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Symbolism And Metaphor In “The Humbling River” An Analysis

1695 words - 7 pages

The questions, “What does it mean to be human, and how might we transcend human nature?” have been a subject of debate for philosophical and theological thinkers for centuries. In recent history, scientific discoveries have led to a resurgence of these ancient debates that break down into three primary schools of thought. There are those who believe that we, like the rest of the animal kingdom, have certain basic “programming” that determines our fundamental nature, and those who believe that human beings are born “tabula rasa” and that nurture determines who we are. The issue becomes increasingly complex for those with the theological belief that human beings are spiritual creatures and that our spirituality is what defines us. However, a growing number of people who have examined these ideas have reached the conclusion that it is neither one nor the other, but a combination of nature, nurture, and spirit that defines what it is to be human. Using symbolic imagery, Maynard James Keenan, in his song, “The Humbling River,” presents this idea, metaphorically describing how this combination of forces as the sum of our fundamental nature, drives the will to power and the will to meaning, and the main theme of his song is what must be done to transcend human nature.
In the opening stanza of the song, the singer presents the idea that human nature is a combination of forces saying, “Nature, Nurture, Heaven, and Home./Sum of all and by them driven” (Keenan). In this stanza, the word nature metaphorically represents the biological reality that human beings are animals that are a part of the natural world. It further points to the scientific understanding that human beings are motivated by natural biological imperatives in the same way that the rest of the animal kingdom is. The word nurture is metaphor for one’s immediate home including family, friends, and school and points to the guiding influences these forces present in our lives. The word heaven is metaphor for the religious belief that human beings are spirits who are influenced by outside spiritual forces that help to shape us. The word home is metaphor for the greater culture to which we belong and represents the influence of that culture on our way of thinking and acting. The sum of all of these forces then, defines who we are as individuals and serve to define what motivates us to action, our nature.
The second half of the first stanza introduces an extended metaphor describing the motivating factor of human nature, saying, “To conquer every mountain shown” (Keenan). While the word “conquer,” conjures up images of imperialistic warfare, within the context of this song the word has a broader meaning and may be more clearly understood as the “will to power and the will to meaning.” That is, the driving forces of human nature are achievement, which is motivated by personal ambition to reach the highest possible position we may accomplish, and the drive to understand the meaning of our lives....

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