Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"What Is Owed To Guests Unwanted" by James Frederick William Rowe

What Is Owed To Guests Unwanted
James Frederick William Rowe

The unwelcome guest
Has come unbidden to my door
Disrupting the tranquility of my repose
The felicity of my days
But though a stranger
Though an intruder
It is mine to offer hospitality
To welcome to my table
To warm by my hearth
To make a place for the traveler
Who has journeyed so far

My complaints shall not avail me
Neither my tears, nor my sighs
Not the gnashing of teeth
Nor a moan of displeasure
Shall change what has been allotted to me
All of these are but noises
And as thunder makes no more fearful
The forks of lightning across the boiled skies
The fury of my protests
The intensity of my indignation
Are but loud, empty sounds

I shall rob from the trial its power
I shall steal from it its pain
What it brings I shall endure
Over what I cannot change I shall accept
Concede to all it can correctly cause
But to what it cannot claim
I shall not give as charity
So set you down, o! catastrophe
I've made a place, and here I've waited
You will not find me surprised
I have long been prepared

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is basically Stoic philosophy put to verse. Though I can't say I have managed to live as philosophically as the Stoics are known to have, the ideal of Apatheia, or freedom from the distress of the passions, is a noble goal to guide one's conduct. To deal with one's trouble without complaint magnifying the loss would make us all happier, for we certainly heap more hardship upon ourselves by our conduct. 

The unwelcome guest is some personal calamity that has upset the order of the narrator's life--something bad enough that others might lament, but which he will accept because he can do nothing about it other than accept it.  Whatever happened has been done; it is now part of his life. What matters now is how one reacts to the hardship. Do you cry and whine? Or do you accept what you cannot change and give nothing more to empower it to wreck your life further? The narrator chooses to embrace the pain but to offer it nothing more and so starve the trouble of the suffering that only our consent gives to our woes.

The structure of this poem is three stanzas of eleven verses apiece. There was nothing especially noteworthy in choosing this—it was simply what looked good when I was writing it. I had no problem writing this poem.  I wrote it almost entirely down on one trip on the subway. The theme came to me readily, and the words poured out without effort. 

Editor’s Note:  There is wisdom here--not really new wisdom--but wisdom that bears repeating and that is worth publishing.  I took the "unwanted guest" as a metaphor for just about any unpleasantness, from a woman getting her monthly period (often referred to as an "unwanted guest") to being assigned an unpleasant task at work or an unpleasant customer to serve.  Stephen Covey called choosing one's response to such circumstances "pro-activity," and being pro-active is his first and most important "habit" of highly successful people.  Animals react.  Enlightened humans choose their responses. 

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