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"Ethics" by Linda Pastan
Transcript of "Ethics" by Linda Pastan
TPCASTT of "Ethics"
About Linda Pastan
In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
If there were a fire in a museum,
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who hadn't many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we'd opt one year of life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother's face
I chose "If Today Was Your Last Day" by Nickelback because it continues with the theme of raising questions about the value of life and decisions made.
“Ethics” was published in the early 1980s, during an economic upturn in the U.S. economy after two decades of civil unrest and an uncertain position in the global market. It is no accident that an economics of worth is what drives the ethical question posed in the poem, “which would you save, a Rembrandt painting / or an old woman who hadn’t many years left anyhow?” When Ronald Reagan became President in 1980, the country was overdue for economic reform. His plan, called “Reaganomics,” had radical cuts in taxes and social spending, and resulted for a while in steep declines in interest and inflation rates, and the appearance of millions of new jobs.
This poem is titled "Ethics". Ethics are moral principles that govern a person or group's behavior or the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles. This poem will probably tackle a difficult situation that forces a person to reconsider the ethics that guide their life.
At the beginning of the poem, the narrator is bored and uninterested because she doesn't understand. By the end of the poem, however, she is contemplative and wise.
The teacher, who scolds the narrator, is frustrated that the younger generation does not understand the depth of her question. The tone of the story is questioning, as the lesson is not thoroughly understood by the inquiring students and the teacher cannot fathom why the students can't understand .
In the poem "Ethics," there are two different shifts. The first is after line 12, "some drafty, half-imagined museum," because time has passed. The shift is significant because the narrator has grown older and is a bit more experienced. The second shift is after line 16, "the burdens of responsibility," because another period of time has elapsed and the narrator is now an old woman. This is significant because the narrator begins to finally understand the ethical question posed after she grow old.
Linda Pastan was born May 27, 1932, in New York. She is well known for writing short poems that address topics like domestic/family life, motherhood, being a female, death, aging, the fragility of life and loss, and relationships. She is a Jewish American poet, and is married to accomplished physician and researcher Ira Pastan. She took a ten year poetry writing hiatus after college, until her husband urged her to return. Her daughter is novelist Rachel Pastan.
Awards and Honors
During her senior year at Radcliffe College, Pastan won the Mademoiselle poetry prize. She has won many other awards including the Dylan Thomas award, a Pushcart Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, in 2003. Pastan served as Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995 and was on the staff of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for 20 years. She is the author of over twelve books of poetry and essays.
The image I chose to represent this poem is a blacked out picture of a man with a question mark over his head because ethics are morals inside of you that cannot be discerned by others until your actions speak.
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half-imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.
This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter-the browns of earth,
though earth's most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond the saving of children.
A long time ago, in ethics class, our teacher posed the question:
If there was a fire in a museum, would you save a painting by Rembrandt or an elderly woman who was nearing her end?
This made us uncomfortable, and one year we would answer the old woman and the next we would answer the painting, always indecisive. Sometimes I would imagine the old woman as my grandmother, wandering through a museum instead of her old kitchen. One year, I was feeling witty and replied why not let the woman decide herself? The teacher responded that I am avoiding responsibility. Recently, I stood in a real museum in front of a real Rembrandt as an old woman. The colors of the painting were dark, even though it emanated earth's elements. I now understand that woman and painting and season are more complex than a
child can save.
Pastan is pictured here reading from her novel, "Carnival Evening".
The uses of the words "drafty," "half-heartedly," and "half-imagined," give an idea of how faintly the dilemma was understood by the children and explains how the children cannot understand the burden the speaker has taken upon herself.
The speaker implies that the woman and painting represent something old and wise and are something that ethics say we cannot and should not easily give up, but children are unable to save them because they cannot understand that. The speaker implies this by saying "I now know that woman / and painting and season are almost one / and all beyond saving by children"
Pastan starts out the poem using rather simple syntax to portray a younger speaker. As the poem advances, Pastan's language becomes more elaborate to show the passing of time.
By referring to the Rembrandt painting as just a "picture" and the woman as "old age," we can see that these two symbols, which are very important to the speaker and the poem, are considered trivial by the children.
The speaker uses the metaphors "The colors / within this frame are darker than autumn, / darker even than winter" and "the brown of earth," though earth's most radiant element burn / through the canvas." to give us the impression that the painting is not just a simple drawing, but something alive, connected to the earth and worth saving. This puts it at the same level as the old woman, making the dilemma more balanced.
The painting is described as "darker than autumn, / darker even than winter," making it a symbol representing old age and natural death.
The narrator alludes to Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, who was a renowned Dutch painter and etcher.
As mentioned in the first title analysis, the poem ended up being about a troublesome ethical question that made the narrator reconsider her values.
Sometimes people don't understand the value of experience.
This poem can be described as a free verse poem, because it has no kind of rhythm. It mainly depends on images rather than actual rhyme.