The Power and Peril of Written Words

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America, A Prophecy by William BlakeI believe that it is important to intelligently question the modern relevance of our ancestors’ words. It is as important to literature as it is to government. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution was enacted on December 15th, 1791, exactly 221 years ago today.

I currently live in England — a country with no written constitution. Upon discovering this, the American comedian Jon Stewart laughed out loud, insinuating that the British were “too polite” to set their thoughts on government down in a single document. In reality, countless legal documents, and their interpretation, make up the “unwritten constitution” — allowing it to be continually debated, updated, and adapted to the practicalities of modern times by parliament.

After a hard-won Revolutionary War against a British government that restricted freedom of speech and assembly, only permitted firearms to be purchased through them in limited quantities, and also forced Colonists to quarter soldiers without warning, it makes sense that the First, Second, and Third Amendments to the US Constitution were soon passed. The First one has proved vital to a healthy democracy; the Third one seems pretty irrelevant these days.

However, as soon as you suggest that the Second Amendment, and its subsequent interpretation allowing citizens to own firearms for self-defence independent of a militia, might not be well-suited to the Twenty-First Century, you will probably be called “unpatriotic” or even “un-American.” Continue reading…

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Through the Looking Glass

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I have heard some say of parenthood that if people knew ahead of time what would be involved with raising a child, most would not go through with it. I am beginning to suspect the same can be said of immigration. As a newcomer, I must conform to adult expectations without having been taught gradually, as a child, how everything works. As a result, I don’t know which signs to read as though my life depends on them, and which to ignore. New drivers in the UK are required to place a particular sign on their vehicle: a white field superimposed with a red block-letter “L,” which stands for “learner.” I feel as though I should have one constantly taped to my back.

The direction of traffic, how doors are hinged, and even the way electrical switches turn on or off are all diametrically opposed to what I have come to expect since birth. Yet I must cross the street, open doors, and turn on lights and gadgets dozens of times per day. If I operate unconsciously for even a moment, I get a shock.  But this is only the beginning. It gets, as Alice would say, “curiouser and curiouser.”
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William Blake: “The Tiger”

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Read The Poem

What is so great about this poem is the way that it carries you along with strong, simple words and imagery, whisking you past moments of highly ambiguous meaning, delighting the senses. Having blasted our way through many of these moments with an almost nursery-rhyme use of rhythm and alliteration, we come to this spectacular moment:

When the stars threw down their spears, /
And watered heaven with their tears

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