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Poetry for New Beginnings

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This week at Options, we are thinking about the ways in which poetry can inspire new beginnings. Whether you are embarking on another school year or opening a new academic chapter at university this September, you can find advice and encouragement in poetry to support these transitions.

You may think that university send-offs are more recent phenomena, but the exchange between Polonius and Laertes in Act 1, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet shows that parents were also giving last-minute life advice to their intellectual offspring way back in the Bard’s day:

Polonius. Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

And you are stay’d for. There- my blessing with thee!

And these few precepts in thy memory

Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware

Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,

Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;

Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are most select and generous, chief in that.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all- to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!

An oft-repeated criticism of Shakespeare’s writing (echoed from high school to high school across the globe) is that the language is too impenetrable, too far removed from lived experiences in the 21st century. However, Polonius’s words of wisdom to his son are as applicable now as they were when Will penned them (albeit in need of a slight vocabulary update). Think before you speak or act, keep your best friends close, avoid hurling yourself headlong into arguments, listen to those around you, be true to yourself…you’ve probably received similar advice from family members in the weeks leading up to the new school year, right?

Who would’ve thought that centuries-old verse could inspire your new beginnings?


 

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