a great week!


Anonymous said...

You may want to look at this video I found on YouTube.
Very inspiring!