Response to Ethan Chung’s “My Last Duchess” (Response 8)

August 20, 2008

I disagree with Ethan’s reading that the Duchess “was extremely promiscuous.” While the Duke seems to suggest that she was flirtatious and quick to blush, I do not believe this extended to actual promiscuity. I interpreted the poem as the Duke being overly conservative, and dissatisfied with his wife overall. Perhaps at the time period in which it occurs, blushing was a much more significant event. Even so, I didn’t see the Duchess as promiscuous as much as dainty. I also had a much more jealous interpretation of the Duke, drawing parallels to Othello.

That being said, I can totally see it your way as well Ethan. I guess it’s just open to each person’s interpretation.

-B

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Response to C-Billz’s (Connor Billing’s) “Sailing to Byzantium”

August 20, 2008

http://connorbilling.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/poetry-response-5-sailing-to-byzantium/

Connor and I interpreted this poem fairly differently. The poem reads to me much like an allegory. I took the figurative interpretation of the allegory as the true meaning of the poem, whereas Connor took it much more literally. While both are correct, I feel like the points raised by the symbolic side of it is much more telling than is the literal interpretation.

While the country the old man leaves at the beginning can be seen as a literal country which he is departing, I feel like it is much more significant to view it as the world as a whole. The old man becomes disillusioned with the world as a whole, and decides to escape earthly passions, seeking instead his own enlightenment. By doing this, the old man is able to establish his own new spiritual world where his soul has attained enlightenment.

Though, both interpretations are fair, which is why poetry an art 🙂

-B

“The Lost Land” -Eavan Bolan

August 20, 2008

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-lost-land/

In “The Lost Land” Bolan examines the connections between and strong emotions tied to land, children, and love. Bolan begins by claiming that her two daughters “are all I ever wanted from the earth” yet she quickly qualifies that with “or almost all” (2-3). The one thing that fulfilled her was “one piece of ground” as she stated it (4). This one piece of ground represents a place where she is happy, as well as a good place to raise her kids. Thus the land and children are both tied into her and each others happiness.

Bolan goes on to strengthen her ties between love and landscape writing “where love dissembles itself as landscape” (13). She continues to compare hills to “the colors of a child’s eyes” (15). The children themselves “are distances, horizons” (16). The land she’s talking about is actually where her memories are, and how she remembers things. For her, Ireland is inextricably tied to her daughters — images of one conjure memories of the other. This is the conclusion of Bolan’s poem: the three concepts junxtaposed together “Ireland. Absence. Daughter” (35).

-B

Compare/Contrast: “Sailing to Byzantium” and “Hollow Men”

August 20, 2008

Both “Sailing to Byzantium” and “Hollow Men” examine enlightenment, life, and death. In each the narrator (or main characters) come to terms with death. Yeats’ old man teaches his soul to sing, thus enlightening himself and preparing for death. In the second section of “Hollow Men” the narrator expresses a reluctance to look death in the “eyes.” Yet by the end of the poem the reader is left facing death, with that final stanza proclaiming “this is the way the world ends.” Each also decries worldly things as a whole, elevating a sort of enlightenment as what we should truly strive for.

They differ in that “Sailing to Byzantium” has a much more positive and optimistic outlook on life, whereas “Hollow Men” has a darker tone and more pessimistic feel. For example, in the end of “Sailing to Byzantium” the old man, the narrator, is genuinely happy and at peace. In contrast, the ending stanza of “Hollow Men” has a dark and pernicious feel to it. Both confront death, but each does so with a different view

-B

Connection: “Journey of the Magi” to Brave New World

August 20, 2008

The “Journey of the Magi” is a Magus’ reflections upon his quest to see the birth of Jesus. His journey though, involves great suffering (because of a cold winter), and eventually it permanently changes him so that he feels an outsider in a place he used to call home. Meanwhile in Huxley’s Brave New World the Savage makes a journey of his own attempting to find acceptance in a land away from the true savages. Yet, when he gets there, he becomes strongly disillusioned with pitfalls of that society (including the woman he loves being a “strumpet”). Thus both the Magus and the Savage must face the pressures and disillusionment which accompany being an outcast. Both in the end, wish for death: with the Magus yearning for the end of his life (for he has already died on the inside), and the Savage eventually hanging himself in his home. In this way, both give alienation a certain inescapable and deeply emotional connotation.

-B

Connection: “Anorexic” to Life of Pi

August 20, 2008

Both Eavan Bolan’s poem “Anorexic” and Life of Pi deal with the theme of hunger. While in “Anorexic” Bolan’s narrator’s hunger is self-inflicted, Pi’s hunger is forced upon him. Bolan also repeats the idea of “claustrophobia” in her poem, relating to how an anorexic feels within their own body. One can only imagine that Pi felt much the same way, both because of the hunger and his close proximity to a Bengal tiger on a boat for months.

Both tell themselves “only a little more, only a few more days” (28-29). Pi eventually resigns that death is near, and he exists on the brink of starvation for weeks at a time. Much like an anorexic, despite differing motivations. Pi eventually displays a strong will to live (after resigning to death and surviving a few times). The same cannot be said for anorexics. While they are not hoping for death, they nevertheless unknowingly toe the line.

The great contrast comes with the eating habits involved. Pi vastly expands what he will eat: transforming from a strict vegetarian to sucking the blood out of turtles. Whereas Bolan’s narrator forswears “milk and honey and the taste of lunch” (11-12). Thus both works examine hunger.

-B

“Anorexic” -Eavan Bolan

August 20, 2008

(http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/anorexic/)

“Anorexic” is a powerful poem in which Eavan Bolan explores the emotions, thoughts, and feelings associated with anorexia and/or eating disorders. The narrator begins by proclaiming “Flesh is heretic” (1). This is obviously the feeling of an anorexic, yet because of the choice of the word heretic(al) Bolan ties in a societal connotation as well. Not only does the narrator view flesh as pernicious, but apparently that is the commonly held view. Bolan also uses fire imagery throughout, with the narrator declaring “I am burning [my body]” (3). The fire imagery suggests the slow death anorexics are forcing themselves through as well as the hunger pains they surely suffer.

Bolan emphasizes the disdain for the body, as the narrator refers to her body as a “witch” and “bitch” (2 & 15). The narrator then goes on to describe her “curveless” body which is “thin as a rib” (16 & 19). The narrator also (obviously) paints food in a negative light: “renouncing milk and honey and the taste of lunch” (10-12). As well as suggesting that food is sinful, because of the structure of line 30, which juxtaposes “sinless” with “foodless” (30).

Bolan writes this poem in such a style that reminds me of the chapter in Beloved in which Toni Morrison has the character Beloved write a chapter. Her chapter is just stream of consciousness, and has few grammatical stylings or sentence structure. Bolan poem reads much the same way, perhaps as a representation of the unclear and confused thoughts of an anorexic.

-B

Connection: “My Last Duchess” to Othello

August 20, 2008

The ending to “My Last Duchess” serves to reinforce the theme of jealousy, throughout the poem. It carries with it much the same message as Othello did: jealousy is a terrible thing that will only grow and lead to misfortune. Parallels can also be seen between Desdemona and the Duchess, as they both appear to be completely innocent. Both also seem to be very happy, the Duchess is described as always smiling “much the same smile” (45). Although the Duchess may have been slightly flirtatious, she did not appear to cuckold her husband. Both wife’s actions were misinterpreted by their husbands, and eventually led to their demise. They were both completely innocent actions as well: Desdemona was trying to help out her friend, and the Duchess was just being personable. While Othello had Iago to plant the seed of jealousy in him, the Duke appears to have no scheming Iago; the Duke’s jealousy seems to have come from himself alone.

-B

“A Prayer for My Daughter” -William Butler Yeats

August 20, 2008

Yeats examines the kind of life he wishes for his daughter to read in his poem “A Prayer for My Daughter”. Yeats begins by painting a stormy scene as a symbol for all the strife in the world, and all the obstacles the outside world hold. Yet, even early in the poem, he offers hope, writing “my child sleeps on” (3). This shows that his daughter is safe, isolated from the “howling” storm outside (1). This gives the poem an early note of optimism and hope.

Yeats’ first wish is for his daughters looks. He wishes yearns for a daughter that is beautiful, yet he quickly qualifies it with “yet not beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught, or hers before a looking glass” (17-19). Thus, Yeats is trying to protect his daughter from the pitfalls of being overly beautiful, including unwanted attention and vanity. He worries that being overly beautiful will cause her to “lose natural kindness” or perhaps even “heart-revealing intimacy” (22-23). In short, Yeats wishes his daughter to be “a flourishing hidden tree” (41). Something beautiful and salutary, yet not so that everyone knows her as such.

It’s interesting that the first request and also the large portion of the poem have to do with the daughter’s looks, and not who she is as a person. Although the way Yeats sees it, the two go hand-in-hand. He believes the beauty has the ability to corrupt (both his daughter and everyone around her), pointing to the case of Helen (25). Yet he never actually proves causality.

Yeats then appears to take a very conservative outmoded view of women (which is apt I suppose, as this was written in the 1920s). He speaks of how “intellectual hatred is the worst” (57). This is a curious pronouncement which he clarifies in the next line: “So let her think opinions are accursed” (58). Thus Yeats seemingly wants his daughter to have few thoughts and opinions of her own. He later wishes that “she can… be happy still” in the face of great adversity (65-67). This conjures pictures of the stereotypical 1950’s house wife to the modern reader. A quiet, respectful woman who knows her place in the home and family. While this would be quite an anachronism for Yeats, it nevertheless can be interpreted by a modern mind as overly conservative. Yeats seals this conservative attitude with “how but in custom and in ceremony are innocence and beauty born?” (72-73).

Thus Yeats shares his hopes for his daughters life — views which appear mostly outmoded by todays standards.

-B

“Sailing to Byzantium” -William Butler Yeats

August 19, 2008

In “Sailing to Byzantium” Yeats deals with the separation between body and soul. The narrator’s journey to Byzantium can be interpreted as literal or figurative; figuratively it represents the character’s attempt to separate himself from his body and earthly desires. He describes the country he’s leaving as a place with “the young in one another’s arms, birds in the trees” something unfit for “old men” (1-2). Yeats uses synecdoche having the birds represent nature, and the young lovers representing romantic love as a whole. The narrator goes on to state that those things, nature and love specifically, are nothing more than “sensual music” which causes “all [to] neglect monuments of unageing intellect” or enlightenment, if you will (7-8). Thus the narrator makes clear his quest to leave all earthly things in favor for true enlightenment.

The second stanza begins with self-deprecation “an aged man is but a paltry thing” (9). This is the beginning of the degradation of the body in order to elevate the soul. The rest of the stanza is spent talking about how to free the soul and attain the enlightenment previously mentioned. Specifically, the soul needs to “clap its hands and sing, and louder sing” in order to evelate itself above the “its mortal dress” (11-12). Ironically, the imagery produced by this is that of a body, exactly what the soul is attempting to escape. Yeats writes “nor is there singing school” suggesting that the enlightenment being sought is highly individualistic, not something which can be taught. Perhaps this is why the young are more concerned with the “sensual music” or the world; they do not have enough world experience to teach their souls to “sing” (7).

The third stanza sees the narrator addressing sage and asking it to “be the singing-master of my soul” (20). More importantly though, he talks more derisively of his old body, saying that his soul is “fastened to a dying animal” (22). This completes the separation between body and soul: especially since Yeats declares the body ignorant of “what it is” (23). This brings up an important philosophical as well as neurological point: where does the border of physical and mental truly belong? For, our thoughts are naught but electrical signals and synapses between neurons — cells that are undoubtedly part of our physical selves. This is perhaps my favorite concept in all of neuroscience: where thought and consciousness arises from. Although to say that the Yeats intended this interpretation would be false, as that would be an anachronism.

The fourth stanza gives the realization of the separation of body and soul, and the narrator officially swears off the natural world, declaring “I shall never take my body form from any natural thing” (25-26). The end is important as it looks toward “what is past, or passing, or to come” (32). This is important as the soul is supposed to be timeless, so without explicitly stating it, Yeats concludes with a nod of the hat to the past, present, and future.

-B