On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness


– Arthur Guiterman

The poem ‘On the vanity of earthly greatness’ composed by Arthur Guiterman makes us realize the remorselessness of time and the vanity of human greatness. This poem mentions many examples to give the readers the message that no matter how powerful we are, one day, this power disappears. People take unnecessary pride in themselves having power, strength, name and fame but they forget that all these earthly greatness are just momentary and at the end, they have to kneel down in front of time. Once, so called powerful living and non-living things lose their previous glory and charm as time takes its course.

This poem is an ironical poem. At the surface level, the poem expresses something but at deeper levels its implied meaning of something else.

The poem does have four couplets with eight lines. The first sentence of couplet talks about something that is great but at the same time, the second line of couplet expresses the meaninglessness of such great things such as the tusks of mastodons which were used in war has now been transformed into billiard balls. So called powerful tusks has now been used as the means of entertainment for the human beings. Similarly, the sword of Charlemagne the Just which got victory over almost everything has now become ferric oxide. It means it has become rust. Likewise, the poet also gives another example to show how the great things turn into the minor ones. The grizzly bear whose strong hug frightened almost everyone has now become a rug (warm blanket). Moreover, the poet takes the example of Great Caesar who was Roman statesman and general, who conquered the Gaul, invaded Britain and mastered Italy was assassinated by Brutus and Cassius. His bust is on the shelf. The poet himself doesn’t feel good since he knows that he does have the same destiny as all those once so called powerful ones.

Thus, this poem ironically discusses about the human greatness and suggests us not to think others to be inferiors and we should not cultivate the sense of unnecessary pride in our superiority (supremacy) because it is not long lasting.

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