When the world appears to be crashing down, when we’re going down the drain, it helps—truly!—to realize that others have survived trials and troubles. Poetry can help, especially since Poetry Mirrors Life.
That’s the lesson in today’s post about “Paper Cup”, penned by Jimmy Webb of the 5th Dimension.
A Bit on Background
On 3/25, in the post about Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers”, I noted the 4 Requirements of Song. Poetry has a role to play in our daily lives ~ it’s not just pretty words.
- 1] Poetry should speak clearly
- and 2] from the heart.
- Music-driven poetry should also provide 3] strong lines that catch our imagination
- and 4] powerful imagery that helps us visualize the situations.
When a poem achieves these 4 requirements, it echoes to our souls. The reason: Poetry mirrors life in its intensity. Other types of communications—essays, films, novels, blog posts—struggle to reach into their audience’s hearts.
Jimmy Webb’s 1967 “Paper Cup” fulfills these 4 requirements—and also resonates with the current situation.
Lyrics are here and the peppy video is here!
The extended metaphor in Webb’s poem presents a narrowed little world into which we cage ourselves.
This world satisfies us with a shower stall, running water, a den, and refrigerated air, bland walls that make our lives easy.
Then Webb turns this life around with its bleached, waxed-paper world. We may think we’re in the catbird’s seat, but one day we’re “going down the drain” and won’t care. When trials and troubles hit so hard, we sink into apathy. We deadened ourselves to reality so we can “feel no pain”.
Only through this apathy can we say “life is kind of / groovy in the gutter”.
Webb tells us that such an apathetic life has no purpose. We are living “without a rudder”. We follow the currents of life and never stop to consider what we want. More importantly, we don’t consider what truth is.
The crowd declares what is popular and “hot”. We follow, rat-like, behind the pied piper crowd into a maze that will devour us.
In the film The Matrix, we saw characters awakened to the myriad things that the mass crowd pummels us with in order to keep us distracted. Our focus is forced onto the temporary and earthly things. Drugs, paychecks, sex, blingy rat-race materialism, crime, taxes, insurance—these things are what we worry about instead of the IDEAS and SOULS we should care about.
Webb is preaching to us, much as Tyler Perry does with his Madea films.
Webb tells us that we may claim freedom, we may shout “freedom”, but all those material possessions and other addictions just put us in a bland round cage. We are “always looking up” since our lives are nothing extraordinary.
Politics of Poetry that Mirrors Life
As Percy Bysshe Shelley said, “Poetry is a mirror” reflecting life. By presenting life, it “awaken[s] and enlarge[s] the mind … a 1,000 un-apprehended combinations of thought.” (from “A Defence of Poetry”)
As Shelley tells us, Poetry Mirrors Life.
Webb wants us to reflect on what we think life should be by comprehending how bleached-out and bland such a life is. This is the same point in Dolly Parton’s “lost in a crowd” Wildflowers, with people too afraid to pursue their goals. In “Paper Cup”, Webb reminds us that a boring constricted life focused on things is no more than living in a gutter.
A better world is available to us. Webb points out the problems of merely existing in a mundane world, with distractors that keep us on the rat-race wheel.
Ha! The wheel in the rat’s cage can be turned sideways to be a round cup that imprisons us. At least the rat can look through his bars.
Parton’s “Wildflowers” tells us how we can escape that “common and close” existence. Never forget that we must uproot ourselves from gardens where we will wither and hitch a ride with the wind.
Webb uses Poetry to mirror Life. He tells us that we have to escape the apathetic life and pursue our goals with passion.
No matter what, we take action to achieve.
On the 15th, more Politics of Poetry as we look at Joni Mitchell’s call of personal change before we can achieve social change.
And from today, the 5th until the 19th, we have the MORE blogs celebrating Easter, running from Palm Sunday to Bright Sunday. Join us!