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Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Patience in verse

In a transition back towards more familiar territory, today I offer a short (relatively so) piece on patience and the adult response to strife, misfortune, or just an overall bad day. There are some wonderful lines here that evoke a little bit of Emily Dickinson in subject matter if not in form. I love the mention of living with heaven’s true purpose in use like a knife. And why is she struggling against it? Running from her own shadow or mortality? Does she assume life is inherently full of strife, full of unhappiness? What is our true purpose in this world if not to be, if not to live, and that is what she does. She soldiers on.

The only caveat I can offer, and it is a personal one, is my general distaste for the use of O as a declarative and exclamation points in general. I know that you are feeling something powerful; no need to bring it to my attention with a gimmick. How about this?

O!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LIFE!!!!.

All the same, it is a beautiful poem.

‘O dreary life,’ we cry,
‘ O dreary life ! ‘
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing,
and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven’s true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle ! Ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land, savannah-swards
Unweary sweep, hills watch unworn, and rife
Meek leaves drop yeary from the forest-trees
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory: O thou God of old,
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these !
–But so much patience as a blade of grass
Grows by, contented through the heat and cold.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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