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Poetry - Learning and Wisdom


William Blake (1757-1827), The Fly (1794) Poetry - Leadership

The English poet (pictured right) emphasizes the importance of thought:


If thought is life,

And strength & breath,

And the want

Of thought is death;


Then am I

A happy fly,

If I live

or if I die.

(last two verses)



Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Where The Mind Is Without FearPoetry - Leadership

The Indian poet (pictured right) describes his ideal society based upon learning and wisdom:


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

(complete poem)


Walt Whitman (1819-92), Stronger Lessons (1867)Poetry - Leadership 

Included in his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, the American poet (pictured right) says that you can learn from anyone, friend or foe:


Have you learn'd lessons only of those who admired you, and

were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn'd great lessons from those who reject you,

and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with

Contempt, or dispute the passage with you?


Walt Whitman,Song of the Open Road (1867)

This poem in the Leaves of Grass says that wisdom comes from the soul and life’s experiences, not formal education:

Here is the test of wisdom;

Wisdom is not finally tested in schools;

Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it, to another not having it;

Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,

Applies to all stages and objects and qualities, and is content,

Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the excellence of things;

Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul.

 (part of verse 6)


Whitman says a few lines later in verse 7 that the soul (and so wisdom) is enriched by “ever provoking questions”.



John Keats (1795-1821), Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819)Poetry - Leadership 

The English poet (pictured right) finishes the poem by emphasizing that beauty is vital to truth and wisdom:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"—that is all

 Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

(last two lines)


John Keats, Endymion (1818) 

In this poem Keats continues his praise of beauty:


A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower [home] quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

(first five lines)



A. E. Housman (1859-1936), When I Was One-and-Twenty (1896)Poetry - Leadership

The English poet (pictured right) says that learning is difficult (particularly when you’re young) but worthwhile:


When I was one-and-twenty

I heard a wise man say,

"Give crowns and pounds and guineas

But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies

But keep your fancy free."

But I was one-and-twenty,

No use to talk to me.


When I was one-and-twenty

I heard him say again,

"The heart out of the bosom

Was never given in vain;

'Tis paid with sighs a plenty

And sold for endless rue."

And I am two-and-twenty

And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true”.

(complete poem)



Thomas Hood (1799-1845), I Remember, I Remember (1827) Poetry - Learning and Wisdom

The English poet (pictured right) describes how difficult it is to learn and find wisdom as a child and an adult:


I remember, I remember

The fir-trees dark and high;

I used to think their slender tops

Were close against the sky:

It was a childish ignorance,

But now 'tis little joy

To know I'm farther off from Heaven

Than when I was a boy.

(last verse)



Piet Hein (1905-96),The Road to WisdomPoetry - Learning and Wisdom 

The Danish poet (pictured right) says that wisdom depends on continuous learning from experience:


The road to wisdom? Well, it's plain

And simple to express:


and err

and err again,

but less

and less

and less.

(complete poem)



Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92), To (1832)Poetry - Learning and Wisdom 

The English poet (pictured right) praises beauty, good and knowledge:


That Beauty, Good, and Knowledge, are three sisters

That doat [dote] upon each other, friends to man,

Living together under the same roof,

And never can be sunder'd without tears.

(selected four lines)



T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), The Rock (1934) Poetry - Learning and Wisdom

The American-born British poet (pictured right) distinguishes information from knowledge (wisely selecting relevant information to solve life's problems):


Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

 (selected lines)


T.S. Eliot The Dry Salvages (1941)

In this poem Eliot says that saintly behaviour and wisdom come from love and self-sacrifice.

....But to apprehend

The point of intersection of the timeless

With time, is an occupation for the saint -

No occupation either, but something given

And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,

Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

(selected lines)



Roald Dahl (1916-90),TelevisionPoetry - Learning and Wisdom 

The English poet (pictured right) says that reading is much better for your brain than television.


Fear not, because we promise you

That, in about a week or two

Of having nothing else to do,

They'll now begin to feel the need

Of having something to read.

And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!

You watch the slowly growing joy

That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen

They'll wonder what they'd ever seen

In that ridiculous machine,

That nauseating, foul, unclean,

Repulsive television screen!

And later, each and every kid

Will love you more for what you did.

(last 14 lines)


Robert Browning Hamilton, Along the Road (1946)


The American poet says you can learn more from sorrow than pleasure.


I walked a mile with Pleasure;

She chatted all the way;

But left me none the wiser

For all she had to say.


I walked a mile with Sorrow,

And ne’er a word said she;

But, oh! The things I learned from her,

When sorrow walked with me.

(complete poem)


T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), Little Gidding (the last of his Four Quartets) - 1942Poetry - Learning and Wisdom

The American-born British poet (pictured right) emphasizes the importance of inquiry and self-discovery:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

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