Sunteți pe pagina 1din 81

Literature

Voices from the Margins

Guiding Questions

● How might literature help us understand the experience of marginalized groups?

— It is in the pages of a book that the joys of a new world can be explored, or the
flaws of an old world exposed.
— It is in literature that we often find sympathy and even empathy for characters who
might be experiencing the worst of events.
— Marginalised groups often experience such types of events in their lives, so putting
it on literature allows it to become known amongst the populace.

— Political writings can outline, describe, and theorize about the experiences of
marginalized groups.
— Good literature puts readers in the shoes of marginalized individuals, allowing us
to experience what day-to-day life is like for people who don’t have the same
resources, status, or respect as others.

— Literature tells stories about the lives and experiences of people from all walks of
life.
– It is a closer look into different thoughts and lifestyles that might not be
possible to perceive in any other way.
— For privileged classes of society, it is important to understand what marginalised
classes experience and go through in order to be sensitive to their issues and take
necessary actions to rectify them.
— Literature allows the most accurate and heartfelt depiction to reach out to the
masses with lower chances of being censored.

● Should marginalized writers strive to be accepted by mainstream critics? Or should


they focus on their own audiences?

— A mix of both. Marginalised writers have their own goals when it comes to whom
they wish to reach out to and be accepted by.
— Mainstream critics are sort of a complement to the authors.
– If a notable person or organisation (such as a newspaper or journal) notices
the work, then that helps it achieve further popularity.
— Most marginalised writers should strive to reach their own audiences and create
the change they’re supposed to.
● Explore the idea of a literary canon. Who created the list of literary works that
everyone is expected to study? What voices, if any, do you think are underrepresented
in this list?

— The idea of a literary canon dates back to 1890s America and later 1900s England.
– Both countries believed it was necessary to force students to study a series of
books (a “canon”) in order to understand the influence and importance that
those books had during their time period.
— Modern literary canons are often introduced at higher areas of learning, usually in
secondary rather than elementary school.
– The list of literary works that people are expected to study are often
changing, with the IB school system changing theirs every 8 years with the
usual course reform.
– American education focuses mostly on the works of the nation (as is the
driving force behind many other literary canons), so the government and
federal authorities have a say in what goes into the canon.
— As always, some voices are shunned more than others.
– Hardly any American school children will read a book written about the
torture of slaves in Colonial History, nor will they see the Russian and
Vietnamese (or Korean) side of the Cold War.
– In fact the latter area is so shunned in literary works that the Korean War is
often called “The Forgotten War” because of how few Americans actually
know of it.

Whether one is aware of it, literary canons permeate society on many levels and have
undoubtedly shaped everyone’s world view.

The term “literary canon” refers to a body of books, narratives and other texts
considered to be the most important and influential of a particular time period or
place. Take a 19th century American literature course, for instance. One is being
exposed to a version of a group of texts that has, through one means or another, been
established as representative of the essential authors, movements and historical events
in America during the 1800s.

Through the course of education, when one is asked to read any novel, essay, poem,
or some other sort of text, it is because a teacher or some other entity decided the text
should be canonized. Canons, then, can be understood as value-determining lists that
are ingrained in our education system, perhaps unavoidably so. However, the political
process of deciding what makes it into a given canon and what does not has long been
a topic of scrutiny and debate for scholars of all academic disciplines.
Despite strides made in recent decades to reform literary canons, issues and
controversy still exist. Thus, examining how the institution of the canon was formed,
how canons have been revised over the years and how canons function today can help
to illuminate the pitfalls of canonization, many of which have yet to be overcome.

History Lesson

“According to the scholar, Paul Lauter, who historicized the American canon, the first
American literature classes started in the mid-to-late 1890s, at the same time the first
American-literature textbooks started,” English professor Gregory Rutledge said.
“The upper-Midwest was at the forefront of this development, probably because the
East Coast schools were swathed in “tradition,” which essentially adhered to British,
Old World poetics. Thus, there apparently was conflict as these first American
literature classes started.”

Although the originators of American literature courses and textbooks were not
formally assembling a canon, they were doing so indirectly by selecting the works to
be taught. According to English professor Stephen Behrendt, many of the educators
who contributed to early canonization efforts were both teachers and clergymen.

“Early on, professional educators decided about what would become canonized, as
part of what they naturally did when creating a curriculum in any discipline,”
Behrendt said. “In fact, in the earliest years, many of these professional educators
were religious, that is, either clergy or clergy-related, which inevitably brought in also
a perceivable ‘moral’ focus or ‘moral compass’ in terms of what works were
approved and sanctioned, and for what reasons.”

This example of clergymen selecting texts that agreed with their moral disposition is a
notable early instance of selective canonization and suggests the way in which canons
come to represent the ideology of those who select them. Apart from religious beliefs,
other important factors characterized the demographic of the early dictators of the
canon.

“The Western literary canon has historically been dictated by economically secure,
traditionally educated, socially privileged white men,” Behrendt said. “Plus, literacy
was historically the province of the privileged and so, the uneducated or minimally
educated – which included some women but most laboring-class citizens, of both
sexes, as well a children – were automatically excluded. The remnant of this class-
based exclusionary thinking is visible in today’s society in the disdain with which the
cultural elite usually greet “popular” art like Harry Potter, graphic novels, country-
western music, etc.”

It wasn’t until around the 1920s that these bodies of accepted texts were finally
referred to as canons and formally organized.
“One of the students in (my capstone) class who consulted the Oxford English
Dictionary for the etymology of canon, Ms. Alicia Meyer, found that it was first used
to refer to a canon of literature in 1929,” Rutledge said. “If this date holds up, whether
absolutely precise or not, it means that the canon-makers were engaged in one of the
most far-reaching developments with respect to American literature: They were
looking back and identifying literary history through their own lenses and providing
the canonical blueprint for the forthcoming canon.”

Here, Rutledge touches upon the power that was given to these early producers of the
canon. Essentially, they were able to pick and choose the texts of history that would
be presented as the most crucial texts in American literature. Not surprisingly, these
early canons contained works by authors of a race, gender, social standing and
perspective similar to the early canon-makers. For decades, this situation remained
relatively the same.

“Although I would need to consult resources to document the manifold and profound
ways this is true, up until the 1960s, the canon was basically on lockdown,
particularly with regard to race or ethnicity,” Rutledge said. “The birth of ‘Black
Studies’ programs in the late 1960s – and early 1970s here at UNL – signaled a shift
in the literary canon and the academy, for the latter had been largely closed to
minority presence until then, even though some U.S. Supreme Court cases had, in
theory, removed ‘separate but equal.’”

The birth of various ethnic studies programs in the 1960s reflected the social
upheavals of the time. An increasingly diverse wave of scholars entered the academic
world in the coming decades, subsequently expressing anger at the outdated canon
and taking steps to reform it.

“In the past two or three decades and really beginning in the mid 1960s, scholars
began to reflect the diverse demography of the modern world, as more women and
minorities entered the professoriate and voiced their dissatisfaction with and anger at
the social, political, moral and gender paradigm that was represented in that ossified
canon,” Behrendt said. “They began introducing changes on their own. In English
departments this often meant printing out non-canonical materials on mimeograph
machines, the grandparents to Xerox machines and distributing them to supplement
the anthologies or, in some cases, even replace them.”

This resistance to the dominant canon during the late 1900s would catalyze canon
reform and lead to the production of new anthologies that presented underrepresented
perspectives.

“By the end of the 20th century, new anthologies began to appear that collected, say,
for example, British women Romantic poets and thereby gave the lie to the
longstanding notion that Romantic poetry in Britain consisted of five or six men,
rather than the literally hundreds of active poets, many of whom were not only
women and laboring-class writers but also really good writers,” Behrendt said. “So
any traditional canon is first undermined by activists and revisionists who want to
debunk the canon by redrawing the landscape in a more historically accurate fashion
that makes very clear how different the reality is from the inherited misconception.”

The Modern Canon

Despite the strides that have been taken to eliminate the biased paradigms of previous
canons, remnants of the exclusive past undoubtedly linger today. And, according to
Behrendt, canons can never altogether escape this exclusivity.

“Canons are always about closed communities – who is excluded is at least as


important as who is included. It is the ‘in’ crowd that usually controls the entrances,
which means that the canonized or canonical writers largely resemble those who have
judged them to be ‘major’ or ‘important’ or ‘classic,’” Behrendt said. “But this
judging still rests on the tastes and preferences of the judges, who have traditionally
been conditioned, whether they are aware of it, to prefer certain things – familiar
things, mostly – over unfamiliar ones.”

It is the inescapable fate of the canon that some limited group of people will have to
select its contents. And regardless of which group is doing the choosing, Behrendt
said he believes the selection will always be biased.

“The sad irony of changing canons is that doing so merely replaces one set of narrow
and privileged judgments with another equally narrow, but different, set of standards
by which to decide who gets in and who doesn’t,” Behrendt said. “And, even sadder,
canon revisions and canon substitutions are usually vindictive: The new ‘in’ group
punishes the ‘old’ by excluding it, bashing it and admitting only those whose work
reflects the new ‘agenda’ that has been set in place.”

One example of the exclusivity still present in modern literary canons relates to the
canonical emphasis on the written word. For Rutledge, today’s canons continue to
privilege a written tradition in a way that excludes the truest form of human
storytelling.

“Since the oft-quoted French expression “traduire, c’est trahir” (“to translate is to
betray”) is valid for converting printed text from one language to another insofar as a
literal, word-for-word translation is impossible, imagine what happens when you
eliminate the human, storytelling performances from consideration as a matter of
course,” Rutledge said. “Our common human stories arise from oral, performed
myths, not from the printed word.”
Rutledge said the canon largely eliminates the oral tradition from study, which is
troubling because narrative performance has historically played such a crucial role in
human culture. He said this is an area in which present-day canons could be greatly
expanded.

“I would think the canon would have to be open to storytelling as its category,”
Rutledge said. “The recent developments in literary studies toward world literature
helps to change this, but it’s still literature as opposed to more open methods. If the
theoretical could be given practical resources, I think we could find a better way for
shaping literary studies in a way, open to storytelling in its richest, broadest meaning,
that is truly cool.”

Empowering Ourselves

So, it seems canons will always be exclusive to an extent, thereby limiting our
perspective on underrepresented forms of texts. For Behrendt, the Internet provides an
avenue through which much of the world’s written material can be freely accessed,
potentially combating the canon’s shortcomings.

“The Internet has democratized the access to, and the exchange of, information in a
way that was impossible and even unimaginable before,” Behrendt said. “More and
more written material is being put online every day, not just by Google Books or The
Internet Archive, but also by major research libraries around the world, by local and
regional libraries and archives, by private or semi-public archives and by individual
scholars. In many respects this wealth of material is almost entirely ‘unfiltered,’
because it is simply being made accessible to anyone and everyone without some sort
of cultural ‘gatekeeper’ to restrict what goes online or who gets to look at it.”

Unfortunately, Behrendt said, people have been conditioned to depend on arbiters of


knowledge and canonical suggestion, so the sheer amount of information on the
Internet can have a paralyzing effect.

“Paradoxically, this very wealth of material can completely immobilize the person
who begins looking into it, precisely because for so many generations we have been
taught, by the custodians of culture, the critics and ‘teachers,’ to depend not on our
own intelligence and abilities but, rather, on the pronouncements of the professional
arbiters of taste. Canons inherently undermine people’s abilities to read, look, listen
and judge for themselves. If canons are comparable to the holy books of a religion,
critics then are the ‘priests,’ upon whom the ordinary citizens or readers or viewers or
listeners are inherently conditioned to turn for judgements that the people themselves
ought to have learned how to make.”
Despite the ways in which canons may limit the necessity for critical thinking and
thereby create a canon-dependent populace, Behrendt held that society cannot simply
do away with them.

“I’m afraid canons are inevitable,” Behrendt said. “Look at how our culture just
adores lists of all sorts. Top 10. Top 40. We’re No. 1. Bucket lists. ‘Not to be missed.’
‘What’s trending?’ The whole culture seems increasingly driven by what other people
are doing or what they think is important.”

Behrendt added this tendency toward allowing others to do the thinking in modern
society disempowers people by causing them to sacrifice their agency as free-thinking
beings.

“Problem is, that’s giving away our liberty and independence of mind and action to
the judgements of others,” Behrendt said. “Go a little further down that road and you
meet Big Brother staring at you from your own laptop camera and tapping your
smartphone. The surest route to totalitarianism, whether political or intellectual, is
convincing people that they don’t need to think for themselves, that the authorities –
the Establishment – will take care of all that for them.”

For Behrendt, the route to reducing the potentially harmful influence of the canon in
our society lies in empowering readers to think critically.

“Canons disempower,” Behrendt said. “Only by empowering or re-empowering


readers can any of us begin to disempower the canons themselves and put individual
judgment back in charge. Judging for oneself is always scary, but the consequences of
acquiescence – of saying nothing, turning a blind eye – are grave. See the Nazis …”

● Should the canon be updated, or should the very idea of a canon be scrapped?

— Since literature or other english studies in many schools rely on the existence of
such a canon, simply scrapping them is not going to work.
– Instead, it is necessary to update the canon to represent the history (or indeed
the movement) it wishes to voice.
– Instead of simply focusing on the national point of view regarding an event
(i.e British books about the empire they once controlled), schools and
governments should update their canon to include other points of view too;
even if those points of view can be slightly negative (i.e the oppression that
Indians faced under the British rule).

● Discuss with your team: as more marginalized voices take their place in the list of
works we study in school, how should we decide which traditionally studied works to
remove to make space for them?
— Well aren’t we combining history and literature together quite a lot here? As more
marginalised voices rise to the popularity and prestige that earns them a right to be in
the canon, we often have difficulty accepting them in such canon.
— It is probably better to remove traditional works whose messages are outdated or
have been poured over too much by students.

● Are modern critics overcompensating by finding too much value in works by


members of marginalized communities?

— Certainly not. Though there are a large number of modern critics who are lavishing
praise upon praise for works by marginalised authors, that praise is well-justified.
— Consider that these authors not only had to write a book about their lives, they also
had to have the courage to speak up about the prejudice and injustice they faced.

● Are today’s films and television series doing more to perpetuate or to change the
perception of marginalized groups? Do their creators have a responsibility to do one
or the other?

— The films and television series of today serve both purposes. Whilst some do
perpetuate the perception of marginalised groups, others (usually the more positively
reviewed ones) tend to change the perception for the better.
— As for which one is the duty of the creators, it really depends on the vision that
they have.
– Of course a historical film about the treatment of black people in America
needs to perpetuate the perception that they were horribly treated for centuries,
whilst a fictional film about a black person trying to become a doctor in 1960s
America can change our perception by presenting a marginalized person in an
unlikely scenario.

Poetry

● alternate names for black boys | Danez Smith

1. smoke above the burning bush


2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
8. gone
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath

— This poem has a rather interesting spin. The names that Danez Smith presents
aren’t so much actual names like “Henry” or “Jessica”, rather they symbolise what
black boys have been.
– For example, “first son of soil” represents that these coloured people were
initially what all humans were.
— The names send a general message that black people have been downtrodden and
shunned for their roles in society, something we should instead be celebrating and
respecting.

— The first section in his book [insert] boy, titled “[black],” offers a post structural
perspective of what it means to both black and a boy, historically and linguistically.
— In the poem “Alternate Names for Black Boys,” Smith examines societal
prejudices against young black boys in the form of a list:
— With startling clarity, Smith communicates the effects and implications of growing
up around racial violence.
— This collection is not like the coming-of-age narratives readers might be used to —
it is polemic and aptly commands us to enter into the warzone, so to speak, and
empathize.
— Using visceral imagery Smith addresses the black boy, and quite possibly himself.
— The poems in this first section are each raw, yet sympathetic. It feels the way it
does when you explain ideas of violence to a child for the first time

● Crusoe in England | Elizabeth Bishop

A new volcano has erupted,


the papers say, and last week I was reading
where some ship saw an island being born:
at first a breath of steam, ten miles away;
and then a black fleck—basalt, probably—
rose in the mate’s binoculars
and caught on the horizon like a fly.
They named it. But my poor old island’s still
un-rediscovered, unrenamable.
None of the books has ever got it right.

Well, I had fifty-two


miserable, small volcanoes I could climb
with a few slithery strides—
volcanoes dead as ash heaps.
I used to sit on the edge of the highest one
and count the others standing up,
naked and leaden, with their heads blown off.
I’d think that if they were the size
I thought volcanoes should be, then I had
become a giant;
and if I had become a giant,
I couldn’t bear to think what size
the goats and turtles were,
or the gulls, or the overlapping rollers
—a glittering hexagon of rollers
closing and closing in, but never quite,
glittering and glittering, though the sky
was mostly overcast.

My island seemed to be
a sort of cloud-dump. All the hemisphere’s
left-over clouds arrived and hung
above the craters—their parched throats
were hot to touch.
Was that why it rained so much?
And why sometimes the whole place hissed?
The turtles lumbered by, high-domed,
hissing like teakettles.
(And I’d have given years, or taken a few,
for any sort of kettle, of course.)
The folds of lava, running out to sea,
would hiss. I’d turn. And then they’d prove
to be more turtles.
The beaches were all lava, variegated,
black, red, and white, and gray;
the marbled colors made a fine display.
And I had waterspouts. Oh,
half a dozen at a time, far out,
they’d come and go, advancing and retreating,
their heads in cloud, their feet in moving patches
of scuffed-up white.
Glass chimneys, flexible, attenuated,
sacerdotal beings of glass ... I watched
the water spiral up in them like smoke.
Beautiful, yes, but not much company.
I often gave way to self-pity.
“Do I deserve this? I suppose I must.
I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Was there
a moment when I actually chose this?
I don’t remember, but there could have been.”
What’s wrong about self-pity, anyway?
With my legs dangling down familiarly
over a crater’s edge, I told myself
“Pity should begin at home.” So the more
pity I felt, the more I felt at home.

The sun set in the sea; the same odd sun


rose from the sea,
and there was one of it and one of me.
The island had one kind of everything:
one tree snail, a bright violet-blue
with a thin shell, crept over everything,
over the one variety of tree,
a sooty, scrub affair.
Snail shells lay under these in drifts
and, at a distance,
you’d swear that they were beds of irises.
There was one kind of berry, a dark red.
I tried it, one by one, and hours apart.
Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects;
and so I made home-brew. I’d drink
the awful, fizzy, stinging stuff
that went straight to my head
and play my home-made flute
(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth)
and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats.
Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?
I felt a deep affection for
the smallest of my island industries.
No, not exactly, since the smallest was
a miserable philosophy.

Because I didn’t know enough.


Why didn’t I know enough of something?
Greek drama or astronomy? The books
I’d read were full of blanks;
the poems—well, I tried
reciting to my iris-beds,
“They flash upon that inward eye,
which is the bliss ...” The bliss of what?
One of the first things that I did
when I got back was look it up.

The island smelled of goat and guano.


The goats were white, so were the gulls,
and both too tame, or else they thought
I was a goat, too, or a gull.
Baa, baa, baa and shriek, shriek, shriek,
baa ... shriek ... baa ... I still can’t shake
them from my ears; they’re hurting now.
The questioning shrieks, the equivocal replies
over a ground of hissing rain
and hissing, ambulating turtles
got on my nerves.
When all the gulls flew up at once, they sounded
like a big tree in a strong wind, its leaves.
I’d shut my eyes and think about a tree,
an oak, say, with real shade, somewhere.
I’d heard of cattle getting island-sick.
I thought the goats were.
One billy-goat would stand on the volcano
I’d christened Mont d’Espoir or Mount Despair
(I’d time enough to play with names),
and bleat and bleat, and sniff the air.
I’d grab his beard and look at him.
His pupils, horizontal, narrowed up
and expressed nothing, or a little malice.
I got so tired of the very colors!
One day I dyed a baby goat bright red
with my red berries, just to see
something a little different.
And then his mother wouldn’t recognize him.

Dreams were the worst. Of course I dreamed of food


and love, but they were pleasant rather
than otherwise. But then I’d dream of things
like slitting a baby’s throat, mistaking it
for a baby goat. I’d have
nightmares of other islands
stretching away from mine, infinities
of islands, islands spawning islands,
like frogs’ eggs turning into polliwogs
of islands, knowing that I had to live
on each and every one, eventually,
for ages, registering their flora,
their fauna, their geography.

Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it


another minute longer, Friday came.
(Accounts of that have everything all wrong.)
Friday was nice.
Friday was nice, and we were friends.
If only he had been a woman!
I wanted to propagate my kind,
and so did he, I think, poor boy.
He’d pet the baby goats sometimes,
and race with them, or carry one around.
—Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body.

And then one day they came and took us off.

Now I live here, another island,


that doesn’t seem like one, but who decides?
My blood was full of them; my brain
bred islands. But that archipelago
has petered out. I’m old.
I’m bored, too, drinking my real tea,
surrounded by uninteresting lumber.
The knife there on the shelf—
it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix.
It lived. How many years did I
beg it, implore it, not to break?
I knew each nick and scratch by heart,
the bluish blade, the broken tip,
the lines of wood-grain on the handle ...
Now it won’t look at me at all.
The living soul has dribbled away.
My eyes rest on it and pass on.

The local museum’s asked me to


leave everything to them:
the flute, the knife, the shrivelled shoes,
my shedding goatskin trousers
(moths have got in the fur),
the parasol that took me such a time
remembering the way the ribs should go.
It still will work but, folded up,
looks like a plucked and skinny fowl.
How can anyone want such things?
—And Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles
seventeen years ago come March.

Elizabeth Bishop, “Crusoe in England” from The Complete Poems, 1927-1979.

— Bishop's rewriting of Defoe's story reflects multiple concerns that exceed the issue
of economic control, and her Crusoe does become a kind of visionary, instead of the
colonizing figure from the novel. She places her figure in England reviewing his past;
her Crusoe feels, paradoxically, more of an exile at home than in the one he had to
create from imagination, a familiar predicament from Questions of Travel. As
castaway, Crusoe's survival demands ingenuity, but the utilitarian considerations of
Defoe's character are not in Bishop's: survival, for her character, is a matter of the
imagination. Bishop envisions the return of Crusoe to England as a loss of poetic
power and her character mourns losing the immaterial "home", her Crusoe undergoing
a kind of crucifixion.

Crusoe's survival here becomes also, of course, an emotional kind. As elegy, the poem
is told in a kind of double recollection: at first the retrospective seems to account for
everything, but the impetus behind memory—both permitting and blocking it—hinges
upon the arrival of Friday, an event given seemingly only the perfunctory attention of
a single, rather short stanza. In a quite compelling article on augury and
autobiography in the poem, Renee R. Curry provides explicit and convincing
correlatives between the poet's life and "Crusoe in England." She decodes the
narrative's subtext as "the muted story tells a tale of Lota de Macedo Soares and
Elizabeth Bishop's lesbian relationship, de Macedo Soares's suicide, and Bishop's
emotional life after the death" (74) and helpfully reminds us, "The 'now' of the Defoe
Crusoe tale, presumably happens back in England after the twenty-eight years spent
on the island. The 'now' of Bishop's life occurs in the mid 1970s, not yet a decade
after de Macedo Soares's suicide" (88). Such a timeline should show how strenuous
"now" can be, and show how imperative it is to read this poem as one of mourning, a
mourning that sees no definite end (Bishop, Millier records [538], was working on an
elegy for Lota in the last few years of her life); the details of overcoming the
environment in a parable of economic victory are not so important for Bishop as the
incoming of grief, the processes of a memory in recuperation.

Bishop nevertheless uses "Crusoe" to explore her relationship to tradition, as well as


her experience of personal loss and exile, which in effect becomes the discovery of
the absence of a fully usable literary past. But after all, which is which? to take a
question from "Poem." Bishop's muted connection to tradition mirrors her silenced
lesbian relationships, along with their eventual loss. The poem has its quiet debts. of
course: aside from Defoe and Wordsworth to be discussed later. Darwin and Jonathan
Swift also figure significantly. Goldensohn reminds us that Darwin's "notes on the
Galapagos, backed up by [Bishop's] own visit to the premises" (54) informs much of
Bishop’s description. And certainly Gulliver's Travels has parallels to Bishop's poem:
both narrators' island displacements and the playing with disproportions in the
landscapes. These debts notwithstanding, the poem recommends the "home-made,"
the reliance upon personal resource and experimental readiness. Her character revels
with his "home-brew," a concoction derived through experience and not acquired by
tested or recorded knowledge.

Defoe models the self-made man, the new Adam, with no need of forefathers. What
Bishop's Crusoe likewise prides himself on is the way the island has become his own
project, especially now that he must remember it. From the very opening, with its
"new volcano" reported in the paper, and the hearsay of an island's birth, the poem
mocks the Adamic role of phallocentric naming.

As Bishop even revokes Defoe's power to "get it right," she suggests the endlessness
of taxonomy since there is always "one kind of everything." The registrar may never
exhaust the possibilities of discovery: records erode, not the recording process or
impulse to memorialize. When Crusoe describes his naming strategy for a volcano
—"I'd christened [it] Mont d'Espoir or Mount Despair / (I'd have enough time to play
with names)"—Bishop refers to her own wordplay, her geography of erasure and
reinscription, and to the doubleness of her own voice, woman impersonating a male
narrator.

In spite of Crusoe's gender—indeed, because of it—the poem comments upon the


position of the lesbian writer, castaway from the mainstream tradition, thrown upon
her own resources. By revealing lesbians as silenced and made unnameable by
tradition, Bishop refutes the new Adam and inscribes the absence that books have not
gotten right. (Later, of Friday's coming, she will reiterate, parenthetically, that
"[a]accounts that have everything all wrong.") And it is the absences in her Crusoe's
own accounting that direct us to a muted past, tragic because recorded in uneasy
tranquillity. Crusoe explains that he cannot produce the monumental because of
cultural deprivation or amnesia.

Such forgetting is, however, a way of remembering the homemade. Crusoe's looking
up the blank leads us to do the same. Not only do we face "solitude"—the very state
that made the line invisible and erased—but also what the poem at this moment
confesses lies beneath blanks.

Bishop's choice of the recalled fragment is deliberate: the lines not only concern the
consolatory aspect of memory, which makes absent objects present; they also appear
in Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," as an acknowledged appropriation
of his wife's words, which William defended as the poem's "best lines." Repossessed
by Bishop, she finally speaks through the absences in Crusoe's literary memory, a
kind of hidden mothers garden. Within these spaces resides the repressed feminine;
homemade lyric—and Mary's solitude and mutation within the male community.
Though Mary is not, assuredly, a prototypical lesbian, she alerts the attuned,
remembering reader of literary suppression. Inasmuch as Bishop dismisses Defoe as
unreliable and conveniently omits Crusoe's first name, the "I" of the poem is not
Robinson but can be interpreted as feminine maker of the self and world as home.
Creativity, this poem confirms, does not emerge from comfortable acknowledgment
of past traditions but from an exile's imaginings and re-creations.

What is absent or omitted—or rather embedded—deserves as much notice as what


flashes on surfaces. "Solitude" is the missing word, and becomes, in opposition to our
initial expectations, perhaps, not the state idealized by the poem: Crusoe functions
creatively while alone, but suggests that Friday's appearance as other "saves" him,
permits him to remember at all. Instead of the slave Defoe makes of him, Bishop
makes him desired other, and subversively refers to homosexual passion by Crusoe's
hoping Friday were a woman. The loss of the island, or the loss of "living soul,"
ultimately, does not devolve upon their rescue from this landscape. Friday's
significance cannot be too much overplayed as Bishop always discards authority and
tradition in favor of human relationship. The first introductory dashes regarding
Friday forewarn his importance: "—Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body. / And then
one day they came and took us off." How long Crusoe has been in England is not here
indicated (so careful as her Crusoe is about most numberings), but he measures his
time, his life, as the last jolting two lines indicate, by his loss of Friday: "—And
Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles / seventeen years ago come March." We
depend upon irretrievable others, upon absences, as they motivate us to reconstruct
our pasts, even as memory cannot bear it.

As I have demonstrated, Bishop criticizes, through irony and polyphony, a silencing


tradition. In the process, she discovers a dependency upon the personal forces in her
own history only increasing over time, yet her poems postulate more and more a
disunified ego, an acknowledgment, finally, of the power of the unconscious to
disrupt surface cohesiveness. Her homemade, then, represents the makings of a
shipwrecked self. Because we do not have complete control over our identities or over
the contents of our knowledge, we suffer slips and draw blanks, remembering this and
forgetting that. We become like Bishop's Crusoe, in his self-questioning and partial
amnesia; at one point, he recalls his self-pity with a confusion over the extent of his
free-will.

What constrains and liberates us in any place, whether traveling or at home, is those
things we can tell or omit to tell ourselves, the homemade we construct from what we
dimly misremember.

The dilemma of identity is linked in this poem with a painful solitude, interrupted by
the arrival of a proto-lover. Apparently Friday cannot solve Crusoe's desire to
reproduce: "I wanted to propagate my kind, / and so did he, I think, poor boy." Bishop
shows her character caught in a paradox of kin. To achieve difference, one
propagates: but the fallacy of this, she points out, is its result in "kind." The poem
works through an anxiety over reproduction: first, by dyeing a baby goat "bright red"
so "his mother wouldn't recognize him," and then, through a nightmare of murdering a
child, mistaking it for a goat. Because of singleness and uniqueness of everything on
this island—"one kind of everything," and the limitless expanse of isolated islands—
Crusoe craves the difference, the self, that emerges through relationship. But since
connection can only be remembered by Crusoe's mourning, selfhood is shown as re-
created, moment by moment, through memorial sacrifice.

— Annotation on Elizabeth Bishop's "Crusoe in England"

by Jules Nyquist

I chose this poem of Bishop's because it was recommended by a friend, and it


seems to be the most autobiographical. It is also my favorite of hers that I've read so
far. Here, Bishop begins by writing about current events (A new volcano has
erupted,/ the papers say, and last week I was reading….) and takes it to a new place:
her own island. She creates the fictional character "Crusoe" and emphasizes with
him through his isolation, confinement, self-pity, and pain. The language she uses,
along with his point of view has a touch of irony, of taking a step back and looking at
one's woeful situation with a sense of humor, although it is not funny at the time. For
example: …so I made home-brew. I'd drink/ the awful fizzy, stinging stuff/ that went
straight to my head/ and play my home-made flute/ (I think it had the weirdest scale
on earth)/ and dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats. The statement of realization
that follows: Home-made, home-made! But aren't we all? shifts the tone a bit,
Crusoe gains another insight.

The island theme Bishop uses is confinement and loneliness. Some would think
an island a great paradise, but here there is only volcanoes, ash, hissing of turtles and
of the whole place, with no modern conveniences (And I'd have given years, or taken
a few,/ for any sort of kettle, of course). The language is conversational, and the
rhythm keeps me reading quickly. Bishop plays with the sounds and repeats them
several times: like "hiss," "turtles", "kettle" and has a few rhymes with lines like
black red, and white, and gray;/ the marbled colors made a fine display. (stanza
three).

Crusoe questions with self-doubt, relishes a bit in self-pity (and even names it: I
often gave way to self-pity) and emphasizes the "one" of everything: and there was
one if it (the sun) and one of me…He is resourceful (with the home-made brew), is
familiar with the exotic (with my legs dangling down familiarly over a crater's edge)
and grants himself power to christen the volcanoes with names: Mont d'Espoir or
Mount Despair with a sense of humor. With naming comes responsibility, and a
reason to stay alive, both on the island and back in "civilized" England. But it's also
an impossible task, to name and categorize everything. Crusoe becomes bored and
tired at times: (One day I dyed a baby goat bright red/ with my red berries, just to see
something a little different) and uses dreams as an escape (food and love), but also to
live out his worst nightmares (But then I'd dream of things like slitting a baby's throat,
mistaking it for a baby goat).

Bishop uses the island to represent the isolation she feels as a writer living in
what seems to be another world. She reflects the self-doubt she must have as a
writer: Because I didn't know enough./ Why didn't I know enough of something?/
Greek drama or astronomy? The books/ I'd read were full of blanks…Crusoe feels
that pain of not having any poems be understood when he recites in vain to the iris-
beds. Bishop gives us a hint that he will be rescued, with a typical writer's way of
dealing with lack of knowledge: One of the first things that I did when I got back was
look it up.

Bishop also inserts metaphors for writing in this poem: the knife…could that
be the pen? ..it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix. It lived. How many years did I beg
it, implore it, not to break? I knew each nick and scratch by heart….

"One" is repeated to emphasize the solitude (without actually saying the word
solitude): and there was one of it and one of me. The island had one kind of
everything…. One day, when Crusoe thought I couldn't stand it/ another minute
longer, Friday came…Friday is another man, we gather from If only he had been a
woman! Bishop leaves us to wonder about the scandal he may have caused in the
outside world (Accounts of that have everything all wrong). Friday was nice. Friday
was nice, and we were friends. Bishop emphasizes "Friday was nice" twice. The
only facts mentioned about Friday are that he was a "pretty body," and raced around
with the goats. Crusoe emphasizes with the fact that they are two men wanting to
leave something behind of themselves (that longing that all humans share, whether it's
for children or for a legacy of work): I wanted to propagate my kind, and so did he, I
think, poor boy. When Crusoe finally gets off the island, he enters another island -
England. The material objects that seemed so in place and useful at the time on the
island seem dried up and worn when they are donated to the "local museum." Bishop
is emphasizing the despair of being trapped in materialism (you can't take it with
you). "How can anyone want such things?" Even Friday, (my dear Friday Crusoe
says, as if he finally has some affection for the man after all this time) dies of measles
just a couple of stanzas later to end the poem.

Bishop moves me with her dramatic monologue style in this poem that seems
so much different from her other work. I adore this poem. It's a parable reflecting an
exhaustive character study dealing with the many ironies of isolation. It's also
interesting how when Crusoe looks back on the pain, it can be sweet nostalgia. We all
create our own islands, real or imaginary, and we feel trapped on them. Even with
more things, or when 'rescued' that feeling still persists in us. Bishop begs us to
wrestle with the question: how much pain do we need to feel fulfilled?

— Elegy & Exile: Elizabeth Bishop’s Poem “Crusoe in England”


February 8, 2012

A new volcano has erupted,

the papers say, and last week I was reading

where some ship saw an island being born

They named it. But my poor island’s still

un-rediscovered, unrenamable.— Elizabeth Bishop

So begins Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “Crusoe in England” one of two fine elegies
found in her last collection, Geography III, and her longest sustained narrative poem.

The island is “un-renamable,” which implies it was named by someone once. In fact,
the speaker in the poem named it “The Island of Despair,” for its volcanic centerpiece,
“Mont d’Espoir or Mount Despair.” He had time to play with names; twenty-eight
years, by at least one account.

The speaker is, of course, the protagonist of Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson
Crusoe – and he isn’t.

Defoe’s Robinson was Christian, civilized, and strongly empirical in his thinking;
Bishop’s Crusoe is skeptical and unsure of his knowledge and memory.

Both are displaced figures, but Defoe’s Robinson feels that displacement most acutely
on the island upon which he is shipwrecked. Bishop’s Crusoe feels more displaced
after his return to “another island,/ that doesn’t seem like one…” His home country of
England.

Crusoe was lonely on the island; its clouds, volcanoes, and water-spouts were no
consolation – “beautiful, yes, but not much company.” He experiences a “dislocation
of physical scale,” as Bishop biographer Lorrie Goldensohn observed.
He’s a giant compared to the volcanoes, which appear in miniature from such
distance; the goats and turtles, too. It is, Goldensohn writes, “an analogue of the
nausea of connection and disconnection.”

Then “Friday” arrives, but even their relationship, in the Bishop poem, is tinged with
loneliness. They both long for love they cannot consummate, “I wanted to propagate
my kind,/ and so did he, I think, poor boy.”

Defoe’s Robinson is much less isolated. His island is visited by native cannibals who
take their victims to the island to be eaten (Friday is their prisoner; until Crusoe saves
him and names him), as well as Spaniards, and English mutineers. This last group
helps Robinson return to England with Friday. There are other adventures in the
novel, including a voyage to Lisbon and a crossing of the Pyrenees on foot.

None of this is for Bishop. Her goal was not to re-write the novel, but to re-imagine
the story. Her Crusoe possesses, as C.K. Doreski has noted, “a weary tonality of such
authenticity her character seems not an extension of Defoe’s fictional exile, but a real
Crusoe, endowed with a twentieth-century emotional frankness.”

Bishop’s Crusoe finds even deeper loneliness back “home,” with its “uninteresting
lumber.” Once there, he longs for the intensity of life on his island, its violence and
self –determination, and its objects full of meaning.

The author at Elizabeth Bishop’s grave, July 4, 2011

“Disconcertingly,” as Goldensohn describes it, “Crusoe discovers that the misery


from which he so willingly fled was the chief stock of his life.”

Defoe’s Robinson returns to England to find nothing there for him. Robinson’s family
thought him dead after his 28-year absence, and there is no inheritance for him, no
fortune to claim, no home.

Crusoe, in Bishop’s devising, also finds nothing for him at home, despite the longing
he felt for it while a castaway. His loss is a spiritual and cultural loss.

While on the island, he tries to hold onto his home culture. He makes “tea” and a kind
of fizzy fermented drink from berries he discovers, even a homemade flute with “the
weirdest scale on earth.”

Alas, he doesn’t remember enough of his culture’s great literature to make him feel at
home,

The books
I’d read were full of blanks;

the poems – well, I tried

reciting to my iris beds,

“They flash upon that inward eye,

which is the bliss…” The bliss of what?

One of the first things that I did

When I got back was look it up.

The bliss is, of course, “solitude,” which is the word completing this line from
Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” (” I wandered lonely as a cloud…”). We forgive Bishop
this anachronism; Wordsworth’s poem was written over one hundred years after
Defoe’s novel. By referencing this line she creates a sense of displacement or
dislocation in us, her readers.

For Bishop’s Crusoe, solitude approaches bliss by way of banality, especially when he
reflects on what was lost – including Friday, who was introduced with the banal
phrase, “Friday was nice and we were friends.”

The potency of their relationship is merely hinted at; perhaps reflecting Bishop’s own
sense of decorum in matters personal. (“Accounts of that have everything all wrong,”
Bishop writes.)

Some critics have suggested that Friday in this poem is a stand-in for Lota de Soares
Macedo, Bishop’s Brazilian lover; while others, James Merrill among them,
wondered why Bishop couldn’t give us “a bit more about Friday?”

For almost as soon as Friday arrives they are taken off the island. By the end of the
poem, we learn that Friday died of measles while in England, presumably a disease to
which he had no immunity.

Bishop began writing “Crusoe in England” in the early 1960s – although notebook
entries from 1934 hint that the poem may have its origins in her time at Vassar – and
picked it up again after Lota’s death in 1967. (Goldensohn postulates based upon her
reading of drafts of the poem that Bishop brought Friday into the poem at that time.)

She worked on it again after a visit to Charles Darwin’s home in Kent. She relied on
Darwin’s notes from the Galapagos for her depiction of the island, along with Herman
Melville’s “Encantadas,” and perhaps Randall Jarrell’s “The Island,” as has been
suggested, as well as on her own experience of tropical and sub-tropical locales.

By the time she visited Galapagos in 1971, however, the poem had been delivered to
The New Yorker. She must have been fairly pleased that her description was almost
spot-on. (My own experience of the Galapagos has the spitting and hissing she writes
about coming from the iguanas rather than the turtles, but no matter.)

Bishop’s friend and fellow poet, Robert Lowell, thought “Crusoe” to be “maybe your
very best poem,” and I’m inclined to agree. (Although the poem preceding it in
1979’s Geography III, “The Waiting Room,” gives it a run for my money.)

“An analogue to your life,”Lowell wrote in a letter to Bishop, “or an ‘Ode to


Dejection.’ Nothing you’ve written has such a mix of humor and desperation.”

It’s true this poem has a kind of desperation to it that comes from desolation and
longing, for “home,” in particular, be it the island or England. Bishop’s humor is
evident, too, in such lines as

What’s wrong about self-pity, anyway?

With my legs dangling down familiarly

over a crater’s edge, I told myself

“pity should begin at home.” So the more

pity I felt, the more I felt at home.

“By making [Crusoe’s] life center around the idea of home,” writes biographer Brett
Millier, Bishop “brings him in line with her own habitually secular and domestic
points of view.”

Crusoe was also an unwitting solitary, who reluctantly gave in to his plight. As such,
he appealed to Bishop, especially in his self-reliance. He made things from what’s at
hand, just as she made poems from what surrounded her. She, too, had surrendered to
her “exile” in Brazil.

There’s an ungentle madness to Crusoe the solitary, which also contrasts somewhat
with Defoe’s Robinson. The latter reads the Bible and becomes increasingly more
religious. Bishop’s Crusoe is more pagan, painting goats with berry juice, dreaming of
“slitting a baby’s throat, mistaking it for a baby goat,” and has visions of endlessly
repeating islands where he is fated to catalog their flora and fauna.
I’m tempted to see this last reference as almost a nightmare reflection of the poet’s
own self-exile and imprisonment by her style: her oft-cited gift for description, which
she saw as limiting.

Regardless of whether Bishop saw herself in her Crusoe, her own removal to New
England from Brazil – to Harvard’s uninteresting lumber – must have caused equal
disconnection, a “dislocating dizziness,” to borrow Goldensohn’s phrase.

“When you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever
lived,” Bishop wrote to Robert Lowell in 1948. In “Crusoe in England,” she captures
the loneliness, displacement, and loss of an individual set adrift in emotional isolation,
which leads to a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

For Crusoe, his island life seemed interminable and insufferable, only to turn romantic
and desirable when the experience ended.

It seems likely Bishop was thinking of her life in Brazil with Lota, which had become
increasingly strained towards the end, until the latter’s suicide, and the poet’s life
thereafter. That makes this poem, along with “One Art” from the same collection, an
elegy with a depth beyond its surface.

● Goodbye, Sancho Panza | Justin Hamm

I meet
a Slim Jim munching
Sancho Panza
goateed now
all leathered out
and in close contact
with his inner beast

Five hundred years


after the death
of his beloved mule
he rides a Kawasaki
wants to know if I will
sally forth with him
through Missouri
as his loyal
dimwit squire

There’s this broad


he’s s’pposed to meet
near the riverside in Cape
he explains

So I pull out my blues harp


and toot a few notes
while I think of the baby
my sweet scented daughter
whose pudgy upturned nose
matches my own

A newborn’s a fragile thing


a soft cooing heap
of possibly maybe
long before it hardens
into something permanent
like a soul
and for the first three weeks
I refused to use her name

Earlier tonight I drank


to overcoming these fears
to Jesus and science
and green bean casserole
but Sancho is as sober
as an ice cube
as serious as any
grain of sand
and despite the longing
I’m forced to decline

Missouri is veined with


deep winding caverns
so many of her secrets
tightly concealed
and anyway I’m
too old and civilized
for the sort of digging
it would take
to learn anything good

● Min Nong | Li Shen

Pity the Peasant


Hoeing cereal in the midday sun
His sweat drops and nourishes the grain and the earth
But few people know his supper
Is nothing but hard work

— Li Shen’s poem is usually titled Pity the Farmer. Parents teach this poem to their
children to remind them to eat everything on their plate.

— The original Chinese title is:

悯农

And it is often translated as Toiling Farmers. This does not


seem to me an adequate translation. First of all, 悯 , is
literally the Chinese character for “pity” and Li Shen, the
poet, is using his poem as a supplication. Take sorrow on, or
take pity for the peasant who puts food on your table. The
second character 农, translates as either farmer or peasant. I
like peasant for obvious social and phonetic reasons. Then
again, Mao’s Communist Revolution extolled the peasant, so
maybe farmer is the better choice

— 禾 is the Chinese character for cereal grain. The character


is used in both the first and second lines, but I have chosen
to vary the word selection because Li Shen intends to convey
the meaning of all cereal grains and not just one type of
grain like rice or wheat.

Literally, the last line should be “each and every granule is


hard work.” It begins with the repetition of 粒 , which
suggests to me that the peasant struggles mightily to grow
and harvest each and every granule. And ends with 辛 苦, which
can be interpreted as bitter work or hard work.

I suppose the child gets the point that the peasant does not always eat or that the fruits
of his labor are sometimes bitter.
— It is one of the most famous and meaningful poems in Chinese is
called 悯农 (mǐn nóng). Most young children in China, even from the
age of three or four know this poem. It traces its origins to ancient
Chinese so the language is not typical of modern Mandarin.

— It communicates a necessary gratitude we should have for farmers who work


behind the scenes to create the food which our society so desperately depends on.
Having endured famine and times of great hunger it’s inherent in Chinese culture that
all have an appreciation for food. This poem represents a grateful attitude that we
should all have, an appreciation for the difficulty and toil of growing and preparing
food.

— This poem is very familiar to native Chinese, as it is one of the first poems taught
in school. Since the agricultural industry used to be and still is one of the most
important components of China’s economy (one survey says there are around 100
million farmers in China nowadays), this poem is often used to teach people of the
hard work done by the farmers, the preciousness of food and that we should never
waste even a tiny grain of rice. Many canteens in middle schools or even colleges
would display the last two lines of this poem on walls and tables.

● My Shoes | Charles Simic

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:


Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth


Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me


When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion


I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:


Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

— In his poem “The Shoes”, Charles Simic addresses his admiration for the shoes’
quality of being humble by comparing them with his “inner life”, and expresses his
pursuit of “the only true likeness of himself” in the spiritual world.

The first stanza begins with an extended metaphor followed by mixed metaphors,
through which the certain condition of the pair of shoes is emphasized:
Shoes, secret face of my inner life:

Two gaping toothless mouths,

Two partly decomposed animal skins

Smelling of mice nests. (1-4)

They are neither two mouths with sharp tooth, nor new products with the typical smell
of leather. In the second line, Simic de-familiarizes the image of the shoes by
comparing it with “gaping toothless mouths”, since it’s not a conventional
comparison, it makes them animated and gives the readers a new sense of their
images. Thus in the readers’ mind, the images of them is depicted visually as old men
who don’t have teeth. This statement is not literal while the statements in the third and
fourth lines are literal, which helps to reach an effect of emphasizing the shoes’ worn
condition and also how ordinary they are as other old pairs of shoes. Because they are
made of animal skins as any other shoes are, and smell as bad as they are usually
thought to be. However, they are still the “secret face of my inner life”, and this
metaphor is extended in the following stanza since “My brother and sister who died at
birth/Continuing their existence in you” (5-6). But more in a spiritual way, because
their existence in the shoes “guiding my life/ Toward their incomprehensible
innocence”(7-8).

The extended metaphor in which Simic compares his “secret”life (soul) with the shoes
is crucial to the tone of the poem. Throughout the third and fourth stanzas, the way of
extending it is developed from a material level to a spiritual level. In the third stanza,
Simic compares the use of shoes with the use of books, in which his soul is “possible
to read”(10). Because they are like “the Gospel of my life on earth”(11), which
records his life from birth to death, “And still beyond, of things to come?”(12).
Therefore, not only “my life on earth”, but also “my life beyond the material world” is
recorded. Furthermore, the quality of being humble is made clear in this progress, and
the tone of the poem also surfaces the water. The tone of admiration becomes obvious
in the fourth stanza:

I want to proclaim the religion

I have devised for your perfect humility

And the strange church I am building

With you as the altar.(13-16)


The shoes are compared with the “altar”, and a religion is also “devised” for their
“perfect humility”, through which the extended metaphor is raised to a higher spiritual
level. Since religion is what people deeply believe in, here creating a religion for the
quality of being humble strongly expresses the tone of admiration for this quality.
Similar to the comparison with the use of books, in which “my” soul can only be
possible to read, only when the old shoes are as a “altar” can “I” find the lost part of
“my” soul back. And only by sacrificing “my” “inner life” and believing in the
religion of the divine quality of humility can “I” form the “only true likeness of
myself”(20) — humbly walking in “my” spiritual world as the pair of worn shoes.

In the last stanza, specific characteristics of being humble are concluded and
reinforced, so is the tone of admiration:

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:

Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,

With your mute patience, forming

The only true likeness of myself.(17-20)

The extended metaphor continues by complementing the shoes as the “altar”. The
simplicity and motherly protection echo to the shoes’ certain worn condition that is
described in the first stanza. And what the shoes endure are actually what “I” desire to
endure, because “I” want to be as patient as the shoes are and sacrifice “my” soul to
form the “true likeness of myself”. This also reinforces “my admiration for the
quality, and my desire of having “my” soul filled with it. Because only being humble
is “the only true likeness” in “my” mind, and only “me” walking humbly as the shoes
do can the book of “my” soul be shared, can “I” find the lost part of myself back and
can “I” form “my”pursuit of “the only true likeness of myself”.

Throughout the poem, Simic keeps making comparisons between the worn pair of
shoes and his “inner life” from the material level to the spiritual level, in the process
of which he expresses his admiration for the quality of being humble, and what it
means to his pursuit of forming “the only true likeness” of himself.

● Ode on a Grecian Urn | John Keats

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,


Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard


Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
Forever panting, and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?


To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede


Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

— Summary

In the first stanza, the speaker stands before an ancient Grecian urn and addresses it.
He is preoccupied with its depiction of pictures frozen in time. It is the “still
unravish’d bride of quietness,” the “foster-child of silence and slow time.” He also
describes the urn as a “historian” that can tell a story. He wonders about the figures on
the side of the urn and asks what legend they depict and from where they come. He
looks at a picture that seems to depict a group of men pursuing a group of women and
wonders what their story could be: “What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? /
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?”

In the second stanza, the speaker looks at another picture on the urn, this time of a
young man playing a pipe, lying with his lover beneath a glade of trees. The speaker
says that the piper’s “unheard” melodies are sweeter than mortal melodies because
they are unaffected by time. He tells the youth that, though he can never kiss his lover
because he is frozen in time, he should not grieve, because her beauty will never fade.
In the third stanza, he looks at the trees surrounding the lovers and feels happy that
they will never shed their leaves. He is happy for the piper because his songs will be
“for ever new,” and happy that the love of the boy and the girl will last forever, unlike
mortal love, which lapses into “breathing human passion” and eventually vanishes,
leaving behind only a “burning forehead, and a parching tongue.”

In the fourth stanza, the speaker examines another picture on the urn, this one of a
group of villagers leading a heifer to be sacrificed. He wonders where they are going
(“To what green altar, O mysterious priest...”) and from where they have come. He
imagines their little town, empty of all its citizens, and tells it that its streets will “for
evermore” be silent, for those who have left it, frozen on the urn, will never return. In
the final stanza, the speaker again addresses the urn itself, saying that it, like Eternity,
“doth tease us out of thought.” He thinks that when his generation is long dead, the
urn will remain, telling future generations its enigmatic lesson: “Beauty is truth, truth
beauty.” The speaker says that that is the only thing the urn knows and the only thing
it needs to know.

Themes

If the “Ode to a Nightingale” portrays Keats’s speaker’s engagement with the fluid
expressiveness of music, the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” portrays his attempt to engage
with the static immobility of sculpture. The Grecian urn, passed down through
countless centuries to the time of the speaker’s viewing, exists outside of time in the
human sense—it does not age, it does not die, and indeed it is alien to all such
concepts. In the speaker’s meditation, this creates an intriguing paradox for the human
figures carved into the side of the urn: They are free from time, but they are
simultaneously frozen in time. They do not have to confront aging and death (their
love is “forever young”), but neither can they have experience (the youth can never
kiss the maiden; the figures in the procession can never return to their homes).

The speaker attempts three times to engage with scenes carved into the urn; each time
he asks different questions of it. In the first stanza, he examines the picture of the
“mad pursuit” and wonders what actual story lies behind the picture: “What men or
gods are these? What maidens loth?” Of course, the urn can never tell him the whos,
whats, whens, and wheres of the stories it depicts, and the speaker is forced to
abandon this line of questioning.

In the second and third stanzas, he examines the picture of the piper playing to his
lover beneath the trees. Here, the speaker tries to imagine what the experience of the
figures on the urn must be like; he tries to identify with them. He is tempted by their
escape from temporality and attracted to the eternal newness of the piper’s unheard
song and the eternally unchanging beauty of his lover. He thinks that their love is “far
above” all transient human passion, which, in its sexual expression, inevitably leads to
an abatement of intensity—when passion is satisfied, all that remains is a wearied
physicality: a sorrowful heart, a “burning forehead,” and a “parching tongue.” His
recollection of these conditions seems to remind the speaker that he is inescapably
subject to them, and he abandons his attempt to identify with the figures on the urn.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker attempts to think about the figures on the urn as
though they were experiencing human time, imagining that their procession has an
origin (the “little town”) and a destination (the “green altar”). But all he can think is
that the town will forever be deserted: If these people have left their origin, they will
never return to it. In this sense he confronts head-on the limits of static art; if it is
impossible to learn from the urn the whos and wheres of the “real story” in the first
stanza, it is impossible to ever know the origin and the destination of the figures on
the urn in the fourth.

It is true that the speaker shows a certain kind of progress in his successive attempts to
engage with the urn. His idle curiosity in the first attempt gives way to a more deeply
felt identification in the second, and in the third, the speaker leaves his own concerns
behind and thinks of the processional purely on its own terms, thinking of the “little
town” with a real and generous feeling. But each attempt ultimately ends in failure.
The third attempt fails simply because there is nothing more to say—once the speaker
confronts the silence and eternal emptiness of the little town, he has reached the limit
of static art; on this subject, at least, there is nothing more the urn can tell him.

In the final stanza, the speaker presents the conclusions drawn from his three attempts
to engage with the urn. He is overwhelmed by its existence outside of temporal
change, with its ability to “tease” him “out of thought / As doth eternity.” If human
life is a succession of “hungry generations,” as the speaker suggests in “Nightingale,”
the urn is a separate and self-contained world. It can be a “friend to man,” as the
speaker says, but it cannot be mortal; the kind of aesthetic connection the speaker
experiences with the urn is ultimately insufficient to human life.

The final two lines, in which the speaker imagines the urn speaking its message to
mankind—”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” have proved among the most difficult to
interpret in the Keats canon. After the urn utters the enigmatic phrase “Beauty is truth,
truth beauty,” no one can say for sure who “speaks” the conclusion, “that is all / Ye
know on earth, and all ye need to know.” It could be the speaker addressing the urn,
and it could be the urn addressing mankind. If it is the speaker addressing the urn,
then it would seem to indicate his awareness of its limitations: The urn may not need
to know anything beyond the equation of beauty and truth, but the complications of
human life make it impossible for such a simple and self-contained phrase to express
sufficiently anything about necessary human knowledge. If it is the urn addressing
mankind, then the phrase has rather the weight of an important lesson, as though
beyond all the complications of human life, all human beings need to know on earth is
that beauty and truth are one and the same. It is largely a matter of personal
interpretation which reading to accept.

— Ode On A Grecian Urn focuses on art, beauty, truth and time and is one of Keats'
five odes, considered to be some of the best examples of romantic poetry. The four
others are Ode To A Nightingale, Ode to Psyche, Ode On Melancholy, To Autumn -
all completed in a burst of energy in 1819, two years before his death in Italy from
consumption.

The poem is an example of ekphrasis, a Greek word meaning to describe a work of


visual art in words.

What makes Ode To A Grecian Urn of particular importance is its exploration of the
idea that beautiful art transcends time and reality, that beauty is truth, interpreted
through the poetic imagination.
But this ode also raises the perplexing question of art and its effect on the human
psyche. Humans can be deceived because art, although enduring, could be a false
ideal, like the notion of eternity.
In the end, the narrative - the speaker's approach to the urn - is turned on its head as
the urn voices its wisdom to the speaker (and the reader and all humanity)...."Beauty
is truth, truth beauty,"
Keats believed that spontaneous sensations of the heart held the truth, as opposed to
the dry, reasoning mind.
This metaphorical approach to the artistic life of the imagination helped him create
some of the best known romantic poems of his time. In his letters to various friends
and relatives he also developed ideas relating to the role of the poet.

Out of these correspondences came Keats' famous term 'negative capability', (the
opposite to 'consecutive reasoning'), whereby the poet's character is completely absent
from the poem's content.

Ode On A Grecian Urn was inspired by numerous visits of Keats to the British
Museum. There he studied ancient artifacts from Greece, including the Elgin Marbles,
and was enthused enough by his friend the artist Benjamin Haydon, to draw one of
these antique vases.

Many researchers have sought for the one specific Greek urn described in the poem,
but no one has found it - it is thought that Keats used several sources for the various
scenes, so creating an ideal urn for the ode.

— Line By Line Analysis of Ode On A Grecian Urn - Stanza 1


Lines 1 - 4

Here is the speaker addressing the urn, looking at the pictures and designs that
decorate the surface of this classically shaped vessel. Keats is known to have visited
the British Museum several times and took inspiration from Greek friezes and other
exhibits.

No one can as yet pinpoint the one urn that so inspired the young poet but it is
reasonable to suggest that he used artistic licence and put together scenes from
different artefacts to create an ideal decorated urn.

The first line has that word still in it, but which meaning fits the sense? Is it an adverb
or an adjective? Is the unravished bride simply not moving or is she unchanged from
her virgin state? Probably the latter meaning is the best fit.
The first four lines contain personification - the unravished bride, the foster child and
the Sylvan historian. The bride is married to quietness, the child is that of the
anonymous artist and time and the historian has the gift of the tale-teller.

Lines 5 - 10

The following sestet has a total of seven searching questions, the speaker uncertain
about the figures being gods or mere mortals (changeless against perishable), and
capable only of a reflex questioning.

As these questions build up, a sense of excitement is sparked. Note the language -
mad pursuit... struggle to escape... wild ecstasy.
The classical rhyme scheme and full rhymes imply a tight-knit closeness - despite the
ironical fourth line which suggests that the quiet ancient urn outstrips poetry when it
comes to telling tales.
This first stanza ends up a bit of a puzzle for the reader because of all those questions
but it sets the scene - ancient Greece, in myth or reality - and perhaps supplies some
of the answers.

Ode On A Grecian Urn - Stanza 2


Lines 11 - 14

These four lines relate to music and sound and contrast reality - the sounds that can be
heard - with the abstract - in this case the art on the side of the urn.

Again we have the duality, a comparison between life and art, and a judgement from
the speaker who, at this point in the ode, thinks the abstract melodies 'sweeter'. This is
a recurring theme of the ode and has its origins in the letters of Keats, who wrote:
'The excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables
evaporate, from their being in close relationship with Beauty and Truth.'

The speaker addresses the pipes directly, suggesting they play to the spirit 'ditties'
(short simple songs) that cannot be heard. There's an inherent paradox - how can you
play music that has no sound? Well, it has to be imaginary music played to imaginary
ears.

Lines 15 - 20

The sestet concentrates on the Fair youth and the speaker's reassurances that despite
the possibility of him never being able to kiss, he will love forever. There's some
interesting symbolism at play here:

the trees, which the youth stands beneath, represent nature.


the song, which the youth cannot leave, is a symbol of art and expression.
the lover, representing unrequited love and potential fertility.
In the end, there is no need for the youth to grieve (because he cannot consummate his
love), the consolation of living forever in art being enough to balance things out.

This second stanza, with its unusual syntax, slows the reader down with its many
medial pauses and focuses on the pros and cons of the real and the abstract.

Stanza 3 - Ode On A Grecian Urn


Lines 21 - 25
The happy stanza - with emphasis on the everlasting nature of the scenes depicted :
the trees and their boughs, the melodist (musician) who can never play a dud or old
note. These lines reinforce the idea of timelessness and sustained joy.

Lines 25 - 30

Keats uses the word happy six times in the first five lines and the word forever five
times, underlining the positive emotion the speaker invests in the immortal scenes
before him.

There is no aging, there will be no seasonal shift; the figures on the urn are free of
time, pain, sickness and death - a theme repeated in Ode to a Nightingale for example
- and are destined to stay forever young.

The last three lines, 28 - 30, have caused much controversy over the years. Some
believe them to be a reflection of the state of the speaker, roused to excitement by the
goings on on the urn:

That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,

A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

The speaker's heart is affected as he is drawn into the charged scene in front of him.

Or do these lines refer to the pictures on the urn themselves? The human passion
exists in those inhabiting the imagined world of the urn and they are subject to the
physical effects of all this wild ecstasy.

Ode On A Grecian Urn - Stanza 4


Lines 31 - 40

This stanza offers a new scene - townsfolk and a priest leading a heifer (female cow
not yet calved) to a sacrificial place. The whole stanza has a questioning tone, as if the
speaker is not quite certain of just who is behind this action.

The heifer is to be sacrificed and represents the flesh and blood of nature; the ritual is
religious (in a pagan sense?) and involves the whole of the community, a shared
commitment to the gods.

The fact that everyone attends means that the town is emptied and it is this fact that
prompts the enquiry. The silence of the town matches the silence of the urn; the
speaker voicing concern that no one will be able to explain just why this has
happened.
So the town is empty and will remain that way 'forevermore'; and the questions will
never be answered.

Again the iambic rhythms persist, the ten syllables per line a solid foundation (except
for line 32 which has eleven)

Ode On A Grecian Urn - Stanza 5


Lines 41 - 50

This stanza deals initially with the urn itself - the Attic shape (classic vase shape from
Attica, in ancient Greece) and the woven pattern (brede) - but ends up with the
situation flipped on its head as the urn is given a voice with which to address the
speaker (and all humanity)

In line 44, following a description of the urn itself, the speaker finally reveals
something about the effect the pictures and scenes have had on his mind. The
conclusion is that the urn 'dost tease us out of thought', that is, the urn is just like the
notion of eternity...we humans can be deceived by the idea of living forever, as the
speaker has been deceived into thinking the scenes can last forever.

The speaker states 'Cold Pastoral!' - in an accusatory manner. The urn is nothing but
cold country earth shaped so to attract but however it will prevail. When generations
have passed, the urn will persist and in this sense it is to be welcomed as a friend.

Lines 49 - 50

A big debate rages among scholars...in an actual manuscript written by John Keats'
brother George, the last two lines are in quotation marks which means that the urn
speaks all of these words to man (to humanity).

In the published copy only the words "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," are given over to
the urn.

So which is correct?

Well, there is no definitive answer but it seems likely that both lines are the voice of
urn. Whatever the truth, the fact is that the five short words have become synonymous
with the name of John Keats and this ode.

Within the confines of the ode beauty may well be truth and vice versa but in real life
humans often seek a truth beyond art and the imagination, reaching for the realms of
religious experience and transcendence.
Keats' ode is a reminder of the age of romanticism and the idea that art could be the
salvation of humankind, an expression of deep spirituality. The ode explores Keats'
notion of art being forever beautiful, beyond the grasp of time and inevitable decay,
unlike we humans, creatures of flesh and blood, struggling with day to day reality.

What Are The Literary Devices Used in Ode On A Grecian Urn?


The literary devices used in Ode On A Grecian Urn include:

Alliteration

When two words close together in a line start with the similar sounding consonants,
they are alliterative, which adds texture and phonetic interest to the poem. For
example:

silence and slow time.....leaf-fringed legend.....ye soft pipes, pay on....though thou
hast not thy....heart high-sorrowful....Lead'st thou that heifer lowing...Of marble men
and maidens.

Assonance

When two words close together in a line have similar sounding vowels. Again, the
sounds combine to produce echo and resonance:

The second line is a classic:

Thou foster child of silence and slow time,

As is line thirteen:

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,

Caesura

A caesura is a pause in a line caused usually by punctuation in a short or medium


length line. The reader has to pause for a fraction. In this poem, the second stanza has
fifteen, which means the rhythm is broken up, fragmented, so the reader is slowed
down and the lines become quite naturally more complex.

This line, 12, is a good example:

Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Two semicolons and two commas are effective and break up the natural flow.
Chiasmus

Is a device where two or more clauses are up-ended or flipped to produce an artistic
effect with regards meaning, as in line 49:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"

Enjambment

When a line is not punctuated and runs on into the next it is said to be enjambed. It
allows the poem to flow in certain parts and challenges the reader to move swiftly on
from one line to the next with the meaning intact.

There are several lines with enjambment in Keats' ode, each stanza having at least one
line. In stanza four for example lines 38 and 39 flow on into the last:

And, little town, thy streets forevermore

Will silent be; and not a soul to tell


Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

Personification

The first three lines use personification, giving human attributes to the urn. So:

unravished bride (virgin bride 'married' to the urn's quietness)

foster child ( wrought from the earth by the Greek artist, long dead)

Sylvan historian (able to tell the ancient tale).

What Is The Theme of Ode On A Grecian Urn?


The main theme of Ode On A Grecian Urn is :

the idea that beauty in art is enduring and permanent and therefore true, as opposed to
earthly human nature which is transient and fades with time.

— “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Summary


The speaker directly addresses the urn, deeming it a pure partner of quietness itself as
well as the adopted child of silence and vast lengths of time. The urn is a historian of
rural scenes, which it depicts better than does the poetry of the speaker's era (or
perhaps language more generally). The speaker wonders what stories are being told
by the images on the urn; whether the figures it depicts are human beings or gods, and
which part of Greece they are in. The speaker wonders about the specific identity of
the male characters and the reluctant-looking women. Do the scenes show a chase and
an attempt to escape? Noting the musical instruments on the urn, the speaker
questions if the scenes on display represent some kind of delirious revelry.

The speaker praises music, but claims that music that cannot be heard (like that on the
urn) is even better. As such, the speaker implores the urn's pipes to keep playing—not
for sensory reward, but in tribute to silence. The speaker focuses a young piper sitting
under some trees; just as the piper can never stop playing his song—as he is frozen on
the urn—so too the trees will never shed their leaves. The speaker then focuses on a
scene that depicts two young lovers. Though they are nearly kissing, their lips can
never meet. The speaker tells them not to be upset, however: though the kiss will
never happen, the man and woman will always love one another (or the man will
always love the woman), and the woman will always be beautiful.

The speaker now addresses the images of trees on the urn, calling their boughs happy
because they will never lose their leaves, and they will never have to say goodbye to
spring. The speaker then returns to the piper, whom they perceive as happy and
untiring—the piper will play new music for the rest of time. This fills the speaker with
thoughts of happiness and love. The figures on the urn will always have happiness to
look forward to, always be out of breath from the chase, and always be young. All the
passions of the living human world are far removed from the figures on the urn—and
these passions cause heartache, lovesick fevers, and thirst.

The speaker turns their attention to another scene on the urn, which appears to depict
a ceremonial progression. They notice the figure of a shadowy priest leading a cow,
which is mooing towards the sky and is dressed with ceremonial silks and flowers.
This image causes the speaker to wonder where those in the procession have come
from—which town by the river, coast, or mountain has fallen quiet because they have
left on this religiously significant morning? The speaker directly addresses this
unknown town, acknowledging that its streets are frozen forever in silence. There is
no one left who can explain why the town is empty.

The speaker takes a more zoomed-out look at the urn, noting its shape and apparent
attitude. They recap the urn's population of pictorial men and women and its
depictions of nature. To the speaker, the urn seems to offer a temporary respite from
thought, in the same way that eternity does. But this respite seems inhuman or false,
leading the speaker to call the urn cold. Inspired by this sentiment, the speaker notes
that, when everyone in their generation has died, the urn will still be around. It will
become an object of contemplation for people with different problems than the
speaker's generation. To them, the urn will say that beauty and truth are one and the
same; this fact is all that it is possible to know, and all that anybody actually needs to
know.

“Ode on a Grecian Urn” Themes


Theme mortality
Mortality
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a complex meditation on mortality. Death preoccupies the
speaker, who responds by seeming to both celebrate and dread the fleeting nature of
life. The scenes on the urn depict a Classical world that has long since passed—and
yet, in being fixed on the urn itself, these scenes also evoke a sense of immortality.
The urn is therefore a contradiction—its scenes speak of vibrant humanity and,
because they are frozen in time, seem to represent a kind of eternal life. At the same
time, everything and everyone in the urn’s world is no more. Sensing this
contradiction, the poem can be read as a process of response, in which the speaker
tries to make sense of mortality—both that of others and their own—without ever
coming to a comfortable resolution.

Importantly, one of the main purposes served by an urn was to hold the ashes of the
dead. Though it can’t be said definitively that this is the sort of urn Keats had in mind
when writing this poem, he would no doubt have been aware of this as a possible
interpretation. The urn is the sole object of contemplation in the poem, and
accordingly death—and the fleeting nature of human life—is present from the
beginning.

The speaker projects their anxiously shifting thoughts about mortality onto the urn,
which seems to stand for both life and death at the same time. At points in the poem,
the pictures on the urn seem to come alive for the speaker. Stanzas 2 and 3 are full of
praise for the scenes at hand, in which the urn’s figures appear blissful and carefree.
Lovers at play, pipe-playing musicians, and bountiful nature all create a “happy,
happy” feeling in the speaker. Here, then, the speaker celebrates life, and the scenes
frozen on the urn represent a kind of victory of life over death. Indeed, the speaker
praises the lovers on the urn as “For ever panting, and for ever young,” and notes that
the tree beneath which they sit will never “be bare.”

But the pictures on the urn are ultimately just that—pictures. All the lives depicted by
the urn—and the maker of the urn itself—are long gone. They only seem alive
because they are rendered so well, performing actions that speak of vitality and
humanity yet are not themselves full of life. What’s more, though the maiden depicted
“cannot fade,” neither can her lover have “thy bliss”—that is, he can never kiss her in
his frozen state. This complicates anxiety about the inevitable march of time, given
that to stop time essentially stops not just death, but life as well. Mortality is thus
presented not simply as an end to but also a distinct part of life.

This realization dawns on the speaker through the course of the poem. Arguably, this
is marked when the speaker introduces their own mortality in line 8 of stanza 3: “All
breathing human passion far above.” This moment brings to mind the speaker’s own
breath settling on the object of contemplation. To breathe is to be alive—and to be
reminded, in this case, of inevitable death.
From this point onwards, the poem becomes less celebratory and more anxious. The
busy scenes on the urn seem to speak of an emptiness intimately linked to mortality.
In stanza 4, for example, the speaker is vexed by the fact that the people depicted on
the urn can never return to their “desolate” hometown.

By the poem’s close, the urn becomes “cold” to the speaker—that is, its inanimate
quality offers no lasting comfort to the speaker’s contemplation of mortality.
Ultimately, the speaker turns this realization on their own generation, which will be
laid to “waste” by “old age.” The speaker, then, grapples with the question of
mortality throughout the poem. At first, the beauty of the urn seems to bring its
characters back to life, as the stillness of the images makes their lives immortal.
Eventually, though, reality sets in, and the urn makes mortality all the more present
and undeniable.

Theme art
Art, Beauty and Truth
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” examines the close relationship between art, beauty, and
truth. For the speaker, it is through beauty that humankind comes closest to truth—
and through art that human beings can attain this beauty (though it remains a
bittersweet achievement). At its heart, the poem admits the mystery of existence—but
argues that good art offers humankind an essential, if temporary, way of representing
and sensing this mystery.

The poem’s famous ending is vital to understanding the speaker’s position on art,
beauty, and truth, and contextualizes the lines that have come before. The speaker’s
concluding sentiment—"Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—demonstrates that, in the
context of this poem, beauty and truth are one and the same. Art’s role is to create this
beauty and truth, but the speaker doesn’t present beauty and truth as clearly definable
aspects of human existence. The speaker feels this connection intuitively—and the
one-way conversation with the urn, and what it represents, is an attempt to make sense
of these intuitions.

The speaker does, however, foreground the aesthetics of the urn throughout the poem,
and matches the seductive beauty of the object with a sensuous and delicately crafted
linguistic beauty of its own. Though the poem cannot—and doesn’t try to—pin down
the precise relationship between art, beauty, and truth, its language works hard to be
beautiful and to demonstrate that beauty is something valuable and essential to
humankind. As one example of this above, the way the gentle /f/ sound in “soft pipes”
seems to make the /p/ sound of “pipes” itself become quieter. Just as the maker of the
urn tried to give an authentic and beautiful account of the world in which it was made,
the poem tries to bring “truth” and “beauty” to its rendering of the urn.
The poem, then, offers no easy answer to the question of the relationship between art,
beauty, and truth. But it does argue unequivocally that these three are co-dependent,
essential to one another. Furthermore, it may be that the strength of this relationship is
partly dependent on its mystery. Perhaps “All ye need to know,” then, suggests people
need to be comfortable in not knowing too. The last lines, taken out of context, might
suggest that this is a poem in praise of beauty. Yet the speaker’s position is ultimately
much more nuanced. The inanimateness of the urn’s scenes becomes representative of
humankind’s desire to represent itself and its world.

Whether or not people can achieve lasting beauty through art, the speaker feels deeply
the importance of trying. With the urn’s scenes frozen in time, the melodies of the
pipes cannot be heard, the trees cannot shed their leaves, and the people walking can
never arrive at their ceremony. In short, everything is paused in eternity. This means
that the beautiful sound of the pipes is, in fact, a kind of silence. The scenes thus
become not just pictures of human life, but also abstract representations of beauty—
they are pure beauty, untainted by having to actually exist or eventually die. If beauty
is something to be aspired to, as the last lines seems to suggest, then the beauty of the
urn is more absolute because it represents the idea of beauty itself—not just an
attempt to make it. The poem, then, takes on a complex philosophical quality,
considering beauty both as something that has to be aspired to by humans and as an
abstract concept that perhaps ultimately lies out of human reach.

Theme history
History and the Imagination
In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the speaker makes a powerful effort to bring history to
life. The poem functions as a kind of conversation, between an early 19th century
speaker on the one hand and Ancient Greece on the other. Of course, this conversation
can only really happen in one direction—it is up to the speaker to imagine the lives
and stories that, though once real, now only exist in the urn’s pictures. Overall, the
poem argues that imagination is key to understanding and sympathizing with what has
come before—but that this effort can never give a full picture of the richness and
detail of worlds that are long gone.

Part of the speaker’s fascination with the urn is that it is a genuine historical object
that was created around the time of historical moment that it depicts. The
craftsmanship of the urn, combined with sheer luck, has allowed a small part of the
history that it embodies to survive for millennia. The speaker foregrounds the
importance of objects in relation to history by calling the urn a “Sylvan [rural]
historian,” instantly drawing a link between the speaker’s own historical moment and
the urn’s and noting that the urn has survived as a “foster-child of silence and slow
time.” The speaker thus emphasizes both the immense length of time in which the urn
has existed but also its “silent,” inanimate quality. That is, without an effort of the
imagination on the part of the viewer, the urn itself says nothing about history. The
poem thus partly becomes a real-time example of this effort to actively engage with
the past.

Eventually, the speaker finds the urn to be “cold”; it cannot satisfy the speaker’s
desire to bring the ancient world back to life. That, of course, doesn’t mean the effort
is wasted. Just as the urn itself could never give a full account of the world at the time
it was made, neither could the speaker truly hope to get a full sense of history through
the urn.

Nevertheless, a feel for the world of Ancient Greece—however in complete—has


been achieved. The imaginative work of the speaker brings the imagination of the
reader to life, and an atmosphere of a particular point in history is therefore brought to
life too. The cow being led to the sacrifice, for example, seems to both ground the
action of the urn in Ancient Greece and bring it momentarily to life—the speaker
imagines the cow lowing towards the sky, a detail that seems specifically aimed at
making the scenario more vibrant and present for the reader.

The poem acknowledges that no generation can ever have a full account of the world
as it was before. Objects and imagination, though, help to tell history’s stories. And
just as the urn allowed the speaker to explore this subject within the form of the poem,
the poem itself becomes an object that allows its readers to explore both the historical
atmosphere of the urn and get a sense for the 19th century moment in which the poem
was written; the Romantic poets had a deep interest in the Classical world, and this
ode shows a speaker trying to make sense of the relationship between those two
distinct historical moments.

No object—whether an urn or a written account—can ever bring a historical moment


into the present to be experienced in full detail. But objects together with the
imagination do help to bring stories of the past to life, and it is in these stories that one
generation relates to those that came before. The urn’s world as described in the poem
is full of human activity that felt familiar in the 19th century and still feels familiar
now; history and the imagination therefore help humankind to relate to its past, and
see what one moment has in common with the next.

● The New Colossus | Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,


With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— The New Colossus was written in 1883 to help raise funds for the Statue of Liberty
and is now engraved on the base, a permanent reminder of the statue's symbolism and
Emma Lazarus's contribution to American culture.

According to some, Emma Lazarus was the first American to make any sense of this
statue, it being a gift from the country of France. Her traditional sonnet form seemed
to spark recognition of the statue's primary role - a world-wide welcome to those
seeking sanctuary.

Immigrants fleeing to America would see the torch bearing giant as they approached
New York and word quickly spread around the globe that here was no ordinary lady
but a 'Mother of Exiles' offering a new life.

Emma Lazarus, woman, Jew and New Yorker, beautifully encapsulated the feelings
of a nation in 14 lines. There's no doubt it still resonates. Her sonnet stands proud.
This poem is still very relevant for these fragile times.

— Line 1 - the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World,
reputedly stood across the harbor entrance at the island of Rhodes, and was a statue of
the Sun god Helios, a symbol of freedom.

Line 2 - this statue is said to have been 100 foot high and straddled across the
entrance.

Line 3 - in contrast to the original Colossus, the new one stands at the gates - note the
imagery here of waves washing the gates as sunset bathes in a golden light.

Line 4 - and the statue will be that of a great woman holding a beacon of light.

Line 5 - such a powerful, natural energy source - enough to light up the sky.

Line 6-8 - she will protect and nurture, her inviting warmth will spread across the
world and she will look after all who arrive. The air-bridge is likely to be Brooklyn
Bridge, the two cities New York and Jersey.
Line 9-14 - she wants the old countries to be proud of their history but those desperate
immigrants fleeing turmoil and poverty she will look after, give them a home and
shelter; their futures will be assured. Wretched refuse is a term that reflects the sense
of waste of human life. Note the spelling of tost in tempest-tost (occurs in MacBeth,
Act1, scene3) but it can also be spelled tossed - tempest-tossed - hit by storms.

— This is a sonnet of fire and water, elementally rich, but the dominant theme is that
of light, symbolised in the lamp and flame, which brings golden opportunities and the
possibility of a new start in life.

We have to remember that this poem was written in 1883, when America was young,
fresh and in need of new life-blood from all over the world. America opened her
doors to those who were shunned by their home countries, to those who wanted a
better life.

Since the engraving of The New Colossus, America has absorbed millions of
immigrants and is still attracting many who seek the dream. The message in this well
constructed sonnet is positive and welcoming, but what does the future hold for the
Mother of Exiles?

— One cannot analyse this poem without first looking at its title, which refers to the
statue of the Greek god Helios that once stood at the harbor in Rhodes, Greece, over
two thousand years ago. The title also claims that the Statue of Liberty is a
replacement of sorts for the old Greek statue; the poet does this by including the word
“new” in the title. Lazarus makes mention of the ancient statue in the first and second
lines of the poem. She writes, “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,/With
conquering limbs astride from land to land…”

Next, Lazarus’ The New Colossus is an example of a Petrarchan sonnet. The poem is
fourteen lines long, and the first eight lines, called an octave, have the rhyme scheme
abbaabba. The last six lines, called a sestet, have a rhyme scheme of cdcdcd.

As stated earlier, the speaker of the poem, presumably Lazarus, compares the Statute
of Liberty to the Colossus. She says that unlike the giant statute the Greeks made,
America’s statue will be of “A mighty woman with a torch,/ whose flame is the
imprisoned lightning…” Also in these lines, she stresses that the Statue of Liberty will
be welcoming, whereas the Colossus was meant to intimidate those who reached
Greece’s shores. In addition, Lazarus personifies the statue, giving her the ability to
“welcome” and “command.”

In lines five and six, Lazarus creates a new name for the Statue of Liberty: “…and her
name/Mother of Exiles.” Since an exile is someone who is forced to leave their
homeland, Lazarus is explaining that Lady Liberty will not only welcome those
exiles, but she will also be mother-like to them, comforting and supporting them like
every good mother does. She extends this thought into the next line, stating that the
hand holding the torch “glows world-wide welcome.” In other words, her torch is
lighting the way for all to see.

At the end of line seven, Lazarus writes, “…her mild eyes command/The air-bridged
harbor that twin cities frame.” There has been much discussion behind this. Many
people believe the twin cities the statute is commanding are New York City and
Brooklyn, but others believe the cities could be New York City and Jersey City, New
York’s neighbor across the river.

The last six lines of the poem are the most famous, and in these lines, the Statute of
Liberty is talking “with silent lips.” She says,

Give me your tired, your poor,


Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

In these lines, the new Colossus is telling the world to give her all of the people who
are longing for freedom, regardless of how they are—tired or poor, it makes no
difference. She has lifted her light beside the door to let them all in.

— The arrival of the Statue of Liberty in the United States from France in 1886 was a
huge national occasion: it is thought to have inspired the very first ticker-tape parade.
Lazarus’ poem didn’t enjoy quite the same level of acclaim. Indeed, it was hardly read
during her lifetime. ‘The New Colossus’ was commissioned to help raise money for
the statue’s construction, but it was only after her death, in 1887, that the poem was
published. But it would not be until 1945 that the poem would achieve widespread
fame, when it was inscribed over the entrance to the Statue of Liberty. Not only this,
but France intended for the Statue of Liberty to be propaganda, with the light-bearing
female personification of Liberty – that French Revolutionary watchword –
symbolising a beacon of enlightenment for those European countries still living under
tyranny. But Lazarus twisted this propagandistic intention, and her poem ensured that
the Statue of Liberty would instead be viewed as a beacon of welcome for immigrants
leaving their European mother countries, for the new ‘Mother of Exiles’.

As her title makes clear, the Statue of Liberty is a ‘new colossus’; Lazarus’ title
contrasts this modern statue with the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World. According to a misconception popularised in the Middle Ages,
the Colossus straddled the harbour and thus, like the Statue of Liberty, was one of the
first things to greet incoming travellers. In fact, the Colossus didn’t stand astride the
harbour, but this myth helps Lazarus to contrast the ‘brazen’ male statue of the Greek
Colossus (‘brazen’ carries a double meaning: the statue was literally covered in brass
plates, but it is also boldly standing astride the water like a conqueror) with the more
welcoming female Statue of Liberty. This welcoming nature is also contained within
the epithet for the statue, ‘Mother of Exiles’: this new colossus will be a nurturing,
caring figure, a beacon of support, for those who have been exiled from their own
countries elsewhere in the world. We’re a long way from the ‘conquering’
manspreading of the Greek Colossus.

Critics disagree over the meaning of the eighth line, ‘The air-bridged harbor that twin
cities frame.’ Carol Rumens has suggested that it refers to the construction of the
Brooklyn Bridge in the year the poem was written, and that the cities referred to,
therefore, are Brooklyn and New York as separate settlements.

The sestet, or six-line stanza which concludes the poem, gives the Statue of Liberty a
voice, imagining its ‘silent lips’ addressing the arriving immigrants and welcoming
them to the land of the free. Lazarus’ phrase ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe
free’ has become familiar to those who haven’t read the poem, or even heard of it.
The line is indelibly associated with the Statue of Liberty itself.

The poem is full of contrasts: images of land/sea, fire/water, light/dark,


freedom/imprisonment can be found within this short sonnet. But perhaps, in the last
analysis, the most important contrast in Lazarus’ poem is between old and new,
specifically the old colossus and the new one, and, by extension, the Old World with
the New World of America. ‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries the new
colossus. The ancient lands of Europe can keep their history; America, the new land
of the free, offers a new start for anybody in search of one.

— “The New Colossus” Summary


The speaker first describes what the New Colossus will not be like: the giant bronze
statue of the sun-god Helios in ancient Rhodes. The Colossus of Rhodes was
constructed to commemorate a military victory and was thought to stand with its legs
on either side of a harbor. The speaker then moves from ancient Greece to America,
describing the new statue’s position on America’s eastern shoreline (the East being
where the sun sets). The statue looks like a powerful woman and holds a torch lit
through the modern wonders of electricity. She is depicted as a motherly figure who
welcomes immigrants to America. She does so through the guiding light of her torch
and her gentle yet powerful gaze upon New York Harbor, which is sandwiched
between New York City and Brooklyn (which were still separate cities when the
poem was written).

The poem then gives the statue herself a voice. She speaks directly to the nations of
Europe, telling them she wants no part of their showy displays of power. Though she
is a silent statue, the speaker suggests that her symbolic message is clear. She goes on
to command the ancient European nations to send its impoverished citizens—the
thousands who long for freedom—to America. These people have been forgotten and
rejected in their overly-populated countries with limited resources. Once again, she
commands the ancient nations to send her those who have been exiled and battered by
the storms of misfortune. She beckons these immigrants toward her with her torch,
which metaphorically illuminates the entryway to America and all the opportunities it
offers.

“The New Colossus” Themes

Theme immigration

American Immigration

“The New Colossus” compares the Statue of Liberty to an ancient Greek statue, the
Colossus of Rhodes. While the ancient statue served as a warning to potential
enemies, the new statue’s name, torch, and position on the eastern shore of the United
States all signal her status as a protector of exiles. Her protection extends both to the
exiles who founded the United States, and to refugees hoping to make America their
new home. When the speaker imagines the statue’s voice, the statue speaks directly to
the “ancient lands” of Europe and claims its forgotten and rejected ones as her own.
Each of these features contributes to the poem’s presentation of the Statue of Liberty
as a symbol of welcome, and to the poem's broader message to embrace foreigners
with open arms.

Through its description of two statues’ relationships to the land on which they stand,
the poem offers contrasting ways of relating to one’s homeland and to foreigners. The
first involves the “brazen giant” or Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of
the Ancient World. It was constructed to commemorate a military victory, and its
“conquering limbs” were believed to have straddled a harbor. All foreign ships would
have had to pass beneath its “brazen” or bronze legs and, in so doing, to contemplate
the demise of the defeated soldiers from whose abandoned weapons the statue was
made. This threatening stance served as a warning to approaching sailors and
potential invaders. In contrast, the New Colossus stands firmly at the “sea-washed,
sunset gates” of America. This lyrical image of America’s Eastern shore—the shore
that faces Europe across the Atlantic Ocean—connotes a sense of openness to new
visitors.

This sense of openness is confirmed in lines 4-8, in which the statue is called “Mother
of Exiles” and her torch is described as a beacon. The Statue of Liberty's French
sculptor included a torch to symbolize reason and liberty enlightening the world. In
the poem, though, the torch instead glows for the same reason a lighthouse does: to
safely guide travelers home. It is a “beacon” or sign of “world-wide welcome” to the
thousands of immigrants arriving in New York.
The statue’s role as patron of immigrants is solidified when the sonnet's sestet (or
final six lines) puts the new world’s guardian in direct conversation with the “ancient
lands” of Europe from which they emigrate. The statue rejects the “storied pomp”
through which European empires, such as those of ancient Greece, were founded and
maintained. The Colossus of Rhodes was built from the abandoned bronze weapons
of the defeated army of Cyprus. As such, it is a pompous display of power that
highlights the victor’s story but obscures the suffering of the conquered people. The
New Colossus commands the old lands to send its marginalized people, the “huddled
masses,” to her. She will ensure that those who are “homeless” and long to “breathe
free” will find refuge. The statue’s torch returns in the final line as a “lamp” that
illuminates the “golden door” of American opportunity.

This golden promise of the Statue of Liberty, then, offers a tantalizing alternative to
all that the ancient Colossus of Rhodes represented. The speaker hopes that the
maternal statue and her promise of radical hospitality will become a symbol for
America itself. In other words, the poem presents the Statue of Liberty as both part of
America and representative of its values, and in so doing argues that that America
should be defined by its willingness to both accept immigrants and actively welcome
them.

Theme: freedom
The Promise of Freedom
Since this poem was written to support a fundraiser for the Statue of Liberty’s
pedestal, the poem implicitly invites readers to compare what the poem does say
about the historical statue to what it does not say. Although the poem doesn’t use the
statue’s formal name, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” it is deeply concerned with
the statue’s understood connection to liberty and freedom. It suggests that the
expansion of powerful ancient European empires—which were founded on principles
of class and military power—deprived many people of personal and political liberty,
and then has the statue voice a promise to restore that fundamental human right. “The
New Colossus” represents an idealistic vison of nationhood in which a government’s
power is used not to conquer, but to honor all people’s inherent dignity and right to
liberty.

The octave, or opening eight lines of the sonnet, describes the political conditions
under which freedom is either offered to all or restricted to some. It pits ancient
structures of oppression against a new, American commitment to welcoming exiles.
The Colossus of Rhodes, an ancient statue built after a military victory, is described as
having “conquering limbs.” This majestic description thinly veils the consequences of
war, in which the conqueror flourishes while the conquered are disenfranchised. The
poem criticizes this political system by replacing this threatening statue with a
welcoming yet “mighty” statue at America’s eastern shoreline (the shoreline that
faces Europe across the Atlantic). In naming the new statue, the speaker does not
reach outside the poem for its formal, historical title: “Liberty Enlightening the
World.” The statue’s ties to Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, are thus
obscured. In place of a classical image of liberty as political independence, the poem
instead renames the statue “Mother of Exiles.” This title, along with the torch the
statue raises to offer “world-wide welcome” to refugees, make this statue, and the
nation on whose shore it stands, a guardian of all who wish to seek freedom in a new
home. More broadly, the poem positions the statue as a "new colossus," which
suggests that it is replacing the values of that old Colossus of Rhodes, and implies that
these new values that America offers will replace the old militaristic and despotic
forces of Europe.

However, when the word “free” finally appears in line 11, the immigrants called
toward America’s shores don’t yet have the liberty they long for. Instead, the word is
included as part of a command from The New Colossus that the ancient European
lands release the forgotten people whose individual dreams have been crushed under
the burden of oppression. They are the ones longing to “breathe free,” for their human
rights have been degraded such that they are deemed “refuse.” The maternal statue
claims these exiles as her own and promises to shepherd them through the “golden
door” of opportunity. The implication is that, on American land, human rights are
respected, and all are given the resources necessary to flourish. When the poem ends,
though, the statue is left awaiting the refugees’ arrival. Her promise of freedom
remains unmet. “The New Colossus” thus presents freedom as a worthy ideal that has
yet to be achieved in the world outside the poem.

Theme maternal
Patriarchal Values vs. Maternal Virtues
The poem stages a contrast between stereotypical masculine and feminine values, but
then blurs the line between them. It describes the Colossus of Rhodes in terms of
strength in battle—something typically associated with masculinity—and claims that
the New Colossus will be different. It then describes the New Colossus in terms of
both commanding strength and maternal mildness. While the ancient statue offered a
display of military dominance and a warning to powerful enemies, the new statue is
both mighty and mild in her message of motherly welcome. This blended use of
gendered attributes to describe the new statue makes it clear that hospitality should
not be seen as some kind of female-specific weakness, but rather as a strength of
American society. In other words, the poem suggests that America needs both the
power once associated with an all-male military and government, and the mild spirit
of welcome once associated solely with women.

The speaker first describes what the New Colossus will not be like: the warlike and
hyper-masculine Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the Greek Titan sun-god, Helios.
This ancient statue was “brazen” in two ways: it symbolized arrogance and strength,
and it was built by melting down and re-forging enemies’ bronze weapons. The
reference to the Colossus of Rhodes's “conquering limbs” in line 2 recalls the statue’s
purpose: to celebrate a military victory against Cyprus. These displays of physical and
martial strength were understood to typify masculine virtues valued by a patriarchal
society, in which positions of power are held by men, and power is used to dominate
others, both foreign and domestic.

Lines 4-7 then describe what the New Colossus will be like: a mild and mighty
mother. Although the speaker first promises that this new statue will not be like the
Colossus of Rhodes, the next lines show that she won’t be its polar opposite, either. In
place of the powerful male god, the New Colossus is “a mighty woman.” If the
ancient statue was built partly to warn off potential invaders, the New Colossus
understands her role as guardian differently. She is a “Mother of Exiles” holding a
torch as a glowing sign of “world-wide welcome.” If the ancient statue’s enormous
legs straddled a harbor in the posture of a conqueror, the new statue can “command” a
harbor equally well through her “mild eyes.” It becomes clear, here, that hospitality is
not a gendered weakness, but a societal strength.

In the poem's final six lines, signs of feminine mildness continue to merge with
masculine boldness. Though the statue is imagined crying out with “silent lips,” the
message she silently conveys is nonetheless powerful and universally understood.
Setting up one more contrast between the male and female statues, the New Colossus
invites the “ancient lands” to keep their displays of power and instead entrust the
powerless to her care. She will protect the “poor” and “homeless” and guide them
toward the “golden door” of opportunity. She, in other words, will be a defender of
the world’s weakest people, and offer them the resources needed to become strong.
The statue’s gendered attributes offer a new kind of strength that, even in its pointedly
peaceful purpose, rivals that of the ancient, male-dominated world and, the poem
implies, will eventually replace it.

● The Octopus | Ogden Nash

Tell me, O Octopus, I begs


Is those things arms, or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus;
If I were thou, I'd call me Us.

— The Octopus by Ogden Nash is humorous nonsense poem designed primarily to


amuse children but also to appeal to adults. Whilst initially appearing silly and
funny,there is more to it than meets the eye at first reading.

Nash poses an important metaphysical point about the octopus; it has so many limbs
that it appears more than one being .An octopus has three hearts and nine brains so it
could be said to be a hydra, a multiple being, so very different to humankind as to be
almost incomprehensible.

It does indeed make us question the singular, which is what Nash puns on.
The rhyme scheme is end stopped and is arranged A A B B giving the poem the
feeling of a limerick.

The deliberate distortion of the ungrammatical ‘is’ instead of ‘are’ further accentuates
our confusion at such a multi dimensional being as a cephalopod. Also underlined by
this distorted usage; is the fact that the poem is not meant to educate despite taking the
form of a Victorian educational rhyme. Lewis Carroll was famed for much the same
skill and I think Nash is thinking of him as he writes this. It tangles as you read it,
resembling the writhing living being.

● The Raven | Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,


Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;


And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain


Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,


“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,


Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what threat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,


By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,


Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,


“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing


To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—


Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!


By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting


On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

— Analysis:

"The Raven" is the most famous of Poe's poems, notable for its melodic and dramatic
qualities. Combined with the predominating ABCBBB end rhyme scheme and the
frequent use of internal rhyme, the trochaic octameter and the refrain of "nothing
more" and "nevermore" give the poem a musical lilt when read aloud. Poe also
emphasizes the "O" sound in words such as "Lenore" and "nevermore" in order to
underline the melancholy and lonely sound of the poem and to establish the overall
atmosphere. Finally, the repetition of "nevermore" gives a circular sense to the poem
and contributes to what Poe termed the unity of effect, where each word and line adds
to the larger meaning of the poem.

The unnamed narrator appears in a typically Gothic setting with a lonely apartment, a
dying fire, and a "bleak December" night while wearily studying his books in an
attempt to distract himself from his troubles. He thinks occasionally of Lenore but is
generally able to control his emotions, although the effort required to do so tires him
and makes his words equally slow and outwardly pacified. However, over the course
of the narrative, the protagonist becomes more and more agitated both in mind and in
action, a progression that he demonstrates through his rationalizations and eventually
through his increasingly exclamation-ridden monologue. In every stanza near the end,
however, his exclamations are punctuated by the calm desolation of the sentence
"Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore,'" reflecting the despair of his soul.

Like a number of Poe's poems such as "Ulalume" and "Annabel Lee," "The Raven"
refers to an agonized protagonist's memories of a deceased woman. Through poetry,
Lenore's premature death is implicitly made aesthetic, and the narrator is unable to
free himself of his reliance upon her memory. He asks the raven if there is "balm in
Gilead" and therefore spiritual salvation, or if Lenore truly exists in the afterlife, but
the raven confirms his worst suspicions by rejecting his supplications. The fear of
death or of oblivion informs much of Poe's writing, and "The Raven" is one of his
bleakest publications because it provides such a definitively negative answer. By
contrast, when Poe uses the name Lenore in a similar situation in the poem "Lenore,"
the protagonist Guy de Vere concludes that he need not cry in his mourning because
he is confident that he will meet Lenore in heaven.

Poe's choice of a raven as the bearer of ill news is appropriate for a number of
reasons. Originally, Poe sought only a dumb beast that was capable of producing
human-like sounds without understanding the words' meaning, and he claimed that
earlier conceptions of "The Raven" included the use of a parrot. In this sense, the
raven is important because it allows the narrator to be both the deliverer and
interpreter of the sinister message, without the existence of a blatantly supernatural
intervention. At the same time, the raven's black feather have traditionally been
considered a magical sign of ill omen, and Poe may also be referring to Norse
mythology, where the god Odin had two ravens named Hugin and Munin, which
respectively meant "thought" and "memory." The narrator is a student and thus
follows Hugin, but Munin continually interrupts his thoughts and in this case takes a
physical form by landing on the bust of Pallas, which alludes to Athena, the Greek
goddess of learning.

Due to the late hour of the poem's setting and to the narrator's mental turmoil, the
poem calls the narrator's reliability into question. At first the narrator attempts to give
his experiences a rational explanation, but by the end of the poem, he has ceased to
give the raven any interpretation beyond that which he invents in his own head. The
raven thus serves as a fragment of his soul and as the animal equivalent of Psyche in
the poem "Ulalume." Each figure represents its respective character's subconscious
that instinctively understands his need to obsess and to mourn. As in "Ulalume," the
protagonist is unable to avoid the recollection of his beloved, but whereas Psyche of
"Ulalume" sought to prevent the unearthing of painful memories, the raven actively
stimulates his thoughts of Lenore, and he effectively causes his own fate through the
medium of a non-sentient (?) animal.

— Symbol Analysis

● Lenore

This particular lady is the main focus of the speaker's obsessive thoughts. He
brings her up constantly, and even when he tries to think about something else,
he always ends up back at Lenore. Despite this, we don't actually learn that
much about her. We don't hear what she looks like or how she is related to our
speaker (wife? girlfriend? sister?). She's an idea, a memory, but she never
really becomes a full-fledged character.

Lines 10-11: Here's where we first hear Lenore's name. At almost the same
moment, we hear that she is lost; it doesn't take us long to figure out that she is
dead, since only the angels know her name now. We should also point out a
major technique in the poem that shows up here. When the first sounds of two
words begin with the same sound, as in "rare and radiant" (line 11), we call it
alliteration. Poe uses it like it's going out of style. Once you start looking,
you'll see it everywhere in this poem.

Lines 28-29: In the first line here (line 28), we hear Lenore's name being
whispered, but can't tell where it's coming from. In Line 29, we find out that
the speaker has spoken her name, and that this is just the echo whispering
back. Lenore's presence seems to lurk everywhere in the poem.

Line 77-78: This is yet another moment in which the speaker's wandering
thoughts take him back to Lenore. We think this one is intentionally a little
over the top. Basically, he remembers that Lenore's butt used to press into this
cushion when she was alive. He doesn't come right out and say it, but it's
there, and it's pretty weird way to remember a loved one. You might
remember the way someone laughed, or the way they smiled, but not
necessarily the way she pressed on a chair. We think Poe is injecting some
irony into this description, and helping us see how out of control this guy
really is.

Line 83: Here our speaker fantasizes about forgetting Lenore forever. Her
memory has become a curse, and all he wants is some relief from the pain of
thinking about her. Little chance of that, though, since this is a Poe poem.

Lines 94-95: Here is the final direct mention of Lenore. Here he seems
completely filled with love for this dead woman. It's almost a little too much.
He calls her "sainted," "rare," "radiant." In a sense, this Lenore is not anything
like a real person. She's an ideal, a symbol of what the narrator thinks a
perfect, unspoiled, untouchable woman ought to be. To this grief-stricken
man, she stops being human and becomes a heavenly saint.

● The raven

Not only is it the title of the poem, but even once we've heard all about
Lenore, and the guy in his chamber, it's probably the image of the Raven that
sticks most in our minds. It was a pretty great choice on Poe's part, a bird that
looks like a part of the black night it came out of a little scary looking, but also
hard to read. The Raven is everywhere in this poem, but we'll hit a few key
moments here.

Lines 38-40: The Raven's big entrance. Notice how much emphasis Poe puts
on the way he comes into the room. The image we get is of a king or a queen
walking into a throne room. He mentions that the Raven is "stately" and he
also says that its "mien" (its way of acting) is like that of a "lord or lady."

Line 45: This quick reference to a shorn crest is an allusion to a medieval


tradition. Sometimes when a knight behaved in a cowardly (craven) way, he
would have his head shaved to humiliate him. This reference creates an even
stronger link between the raven and an old world of kings and queens and
knights.
Line 48: The famous line: "Quoth the Raven, Nevermore." When a line gets
repeated again and again in a poem, we call it a refrain. This particular refrain
is what totally takes apart our narrator, and turns him from a sad, nervous guy
into a shuddering wreck. When the bird says it for the first time, the narrator
thinks it's amusing nonsense. After a while, it starts to seem like a horrifying
prophecy.

Line 85: Here the narrator starts to believe what the bird is saying. Since he
thinks the word "nevermore" is actually foretelling the future, he refers to the
bird as a prophet. He can't decide if this is just a bird, or some "devil," but he
is completely convinced that it knows what it's talking about.

Line 105: Our final image of the bird is that of a sleeping demon with burning
eyes. He casts a shadow over the whole room, and completely terrifies our
poor narrator. Starting out as a sort of funny bird with a strange way of
walking into a room, he's now the symbol of pure satanic evil. All that in just
60 lines.

● Night’s Plutonian Shore

This is the kind of big, spooky, complicated image that Poe just loves. It
sounds spiffy and poetic, and it also manages to ball a bunch of mysterious
images into one phrase. The phrase has three words, and also three parts:

The Night.
Darkness and night are both major symbols in this poem. They both represent
the mysterious, maybe dangerous and scary power of nature. In addition, they
just make for a cool atmosphere for a poem – it definitely couldn't take place
on a sunny afternoon.

Plutonian.
This is an allusion to the Roman god of the underworld. The adjective
"Plutonian" is meant to make us think of all the scary things that one
associates with the underworld: darkness, death, the afterlife, etc.

Shore.
Shore is a little more mysterious. It may be a metaphor that helps us to see the
night as a vast ocean, washing up against the edge of this chamber.

In a way, then, all these words help emphasize the ideas of darkness and night.
Not just a dreary night, but also a vast ocean of hellish darkness. Very much
Poe's style.
Line 47: This is the first time this phrase gets used. It associates the raven with
the night, and since the speaker asks for the bird's "lordly name," we almost
feel like he could be the king of the night.

Line 98: The phrase used here gets echoed later in the poem. Poe does this a
lot, with all kinds of phrases. Where before the idea of the night was kind of
intriguing to the speaker, now he just wants the bird gone. Since the narrator is
all worked up now, we get a much stronger sense of how scary and threatening
this Plutonian night really is.

● Nepenthe

This is an allusion to a mythological drug that you might take to forget your
grief. From what we can tell, we think our narrator might really need some of
this stuff.

Lines 82-83: The idea of nepenthe occurs to our speaker in a kind of


daydream/hallucination. He imagines that the room is filling with some sort of
perfume, and thinks that God himself has decided to help him forget his
misery. In the Odyssey, Homer describes nepenthe in exactly this way, as a
drink that will take away all sadness.

— References

Pallas (41, 104): This is a reference to the Greek goddess Athena, often called Pallas
Athena, or just simply Pallas. She is primarily associated with wisdom, which makes
her head an ironic place for the Raven to sit, since we can never quite tell if the bird is
actually wise or is just saying the only word it knows. Since she's a goddess, though,
she's also a symbol of the ideal woman, perfectly beautiful wise, virtuous, and strong.
For a man who spends all his time thinking about the perfect maiden he has lost
(Lenore), a bust of Pallas seems like a pretty good choice.

Balm in Gilead (89): This refers to a biblical quote, from Jeremiah 8:22 "Is there no
balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?" In a general sense this famous balm (a
kind of healing ointment) has come to represent hope, peace, an end to pain.
Obviously, since the origin is Biblical, there's an aspect of the peace of Christian
salvation, although we can't quite tell how much the speaker of the poem believes in
that.

— Themes

● Madness
The speaker of "The Raven" sounds like he's had a rough life, and most people
would probably be a little shaken up to find themselves talking to a bird. Still,
we think it's entirely possible that he's insane, or at least pretty far down that
road. He talks a lot about wild dreams, imaginary perfume, his burning soul,
etc. Of course, the possibility that he's headed around the bend raises some
other questions. Is this bird really talking? Is there a bird at all? Is this just a
kind of fever-dream? We'll hold off on those questions for now, but keep them
in mind.

● Love

The speaker in "The Raven" loves a woman named Lenore. That's part of the
nice balance of this poem. At times it's almost campy and over-the-top, with
all the elaborate rhyming and fancy vocabulary. At its heart though, the poem
is about a man who only wants one thing in the world: to be back with the
woman he loves. Sadly, that's the one thing he absolutely can't have. This is a
pretty depressing look at love; and, while Poe never even uses the word
directly, love still pervades this poem.

● Man and the Natural World

Many of the scary things our speaker faces on this crazy night have to do with
the natural world. He imagines hostile natural forces all around him,
surrounding his peaceful, civilized room, just waiting to break in. The dark
night, the sound of the wind…they are all threatening and unfathomable. Then
nature does break in, in the form of that arrogant, talkative bird. This is the big
central confrontation of the poem, and it brings the idea of a conflict between
man and nature right to the front.

● The Supernatural

Once you've read "The Raven" through, you're probably pretty used to the idea
of a talking bird. But step back from that for a second, and think about it. If we
heard a bird talk, we'd probably run screaming from the room. At the very
least, we think it qualifies as pretty darn supernatural. The speaker thinks a lot
about where this bird came from, whether it's some kind of demon, or maybe
even a prophet. He also ponders deep issues, such as the afterlife and the
existence of God.

● The Tyger | William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,


In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.


Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,


Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,


In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears


And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,


In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

● At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border | William E. Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,


where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,


unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

— In this somewhat cynical poem by William Stafford, the trivial nature of national
monuments are explored. In it, Stafford poses a place where “the grass joined hands”
despite it being a place where “no monument stands”. He comments on how this is
where “the battle did not happen” or “where the unknown soldier did not die”. Yet
despite all the peace that characterises this place, we humans “celebrate it by
forgetting its name”. It is somewhat sad that we do not place monuments where
humans have yet to unleash their destructive nature, instead we put up great structures
where blood was split and humans lives sacrificed.

● Those Who Do Not Dance | Gabriela Mistral

A crippled child
Said, “How shall I dance?”
Let your heart dance
We said.

Then the invalid said:


“How shall I sing?”
Let your heart sing
We said

Then spoke the poor dead thistle,


But I, how shall I dance?”
Let your heart fly to the wind
We said.

Then God spoke from above


“How shall I descend from the blue?”
Come dance for us here in the light
We said.

All the valley is dancing


Together under the sun,
And the heart of him who joins us not
Is turned to dust, to dust.

— A heartwarming poem that also focuses somewhat on a few marginalised groups.


“Those Who Do Not Dance” is a piece of literature about finding different ways to
express yourselves when biology or fate does not allow you to do it in the
conventional way. A crippled child unable to dance is told to let their heart dance, the
invalid who cannot sing is told to let their heart sing, the poor dead thistle unable to
dance is told to let their heart fly to the wind. The final stanza is perhaps the most
inspiring, where the entire valley dances in joy under the sun; while those who do not
join in have their hearts turned to dust. It might serve as a call for action, we humans
need to include those who might not be capable of the same things as us, for the entire
world will be much happier then.
● What Kind of Asian Are You? | Alex Dang

So he said to me: 'What kind of Asian are you? '


And I said back: Well that's a loaded question, what do you expect me to be?
Because any way slice that egg-roll I'm still pretty much what you want to see
I've played many a far east stereotype
Awkward math genius
Cold and calculated Kung-Fu expert
Assistant to 'Dr Jones, you crazy! '
You want me to drive, how so?
I can give you Tokyo drift, Jeremy Lin, Mario Kart, Tiger woods and...
Blinker left on for almost half a mile
I am the foremost expert on all things Asian
The Meiji Era and the ban of the Samurai? Done.
Confucianism versus Daoism? I'll give it to you with no slant.
What's the difference between Asian cereal type one and two?
Well, let me tell you,
let me tell you everything you want to know about my culture
let me tell you in a Mulan-esque soliloquy staring at the mirror asking:
'Who is that girl that I see! '
Let me tell you about Jackie Chan and about Bruce Lee,
and about how they're related-by blood- to me
Let me tell you about being so marginalized, it's to the point of 'I really can't believe
that's Asian! '
Let me tell you about derogatory terms and origins of words such as: chink and gook
let me tell you about the struggle of Asian parents not knowing the language,
so we,
Ate pet food because it was cheaper
Let me tell you about the job of an interpreter
When you're still playing with Lego blocks but you're English is already that much
better than your parents
Let me tell you about honor and dignity
Let me tell you about a society that projects us as nothing but the secondary role and
never the leading man
Let me tell you all the things you don't want to know
like how chink,
comes from the clinking of metal to railroad as the slaves built train-tracks for this
country to be connected
Like how the 'zipper head' down the street is called that because the way out heads
split open-
when struck with assault weapons
or how,
Jeeps, ran over and left marks across corpses
and how someone clever thought that we were only good to unzip
Or like how,
Every time you lump an Asian person into one culture
it systematically making us assimilate
into an america we thought was better than our war torn home
and every time you confuse me
with some other nationality that I might share similar features to
Is stripping away my individuality
and I still
feel the shame of being Asian
the heat and pious dedication of June 11,1963
the envy of blond hair and blue eyes
and I still
remember thinking where all the boys who look like me, on TV, were
the broken words from my mother and father
stage diving off of my tongue
the anger I felt when those kids thought I would get them sick
and I still
feel the ash of the incense burn my hand when i pray;
for my family
and I still
remember thinking my skin was what i was worth
and I still
Feel the iron work of my bones grow stronger with every train of thought
that passes by
and I still
feel pride
and I still
feel heritage
and I still
feel chinese
and I still
Feel Vietnamese
and I still
Feel American
and I still
Feel.

— What a most interesting spoken poetry clip. In this clip, Alex Dang slams out a few
stanzas about the marginalisation of Asians in American society and how disgusted he
is at it. He speaks of Asian stereotypes all mashed into one “culture” and that
somehow that’s meant to assimilate all Asian immigrants into American culture. He
speaks of the stereotypes Americans don’t want to hear, like how the derogatory terms
for Asians first emerged in their slavery to Americans and their corpses mauled by
American troops. It is no surprise that in America, Asians have been marginalised
heavily, never once featured as the main role in any event and always sidelined or
even antagonised.

● White Boy Time Machine: Override | Hieu Minh Nguyen

No matter where we go, there’s a history


of white men describing a landscape

so they can claim it. I look out the window


& I don’t see a sunset, I see a man’s

pink tongue razing the horizon.


I once heard a man describe the village

in Vietnam where my family comes from.


It was beautiful

a poem I would gift my mother


but somewhere in the pastoral I am reminded

a child (recently) was blown apart


after stepping on a mine, a bulb, I guess

blooming forty years later—


maybe it was how the poet said dirt

or maybe it was how he used fire


to describe the trees.

— In this short yet curt poem, Hieu Minh Nguyen once agains speaks about the
marginalisation of Asians and specifically the Vietnamese by Americans. He tells of
how every place visited is a white man describing the landscape so they can conquer
it. The beautiful poem about his childhood village in Vietnam is also described in
such a way, with the recent news of a child dying after stepping on a landmine, or
how the trees were described as fire (likely from the napalm the Americans dropped
in the tonnes). In recounts of the Vietnam war, we don’t often hear about the
countless innocent Vietnamese villages trapped between the two sides and devastated
by both. The Americans and “whites” have also managed to nullify their voice and
marginalise their culture.

Behind the Scenes of the Page, Stage, and Screen

For each of the occupations listed below, consider its role in producing a work.
Should they receive credit similar to that awarded to authors, actors, or directors?
● copyeditor

Copy editing (also copyediting, sometimes abbreviated ce) is the process of


reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability,
and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission,
inconsistency, and repetition.

● proofreader

A proofreader ensures content is free of typographical, grammatical, spelling,


punctuation, syntax, formatting and other such errors. This is the person who
notices the extra space after a period, the “their” when it should be “they're”
and the compound adjective missing a hyphen.

● publicist

A publicist is a person whose job is to generate and manage publicity for a


company, a brand, or public figure – especially a celebrity – or for a work
such as a book, film, or album.

● literary agent

Literary agents perform various services for authors. They connect the author's
work with appropriate publishers, negotiate contracts, ensure royalty
payments, and mediate problems between author and publisher.

● critic

A critic is a professional who communicates an assessment and an opinion of


various forms of creative works such as art, literature, music, cinema, theatre,
fashion, architecture, and food. Critics may also take as their subject social or
government policy.

● producer

A film producer is a person who oversees film production. Either employed by


a production company or working independently, producers plan and
coordinate various aspects of film production, such as selecting the script;
coordinating writing, directing, and editing; and arranging financing.

● stage manager
The person responsible for the lighting and other technical arrangements for a
stage play.

● set designers

A set designer is in charge of designing and creating the sets that appear in
films, television programmes as well as in the theatre. The role involves
working and communicating with directors, producers, costume designers and
other members of staff. Typical responsibilities include: reading scripts.

● stagehand

A stagehand is a person who works backstage or behind the scenes in theatres,


film, television, or location performance. Their work include setting up the
scenery, lights, sound, props, rigging, and special effects for a production.

● casting director

In the performing arts industry such as theatre, film, or television, a casting is


a pre-production process for selecting a certain type of actor, dancer, singer, or
extra for a particular role or part in a script, screenplay, or teleplay.

● dramaturge

A dramaturg or dramaturge is a literary adviser or editor in a theatre, opera, or


film company who researches, selects, adapts, edits, and interprets scripts,
libretti, texts, and printed programmes (or helps others with these tasks),
consults with authors, and does public relations work.

● hair & makeup artist

While hairstylists focus only on hair, and makeup artists focus only on
makeup, cosmetologists are also trained to analyze skin including the scalp.
Nail care, and treatments such as facials and hair removal, are also part of the
training, so cosmetologists could be your one-stop-beauty-care specialist.

● costume designer

A costume designer is a person who designs costumes for a film, stage


production or television. The role of the costume designer is to create the
characters' outfits/costumes and balance the scenes with texture and colour,
etc.

● sound designer
The sound designer is responsible for obtaining all sound effects, whether
recorded or live for a specific production. He/She is also responsible for
setting up the sound playback equipment and must make sure the board
operator is properly trained. Sound Design is an artistic component of the
production.

● stunt double

A trained professional who stands in for an actor in order to perform


dangerous or physically demanding stunts.

● cinematographer

A person who oversees or directs photography and camerawork in film-


making, especially one who operates the camera.

● grips

Grips' responsibility is to build and maintain all the equipment that supports
cameras. This equipment, which includes tripods, dollies, tracks, jibs, cranes,
and static rigs, is constructed of delicate yet heavy duty parts requiring a high
level of experience to operate and move.

● gaffers

In film and television crews, the gaffer or chief lighting technician is the head
electrician, responsible for the execution (and sometimes the design) of the
lighting plan for a production. The term "gaffer" originally related to the
moving of overhead equipment to control lighting levels using a gaff.

● extra

A background actor or extra is a performer in a film, television show, stage,


musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a non-speaking or non-
singing (silent) capacity, usually in the background (for example, in an
audience or busy street scene).

● storyboard artist

A storyboard artist is someone who takes a script (or just a concept) and turns
the words into a visual story. It's an important role because storyboard artists
are in control of how others perceive the project. All different members of the
production or development team look at storyboards for reference.
● showrunner

A showrunner is the leading producer of a television series. In films, the


director has creative control of a production, but in television, the showrunner
outranks the episodic directors.

Case Studies & Guiding Questions

● Consider these examples of ghostwritten books, speeches, and songs. Why might a
famous figure resort to someone else to write for them? Conversely, why might a
writer choose to go unrecognized? Are there times when a different name on a work
might affect how people receive it?

— Ghostwriting has a long and illustrious history, with some of the most famous
artists, authors and politicians employing ghostwriters to achieve fame and fortune,
and persuade the masses.

Ghostwriting has proven to be effective and continues to be beneficial for both parties
involved in the process. Since many are unfamiliar with just how widespread this
practice is, here are five great examples of ghostwriting to give you an idea of why
this practice is so common.

Examples of people who have employed ghost writers:


● Harry Houdini
● Elton John
● Barack Obama
● V. C. Andrews
● Many rappers: Eazy-E, Dr Dre, P Diddy

— Why Hiring Ghostwriters Makes Sense

There are literally countless reasons to be a ghostwriter and for using ghostwriters.
Becoming a ghostwriter often involves first starting with freelance writing,
networking with contacts in the industry you want to work for, and then building a
name for yourself with clients over time. However, the benefits are clear.
Ghostwriting often provides a lucrative source of income, an opportunity to write on
interesting topics, and even a chance to achieve a measure of fame for those who
become well-known ghostwriters.
Many celebrities seek out ghostwriters because they have the name recognition and
the story to tell, but don't know exactly how to tell it. Others need content produced
quickly, and hiring a team of ghostwriters is the fastest way to produce quality writing
in the shortest amount of time possible. Some, including famous content marketers,
have a valuable brand to promote but either don't have the time to write for that brand
or want help expanding the breadth of the brand.There are multiple and overlapping
reasons for ghostwriting, but one thing is clear: this tradition isn't going anywhere. As
a result, writers should look at ghostwriting as an opportunity, and one that sometimes
leads to positive life-changing events in the process.

● Consider sidekicks and other characters in the margins of a story—from the Wayward
Sisters to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Discuss with your team: when, if ever, are
their stories worth telling? Is it acceptable for an author different from the original to
tell those stories?

— Ever since we’ve had stories of superheroes and other powerful protagonists,
we’ve also had to deal with the blunders and adventures of their sidekicks. From
Batman and Robin to Holmes and Watson, no series of books is ever complete
without a partner to accompany the main hero. Their stories are often worth telling
whenever they accomplish something we never expected them to. Robin received a
lot of attention after DC Comics set his character apart from Batman (renamed
Nightwing) in the 1980s.

— It is completely acceptable for another author to tell these stories, consider the case
of Holmes and Watson. Many if not all of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories
were told from Watson’s viewpoint (Holmes being the lesser writer of the two). Since
then, many authors following in Doyle’s footsteps have penned stories about
Watson’s own adventures without Holmes by his side.

● Consider the case of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which was finished
by a second author. What should happen if an author passes away before finishing a
work? Who, if anyone, should be tasked with finishing the unfinished?

— If an author does pass away before finishing their work, then often it is found
within the will or the relatives who remain alive the decision to continue the work or
not. If this is not the case, then sometimes it is best to leave work unfinished. In other
cases, one author who may have interacted with the deceased while they were writing
the book might step up to the task of finishing where they left off.

● Research fandom and fan subcultures, particularly as centred on creative works,


whether a TV series (e.g., Star Trek) or even a musical (e.g., Hamilton). You may
want to consult this academic text as a starting point. Discuss with your team: do
people who participate in fandoms choose to marginalise themselves, and do fandoms
themselves have internal divisions between the mainstream and the marginal? Should
creators encourage or even participate in fan culture?

— Fandoms and fan subcultures run deep in this modern age. Simply put, they are
communities which share a common interest or passion on an individual or group or
topic (i.e a celebrity, band or movie universe). Fandoms can have their own divisions,
those who wish to follow the popular story and those who wish to divert away from it.
Creators have already encouraged and even participated in fan culture, since it brings
people together without nearly as much marginalisation as other areas of society.

● Some critics argue that a new focus on inclusiveness in storytelling has led to the
creation of overly idealised characters from marginalised groups—referred to as
“Mary Sues”. Even Star Wars’ Rey has been criticised by certain fans for being too
perfect. Discuss with your team: should we worry about representations of
marginalised communities being over idealised, or is this concern just a conservative
backlash to cultural progress?

— It is somewhat a note of worry that we find marginalised groups being overly


idealised in popular media and storytelling. We need to see representations of
marginalised communities as they are meant to be represented, not sugar coated so
that the general public sympathises more with them.

● Consider the recent announcement of a "reboot" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a
more diverse cast. The news met with an intense backlash, not unlike that against
recent female-led reboots of Ocean’s Eleven and Ghostbusters. Discuss with your
team: do creative professionals have a responsibility to be more inclusive in their
reboots of past works? Are there ways in which you would want to update other
classics, such as Harry Potter or the plays of Shakespeare?

— Creative professionals don’t necessarily have that responsibility, just because


society wants to be more inclusive doesn’t mean they need to follow in their
footsteps. Indeed a movie that originally was very exclusive could do with some
added cast variety, but not as radical as to completely replace the old cast with a more
inclusive one. Harry Potter doesn’t need that much updating, I’d say the cast is fine as
they are (if Harry Potter were suddenly portrayed by an African-American, I doubt it
would be taken too well considering they’ve been casting a white for every movie).
The plays of Shakespeare are less rigid in that we can easily imagine a black Macbeth
(that already exists) or an LGBTQ+ spin on the Romeo and Juliet love story.

● Read about Marvel's upcoming Asian superhero film, which is meant to follow in the
footsteps of Black Panther, then discuss with your team: is it appropriate for Marvel
to be narrowing their director search to someone Asian or Asian-American, or is this
an example of what some critics would call "reverse discrimination"?

— It is interesting that Marvel wants to try and repeat the same formula that worked
so well for Black Panther with this superhero movie about Shang-Chi. It seems
somewhat appropriate that Marvel narrows their director search, though they’d better
be doing so carefully. It isn’t uncommon to find movies with a majority cast of one
race being directed by someone of another race, that just provides even more support
to the “racial inclusion” of popular media.
● English Romantic poet John Keats wrote in a letter to his brothers that the greatest
writers possess a quality he called negative capability—the ability to be "in
uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.
Discuss with your team: how clear (or unclear) should literature be? Is it possible for
a piece of writing (or a movie) to be both confusing and successful?

— The beauty of literature is that it can peacefully be both. Literature can be shrouded
in mystery and confusion to its readers, yet also serve as clarity to them. Movies can
have confusing plots but still be pretty successful, as long as the confusion doesn’t
conflict with other plot lines in the story. A director can set up multiple plots and
storylines to occur at once, entangling them at times to make the final conclusion
slightly more confusing.

— John Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25 after writing a remarkable number
of poems that have helped define the Romantic tradition. Keats and his siblings
George, Tom, and Frances (Fanny) lost their father when he died after a fall from a
horse in 1803, and their mother to tuberculosis in 1811. Keats was an apprentice to an
apothecary–surgeon when he was 15; he received his apothecary certificate in 1816,
but gave up that profession in order to write.

Keats was acquainted with the writer and editor Leigh Hunt, who introduced him to
some of the leading intellectuals and writers of the time. Dogged by illness and
poverty, Keats was unable to marry Fanny Brawne, whom he fell in love with and
was engaged to in 1818. Keats, like his mother and brother Tom, contracted
tuberculosis. He was invited to Rome by Shelley to convalesce, and eventually
traveled there in 1821 with the painter John Severn; his health continued to decline
and he died in Rome.

The excerpts from Keats’s letters give us glimpses of his thoughts about poetry, and
of the concerns that occupied him in 1817 and 1818, the years before he would write
some of his best-known works. His letters have also served generations of writers
with provocative ideas and insights into poetry and the creative process. In the letters,
he writes about beauty, the imagination, and the concept of “Negative
Capability”—“when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Keats also addressed the merits of
other poets, including Milton, Keats’ contemporary Wordsworth, and Shakespeare,
whom Keats admired above all other writers. He often calls out for qualities he wishes
he could attain as a poet and person, as when he asks “for a Life of Sensations rather
than of Thoughts!” In other letters Keats shows his talent for original metaphors and
insights into life, as when he likens life to a “large Mansion of Many Apartments,” in
which we slowly feel and find our way through darkened rooms.” Such observations
and imaginative spurts make Keats’s letters required reading for any poet or critic and
as important as Keats’s poems.
In 1819, Keats had an extremely rich year of creativity; he wrote “The Eve of St.
Agnes,” “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” and his six great odes, which include “Ode to a
Nightingale,” “Ode on Indolence,” “Ode on Melancholy,” and “Ode on a Grecian
Urn.”

Film | Hidden Figures

● An excellent film that I wholeheartedly recommend you watch in your spare time,
Hidden Figures tells the true story of three African-American NASA employees as
they struggle to achieve their dreams and aspirations in apartheid America. While the
majority of the film focuses on the struggle of human computer Katherine Goble, who
works as part of Al Harrison Space Task Group; it also focuses on her two colleagues
and close friends: unofficial acting-supervisor Dorothy Vaughan and aspiring
engineer Mary Jackson. Throughout her work on the Mercury 7 and subsequently
Friendship 7 space programs, Katherine is shunned by other members of her group.
Since all of her colleagues are white males, it’s not surprising that she receives some
racial treatment (i.e receiving a less advanced, separate coffee maker and having to
walk 800 meters to the nearest coloured bathroom). Dorothy Vaughan is kicked out of
a library while attempting to learn Fortran, the language used by new IBM computers
on the NASA base. Mary Jackson fights to win the privilege of achieving an
engineering degree at an all-white school. Hidden Figures is perfect for those wishing
to learn about how individual black women during apartheid America were able to
rise above the racial barriers and achieve great things.

● Sarah Kay: If I Should Have a Daughter


○ If I should have a daughter, instead of "Mom," she's going to call me "Point
B," because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can
always find her way to me. And I'm going to paint solar systems on the backs
of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, "Oh, I
know that like the back of my hand." And she's going to learn that this life will
hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in
the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to
remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that
cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. So the first time she realizes that
Wonder Woman isn't coming, I'll make sure she knows she doesn't have to
wear the cape all by herself, because no matter how wide you stretch your
fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to
heal. Believe me, I've tried. "And, baby," I'll tell her, don't keep your nose up
in the air like that. I know that trick; I've done it a million times. You're just
smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you
can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or
else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change
him. But I know she will anyway, so instead I'll always keep an extra supply
of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that
chocolate can't fix. Okay, there's a few that chocolate can't fix. But that's what
the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. I
want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to
look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human
mind, because that's the way my mom taught me. That there'll be days like
this. (Singing) There'll be days like this, my momma said. When you open
your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step
out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are
the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you'll
be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have
all the more reason to say thank you. Because there's nothing more beautiful
than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how
many times it's sent away. You will put the wind in win some, lose some. You
will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land
mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny
place called life. And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty
damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can
crumble so easily, but don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.
"Baby," I'll tell her, "remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a
warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops
asking for more." Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad
things. Always apologize when you've done something wrong, but don't you
ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. Your voice is
small, but don't ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache,
when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on
street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to
meet your mother.
○ Bad days will exist, and sometimes the only option is to let them pass. And
sometimes, they’re necessary, if only to remind us that good things exist and
we shouldn’t take them for granted.
○ Remembering to remain optimistic and not give up.
■ And not giving in to people who keep trying to look at the worse side
of things.
○ Mother-daughter relationships.
■ Knowing that one has to take their life into their own hands and save
themselves and bear their own pain BUT that support systems exist,
and people eg. her mom, will always be there.
■ Passing on of knowledge and experiences from generation to
generation.
○ The importance of curiosity.
● Honestly, this TED Talk given by spoken word poet Sarah Kay is amazing and you’d
better give it a watch yourself. In this poem presented at TED2011, Sarah Kay speaks
of how she’ll raise a daughter and serve the mother-teacher relationship perfectly. She
does use a few funny (but certainly not cheesy) tips for how to raise a child, but in just
over 3 minutes she addresses all the major aspects her girl will need to overcome in
life (read: heartbreak, love and strength).

The Ugly Duckling

Hans Christian Andersen

● How poorly someone who is different from everyone else is treated, especially if they
have no one like them

Dandelions

Clayton Valli

● ASL : American Sign Language


● Doctor Clayton Valli
○ An ASL poetry pioneer.
○ He was the first one to analyse rhymes, rhythms and alliteration in ASL poetry
in his doctoral dissertation.
■ Alliteration: same letter / sound used at the beginning of adjacent or
closely connected words.
■ Dissertation: a long essay on a particular subject, especially one
written for a university degree or diploma.
■ Doctoral : relating to or to achieve a doctorate.eg.PhD

● Poem : Dandelions
○ Valli likens dandelions to deaf people.
○ Theme : repression makes one stronger.
○ Dandelions are used as a metaphor for deaf people.
■ Society deems dandelions to be weeds though they are flowers with
healing powers.
■ Similarly, society determines the worthiness of deaf people or disabled
people in general.

● Ableists = Ableism
● Dr. Valli introduced people to the richness and beauty of ASL Literature.
● Rather interesting as a video, since Dr. Clayton Valli doesn’t actually use any words
throughout this poem. “Dandelions” is an American Sign Language poem that uses
the extended analogy of dandelions to deaf people. Like how we try and rip
Dandelions out from the ground, we’ve been trying to eliminate deaf people by
banning sign language and other efforts. Yet despite all this, the dandelion lives on
and remains natural and beautiful. Likewise, sign language and people who use it
carry on, persisting with their lives despite the cruelty they face.

Life of A PeRfeCTiONisT

Libby Scott

● Insight if what being a perfectionist is like and their thought processes.


● Libby Scott takes the prize for youngest writer on this list. At 10 years of age, the
daughter of Kym Scott has been diagnosed with autism and is also a perfectionist. In
this beautiful text that Libby typed out, she describes life through the eyes of a
perfectionist. She is reluctant to get out of bed to rearrange her candles, she writes a
letter to Taylor Swift (and gets a reply) that her song doesn’t have precisely 100
words, she even attempts to tell the lifeguard at her local swimming pool that he isn’t
eating skittles in the right order (not to great reception). We don’t often consider
perfectionists as marginalized, but they can be shunned from society because of how
they can’t adapt to its imperfections. Instead we as society should try and see the
world from their point of view and listen to their thoughts whenever they dare to
speak out.

On Middle School Misery

John Green

● An eye-opening experience, in 3 minutes on a train in New York, John Green tells the
story of his Middle School years and how his bullying made him open his eyes to the
ridiculous notion that those years don’t need to be the best of your life. He talks of
how other nerds, kind strangers and his parents would support him through those
miserable years and allow him to survive that ordeal. To quote the quote he used:
“The only way out is through” (Robert Frost, American poet).

The Giving Tree

Shel Silverstein

● A heartwarming story of how nature (and as an extension, others) can provide all we
need and never once asked for anything in exchange. The Giving Tree tells the story
of a mighty apple tree and a young boy, as the boy grows older, the tree often finds
that her once highly valued whole is needed in its parts. Whereas once the boy loves
to climb the trunk, swinging from the branches and eat the apples; he later finds a
need to sell the apples, cut off the branches and use the trunk as a boat. In the end, the
boy (now a very old man) comes back to find the tree reduced to a mere stump, but
finds that it will do perfectly for a nice rest.
● (Inspiration from Caitlin H. Dixon): As a slightly more cynical note, literary critics
have also considered this book to be a hidden message about human selfishness and
how we humans only appeal to the natural world (the tree in this case) for our gain. It
should also be noted that this book was banned for a brief period in 1988 because it
was considered “sexist” and was also “criminalising the foresting agency”. Seems like
the Colorado schooling took more than a bit of offence at the bold negative message
of the book.

Prose

Fitting In | Max Gladstone

● Max Gladstone's Wild Cards story, which can be read for free on Tor.com, has much
in common with his Craft novels, in that it creates such a lively and well thought-
through world, and takes us around it with such an engaging protagonist, that you
almost don't notice how corny the story's spine is: specifically, mobsters are muscling
on a local bakery, until a plucky gang of neighbourhood oddballs team up to save the
day! Still, don't look at that closely and there's plenty here to enjoy, not least the other
expressions of that same optimistic spirit. So often, Jokertown is presented as a
mutant ghetto, its vibrancy always coming at a cost or worse, 'inspirational'. Here, it's
for the most part a carnival of fabulous strangeness, halfway to a Ghibli world of
wonders. I love the thoughts on what divides a crowd from a mob, for good or ill, and
how that line can blur; I love even more the notion that, despite this being a world
upended at least twice by alien contact, you'd still get conspiracy nuts insisting those
incidents were faked because the *real* alien rulers of the world want to know how
humans would react. Because surely people can't really believe they live in a world
where these things are true, and yet carry on with their mundane lives regardless?
Above all, though, it's a story about the way the world tries to decide who you are,
with its lead – essentially a gay, ex-reality TV Ralph Dibny - longing to make it as a
school counsellor, rather than being defined by his stretching powers.

● Part of the Wild Cards universe, “Fitting In” tells the story of Robin Ruttiger, a super-
powered person who has tried to fit in, but constantly finds life is throwing him
fastballs. As a failed contestant of the superhero reality TV show American Hero,
Robin has the ability to make his body elastic; stretching or compressing like elastigirl
from Incredibles. Life now finds him as a humble high school guidance counselor,
without many students to guide albeit. Yet when his favourite bakery in Jokertown
becomes the target of vandalism (an elaborate real estate scheme in reality), he finds a
use for coming out and utilising his superpowers to protect his friends. The situation
faced by Robin is not uncommon to those faced by people in society; a person with
great powers (be it increased intellect or physical strength), shunned because they see
no need to “stand out” from the others or have attention drawn to them. We shouldn’t
be marginalising those with greater powers, we should be trying to open our arms to
them and make room for their enhanced abilities.

Invisible Man ( prologue and chapter 1) | Ralph Ellison

● The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a rather eye-opening novel published in 1952,
just prior to the period of Apartheid in America. It addresses many of the social and
intellectual issues facing African-Americans in the 20th century, along with how their
“black nationalism” can often have many different layers. The book tells the story of
one unnamed black man (possibly an attempt by Ellison to appeal to all black men)
and his adventures through life. His living conditions are squalid, his education
sabotaged by white teachers and his job taken away thanks to racism. After being
hospitalized from a boiler explosion (which was caused thanks to his boss), the
narrator is brought in by a kind old lady named Mary Rambo. During his time under
her rent, the narrator accidentally riles up a black crowd at an eviction to attack the
enforcement officers. In subsequent chapters, the narrator joins the “Brotherhood”,
but later finds that they don’t really care so much about the rights of black people.
The book ends with the narrator stating that he is ready to come out of hiding and
return to the world, having told his story to provide a voice for people with similar
plights.

Lorry Raja | Madhuri Vijay

● This short story by Madhuri Vijay talks about how an empowering job can create
even more marginalisation. Yet the person with the job is also marginalised. In the
story the older brother named Siju receives a job as a lorry driver. This makes his
behaviour change significantly, treating his brothers and sisters (even his father) with
disdain and selfishness. He believes he is a king (or Indian “Raja”) among his siblings
because of his newly acquired job, even though he’s “only paid half a regular driver’s
salary”. For a child labourer at the age of 14, this is an event that should never need to
happen. Siju’s siblings and friends should all be at school with him, not working some
dangerous and unsuitable job at a mine.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves | Karen Russell

● An interesting text that reflects the plights of girls in school (and even in everyday
life), Karen Russell writes about a wolf-girl named Claudette who along with her
other wolf-girl friends, attends a reformatory school run by nuns in order to assimilate
them into human culture. The book first explores the “us vs. them” relationship, with
the wolf-girls having been separated from the “purebreds” during birth. Throughout
schooling, there is also the theme of self-esteem and the delicate balance that the girls
wish to maintain. They don’t want to be seen as too perfect or too terrible (much like
many girls at school). The portrayal of gender is also evident here, with the girls being
depicted as emotionally unstable whilst the boys are depicted as calm and collected (a
stereotype commonly applied to schoolgirls). Overall, Karen Russell wrote this story
to send a message about how we shouldn’t marginalised or stereotype girls during
their education so that we completely transform their lifestyle. Instead we should
learn to accept them for who they are and let them choose what girl they wish to be.

The Bicentennial Man | Isaac Asimov

● Ah Isaac Asimov; the man, the writer, the legend himself. Though the World
Scholar’s Cup has a trophy named after him, The Bicentennial Man is quite unlike
any work of his previously included in the syllabus. “The Bicentennial Man” is a
novelette in the “Robot” series by Asimov and was awarded the Hugo and Nebula
awards for “best science-fiction novelette” in 1976. It tells the heartbreaking and
inspiring story of a robot named Andrew Martin. The story begins with Andrew
requesting an operation from a robotic surgeon, but he is initially denied the operation
because it violates the First Law of Robotics (robots may not harm humans). Andrew
however, begins to tell his story of how he is not a human. 200 years earlier, he comes
into the service of a human master; one Gerald Martin (referred to as “sir). While
carving a wooden pendant for Martin’s daughter, Little Miss, Andrew reveals his skill
and creativity (two traits robots were not meant to possess). Over the next 2 centuries,
Andrew begins to become more human; wearing clothes and even inserting a self-
invented digestion system in order to eat. During this time, the family he once served
comes and goes, with Little Miss bearing a son called George (otherwise known as
Little Sir) and George later having a son called Paul. With each human companion,
Andrew fights for the rights of his robot brethren. He then makes the ultimate
decision, having the World Legislature call him a man. In order to do so, he develops
multiple prosthetics and even arranges for the fatal operation he came to do in the first
chapter. His positronic brain will be altered to that, like a human’s, it decays with
time. He lies on his deathbed having accomplished the greatest goal: the president of
the World Legislature signs a document officially calling him “The Bicentennial
Man” as he dies.

● The story is an insight into the world of robots; whose role is becoming increasingly
important in our society. We don’t quite marginalised robots, but perhaps there will
be a time when we consider these machines as subservient to humans (cue android
apocalypse).

The Ugly Duckling | Hans Christian Andersen


● (Caitlin H Dixon): The ugly duckling is a short story by the author Hans Christian
Andersen is a tale many of us grew up hearing. The story is about a swan egg that
ends up in the nest of duck eggs when the swan hatches he is constantly ridiculed by
his “siblings” on his looks and goes searching for his “true” family. Towards the end
of the story, the ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful swan. The moral of the
story is: Don’t judge a book by its cover/ You cannot judge a person by outward
appearance. The other ducks and animals ridicule the ugly duckling for his
appearance, but after he grew up he became a beautiful swan.

The Yellow Wallpaper

● Themes: Insanity-mental health, isolation/stigmatisation of mental health patients,


wrong treatment because of limited understanding, unequal male-female dynamic in
marriages.
● Isolation is not a proper way of treating mental health patients. It causes them to
become even more detached from the world around them, and might cause them to
act out in more violent/harmful ways.
● Taking away mental health patients’ methods of expression/hobbies eg. reading,
writing, painting, etc. can lead their conditions to worsen.
● Stigmatisation of mental health patients or mental health in general can lead to the
isolation of many people. This is worse for them.
● In earlier times, men had more power over women’s lives. This includes power over
their bodily autonomy eg. in The Yellow Wallpaper, John repeatedly exercises his
own power over Jane’s life, health, etc. Instead of paying more attention to what she
says and feels is wrong, he dismisses her concerns and instead moves forward with
his own idea of her health issues. He is also dismissive of the extent of her mental
health issues and refers to them only as temporary nervous disorders/hysteria.
● The story is very similar to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own life. Her doctor
prescribed isolation and forbid her from writing, reading, etc. which led her condition
to worsen.
● Rewatch Crash Course Literature: The Yellow Wallpaper.
● Three kinds of irony in the story:
○ Verbal irony eg, “I am glad my case is not serious.” - her case was VERY
serious at that point.
○ Dramatic irony eg. Jane thinks Jennie can also see what she sees in the
wallpaper.
○ Situational irony eg. John’s course of treatment backfires, and Jane’s condition
worsens.
Prose: Lorry Raja

● Appa’s domestic violence.


● Eve teasing / harassment.
● Child labour leading to a lack of education.
● Marginalisation of poorer families, societies, countries.