A Short Guide for Exploring and Engaging the Themes and Motifs in Ron Padgett’s “How to Be Perfect”
1) Read “How to Be Perfect.”
2) Wonder about the poem’s title. What does the text of the poem convey about the poet’s notions of perfection?
3) In what ways or in what areas of life do you strive for perfection? Where do you come closest? Where do you fail completely—or, perhaps, have even quit trying?
4) Read the poem through several times (at least once aloud), then put the poem away.
5) Jot down the verses (the instructions) you remember in a journal or on a scrap piece of paper. No peeking at the poem!
6) Why might these particular verses have stayed with you? What do they say about who you are and the life you are living now?
7) Now, read through the poem again and notice the verses you didn’t remember. Do any of them surprise you or cause you to wonder why they didn’t stick with you? What do these omissions tell you about who you are and who you might want to become?
© 2016 Kathie Collins
A Short Guide for Exploring and Engaging the Themes and Motifs in Jelaluddin Rumi “The Guest House”
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Jelaluddin Rumi
Translation by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi, New Expanded Edition, 2004, HarperOne, p. 109
In this poem, Rumi uses an extended metaphor comparing our human lives and many moods and experiences to a house in which guests are constantly coming and going. Some of these guests merely pass through. Others stay for extended visits. Some are expected and welcome. Others are unbidden and/or disruptive.
1) After reading the poem several times, describe the you who might be both house and host to all these guests––the building itself and the ego or primary part of your personality that runs this mood motel. (Have fun with it!)
What kind of hotel are you? Four Seasons? Best Western? Residence Inn? Why? What’s the most important feature of the place?
Describe the you that runs this guest house? As hotelier, what expectations do you have for your employees and guests? What ground rules have you established?
2) What have you known of a crowd of sorrows who violently [swept] your house empty of its furniture? What did this crowd take? What did it leave behind? For what might it have cleaned you out? How did you treat it?
3) Describe your latest arrival. What joy, depression, or meanness knocks upon your door this morning? How will you greet it? What does it ask of you? What hospitality will you offer? With which of your other guest(s) might it room? For how long will you allow it to stay?
© 2016 Kathie Collins
A Short Guide for Exploring and Engaging the Themes and Motifs in Mary Oliver’s “The Journey”
1) Read “The Journey” through several times, taking in its rhythm and contemplating some of the imagery. Afterwards, take your own small journey—a walk alone around the block or neighborhood, or even a long hike. As you walk, let the poem’s first verse return to you: “One day you finally knew.”
2) Recall a day from your own life (maybe it’s even this day) in which you finally knew something (anything) with real clarity. What was (is) this “thing” you finally knew? Describe the day. Who was there? What was happening in your life at the time? How did you feel about the knowledge that had finally come?
3) What did “finally knowing” require of you? What did you finally “begin”? What has happened in the days, months, or years since this beginning?
4) Name the voices “shouting their bad advice” and the bad advice. Why was it bad? Why was it shouted? What was your response?
5) Name “the old tug at your ankles”? Describe some of the tactics others (or other voices inside of you) used to keep you from starting down the road.
6) When you finally began your journey, in what ways did the “whole house tremble”?
7) Whose were the voices you had to “little by little leave behind”?
8) How far down the road did you travel before “you heard a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own”? What did this voice say? How did you know it was yours?
9) What is this new voice saying today? Into what life is it calling you now?
10) As you finish your stroll or hike, allow your attention to turn to the natural world. Enter it as fully as possible, allowing your breath to settle and your body to feel planted in the soil. Then look around you for a symbol—a small stone, an acorn, a leaf—some small gift from the earth to remind you of the importance of your journey, something to take with you as you walk “deeper and deeper into the world.”
© 2016 Kathie Collins