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The Plain Sense of Things: The Fate of Religion in an Age of Normal Nihilism [James C

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The object, contended for, ought always to bear some just proportion to the expense. The removal of North, or the whole detestable junto, is a matter unworthy the millions we have expended. A temporary stoppage of trade, was an inconvenience, which would have sufficiently balanced the repeal of all the acts complained of, had such repeals been obtained; but if the whole continent must take up arms, if every man must be a soldier, it is scarcely worth our while to fight against a contemptible ministry only. Dearly, dearly, do we pay for the repeal of the acts, if that is all we fight for; for in a just estimation, it is as great a folly to pay a Bunker-hill price for law, as for land. As I have always considered the independency of this continent, as an event, which sooner or later must arrive, so from the late rapid progress of the continent to maturity, the event could not be far off. Wherefore, on the breaking out of hostilities, it was not worth the while to have disputed a matter, which time would have finally redressed, unless we meant to be in earnest; otherwise, it is like wasting an estate on a suit at law, to regulate the trespasses of a tenant, whose lease is just expiring. No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April 1775, but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever; and disdain the wretch, that with the pretended title of FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE, can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul.

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Mar 08, 2008 · After the leaves have fallen, we return To a plain sense of things. It is as if We had come to an end of the imagination, Inanimate in an inert savoir.
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Wallace Stevens


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The poem, The Plain Sense of Things by Wallace Stevens, describes a state of mind in which imagination has come to a dead end. The poem has a dramatic dimension created by the imagery of the decrepit, deserted setting. It also creates a sharp dramatic distance by its theme of the return of the traveler, a time circle that is being completed at the point it started. Images, such as the "fallen leaves" and "the great structure", refer to the absence of poetic imagination, and as suggested by the title, the poem is about the loss of meaning of words, which now makes the poet see only "the plain sense of things". However, the final two stanzas depict that this sterile scene and the lack of imagination is what gives way to creative imagination.
In the first stanza we see that imagination is associated with life and energy, and the end of imagination is associated with death. The leaves are images of organic abundance, something symbolic for the productivity of imagination. In a poetic sense this image represents diversity of words and meanings. The fallen leaves and the inanimateness of the scene draw a post-Edenic picture, which is worn out and sterile. Knowledge or the "savoir" becomes "inert", having no effect when it is stripped of from the meanings attributed by imagination.
In the second stanza, the poem is symbolized by "the great structure", a reference to the universe as a text, which in the eyes of the poet loses its meaning and significance and becomes "a minor house".
Although the atmosphere is heavy and cold where we see the despair, frustration and the "sadness without a cause", it is not dominated by sentimentality. The distance in the tone of the poem, the "blank cold", for which the poet finds hard to choose an adjective, is an expression of alienation; an unexplainable meaninglessness without a "cause". This comes from imagination, the zero point, as represented by the "lessened floors", an underworld reference, but without being exotic, spiritual or interesting for "no turban walks across". So for the poet, both the universe and the poem are stripped of from meaning, because they both lack the subjectivity of imagination, which builds up a fictive understanding of a meaningful reality.
A tone of melancholy and images of decadence rule the third stanza, resembling to the romantic idea of time as the reminder of mortality. "The greenhouse" is the metaphor for the reservation of creative energy, and the "chimney", a symbol for passion. They both become symbolic for decadence and disorder. Despite the poet's "fantastic effort", time destroys order and creates a new one repetitiously which suggests that men are like flies, and their life, too is not more meaningful and important than a fly's. The poem, then, becomes an expression of this effort for giving meaning and order.
In the fourth stanza the idea of the lack of imagination as a sterile state of mind changes direction with the paradoxical line: "Yet the absence of the imagination had itself to be imagined". The final two stanzas suggest the idea that imagination rises from its absence, from a kind of nothingness, in order to be imagined. This paradoxical relationship between imagination and lack of imagination refer to the concept of existential codependency between binary oppositions. We see that "the great pond" refer both to imagination and lack of imagination. The pond serves both as a circular symbol for this existential codependency and as the word itself, "the plain sense of it" whose absence would merely be a sort of silence. This time, lack of imagination is made similar to a silent rat's limited point of view, which perceives the "waste of lilies" and not the lilies. Wasted lilies, which may refer to words, and the muteness of the rat, a scene symbolic for the anti-creative angle of perception, become the cause of expression and creativity.
The first three stanzas set the scene of decadence and sterility and the final two stanzas suggest that the rise of imagination depends on this absence of creativity. Therefore the poem turns out to be an outcome of a tension between these two kinds of perception, and a synthesis of a dilemma that owes its existence to its absence.

But the injuries and disadvantages which we sustain by that connection, are without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance: because, any submission to, or dependence on, Great Britain, tends directly to involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint. As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she never can do, while, by her dependence on Britain, she is made the makeweight in the scale of British politics.

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The authority of Great Britain over this continent, is a form of government, which sooner or later must have an end: And a serious mind can draw no true pleasure by looking forward, under the painful and positive conviction that what he calls "the present constitution" is merely temporary. As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.

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As to government matters, it is not in the power of Britain to do this continent justice: The business of it will soon be too weighty, and intricate, to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power, so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us; for if they cannot conquer us, they cannot govern us. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which when obtained requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness — There was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease.