I liked Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” lot, mostly because I could picture exactly what the fish looked like. Her imagery is solid. I have some questions about the intentions of this poem though. First, I think this poem is a prime example of the struggle between what is poetry and what is prose. All of the ideas in her poems are broken up with sentence punctuation (commas, periods, etc), but they’re split apart by line breaks into one long stanza. If it weren’t for the way she placed the words on the page, this poem could just as easily be read as prose. And it seems to be describing something mundane and not very elusive as well. That brings me to my second point. Is this poem really just about a fish? And if so, why is this poetic? Why isn’t this just a nicely written essay? What I find so difficult about this poem is its simplicity. It seems so obvious compared to everything else we’ve read all semester, but am I just missing something?
Johnson argues that rhetoric is an indirect way of saying something, but it carries a lot of force. It’s effective in whatever its mission is, but it acts in sneaky ways. I think the analogy of warfare is a clear way of describing what she’s talking about, but as soon as she moves on to talking about apostrophe (only one page in) I get a little confused. She seems to be describing that Baudelaire is saying things in a round about way in his address to Agathe, but it seem to me that Johnson is describing so many ideas so quickly that I’m getting lost. Her use of quotations and examples really illustrate what she’s trying to say, but because this essay is so dense and packed with so much information, it is difficult to stay on track. While her concepts are a little tricky, I think the point she’s making is very powerful – that the way things are written in any situation has tremendous impact on its effectiveness. I really like her argument, using abortion as the example, of the undecidable issues being the most political, and how the arguments surrounding them are quite poetic. Here, she elaborates on her theme of the address. Abortion descriptions become poetic because they are addressing something that may or may not be a person, which illustrates her point of apostrophe. Johnson talks about the struggle between the “you” and “I” in Keats and Rich’s poems and how they blur the line of the addressee. Johnson says, “The word is not made flesh; rather, flesh unmakes the mother-poet’s word”. Johnson’s way of deconstructing language, and explaining it to the reader, is very powerful. She brings about a strong argument about the literary importance of every word.
In WB Yeats’s “The Second Coming”, he starts off with the image of a falcon losing control and falling out of the sky. Anarchy seems to be the theme of the first stanza, with Yeats’ not seeming to have a lot of hope in the world, or maybe just in the changing times. I found the darkness of the poem a little confusing because I wasn’t, and still am not, fully sure what events or ideas he’s relating this poem to. Taking into account that the poem is from the 1920’s, the pessimistic view of the world may be attributed to WWI. If that’s the case, it sort of makes sense that the end of the world is a relevant topic. With that being said, the idea of The Second Coming still throws me off. When I think of The Second Coming, I think of Christ, which I think is what I’m supposed to imagine. Yeats doesn’t describe Christ, though. He instead describes a “beast” which makes the apocalyptic theme seem scarier, and less hopeful of salvation. I struggle with Yeats’s image of the beast – a sphinx I suppose. But why? I may not have enough information on the history/mythology of the sphinx, so maybe that’s what I’m missing. Also, thinking about the title of this week “On Hermeticism, or, Private Visions, Public Voices” I’m having a bit of trouble relating this poem to that theme. I’m still not fully clear on what hermeticism is, but from my understanding it has something to do with occult sciences and alchemy, according to the dictionary. If that’s the case, how does this poem relate? How is the apocalypse relevant?
Here is the poem I will be presenting on tomorrow. It is called “Left”. Enjoy!
Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
—Rudyard Kipling, “A Counting-Out Song,”
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923
The woman with cheerleading legs has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof, four days, three nights, her leaping fingers, helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week- old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty- two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy in the New Orleans Saints folding chair. Eenee Menee Mainee Mo! Three times a day the helicopter flies by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on not being helpless, so she waves a white hand- kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head toward the cameraman and the pilot who remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son, Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue as the Observation Pass. The roof is surrounded by broken-levee water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv- ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous, but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old anniversary of observation begins, again— Eenee Menee Mainee Mo! Catch a— The woman with pom-pom legs waves her uneven homemade sign: Pleas Help &hbsp; Pleas and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e do you know simply by looking at her that it has been left off because she can’t spell (and therefore is not worth saving) or was it because the water was rising so fast there wasn’t time? Eenee Menee Mainee Mo! Catch a— a— The low-flying helicopter does not know the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape, but does not land, and does not drop dictionary, or ladder. Regulations require an e be at the end of any Pleas e before any national response can be taken. Therefore, it takes four days before the national council of observers will consider dropping one bottle of water, or one case of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof where the e has rolled off into the flood, (but obviously not splashed loud enough) where four days later not the mother, not the baby girl, but the determined hanky waver, whom they were both named for, (and after) has now been covered up with a green plastic window awning, pushed over to the side right where the missing e was last seen. My mother said to pick The very best one! What else would you call it, Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind. Anyone you know ever left off or put on an e by mistake? Potato Po tato e In the future observation helicopters will leave the well-observed South and fly in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation. They will arrive over burning San Diego. The fires there will be put out so well. The people there will wait in a civilized manner. And they will receive foie gras and free massage for all their trouble, while there houses don’t flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground. The grandmothers were right about everything. People who outlived bullwhips & Bull Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar- heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by forty feet of churning water, in the summer of 2005, while the richest country in the world played the old observation game, studied the situation: wondered by committee what to do; counted, in private, by long historical division; speculated whether or not some people are surely born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear. My mother said to pick The very best one And you are not it! After all, it was only po’ New Orleans, old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would be left alive to care?
I had a lot of trouble reading Wallace Stevens’ The Emperor of Ice-Cream because none of the ideas seem straight forward, and it is hard to dig through what he is actually trying to say. Upon my first read, I had no idea what he was talking about. The poem seemed purposefully difficult in that Stevens calls up a lot of images, images that seem familiar at first, but then he uses them in way that seem unrelated and irrelevant to what he’s talking about. What is ice cream referring to, anyways? He starts by describing different people in the first stanza: a muscular man, wenches, boys and the emperor. The descriptions are very physical, and all together, they somehow remind me of the people that would be in a circus, a very scraggly bunch. In the second stanza, he shifts to something that feels entirely different from the first – a dresser and bed sheets – a dead woman? Stevens continues to describe the physical descriptions of people and their surroundings – her horny feet and the ornate decorations around her. The stanza ends in the seemingly unrelated idea of the Emperor of Ice Cream. He was mentioned in the first stanza, but who is he? Is he a person? An idea? Stevens talks about the woman being cold and dumb, is the ice cream referencing her? He uses the word emperor, not empress, which makes me think it cannot be her that he’s referring to.
The footnotes in Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bride” give the poem more background information and are more like small essays on the meaning of the poem. If read at the same time as the poem, it becomes difficult to stay on track because the footnotes are so long. If you read the poem once and then go back and use the footnotes to interpret, it becomes a lot easier. The footnotes here seem insightful for interpreting the poem, but the poem could also stand alone without being explained. It almost seems as if the footnotes were meant to dumb down the poem to less keen readers and make it more approachable for the average person. Eliot, on the other hand, uses a bunch of tiny footnotes, sometimes multiples per line, to make references to different works. It makes his poems incredibly difficult to read, because unless you’re familiar with all the works he references, the footnotes are practically useless.HIs footnotes seem pretentious and purposefully exclusive to only a very small group of well read individuals. They only serve to confuse the poem more, and are almost a distraction.
In John Milton’s pastoral elegy Lycidas, he discusses the death of a friend and whom the blame is on. The poem’s flow sounds a little tricky, but it uses iambic pentameter which makes reading it a little easier.. and then it doesn’t. Every so often, Milton drops in a line that breaks from the standard meter. It’s difficult to figure out at what pace the poem should be read and with what flow. There’s no obvious rhyme scheme. For the lines that don’t follow iambic pentameter, I’m not sure if he is doing this to place emphasis on those lines, or just because it sounds better when said aloud. I look at the lines where he breaks from iambic pentameter and don’t see any clear reason as to why he would choose these lines. For example: he says “so may some gentle muse”, “and all their echoes mourn” and “when first the white thorn blows”. This different meter doesn’t seem to mark a particular shifting point in the poem or a line that needs to be emphasized.
Another point that makes this poem a difficult read is the density of allusions. There seems to be a reference to some God or other literary work every few lines. In one stanza alone, he mentions Mona, Deva, Orpheus, and Hebrus. Not being familiar with these names/places, I had to look them up. Including all these allusions makes the poem directed towards a more educated audience, otherwise a lot of these references might fly past you, like they did me.
In reading this week’s poems, the one that stood out the most was Line Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. I have read other poems by William Wordsworth, but this one is exceptional because it is much lengthier and the form is a bit more confusing than the others. The stanzas are very long compared to the other two poems of his we read, 4 consistent lines compared to stanzas of varying length – some up to 50 lines. The changing length and lack of rhyme made it more difficult to read than the previous poems, but it still managed to have a natural speaking flow to it. He uses iambic pentameter which makes it a more rhythmic read. While it does flow well, it is a little hard to stay on track with the different ideas he’s talking about in each stanza because they are so long. It feels less like a poem and more like an essay. He uses enjambment which ushers the following line in smoothly. Using enjambment also brings more focus to the word that the line ends on. At first glance, none of the end words seemed that important, but going back, I see that a lot of the words he ends on have to do with emotion or nature – big themes of romantic poetry. He ends on words like “mountain-springs”, “cliffs”, “sky”, “heart”, “mind”, and “mood”. These words evoke the both the visuals of nature and the reminiscent feelings of Wordsworth.
Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love sounds like a bouncy love poem at first read, but upon digging deeper, I think the author may have had slightly different intentions. It seems that Marlowe is trying to entice a girl to run away with him, which is probably not proper courtship, and he is making expansive promises to her that he likely cannot keep.
Like this stanza for instance:
A gown made of the finest wool / Which from our pretty lambs we pull, / Fair lined slippers for the cold, / With buckles of the purest gold.
So, out in the country he’ll have the finest wool and he, himself will be able to make a beautiful gown? And he also has gold to give her, upon her agreeing to come?
Marlowe’s use of rhyme gives the poem a very lighthearted and flowing sound, maybe to take away from the fact that he’s trying to improperly snag a woman. He uses enjambment which places an emphasis on the end words – words which further make me believe that this poem is a little more scandalous. Some of the words he ends his lines on are “prove”, “pull”, “studs”, “move”,”meat”, “me”. That may be a stretch, but I think Marlowe is ending on these words for a reason, and that reason being to clue in the reader about his motives. Marlowe does a very good job at disguises his intentions and dropping clues if you know where to look.
Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues reads at first glance as a villanelle, but as the poem progresses, I see that it doesn’t follow the traditional structure. The first stanza makes the reader think that the last line will be repeated, as expected in villanelle. The second stanza does not repeat the same way though. This is what confused me when reading. Is there a type of form that this poem follows, or is it just loosely playing off the villanelle? The middle stanzas follow the traditional structure with “O blues” and “Sweet blues” serving as the repetitive lines, but then the first line in the stanza does not rhyme with the last. There is rhyme throughout starting with an AAB scheme. The poem may be organized like this in the beginning to give the reader a sing song-y type feeling because the Hughes’ wants to poem to read in a musical way to imitate the idea of blue music. The insertion of the song lyrics towards the end of the poem halts the poem a bit with the “thump, thump, thump” but this serves to shift the readers focus to better read the following lines from a different speaker and with a different rhyme scheme. The poem wraps up with the words “bed” and “dead” in a nursery rhyme type way which sounds to the ear like a logical closing point for the poem, but also gives the poem more meaning because its is even mentioning going to bed/being dead as the end to a day or a life. Hughes’ form was very appropriate for this poem, but also makes more difficult to read.