Posts Tagged ‘poetic inspiration’

I am thankful to a wise relative who recently introduced the following poem to me, originally written more than a century ago. Mr. Sukhdev Kumar, reciting this poem in his passionate, enthusiastic voice at the age of seventy-two, reminded me of my existence and took me to thinking back to the question of ‘who I am’ and ‘what I am for’.

        Written by the renowned poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I present this famous poem to you along with my own reflection of each verse. Feel free to skip my interpretation and read only the straight, non-italicized lines of the poem (for that is how I would read it, if I were you). Subject it to your own interpretation. No two souls are alike, no two minds are alike. My experiences in life situate my thoughts in a perspective that may probably be very different from what you have experienced and ‘lived’.

       Through the italicized words, I try to unfold the poem from my own point of view, taking it from an abstract to a more concrete level. So take this poem and do with it what you want. But whatever you do, try to utilize it in some way in the way you live.

A Psalm of Life

(HW Longfellow)

 Tell me not in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

I read this and think of how we are ‘made to believe’ about who we are and what our reality is. The process starts at a very young age. Children listen to stories, watch incidents and silently participate in discussions that impart in them a sense of what is important and what is true. This subconscious sense will then shape the direction of how they live their life.

 Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Our identity is not because of our visible bodies. It is our soul that defines us. The body, composed of the five elements, will return back to the five elements one day. But that is not the fate of the soul. The latter continues its journey, even after this body is gone. And it is this journey of the soul that is the real life!

 Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

In this journey, the only thought we need to keep close to our heart is that every day should take us higher than before. With our minds and bodies, we need to follow our souls, leaving behind all hurdles. At the end of the journey it does not matter how much fun we had or how much distress we were in; all that matters is how far we proceeded towards our soul in this human frame.

 Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

Whether we like it or not, this present life will come to an end. Our bodies will be buried or cremated. It does not help to close our eyes to this reality and say, “We shall see when the time comes.” Instead, it would be more befitting to prepare for the end. No matter how strong or sturdy a living being was during his or her lifetime, one day the body will surely be one with the dust.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

We have spent enough of our precious time just blindly following others in the world. We have handed ourselves to the will of the world without giving it a thought. We let them do the thinking for us, let them take our decisions and surrender ourselves without the least struggle. It takes real courage to stand straight and tall when the world is pushing us down from all sides.

 Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, – act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Often, we engage ourselves in thoughts of what happened in the past, leading ourselves to fret and regret. At other times, we think of the future and make plans to make it better in the times to come. When we do so, we live our life either like a ghost or like a fantasy creature. Rarely do we spend time living like a human being, thinking of what and who we are in the present. We should live life the way it was meant to be— remembering the internal strength and chastity that our soul possesses and realizing the presence of God with us at every step.

 Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sand of time;

Living a worthy, coveted lifestyle is not impossible. We have many examples in history to remind us what it really is like to be a worthy human being. Leave alone history, we probably have examples in our personal life which impart a sense of what life truly means. These are inspirations which we should use to guide our own lives. What use is a brain and intellect if we are not going to put it to use to learn lessons from others?

 Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

In the past, people have struggled to make their own and others’ lives richer, fuller, better and more comfortable. We need to use those struggles to remind us that ‘no matter what, we cannot quit’. In our own life we need to model this behaviour so that our children can get inspiration from our actions, from our courage and strength and from our ability to keep going bravely. There is no room for weaklings. Polish up your strengths and pave the way for the world to do the same.

 Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

Enough time has been wasted in dilly-dallying, in thinking, in grieving, in planning. It is time to act. In our heart, we need to be strong; in our steps, we need to be firm and in our attitude, we need to be positive. There is no need being scared of what the future holds for us or what would happen if something went wrong. Once our feet are set in the right direction, our life will automatically take care of itself. All we need to do is to keep going with hope and courage.


About fifteen years ago, I had put up a poster in my room titled ‘Don’t Quit’. When I visited the room again this year, I found it was still there, much to my joy. The following verse from the poster always sticks with me

“When the funds are low

and the debts are high;

And you want to smile,

but you have to sigh;

When care is pressing you

down a bit

Rest if you must,

but don’t you quit.”

‘A Psalm of Life’ brought back the memory of those times of early youth when one wills to change the world. Neither courage, nor strength seems to be lacking. And then, as we proceed and ‘progress’ into our life, we start ‘adjusting’— adjusting to lower standards, less-than-enough expectations. Not finding enough supporters who will say, ‘Go, do it while you can’, we are instead accosted by several people who say, “Oh, I dreamt of that too when I was young. The passion will soon fade away”— a melancholy note that need not to be heeded to.

It is youth, it is childhood, when the time is ripe to take an active role in creating the world of our dreams. It is definitely possible. All we need to do is to remember our own strengths and the passion of those who have dared to carry on! That is how the world continues to rise.

~ Nivedita Shori


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What is satisfaction

To be able to sleep cozy and well,

Even when things are going all pell-mell,

To be able to say ‘time will tell’,

Although the day ahead seems like ‘a job from hell’,

To count my blessings and not to rebel,

If boggling things want me to yell,

To be able to ‘curl up’ and smile in ‘my shell’!



Who decides my level of satisfaction

 I and I alone have a right

To decide the peace of my day and my night

Others want to take over and guide my sight

But when life drives endurance to its height

They’re there alright, only to watch my plight

I’m learning to hold on to myself tight

It’s my own journey, my soul’s personal flight!

~ Nivedita Shori

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Last week, I went out for lunch with some colleagues. As we were returning back to work, there was a light breeze. When we were about to reach the entrance door, the breeze brought with it a faint fragrance. One of us stopped. She exclaimed, “Oh look, the lilacs are in bloom!” We all paused and took a moment to appreciate the glory of the beautiful mauve-coloured flowers and were mesmerized with the lovely smell.  Looking at our watches, we felt sad as we had to leave the blooming flora. Reluctantly, we walked back in to our work.

Angela said, “It is so sad that we have stopped noticing things. We miss out so many beauties and little joys because of that. My two year old daughter keeps stopping every other minute to notice tiny things that I seem to have left behind.”

It sounded absolutely true to all of us. The few moments spent in the company of those lilacs were a joy indeed which we were about to skip, just like we skip dozens of other such beautiful things every day.

Recently I received a beautiful poem that reflects the above sentiment. The wise and lovely person who shared it with me has a zest to live a meaningful life, which I appreciate and would like to emulate. I thank her for passing this poem on:

Slow Dance

By David L Weatherford
(Taken from www.davidlweatheford.com)

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
or listened to rain slapping the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
or gazed at the sun fading into the night?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.
Do you run through each day on the fly,
when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.
Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow
and in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
’cause you never had time to call and say hi?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.
When you run so fast to get somewhere,
you miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.
Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
hear the music before your song is over.
 ~ Nivedita Shori

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Engaging in studies about ‘Foundations of Curriculum’ as part of my Masters in Education at University of Toronto, I became aware of several reforms that the field of education needs to go through. What students learn at any given time has to be suitable to the present world, the reality which they can call their own. Often curriculum smells of the perspectives and prejudices of the curriculum designers. With the onset of globalism, liberalism, post colonialism, multiculturalism and astounding diversity in the world, we must re-create the present curriculum to reflect these changes. The targets of education— the children— and the world they actively participate in should be the objects of primary consideration during curriculum-framing.

I have tried to weave some of my understandings about the curricular process in the following poem:

… Said the Book

“Nothing is more splendid for me,” said the book,
“Than when a child through her brown eyes peers at me,
Holds me tenderly,
Smiles at my happy sections, weeps at the sad ones,
Sometimes when I reveal a secret, she just sits, stunned!
Hugs me close when she sleeps,
My soul into her dream seeps!”

“I wonder what right I have to influence her so,
Who put ‘words in my mouth’ that carry such power;
My eyes become misty when I think of my ‘creator’,
With loving pain when he put me together,
He put the essence of his learning—of himself—in me,
I became him and he, me!
Inheriting his thoughts and character, I was set free!” —said the book.

“And now, the little girl’s life which is entwining in mine
Is so different from the life that was breathed into me;
My spirit, though sparkling white, is monotonous in colour
Whereas she and her friends are so colourful;
She lives not in a world of merely men and women,
But with several ‘others’ who are now her brethren!”
—said the book.

“And yet, she loves me so! It’s wrong!
She needs to now dance to a different song.
Give birth to my progeny, raise new books,
That differ from me in thoughts, spirits and looks.
She must create a world to call it her own—
A world she sees through her own eyes, not mine!”
—said the Book.

— Nivedita Shori

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