Dignity

“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.” – Aristotle

It is well said. Our age spends itself in chasing honors, scrambling after them with no dignity, and thinking that dignity comes in having them at any cost. Aristotle says otherwise, and he is right. There are terms on which the man of honor will even refuse to live; he will not, for example, flee when he is called upon in battle, but master his fear refusing to live on the terms of cowardice. I thought about it when I saw a bumper sticker saying “Don’t ask, don’t care.” There was an erosion of a military virtue: the assumption that dishonor and shameful deeds no longer are. Human kind still prizes honor, but as ever not enough to examine and see what it actually is. Philosophy begins when you do, so read Aristotle.

I’m reading (beside bumper stickers) Wiman, who has some good poems. He has been thinking about how to make every word count and he understands that if it isn’t true it isn’t worth saying. There’s a lot of music in his poetry nowadays, and clearer depths. He reminds me of something Eliot said about writers of Christian verse because for the most part he isn’t that way. They don’t write what they really feel, but what they think they ought to feel, Eliot said, and the result is of course substandard because it is insincere. Which I think helps us understand why real verse is startling. Wiman only has what he feels, but it is worth writing about. Whether or not he is honored, he has deserved some.

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4 thoughts on “Dignity

  1. I checked out Wiman’s West again tonight and read several. I prefer Every Riven Thing. The increase of music in the new one almost reaches the point of mere jangle. And I don’t like all the fused words.

    Still, some good individual poems.

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