Hourglasses

I found an interesting metaphor in “Sublimaze” that enhances the reader’s sense of urgency in the poem, or as Schnackenberg writes in “Archimedes Lullaby,” “this dire need to know.” In the fifth stanza of “Sublimaze,” Schnackenberg compares the hospital room to an hourglass, “The wall was tilting in a wall of sand”–I read the “tilting” room, as the turning of an hourglass,  the innumerable grains of sand tumbling through the tiny opening, counting the seconds, an image reminiscent of Archimedes in the first section. As the hourglass turns and time runs out, “The Heavenly Questions raving on the wall / Were half dissolved, were mere graffiti now,” This image of the Heavenly Questions fading into profane graffiti as time ticks away suggests anxiety on the speaker’s part–if she can answer the Heavenly Questions, her husband will be saved. She seeks “The house where no beloved ever died, / And when you find it I’ll restore his life–” As the time her husband has left slips away, so do the Heavenly Questions, left unsolved on the wall, the only ticket to his salvation.

Soldier Scholar?

Schnackenberg makes an unexpected connection in “Archimedes Lullaby”–the Roman soldier who works at a diagram, “A Roman soldier raises over head/Mid-thought, mid-diagram, even before/He finishes the drawing at his feet.” I assume the soldier’s diagram is the same as Archimedes who, “need[s] to see a diagram unfold/This need to see a diagram achieve/ Self-organizing equilibrium.” Archimedes’ obsession with the diagram and engagement in the Syphean task of counting the sand suggest a desire to organize the universe; to use math and science to answer the unanswerable, Heavenly Questions. Does the Roman soldier attempt to organize the world through violence, like the empire collecting territories like knowledge, and why has the soldier, “forgotton what he meant to say?” What would he say if he remembered?

 

Archimedes Lullaby

“Archimedes Lullaby” is a difficult poem for me because it’s so abstract. Another reason was its numerous significant allusions, many of which went over my head.  I’m going to offer a brief index explaining some of the references in this poem–it will help me and maybe it will help you.

Archimedes: “a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer.” (Wikipedia)

Planetarium: “a theatre built primarily for presenting educational and entertaining shows about astronomy and the night sky, or for training in celestial navigation” (Wikipedia)

Hiero: “was the Greek Sicilian Tyrant of Syracuse from 270 to 215 BC, and the illegitimate son of a Syracusan noble, Hierocles, who claimed descent from Gelon. He was a former general of Pyrrhus of Epirus and an important figure of the First Punic War.” (Wikipedia)  I think Schnackenberg references Hiero the second rather than the first because Archimedes is referenced in his wikipedia page.

Diadem:  “a type of crown, specifically an ornamental headband worn by monarchs and others as a badge of royalty.” (Wikipedia)

Marcellus: “five times elected as consul of the Roman Republic, was an important Roman military leader during the Gallic War of 225 BC and the Second Punic War. Marcellus gained the most prestigious award a Roman general could earn, the spolia opima, for killing the Gallic military leader and king Viridomarus in hand-to-hand combat” (Wikipedia)

1.618: “In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.” (Wikipedia)

Ratio divine: ^^^^

Syracuse: “a historic city on the island of Sicily, the capital of the Italian province of Syracuse. The city is notable for its rich Greek historycultureamphitheatresarchitecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineerArchimedes.” (Wikipedia)

 

It’s all interesting stuff. This collection reminded me of the Greek poet, C. P. Cavafy. His writing is rich with mythological allusion–though of a Greek origin. It can get tedious looking up all the allusions in works like this but it’s worth doing.

Turtles

After all this discussion of snakes, I figured I would offer some first impressions on the first four lines of “Buying the Painted Turtle:”

Two boys, not quite men, pretended to let it go

only to catch it again and again. And the turtle,

equally determined, each time gave

its heart to escape them. We were near

like “Natural History Exhibits,” this poem seems to draw from Emerson’s personal experience. The subject, ostensibly about boys tormenting a turtle reminds me of another shitty thing men do: play games with women. When I read these lines, replacing the pronoun “it” word “turtle” with her, I see a picture of a toxic relationship—a boy pretending to break up with a girl, just to pull her back, “catch it again and again.” I also read a woman who recognizes a bad relationship and is “determined…to escape” but cannot due to the psychological control exerted by a toxic person. On the surface, this is a poem about saving a turtle, but just below lies the theme of control—the speaker recognizes the control the boys exert over the turtle and perhaps seeing a parallel to human relationships convinces her partner to pay for it’s release. The ambiguous ending betrays an ominous tone, “We did not talk about what we had bought—/ an hour, and afternoon, a later death, /worth whatever we had to give for it.” (21-23). The speaker recognizes that like a turtle in a dangerous environment has a high potential for harm, the victim of a toxic person has the potential to fall into the same dangerous behaviors. The speaker however acknowledges this risk and says the respite was “worth whatever we had to give for it.”

I like this poem—I think there’s more to it, especially with diction like “bargaining” and “trophy,” that would be interesting to look at. The way the speaker compares her and her partner to “gods” is also intriguing. Maybe something to discuss in class on Tuesday.

Emerson and Enjambment

Something Dr.  emphasized with regards to Emerson is paying attention to the line. Doing this gives the reader multiple readings, the line itself and the line in context. A line I found found interesting when I re-read “Natural History Exhibits” today, was line 4, “women who would kill any snake, never.” The stanza, on the literal level, is about the speaker growing up with women who kill snakes with blunt intruments. When we discussed this in class, I had an image of women killing snakes with hoes, shovels, broomhandles, and firewood, despite what the men said about the snakes–all very badass. The line itself however, offers doubt due to the enjambment, which ends the line with the adverb, “never” to begin the next clause about killing the snakes without listening to the men in the following line: “Mind what the said about moles and mice,” (5). Overall this enjambment contributes the women’s depth of character–they would kill snakes indiscriminately yet the adverb “never” suggests that they wouldn’t under any circumstances, kill a snake. This changed my idea of the women entirely–they have grown from the confident snake killers to something more–discriminate–perhaps timid. This comes out especially in the next line where they do “mind what the men said.” This aspect–listening to the men, like “never” makes me think that the women aren’t as bullet proof as I thought before, it’s a lot more complex. Like most people, the women in this poem aren’t confident all the time. They don’t always kill snakes, or ignore men, sometimes they leave snakes alone and listen to men.

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

The final two lines of the second section,

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws                                                                        Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

are a testament to the speaker’s self worth; the speaker doesn’t feel good about himself, we can see this in the conversations he has with people in his head,  “‘How his hair is growing thin!…But how his arms and legs are thin'” (41-44). Prufrock is self concious and worries that others judge his appearance. Instead of growing to face the world, Prufrock shrinks from it and longs for the quiet anynomity of a lobster, hidden beneath the waves.

Do I dare

Like , one of my favorite parts of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the enjambment of “Do I dare” in the first section. The enjambment allows the reader and Prufrock room to wonder at the ominous repercussions of the daring–what could happen, and what is the action? The next line reads “Disturb the universe?” Disturbing the universe could mean any number of things–it could be a sneeze and it could be a mass murder–we don’t really know. What does carry over is a tone of doubt and dread. The speaker is bound by his fear of taking any action at all–for fear that it will disturb the universe. As I read it, the speaker is afraid to stake his claim, his worth as a human being in the world.

“Both nuns and mothers worship images”

The starting line of stanza VII of “Among School Children:”                                “Both nuns and mothers worship images” is intriguing to me in the context of the stanza that came before, which asks “What youthful mother…Would think her son…With sixty or more winters on its head / a compensation for the pang of his birth” or would a mother, seeing her aged son, find the results of a labor worth the pain? The next stanza then begins with nuns and mothers worshiping images. In the Christian faith, worshiping images is called idoltry and inherently sinful. Like the stanza before suggests, mothers may not find their “sixty-year-old smiling public man” adequate compensation for their labor. Instead, they dream of an ideal–Dr. C said something about the son who lives to be 104 and wins the Nobel prize–unfortunately, most of us don’t do that and if we did, it wouldn’t be very prestigious. Does that mean my mom won’t love me if I die a 70 year old line cook? Heck no! That’s where the act of worshiping images comes in. The speaker suggests that mothers, like nuns, become idolatrous and sinful when they seek an image, a substitute of reality, for their child, because it ultimatly proves false–unable to match God’s true form or intention for their creation. 

The rest of the stanza continues in that vein; the speaker tells us that the image(s) the candle lights (the idol) and “mother’s reveries” (sex) are different–that the pleasure the mother feels during conception won’t become her perfect idea of her child. It’s compared to worship of a false idol; doomed to the disapointment of a replacement for the divine–changing the candles of love making into the light that “keeps a marble of a bronze repose” or a tomb. Of course, it’s a lot more complex than that, and my brief summary doesn’t do a stanza as rich as that justice. It does seem awfully depressing–and I don’t really buy it. Maybe Yeats really does think mothers will regret the pain of their labor after their kid lives to be a regular, sixty year old dude (though Yeats was not). Maybe my mom would be bummed if I don’t win a Nobel prize for my badass, super insightful blog posts, but I doubt it.  The reality is that this stanza and the poem as whole tackles a lot of big themes and suggests many contradictions that I don’t grasp yet, but am intrigued by.

 

 

 

“Leda and the Swan”

My first experience with a poem by W.B. Yeats was reading “Leda in the Swan” in highchool. I was struck by the pysical intensity of the language–the strong verbs, “blow, beating, staggering, carressed, push” married with the image of the swan’s “dark webs and feathered glory.” The language is concise and brutal–it describes the rape of Leda by Zeus, disguised as a swan. Leda then gives birth to Helen of Troy. Rather than saying that, Yeats describes the results of her birth instead:

“A shudder in the loins engenders there                                                                             The broken wall, the burning roof and tower                                                                   And Agamemnon dead.”

This is an alusion to the Trojan War that began when Helen leaves her husband, Menelaus for Paris after being shot with a love by Cupid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_War). In a nutshell, this poem is about divine intervention, that is, how Zeus manipulated humanity in a way that (un)intentionally led to the Trojan war.  One of the main questions this poem poses, along with questions related to consent, is whether Leda gained divine knowledge or power from Zeus after the rape,                                                                      “Did she put on his knowledge with his power                                                         Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?”

There are some heavy themes at play in this poem and something that first stood out to me when I read Yeats’ “Among School Children,” a poem published in The Tower, the same volume that “Leda and the Swan” was how it includes elements of the Greek myth as well. The speaker “dream[s] of a Ledaen body, bent” (9) and describes himself as “a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.” (32). First of all, what does the story of Leda and the Swan have to do with school children? Second of all, why does the speaker describe himself as a scarecrow? The obvious answer is to scare away the Swan to prevent Leda’s rape–this led me to wonder why would the speaker want to do that in the context of the poem–the rape in this poem is symbolic rather than literal, so does it symbolize?  Like I stated earlier, one of the big themes in “Leda and the Swan” was whether Leda gained divine knowledge or power from Zeus during the assault. If for the sake of argument, Leda did aquire divine knowledge and power, then the speaker in “Among School Children,” adopts the role of scarecrow to prevent the transfer of divine knowledge from Zeus (a swan) to Leda by preventing its vehicle, rape.

But why, why, WHY would the speaker want to do that? What’s wrong with divine knowledge? Perhaps it is because the assault “changed some childish day to tragedy” (12)–as I read it, it robbed Leda of innocence not only because her consent was stolen from her, but also because of the knowledge she gained. In the same way, children lose their innocence as they learn about the world they ended up in–perhaps that’s what the speaker/scarecrow means to protect, children’s innocence from Zeus. Does any of this even make sense? I think I’m confusing myself and maaaayb making connections that aren’t there? OR I’m being super insightful. Let me know in the comment section below. Also listen to this reading of “Leda and the Swan” it’s gnarly.

“where the Children strove”

Two lines in Dickenson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” that interest me are lines nine and ten:

“We passed the School, where Children strove                                                                  At Recess–in the Ring–”

The word that stands out the most to me in these two lines is “strove,” ot describe children at play. Google defines “strive” as “make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.” or, “struggle or fight vigorously.” This verb, strive, is interesting because it doesn’t suggest joy or fun, words we would typically use with recess–the idea behind recess is to have a respite from “striving.” With this poem’s subject matter, mortality, this verb suggests the progression of life. Here’s how: children begin their lives with little or no responsibility, they play, socialize, and learn. The idea of “striving” isn’t introduced until later in life, some parents emphasize the importance of working towards goals to become sucessful; they ingrain the idea that past a certain age, we are on this planet to strive–we go to college to learn, and (ideally) find a decent job–altrenativly, we go right to work and have to strive, “struggle or fight vigorously” to survive–this is a value commen to American society, work hard and you can achieve the “American Dream.” This of course depends on circumstsance and privelage. 

All of this is to say that children “striving” suggests they have reached an age where the sheen of innocence is stripped away. Soon, they will be adults who will then work until they die. The speaker passes the Children–this reminds that one day, those children to will be courted by Death, lead to the “Swelling of the Ground.”