On The Vanity of Earthly Greatness – Summary | The Magic of Words

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On The Vanity of Earthly GreatnessUnit Six : Life and Death
On The Vanity of Earthly Greatness – Arthur Guiterman
The Magic Of Words

“On the Vanity of Worldly Things” is a poem written by Arthur Guiterman, an American poet and journalist, is best known for his humorous verse. Through humour, he has tried to depict the reality of human beings and animals caused by the change in time. It shows the bitter reality that the power of animals or human beings doesn’t remain same when time and situation change. We always run after reputation and prestige. We become or want to be great and we think it will remain the same forever. We earn reputation and prestige and we think it will remain the same forever. We earn reputation and we think that the credit won’t be lost but actually we won’t think that is destroyed in due course of time. Our greatness is dismissed by time. So, time laughs at our blindness and pride.

Time is such a thing on which we cannot get victory. The nature has given us limited time to live and exercise our power. Beyond that time, we cannot move according to our desire. Only in favourable time and situation we can perform our actions or activities.

The “vanity” actually means the degrading value of reputations of any persons and animals in the world. To clarify this point the writer has presented few examples. Julius Caesar was a great warrior and a famous general statesman. He earned a great name and fame in his time through his strength and power. But that power lost its value with the change in the time and situation. He does not posses any arm and power to show his power of the past. His head is on the shelf and weapons and other things belongings are only in the museum in the form of history.

The roman emperor Charlemagne was a great in his time by his sword, power. But the power of his sword also became meaningless due to the change in time. Now that sword has been rusted and is kept useless in the museum. Not only the great kings and warriors, but there is also good presentation of powerful animals whose value has been decreased. Grizzly bear, whose embrace was very dreadful, has become nothing more than a rug to give warmth. Tusks of mighty brawls of mastodons have been changed into playing things like billiard balls.

All the given examples are concerned with the greatness but the greatness has been turned and reduced to valueless things. The vanity human greatness and animals’ strength have become a good subject to present irony. That irony makes one feel unwell and quite indifferent to the person.

Everybody becomes great in his time and situation but later on he becomes helpless and valueless. All reputation and achievements will be dismissed quickly. So, it is useless to take pride in one’s power as everything decays and fades away in due course of time.

Important Questions

1. What changes to people and objects are described in the poem, “On the vanity of Earthly Greatness?”
Ans: In this poem, the poet shows greatness of time. According to the poet time is powerful. It brings the changes to people or objects. The tusks of mastodons that fought powerful fights in the past have now become playthings (i.e. billiard balls). The brave emperor Charlemagne’s sword has now rusted. People were afraid of grizzly bear in the past but now its skin has changed into rug in the same way, the bust powerful Roman general is kept in the self. This shows that every powerful person or things become powerless with the passage of time. So the poet makes the fun of greatness of human beings and things. Every greatness becomes the subject of decay, death and worthless.

2. What are the different examples used by the poet to show the vanity of early greatness?
Ans: There are different examples being used by the poet to show the vanity of earthly greatness in the poem. Generally, we think that the great persons or things of today will be equally great tomorrow but greatness of persons or things of present time may be worthless with the passage of time. The poet makes the fun of greatness and power of great people and things. The tusks of mastodons that fought powerful fights in the past have now become playthings (i.e. billiard balls). The brave emperor Charlemagne’s sword has now rusted. People were afraid of grizzly bear in the past but now its skin has changed into rug in the same way, the bust powerful Roman general is kept in the self. This shows that every powerful person or things becomes powerless with the passage of time. So the poet makes the fun of greatness of human beings and things. Every greatness becomes the subject of decay, death and worthless.

Questions for Practice

  1. Describe the examples with which Arthur Guiterman has illustrated the vanity of human greatness in his poem “On the vanity if Earthly Grayness?”
  2. What changes to people and objects are described in the poem, “On The Vanity of Earthly Greatness”?
  3. Give a summary of the poem “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness”. Tell what is ironical about the poem.
  4. Explain the irony in the poem “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness”.

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