Clichés are a lot of fun, and this one is no exception. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of people say this phrase no matter where you are in life. It’s said about many things and seems to be used less as you grow older, the thought being that you have lost your ignorance and can no longer dwell in the bliss it provides.
Do you know anything about this phrase though? Where do clichés even come from? Well, this one came from a poem. “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” was written by Thomas Gray in 1742. As a pupil of Eton college, he wrote this poem as a salute to his alma mater. You can learn more about the poem and read it in its entirety by clicking here. But we want to focus on the last stanza.
“To each his suff’rings: all are men,Condemn’d alike to groan,The tender for another’s pain;Th’ unfeeling for his own.Yet ah! why should they know their fate?Since sorrow never comes too late,And happiness too swiftly flies.Thought would destroy their paradise.No more; where ignorance is bliss,‘Tis folly to be wise.”
So what are we to make of this? When a full grown, caucasian, American middle class stereotypical family member smiles, shrugs and comments, “ignorance is bliss” concerning the latest news and politics…what do we do with that?
First of all, let’s grab hold of some context right quick. In this poem, Thomas Gray reaches this climactic end to his poem with a particular group of people in mind: school children. “Yet ah! why should they know their fate?/Since sorrow never comes too late,/And happiness too swiftly flies”. Why should school-aged children be included in discussions on the news or politics or I don’t know (*clears throat), why should they have to spend time worrying about their school hosting an active shooter for the day? The realization of the state of our world will come all too swiftly as they grow…don’t spoil it before their childhood is over. Gray would suggest we allow children to dwell in the bliss of their ignorance for as long as they can.
But I’ve never heard a child quote this 18th century poem to me. It has always been adults…and that changes things up a bit. Because for adults, ignorance is not bliss…’tis not folly to be wise. Strap on your big-kid helmet and prepare for this:
At this age…ignorance isn’t bliss.
It is inconsiderate.
Believe me when I say this isn’t much fun to write, because I have dwelled in the land of ignorance for far too long, convincing myself that it is the land of bliss. When you ever take off those glasses, you’re forced to hit yourself with another cliché, this one from the 20th century poet Dorothy Parker: “What fresh hell can this be?”
But Maggie, how do I deal with not being ignorant/inconsiderate without sinking into a storm of depression (which, by the way, is the condition that caused Dorothy Parker to ask that question every time the doorbell rang)? Very simple my friend!
Ignorance about the world isn’t bliss, it is inconsiderate.
But approaching the world with ignorance of the Bible isn’t bliss…it’s slow suicide.
If you are a Christian and you are trying to quit living in a world of fake bliss without approaching the little “t” truth of the world through the big “T” Truth of the Word…you’re not going to make it. You’re going to get two steps out of yourself and either collapse into the fetal position on the ground screaming, or turn and run back under your rock.
I have written about the lost language of action … and I have written about an organization that is looking to love the ones the world has forgotten. We cannot be ignorant of the needs of others and consider that blissful. We are called to be hands and feet. When I get home to Jesus I don’t want to be pristine and white. I want to be blistered and covered with dirt.
I like putting a picture with all of my posts and today’s picture may not make a lot of sense to you. But that sweet little girl is Malak. I found her on Preemptive Love Coalition’s website. You can find the video by clicking here. That adorable smile she flashed to the camera was in between fighting back the tears of an exhausted six-year-old who was running from war. She stops smiling long enough to answer questions: my name is Malak…my father was killed…and she starts to cry when they ask her if she has had anything to eat that day.
In 1747, Thomas Gray published “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” to suggest that children should be allowed to dwell in the ignorance of bliss. Times have changed. Children now dwell in war while adults try to hide in the imagined bliss of ignorance.
Death to that idea.
Christians, it’s time to be His hands and feet.
Dorothy Parker — https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/10/01/fresh/
“Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” by Thomas Gray — http://greatpoetryexplained.blogspot.com/2015/12/ode-on-distant-prospect-of-eton-college.html
Preemptive Love Coalition — https://preemptivelove.org/donate/