A Perfect World…. and all of it ours

This weeks readings, while having different ways of expressing this, all centered around the theme of expansion of an empire. We get different depictions of how this affects the people of this colonization and assimilation of people to an empire or large country, and typically when discussing the repercussions of acquiring a country through war or purchase instructors tend to gloss over all the turmoil and gory details that exist in these land-holdings. Song of the Red Indian by Eliza Cook gives the reader an introspective look on how these people would feel having their homes taken away from them by force. We don’t think about those we hurt to get to the top when it doesn’t affect us. “The eagle has its place of rest, / The wild horse where to dwell; / And the Spirit who gave the bird its nest, / Made me a home as well,” these lines show that bereft feeling that is cast upon a culture after their home no longer belongs to them, and they are being pushed off of land that they have been living on for years. Cook continues to allude to the idea of expansion as something bad by insinuating that this expansion is a disease, “We need no book to tell us how / Our lives shall pass away; / For we see the onward torrent flow, / And the mighty tree decay” trees are meant to be the bearers of wisdom as they have been around and experienced more life than other beings, so the decaying of a tree is almost like removing the parts of history in which they reside while also removing the culture that they have built. We can also see from the poem The White Man’s Burden by Rudyard Kipling that need for assimilation or exile, because these savage individuals must become culturally acceptable if they wish to live within the new society, and it is up to the white man to ensure that exactly this happens…. White is of course the most pure of colors, so if we can make them all seem white then they are on their way to living an acceptable life.

Expansion is a large part of these readings, but we also have the idea of progress and the age of Steam rising from these works as well. Tennyson specifically deals with these ideas of the new age of productivity ripping away the mystical in the poem Locksley Hall. At the beginning of this poem we almost see this dream-scape being created for us, albeit with a depressing atmosphere that seems to suck all the energy out of the world. We almost see this bidding of goodnight as the poem opens, or at least a separation from the world when the narrator asks for the bugle to be blown when they have need of him, sort of like he wishes to be alone with his thoughts or to sleep a little longer before awakening to the reality of the war around him. Locksley Hall, the place, seems to be a place that has almost taken on the representation of the old world before the onset of change, we can even take this a step farther with the call of the curlew (a call of the dead entering the realm of Dreaming) and believe that the narrator is being visited by spirits and beings of the Underworld. “Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest, / Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West. / Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade, / Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid,” Orion is the hunter who hunts the Pleiads, and they are constantly being chased, thus they are in constant motion which reflects the world and it’s motion as well especially as the people seem to be rushing towards something that they are never going to achieve…. The perfect world.

Keep Moving Forward…

In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson is perhaps one of the most interesting pieces we have read in this class, and definitely a new favorite of mine (I even went as far as to purchase a copy from Kindle for cheap so I can keep it with me). Reading or writing poetry is a most cathartic experience, in my opinion, and as someone who has had 6 close people pass away within the last 2 years… I can understand why this would become such a popular piece of literature, and have been a very helpful tool for dealing with grief. 

In this second part of the narrative, we see that Tennyson is detailing how his life is progressing after this devastating loss of Arthur Hallam. As with real grief, there are moments when the sections are hopeful, perhaps even a little uplifting, and sections that encompass all of the depression that must have been bottled up inside Tennyson. This second part, however, seems to be twinged with sadness, but overall a journal of how he is learning to live again despite the fact that he still really misses his friend. “…knowing Death has made / His darkness beautiful with thee” (1391-2) shows that there has been some progress with this distraught man, while he is still resentful of the fact that Hallam is gone it almost seems that he is trying to force himself to accept this. We even see the closing to this circle of sadness at the Epliogue where Tennyson details just how happy of a situation his sister Ceclia’s wedding is, and while giving tidbits about Hallam, we see that Tennyson has grown able to enjoy the happiness around himself, “ Nor have I felt so much of bliss / Since first he told me that he loved / A daughter of our house;” (2757-9). 

Reading through this piece has helped me to get a better grasp on grief, and perhaps understand not only my own battles with grief, but what my younger brother has also been going through for the last year. The night of Thanksgiving in November of 2015, my brother lost his best friend in an automobile accident. They were as close as siblings, and lines 217-220, “My Arthur, whom I shall not see / Till all my widow’d race be run; / Dear as the mother to the son, / More than my brothers are to me.” Is something that really reflects their friendship. Everything in In Memoriam has seemed like some sentiment that my brother has expressed over the last year and a half. Less than a month ago we lost my aunt to cancer, a mere 6 days after her granddaughter had been born (my cousin’s first child). He is currently experiencing a grief that could perhaps rival that of Tennyson. Having finished this piece, I think that I may refer both of them to this beautiful depiction of the processing of grief. 

“For I Am Missing You…”

In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson is a wonderful piece full of despair for his friend whom he loved like a brother, and this hopeful tone that offers the reader some solace from the unfortunate situation of a death. Such imagery that suggests this sort of praising to God and allowing his love to make a person feel better, there is definitely an argument in the early stanzas/ the prologue, “thy foot / Is on the skull. Which thou hast made.” (67-8) but there are just as many places where Tennyson seems to be almost showing a hatefulness to God and bitterness to how swiftly a person’s life can end, almost as if God should be benevolent. I remember once writing a paper for an American History class on whether God is benevolent or omnipotent, based on the idea of the genocide of the Jewish community. The idea was that is God aware of these terrible things and letting them happen or is he unaware and only has time to focus on so many things at one time, because if he knowingly allows these atrocities to occur he can not be seen as benevolent, but if he fixes all the terrible things in the world then he cannot be seen as omnipotent for he would then allow terrible things to happen . 
Tennyson seems almost to be chastising these people who believe that their loved ones will always make it home, and if not chastising then he is definitely writing in cynicism. He writes about how a father can send his son to his death, how a mother can think that her prayers may have any effect on saving her son, and a girl whose only worry is for how she will appear to her beloved. The image of the naive girl is carried a little farther than that of the mother or father however, “O somewhere, meek unconscious dove, / That sittest ranging golden hair; / And glad to find thyself so fair, / Poor child, that waitest for thy love!” (145-8) and then gives her even further vanity by making her set the hair again with trappings that no one would care about save she and other silly women. In this same chapter we see that there is also the image of a mirror, something that is to be used to see into the soul, and it appears that this girl’s soul is too wrapped up in her vanity to worry about whether the man she waits for is even alive. 
We see a lot of references to boats and the sea, especially as Arthur Hallam’s remains were being brought from Italy on a boat. Tennyson likens the sails of this boat to a shroud of death, but also to wings, “Spread thy full wings,” (204) almost as if the boat were a bird or perhaps the angel of death ferrying the man home. The imagery of the boat also evokes the idea of Charon (Death) and his boat that moves along the River Styx, ferrying those who have died to their final resting place in the Underworld where they shall either be granted eternal happiness in Elysium or eternal pain in Tartus. Coupled with this image of Charon/ Death we also see a reference to the god Pan and his pan flute that was made out of a reeds so that he could always feel that closeness to his love, “since the grasses round me wave, / I take the grasses of the grave, / And make them pipes whereon to blow.” (438-40). There is a decided murkiness to whether he believes in God or gods, or if this is just imagery that he is accustomed to seeing and has introduced this into the narrative.

All is one and One is all

God is everywhere. This is a common phrase to hear when talking to anyone about this all powerful deity known as God. This week’s selections dealt with the being known as God, specifically his influence in Nature, and how he apparently leaves a part of himself within all things he creates. 

Emily Bronte’s No coward soul is mine, speaks directly to the idea that God dwells within everyone and everything. “O God within my breast / Almighty ever-present Deity,” (5-6) these lines show that she believes in an internalized God, one who has left a connection open between him and herself. This piece also seems to evoke the images of a battle cry, one that yells out for others to be saved from themselves and made to feel a divine connection. This crying out for having a deep connection with God is also seen in many others of the selections this week by Gerard M Hopkins. Each one of his poems seems to deal with the idea of a God who has left his mark upon everything in the world, and is also within everything. As kingfishers catch fire is a perfect example of this sort of internalized deity that appears within every living thing, “Christ play in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces”(12-14). All is one. One is all. Something strange is that the idea of having God within Earthly beings is almost not a Christian belief at all. This idea stems from an almost pantheistic, Pagan, outlook on the world. Everything carries with it a signature of the gods, and is influenced by an outside force of diestic proportions. These poems then take on an interesting additional meaning that they are almost a deeper understand of this being/ beings known as God, or maybe just the idea of playing around with what it means to worship a God in the time of so much scientific advancement in the world. Pied Beauty, also by Gerard M Hopkins, expresses this need to see everything as a simplistic example of the reality of a God, “He father-forth whose beauty is past change / Praise him”(9-10). 

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

As children we are taught the phrase, “actions speak louder than words,” occasionally this is applied to how we treat others when making a promise to treat someone with respect, but the more often connotation of this phrase is applied to expressing love through actions instead of showering your love with gifts or meaningless, nonsensical words. Passion. This can not be bought in a store. Sometimes, however, such passion has the ability to warp into something vile and deformed, and from there obsession is formed.

This week, our poems all reflected that sort of warped affection for another human being, and how it is resolved in different ways. One poem in particular highlights the diseased mind once it has been corrupted with a diseased type of love, Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”. The immediate setting of the poem is dark and dreary, but light enters the home as the lady, assumed to be Porphyria, enters the narrative. Passion quickly perverts the mind of this man and he decides to strangle the woman with her own hair in an effort to keep the beauty with him forever, “That moment she was mine, mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good: I found / A thing to do, and all her hair / In one long yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around, / And strangled her.” (36-41). There is something morbidly enthralling about the way that Browning describes this dead woman as still bearing a smile and a bright face after the man has untwisted the hair about her neck. This particular poem sparked a memory in my mind of a song by alternative rock band Avenged Sevenfold called “Little Piece of Heaven” during which the narrator kills his girlfriend in a fit of jealous rage because he believes that she will cheat on him, unlike Browning’s poem however, the woman in the song is able to get her revenge and murder the narrator as well.  

Each of the other poems also reflected this sort of strong emotion that is evoked incorrectly leaving all or both parties fairing rather poorly as a direct cause. Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life” uses this sort of unspoken love as way of showcasing a battle of emotions in the heart of a man, and how the revealing of such an unmasculine display would end him, “I knew the mass of men concealed / Their thoughts, for fear that if revealed / They would by other men be met / With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;” (16-19). Elizabeth Barrett Browning has a poem, “Lord Walter’s Wife”, with a man who happens to have no real problems expressing himself in words, but is attempting to tell a woman she is beautiful while also being rather condescending in his tone of voice, “ ‘because you are far too fair, / And able to strangle my soul in a mesh of your gold-coloured hair.’ “(3-4). Is this a reflection of the stereotypes of this time period? Perhaps that the woman was not able to do anything without it meaning that she was deliberately courting the attention of everyone around her, even when it was something permanent as eye-color or the tilt of a brow. The sad thought is that we still see these sort of behaviors portrayed today, because the other gender is not allowed to be attractive without people taking notice of them.

Although it is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 18 due to blood, gore, and sexual situations, I am going to also add the link to that song I mentioned above in my post…. A Little Piece of Heaven

 

“PUT YOUR BACKS INTO IT!!!”

Each poem we read this week spoke to the particular idea of work and capitalism in the Victorian Era when factories were creating a materialistic society for everyone and inflation of currency occurred. A lack of money coupled with gouged prices created a world where people were treated less like humans and more as cheap labor, especially as it took a while to get any sort of labor laws instituted, or even get them enforced. Higher demand meant that there was a greater need for people who could create the products wanted, but that also meant that these people would be worked to near death in order to achieve the desired results. 

John Davidson’s poem, “Thirty Bob a Week” shows a small slice of what the life of an upper-working class person who has a family to feed on a small sum of money each week. The narrator shares with (who I presume to be his boss) how hard it is to live on what little money he makes, and that this person he is speaking to does not understand what it is like to be stuck in a dead-end job just barely making ends meet. We see this highlighted in the lines, “I mean that having children and a wife, / With thirty bob on which to come and go, / Isn’t dancing to the tabor and the fife;” (38 – 40) it is at this moment that he actually states that living on a small sum in very difficult and not at all fun. 

The poem that I was most taken with out of those we read today would have to be Thomas Hood’s “Song of a Shirt”, because it detailed exactly how I picture the Industrial Age in my mind. All of the imagery in this poem seems to project the amount of pain that was felt by all workers who were forced to endure terrible situations in order to live from day to day. A particular segment caught my eye, “Sewing at once, with a double thread, / A Shroud as well as a Shirt,” (31 -32) because there is this imagery of the double thread and being caught in a sort of loop of the Industrial Era, and it directly linking to death. We see more links between death and consumerism or industrialization in Browning’s “The Cry of the Children” when the children speak of a girl named Alice who died and they muse that, “Was no room for any work in the close clay” (42). Due to the fact that Alice is dead she now no longer has to work in the factory or mine anymore. 

Stepping back a little from the direct links to the workers themselves in the theme for this week, we see two other poems that show something more like capitalism or materialism. The first, Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters”, give a rather abstract look on materialism in the Victorian Era, but the moment that the mariners partake of the lotos fruit they are lulled into a state of apathy for everything around them. “Eating the Lotos day by day, / To watch the crisping ripples on the beach, / to lend our hearts and spirits wholly / To the influence of mild-minded melancholy,” (105 – 109) shows this idea of forgetting about everything else when focused on needing something, and how this need can overrule all other thoughts. Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” bears a story of capitalism gone wrong as well or the need for something overriding all common sense. “I ate and ate my fill, / Yet my mouth waters still;” (165 – 166) shows that thought that has run through most people’s minds that what they have had will never be enough to sate their need. There is so much pressure to buy things that we do not need, but this is just the way that capitalism continues to move.

Women, and How They Can Really Mess With Your Art

In preparation for class this week, we read four poems that all seemed to focus on specifics of art and the feelings that could sway how that art is depicted. It is of no great surprise, that women, sexual attraction, lust, love, etc. would be prevalent in artwork generated by men who had any sort of love for women or the womanly form. Within the society of today, we still see a great many artistic creations aimed at expressing appreciation for women, mainly in today’s music. 

Many of our poems this week had a woman or lover as the focal point to the narrative, and showed how this could influence art. One particular poem, however, took the idea of women being a muse of sorts, and combined that with the need for artistic freedom and the depiction of more than just the bare bones of life, Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning. The way that Browning has Lippo speak about art, and his paintings, as a gift that allows humanity to experience “… things we have passed/ Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see; / And so they are better, painted — better to us,” (301 – 303). We are sometimes blind to those things that are right in front of our faces until an outside opinion comes to open our eyes, and this can be well done through art or any sort of artistic expression. Browning mentions something of a similar sort in another poem of his, Andrea del Sarto. The character Andrea is lamenting over how his wife has affected his art and the lack of work he has due to her wishing him back from Rome, but he still feels that art is an expression of humanity and that within it that the an artist as “Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see, / Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, / Above and through his art — for it gives way,” (108 – 110). 

Many artists will attribute a muse to being their reason for crafting certain pieces of artwork, writing poems, or composing music. Oftentimes that muse is seen as a woman to whom they have fallen in love with, or a person who happens to strike a particular chord in a person’s creativity. In the poem A Musical Instrument by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, we see the god Pan creating his iconic flute from the reeds. “He tore out a reed, the great god Pan, / From the deep cool bed of the river,” (7 – 8) may seem to only mean that Pan is procuring reeds to construct his flute, but he really is taking this particular reed in so that he could have the woman who tried to flee him, Syrinx. Syrinx is said to have been turned into a reed upon that river, thus the reason that Pan constructed a flute and named it after his apparent love. We can also look at Christina G. Rossetti’s poem, In An Artist’s Studio, to see a woman’s influence on art in our poetic selection. “One face looks out from all his canvasses, / One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans,” (1 – 2) shows the readers that this man has used the same woman in the majority of his portraits, to the point of obsession. She has become his muse, despite their relationship ending in a very negative way.