But a Clanging Symbol

Near the end of his life Charles Darwin wrote an autobiography for his children. Here is an excerpt cited in Desiring God by John Piper:

Up to age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds … gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare … formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music … I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did … My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive … The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly to injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

When I read Darwin’s words here I feel as though I know him all too well. Darwin faced a great deal of pain in his lifetime, not the least of which was the death of one of his children. Pain is a demanding emotion – it must be faced or suppressed because it will not go away on its own accord. Many of us choose suppression. Unfortunately, suppression of one emotion results in eventual suppression of all emotions. I know.

I remember a sonnet I wrote in high school made the student teacher teary-eyed. (No I did not keep it.) In college, I wrote sappy love poems to lure the object of my affections into bed. It worked. Until the end of the semester and she decided to marry her fiance instead. I would not read or write another poem for 20 years. Here is some of the poetry that woke me up from my self-imposed sleep:

If I speak in the tongues of men
and of angels,
but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or
a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but have not love,
I am nothing.

If I give all I possess
to the poor
and surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love,
I gain nothing.

–Paul of Tarsus, from a letter written to friends around 60 AD


9 Responses

  1. Very nice!
    I am no poet, but I do play write and record my own music. I have been happy the past five years. A good life, a good marriage, etc. As a result I have ad a hard time coming up with lyrics…pain induced songs are easier to pen. I guess I ought to look to Corinthians a little more!

  2. Thanks Nate. Songs are often poems delivered with music. Bob Dylan is kind of the classic example. But I think you may be onto something with the good life … I think Paul wrote a lot from a jail cell. I wonder sometimes if that was God’s way of getting him to focus.

  3. Well i’m glad you’re finally talking sense 🙂

    love you, Paul.


  4. The majority of us are in jails, with walls and bars of our own devising.

    WE build them so gradually ( most times) we see them as ‘normal’.

    Break down the walls and release the chains that fetter us.

    God wants you to be Free.


  5. Hey love, I never really make complete sense but I’m glad we’re in agreement on this count. I think I’m in discovery mode currently… I need to ‘find’ the wall & chains first. I think one man’s chain is another man’s freedom.

  6. Ric,
    I think Darwin might have been a bit depressed.
    Paul, however, makes for more inspirational reading.

  7. Sam, you might be onto something there… 😉

  8. Hey Ric!

    ( from your answer to Tam’s last question i’d say we have much in common!) 🙂

    I think our walls and chains are very much an individual thing – we seem to share some similar ‘types’ with our some of our fellow humans – and as you say – some of ours are ‘opposite’ to some others’ walls.

    We can break ours by learning how to live through Him. 🙂


  9. Thank you for your transparency Ric 🙂 It’s not easy to talk about times before we knew God or fully understood what it meant to live in Him and Him in us but what a testimony of the fact that He fills those voids in our lives. He fills the emptiness. He gives us reason and hope. Praise God! I love that scripture too. It reminds me that my faith goes beyond words; there is much action to it. Love is definitely one of those actions 🙂 Have a blessed day!

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