that which we are, we are

Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in the old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal-temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Good poems can be understood. Better poems are well written. Best poems make you feel.

Forget the coffee house poetry and the snapping fingers. Other than Audrey Hepburn’s “I rather feel like expressing myself now,” that kind of poetry deals with white pills, passed out boyfriends, and homeless people boiling water for hot dogs in an alley. Yawn.

But this, this you can understand. This makes sense. We know the stuff of sunsets and gulfs that wash us down. We know Achilles, and we know that you can’t change who a person is. This poem actually makes sense.

Good poetry is meant to be read aloud. Try this one out. How can you not love the sound of “smite the sounding furrows” or “To sail beyond the sunset”? Sigh. This is good stuff, my friends. Good. Stuff.

It sounds good, but it makes sense too. Think of this poem—“Ulysses” by Tennyson—in light of Lutheranism. It seems as though this should be a rallying cry, a call to arms. “Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Can’t you feel that? Doesn’t it make you want to rise up and go fight the good fight?

And that’s the thing: poetry is best when it makes you feel. You understand it. You like the sound of it. And it makes you get it deep inside. It transports you out of your dingy office or cramped living room into another world. It makes you hold on to the words. It makes you want to re-read it. It causes you to want to do your best and to be more noble. It moves you.

This is good stuff, my friends.

But I think I’ve said that before.

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