Albert Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Knowledge, in a way, is what is “present” and the imagination is what “is and can be conceived” from this knowledge. In the poems “Formula” and “Old Walt” by Langston Hughes, as well as in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, we get a sense of the power of the imagination. In each text, we observe the purposeful ignorance of knowledge and use of the imagination, the expectations that follow, and the consequences. These passages create a parallel to what I feel is important in life. We know the facts and are fully aware of certain situations, but we use our imaginative minds to better them with hopes of change. At service I encounter children who come faithfully every week despite what is going on in their lives. There is a need for something other than what is “present,” something that encourages thought, an imagination, hope.
“Formula” is a poem about exactly what it says “a formula.” Langston Hughes gives guidelines to what thinks poetry should fulfill. He tells us what poetry should not be by taking two situations that are valid, but are not things we would like to be reminded of. “Roses in manure grow” and “earthly pain is everywhere” are these concepts that poetry should not aim to convey. He alludes to what it should be by making it something we figure out for ourselves. It is imaginative, “soaring thoughts.” The “lofty things” he speaks of are concepts that make us feel inspired and hopeful. A rose is a beautiful object so let’s just focus on the beauty of that rose in poetry, not something that makes it lesser than what we believe it to be. We are aware of the struggles of everyday life and of much bigger situations, but should we let this affect every minute of our thought process? The world’s resources are slowly being depleted. Do you think about that every time you consume something? No, but some of us do carry the truth in this with us. There are beautiful efforts to not be wasteful, to recycle, and to “go green.” This is the hope Hughes wants poetry to fulfill. Let’s talk about these efforts and how they have brought our communities closer together and made them creatively more conscious.
This draws a connection to “Old Walt.” The speaker talks of Walt Whitman “finding less than sought, seeking more than found.” When someone has such a wild imagination, it is hard to satisfy it with what is real. There are certain expectations that are not going to be fulfilled. For example, we may have an idea on how to reduce our carbon footprints, but it may not be practical. This poem reminds me of the ideas children come up with as solutions to certain situations. My little sister once suggested that there should be giant vacuums in the sky that clean up the world, referring mainly to her room. Needless to say, she was “finding less than sought, seeking more than found” because that couldn’t possibly exist. Hughes brings this full circle by informing us that despite this discontent, Old Walt still went seeking and finding. The “lofty things, soaring thoughts” in life are what make it worthwhile.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a classic novel that shows us what happens when the childlike essence of imagination turns into science. Victor’s life, which was once fulfilled, takes a turn and he is heedlessly in search of something to change that, something that may not exist. In the poems, it is evident that this quest is encouraged. Letting the good things we focus on continuously deliver imaginative ideas. Victor becomes focused with the thought that “In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.” Is this not what the imagination does? Instead of accepting, like Old Walt, the trials of the imagination, he vows to force it come true. He makes that giant vacuum in the sky! He does so forcefully, remanding him to a life away from everyone else in secrecy. This is the rare unhealthy form of hope that Hughes would most likely not approve of.
Personally, I love the idea that there is something we can focus on that may not be real. It can be whatever we want and this can bring many of us out of dark places in our lives. The imagination, which poetry should stimulate according to Langston Hughes, is an untapped knowledge. We know it and that is enough for us. While doing service, I had the chance to work with children who, despite the struggles their families were having, still came with an imagination still intact. I know from personal experience that you can get to a low point and only be aware of your current situation, what is “present.” It invades your mind and it hard to rise from the reality of that. I can guarantee you that if you stop “seeking” that you will never find. Therefore, knowledge alone is not enough. You need an imagination, a healthy one. You must have hope.