A Favorite Poem (Issue #14)

Hello, there!

It has been over two months since my last “A Favorite Poem” issue, and I greatly apologize for that. Just like with the “Sunday Slow Jams” and “Man Crush Monday” features, I’m slowly catching up on them after finishing my travel posts from this last vacation in Asia. Any case, I’m getting there! 😛

This month’s favorite poem is “Experience” from Carl Sandburg, an early 20th century poet and writer whose poetry works focus on observations, American life, and nostalgia. “Experience” is no exception:

Experience (by Carl Sandburg)

This morning I looked at the map of the day
And said to myself, “This is the way! This is the way I will go;
Thus shall I range on the roads of achievement,
The way is so clear—it shall all be a joy on the lines marked out.”
And then as I went came a place that was strange,—
’Twas a place not down on the map!
And I stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,
And looked on the day with rue.

I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.

I see those men with maps and talk
Who tell how to go and where and why;
I hear with my ears the words of their mouths,
As they finger with ease the marks on the maps;
And only as one looks robust, lonely, and querulous,
As if he had gone to a country far
And made for himself a map,
Do I cry to him, “I would see your map!
I would heed that map you have!”

Especially in the poem, the poem’s speaker is observing his/her surroundings, the stanzas and lines in real-time to what he/she is seeing, then and now, even when much of it is in past tense. It is immediate, and gives that almost-tactile feeling to the poem. In other words, you can almost feel the experience happening to you.

What first drew me to this poem was the theme of maps and exploration. As an avid traveler, it resonated with me, since I’m fascinated with world geography in terms of planning my next destination. However, upon closer reading, the maps in “Experience” refer to something more than just the literal: it refers to a dream, a goal that seems to have an ending for the poem’s speaker. But, as with many dreams and goals, they don’t always happen perfectly; as with the speaker, he/she “stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,” an unexpected action that throws one’s life into a crisis, big or small. It is a matter, though, of picking yourself up, and continuing on, uncertain with the “mazy stars neither point nor beckon” and accepting the fact that “of all the roads, no road is sure” for knowing how your life will turn out.

I guess, then, this poem for me changed from a sort-of wanderlust pet of mine into a more holistic outlook on my life. As a twenty-something-year-old who graduated college not too long ago, I am still in the process of figuring out what I want to do with my life. You can say that I have all of these “maps,” these dreams inside of me, but whenever I seek them out, I always hit a stumbling block that not only sets me back, but also makes me question if my goals are actually that fitting for me- my skills and abilities. “Experience,” then, made me realize that no map can really tell you where to go; life’s a hit-and-miss like those “mazy stars,” and it’s by stumbling around that you chance upon something worthy. It is a constant search that goes on for your entire life, even when you think you’re settled in.

That said, this poem for me reinforced the idea that, even though I can plan as much as I can for my goals and dreams, I can’t completely predict the outcome, and just go along with what comes to me along the way. Not to say that I should let external factors completely take control of the situation, but rather find a way to keep my core values and desires steady, but also acknowledge that sometimes, things are just the way they are, and compromise with that.

Anyway, that’s all for me today. Give the poem a go, and let me know what you think!

— The Finicky Cynic

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