Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Little Learning is a dangerous thing ...

"A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing, ..."

This is the opening line in a poem by Alexander Pope. The follow up line, often missed, “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."   More important is the whole poem about learning, shared at the end. 

I have heard the first line, "A little learning is a dangerous thing:" was very popular with the public and recited frequently in its past day. Of late the line seems to have disappeared although I declare the reality is all to clearly present in this historic time with sound bites, immediate gratification, bottom line thinking, and an abundance of ideological thinking. Dialogue and discussion are more difficult in a polarized environment.

My introduction to the poem came on a Faculty Night at Virginia Theological Seminary some time during the academic year of 1954-5. Rule Howe, the pastoral care theologian, had returned from a sabbatical my middler year and on this Friday night his talk was centered on the second line of the poem. "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." I do not have notes or content from the talk but I do have a strong impression. Plumb the depths of what you are studying, learning, experiencing, encountering, in person and in community.

I have taken this to heart in the art of story metaphor listening, probing the various facets of how language functions in communication and meaning. This is my way of working on the branch of philosophy known as epistemology, the question of our time surrounding how we know what we know.

I am indebted to Ruel Howe for my continuing focus and persistence into the mystery of knowing and the way language functions. 

"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:.
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
in fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise 
New distant scene of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the lowering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem to last;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of our lengthening way;
The increasing prospect tired our wandering eyes,
Hill peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arrive."

Alexander Pope

As a life long learner my journey continues to "Drink deep, or taste not the Pieriean spring." A humility grows with knowing on knowing as one moves into the "mystery of silence."

Marlin Whitmer

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