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Dying to oneself- what does it mean???

About Reflections on Literature, Life and the Imagination

Previous Entry Dying to oneself- what does it mean??? May. 4th, 2009 @ 05:27 pm Next Entry

This resonated loudly for me in the context of our thoughts on Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Illych" and "Master and Man". How do we all understand this powerful idea?
As Shakespeare once put it at the end of his most profound sonnet, sonnet 146- [he is here speaking about the way we recklessly expend so much of our time and energy on the unimportant and trivial things in life, pampering our physical selves, our material obsessions] - he cautions:

.... Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.
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Date:May 6th, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)

Week 9 comment


Hi MG, I was a little uncertain here as to what you were asking, but I will give it my best anyway! Your title references ‘dying to oneself’- is this a question of what dying means to us? If so, we must consider what we think death is, is it finality, a big black end, a wipeout? Do we think and consider it because we are afraid that when it comes we won’t be ready? Or like Ivan Illych, will we question what we did in our life that was fulfilling and worth remembering. As Shakespeare cautions, spending time on all that is trivial leaves nothing but material things when we die, once they are gone and our bodies are eaten by worms, what is left? What do we become? We can’t die all over again and remedy the way it happened or what happened before hand. The Thoreau quote is particularly profound, once we are lost to this world, and are stripped of all the things we thought were important, nothing is left but ourselves, will that be good enough for us?
Some good thoughts to ponder here…
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Date:May 6th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Week 9 comment

Thanks for your response Madeline. As you suggest there are many profound questions buried in this idea. Your interpretation of Thoreau immediately put me in mind of this amazing little poem by Robert Frost which has always haunted me, and which I think contains his answer to this question. It is so often the poets who can point us in the right direction; it is their language that- to quote another poet (T.S. Eliot) "reaches into the silence". What do you think?

Lost In Heaven

The clouds, the source of rain, one stormy night
Offered an opening to the source of dew ;
Which I accepted with impatient sight,
Looking for my old skymarks in the blue.

But stars were scarce in that part of the sky,
And no two were of the same constellation —-
No one was bright enough to identify ;
So 'twas with not ungrateful consternation,

Seeing myself well lost once more, I sighed,
'Where, where in Heaven am I? But don't tell me
Oh, opening clouds, by opening on me wide.
Let's let my heavenly lostness overwhelm me.'

Robert Frost
Date:May 10th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
WEEK 9- comment

i believe that this means that you are what you are and that not matter what you are life goes on. Death is death is what i believe this is saying, you return to the earth after death with no money or material poccessions your life helps another life live through your death- the worm, i still find this hard to understand. I believe Thoreau says that it is not until we are out of a comfort zone do we truly understand who we are untill we are faced with challenges do we really see the true character of people. i really like this quote by Thoreau, its just different.
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Date:May 10th, 2009 10:47 am (UTC)
I think that is exactly right richie, it is only when we find a way of dropping the guard of our comfort zones (not so easy!), that we begin to see, not only the true character of people, but also of ourselves. This is what I think Shakespeare means by dying to one-self.... dying to that part of ourselves that is pampered, out of touch, insensitive, unwilling to reach out..... thanks for your thoughts on this. It is an idea that expands and expands and expands.....
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Date:May 15th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
This is a notion which has been perpetually repeating itself in my mind for the last few days. Most of this valuable thing which we call time is wasted on external, materialistic things. I think it is therefore essentially to stop regularly and assess our purpose in life or even just to enjoy the wonders of it.

Tanian :)
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Date:May 16th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
Thank you for your comment Tanian. Perfect. I agree with you absolutely. But it is not always so easy to do, when one is tied up with so many competing demands on one's time and attention. But it is so important -as you suggest- to stop regularly and ponder on the implications of this profound message to us all.
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