The Plaint Human
SEASON of snows, and season of flowers,
Seasons of loss and gain!-
Since grief and joy must alike be ours,
Why do we still complain?
Ever our failing, from sun to sun,
O my intolerant brother:-
We want just a little too little of one,
And much too much of the other.
– James Whitcom Riley –
Please allow me to introduce James Whitcomb Riley, the “Hoosier Poet.” Fourteen years Mark Twain’s junior the words flowed from Riley’s pen as the bursting of a dam. It wasn’t always so, however, many circumstances molded Riley but in the end gained a fair amount of recognition.
The Hoosier Poet
As I pondered what to write today I walked over to my collection from the Hoosier Poet and was intrigued by the title, Plaint Human. Like many who dwell in the northern hemisphere I am ready for the renewal of spring and the coming summer. The older I get the less I like cold and snow. Of course, this poem really isn’t about the weather. I interpret the writing to be more about one’s ability to tolerate the difficulty in life, of which, Riley knew a thing or two. Even more than tolerate but to find joy in the difficulty. How is this possible? So many times we have these happy coincidences in life and find just the right pick-me-up. This is so for me today. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could behave as we did in the simpler times of the 19th Century? Or, as the poem implies there is more to the story.
James Whitcom Riley struggled between fame and alcoholism much of his life and truth be told one of his drunken binges was perhaps the very thing that caused him to experience dramatic success. Unable to perform one evening, he was fired in Louisville, Kentucky. With his contract cancelled, he was sure of his imminent demise. Some speculate that he wasn’t very happy about this contract as he was the star of the show and was underpaid from the outset. As fate would have it, he left Louisville under cover of night and holed up in his Indiana home for weeks. With all the speculation the crowds demanded more. And more he gave them; short stories, poetry and children’s books made him as popular as Twain, at least for a season, because he used a dialect that beckoned readers back to a simpler time.
What do we learn from this little bit that I’ve described about a man who died 100 years ago this July? A cynic might say the thing we need to do is bury our sadness in a bottle and expect great success just around the corner. I dare say not. All kidding aside, I have a few thoughts:
1. Today’s failure may be the very thing that is setting you up for your greatest success
2. Recognize the truth of your situation. Move from your subjective reality to the objective
3. Take responsibility for your current situation and do something about it
4. Discover the thing that might give you some creative energy and follow through
Today, I needed a simple prodding and found it from a little poem written more than a century ago. The lesson I needed to be reminded of is simple; there are going to be seasons when we think the cold and snow is going to last forever. However, we must remember spring is just around the corner even if pollen and allergies will make us miserable. We’re going to have difficulty but we can find joy in all of it!
By the way, if you’re wondering about “plaint,” you will find it’s origin in the 13th century: to complain, lament or howl.
So grab your kleenex and antihistamines and join me in finding the best in all our circumstances.