BOOK REVIEW: An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope

An Essay On CriticismAn Essay On Criticism by Alexander Pope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This essay is a poem, i.e. heroic couplets in iambic pentameter, to be precise. It advises both poets and critics of some of the mistakes made in their respective pursuits (though at the outset he warns that bad criticism is a bigger sin than bad poetry.) To critics, Pope advises against nit-picking, as well as failure to recognize the tradeoffs inherent in poetry – i.e. sometimes the better sounding line is grammatically strained, or the wittier line may be less musical. To poets, he lays out a range of insights from stylistic to psychological, and it is an essay both about improving the product of writing as well as improving the relations between writers and critics.

Those unfamiliar with the essay will still be aware of a few of its lines, these include: “A little learning is a dang’rous thing;” “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” and anyone who’s learned to write iambic pentameter (and the sins, thereof) will remember: “And ten low words oft creep in one dull line.”

But those everyday aphorisms are by no means the full extent of this essay’s wise words and its clever phrasing. My favorite couplets of the poem include:

“Some neither can for wits nor critics pass, // As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass.”

“Trust not yourself, but your defects to know, // Make use of ev’ry friend – and ev’ry foe.”

“For works may have more wit than does ‘em good, // As bodies perish through excess of blood.”

“Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, // Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.”

“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, // As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.”

“Some praise at morning what they blame at night; // But always think the last opinion right.”

“Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things, // Atones not for that envy which it brings.”

“All seems infected that th’ infected spy, // As all looks yellow to the jaundic’d eye.”

“’Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain; // And charitably let the dull be vain:”

I delighted in this poem. It’s full of food-for-thought, and reads remarkably well for a piece from the year 1711.


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Quotations Stumbled Upon [Recently]

To survive in this world you have to be many times a coward but at least once a hero.

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s son

The metaphysical assumptions upon which you want to build your life cannot be an inherited duty.

Patrick levy, Sadhus

It is true that if there were no phenomena which were independent of all but a manageably small set of conditions, Physics would be impossible.

Eugene wigner, the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences

I feel about literature what Grant did about war. He hated it. I hate literature. I’m not a literary West Pointer; I do not love a literary man as a literary man, as a minister of the pulpit loves other ministers because they are ministers: it is a means to an end, that is all there is to it.

Walt whitman, as quoted in Yone Noguchi’s the spirit of japanese poetry

Know that all the sects in existence are a way to Hell.

Nichiren, as quoted by yone Noguchi in the spirit of japanese poetry

It is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult to convert oneself.

oscar wilde, the critic as artist

If you meet at a dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself — a rare type in our time, I admit, but still one occasionally to be met with — you rise from the table richer, and conscious that a high ideal has for a moment touched and sanctified your days. But Oh! my dear Ernest, to sit next to a man who has spent his life trying to educate others! What a dreadful experience it is!

Oscar wilde, tHE CRITIC AS ARTIST

Enlightenment in Four Bits of Shakespearean Wisdom

If you’re looking to attain Enlightenment, you may have turned to someone like the Buddha or Epictetus for inspiration. But I’m here to tell you, if you can put these four pieces of Shakespearean wisdom into practice, you’ll have all you need to uplift your mind.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

william Shakespeare, Hamlet

Through Yoga, practitioners learn to cultivate their inner “dispassionate witness.” In our daily lives, we’re constantly attaching value judgements and labels to everything with which we come into contact (not to mention the things that we merely imagine.) As a result, we tend to see the world not as it is, but in an illusory form.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

William shakespeare, julius caesar

In Psychology class, you may remember learning about the self-serving bias, a warped way of seeing the world in which one attributes difficulties and failures to external factors, while attributing successes and other positive outcomes to one’s own winning characteristics. Like Brutus, we need to learn to stop thinking of our experience of life as the sum of external events foisted upon us, and to realize that our experience is rooted in our minds and how we perceive and react to events.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

william shakespeare, as you like it

A quote from Hamlet also conveys the idea, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If you grasp this idea, you may become both humbler and more readily capable of discarding bad ideas in favor of good. It’s common to want to think of yourself as a master, but this leads only to arrogance and to being overly attached to ineffective ideas. Be like Socrates.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

william shakespeare, julius caesar

Fears and anxieties lead people into lopsided calculations in which a risky decision is rated all downside. Those who see the world this way may end up living a milquetoast existence that’s loaded with regrets. No one is saying one should ignore all risks and always throw caution to the wind, but our emotions make better servants than masters. One needs to realize that giving into one’s anxieties has a cost, and that that cost should be weighed against what one will get out of an experience.

There it is: Enlightenment in four bits of Shakespearean wisdom.

The Traveler’s Worldview in 14 [More] Quotations

SEE PART I HERE
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
-William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. 
-Albert Einstein 


Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost.
-Erol Ozan


Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live for ever.
-Mahatma Gandhi


There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
-Albert Einstein


The journey itself is my home.
-Matsuo Bashō


No matter where you are, you're always a bit on your own, always an outsider. 
-Banana Yoshimoto


There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
-Robert Louis Stevenson


One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
-Henry Miller


I don't want to die without any scars.
-Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver


Do not chase after what is true, only cease to cherish opinions.
-unnamed Zen master


If any man be unhappy let him know that it is by reason of himself alone.
-Epictetus



BONUS QUOTATION:

Respect the Gods and Buddha, but don't expect their help.
-Miyamoto Musashi

5 Profound Pieces of Kung Fu Panda Wisdom (That May Seem Dumb)

5.) Po’s Wu Wei: In his fight against Tai Lung at the end of the first film, Po takes a hard hit from his Snow Leopard nemesis, and through ripples of undulating flab returns a devastating strike that sends Tai Lung flying. While I wouldn’t recommend one try it at home as demonstrated in animated form, the idea of not resisting, but rather redirecting forces is an old school approach. It also reflects the ancient Taoist wisdom of wu wei, effortless action.

 

4.) “But I realized having you in Po’s life doesn’t mean less for me. It means more for Po.”  In the third movie, there’s a scene in which Mr. Ping (Po’s avian dad by adoption) explains to Po’s panda dad, Li, how he came to grips with Li’s presence (which at first made Mr. Ping insecure and envious.) The lesson is to be careful in assigning a situation zero-sum status (one person’s gain requires another’s loss) without having reason to believe it reflects the reality of the situation.

 

3.) “There is just news. There is no good or bad.” This bit reflects an old Taoist story about a farmer and his neighbor. One day the neighbor sees the farmer has a beautiful new horse. The farmer tells the neighbor that it’s a wild horse that the farmer found at the back of his property. The neighbor says, “That’s good news.” The farmer says, “Good news? Bad news? Who’s to say?” The next day when the neighbor stops by the farmer tells him how his son got a broken arm trying to break in the wild horse. “That’s bad news,” says the neighbor. “Good news? Bad news? Who’s to say?” The next day the army comes by, conscripting young men, but the farmer’s son is not forced to go to war because the young man has a broken arm. The story goes on like that.

 

2.) “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are.” In the third movie, after Master Shifu explains to Po how he knew that Po would fail on his first day as a teacher, the Master utters this bit of wisdom. It’s a warning to avoid loitering in one’s comfort zone.

 

1.) “The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient soup….  The secret ingredient is … nothing… To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.”: For some reason, people love to get attached to trappings and secret wisdom, even to the point of losing sight of what’s important.

It reminds me of a story about Dr. Herbert Benson. Benson famously wrote a book entitled, “The Relaxation Response about the effects of relaxation on health. Back in the sixties, students of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (famously, the Beatles’ guru) asked Benson to do a study of the health effects of their teacher’s system of meditation. The Maharishi taught transcendental meditation, an approach in which students focused on mentally repeating a mantra that is “given” to them personally by the teacher. (I put the word “given” in quotes because the Maharishi actually charged a significant amount of money for these mantras.) Anyhow, after much badgering, Benson agreed to do the study. One has to realize that, while today such a study would be considered quite respectable, in those days a study of the effect of meditation on health would have been akin to a study of voodoo.

So, Benson conducted the study and — lo and behold — he found that patients who practice meditation do have better recoveries and less ill effects. The Maharishi and his people now love Herbert Benson. They sing his praises. But Benson is interested in science and couldn’t care less whether any particular guru’s system of meditation is validated. So he repeats the study with all participants using the word “one” as their mantra, and he gets the same result. Subsequently, other forms of meditation are studied, and with similar outcomes. Needless to say, the transcendentalists love affair with Dr. Benson was short-lived.

10 Great Quotes from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran

10.) “But let there be spaces in your togetherness.

“And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

-on Marriage

 

9.) “He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.”

-on Religion

 

8.) “And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”
-on Pain

 

7.) “What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant things?

“What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin and calls all others naked and shameless?”

-on Laws

 

6.) “If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”

-on Teaching

 

5.) “For if you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking you shall not receive.”

-on Prayer

 

4.) “And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.”

-on Freedom

 

3.) “For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?”

-on Giving

 

2.) “Only then shall you know that the erect and the fallen are but one man standing in the twilight between the night of his pygmy self and the day of his god self.”

-on Crime and Punishment

 

1.) “Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.”

-on Houses

5 Insightful Sentences from Literature


It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane. 

Philip K. Dick in VALIS

 

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

John Steinbeck in East of Eden

 

Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.

Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms

 

There is a sense in which we are all each other’s consequences.

Wallace Stegner in All the Little Live Things

 

There are some things that are so unforgivable they make other things easily forgivable. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Half a Yellow Sun

Aaaannd Buddha’d

“This is going on your permanent record, young man!”

“All is impermanent.”


“I want you to get up there and clean your room.”

“Desire is the root of all suffering.”


“There’s a big spider in the corner, kill it!”

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts.”


“My left sock has static cling.”

“You only lose what you cling to.”


“HELP! My sleeve got caught in this threshing machine.”

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and…[cringes]”


“I wonder where the Professor is, he’s usually not late.”

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”


“I’m feeling like a jelly doughnut.”

“What we feel, we attract.”


“I’m thinking a jelly doughnut would be good, too.”

“What we think, we become.”


“I’m furious with you.”

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”


“Well, speak up. Explain yourself!”

“He who doesn’t understand one’s silence will probably not understand one’s words.”


“HELP! My sleeve got caught in this threshing machine.”

“Be patient. Everything comes to you in the… [cringes]”


“It’s time to take the trash out.”

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all YOUR heart.”


“No. I’m sorry, I can’t go to your Solar eclipse gala bash. I have to take my grandmother to chemotherapy.”

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

BOOK REVIEW: The Wit and Wisdom of Master Yoda by Yoda

The Wit and Wisdom of Master Yoda: Master Yoda QuotesThe Wit and Wisdom of Master Yoda: Master Yoda Quotes by Yoda

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

[I normally put a link here to the books I review, but wouldn’t want anyone to accidentally buy this one by mistake.]

This review is the same rant I put in my weekly reading review today. If you saw it there, don’t bother reading onward.

This book was a stinker, and I can’t recommend it for anyone–though its saving grace is that it’s slim and thus only wastes a tiny bit of one’s time. What the author apparently did was to watch a Star Wars movie marathon and pull every Yoda line out and collect them together. This is a sad effort in two ways. First, while Yoda isn’t a lead in the movies (and, therefore, has a limited number of lines), there’s a vast canon of Star Wars books, and it doesn’t look like the author trolled any of them for quotes. Second, some of the lines are neither witty nor wise. Occasionally, Yoda has a line equivalent to, “take a left at the second light,” and the author includes such banal quotes. Furthermore, some of the quotes appear a second time in either reduced or extended form. Beyond all these complaints, the author doesn’t even take the time to put together meaningful front matter to tell the reader something interesting that they don’t already know, and thus doesn’t establish his worth in producing such a book. (Also, he doesn’t seem to know accepted protocol for writing quotes inside quotes–i.e. use of single quotes. Which I guess means he probably didn’t just cut and paste all the quotes because then they would have been grammatically correct.) He also could have at least provided told us which movie each quote was from. It’s a lazy effort. It succeeds spectacularly in being lazy. If you’ve seen the movies (or have basic cable so that you can readily do so by way of one of the frequent Star Wars marathons) you’ll gain nothing from this book.

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