Form and its Link to Meaning in Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room”

I have been thinking a lot about form and its link to meaning recently especially because it is potentially one of the main focuses of my final argumentative paper.  As I was reading Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room,” I noticed that the poem is written in free verse with no set rhyme scheme or meter and as a result, the stanzas are not of equal length.  In fact, the stanzas tend to have fewer and fewer lines as the poem progresses.

I struggled with this because the shorter stanzas are where Elizabeth asks all of her questions, and I hoped that she would provide some explanation to resolve her questions.  Her first question appears in the middle of the second stanza (which is 21 lines and follows the 53 lines that make up the first stanza) “Why should you be one, too?”  She never really answers this and proceeds to ask many more questions in the third stanza.  When she has finally finished asking everything, we arrive at the brief fourth and fifth stanzas of four lines and six lines respectively, which do nothing to address any of the questions she asks.

I wonder if the transitions to new shorter stanzas represent her inability to answer the questions that she is asking.  For example, the third stanza ends with, “…How had I come to be here, like them, and overhear a cry of pain that could have got loud and worse but hadn’t?” and then she moves back to the topic of the waiting room as the fourth stanza begins, “The waiting room was bright and too hot…”  Abruptly moving from her thoughts to observations of the waiting room could suggest that she just doesn’t know the answers.

Apostrophe or Reader Interpretation? The Abortion or the Experience?

When Barbara Johnson talks about how apostrophe is used to give character or voice to inanimate objects, I interpreted it as purely from an authorial intent perspective. The character that is created from apostrophe seems to exist only because the author has associated the inanimate object with an animate one. I think that while she is correct in seeing the use of apostrophe as a tool, she fails to point out that while it is the author who solely controls how the object becomes animated, what the author intends may not be what the reader interprets. For example, addressing the wind as “O wild West Wind” holds much more reverence than perhaps addressing it as “old friend,” yet you could make a convincing argument that both forms contain respect.

I am a bit confused on the relationship between the name Agatha and “agate”, which is a precious stone. I believe that Johnson was describing how there is a relationship that is created between a being and an object when the being is described, somehow given a voice to the inanimate object indirectly. My question is that this relationship, if true, seems shaky at best because it relies so heavily on the reader making that connection.

Johnson also claims, in her discussion on the writing of abortion, that women use more infanticidal language as opposed to a man’s “procreative” views. I find myself lost in this distinction because it seems that Johnson is claiming that female writers are therefore more apt at writing about abortion simply because they have the physical capacity to experience one.


The “Dry” Nature of Rhetoric in Johnson’s “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion”

The most difficult part of this week’s reading for me was the length of Barbara Johnson’s essay “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion.”  I always flip through each poem or essay that is assigned so I can get a sense of how the material will progress as I actually read through it.  Flipping through this essay was intimidating because it is long and the words are small.  In addition to its length, I do not particularly find rhetoric to be an interesting topic to read about, and I struggled to get into the flow of reading the passage.  Clearly though, Barbara Johnson can also relate to this and knows that this could be a problem for readers as she refers to rhetoric as being “dry” and “apolitical” in the second sentence.

The essay also neglected to keep my attention (I took a break before finishing reading) because it is very difficult to follow an analysis of a poem that I have not read.  For example, the first poem that Johnson discusses is Baudelaire’s poem “Moesta et Errabunda”, which I have not read nor heard about.  She uses specific examples and quotes the poem to discuss Baudelaire’s use of apostrophe, but I think I would definitely be more interested in reading her discussion if I had already read the poem, taken a stab at it, and then read her analysis regarding apostrophe for further understanding.  I saw my attention and interest increase with the next poem she discussed, Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”, which we have discussed in class.  I was much more interested in what she had to say at this point because I knew what the poem was about.

To address this difficulty, it would be beneficial to look up the poems that she discusses in the essay before hand and then proceed to read it.

Shades of Green: Envy and Enmity in the American Cultural Imaginary

Images of the stud and the buck have an amorously crafted resonance

burnished by cultural anxieties, an addict’s logic toward the

habit they place in the mind and the mysteries we lay at their feet. This

course will begin by focusing on models represented in the 1994

Charles Russell film, The Mask, and Ang Lee’s 2003 The Hulk. The

mojo and the genetic regression, the hyper-sexuality and the rage:

these qualities are thrust and airbrushed onto the bacchic body of

the Other, as we fantasize our repression of them in ourselves, the

unquiet threat of psychosomatic greening; a silk garrote, an onanistic

envy of the Other’s capacity for release; a monumental iconography of

the hermetical black box of the brain. While we might be tempted to

reduce these types to the pat dichotomy of comedy and tragedy, this

course will examine the ways in which there is but one mask, a Janus-

faced cleavage of thou art and thus am I, our goat-sung desires adrift

in the wilderness, our telltale passions pulsing beneath the tulips and

gladiolas in a mildewed hatbox (the act of masking triumphal and

deadly), trembling the bulb on its stem.

Left by Nikky Finney

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?

Dickinson 340: Following the Train of Thought

Dickinson seems to particularly like expanding on either a symbol or a metaphor that each poem revolves around. Most of these short poems have relatively straightforward ideas; for example, in 314, Dickinson uses the bird as a physical manifestation of “hope”.

In 340, Dickinson focuses on “a Funeral” as a metaphor, but the meaning is not quite clear. The first question I asked myself was, why was there a funeral inside the speaker’s Brain? There were a couple distinct possibilities. The Funeral could be a reality and the speaker really is mourning the loss of some other person, or, the Funeral could be for the speaker herself, which would suggest a more psychological struggle.

Perhaps understanding what the speaker is describing at the funeral, through a close reading, can provide some hints to the theme. Dickinson describes “Mourners” (2) moving back and forth. Such a description hints at insanity – a ceaseless repetition of grief. But we are left with a hopeful outlook it seems at the end of the stanza: “Sense was breaking through” (4). The “Sense” is capitalized, suggesting that “Sense” is a force out of the speaker’s control.

There is a striking difference between the physical and the psychological in this poem. At some points, the speaker refers to her “Brain” but at other times, her “mind”. The difference between the Brain and the Mind is that one is the physical structure whereas the other is the functionality of the object. I find that the rest of the poem came much more easily after I applied a close reading of the poem. Dickinson likes to make connections between different subject; I attempted to follow that train of thought and interpret what I could.

The main difficulty, then, lies in understanding the connection between the metaphor and the subject and then what she does with the metaphor, a problem that could be solved with close reading.

More Footnotes than Poem…A Cop Out?

I am once again very conflicted about the inclusion of the footnotes for this week’s reading of “The Bridge.” Quite obviously, there is more content—and sheer word count—in the footnotes than the actual poem itself. I found this to be quite interesting; it seemed that Hart Crane used the footnotes to describe what was actually happening in each line. While there are allusions mentioned in the footnotes, for the most part they seem to provide an analysis of the lines themselves, as if they were written by some highbrow academic. This is where the conflict lay for me.I thought the footnotes were helpful to understand what was actually happening (for example, in “The Brooklyn Bridge,” the line “A jest falls from the speechless caravan” (20) is noted as referring to a bedlamite’s suicide. No where in that line, nor in the context of the line, is a reference to death or suicide, and the meaning would have been completely lost. However, because Crane uses such heavy footnotes, it seems as if his writing of the actual lines of the poem itself are overly “poetic” and vague. When I read it, it seemed that Crane was basically saying “here’s my poem, I know the average reader wont be able to understand it fully so I will just provide this academic analysis for you.” So, in that sense, I thought the footnotes were a bit too much. However, I did also like that the footnotes were actually written in very descriptive language; they were not prosaic and straightforward, but indeed had very image-rich descriptions that made imagining the scene Crane was painting to be easier. I found that reading through the poem, and then rereading it with the footnotes was the most helpful way to do it. For me, it was best to see what I could grasp from an initial reading (which was not much) and then to go back over it with the footnotes to better fill in the details that I missed.

To Brooklyn Bridge: A Balance Between Footnotes and Self Interpretation

The most difficult part of the poem involved deciphering what Crane means. Several examples come to mind: “inviolate curve” (5), “panoramic sleights” (9), “speechless caravan” (20), “harp and alter” (29). In some of these cases, the footnotes provide a possible interpretation, such as “speechless caravan” representing the heavy traffic or the “harp and alter” representing the lines and superstructure of a bridge.

The way I figured out “panoramic sleights”, and subsequently all other confusing terms, was using a combination of context and metaphorical thinking. The stanza talk about cinemas, so I assumed that the panoramic refers to the abundance of lights that would typically engulf an urban movie theater. “Sleight” may refer to the actual movie, describing it as deceptive or a form of trickery.

It is worthwhile to comment on the footnotes in this case because the poem is so heavily annotated. In most cases, the annotations helped clarify what Crane meant. For example, it would be difficult to decipher “Down Wall” into “Wall Street”. On the other hand, understanding the reference to the Old Testament, which is discussed in footnote 10, might hold little meaning if the complete significance of the story is unclear.

It is also interesting to note that many of the footnotes are questionable in the objectivity. For example, in footnote 11, the bridge’s engineering is described as triumphant. The line “O harp and altar, of the fury fused” could simply refer to the sturdiness or quality of workmanship of the structure rather than a direct reference to the tension lines of the bridge. This illustrates what I believe to be a common problem with excessive footnotes: the incorporation of emotion into an analysis where it is not warranted.

“The Waste Land:” Seemingly Disconnected Thoughts Connected by Allusions?

The biggest difficulty in reading “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot was its extremely disconnected nature. The poem is made up of five different “stanzas,” which really seem to be completely different ideas from each other. And within these stanzas, the speaker (unsure if there is one or multiple speakers here) seems to jump from idea to idea without much notice. For example, the first section “The Burial of the Dead” opens with a denunciation of spring as a dismal time of year. It then shifts to a recollection of someone named Marie, only to as quickly jump to a bit about “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante” (43). This seemingly disconnected stream of ideas continues throughout; in other words, it is difficult to stay grounded while reading the poem because there is no clear narrative or idea that Eliot touches on, but rather a plethora of stream of conscious type thoughts.

This week, we are focusing on the importance of footnotes, and I found this definitely to be true while reading this poem. Eliot uses an abundance of allusions that I would never pick up had it not been for the footnotes that he himself (as well as Norton) included. This made the reading a bit easier to go through. With the footnotes, I could at least understand what exactly Eliot was referring to with these disconnected thoughts. Granted, this did not necessarily help me understand the poem’s meaning as a whole, but with an understanding of what the speaker was referring to, it made the “thoughts” a little less random. Still an immensely difficult poem though.

As a God or as a Man: Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H

There are several difficulties within In Memoriam A.H.H that make some parts difficult to understand.

While the language is not necessarily archaic, a close reading is needed to decipher exactly what he means. When doing such close reading, it is helpful to note that this entire series of poems is a elegy. Therefore, it would seem that the poetry would, to an extent, lionize the character of Arthur Henry Hallam. However, in certain cases, we see that Tennyson moves away from lauding A.H.H and turns to describing the personal experience of losing a close friend. The resulting poetry portrays less A.H.H as a promising genius and more as a personal friend. Is Tennyson, perhaps in a subtle way, bringing to light the fact that we should see A.H.H more as a person rather than a literary genius?

It is worthwhile to discuss Tennyson’s use of metaphors.

In the very first poem, Tennyson writes “sweeter to be drunk with loss…Than that the victor Hours should scorn The long result of love”. I interpreted “drunk with loss” as losing many associates and “The long result of love” as a single person. Tennyson may be saying that it is better to lose many than to lose one close friend.

There seems to be two effects of the rhyme scheme ‘abba’.

There is a certain disjointedness between the first line and the last line of each stanza. The reader may have forgotten the rhyming sound of the first line by the time he finishes the stanza. The effect of distance confuses me when I read the poems out loud. This rhyme scheme may be implemented to convey the lost train of thought that commonly occurs under the effects of grief.

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