Symbolism and Metaphor In The Humbling River by Maynard James Keenan Essay

Symbolism and Metaphor In The Humbling River by Maynard James Keenan Essay

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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 t...

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... “country, crown, and throne.” The words riches and muscle is the angels response to the singers claim to have conquered the elements and once again, the angel is saying he must transcend the will to power to cross the river. Just as the angel said that he must open his heart and hands, thereby looking beyond himself, she now says, the hands of the many must join as one. This speaks of the “death” of the aspects of human nature that drive a will to power and meaning of individual lives and the transcendence of this nature wherein the individual now sees himself as one with and, in love, is interdependently connected to the rest of humanity who, together, rises above human nature and is reborn in the “crossing.”

Works Cited

The Humbling River. By Maynard James Keenan. Rec. 10 Nov. 2009. Puscifer Entertainment, 2009. CD.

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