Study Guide

Terence, this is stupid stuff Themes

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    The guys in "Terence, this is stupid stuff" spend a huge amount of time talking about beer. In fact, the longest stanza in the poem is basically a drinking story. That's not to say that this is just about boozing it up. In fact, our main speaker Terence mostly uses the idea of alcohol and being drunk in order to get his audience to think about some deep philosophical questions. Still, he does seem to enjoy bringing up beer…

    Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

    1. Do you think this is an anti-alcohol poem? Does Terence disapprove of drinking? Why do you think so?
    2. Can temporary pleasure be a good thing, even if you regret it a little later (like fried Oreos)? I mean, you know you'll feel bad later… but they're just so good… (Note: stay away from fried Oreos. Trust us on this one.) How would each speaker answer this question?
    3. Do you think the comparison between getting drunk and reading poems makes sense? Or is that comparing apples and oranges? 
    4. Does Terence make drinking sound like fun? Or does it sound kind of awful? What parts of the poem support your ideas?

    Chew on This

    Terence, the main speaker in this poem, tries to discourage us from drinking alcohol by emphasizing how temporary and empty the happy feeling of being drunk is. In other words: "Too much ha-ha, pretty soon boo-hoo."

    The poem doesn't discourage drinking—after all Terence himself is drinking beer in the first stanza. This poem is really about the danger of trying to run away from your problems. So, cheers.

  • Literature and Writing

    A big chunk of "Terence, this is stupid stuff" is about poetry and what it can do. In fact, that's how the whole thing gets rolling. Some (probably drunk) guy asks Terence, who's a poet, what the point of poetry (especially sad poetry) is. Terence spends the rest of the poem craftily, humorously, but steadily and (we say) convincingly telling him (and us) why we need sad poems.

    Questions About Literature and Writing

    1. Does the first speaker in this poem have a point? Is serious art kind of a drag sometimes? Why do you think so?
    2. What's the point of comparing poetry to beer? Why does Terence spend so much time on that idea? 
    3. Is Terence the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with? Do his ideas about poetry make sense to you? What parts of the poem support your answer? 
    4. Does Terence think that poems can actually make us happy, or just a little less sad?

    Chew on This

    Terence compares poetry to beer in order to show us that, while life has many temporary pleasures, the joy of poetry is eternal. Poetry > beer.

    Woah—the irony (and the genius) of this poem is that it argues for the importance of serious poetry, but much of the poem itself is light-hearted and entertaining.

  • Sadness

    Terence, our main speaker in "Terence, this is stupid stuff," has kind of a bleak outlook on life. He acknowledges that life has some happy moments, but for the most part, he's more focused on the sad times. He thinks that's what we really need to be getting ready for. In fact, he thinks that's why we really need poems, because life is more sad than happy, and sad poetry can help to toughen us up (build our emotional calluses), to prepare us for sadness's inevitable punch to the gut. Luckily, we'll have poetry to protect us.

    Questions About Sadness

    1. Why is Terence so sad? Do you get a feeling for what's eating him? What parts of the poem give you your ideas? 
    2. Do you think this whole poem is unreasonably sad? Does it seem like the speaker takes too dark a view of the world? Why or why not?
    3. Are you persuaded that poetry can lend a hand when you're feeling down? How does Terence try to convince us of that idea?
    4. Does the poem end on a sad note or a happy one? Is the story of Mithridates sad? Why do you think so?

    Chew on This

    The poem gets sadder as it continues, but it ends on a note of triumph. The survival of Mithridates gives us hope that we too can survive sadness and trouble. So we've got that going for us.

    Slowly but surely, Terence strips away our illusions about the world, and leaves us with a picture of the sadness of life that is grim, but realistic. Thanks a bunch, Terence.

  • Happiness

    Even though Terence is mostly focused on sad times in "Terence, this is stupid stuff," he does talk about happiness too. He remembers times when he had fun, and even tells a few little jokes (not, knee-slappers, exactly, but still jokes). So he's not a total sourpuss. Most of the time, though, the happiness that we find in this poem is mixed with a little bit of uncertainty or uneasiness—with just a hint of anxiety thrown in for good measure. Happiness, for Terence, tends to be temporary and unreliable. It's sadness that's here to stay. Yay?

    Questions About Happiness

    1. Is there any really meaningful happiness in this poem? If so, where do you see it?
    2. Does Terence sound like a happy guy to you? Are there moments where he seems more cheerful than others? Which moments are they?
    3. Is the happiness of drinking beer anything like the happiness of reading a poem? How does the poem make them seem similar or separate them?

    Chew on This

    The poem gives us many examples of happiness (being drunk, joking with friends, conquering your enemies). In the end, though, it is only the sort of grim happiness that comes from confronting sadness that can last. So quit IM'ing and put down that beer.

    The real happiness in this poem comes from survival (not Survivor). If you live to be old, like Mithridates, then you can call yourself truly happy, at least according to Terence.

  • Suffering

    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

    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.