Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The particular “frontier” I am interested in exploring with you in this essay is the frontier of the liberal education that a college like Rollins purports to offer you.

No doubt there were many other reasons that led you to choose Rollins besides its “liberal arts and sciences curriculum,” for instance: its size, its location, its beautiful campus and its strong reputation, or perhaps the recommendation of Rollins graduates you may know.  In general, it probably seemed to you a happy place to spend four or so years earning an AB degree.
Those are good reasons, but not the most important reason educationally.  Though it may seem presumptuous to say so, Rollins aims essentially to change your mind, to liberate it from ignorance and fallacy, to open it to new vistas of possibility, and to confirm you in your commitment to higher purposes and aspirations than you had when you came: being better prepared to serve the world with your expanded knowledge and refined thinking.
As a result of your Rollins liberal education, which is not thrust upon you but earned by your studious commitment and effort, you should be more oriented and enabled to make a positive difference in the world after you graduate.  You will have more to contribute to the beneficial human enterprise, not simply to get a better job.
A liberal education is not explicitly vocational or professional training; rather, it is the development of intellect and sensibility along with specific skills, and the acquisition of general and specialized knowledge appropriate to a well-educated person.  To be at least acquainted with disciplines in the humanities, the arts, the sciences and social sciences, and to develop a life-long interest in such subjects is one mark of a liberally educated person.
Your desire not to be ignorant and to become a capable, resourceful, life-long learner should lead you to a college like Rollins.  You recognize that you may enjoy here an immense privilege as an undergraduate: the leisure to study, explore, develop abilities, and find guidance and encouragement in your intellectual growth and mastery.
Most important should be the commitment you make here to grow not merely more knowledgeable and skillful, but wiser: more insightful into what is of real value to yourself and others, and more determined to bring such value into the world to improve it—the world of the family, the community, the government, the ecosystem, the future.  Your liberal education should orient you to recognize the beautiful possibilities of a flourishing life on a flourishing planet, and to commit yourself to making it so.

Lift your sights to that frontier vision of why you are here.


Monday, January 30, 2012


     That “every fair from fair sometime declines,”
     As Shakespeare says of youthful beauty blown,
     All may well see when Old Age undermines
     That loveliness we only briefly own:
          Our youth’s a flower that stays a little hour,
          Is briefly sweet before it turns to sour.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


What is a doggie for if not to teach
you better how to love and care, to give
you opportunities to make a crea-
ture glad, while you become more sensitive?

Who’s taming whom may be in question here:
you both come wild into this world of woe
and face the same great adversary, fear,
yet both can grow in love before you go.

Thus man’s best friend may prove his greatest guide
and easiest teacher of what’s best to learn
since all those years of walking side by side
breed mutual affectionate concern—

     a lesson that extends to man and wife
     and all to all: to live a loving life.


Saturday, January 28, 2012


   Imagination!  What a power we own
   To bring to mind a picture of some thing
   Our eyes can’t see, a private twilight zone
   Of fantasy where sometimes angels sing
   And sometimes devils lurk or monsters prowl
   But also new ideas formulate:
   Just when you’re ready to throw in the towel,
   A fresh invention comes in view that’s great.
   Do other creatures have such visionary
   Capacity as we?  Can they foresee,
   Devise, invent or in their minds’ eye carry
   The picture of a thing that’s yet to be?
        Imagination is a human trait
        That makes us both so monstrous and so great.


Thursday, January 26, 2012


     I met the poet Howard Nemerov
     At the Atlantic Center for the Arts.
     He brooked no fools and readily would scoff
     At tyro poets, incompetent upstarts.
     So three days in, our seminar had lost
     A quarter of the students who had come
     Who couldn’t bear the way he would accost
     And criticize their verse, leaving them dumb.
     Not to excuse the man, but to explain:
     He was an alcoholic and near death
     And maybe thought to spare some fools the pain
     Of fruitless hope and let them save their breath,
     Turning their efforts to more useful things
     Than turning verses and the pain that brings.


Monday, January 23, 2012


     Our dogs are comfortable in their routines,
     Which pattern out each day predictably;
     We let them rule our house like little queens,
     Commanding treats and walks imperiously.
     “You see I’m on my back—it’s time to rub
     My tummy while I wriggle with delight,
     And if you’d rather not hear our hubbub,
     Then let us in the yard.  We have that right!
     “But now it’s time to walk, as you can tell
     Because I’m lying here, chin on my paws,
     And staring in your face, casting a spell,
     An evil one perhaps—you know our laws!”
          So we comply, behaving like good minions,
          Because we love to court their high opinions.


Sunday, January 22, 2012


     I teach those subjects that I most enjoy—
     What better reason could there be to teach,
     Or how much better could we both employ
     Our time than being in our groove or niche?
     Although some subjects may be difficult
     And studied only for necessity,
     You know those studies have the best result
     That resonate with one’s true sympathy.
     So, if you find yourself not in accord
     With what I’m offering in this term’s course,
     And you can see no prospect of reward
     In its pursuit, but only sad remorse,
          Then haste thee to a happier enterprise,
          For only following love may you grow wise.


Thursday, January 19, 2012


     Well versed about the art of sonnetry,
     He set about to write another one,
     Not one about romantic fantasy,
     Since that old topic has been overdone,
     But, for a change, a song that sings of hate
     Or disillusionment or something that
     Reveals the cruel vicissitudes of fate,
     Something unusual, not trite or pat.
     Instead, he found himself in an old groove—
     Writing a poem about the process of
     Writing a poem, but not the sort to move
     An auditor to like, much less to love.
          Too introspective and too self-obsessed,
          Such verses leave their audience distressed.


Friday, January 13, 2012


There are colleges and college courses of many kinds, but those colleges that aim to teach a curriculum of “liberal arts and sciences” and to provide students with a “liberal education” have a higher mandate than providing only higher-level and more challenging academic instruction than is offered in schools of secondary education.

The distinguishing feature of such colleges is implied in the word liberal, which indicates the greater freedom of mind promised by such programs, not just freedom from particular kinds of ignorance, but freedom from narrow-mindedness and prejudice—a freedom gained through skills of critical thinking and the growing realization of what is of value to oneself and others—which is wisdom.

Therefore, any course or program of study in a college of liberal arts and sciences ought to be justifiable not merely by the information it purveys, but by the mentally formative effects it produces in students, moving them further in their development of informed critical and appreciative thinking in the service of making valuable choices.

For example, in my own discipline of literary study, the first determination is to choose literary works worthy of study, exemplary writings illustrative of admirable artistic skills, intellectual cogency, and affective sensibility.  To grow in appreciation of such achievements is to grow more discerning, to grow wiser in ways that enrich lives.

Any other course in any other discipline in a liberal arts and sciences program should be similarly justifiable in terms of how it develops more appreciative, discerning, wiser minds in students.  It should be taught by faculty who practice such appreciation, discernment and wisdom in their own academic activities, and who can recognize and cultivate it in their students.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012


   That conscious spark, that flame—Élan Vital,
   Igniting into life and breath and being,
   That will at first excite and then appall
   When Death arrives, from which no flame is fleeing:
   That vital essence is a mystery,
   A marvel in this universe of dust—
   That anything alive could come to be
   May lead us to believe and even trust
   That something wonderful, some guiding force
   And not mere randomness is our true source.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012


     Although my natural struggle’s to survive,
     I have a duty to do more than live;
     We humans, as all creatures, seek to thrive,
     And to that enterprise I aim to give.
     There’s more than looking out for number one:
     Our ecosystem’s a community,
     Not an arena where a foe’s outdone
     But, rightly seen, a place of harmony.
     The larger purpose calling on our race
     Is ultimately not to demonstrate
     Our power to subdue, but show the grace
     Of love to others, overcoming hate.
          Cooperation and collusion are
          The only reasons we have come this far.


Saturday, January 7, 2012


     It takes a word, a phrase, to light the fuse
     That starts a verse and summons up the Muse,
     And then the form keeps offering new cues,
     Presenting fresh material to choose;

     But still it is the intellect that glues
     The pieces random inspiration strews,
     For while Imagination may enthuse,
     It’s Reason that true poets finally use.


Friday, January 6, 2012


     Most mornings, something nudges me from bed
     An hour or two before the light of dawn,
     And then, as if by some allurement drawn,
     Down to my writing chair I’m gently led.
     As if from some subconscious source I’m fed
     A pregnant word or phrase that serves to spawn
     A couplet or a stanza—then it’s gone,
     And what came easily 's now work instead.
     But once momentum builds, I’m on my way
     And, like a kid first learning how to bike,
     I grow more confident as I proceed
     Keeping my balance, trying not to stray—
     At last, I’m sure the proper word will strike,
     And what was fancy will turn fact indeed.


Thursday, January 5, 2012


 Suppose that human brains are capable
 (And that includes the heart as part of brain)
 Of rising to a consciousness that’s full
 Of cosmic wisdom that defines what’s sane.

 Call this a Supraconsciousness which shows
 What saints and sages long ago have seen,
 What prayer and meditation may disclose
 When agitated minds have grown serene.

 Supposing this, then learn how to receive
 Transmissions of such wisdom from above,
 Finding what agonies it can relieve,
 And realize such insight comes from Love.

      Somewhere there is a universal source
      That teaches wandering souls to keep on course.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012


     At times when my roiled brain becomes serene,
     I may achieve a state of clarity
     In which intuitive insight grows keen,
     As if it were a beacon beckoning me,
     And then I sense the guidance of that beam
     Aiming to lead my wayward footsteps home
     While causing my dull intellect to gleam,
     And in this state sometimes arrives a poem.
     But now I sense more benefit awaits
     Than merely turning verses in the night:
     That staying on this vital beam creates
     A life replete with wisdom and delight.
          To skeptic souls such visions merely seem,
          Unable as they are to live a dream.


Sunday, January 1, 2012


               While many things I know are so,
               Some other things I just believe
               That at the time I can’t perceive—
               Because believing makes them so.