What’s Missing?

“A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.”

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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This quote from the late Archibald MacLeish’s Ars Poetica is, for me, a good reminder of a little of what is so badly missing from today’s schools here in America —as was the film, The Dead Poets’ Society.

You have a good idea of what’s missing from the way we are schooling our successively shallower generations of trivialized and mostly mediocritized, uninspired students. Almost everywhere, it is hard to avoid having experienced that deprivation, so widespread that we’ve accepted it as the norm and in the sense that “we are like fish in the ocean, unaware that we are wet.”

Please see if your reading of the rest of MacLeish’s Ars Poetica below enables you to make a better description of what’s missing from nearly all of our schools. Would you share with us your description, please? Identifying and clarifying what it was that you and those around you were deprived of is a nice first step toward making your own life more whole.

Ars Poetica
by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown —

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases,
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind —

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea —

A poem should not mean
But be.

Another take on much the same lack.  What are the following and the above, in common, both describing?

From Nietzsche: “Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one-another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth.” (That sounds a bit like Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics thesis that “the map is not the territory,” yes?) Floating around the Web has been a comparison of what different languages express, which should highlight in our consciousness one of the dimensions of what is so badly lacking in our schools …

  • German: Waldeinsamkeit — A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature.
  • Italian: Culaccino — The mark left on a table by a cold glass. Who could imagine that condensation could sound so poetic? With or without the hand gestures…
  • Inuit: Iktsuarpok — The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience.
  • Japanese: Komorebi — This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees, the interplay between the light and the leaves.
  • Russian: Pocheuchka — Someone who asks a lot of questions. In fact, probably too many questions.
  • German: Schadenfreude — Experiencing pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.
  • Spanish: Subremesa — In the context of a sociable culture, this word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.
  • Indonesian: Jayus — Their slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny, that you cannot help but laugh out loud.
  • Hawaiian: Pana Po’o — You know when you forget where you’ve put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help you remember— this is the word for that.
  • French: Dépaysement — The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country; of being a foreigner or immigrant, or of being somewhat displaced from your origin.
  • Urdu: Goya — conveys a contemplative “as-if” which nonetheless feels like reality, and describes the suspension of disbelief which good storytelling can induce. (Urdu is the main or official language of Pakistan and of five of the states in India.)
  • Chinese: Weiji — Crisis or critical moment, from Chinese characters for risk and for opportunity; the idea that there can be a positive result in a wisely handled risk.
  • Swedish: Mångata — The word for the glimmering, road-like reflection that the moon creates on water.

What is YOUR best description of what is missing in our schools, in America or in whatever country you have most experienced schooling in? What do you think are the likeliest consequences of such a lack?

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