Analysis for 12/7

“I Do Not” can be taken literally, and Palmer would be telling a fine story of a man who is in an unfamiliar country, unable to communicate.  But that the language the man does not know is English adds a whole new dimension to the poem.  English is the lingua franca of the world.  If one cannot speak English, whether in Sao Paulo or Rotterdam, he is cut off from the dominant vein of modern society.  Starting with Britain’s domination of the world until the early to mid twentieth century and continuing through America’s control of the “free world” afterwards, English has ingrained itself as the language of ideas, culture, and progress.  English was once a language which borrowed heavily from others, but is and has been an exporter of words for quite some time.  Palmer decries this standardization of society around one language, making the case that by using exclusively English, a multitude of terms which only exist in other languages are being cut out of society.  The speakers of other languages find themselves second-class citizens, unable to communicate with the most powerful section of the audience and unable to even put many concepts into words in their own language, since the words only exist in English.  In short, Palmer is decrying the sidelining of most of the world’s culture.

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Analysis for December 2nd

Note: The odd spacing of this analysis and the last one is because I was confused by the break and the missing day the previous week.  This is to make sure I’m not behind.

Stephen Crane’s “Black Riders and Other Lines” is certainly not a cohesive poem (or at least the parts given aren’t).  It appears to be rather a collection of small poems which might be better classified as witticisms for wit’s sake.  This classification may be wrong, but seeing as so much of the collection is missing, that can only be speculated upon.  Part I appears to be an introduction to something larger- it contains one large segment of imagery, which is hinted at the end to be a metaphor, but no evidence is given regarding what it might be a metaphor for.  Can this be classified as a poem?  Its first five lines are entirely description except for the questionable “rush upon the wind”, which is another uncertain metaphor.  If the meanings of all poetic language cannot be discerned, and all information conveyed is straightforward, is this a poem, or is it verse?

Part III is more poetic in nature.  Once again, a fairly direct story is told, but this time there is clearer poetic language.  The creature eating his heart is an obvious metaphor for something that destroys itself and knows it is destroying itself but continues to do so.  The metaphor is once again not overly obvious, but the verse as a whole is very powerfully written.  The following part, XXV, is quite different.  The intent is made very clear here- a question regarding morality.  Crane pits love against virtue here, and no clear winner is given.  The question asked is not “Why did the maid weep”, but “Should the immoral be given a damnatio memoriae, or does love, in fact, conquer all”.  Part LVI is also a question of morality, comparing killing to being killed.  Crane appears to take the common standpoint that killing is worse than dying.  The all-capitals format of this “poem” makes it rather annoying to read.

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Analysis for November 30th

“The Painter” is a rather limited poem, being a sestina, but John Ashbery makes the best of what he is given.  Rather than the seemingly nonsensical poems that some of the other authors of sestinas in the anthology produced, this poem is simultaneously firmly grounded in realistic terms and filled with metaphor and allegory.  The story itself is rather simple- a painter who wants to paint the sea and is decried by society for it (perhaps referring to Monet?).  It is the metaphors contained within the story that make the sestina a complex poem.  The most overarching one is most of the poem being used to represent an internal struggle between the individual’s desires and those of society, or perhaps between individualism and collectivism as a whole.  But the allegory doesn’t stop there, instead going down another level into the mind of the individual and explaining how he is tortured by this conflict of interests.  The poem concludes, rather appropriately, by explaining how the collective mind of society will antagonize this individual and cast him out.  But has the individual lost?  No, if he already had immersed himself in his subject so thoroughly that it had become his world, he had nothing to lose from being thrown “from the tallest of the buildings”.

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21st Century Alchemy

We have a scholarship for death.
A tempting cause to cease your breath.
It flows from pockets, mine and yours
Past wretched mass and teeming shores
And far away, to deserts brown
To put the mujaheddin down.
Some will come back, it’s safe to know
In boxes wooden, down below
The deck of that which brought it there,
Once laughing in the open air.

But men in suits with wounded pride
Collectivized a suicide
For no one wants to go alone
(It’s only good if it is known
To everyone).  And more join in:
The foreigners who might have been
Our brothers, in a kinder time
Now race us to a touchdown mine.
(What?  It’s not a goal when he
Has both his legs rent at the knee?
The wisest man, there on TV
Explained it all last night to me.)

So what, you ask, are paid the dead?
A nylon backpack full of lead.
True, some is lost to reach the gates
Wherein old Paracelsus waits.
For otherwise how is lead spent?
You use those bullets, every cent.
And gleaming knife, your helmet new.
If only that worked out here too!
But any good transmuter’s dead-
The ones we’ve left turn gold to lead.

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Villanelle for (whenever it’s due, I forgot)


“I think you’re sick, my dear,” she said.
No, you’ve Munchausen by proxy.
“Be careful or you’ll wind up dead.”

Her voice the worst thing in my head
As in this old chair she rocks me.
“I think you’re sick, my dear,” she said.

“Why, just last night you lay in bed
And you slept right through my knocks three.
Be careful or you’ll wind up dead.”

I feel a growing sense of dread.
Now whatever could these shocks be?
“I think you’re sick, my dear,” she said.

“The fever starts to scorch your head
So please hold your orthodoxy.
Be careful or you’ll wind up dead.”

But all the life from me was bled.
Her compassion almost mocks me.
“I think you’re sick, my dear,” she said.
“Be careful or you’ll wind up dead.”
(Too late.)

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Analysis for November 16th

The “Greater Romantic Lyric” certainly lives up to its name.  Its defining characteristics are its length and extreme focus on the self.  Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” is a perfect example of this.  The title is highly misleading- the poem is not about frost at midnight, but about Coleridge himself.  The titular frost only appears or is implied in lines 1, 2, and 72-74.  Most of the first verse is not specifically about Coleridge, but serves to set up the second, which is entirely about Coleridge’s past.  Much of these two first verses are based on a supernatural notion, as is consistent with Coleridge’s work, but the focus on the self seems rather out of place for this particular poet, given the nature of his more famous works, which do not mention Coleridge himself or use an anonymous narrator who clearly cannot be the real Coleridge (yes, this is a direct allusion to Kubla Khan).  After this point, there isn’t really a story behind the poem any more.  The last two verses seem to be poetry for poetry’s sake, as if Coleridge, tired of his usual Romantic style, had borrowed Wordsworth’s sensibilities briefly.  Wordsworth usually has a better flow of thought, though.

I apologize for my dismal contribution for this week.  I didn’t particularly find any of these appealing.

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Review: Billy Collins

I rather enjoyed Billy Collins’ poetry- it was a bit simple for my taste, but it was innovative and bold in dealing with modern times.  Satirical poetry seems to be a dead art lately, but some of Collins’ poems perfectly fit into that vein.  I didn’t consider any of his works to be spectacular, but the bottom line was certainly high.  His best poems came at the beginning- the first three were all excellent works.  The second in particular, which initially seemed to be a rambling take on a trivial event- heatstroke in Italy- was superbly constructed, with the almost nonsensical beginning belying the individual threads coming together in the end.  Collins’ voice did not significantly assist or hinder the delivery of the poems- I’m not entirely sure there is an advantage to either reading or hearing his work, other than, as he stated, some pieces may seem to blend together if not given gaps in between.  Sadly, I did not pay much heed to Collins’ assertion that poetry begets more poetry and will eventually exhaust itself, and immediately went back and wrote a 12-line poem in a style whose name I don’t recall.

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