Perspective refers to the ability to take stock of life and see the big picture, in order to make sense of oneself and others. Throughout history literature has traditionally been a vehicle that has been used to develop multiple, broader and wider perspectives on life. In novels we can identify with a number of different characters and experience life through their eyes offering a diversity and richness, that goes beyond our own subjective experience.
Poetry too has always performed a pedagogical role. Poetry alters our perception of the world, often transforming the way we see things. Great poetry can fall into the category of ‘wisdom literature’ because it can offer insight into living, granting us a larger perspective, helping us see our place in the overall scheme of things.
We humans have a natural tendency to self-aggrandise and to think that our lives are more important that they actually are. This can be a great burden to carry and by contemplating a truer reality, by taking on what the ancients called the ‘cosmic perspective’, we can learn to put that burden down and relax into our natural (small) place in the universe.
The following two poems can, offer this larger perspective, which can serve as a refuge in times of trouble:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
– Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 4, scene 1
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
– ‘Ozymandis’ by Shelley