Friday, April 27, 2012

A Journey that Began with a Poem

April is National Poetry Month. I've posted a few of my short poems this month, as I do from time to time on my blog. I didn't want to let the month get away without celebrating a poem that I discovered in the sixth grade. It wasn't the first poem I had memorized (in the third grade I memorized "Casey at the Bat" which I mentioned in a previous blog post), but it was the first poem I recall memorizing to say in front of the class. The teacher asked us all to find a poem to recite. I had seen this one in our English textbook and thought it sounded good, and it had the added advantage of being very short.

by Edwin Markham* (1852-1940)

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

At the time, I was impressed by the sentiment of the poem  perhaps it was a new idea for me. As a twelve-year-old, I knew what it was like to be shut out of a group, but I also knew too well what it was like to be in a group that shut someone else out. I certainly did not successfully practice that drawing of a large circle as a school boy in Alabama back in 1967, but the idea was one that would not leave me. I could not shake the importance of including all kinds of people from many backgrounds, even when I was not quite able practice such hospitality. I think it was Markham's poem that planted the seed that would allow me to begin to have what I call "fluid boundaries."

I have long been fascinated by religion and spirituality. In my own pilgrimage I have moved from Southern Baptist to Episcopalian to Unitarian to Roman Catholic. There have also been dalliances with Pentecostals, and an appreciation for Buddhists and Hindus. In my own spiritual path, I have never felt that I was leaving one thing behind to go to another. To me, I was simply enlarging my circle. It is the idea of the larger circle that makes it important for me to listen to the wisdom of Native Americans and to spend some time each year during Ramadan getting to know my Muslim neighbors.  

It is that enlarging of my circle that has also allowed me to have a fascination with other cultures and to have a desire to pursue life-long learning. There is so much to be learned from literature, history, and science. There is so much to be enjoyed from the arts. There is a world to celebrate, and perhaps for me the first timid step came from reading a short poem in the sixth grade. That is why I want to celebrate this month by thinking about the long journey that was launched in the heart and mind of a school boy by the words of a poet.


*Edwin Markham is also famous for his poem "The Man with a Hoe" inspired by the painting of the same name by Jean-Fran├žois Millet. The poem highlighted the social inequities seen in the exploitation of the human laborer. As Markham stated in his own commentary on the poem, "The Hoeman is the symbol of betrayed humanity, the Toiler ground down through ages of oppression, through ages of social injustice. He is the man pushed away from the land by those who fail to use the land, till at last he has become a serf, with no mind in his muscle and no heart in his handiwork. He is the man pushed back and shrunken up by the special privileges conferred upon the Few."


  1. A good post for National Poetry Month!

    1. Thanks Scott, and thanks for visiting my blog.


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