The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

QOTD: Can I Quote You On That?

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“This above all to thine own self be true.” (Hamlet I.iii.78)

This quote speaks to me so strongly that I had it indelibly inked onto my body.

(Well, only to those who can read line citations)

Though, at the same time I was getting this done there was a lady getting the word “potty” tatted onto her lip because, in her words, she had a potty mouth. (Wow, that’s deep)

As I was checking out at Whole Foods last night, I noticed some script tattooed on the arm of the girl checking me out (read that as “ringing up my groceries”, not appreciating my asthetic). I asked her if I could read it, and, as she raised the inside of her arm to show me, I promptly realized I could not. She told me it was in Latvian and, even though I was paying attention at the time, I do not remember the words. However, I do remember the meaning. These words were on the wall at the concentration camp her grandmother survived, to then give birth to her mother, and so it goes…

Wow.
This is not kanji that may or may not say courage.
This is not Calvin urinating on a vehicle he finds to be inferior to the brand he prefers.
This is meaning.

When people see I.iii.78 on my leg there are two responses I get- what does it mean or is that your birthday? While it is a decent guess, no, I am not a year older than my older sister. No offense.

But it is a fair question, what does it mean? Literally the line says, “This above all to thine own self be true.”

People may interpret the words to have different meaning, and that, in my opinion, speaks to the truth of the words. What do these words mean to you—that is your truth.

It is possible to take them at a superficial, look out for number one, face value. Worry about yourself first. It is possible, even, that this is what Polonius was saying to his son as he set sail for France. “Yo, Laertes, the French can be a*holes, keep your head up.

Taking his character into consideration it is more likely he was giving his son business or career advice- situate yourself into a lofty position with power and authority over others, a situation whereby others will seek guidance and assistance from you (the line follows with, “Thou canst not then be false to any man”). Polonius, the fishmonger that he is, can be read with a sinister motive—but the words should not. First be true to yourself, then you cannot be fake to others.

A more gentle reading of Polonius’ intent is take care of yourself first, then you will be able to take care of others. In my profession these words speak to me.

There are two specific individual who, more than others and in contrasting manners, inspired me to go into teaching. Jack Dwyer was my middle school language arts and drama teacher and is, without a doubt, one of the greatest people I have had the privilege of knowing. One of my high school teachers, who has earned the helm of anonymity, worked her hardest to convince me my ideas were not creative, I was not as smart as I thought I was, I was a bad person due to variables outside my own control and the fact I was a (little more than) slightly angsty 16 year old. In this field of teaching I have the power to be either of these people and if I am not true to myself, my own heart, desires, motivations, and beliefs, it is possible I can fall into the trappings of detriment.

Be true to yourself and you can be there for others. You want to do well and thrive in your relationships, at the activities you enjoy, at work? Be honest; be truthful; be yourself. Your inner self. The real you.  Listen to yourself and understand yourself. If you know your why, the rest is easy.

Though often cited as Sublime, or incorrectly attributed to Bob Marley, it was the Southern Oregon band The Toyes who said, “hard work good and hard work fine, but first take care of head.”

In a more immediate, personal, day-to-day way “To thine own self be true” tells you to be honest. Primarily, be honest with yourself. Know yourself. Temet Nosce.

Be honest with who you are; be honest with yourself. If you lie to yourself you cannot be truthful to anyone or any thing else.

It’s also a perfect example of Iambic Pentameter.

QOTD: What words have left an indelible mark on your life, whether literal, metaphorical, metaphysical, or spiritual? What words do you live by?  What words do you choose to define yourself?

About Jamaal

Lover of words, liver of life, director of theatre, keeper of keys and grounds at Hogwarts. Twitter: @JamaalAllan

5 comments on “QOTD: Can I Quote You On That?

  1. Christopher Margolin
    May 9, 2013

    I feel like my first post of the morning, pretty much answers your question. https://thepoetryquestion.com/2013/05/09/where-rap-meets-the-elements-of-style/

  2. Carole Chase
    May 9, 2013

    I have a line from “Leaves of Grass” inked on my hip… “I exist as I am, that is enough.” Growing up, I always felt like an oddball. I was sort of geeky and intellectual with quirky interests. I wanted desperately to fit in and be popular and would try on different “versions” of myself to try to accomplish that.

    When I read that line as an English major in college, it was a defining moment in my life, and I realized I did not have to “try” and be something I was not. Who I am already is enough.

  3. Lauren
    May 9, 2013

    There but for the grace of god go I.

  4. Brett
    May 9, 2013

    Three I always have up at school and try to follow.
    1) We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit
    2) You are what you think you are.
    3) Carpe Diem aut desiderans tempus morieris

  5. Kat Allan
    May 16, 2013

    can I quote you on that?
    “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; life is about learning to dance in the rain.”
    These words struck a chord in me the first time I saw them. I realized that I had done a lot of waiting out storms in my lifetime; sitting by the window watching the clouds, plotting my moves for when the sun came out, as though life were a garden I could plant and grow in some glorious future spring; but life being what it is, there are always more storms, aren’t there?
    Of course the storms I refer to are those of the heart and soul; the dark and truly hard times that have put me to the test; and of trying to come through them to find my place in the sunlight.
    As I look back over the years now I can see how bit by bit I came to face the winds until there was nothing left for me to do but lean in and walk on. There have been some very tough trudges along the way but they could not be avoided; I had to walk the walk; and in so doing I have come to understand that while I can’t make the sun shine on me I can choose to dance in the rain.

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