Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prompt #133 – Ideals, Windmills, Impossible Dreams

I recently found an old edition of Don Quixote on one of my book shelves and spent some time thinking about the title character as an icon for idealism and the ways in which we pursue our personal notions of the ideal. Quixotism is typically defined as a visionary action in which the quixotic person seeks truth, justice, or beauty with an internal vision so clear that it “sees” through the illusions of exterior experiences. It is also defined as “impractical pursuit of ideals.” Impulsive people, spontaneous people, idealists, dreamers, and romantics are considered quixotic. If you’re not familiar with the book by Cervantes, you can read a brief summary at  the following website:

There are, of course, complexities in Cervantes’s novel, as well as multiple interpretations, that we needn’t address here, but I thought that this week we might look at times in our lives when we’ve been led by visionary ideals, impulses, spontaneity, or romantic notions. I’m reminded here of a time many years ago when I was driving to work and saw and elderly lady trip and fall on the sidewalk. I pulled over to the side of the road and ran back to help her. With a lot more strength that I could have imagined, she threw a punch that connected with my arm and then shouted that if I didn’t leave she’d scream for help. I didn’t want to leave her sitting there on the sidewalk (and those were the days before cell phones), so I hesitated, and she started to scream. In fact, she got up and began to chase me down the street. I suspected that she must be embarrassed by the fall, but she was definitely not as red-faced as I was. So much for being “heroic.” I like to think I did the right thing, even though it made me late for work and cost me a bruise on the arm.

Things To Think About:

1. Has there ever been a time when you tried to act as a “knight in shinning armor” but were rejected? What “ideal” inspired you? How did the rejection make you feel?

2. Has there been a time when you were “foolishly impractical?” Where did it lead you?

3. Don Quixote “tilted at windmills,” seeing them as giants who threatened people. The expression “tilting at windmills” has become an English language idiom that means attacking imaginary or unbeatable enemies (“tilting” refers to jousting or, more generally, to engaging in combat). Is there a metaphorical windmill at which you’ve tilted? Has there ever been a concern or issue in your life that you later learned was inconsequential despite your fear of it?

4. In 1644, John Cleveland published in his London diurnall, “The Quixotes of this age fight the windmills of their owne [sic] heads.” Can you relate that to something personal or perhaps something in current society or politics? Have you ever fought a symbolic windmill “in your own head?”

5. “Tilting at windmills” has also come to mean trying to fight battles that can’t be won. Has there been such a “battle” in your life? Keep in mind that the larger question is not failure but, more importantly, how your actions affirmed a higher quality of character. 

6. When it first appeared in print, Don Quixote was considered a comic novel; by the nineteenth century, it was considered a social commentary; and it later came to be called a tragedy. In keeping with the lighter (comic) interpretations, can you write a narrative poem in which you tell the story of a funny time you were idealistic, romantic, or heroic?

7. Is there something appealing about an idealistic Don Quixote-kind of figure to you? What specifically? Why? How are you like Don Quixote?

8. Do you remember a song titled “The Impossible Dream” from the play and movie The Man of La Mancha (based on the Cervantes novel)? To hear it, click on the arrow below. Now ...  do you have (or have you ever had) an “impossible dream?” 


1. Be sure to write in an authentic voice—the way you “say” things is critical to a poem’s success. Your attitude toward the content is definitely part of the content, and your language should be imaginative, unique, and distinctive. Don’t simply tell a story—that would be prose.

2. Be wary of including so many details that your poem becomes cluttered. You want to hold your readers’ attention, not lose them in superfluous particulars.



  1. Heavy! Wow, this is a great prompt. So much to consider and reflect upon.

    I love the song, thank you for including the YouTube video.

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I suppose it is heavy, but there's always the option to write something on the flip side of that. :-)

      I love the song too!

  2. Great Prompt!

    Do you remember the Gordon Lightfoot song "Don Quixote?"

    You can hear it on YouTube at

    Here are the lyrics:

    Through the woodland, through the valley
    Comes a horseman wild and free
    Tilting at the windmills passing
    Who can the brave young horseman be

    He is wild but he is mellow
    He is strong but he is weak
    He is cruel but he is gentle
    He is wise but he is meek

    Reaching for his saddlebag
    He takes a battered book into his hand
    Standing like a prophet bold
    He shouts across the ocean to the shore
    Till he can shout no more

    I have come over moor and mountain
    Like the hawk upon the wing
    I was once a shining knight
    Who was the guardian of a king

    I have searched the whole world over
    Looking for a place to sleep
    I have seen the strong survive
    And I have seen the lean grown weak

    See the children of the earth
    Who wake to find the table bare
    See the gentry in the country
    Riding off to take the air

    Reaching for his saddlebag
    He takes a rusty sword into his hand
    Then striking up a knightly pose
    He shouts across the ocean to the shore
    Till he can shout no more

    See the jailor with his key
    Who locks away all trace of sin
    [| From: |]
    See the judge upon the bench
    Who tries the case as best he can

    See the wise and wicked ones
    Who feed upon life's sacred fire
    See the soldier with his gun
    Who must be dead to be admired

    See the man who tips the needle
    See the man who buys and sells
    See the man who puts the collar
    On the ones who dare not tell

    See the drunkard in the tavern
    Stemming gold to make ends meet
    See the youth in ghetto black
    Condemned to life upon the street

    Reaching for his saddlebag
    He takes a tarnished cross into his hand
    Then standing like a preacher now
    He shouts across the ocean to the shore
    Then in a blaze of tangled hooves
    He gallops off across the dusty plain
    In vain to search again
    Where no one will hear

    Through the woodland, through the valley
    Comes a horseman wild and free
    Tilting at the windmills passing
    Who can the brave young horseman be

    He is wild but he is mellow
    He is strong but he is weak
    He is cruel but he is gentle
    He is wise but he is meek

    1. Thanks, Bob! I remember the Lightfoot Quixote song well. He did a lot of great music back in the day. Great to hear this one again!

    2. Thanks, Bob! This is great.

  3. my highschool classmates
    said I was a space cadet
    little did they know
    I virtually fly
    skyping with people around the globe
    real time is still real time
    the future of mind travel
    blurs the line
    I will take all my ancestors with me

    1. Very nice, Risa! Thanks so much for sharing! The surprise in your last line is brilliant!

    2. Wonderful poem, Risa! I don't think you can ever be earthbound (as in your second poem), not when you write like this!

  4. I feel I've walked through a portal
    fighting off the dark and dying forces
    clinging to me
    As I am released
    I feel lighter
    I soar
    though still earthbound

    1. Two this week! It's wonderful to see these prompt results.

      As always, thank you for sharing.

    2. Thanks for reading and for your wonderful comments!

    3. You're welcome, Risa! Thank YOU for being such a faithful contributor!