As a teacher of some thirty years' standing I can aver that lack of self-esteem is often the single most crippling handicap I have witnessed in any student whom it has been my privilege to teach. For one reason or another many human beings end up not really believing in themselves and not valuing themselves as persons. I have found that often the task a teacher faces in teaching the weaker classes especially is first building up their belief in themselves. Usually the more intellectually gifted do not suffer from such disabling self-esteem problems, though, of course, some of their number can do so due to one or other mental illness or social or family problems - though this, I have found, is rare enough among this kind of pupil.
On dipping once again into John Keats' letters I have found that this great young poet who died all too young from Tuberculosis, a disease which first claimed his younger brother Tom whom he lovingly nursed and then eventually claimed him, did not succumb to lack of self-belief and low self-esteem. This great and good poet, and wonderful human being (so easily inferred from his letters) kepts his spirits high and wrote what we would today call "Positive Self-Talk" in his many interesting and thought-provoking letters. In a letter to George and Georgiana Keats he writes the following up-beat words:
I have written this that you mights see that I have my share of the highest pleasures and that though I may choose to pass my days alone I shall be no Solitary. You see therre (sic) is nothing spleenical (sic) in all this. The only thing that can ever affect me personally for more than one short passing day, is any doubt about my powers for poetry - I seldom have any, and I look with hope to the nighing time when I shall have none. I am as happy as a Man can be - that is in myself I should be happy if Tom was well, and I knew you were passing pleasant days - then I should be most enviable - with the yearning Passion I have for the beautiful, connected and made one with the ambition of my intellect. Think of my Pleasure in Solitude in comparison of my commerce with the world - there I am a child - there they do not know me, not even my most intimate acquaintance... Some think me middling, others silly, others foolish - everyone thinks he sees my weak side against my will; when in truth it is with my will - I am content to be thought all this because I have in my own breast so great a resource... my greatest elevations of soul leaves (sic) me every time more humbled... (Letters of John Keats (OUP), ed. Robert Gittings, pp. 170-171)There is great self-belief, self-confidence and self-esteem shown in the above lines. Let us as readers bask in them. Here was a poet rejoicing in his own gifts, literary and poetic, nay, rejoicing in the fact that he was a gifted and good human being. Let us drink in such self-belief as expressed in the words from these wonderful letters. I have found myself over the years returning again and again to John Keats's letters because I find them uplifting. That such a young man could have had such profound insights into life in general and into the human condition in particular often overwhelms me with sadness and with joy by turns, given that he was to die so young.
Creativity and Healing:
To do something creative is a way of healing the soul. It is the essential therapy - call it poiesis, as I have referred to this phenomenon in the preceeding posts. Here, let us listen to Keats in a long letter to his brother George and his wife Georgiana, then being resident in America, having emigrated thence because of economic difficulties in England, a sad missive where he tells them of the death of their younger brother Tom:
Another fact that intrigues me is the unusual use John Keats makes of capitalization. He often capitalizes the least expected words now and again, though usually he capitalizes only those he believes to be of singular importance. However, such an observation is really of little importance vis a vis the wonderful insights and wisdom we can garner from his always interesting and moving letters.
.... - Never relieved except when I am composing - so I will write away. Friday. I think you knew before you left England that my next subject would be 'the fall of Hyperion' I went on a little with it last night - but it will take some time to get into the vein again. I will not give you any extracts because I wish the whole to make an impression - I have however a few Poems which you will like and I will copy out on the next sheet. (Letters of John Keats (OUP), ed. Robert Gittings, pp. 170-171)
My brother Pat peers from between the twisted trunks of a tree.