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Themes

There's a fair amount of physical suffering in "Terence, this is stupid stuff—images of pain and sickness and poison and death. This suffering helps to underline the bigger idea of sadness and how permanent and inescapable it is. Terence sees a pretty bleak world out there, full of bodily pain, injury, and suffering. Ugh, sorry to lay that all on you: that's Terence talking, not us!

Questions About Suffering

  1. What does the graphic imagery of suffering in the Mithridates story do for this poem? How does it help Terence to make his point?
  2. Is there a real difference between suffering and sadness in this poem? If so, what sets them apart?
  3. Why does Terence make poetry writing sound so much like suffering? What parts of the poem support your answer?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Given all the suffering in the world, Terence thinks sadness is a normal response (as opposed to, say, tipping over furniture and punching out windows). That's why sad poems can make our lives better rather than harder—they reflect reality.

By comparing writing poetry to physical suffering, Terence separates writing from the easy, temporary pleasure of getting drunk. This helps us to see how much more important and lasting it is. So take that, drunkenness.

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