Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Penelope Is In — 14 August 2013

 

Dear Penelope,

Hi. I’m about to start my senior year in electrical engineering at UCLA. In the middle of last year, I met the most amazing girl. She’s smart and beautiful and friendly and I’m crazy about her. We’ve been seeing each other ever since we met. 

Here’s the thing though. Sarah is an English major. She’s very attached to books and especially to poetry. About a week ago she gave me this amazing-looking present. It was a parchment folder kind of thing with a ribbon, and inside was a poem she had written out with a calligraphy pen. It’s by e.e. cummings and it’s called “Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond.” 

Sarah told me it’s her favorite poem of all time. I didn’t even understand the title, so I kept my mouth shut. Then she said she feels that the last line, which goes “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands,” is the most beautiful sentence written by an American in the past 100 years.

Penelope, I have no idea what that sentence means. I read the poem (which I had to do in front of her, which was scary) and I definitely get that it’s a love poem, but if you asked me to explain a single line in it with a gun to my head, I’d be a goner. 

The thing is this was clearly a hugely meaningful gesture for Sarah to give me this poem. It means so much to her. I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that it went over my head. I mumbled something about how beautiful it was and that seemed to make her happy, but I felt really bad later. 

I’m starting to worry that Sarah sees the world in a completely different way from me. I’m not so bothered by that myself because I don’t really want to be with a woman who is exactly like me. What I’m worried about is that there’s something important that Sarah needs that I’ll never be able to give her. I don’t want to fail her. But I will never be able to connect to this hugely important thing in her life. I don’t want this to be a dealbreaker for us. What do you think?

I Just Don’t Get It

Dear I,

You are allowed to be stumped by some big thing in your partner’s life. (Take it from an English major whose husband’s idea of poetry is partial differential equations.) What concerns me more here is your apparent anxiety about being honest with Sarah. 

What are you afraid will happen if you confess that you don’t get the poetry she loves? Do you fear that she’ll think less of you, or that she’ll sit you down and start trying to educate you? You’re right that giving you a handwritten copy of this poem was very meaningful for Sarah, and it’s important that you respond to it honestly. 

You can be gentle about your response. You’ll probably find that she’ll be glad to walk you through the poem. Don’t be alarmed by that prospect. You might enjoy it a little bit, and if she loves you as much as you love her, it’s unlikely she’ll try to force-feed you poetry on an industrial scale.

Remember that this smart, beautiful, friendly girl chose you as her boyfriend. She knows perfectly well that you’re an electrical engineer and not a literature scholar. The difference between you is apparently part of the attraction for her (as it is for you). She’s trying to bring you into her world a bit, to give you a glimpse of her worldview. That’s a loving gesture. Don’t be put off by it, and trust her enough to respond with gentle honesty.

Got a question for Penelope? Write to [email protected]

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Neither Ricochet nor the writer of this column accepts any liability for the outcome or results of following the advice in this column. Ricochet reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.

There are 41 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Poetry is meant for the heart not the head. Us guys live in our heads, especially the STEM crowd that you are in. It is not over your head as under it.

    I would ask her to not explain what it means in a literal sense, but ask her how it makes her feel. What emotions does it call forth for her and then try to see if any of that is in you.

    • #1
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. BrentB67 Inactive

    I Just Don’t Get It: I am a fan of Penelope (and Judith) In this case do not take a word of her advice or you will be a short circuit.

    Remember that this smart, beautiful, friendly girl chose you as her boyfriend. She knows perfectly well that you’re an electrical engineer and not a literature scholar. The difference between you is apparently part of the attraction for her (as it is for you). She’s trying to bring you into her world a bit, to give you a glimpse of her worldview. That’s a loving gesture. Don’t be put off by it, and trust her enough to respond with gentle honesty.

    A key point to remember is that men tend to choose women hoping they never change. Women choose men often with plans to change them.

    Your girlfriend accepts you as you are now, but the poem is just the start of it. There is more coming to nudge the process along.

    Talk with her firm – you don’t get the poem and don’t care. You are a gritty analytical guy. Pretending you care is only setting up the big fall later.

    • #2
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:06 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. BrentB67 Inactive
    Bryan G. Stephens: Poetry is meant for the heart not the head. Us guys live in our heads, especially the STEM crowd that you are in. It is not over your head as under it.

    I would ask her to not explain what it means in a literal sense, but ask her how it makes her feel. What emotions does it call forth for her and then try to see if any of that is in you. · 4 minutes ago

    Good advice, but when you do this make sure there isn’t something important like the UCLA-USC game going in the next 3-6 hours.

    • #3
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:08 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Pony Convertible Member

    Speaking as an engineer who has been married 30+ years….Run. You will drive each other crazy. You are not of the same mind. Find another.

    • #4
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:13 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    BrentB67
    Bryan G. Stephens: Poetry is meant for the heart not the head. Us guys live in our heads, especially the STEM crowd that you are in. It is not over your head as under it.

    I would ask her to not explain what it means in a literal sense, but ask her how it makes her feel. What emotions does it call forth for her and then try to see if any of that is in you. · 4 minutes ago

    Good advice, but when you do this make sure there isn’t something important like the UCLA-USC game going in the next 3-6 hours. · 4 minutes ago

    LOL.

    I started out as a Engineer and switched to Psychology. I am not a fan of poetry, but I do like a good metaphor now and again.

    • #5
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Pencilvania Inactive

    That’s a delightful post! She probably has no idea (like me) how to replace a light switch with a dimmer, and will likewise be in awe of you the first time you do it for her. You sound like a wonderful couple who will bring all sorts of sweetness to each other!

    • #6
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:21 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Foxman Inactive

    ” You’ll probably find that she’ll be glad to walk you through the poem. Don’t be alarmed by that prospect. You might enjoy it a little bit, and if she loves you as much as you love her, it’s unlikely she’ll try to force-feed you poetry on an industrial scale.

     She’s trying to bring you into her world a bit, to give you a glimpse of her worldview. That’s a loving gesture. Don’t be put off by it, and trust her enough to respond with gentle honesty.”

    What if this guy gave her a gift of a really great electrical meter and he was glad to walk her through its functions, Ohms and farads and impedance and LOOK Hz! Wow. I’m sure she would appreciate a glimpse into his world.

    • #7
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:26 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. The Dowager Jojo Inactive
    Foxman:

    What if this guy gave her a gift a really great electrical meter and he was glad to walk her through its functions, Ohms and farads and impedance and LOOKHz! Wow. I’m sure she would appreciate a glimpse into his world. · 1 minute ago

    Excellent point Foxman! I think he should try to enjoy the poem even just a little, and also that he should share what interests him and if she can’t try to appreciate it…….there is a problem.

    I had a similar problem on a much smaller scale, my husband and I both have engineering degrees but I enjoy poetry (not e.e.cummings though) and discussing things and he is just not a talker. Really took me some getting used to before I figured out how fabulous I had it. So if she can’t be happy with a guy who will never give a fig for e.e.cummings, better to know now.

    • #8
    • August 14, 2013, at 5:41 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    BrentB67: I Just Don’t Get It: I am a fan of Penelope (and Judith) In this case do not take a word of her advice or you will be a short circuit.

     . . .

    A key point to remember is that men tend to choose women hoping they never change. Women choose men often with plans to change them.

    So they say.

    The problems arise when women find out they haven’t got a hope in a hand basket of changing their men, and when men find out that their steadfast darlings have implemented major course corrections, seemingly overnight.

    In the meantime, I don’t think there’s much to do but be honest and kind . . .

    • #9
    • August 14, 2013, at 6:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Larry Koler Inactive

    And now begins the alchemical process whereby — as God has so decreed — the woman’s feminine qualities mix with the man’s masculine qualities and flesh is made one. We are meant to balance each other out. That this might be a good match is indeed shown by how good she makes the guy feel and vice-versa — this is evidence of the real need in each other.

    With this one proviso: the academic field this woman is in might be into leftist brain-washing (probably is) and so, this can all go south if the woman REALLY REALLY BELIEVES that there is no difference between the sexes. 

    • #10
    • August 14, 2013, at 6:24 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Albert Arthur Coolidge

    Most poetry is boring, nonsensical, and pretentious. Speaking of pretentious, refusing to capitalize your name is obnoxious, Edward. Get over yourself.

    • #11
    • August 14, 2013, at 6:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    What a great answer! You diagnosed the actual problem — an instinct to be dishonest or hide.

    Also interesting to see how that instinct is the result of a good thing — desire to please someone.

    In any case, one of the best things about dating is how it can help open worlds. I learned about bands and authors and activities I never would have picked up on my own.

    A good poetry guide is a rare thing — hope she turns out to be a good one!

    • #12
    • August 14, 2013, at 6:36 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Pony Convertible: Speaking as an engineer who has been married 30+ years….Run. You will drive each other crazy. You are not of the same mind. Find another. · 1 hour ago

    No, no. There are plenty of very happy marriages that have negotiated these rapids. (Not mine, however; or actually, in my case, the rapids flow in the opposite direction, since I’m the poet and my wife is the practical one.)

    • #13
    • August 14, 2013, at 6:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wow… Today I learned where the wonderful band Ambrosia got the inspiration and name for their song, and second album, “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled”.

    I did not know that.

    But hey, I’m an electrical engineer.

    • #14
    • August 14, 2013, at 7:10 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It all depends on what you want to get out of a relationship.

    If you want an easy life, marry a woman who is as similar to you as possible.

    If you want a tumultuous – but interesting and growing life – then marry this girl.

    Marriage is the blueprint for a relationship with G-d. And it is *hard* to understand G-d – which is why it is hard for an engineer to understand a woman who loves poetry. But the journey is rewarding and beautiful and never fails to challenge. 

    But you are not married now. In the meantime, I would make sure you both understand how big the gap actually is. She should not be surprised to discover, down the road that you are, in her world, a knuckle-dragging caveman.

    • #15
    • August 14, 2013, at 7:11 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    I’m reminded of my favorite literature critique: sir, I have understood every word you wrote but not one single sentence. I really wish I could remember who wrote that.

    • #16
    • August 14, 2013, at 7:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    I refuse to write “E.E. Cummings” (and “K.D. Lang”) in lower case–not to say that the problem presents itself very often.

    I like Penelope’s advice and would counsel “I Just Don’t Get It” to disregard the naysayers. It’s possible that Sarah will realize in a few years that much of the poetry she loved in college is pretentious tripe. In the meantime, what’s wrong with sitting down with her and having her walk him through each line of the poem? He might learn something about poetry, but he will definitely learn something more about this girl he’s crazy about. And that’s a wonderful thing.

    If she has a negative reaction to “I’m a science guy–not a humanities guy; help me understand this and why it’s important to you,” then that would be a real problem.

    • #17
    • August 14, 2013, at 8:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    run….run real fast…unless you find out that she is redeemed by her love for other things (take Ms. Levy/Penelope. She studied military strategy and economics/finance, in earlier episodes in her life, and has much interest in the deeper aspects of politics throughout the world, (as well as other sidelines in interesting areas – life coaching, broad appreciation for literature, etc.)…all manly pursuits that must highly appeal to her (lucky) husband. Absent that commonality…….run….run real fast.

    • #18
    • August 14, 2013, at 9:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Ross C Member
    Ross C Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This love poem was written by a man for a woman and in that sense “the small hands” line makes more sense (i.e. delighted by the woman’s delicacy). I am not a humanities person but I am very familiar with this poem and have appreciated it greatly for a long time. Oddly I found it to be one of the more accessible poems by him which should tell you something about his work overall.

    • #19
    • August 14, 2013, at 10:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. S Inactive
    S

    Forget the poetry. If anything about your relationship makes you feel worried that you are going to “fail her” by being yourself, you are in trouble. You absolutely, 100% have to BE WHO YOU ARE. After a few years of marriage you will always revert to your normal self. If you’ve been hiding during dating, your spouse will be very confused. “I don’t even know you anymore?”

    Be yourself, dude. She might need to know you think poetry is for the birds. Take it from me, my wife is an English major. We get along great. She reads novels and I read non-fiction.

    Tread carefully, friend. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

    • #20
    • August 14, 2013, at 10:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. flownover Member

    Gee, I haven’t heard that since I last watched ” Hannah and Her Sisters”.

    Who knew that Woody Allen was taking Electrical Engineering.

    I try to impress the girls with “get with child a mandrake root”, usually it just scares them though………

    • #21
    • August 14, 2013, at 10:38 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. DocJay Inactive
    BrentB67: I Just Don’t Get It: I am a fan of Penelope (and Judith) In this case do not take a word of her advice or you will be a short circuit.

    A key point to remember is that men tend to choose women hoping they never change. Women choose men often with plans to change them.

    Your girlfriend accepts you as you are now, but the poem is just the start of it. There is more coming to nudge the process along.

    Talk with her firm – you don’t get the poem and don’t care. You are a gritty analytical guy. Pretending you care is only setting up the big fall later. · 5 hours ago

    An ounce of honesty is worth a pound of divorce lawyers or shrinks.

    If you want to know what the poem means then ask her. If not, tell her it’s not your bag baby. The fall is long and hard, beware.

    • #22
    • August 14, 2013, at 11:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Larry3435 Member

    You don’t understand it? You’re trying to hard. The male speaker says his lover moves him powerfully, not despite her fragility but because of it. Oh, yeah, and in in this she is like the Spring which changes the world in a gentle way. That’s all there is – there ain’t no more. Whatever else she hears in the poem is inside her, not in the words of the poem.

    Just think of it as a mix tape – kind of a sophomoric gift, but you say thank you and don’t worry about it if you don’t agree with everything about her taste in music.

    • #23
    • August 14, 2013, at 11:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. PsychLynne Inactive
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: What a great answer! You diagnosed the actual problem — an instinct to be dishonest or hide.

    Also interesting to see how that instinct is the result of a good thing — desire to please someone.

    I am in total agreement here. The differences aren’t the key, the hiding is. Some of the posts indicate that difference alone is enough to reason to run–I have to say it’s how you handle the differences that matter. If you think of her as a feely-out-of-touch flake, then you’ll grow to disdain and disrespect her. If she see’s you as a guy trapped in the tangible world with no soul, than she will disdain and disrespect you. 

    But, if you walk in, as Henri Nouwen said (talking about God) with open hands–desires not expectations–you’ll negotiate the bumps just fine. 

    My husband is a really good athlete and loves being outdoors. I believe the the outdoors are best when viewed through the climate controlled side of a window–we’ve worked, adjusted and it’s fine (almost 24 years of marriage now)

    • #24
    • August 14, 2013, at 11:22 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Tree Rat Member
    Ross C: This love poem was written by a man for a woman and in that sense “the small hands” line makes more sense (i.e. delighted by the woman’s delicacy). I am not a humanities person but I am very familiar with this poem and have appreciated it greatly for a long time. Oddly I found it to be one of the more accessible poems by him which should tell you something about his work overall. · 3 hours ago

    Edited 3 hours ago

    If this poem represents what she wants her ideal man to think/feel, you need to believe that it represents you. If you are getting along with her by playing a part, you are playing a losing (in the long run) game.

    • #25
    • August 15, 2013, at 2:05 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Johnny Dubya: In the meantime, what’s wrong with sitting down with her and having her walk him through each line of the poem?

    Edited 12 hours ago

    Because it will be extremely boring!

    So I propose, read one or two lines of poetry, then give over to the recitation of the poetry love. If ya know what I mean. ba da boom, ba da bing. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

    • #26
    • August 15, 2013, at 8:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Albert Arthur
    Johnny Dubya: In the meantime, what’s wrong with sitting down with her and having her walk him through each line of the poem? 

    Edited 12 hours ago

    Because it will be extremely boring!

    I dunno, I don’t think listening to “smart and beautiful and friendly” girl read the phone book to me would be boring. If you think spending time with her is “boring” than I’d say that says a lot more about how you feel about her than how you feel about the particular topic of conversation…

    • #27
    • August 15, 2013, at 11:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Bulldawg Inactive

    Don’t worry, e.e. cummings didn’t understand it either.

    Read some John Crowe Ransom, such as Bells For John Whiteside’s Daughter, and discuss that with her. That you, and likely she, can understand.

    • #28
    • August 15, 2013, at 12:07 PM PDT
    • Like
  29. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Ross C

    Anyway I suppose you are right about being true to yourself.

    “Being true to yourself” is vastly overrated. Shakespeare gave the line “to thine own self be true” to a comic doddering old windbag, it amuses me when people attribute this quote to Shakespeare out of context and treat it as a pearl of great wisdom.

    Too often it’s a excuse for complacency, we should strive to constantly improve ourselves. In this particular case he should put in some effort to learn to appreciate poetry. It will enrich him and make him a better man.

    • #29
    • August 16, 2013, at 1:35 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. Ross C Member
    Ross C Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I realize this is not a post about the poem per se but take a read you might like it…

    somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

    any experience, your eyes have their silence:

    in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

    or which i cannot touch because they are too near

    your slightest look easily will unclose me

    though i have closed myself as fingers,

    you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

    (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

    or if your wish be to close me, i and

    my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,

    as when the heart of this flower imagines

    the snow carefully everywhere descending;

    nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals

    the power of your intense fragility:whose texture

    compels me with the color of its countries,

    rendering death and forever with each breathing

    (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;

    only something in me understands

    the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

    nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands –

    See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15401#sthash.aw37CAHG.dpuf

    • #30
    • August 16, 2013, at 3:24 AM PDT
    • Like

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.