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I’ve always been curious about philosophy, which is why I actually enjoyed this English project–a rare occurrence (sorry). The discussion of many of the major Western philosophies of the last few centuries throughout Grendel fascinated me, the way complex metaphysical systems were not only referenced but analyzed through the characters and events of the novel. In particular I appreciated the exploration of nihilism and existentialism. I at least partially subscribe to Sartre’s school of thought, so  reading Gardner’s letter to the students allowed me to reconsider my views. Given that Grendel is largely about Grendel’s quest to determine how he should live his life, it is not surprising that Gardner believes human make up their own values, since there are not universal truths or guarantees. I found his declaration of this position to be a breath of fresh air, honestly, having grown up in a community in which criticisms of absolute morality (and religion in general) are generally met with disapproval.

However, I disagree with Gardner’s claim that our current society’s mark on the world will fade into oblivion. Clearly on a universal scale human actions are infinitesimal and insignificant, but the memory of our modern discoveries and values will not vanish on Earth–as long as the Internet exists, at least. Gardner could not have anticipated the existence of such an information network. His justification, referencing our ignorance surrounding the society responsible for erecting Stonehenge, does not hold water if we consider the power of the Internet. Stonehenge was built in such a primitive time that writing hardly existed, let alone a simultaneously virtual and physical database of trillions of ideas and events that could feasibly be printed with the help of some fancy computers and an army of printers. I appreciate his consideration of the transience of human life and society, but I believe the future of recording history has been forever revolutionized by the creation of the Internet.

 

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The Lighted Window

The Lighted Window

Sara Teasdale1884 – 1933

He said:
“In the winter dusk
When the pavements were gleaming with rain,
I walked thru a dingy street
Hurried, harassed,
Thinking of all my problems that never are solved.
Suddenly out of the mist, a flaring gas-jet
Shone from a huddled shop.
I saw thru the bleary window
A mass of playthings:
False-faces hung on strings,
Valentines, paper and tinsel,
Tops of scarlet and green,
Candy, marbles, jacks—
A confusion of color
Pathetically gaudy and cheap.
All of my boyhood
Rushed back.
Once more these things were treasures
Wildly desired.
With covetous eyes I looked again at the marbles,
The precious agates, the pee-wees, the chinies—
Then I passed on.

In the winter dusk,
The pavements were gleaming with rain;
There in the lighted window
I left my boyhood.”

As an adolescent, I found this poem particularly powerful. In preparation for embarking on the great adventure of college, I’ve recently had quite a bit of contact with remnants of my childhood, mainly through cleaning out my closet. It’s hard to put into words, but so much of my life lives in those dusty shelves. Years of imagination and joy are stored within that 6 x 4 x 10 room. Even though I couldn’t have touched any of those toys more than twice since entering high school, it’s difficult to imagine giving them away; I’m still just a boy, and I’m not ready to leave that behind. And yet, once I pack up my belongings next August, I’ll have closed the closet door for the last time. Like the man in the poem, I will have left my boyhood behind, pressing onward for new experiences and joys.

Although I’ve never considered myself much of a poetry fan, I’m getting much better at finding the things I enjoy about it. Even devices as simple as alliteration, such as in “A confusion of color/ Pathetically gaudy and cheap,” catch my attention–not because they achieve some greater symbolic purpose by repeating the letter “c”, but simply because the poet took the time to pick the perfect words there. On the other hand, the repetition of the first lines of the poem in the reprise allowed me to understand the meaning of the poem. No matter how sentimental or nostalgic seeing the pleasures of your past feels, the decision to move on past childhood and toys marks the end of boyhood.