Writing to inspire

What piece of writing has affected you the most?

If it’s short enough, quote it here, or give us a link, and explain in as much detail as you can why it is important to you. If, like me, you are spoiled for choice, go for one that you feel you can say plenty about. It can be poetry, fiction, journalism – anything you like.

As I said to my Y12 Language & Literature group, for me, just choosing one example is almost an impossibility. I’m also increasingly aware of all the fine words that have been written and spoken that I will never even get to read before I shuffle off this mortal coil. This morning, I happened to recall my moving encounter as a teenager with Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and how my anger and upset at the injustice explored in that novel had me weeping with sadness and throwing the book across the room in fury and frustration when I finished it. Incidentally, having re-read Tess a couple of times, I’m now almost as likely to be angry with the character of Tess for succumbing to her fate with so little fight, but that’s a different story.

There are a number of poets that I keep returning to over and over again. T S Eliot is one of them, as my Lang/Lit group also know, having watched the superb Robert Webb documentary focussing on his poem The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to teach The Waste Land a few years back. But at the moment it is Eliot’s later work, Four Quartets that probably resonates with me most. The beginning of the first part, Burnt Norton is now probably among the most famous passages in English Verse:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

I suppose one thing that first attracted me to this -and still does – is the way that it combines serious hard thought with a desire to express ideas in beautiful form, and perhaps recognises that there are some questions where pure logic can only get us so far, and metaphor needs to take over. It starts with philosophical speculation about the nature of time in a way that, in tone, seems quite academic, dry and logical. That tentative adverb ‘perhaps’ in the second line, immediately conveys that these are not the words of a mind trying to express scientific certainty, and the latinate abstract nouns, abstraction (itself pointing up the distance of these opening words from our typical experience of everyday reality) and speculation reinforce the sense of someone grappling with ideas that are difficult to grasp. Later in the poem, Eliot discusses how the very language he uses is inadequate to the task he is trying to make it do:

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still

And yet, even as the poem opens with an expression of some frustration at the apparent pointlesness of such speculation, it sums that feeling up in a metaphor of desolate beauty:

Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves

Look at the richness of that apparently simple image!

The immediate impression of the image seems straightforward: it’s as if it were saying ‘why rock the boat?’ or ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ – why disrupt an otherwise settled life with this awkward wrestling with difficult and eternal questions? The choice of verb: disturbing suggests a mental disturbance. But what will that disturbance do? It will reveal the rose-leaves in the bowl that are otherwise obscured by dust. Why rose leaves and why in a bowl? I think of pot-pourri: the leaves plucked from the living rose to be used for their fragrance. But the dust (the unnoticed accumulation of life experiences? the ‘common sense’ ideas and routines that seem settled but prevent us from thinking more freely and creatively?) obscures that fragrance. Both the visual and olfactory beauty of the rose leaves is obscured: our full physical and mental capacities are subdued by the everyday business of living. Disturbing the dust is – yes, disturbing; but it allows the possibility of revealing something far richer and more satisfying beyond. But rose leaves also make me think of the power on the one hand, but inadequacy, on the other of language which is also a theme of this poem. Remember Shakespeare’s a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? And notice that the dust is merely disturbed: it is not removed: disturbed suggests merely shifted from one place to another: we get a brief glimpse of the eternal, but the dust settles again and the rose leaves are once again partially smothered.

Oh, I could go on and on about this, exploring the way different elements and images throughout Eliot’s Four Quartets interweave and ramify. The musicians among you will notice that the title of the four-part poem evokes the idea of the musical quartet, so musical ideas of harmony and counterpoint and so on would be much more valuable for you in responding to the work than they are to me. I hope you’ve got the tiniest glimpse, though, of why I find literary analysis such a life enhancing thing to do. It so far removed from the dry and dull impression that the focus on exam board assessment criteria and the like can so easily make on us that it sometimes makes me nearly weep that I’m forced to introduce people to this stuff in such an unhelpful environment. I just hope that in some small way, the opportunity to break free of those assessment tramlines for a while will give some of you a brief scent of those rose leaves, and a glimpse of their waxy sheened beauty.

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18 Responses to Writing to inspire

  1. Alex R says:

    when i picked lang & lit it was only because english was one fo my stronger subjects so Ithought id do well but i never really took a great interest in it, however when we started to looking at the importance of being earnest I thought it was fantastic. I love all the old fashioned norms, values and witty humour. so I then proceeded to look at quotes from Oscar Wilde and william shakespeare on http://www.quotationspage.com, to which i then made one of my favourite pages on my internet. I love to read quotes that really make you think and can also reflect similar emotions i may be feeling. so it was when i read The Importance Of Being Ernest is when i really started to enjoy english and got me so fascinated with Wilde and Shakespeare. It is gradually becoming something of a passion for me.

  2. heald says:

    Thanks Alex. That’s nice to hear. But how about some examples? Try and think how you can try and convey – perhaps to someone who is unfamiliar with Wilde – why you enjoyed the play. Why is it worth reading or seeing?What is it about Wilde’s language (or indeed Shakespeare’s) that ‘makes you think’ or ‘reflects your emotions’? Part of the business of training your critical faculties is to be able to convey something of that personal response to others. That’s what I’m trying to encourage here.

  3. Gemma A says:

    The following lyrics to ‘Heal the world’ affects me:
    “Heal The World
    Make It A Better Place
    For You And For Me
    And The Entire Human Race
    There Are People Dying
    If You Care Enough
    For The Living
    Make A Better Place
    For You And For Me”

    This is because I feel that everyone should be treated equally. Not being treated like nothing, or like someone who doesn’t have their own feelings or the right to speak for themselves or not having the right to freedom. How some people are treated is wrong. It says “the entire human race” not just those who have the wealth to live with everything they desire. I understand that there are countries who live in poverty but that doesn’t give the right for their homes – probably their most important possession, to be destroyed in wars etc. This song is accompanied by a very touching video: showing those in the world who do live in poverty. Children alone. Most with illnesses of some kind. And they have nothing because their homes have been destroyed, and their families have been killed or have died from an illness.

  4. James M says:

    Like Alex, I also find Oscar Wilde to be quite inspirational, but in particular I remember Wilde’s short stories which were read to me when i was cery small, maybe from the age of two to six, and specifically I remember the story of The Selfish Giant. As a young toddler, this story was very magical and gave a strong sense of happiness and was probably one of the first literary stories I ever connected with, so personally it is an inceridible sentimental story for me. I found it again on the internet at; http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/SelGia.shtml#top , and after readig it again, altough it loses some of the magic and intrigue it had when I was much younger, it is still a very happy story, with a moment of thought regards the ending.

  5. Mathew Latham says:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breath a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
    Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
    This poem has inspired me since the first time I was given it by Mr Carley in year 11. It is a masterpiece of Rudyard Kipling’s through his constant references to people lives. Through the first lines of, ‘If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,’ all adds to people having their own self belief and emphasising this through the use of ‘If’. ‘If’ can be described as an ambiguous word so although Rudyard is portraying truthful facts on how people should lead their lives there is also that uncertainty of the reader not doing this in their lives leading them to reflect throughout the poem.
    Rudyard also uses direct speech on such lines as, ‘Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies’ and, ‘Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,’. Because these are both strong points, Rudyard has still used ‘Or’, to maintain that uncertainty of life but has also emphasised that these two things should never be done.
    The ways in which this poem has had an impact on me is how everything within this poem can be related to both my life and any other readers life. When I start to relate some of these points I realise how lucky I am, and how through my upbringing I have been able to gain a lot of these skills that have been brought up within the poem. Though then I start to realise that others are not as fortunate as me and others within the United Kingdom as they are unable to count for the many different points that are brought up, such as, ‘ If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,’ like my dreams are to become successful, a large house and nice car, and I should not let this over rule my education, where as a child in Africa’s dream would be for clean drinking water and food, but if this child does not make this dream their master, then they will be unable to survive as these people are in extreme poverty
    In conclusion, after reading this poem I try and live my life by it as I feel it is a general basis for how every person should go about each and every day, though throughout, other lives should not be forgotten about as they do not have the resources or means to follow the inspiring words of Rudyard Kipling.

  6. James M says:

    Sorry about my frequent typos by the way

  7. Olivia B says:

    Annachie Gordon

    Buchan is bonnie and there lives my love
    My heart it lies on him, it will not remove
    It will not remove for all that I have done
    O never will I forget my love, Annachie
    For Annachie Gordon, he’s Bonnie and he’s braw
    He’d entice any woman that ever him saw
    He’d entice any woman, and so he has done me
    O never will I forget my love, Annachie

    Down came her father and he’s standing on the floor
    Saying, Jeannie, you’re trying the tricks of a whore
    You care nothing for a man who cares so very much for thee
    You must marry with Lord Saltoun and leave young Annachie
    For Annachie Gordon, he’s only but a man
    And although he may be pretty, but where are all his lands
    Saltoun’s lands are broad and his towers they stand high
    You must marry with Lord Saltoun and forget young Annachie

    With Annachie Gordon, I’d beg for my bread
    Before that I’d marry Saltoun with gold to my head
    With gold to my head and gowns fringed to the knee
    O I’ll die if I don’t get my love, Annachie
    And you who are my parents to the church you may me bring
    But unto Lord Saltoun, I’ll never bear a son
    O a son or a daughter, I’ll never bow my knee
    I’ll die if I don’t get my love, Annachie

    When Jeannie was married and from the church she was brought home
    And she and her maidens so merry should have been
    When she and her maidens so merry should have been
    O she’s gone to her chamber and she’s crying all alone
    Come to bed now Jeannie, my honey and my sweet
    For to style you my mistress, it would not be meet
    O, it’s Mistress or Jeannie, it’s all the same to me
    For it’s in your bed, Lord Saltoun, I never shall be

    And up and spoke her father and he’s spoken with renowned
    All you who are her maidens, won’t you loosen off her gown
    But she fell down in a swoon, o so low down by their knees
    Saying, Look on, for I’m dying for my love, Annachie
    The day that Jeannie married was the day that Jeannie died
    That’s the day that young Annachie came rolling home from the tide
    And down came her maidens and they’re wringing of their hands
    Saying, woe to you Annachie, for staying from the sands

    So long from the land and so long upon the flood
    O they’ve married your Jeannie and now she is dead
    All you that were her maidens, won’t you take me by the hand
    And won’t you lead me to the chamber that my love lies in
    And he kissed her cold lips until his heart turned to stone
    And he’s died in the chamber where his true love lay in

    This traditonal ballad from Aberdeenshire has had a profound affect on me, not just because stories like this are common in traditional song, but by the constand devotion Jeanie shows to her love Ancachie, even though she knows her fathers word goes. Her love is so strong in the end she dies, for that is the only way she will be able to stay true to Annachie. The anger I feel at her father and Lord Saltoun, are futhered by the fact that the truth is that there is a high chance that this tale is based on reality or a mixture of actual event. These things really happened! And still to an extent do happen, you hear in the news about honour killings and think these things don’t happen in Britain, well go back a few hundred years and they did. You can find many many songs telling a similar story. What makes this one especially sad is that Annachie comes back only to find that she has died and had he been earlier he would have been able to take her away with him (but even so this would not have been easy). Singing this song breaks my heart more than any other song, and I sings many, as sad as it sounds, when I sing I become the person in the song and I truly feel her pain – I have been known to burst into tears halfway through before! Therefore I believe this ballad has really moved me and therefore even though it is not some great work of literature, it is a truly emotive piece.

  8. Alex says:

    I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere among the clouds above;
    Those that I fight I do not hate,
    Those that I guard I do not love;
    My county is Kiltartan Cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
    No likely end could bring them loss
    Or leave them happier than before.
    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind
    In balance with this life, this death.

    William Butler Yeats.

    This question wasn’t posted to our class as far as I know, but still having spotted it on Edmodo I thought I’d delve into it.
    I first found out that this poem was linked with a song by Keane, called “A Bad Dream”. The song is based on the poem, and was delivered by Neil Hannon (from the Divine Comedy) at the 02 Arena in London, and I along with 19,999 other people managed to be there to see it live. The reading combined with the background music made my back shiver, and really hits home the importance of the War, and how it has such a negative effect on the honest people who fought within it. Even now, the song still makes me sit and wonder, makes me sit and just stop for a minute (apologies) and appreciate what we hold dear to us. These men who were “flying in the clouds above” didn’t want to be there, nor should they have had to be. If anyone wants to watch the video, and listen to it, the link is :

    s’a poor video, but you get to see what I mean… any feedback or thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  9. Anjelica says:

    The book that has inspired, not only me but a huge proportion of the world, is the Holy Scriptures, or the Bible. Although it is the best selling book known I don’t think many people my age would put this down as their favourite work of literature because, after all, it is a very old book and it is often viewed without respect and made fun of and many think it is no longer relevant to the modern day way of life. But I really enjoy reading it because it’s full of real-life stories to learn lessons from and gain practical knowledge, stuff that’s not just the answers useful only to solve cross word puzzles.
    From personal experience, I find that what makes the Bible so different from any of the masterpieces that are written by the most talented people, is that what I read sticks in my mind; I read it but I don’t forget it. If I watch or read a moving story, for a time it sticks in my head but very soon after it fades and I wouldn’t really enjoy reading or watching it over and over again because after a while it looses that power.
    There’s so many things I could talk about from what I’ve read in the Bible but a verse that sticks out in my mind is the one found in Matthew 5:3 where it says “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need”. It makes me think beyond the “now” and makes me think of what lies ahead. It makes me want to read on more because it makes me realize that no matter how much of anything I have, (or rather, wish I had!) like money, intelligence or fame, the only real source of happiness comes from “being conscious of our spiritual need”. Of course, not to a religious extreme but just making sure it has its proper place in life.

  10. heald says:

    Alvin did his contribution using good old pen & ink. Not a problem! Here it is:

    http://mrheald.posterous.com/alvins-contribution

  11. Rebecca says:

    Inspirational Books.
    Before I Die by Jenny Downham.

    The book Before I Die is about a young teenage girl called Tessa, Tessa is terminally ill with leukaemia and has created a list of things she wants to do before she dies. I found this book very inspirational because Tessa knows that she is going to die and so makes the list of things she wants to do before this happens. I found the book inspiring because the author, Jenny Downham, made it feel like the character, Tessa was real and all of her emotions were real. She portrayed Tessa to be a happy teenager who has ambitions and dreams and that made me want to have the same, I think the fact that Tessa is terminally ill and still has the dreams and still does the things that she wants to do whereas people like me moan at some of the simplest things, it made me appreciate the life I have and the people I spend it with because at the end of the day I do have a life and can do all the things I want to do and at the end of it ill be here in the next few weeks whereas the character Tessa wont, she knows that all of the things she wants to do and all of the things that are on her list she only has a short period of time to do it all in. I found the book very moving and very sad. I felt like I knew the character, Tessa and throughout the book as she goes down the list and does the things that she wants to do we feel, as the reader, that we are going through it with her. Some parts of the book are funny, others are moving and towards the end incredibly emotional, in Tessa’s last few moments as she is drifting away and has completed everything on the list she wanted to do, I felt very sad because the character has died but also very happy to be alive.

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  15. Charlotte Count says:

    The Kite Runner, although our studying english text, struck me.The mention of Amir’s father, Baba, going to work at the gas station in America, despite his previous propsperous status in Afghanistan, reveals many things about his charcter. An inner depth, self worth and pride is dicovered and especially significant when in contrast with the General Taheri. The General is adament as not to ‘lower himself’ by earning a living through partaking a job ‘below him’. Yet happily accepts handouts, benefits and ‘free dinner tickets’. The contrast between both charcters; both a similar age, and from the same culture and homeland; Kabul, Afghanistan, intensifies the stark difference.

    I think that this explores the modern-day outlook on working, money and pride. Many people nowadays in England will hapily accept benefits, not just the state benefit, yet confusingly, live a prosperous and lavish lifestyle. Somehow accepting such goods and services etc, for free, does not affect their own self-worth, yet splashing out of luxury items proves their worth and displays their ‘status’.

    Perhaps this is in due cause of representing the current situation and opinions of the current generation(s). To impress unknown exterior parties is held in higher opinion than making closer loved ones proud of good-old-fashioned ‘graft’. However in this instance, the situation and stark juxtaposition between the two characters, may allow the reader to realise the shallow nature of being ‘too proud to work’.

  16. Charlotte Count says:

    The Kite Runner, although our studying English text, struck me. The mention of Amir’s father, Baba, going to work at the gas station in America, despite his previous prosperous status in Afghanistan, reveals many things about his character. An inner depth, self worth and pride is discovered and especially significant when in contrast with the General Taheri. The General is adamant as not to ‘lower himself’ by earning a living through partaking a job ‘below him’. Yet happily accepts hand-outs, benefits and ‘free dinner tickets’. The contrast between both characters; both a similar age, and from the same culture and homeland; Kabul, Afghanistan, intensifies the stark difference.

    I think that this explores the modern-day outlook on working, money and pride. Many people nowadays in England will hapily accept benefits, not just the state benefit, yet confusingly, live a prosperous and lavish lifestyle. Somehow accepting such goods and services etc, for free, does not affect their own self-worth, yet splashing out of luxury items proves their worth and displays their ‘status’.

    Perhaps this is in due cause of representing the current situation and opinions of the current generation(s). To impress unknown exterior parties is held in higher opinion than making closer loved ones proud of good-old-fashioned ‘graft’. However in this instance, the situation and stark juxtaposition between the two characters, may allow the reader to realise the shallow nature of being ‘too proud to work’.

  17. kieran says:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same:
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss:
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much:
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

    I picked this because its probably the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever read, so much so that it had me driven to near tears. To think that one of the greatest writers ever Rudyard Kipling (who by all accounts had up until when this was written had quite a hard life) could sit down and pretty much put the ten commandments into a poem is truly amazing. The last two lines are what truly makes this poem great as well, the fact that if you actually do follow everything which Mr. Kipling talks about then you truly will be one of the greatest people to have ever walked the face of the earth,shown by the fact he says ‘yours is the earth and everything that’s in it’. The very last line is just great as well because it suggests that unless people can follow what the poem says then they’re a true man. The fact that Kipling’s also able to make such a moral and feel good poem rhyme tops it off.

  18. Paulina R. says:

    Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
    But, he with a chuckle replied
    That “maybe it couldn’t” but he would be one
    Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

    So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
    On his face. If he worried he hid it.
    He started to sing as he tackled the thing
    That couldn’t be done, as he did it.

    Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
    At least no one we know has done it”;
    But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
    And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

    With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
    Without any doubting or quiddit,
    He started to sing as he tackled the thing
    That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

    There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
    There are thousands to prophesy failure;
    There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
    The dangers that wait to assail you.

    But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
    Just take off your coat and go to it;
    Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
    That cannot be done, and you’ll do it

    I really like this poem by Edgar Guest and think that it’s very inspirational as it shows that no matter what people say you should believe in yourself and shouldn’t give up. We shouldn’t say that something is impossible without giving it a try. This poem motivates the reader to follow his dreams regardless of what people say, because even if no one has done it you might be the one that will succeed and prove them wrong. This poem shows that a man did something that ‘cannot be done’ which suggests that you can do anything if you work hard for it and believe that you can do it even if it’s almost impossible. Also it suggests that you should at least try, so even if you won’t succeed you can still say that you’ve tried your best instead of showing that you were a coward and didn’t even bother trying because someone said that you can’t do it. If you give it a try you won’t have to regret later on that you haven’t done it and think that maybe if you did try somehow you would succeed.

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