Saturday, March 26, 2016

Our Culture, Our Poetry

While talking with some programmers this week I exclaimed, "Excelsior!"  It dawned on me that my own son might not know the meaning of this expression.  I used it in the fashion described in the Urban dictionarya phrase often shouted after successfully completing a mission.  According to Your Dictionary, it means higher; always upward: used as a motto (as on the New York State seal).  The word comes from a Latin root that means "higher."

Common expressions are part of the social infrastructure we call American culture.  I learned the term from a poem that I had read in my youth:  Excelsior by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  You can read it here at the Poetry Foundation.  I actually got a copy of a book of poetry for my son, A Treasury of Golden Memories by Kenneth Giniger.  This book has a lot of classic poems, like Excelsior, that were taught to me when I grew up, but which have been abandoned by today's teachers.  It is important to pass along our heritage, our culture, to our children.  If you are like me, we are busy.  It is so hard to juggle all our responsibilities and then find time to oversee our children's education.  But it is important to pass on down to our children those poems that are part of our culture.

Years ago I read  Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch Jr.  The author recounted how his father would only need to say, "There is a tide!" to convey the need to act.  The quote is Brutus speaking to Cassius in the play Julius Caesar (Act 4, scene 3) by William Shakespeare.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

American culture is part of what has made America great.  If we lose our culture, we will lose our greatness.  Bombers and armies project power, but greatness lies within the heart!


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