Those who take things literally are often thieves.
Here it is folks, my first one-line poem! Quite appropriately, this short poem is a poem about poems, as well as a poem dealing directly and simply with social and political philosophy. Not surprisingly, even this short poem contains a pun.
Oddly, the phrase “take things literally” means taking something at its most obvious face value, without presuming or exploring any deeper or metaphorical meaning. I would take the phrase “take things literally” to mean something to do with literature and literature’s aspirations to communicate at levels much deeper and richer than considering language to be something that just matches a particular symbol with a particular thing like a rock or a box.
I would submit that meaning itself is something that transcends particular things like a rock or a box. If literature is ever to rock, or if we are ever to think outside the box, we need to have a rich and robust appreciation for metaphors. In fact, we should rely on them. Anything less would not even qualifying as an aspiration. And we dare to wonder why we find it difficult to find inspiration in such an aspiration-free world. This is another version of a common theme that I deal with in my life and how I see the world, that there is much more to life than the scientific reductionist, materialistic world. This is a key factor in why I increasingly see the world as surreal. We are human beings, subjects not objects, that seem intent on reducing the world to things, such as rubble. It seems that the modus operandi of Western civilization is to take things literally, thus accounting for imperialism and capitalism. It seems that taking such a way of being to its logical and cruel conclusion is to conspire, as opposed to aspire, to the pirate motto of ” Take all that you can and give nothing back.” And worse yet, our co-conspirators are only of use to us in as much as they assist us in taking things literally. Therefore, we are literally at war with one another. Further, we are literally at war with our self, since the subjective realm is inaccessible or denied when we are held captive by taking things literally. Well, enough political philosophy, let’s get back to the poem.
We all know what a thief is. A thief is a robber, someone who steals things. However, this short, one-line poem begs the question of what exactly is being stolen. With the above philosophical discourse on objects and subjects, I hope that you can guess that I am not wanting the reader to lock their doors for fear of their stuff being stolen. Rather, I’m hoping that the reader will open their mind, and better yet, their heart, to infinitely more important things that can be stolen from us, if we are not careful and paying attention. What could be infinitely more important than my stuff?! What I’m referring to is something that is qualitatively different than stuff, or things. Qualitatively different means that it cannot be substituted for. The most obvious and even trite example is “money can’t buy you love.” Money is clearly, and literally, the currency the modern Western civilization uses for virtually everything. Not surprisingly, this explains why neglect more important matters, matters of the soul. It qualifies as sheer vanity and insanity to engage in a commerce of the soul that attempts to exchange stuff for our humanity, the essence of what separates us from dirt, our soul if you will. Of course, I believe that people, human beings, are more than complicated dirt. If you believe that you are just complicated dirt, then there is much more remedial work that needs to be done for our minds and hearts to connect, to communicate. Of course, ironically, if we are just complicated dirt, a wild statistical outlier from most of the rest of the barren material that we can identify in the known universe, and we are just billiard balls in a mechanistic, cause-and-effect universe, then all that we do is fated, determined, a grand illusion of free will. If you’d like to go to even one more level of irony, I find myself compelled to believe this! Ah, the places such spiritual musings take you!
There is one word in this eight-word poem that could easily be overlooked and its significance missed. That word is: often. Taking things literally is certainly not always a mistake. Usually when we say “rock” we mean a rock. Usually when we say “box” we mean a box. Now, I chose the word “often” to access what I think the reality is, that the deeper metaphorical meanings are ignored or even stolen from us with great regularity (know shit!). In speaking about subjectivity and objectivity, things and transcendence, dirt versus souls, and the like (and love), people often mistake me for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. More truthfully, in my own dyslexic fashion, it might be more apt to say, “throwing the bathwater out for the baby.” To be clear, for the literalists in the crowd, I am not opposed to bathwater. Bathwater is great! My underlying point is that babies are more important than bathwater.
Okay, there is another word in this poem that probably needs to be mentioned for its significance. Note that I use the word “those” rather than the word “people”. This is intentionally meant to be ironic, since devoted literalists seem to be living in a world that denies the very fact that they are people. Hey, aren’t you glad that this is only an eight-word poem!
Let me try to keep it simple. Here are some of the things that I think are qualitatively different from stuff, the barren building blocks of our material universe: compassion, hope, gratitude and mercy. Feel free to talk among yourselves. Let me know what you think. My hope for you, and my hope for us, is that the trials and tribulations of this billiard ball world will neither destroy nor defeat you, nor steal from you the most important matters in life, and that you will live wholeheartedly in that place infinitely greater than the mere stuff around us. May it be so.