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  • Willow Whitaker

“Youth, Nihilism, and the Importance of ‘The Orange’”

The Orange” by Wendy Cope is a short but sweet poem about the simplicities of everyday life, and how often the little moments can go under appreciated. In an interview with Jogos Florais, Cope explained that “there is something you could describe as light verse, which is poetry that is merely playful and entertaining, and I have written a few like that. But I also think that a poem with humor can be something that is deeply felt and important, and it should not be dismissed as light verse.” A poem like “The Orange” does a wonderful job of this by being both silly yet heartfelt, as well as empowering.

Ella Ficken, in her article “The Question of Simplicity: Frank O’Hara and Wendy Cope,” puts it best that poetry such as “The Orange,” whether intentionally or not, “serves as a direct reaction against the overwhelming outward and political nature of the twentieth century.” The poem was published in Cope’s book Serious Concerns in 1993, as the world was wrapping up a century of astronomical development and political change. One which would only pick up speed leading into the next century.

Around the same time Cope’s book was published, the internet was becoming more accessible to a growing audience. Thirty years later, the internet and social media are permanent features in our American life that offer an unfathomable amount of information in an instant. The internet also plays a large role in how we view the political concerns, environmental dangers, and social polarization that is unique to our 21st century America.

All this is one click away. A power like this can make anyone overwhelmed.

And this power is in the hands of younger generations, the ones who will inherit this land and government. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2023 trends report, “In the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40% among young people.” Extreme social isolation as a result of the pandemic only solidified the youth mental-health crisis. Without the ability to see others face to face, social media was a tool used to breach the gap.

And social media showcases the struggles and failures of America with unrelenting intensity. With so much hate living on the screen, being seen everyday when you open your phone to connect with people, it’s easy to believe there isn’t any hope that things will change for the better.

It’s very easy to give up hope on other people, as well as ourselves. That is why poems such asThe Orange still hold value, and so much power in the face of what feels like inescapable dread.

Detail of “Young Woman Picking Oranges” by Berthe Morisot

“And that orange, it made me so happy,

As ordinary things often do”

While a nihilistic approach to the constant stream of negative information is easier, it can also be used to absolve a person of their responsibility to make change.

At the same time it is impossible for a person to shoulder the weight of a movement non-stop without becoming overwhelmed. It's important to prioritize mental health when needed, and doing so can be a powerful form of protest. As Ficken says in her analysis of simplistic poetry like “The Orange,” “the move towards simplicity [can become] a form of protest through verse.”

Though it is easy to succumb to the vast amounts of negative each day, taking time to enjoy the simplicities of life gives more meaning to a difficult world, as well as more reasons to save it. A long walk to class, discovering a new store, a new show, smiling to strangers, accomplishing something small, even sharing food with your friends. The small moments.

We must continue the work soon — for survival, for education, and for the betterment of society — but right now there can be a moment of peace.

Sometimes the most powerful thing a person can do is be able to say “I love you. I’m glad I exist.”


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