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Ethics by Linda Pasten Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 3rd, 2019


A poem is a work of art that serves many purposes. Just like music or literary works of art, a poem can be used to entertain, educate or pass on an important message to the society. More often than not, poems tend to use a parabolic kind of language and the message contained herein is not always direct.

The reader of a poem may need to read the entire poem to get the gist of what the poet is talking about. This discussion looks at the poem’ Ethics’ by Linda Pasten and seeks to try and gain an in-depth understanding of the reason behind Linda Pasten writing of this poem as well as some of the tools that Linda has employed in coming up with the poem. A small excerpt of the poem has been included in the discussion so as to enable the reader identify with the poem.

Ethics by Linda Pasten

In ethics class so many years ago

Our teacher asked this question every fall:

If there was a fire in a museum

Which one would you save, a Rembrandt painting

Or an old woman who hadn’t many years left anyhow?

Restless on hard chairs caring little for pictures or old age

We’d adopt one year for life the next for art and always half-heartedly.

Sometimes the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face,

Leaving her usual kitchen to wander some drafty half-imagined museum.

One year, feeling clever, I replied,

Why not let the woman decide herself?

Linda, the teacher would report,

Eschews the burden of responsibility.

This fall in a real museum I stand

Before a real Rembrandt, old woman,

Or nearly so, myself. The colours

Within this frame are darker than autumn,

Darker than even winter-the browns of earth

Though earth’s most radiant elements burn

Through the canvas, I know that woman

And painting and season are almost one

And all beyond saving by children

Linda’s Biography

Linda Pasten was born in the year 1932 in New York as an only child of her parents. Linda always had a passion for writing and by the age of ten, she had already begun writing some poems. Having been an only child without brothers and sisters, Linda’s childhood was somewhat lonely and she found writing as the only way she could remain connected with the world and remain part of the rest of the world.

She felt that by writing, she was able to interact with as many people as possible and thus the gap of not having siblings was filled. Linda’s works of poetry revolve around the daily happenings in the society mainly looking at common issues revolving round the family. Most of her poetry looks at marriage, family, relationships, and the society in general (Parini, 2005, p.23). She has a M.L.S from Simmons and B.A. from Radcliffe.

Linda went on with writing poems even while in school and people around her begun recognizing the special talent that Linda had. She has since won a couple of awards in poetry (Parini, 2005, p.23). She has also written a couple of books with first one being A Perfect Circle of Sun. Linda is American by birth and she is female.

Analysis of the poem

The poem begins by recapping some of the princes that the poet went through while in school. It then brings other aspects of fires and frames that are issues that the poet gets to understand better as she advanced in age. Looking at the question that teacher posed during the ethics class, it becomes apparent that it is not easy to give answer to this kind of question.

The main difficult in answering this question is the fact that it is hypothetical in nature and the lack of reality makes it hard for students to give a definite answer. However, years later when the poet gets to a real museum and comes face to face with a real Rembrandt painting, she seems to arrive to an answer more easily.

Many readers have likened Linda Pastern’s work with that of Emily Dickinson arguing that they have a unique ability of expressing issues that are considered a mystery and complex in domesticated language that can easily be understood.

The poem ‘Ethics’ is not just only a perfect reflection of good works of art as well as a memoir, it also focuses on ethics in the life of the poet (McMahan et al., 2007, p. 90).

It gives an account of the poet’s transition form childhood into maturity and also the aspect of morality that is mature which enhances unity for all things and most importantly always ensures that responsibility is taken for anything that is considered real. The poet together with her classmate begins from half-imagined and half-hearted kind of reasoning and with time, they get to understand aspects better.

Linda Pastan has very employed various tools of poetry that have been used to better express the message contained in the poem. The form in which this poem is written is what is known as free verse. Free verse kind of format mainly depends on natural rhythms speech as well as images to enhance expression. One of the poetry tools that she has used is imagery to give support to her theme. For instance, at some point Linda States that “sometimes the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face” (Jason & Georges, 2002, p.97).

This has been used to show that the children did not have the ability to make out the moral dilemma presented to them by their teacher. Diction has also been used in this poem to enhance its themes and this is mainly seen in the choice of words. For instance, use of words like ‘half-heartedly’ shows the extent to which the children understood the moral dilemma.

Pastan has also used metaphors. For instance, “ the colors within this frame are darker than autumn’ (Gywnn & Linda, 2005, p.23). This expression has been used to show that the painting in question is not just a simple work of art but is actually something that has got life.

Linda also employs symbolism especially when nearing the end of her poem. This poem is therefore not just based on issues about life ethics in institutions of learning but also focuses on the kind of perception that children have regarding old people and older items in general. The message contained therein is therefore quite deep.


Gywnn, R. & Linder, A. (2005). Contemporary American poetry: a pocket anthology. Indiana: Pearson/ Longmann.

Jason, P. & Georges, P. (2002). Masterplots 2. California: Salem Press.

McMahan, E., Day, E & Funk, R. (2007). Literature and the writing process. London: Pearson: Prentice Hall.

Parini, J. (2005). The Wadsworth anthology of poetry. New York: Cengage Learning.

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