The Great Poem Series: Robert Pinsky’s “Stupid Meditation on Peace”

Stupid Meditation On Peace” was one of the two poems by Robert Pinsky featured in the 2007 edition of Best American Poetry. The poem, published in 2007, is a serene interpretation of the relationship between human nature and peace. Pinsky aims to convey how man and woman resemble peace and art through endless metaphors, creating a pensive tone that causes the reader to dig deeper into the meaning of life. Sprouted from clichéd yet deep thinking, Pinsky delivers a beautifully crafted piece that questions the ideas of sex, gender roles, human nature and war.

While reading this poem, I quickly became a fan of Pinsky’s many metaphors. The most powerful comes from the first line, “Insomniac monkey-mind ponders the Dove,” because of its immediate effect on the mood of the poem. Immediately, the poem digs deep into the human obsession with sex, while relating it to peace and the order of our world. Order is achieved by keeping peace, which is disrupted by man. Pinsky’s solution is to send young men to “the Moon, or better yet Mars” so that the world can continue in a proper fashion. However, Pinsky then shifts gears by saying that women can also disrupt the peace and order of the world. This is when he starts to talk about “Art” and its relation to human nature. In order to be an artist, one must “follow the stinks and rapids” of the metaphorical river of life. Life is cruel, hence the rapid current of the river. However, Pinsky somehow flips this idea and maintains a calming mood that made the poem very enjoyable. All of the figurative language and imagery in his metaphors allow for a precise analysis of life that also takes the reader on a journey down the lazy river.

Another aspect of Pinsky’s poem that made it unique and inviting was the use of specific literary devices. To start off the piece, Pinsky uses an epigraph from Gerard Manley Hopkins that says “he does not come to coo.” This quote immediately sets the mood for the poem, as it indirectly refers to man and his nature. Pinsky is implying that men have purposes to their actions but their actions are mainly driven by the need for satisfaction (i.e. sex). Interestingly enough, Gerard Manley Hopkins became a priest during the course of his life, and priests cannot participate in such activities. Therefore, this quote obviously shows Pinsky’s opinion on how it is human nature to want and do whatever is needed for sex. In comparison, Pinsky uses hypophora near the end of the poem when he questions the meaning of peace, asking whether it is “a vacuum, the negative Of creation, or the absence of war,” as if to entice the reader to think about the idea in his mind. However, Pinsky immediately answers the rhetorical question by labeling peace as a “positive energy” and ultimately disregards the previous suggestions. While implying that it is a hassle to achieve and maintain throughout the early lines of the poem, Pinsky eventually gives in and agrees with the rest of the world that peace is a good thing. However, Pinsky’s skepticism remains as the last stanza secures the third characteristic of the poem that puts it on a higher level than most: his voice.

Everything that was brought up in “Stupid Meditation on Peace” was critiqued and given Pinsky’s opinion, even if it was not obvious. Pinsky admires the religious establishment of meditation, a likely homage to Buddhism, but ultimately does not agree with its teachings and principles. He ends his interpretation by “resisting that sweet milk” that is the idea of peace. Pinsky tags himself as a cynic, using a final metaphor to depict himself (and humans in general) as nothing more than chimps flinging their own feces around in a cage. This powerful comparison emits a sad, almost hopeless voice hidden behind the gentle words of wisdom that initially crafted a well-thought-out wondering of man’s impulses. Pinsky’s voice is a declaration of the inevitability of human nature: that man is nothing more than a monkey-minded mammal unfit for a meaningful existence.

I wanted to read the contributor’s notes after writing about the poem because I felt like it would be interesting to compare my interpretation to what Pinsky had to say about his piece. As it turns out, “Stupid Meditation on Peace” indeed had a Buddhist affiliation. Pinsky states that the poem was commissioned by a Buddhist organization, which is why he included the epigraph from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Pinsky alluded to the autobiography of Sid Caesar with the idea of Peace and Art as tributaries, adding to his credibility as a poet. I thoroughly enjoyed analyzing and interpreting this piece by Pinsky, and I would be interested to see what his other poems are like. When I read this poem aloud at a poetry slam, Pinsky’s intent became clear as the words felt very well-put-together and flowed with a very meditative sound.

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