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The Panther

I learned new words today. I read an article by Judith Butler who used the word carceral, meaning “relating to prison.” It fits with systemic prejudices e.g., racism, where particular groups of people are imprisoned at a greater rate than their percentage of a society or country.

But, it includes how people are limited to a geographic space, so they do not come in contact with the elites. It extends injustice and oppression those groups and individuals experience. Paulo Freire argued this cuts across racial, gender, and linguistic lines and includes class distinction. People are trapped and imprisoned within a life that offers little hope for them and their children.

I am unsure Rainer Maria Rilke intended to make a political statement in The Panther, but it serves as an analogy to understand how another might experiences life in the midst of oppression. In not witness ing another’s disenfranchisement e.g., economic, political, educational, etc., I grow to think their plight is not real. But, bars, literal and figurative, become reality. As Rilke states “a great will stands stunned and numbed.”

The opposite of my indifference is love and serving, reaching out to give a hand to those who need help to cut the bars away that oppression has built around them. It is less about doing for them and more about valuing their lived-experiences in meaningful ways. Freire said to read the word, humans first read their world, bringing their understanding of living to formal education.

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted

that it no longer holds anything anymore.

To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand

bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride

which circles down to the tiniest hub

is like a dance of energy around a point

in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise

without a second โ€ฆ then a shape enters,

slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,

reaches the heart, and dies.

I love the blues. A sad thing about the genre is many women who were pioneers were not recorded as often as men. It is a treat to hear someone like Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing.


About ivonprefontaine

In keeping with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky, I consider myself a public and dissident intellectual. Part of my work is to move beyond (transcend) institutional dogmas that bind me to defend freedom, raising my voice to be heard on behalf of those who seek equity and justice in all their forms. I completed my PhD in Philosophy of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My dissertation and research was how teachers experience becoming teachers and their role as leaders. I focus on leading, communicating, and innovating in organizations. This includes mindfuful servant-leadership, World Cafe events, Appreciative Inquiry, and expressing one's self through creativity. I offer retreats, workshops, and presentations that can be tailored to your organzations specific needs. I published peer reviewed articles about schools as learning organizations, currere as an ethical pursuit, and hope as an essential element of adult eductaion. I published three poems and am currently preparing my poetry to publish as an anthology of poetry. I present on mindful leadership, servant leadership, schools as learning organizations, how teachers experience becoming teachers, assessement, and critical thinking. I facilitate mindfulness, hospitality retreats. and World Cafe Events using Appreciative Inquiry. I am writing and researching about various forms of leadership, how teachers inform and form their identity as a particular teacher, schools as learning organizations, hope and its anticipatory relationship with the future, and hope as an essential element in learning.

30 responses »

  1. I believe the thing I always need to do is ask people what they want/need (equality, end to sexism, racism, etc.) and then work to change the society to make those things a reality. It’s a never ending battle against those tho are filled with hatred and love the status quo, but it seems to me that it’s the only way to actually make life better for people in need…even if it ogyrn seems impossible.

    • It is definitely never-ending Gigi. I suspect all good work is never-ending. You make an excellent point about asking people what they feel they need at a given time. Essentially, Paulo Freire learned to do that in his pedagogy. He commented it is hard to do this and step back to give space.

  2. Wonderful post, and thank you for sharing that poem.You’re right about it being appropriate for people. “To him, the world is bars” says it all, doesn’t it?

  3. Interesting read! It reminded me of a story I ran across, long ago, which I do not know if true/verified or just an example to make the author’s point, but along the same lines, and paraphrased as follows: “A zoo was in the midst of making upgrades/changing spaces and a tiger was temporarily housed in a space more restricted than what he had had before. The tiger paced the boundaries of the cage for many weeks, and once the remodel/upgrade of his home was done – the doors opened to let him roam ‘freer’ within his confines – and yet, for weeks after, he paced the same narrow space, back and forth, in the same dimensions as what his ‘cage’ had allowed him” – – It made an impact upon me, then, of the both habit and mind and what happens to living things under pressure/external imposed limits – and I was reminded of it today, via your share – – all I can say is YES! oppression, disenfranchisment, etc. happens in many ways – external, on purpose, due to circumstances and/or inherited beliefs and transcends, overall, all things except for the voices of hope that wade in to say, “yes, but perhaps – not so…see? The door is open – just walk through it – “

    • We, humans and tigers, become conditioned to what space is available. I participated in a live event on leadership last night and the presenter suggested the ultimate test will be how we continue to lead after we return to some semblance of normalcy. Will we learn lessons and take them forward or, like the tiger, feel restricted by what we assume is normal.

      • Yes…I agree…on some fronts…on others, I’m rather of a mind of, “Things may never return to the ‘normal’ that’s come to be expected in recent decades, on the other hand, do we really WANT to return to some of the ‘normals’ that were seen this year to be vulnerable and not serving us well, overall? I believe those who have quietly labored for years over steady improvements will be better lauded for their efforts than much of our media/celebrity status in the past has usually garnered – :). Lord knows, the ‘essential workers’ who often come in at the lower rung of the pay scales have sure been better recognized this year – for the needed services they provide, every durn day – for many years – ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Yes, we overstate the idea of what normal is. We will return to what might be a semblance of normal. Another point is we are always moving into “new normals” and these times exacerbated and revealed inequities that were always there. We are finding in Alberta the essential worker is still disposable. Our government is working to privatize many aspects of our public health care system.

  4. This is so true. Blues seems to have been forgotten by the present generations, even though there is a surge in indie music style which perhaps takes some inspiration from the blues and folk separately, but with time the female voices have been almost completely lost. So whenever it comes up in random places like this, I just love it. Thanks for sharing this with us. ๐Ÿ–ค


  6. Pingback: The Panther | James' World 2

  7. Hi! I have some newer stuff on my other WordPress blog “Thought You Might Like” This where I’m currently doing NanoPoblano2020.

  8. Rilke’s poem is certainly about caging and oppression. Is it your translation?
    The rich perceptions that emerge in translation are fascinating.
    I occasionally translate German poems. The Panther is one of them, and thought I share it here …

    The Panther

    So weary is he, from seeing bars passing,
    his glance holds nothing anymore.
    To him a thousand bars are here alone
    and beyond the thousand bars no world.

    The yielding gaits sinewy stride,
    turning and circling the tiniest place,
    is like a dance of power round a hub,
    in which a mighty will stands dazed.

    Only once in a time the veil of the pupil
    lifts without a sound โ€“ then a vision enters,
    sinks through the tightened calm of limbs
    and ends its illusion in the heart.

    Der Panther: Rainer Maria Rilke
    Translation: Ashen Venema

    • Yes, for me it is about oppression, enslavement, and caging. For me, Rilke’s panther stands as a metaphor for how we become conditioned to just letting life pass without being able to fully live it. Hannah Arendt points us in that direction in The Human Condition. As we become more and more conditioned to the bars that limit our view and reach, we grow weary. Sometimes, as Rilke points out, the veil lifts ever so briefly and we are fortunate to catch a glimpse of what life might be and, if we are more fortunate, live life in that direction.

      Thank you for the translation Ashen. Although I use several German philosophers in my writing, it is not a language I can work in. I have a friend who speaks German and he tells me it is a rich, naunced language with much vibrancy and life. My first language was/is French, so the French philosophers and me have a more seamless fit.

      • I feel resonance with French philosophers, and love reading them in translation, since my understanding of French poor.
        This Panther poem is striking. Thing is, we cage each other with deep seated fear, and a learned intolerance of difference.
        Re: Rilke, I like the translations of his poems by Stephen Mitchell.

      • What my French provides, as I no longer have great command, is insight into what words mean. For example, in English we use words like proper, right, and correct interchangeably. In French, they have specific meanings that do not conflate and overlap.

        I can read French and do read to provide a deeper understanding.

  9. I love your posts, Ivon. This no less than any other; always digging deeper. I appreciate you.

  10. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  11. I just keep a book of Rilke’s works by my desk, and every so often like to read one, of his poems as a break from what I am doing, loved to read him since I read his: Letters to a young poet.

    Nice post Ivon. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you. I have two books of poetry based on Parker Palmer’s work around leadership and education. In each volume, there are Rilke poems, plus I have his Letters to a Young Poet. They sit on bookshelves immediately behind me in my office, He wrote from a spiritual and phenomenological space.


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