Author: Bruce Ario

Bruce Ario is a poet and novelist from Minneapolis.
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A painting of Hiawatha in silhouette by Thomas Eakins. The native chieftain was made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "The Song of Hiawatha".

“The Song of Hiawatha”: Simplistic Folklore?

he peace-loving side of me greatly appreciates The Song of Hiawatha, written in 1855 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for the beautiful language and its conciliatory message by Hiawatha to his Native American brethren to accept the white man and his religion. My truthful side tells me that this poem has little to do with truth. Folklorist, Stith Thompson, said, “it is non-Indian in its totality,” and “the episodes (of Hiawatha) are but superficial.” So, I think what we have here is simplistic folklore for whatever it’s worth.

The poem was immediately a success for Longfellow when he published it. He sold 50,000 copies right off. The popularity of the piece with the public was there. Scholars had questions and doubts. Although Longfellow did have connections and input from Natives, it is important to note that even Longfellow admitted that Hiawatha was a fictional character. One of Longfellow’s main sources, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, has been criticized for mismanaging Native legend to suit his own tastes.

Do we have a white-acting Native in the person of Hiawatha? If we do, does that ruin any chance for redemption of The Song of Hiawatha? That depends on what you’re trying to get out of it. To take it as historical, is probably not a good bet. However, to take it as a beautiful and skillfully written piece of fiction, you might be able to pass muster. […]

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A stylized photo of Chicago, as immortalized by Carl Sandburg.

Carl Sandburg: The Love of Chicago

When Carl Sandburg’s Chicago was written in 1914, labor unions were growing at a fast pace, and it’s not too surprising to find a poem with such a labor feel. We can safely say the poem would not have been written today. It is a trip back to WWI days when things were, well, different. Chicago was always the biggest city in the Midwest, but the economics were industry and not finance as today.

The images in the poem speak to this somewhat slowed down state of hard-working men. The poem introduces Chicago as the “Hog Butcher of the World” which at once captures a rough and almost severe city. We get to know Chicago as a “Stormy, husky, brawling,/ City of Big Shoulders”. Clearly the writer characterizes Chicago as masculine. This is probably indicative of the times. The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920 was yet to pass when Carl Sandburg was writing. The city was run, at least in business, by the men giving Chicago a very macho kind of feel. The women who are mentioned are painted and standing on corners to lure men. Testosterone oozes.

The element of crime is also prevalent. “And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.” There is a sense of lawlessness and lack of order or justice. That is what Sandburg focuses on. The poem precedes Al Capone but we can see him coming. […]

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Dylan Thomas, author of "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", used this shed as a writing room.

Today’s Anthem: Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

Dylan Thomas’s poem to a dying father could be well to be heard by the world today. The world may not be gentle and plenty of people are not having a good night, yet there is a discerned darkness over the land. The poet calls out for action and light. It is a spiritual matter.

In a previous essay on this site, I discussed how a namesake of Thomas, Bob Dylan, wrote “Blowing in the Wind” which became a national battle cry. Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” could have similar possibilities if the poet hadn’t died ¾ of a century ago. Without the marketing allure, the poem could most likely not be resurrected on a grand scale.

It could just be the plea to a dying man, or else a plea to all generations of today’s world. We’re talking fire here. And a good fire. Old age could be synonymous with old patterns in politics which perpetuate tired wars. Admittedly, wars are not gentle to most ways of thinking, but they are predictable and go down trodden paths. I don’t believe Dylan Thomas is telling us to take up arms; it is a metamorphosis of the soul he’s talking about. Traditionally gun battles are not of the soul. The fight should be within. Battles of the soul are not always gentle. Even Jesus overturned the money tables in the temple. […]

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A stylized photograph of a woman standing in a fork in the road, reminiscent of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

Only Two Roads? On Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” hearkens back to a simpler time when someone may have faced only two choices at any one time in his life. The narrator is presented with two roads and must choose only one if he is going to continue his walk. It is a simple fork in the road. The walker is not facing multiple choices; only two. Written in 1915, a contemporary reader may think: how quaint, two roads. In today’s world choices seem to be multi-dimensional. The question arises, does the poem have any relevance today?

In a world almost governed by social media we get the notion that choices are nearly infinite and fleeting. Many of our lives are filled with fast change where nothing is permanent and choices are not set in stone. There is a feeling of chaos on some level with some people clinging to science and others dependent on emotions. You hear the comment, we have too many choices.

Was there really a time when people had fewer choices, maybe only two? Robert Frost’s poem seems to indicate maybe so. Has the technology outburst created a world out of control? Do we regret this and yearn to go back? Well, we can’t go back. Like the walker, we are pushed to move forward. […]

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A stylized shot of George Fairweather who founded the Fairweather Lodge and small group process

Small Group Process: The George Fairweather Way

Fairweather friends we are not. We are in it for the long haul, like a family, for better or worse. George W. “Bill” Fairweather was a disillusioned 60s California psychologist who got tired of watching the revolving door of mental illness: in the hospital, out of the hospital, back in the hospital…and so forth. Dr. George Fairweather threw his hat in the ring with a possible solution: The Lodge. A Lodge was something like a group home for those with mental illness, but unlike any group home you’ve ever known. The time was the mid-60s.

Later, George Fairweather, in the mid-90s, would lay out his strategies in his three books: “Empowering the Mentally Ill”; “KEEPING THE BALANCE: A Psychologist’s Story”; and, “Guidelines for Problem-Solving Support Groups”. These books were discussions by Dr. Fairweather laying out the dynamics of what happens in a Lodge. Rather than their literary merit, these books are recognized for their revolutionary ideas.

Dr. Fairweather was proclaiming the process which would save persons with mental illness from tragic and meaningless lives. It was a scant decade earlier that we had de-institutionalization of mental illness releasing people to the streets, and that’s where a lot of them stayed. To be healed in a Fairweather Lodge almost sounds like hot springs, but it is not that, just a similar goal. […]

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A stylized depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ done in colored lights

Jesus Is Born: The Christmas Story As Art

Luke 2:1 – 24 is the prophet Luke’s story about the advent of Christmas. But much more than just a factual account it is a story told artfully. This is especially true if we are talking about the King James version of the Bible.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Thus begins the story. It’s not, ‘Caesar decided to tax the folks.’ Luke sets the scene for a magnificent story to follow. Yes, it’s factual, but choosing those words, “all the world should be taxed” is a grandiose scheme by a king. What could top it? And we know what will outshine it.

In short order we are introduced to two of the major players, Joseph, a descendant of King David, and Mary, his betrothed who is with child. Our attention to Caesar is immediately upstaged by these two partially because King David plays a major role in the Old Testament and it has been prophesized that from his lineage a Savior will come. Luke calls Mary “his espoused wife” to flavor a nuance of the Virgin Birth. Expectations abound.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Hear the music of that. Something as everyday as childbirth is elevated to a major accomplishment. It is recognized that most people who are reading this account, are at least vaguely familiar with the story, but reading lines like that are a shot in the arm especially for believers. […]

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Bob Dylan in color tint, singer of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "I Contain Multitudes"

I Want to Make it Big: Analyzing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” & “I Contain Multitudes”

Bob Dylan told a fan when he was starting out that he wanted to be “big”, really big. That he has done. Winning a Nobel Prize as Dylan did in 2016 is a pinnacle in anybody’s career. Over seven decades he has brought light and life to the world with his spellbinding songs. Jesus preached three years. What does it take to stay in the limelight for over sixty? There are many answers to that question; I just understand it as a God-given gift. Dylan is a gift and others have blessed him with gifts in return, very expansive gifts. The question might be, why Dylan? And the answer would be that he put himself in that spot. I’m going to analyze his road with two of his songs, Blowin’ in the Wind, and I Contain Multitudes, songs at either end of his career.

He positioned himself into the spotlight with the anthem Blowin’ in the Wind. Although it’s truly laudatory in its own right, Dylan needed the help of Peter, Paul, and Mary to popularize it. Soon it was adopted as a theme song for the Left. But why? Dylan claims he never intended that. Instead it was only a song that he wrote in ten minutes according to him. Why the greatness associated with it? Let’s take a look. […]