Liberal Arts Blog — The Orion Challenge — Are You Game? What Would You Put in a Literary Stocking or Time Capsule?

Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Religion, and Culture Day

Today’s Topic: The Orion Challenge — Are You Game? What Would You Put in a Literary Stocking or Time Capsule?

What are the seven passages from poetry, prose, or drama that have moved you the most? How many of these have you memorized? Which ones of these have you recited to yourself as a form of solace in times of trouble or distress? Which one the most often? And the next one? And the next? Call these texts the seven stars of your literary or spiritual Orion. Make a package of them to stuff a metaphorical stocking with. You might call this package your literary legacy. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. For me the central star is the first aphorism of Hippocrates: “Art is long. Life is short. The opportunity fleeting. Experience delusive. Judgment therefore difficult. The physician must not only do the right thing himself but make sure the patient, the attendant, and the externals cooperate.” To me, this is by far the best paragraph ever written — an epitome of precise, logical thought sustained to the outer limits of human memory about a universal truth.

2. To star to the right: the “There is a time for everything “ passage from Ecclesiastes, “A time to be born and a time to die, A time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time mourn and a time to dance.”

3. The star to the left, my favorite Shakespeare sonnet: “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast fate and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries and look upon myself and curse my fate, wishing me like to one more rich in hope, featured like him, like him with friends possessed, desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope, with what I most enjoy contented least….”

THE TOP TWO STARS: the meaning of responsibility, The meaning of courage

1. The Upper Right: “The Ant and the Grasshopper” (Aesop), I learned it in French. The French version by LaFontaine is of incomparable beauty. Think of the fable as an elaboration on the motto “Sua Sponte” (in your hands). Be the change you want to see in the world. What you choose to do and how you choose to do it become who you are. And your choices make the world a more beautiful place or not. You can choose self-reliance or choose to be a burden on others. This harsh idea does have its limits, obviously. See second link below for a history of commentary on the fable.

2. The Upper Left: “If” by Rudyard Kipling. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too…” This is the only poem I ever recited in public at a professional gathering — it was a speech on the meaning of “risk” at an international hedge fund conference in Lausanne.

THE BOTTOM TWO STARS — the Two Commandments, My Heart Leaps Up (variations on the theme of the primacy of gratitude)

1. Lower Right: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, thy whole mind, and thy whole strength and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the distillation of the 10 commandments into two. A secular formulation of this is that attributed to Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others.” If you are not waking up feeling thankful, you are not going to be nice. This should probably be the central star of the belt. But I’ve gotten this far and I’m not turning around.

2. Lower Left: “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky, so was it when my life began so is it now I am a man so shall it be when I shall grow old or let me die, the child is father to the man and I should wish my days to be bound each to each in natural piety” (Wordsworth — portrait above). This was one of the first two poems my father ever taught me. I was between 5 and 7 years old.


Let’s trade literary Orions! Let’s exchange literary time capsules! Let’s fill each others stockings with treats! Happy Holidays!

Sonnet 29

If — by Rudyard Kipling | Poetry Foundation

The Ant and the Grasshopper


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



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