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Ethics – Four Levels of Interpretation | Flax Golden Tales

Ethics – Four Levels of Interpretation | Flax-Golden Tales


Ethics – Linda Pastan

Literal Comprehension

This philosophical poem “Ethics” has been written by a famous American poetess Linda Pastan. She is in the museum in front of a Rembrandt’s painting. She recalls her past life. While visiting a museum and looking at Rembrandt painting, the speaker recalls her school days. Her teacher in ethics class used to ask them if there was a fire in a museum which one they would choose a Rembrandt painting or an old woman. The question couldn’t touch them. They were restless and careless in the class with other students.

They couldn’t decide. So one year they would choose for the woman, was given painting. Once she answered what would be if the woman was given to answer what ought to be saved. But her teacher blamed her saying that she liked to be away from the burdens of responsibility. But now she is old and standing in front of a real Rembrandt. She understands the value of the painting as she couldn’t when she was a young girl. It is possible only from old age. She also finds that there is equal value of a woman (life), painting (art) and season (nature). The children cannot realize these things and they are beyond saving by children.


The poem is trying to show the ethical ideas about life, death, and nature which are interrelated subjects. Only matured persons can understand the real value of such things. Immature people like children cannot understand such an ethical concept. They don’t have patience, maturity and analytical views about anything. The poem is also trying to show us that it is not possible for children to understand the questions of ethics or moral values. They are not matured enough to understand their responsibilities. Topics of ethics are far beyond their access. When Linda was in school she couldn’t give the correct answer of the question asked by her teacher. But when she became matured, then only she realized the fact that such moral values have nothing to do with children.

Critical Thinking

Although the poem is interesting to read, there are some points in the poem with which I don’t agree. In the poem, the children are described as very immature persons. They don’t have patience, maturity and analytical views about anything. Are all the children the same? Isn’t there a single child who has analytical views? Can the life of children be complete without ethical knowledge? The child’s answer is criticized and blamed in the poem. Can the child’s answer never be true?


After reading the poem, I really knew the meaning of life and art. I also understood the importance of maturity and the capacity of deep understanding. I learned that we shouldn’t reply and questions without understanding and without being serious. Only matured persons can have analytical views about anything.

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