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Wisdom Demands Sacrifice

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Robert Lam Ms. Dwyer ENG 2D7 - 04 5 December 2008 Wisdom Demands Sacrifice �mile Nelligan's personal poem, "Before Two Portraits of my Mother", explores the life journey people experience in order to attain wisdom. Nelligan's diction conveys a tone of joy and despair, while his imagery reveals the pleasure of young dreams and the need to accept hardships. In fact, the occasion of the poem, evident in its title, teaches that wisdom demands sacrifice. The two portraits form the basis for the poem's literary devices and balanced structure of opposites. Nelligan symbolizes the need to reinvent hope in the journey towards enlightenment and wisdom. This personal poem's contrasting tones of happiness and sadness, demonstrate that accepting life's hardships leads people to reinvent hope because wisdom demands sacrifice. Nelligan's diction contrasts joy and melancholy: he opposes the hope of youth with the care of old age. His mother's young portrait captures the climax of her young dreams, "...romance's rapture..." (7). Bright, youthful diction such as "glorious", "prime", and "shine" reveal that her happiest moments stem from her life as a young adult. ...read more.


signifies his mother's old age. Instead of dealing with sadness and despair, Nelligan unearths the hope and joy he attains from the two portraits. He mentions "years" to exemplify the change present in passing time. Nelligan insists that as his mother reaches "...the year's eclipse," the physical signs of age emerge as markers of attained peace and wisdom. The poem's structure expands on peace and tranquility as he introduces the two portraits in the first two a-b-b-a quatrains and then reflects on the portraits' impact in the final a-a-b tercet and a-b-a tercet stanzas. This balance between the physical and intellectual characteristics of old age and youth remain equally important stages through which all people must pass. Nelligan explains that the sacrifice stage needed to attain wisdom remains "...an unfathomed mystery of the heart" (12). This mystery acts as the taproot for the poem and Nelligan's questions about the mystery signify his frustration and desire for enlightenment. This structure nurtures the literary devices that stress the power of understanding and experience needed to attain wisdom. ...read more.


Nelligan, the poet, exemplifies the new hope evident in her wedding portrait and the poem becomes a symbol for his passionate, emotional ties to his mother. Nelligan demonstrates his admiration for his mother's youth when he reflects upon her "...brow haloed with joy" (10). Nelligan's reference to angelic qualities fields the way for youth as a symbol of pure, problem-free, future oriented life. The use of the verb halo to describe his mother's youthful hope depicts her connection to God. The joy that haloes her brow indicates her trust and hope in God's guidance to help her choose wisely. Wise choices feed hope. Hope nourishes her personal renewal. Renewal nurtures her balanced adaptation in life. "Before Two Portraits of my Mother" creates a connection between inner wisdom and physical appearance: people lose and gain things in balance. The pursuit of her dreams, evident in his mother's wedding portrait, leads to the wisdom and enlightenment symbolized by the sacrifice of her physical appearance, evident in her old age portrait. Nelligan's mother sacrifices her appearance as she renews her hope in life. "Before Two Portraits of my Mother" measures how wisdom demands sacrifice. ...read more.

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