Sunday, February 01, 2009

Poetic Interpretation IV

Continuing our explanation of "The Door" from previous posts.

When we left off our discussion, the escaped inmate's newfound solace was disrupted by the sirens and flashing lights of approaching police. He runs as fast as he possibly can, wishing it could be faster and that time would stand still. Then we read:

But his steely sleek competitor was unimpressed,
And with the cockiness of an amateur brush
Clumsily plumbed the palette of his misery;
A bright crimson mosaic now taking shape
On the crumbling asphalt canvas
Concrete soaking in every hue of aspiration,
Life wriggling to wrest itself from the grasp
Of desperation decomposed.

The "steely sleek competitor" is of course a bullet, which then penetrates his body. It is "unimpressed" because, even after all his efforts, he is no match for the speed of the bullet destined to end his life.

The next metaphor used here is that of an amateur painter's brush, which he clumsily plunges into a palette in order to begin working. In our case, the "brush" is the bullet which enters the escapee's body, "the palette of his misery". We then see the street become a "canvas" for a "crimson mosaic", i.e., his blood, and the concrete soaking in his "aspirations", i.e., his bodily fluids, which represent his ambition, creative potential, desires, etc. In other words, instead of his capacity for creativity being actualized through free choice and behavior, he himself became "material" for the "amateur brush" of a police bullet and used to "paint" the asphalt. Life now leaves him as his resistance to death slowly dissipates and he "decomposes".

The poem then provides us with a "retrospective" in the mind of the dying prisoner as he considers the irony of the whole situation. An open door, a window of opportunity was in reality a pathway to his own demise. Yet his fixation on the open door couldn't be reasoned away despite the risks, like the temptation of gazing at an eclipse when one shouldn't or irritating a wound even though it will delay the healing process.

Many more images are utilized to illustrate the notion that the door, for all its tantalizing power, was in fact the gateway to tragedy for the prisoner - for example, it was like the disingenuous talk of a used car salesman, the memorable beginning to a forgotten text (i.e., his potential new life would now be forgotten), or the entrance of an exquisitely dressed actor onto the stage not realizing it will be his last performance (he has on "raiment of oblivious glamor") just as the inmate reemerged on the "stage of life" in glory not realizing it was literally the beginning of the end for him.

Finally, we see that the whole narrative - the escape, the reunion with loved ones and employer, and the shooting a death - never actually happened. Instead, what we have been reading is the mental projection of the prisoner - what he believed would happen were he to avail himself of the opportunity to escape. He imagined a short-lived experience of joy and exhilaration followed by tragedy and death, and concluded that he would be a fool to risk such a move. Hence, overcoming the temptation once and for all, he shut the door.

One could interpret the underlying message of the poem in one of two ways. The first is positive - the prisoner is wise, he exercises forethought, deliberates carefully, and makes a prudent decision not to leave his cell. If only we all considered the potential consequences of our actions so carefully in advance!

The second possible interpretation is the negative one - namely, that the prisoner is so afraid of taking risks, so obsessed with the possible fallout of an unconventional move, that he timidly refrains from pursuing the opportunity of a lifetime for the sake of comfort and security.

This would metaphorically speak to all of us on a different level - we are all prisoners of conventional ideas, attitudes and habits, and we are conscious of this to some extent, but we are often too frightened of the consequences of bucking convention to explore the alternatives.

We imagine the fallout from such risky decisions as potentially tragic. Therefore, we resign ourselves to the bleak though predictable and socially acceptable confines of conventional human life rather than take a chance on true freedom.


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...
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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...
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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

I like your interpretation very much R Maroof. Nonetheless, as excellent,indeed almost breathtaking, as your work is, I can't say I feel any increased desire to gain expertise in disentangling, what for me, would be such a difficult maze of language.

Am I missing something?

moonlight1021 said...

I also like this beautiful explanation, I was very interested to see the ending and I'm still going to keep it on my mind for a while because I still want to think more about it. Also, I feel that this poem is like making a matzo ball soup and concentrating all the contents in one spoon--that is to say, this poem sounds like a concentrated version of Rabbi Sacks'posts about the well.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

John R. Welch
In Greek Philosophy and Epistemology, vol. II, ed. Konstantine Boudouris (Athens:
International Association for Greek Philosophy, 2001), pp. 204–213
This paper has two objectives. The first is to clarify Aristotle’s view of the first principles of
the sciences. The second is to stake out a critical position with respect to this view. The paper
sketches an alternative to Aristotle’s intuitionism based in part on the use of quantitative
inductive logics.
Page 2
The reference in the title to cleansing the doors of perception is adapted from William
He should be used to it by now. Aldous Huxley borrowed it for his essay, The Doors
of Perception; so did Jim Morrison for his band, The Doors. But my purposes are different.
The idea plays off Aristotle's comparison of truth to a door in a provocative way: "The
investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy.... Therefore, since the truth
seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this way it is easy, but
the fact that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim at shows the
difficulty of it" (Met. 993a30–b7).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

ג ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה ריבון העולמים, כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם, כמו שאמרו חכמים בעניין אהבה, שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם.

כ [יג] וענייני ארבעה פרקים אלו שבחמש מצוות האלו--הם שחכמים הראשונים קוראין אותן פרדס, כמו שאמרו ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס: ואף על פי שגדולי ישראל היו וחכמים גדולים היו, לא כולם היה בהן כוח לידע ולהשיג כל הדברים על בוריין.

כא ואני אומר שאין ראוי להיטייל בפרדס, אלא מי שנתמלא כרסו לחם ובשר; ולחם ובשר זה, הוא לידע ביאור האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן משאר המצוות. ואף על פי שדברים אלו, דבר קטן קראו אותם חכמים, שהרי אמרו חכמים דבר גדול מעשה מרכבה, ודבר קטן הוויה דאביי ורבא; אף על פי כן, ראויין הן להקדימן: שהן מיישבין דעתו של אדם תחילה, ועוד שהן הטובה הגדולה שהשפיע הקדוש ברוך הוא ליישוב העולם הזה, כדי לנחול חיי העולם הבא. ואפשר שיידעם הכול--גדול וקטן, איש ואישה, בעל לב רחב ובעל לב קצר.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...


א כל המצוות שניתנו לו למשה בסיניי--בפירושן ניתנו, שנאמר "ואתנה לך את לוחות האבן, והתורה והמצוה" (שמות כד,יב): "תורה", זו תורה שבכתב; ו"מצוה", זה פירושה. וציוונו לעשות התורה, על פי המצוה. ומצוה זו, היא הנקראת תורה שבעל פה.

מב עד שיהיו כל הדינין גלויין לקטן ולגדול בדין כל מצוה ומצוה, ובדין כל הדברים שתיקנו חכמים ונביאים: כללו של דבר, כדי שלא יהא אדם צריך לחיבור אחר בעולם בדין מדיני ישראל; אלא יהיה חיבור זה מקבץ לתורה שבעל פה כולה, עם התקנות והמנהגות והגזירות שנעשו מימות משה רבנו ועד חיבור התלמוד, וכמו שפירשו לנו הגאונים בכל חיבוריהן, שחיברו אחר התלמוד. לפיכך קראתי שם חיבור זה משנה תורה--לפי שאדם קורא תורה שבכתב תחילה, ואחר כך קורא בזה, ויודע ממנו תורה שבעל פה כולה, ואינו צריך לקרות ספר אחר ביניהם.

moonlight1021 said...

3. Based on these things I will explain major concepts of the work of the Master of the Worlds, to enable the understanding person to love G–d. Concerning this love the Sages said that from it one will come to know “the One Who spoke, and the world came to be.”

20. [13] Le contenu de ces quatre chapîtres [concerne] ce qui est dans les cinq [premiers] commandements que les premiers Sages on appelés Pardes, comme il est dit "quatre [personnes] commencèrent [à étudier] les phylosophie mystique": et même s'ils étaient des Grands Sages d'Israel, pas un seul d'entre eux n'était capable de comprendre toutes ces choses avec exactitude.

21. Et je dis qu'il n'est pas approprié de commencer [à étudier] la philosophie mystique pour celui qui n'a pas entièrement digéré Leh'em webasar; ce Leh'em webasar c'est la connaissance de l'explication de l'interdit et du permis et de tout ce qui est dans les Mitswot. Et même si ces choses ont été appelées "petite choses" par les Sages, car les Sages ont dit "Le Maâse Merkava est une grande chose, alors que les [débats] de Abbaye et Rava sont une petite chose"; cependant, il est préférable de [les étudier] en premier: car elles préparent la connaissance de l'homme, et de plus elles sont le grand bien que Le Saint Béni Soit-Il a instauré en ce Monde, afin d'obtenir la Vie dans le Monde à venir. Et il est possible à tous, grands et petits, hommes et femmes, savants et ignorants, de les connaître.

All the mitzvot that were given to Moshe on Sinai -- they were given with their peirush, explanation. As it says, "And I will give you the stone tablets, the Torah and the Mitzvah. "Torah" - this is Torah Sh'bichtav. "Mitzvah" - this is peirushah, its explanation. We are commanded to do the Torah in accordance with the Mitzvah. This "Mitzvah" is called Torah Sh'ba'al Peh.

Sorry I needed translation, and I wasn't able to find all English, so got French, and nothing for the last one.

moonlight1021 said...

Although I don't speak that much Hebrew at this point to be able to go word by word, generally I surmise the last quote means something along the lines of:

There's the Written and the Oral Torah as given to Moses at Sinai, and you have to know both in order to understand the mitzvos, as this is the connection with Hashem.