Commentary

Poets and Andover

What matters? Why does it matter? Last week my English homework included reading various Walt Whitman poems. At the beginning of class my English teacher launched into an explanation of why Whitman matters. Typical of most famous poets, he changed some aspect of poetry. I his particular case, he introduced what we now think of as free verse. Whitman is important within the world of poetry because he changed it. Why is this justification for his stature? Another famous poet, Homer, is important for very different reasons. He wrote “The Odyssey”, an epic poem that stands as one of the towering works of western literature. Why is he so important? Because “The Odyssey” is not just an epic poem, it is the epic poem. Along with “The Iliad”, “The Aeneid”, “La Divina Commedia” and “Paradise Lost” it defines and entire genre of poetry. Does its archetypal nature justify is importance? Maybe Shakespeare rings a bell. Often referred to as the most important playwright in the English language Shakespeare’s importance comes from his ability to articulate and elaborate on central human issues, most significantly love and death. One need only look at his most famous sonnets and plays to see that his most popular works have been beautiful and meaningful expressions, interpretations and articulations of love or death. Take “Romeo and Juliet” for example, one of his most famous plays, which combines love and death. Or look at “Sonnet 18,” deftly expressing love, a universal human emotion. Does Shakespeare’s ability to articulate central human problems justify his reputation? Which one of these three means for measuring importance is, well the most important? Which standard truly governs a poet’s stature? Walt Whitman couldn’t have changed poetry without already existing genres to alter. Homer couldn’t have written The Odyssey without relying on the articulation of central human themes. Shakespeare would never have written his poetry without Petrarch introducing the Italian sonnet. Change, definition and articulation depend on each other. To use a single one as the benchmark for importance would diminish its meaning, because it inherently relies on the other two components. So what really matters? Kids everywhere, especially at Andover are inclined to measure the world in one dimension. Some say classes are important, some say sports. Others focus on sixes or social life. Maybe what was shown above with poetry can be applied to Andover. It is easiest to work backwards. Beginning with the postulate that humans want to be happy, or at least free from suffering, it must then be asked what processes at Andover contribute to being happy? And what are the elements of these processes? One might suggest that building lifelong thinking and study skills is a process that contributes to being happy. One might also suggest, however, that leading a strong social life and hanging out with friends can lead to happiness right now and in the future. Still others might propose that practicing sports and fitness now can contribute to both present and future happiness. Can’t all these statements, and others, be united under the declaration that Andover is about learning how to be happy through trial and error? If a student fails to find happiness in sixes, they may try dances. If not dances, maybe sports. If not sports, then clubs. Maybe it’s nice to attend a club once a week but not every day. Maybe they need sports in their lives, or the opposite gender. Whatever it is, they find it through practicing being happy in different situations. So what are the important elements of this process of trial and error? Obviously a willingness to try to new things is essential. A type of persistence, however, is also critical. Not everyone is going to be good at everything they try, therefore it’s necessary for some to stick with an activity in order to gain enough proficiency to actually have fun doing it. Finally the student must possess enough introspective power to be able to realize they’re really happy doing something, or if external pressures and perspectives are manipulating them into feeling happy. For example, one student might love playing a varsity sport, but not for the sport itself but the social connections that come with. In such cases introspective skills are critical so the student can realize the true nature of their happiness. From the above analysis it can be seen that grades, sports, social life and any other tangible activities are not important at Andover. Rather, the elements of the process of learning to be happy are important. I can already hear athletes, artists, physicists and poets telling me they are happy. They have great time at Andover and love what they do. Unfortunately, no one can stay at Andover forever, not even faculty members, and upon leaving this campus students may find themselves in strange environments that disrupt the happiness they found here. Maybe they won’t be the best athlete, photographer, mathematician or writer in college. Or if they are, they may face problems in other facets of their life, present but ignored during their time at Andover that have been exacerbated by their transfer to college and beyond. Andover is a fantastic opportunity to learn how to deal with adverse circumstances and learn to be happy the only way one can: through trial and error. Some readers may have noticed I did not mention college beyond the vague reference to possible future location of an Andover student. Such readers may point out that perhaps the point of Andover is getting into college. College is only important for the same reason Andover is. Different colleges offer different environments for learning how to be happy. Why not start learning how to be happy now? The things that are important are the elements of processes that enrich lives, your own or others. There is nothing that is intrinsically important beyond widespread human happiness or at least the absence of human suffering. The ways in which you find your own happiness or contribute to the happiness of others, may be complex and indirect. Ultimately, however, are the actions worth striving towards. Within these actions there are important, but not independent, components that contribute to positive processes. These important things are worth searching for an understanding. Not sixes, not sports. Not Blue and Silver, not math club. Critical thinking. Max Block is two-year Lower and Commentary Associate from Norwich, VT.