Thursday, March 4, 2010

John Ashbery

(b. 1927)

“They Dream Only of America” (1962)
“Street Musicians” (1977)

On “They Dream Only of America”:
This poem seems a good bit hard to understand, and maybe it is meant to be that way, but I get a sense of bitter-sweetness to it. Stanza 1 seems to be full of hope, ‘dreams.’ Stanza 3 has the idea of first getting to drive, ‘”Please,” he asked willingly.’ (10). Stanza 4 has the idea of now ‘having’ to drive (15). The lines ‘through dandelions’ (14), ‘pillars of grass’ (2), ‘honey…burns the throat’ (3-4) make me think of allergies; that’s where I think his headache comes from. In stanza 5, we see him trudging through and making it home. Stanza 6 delivers the bitterness. It’s kind of like he turned on a TV that strangely reflects his situation: “What is it to be back/ Beside the bed? There is nothing to do/ For our liberation, except wait in the horror of it.” (22-24). He sits sadly. Not even his bed brings him comfort. He is waiting for something that seems like it can or will never come, yet the idea hangs there onto the edge. That idea keeps him going, ‘I am lost without you.”’ (25). Thus I get bitter-sweet from my reading.

I think that it is interesting that so much smoke imagery in involved in this poem. Ash tray. Cigar. Thirteen million pillars of grass (2)… hiding from darkness in barns (5)… sounds like tobacco farming. A person would ‘murder’ (7) a cigarette by smoking it. So together, it seems like the speaker is saying the young person’s dream has gone up in smoke. Beware trusting in things that are only temporary.
Margaret Atwood
(b. 1939)

Happy Endings

I’m a little hesitant to draw illustrations from ‘The Matrix,’ but no matter how tired something may be, if it’s accurate, then it’s accurate. As Morpheus’ explains the history of the Matrix to Neo, Morpheus states that the programming they currently see in the Matrix is not the original one. The first program was idyllic in its design, but the inhabitants rejected that construct. I don’t know whether this is to reflect the fall of man in Eden or just to say that sometimes the American dream can feel false, inauthentic. Atwood definitely picks up on this point in ‘Happy Endings.’

But is joy truly a dream? Are movies like “Pleasantville” and authors like Anne Sexton right to dismiss notions of community and family happiness? Well, pain is a part of natural life, and a smile all the time can seem saccharine. But there is a joy and there are things that we can hope for that are good. Let me do one more reference. On ‘Family Matters,’ the Winslows, you know Carl and Harriet, they had some hard times, but they also could get steamy. Carl saw a man shot in front of him; Harriet had her Dad come back into her life—ain’t paid a lick of attention to her for thirty years—but came back. Life isn’t about always having good times, it’s about what gets you through the rocky times. And there is joy in marriage and that marriage points us to that we don’t have to be afraid to trust.

Elizabeth Bishop


“The Man-Moth” (1946)
“One Art” (1976)

I read this poem as a female persona; male works too, but the details of losing rivers and a continent seem autobiographical of Bishop’s time in South America.

It seems like this was a therapeutic thought. At the end, we see that the speaker has lost her love, and this opens up the rest of the poem. The speaker seemed to have been building strength through remembering earlier losses. She seems to brace herself against the pain. The dash opening the last stanza shows her giving a little. Then she halts on the last line, ‘though it looks like”, and forces herself to continue, ‘(write it!) like disaster.’ (18). She is steeling herself against her feelings, and yet we feel her pain.

Langston Hughes


“Negro Speaks of Rivers”
“Park Bench”
“Dinner Guest: Me”

On “Dinner Guest: Me” and “Park Bench”
I don’t know whether this poem is supposed to bite at the grievances being experienced by African-Americans or if it is supposed to denounce the indifference that can come with wealth. In my first reading, I thought “The Negro Problem” (2) was just the topic that came up in conversation. At this classy event, the injustice that Black Americans were living with was discussed with moderate concern that tapered off into inaction: “Solutions to the Problem,/ Of course, wait.” (22-23). On my second look at the poem, I saw something perhaps more sinister. If the Negro Problem is a person being wined and dined, then the flow of the last stanza seems to indicate disregard on his part as well. “To be a Problem on/ Park Avenue at eight/ is not bad./ Solutions to the Problem,/ Of course, wait.” (19-23). If this is true, then this poem might better be a condemnation of wealth, that it can distance someone even from their racial ties. Although, it could be that this person is simply trying to be an ambassador, raising support for his fellow African Americans, the sluggishness of these people to help based on their affluence would be a sober warning to the man in Park Bench. That man has his eyes on a suite on Park Avenue, next door to a man with a butler and a maid. If that man disregards him now (forgetting “race” for a second), what is the hope of our rags-to-riches man that he will not develop the same indifference?

T. S. Eliot


“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915)
“Journey of the Magi” (1935)

This man seems to be too self-conscious, and as a result, he is fearful of normal social intimacy. Is this a normal man? The cheap hotels and saw-dust restaurants (6-7) make me ask, Is he living a wild life, or Is he just a business man perhaps not native to the area and socially connected? Is he trying to put on airs, saving money on food to afford rich neckties (43)? In any case, there is a truthful desire in his heart for conversation, relationship, friendship (92). His whole walk to the house goads him toward this desire. Yet, he is too worried about others perception of him to really enjoy the evening or the company. He is concerned over his bald spot, concerned over rejection (82, 97-99). One idea that might help him is to understand that as a man he is a provider. This not only applies in the monetary sense, but also that he provides conversation, humor, security, insight. This may seem like pouring gas on the fire, but it is simply transfer. He already knows how to work (assuming), and he seems read, like he has ideas (and maybe !aghast! opinions). All he has to do is transfer his interests via his work orientation into this new setting. Simple, but not easy. Yes he may fail some, or even often, but what he pursues is a good thing. He may have the weight of Victorian reservation and non-disclosure against him, but no day’s mermaid compares to a real woman.

Wallace Stevens

(1879 –1955)

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (1917)
“Study of Two Pears” (1938)

Authorial Intent vs. Reader Response
Often an author has a purpose in his story to tell a message or deliver some insight or a moral or to describe life. We too ass readers are trying to draw meaning from what we read (else why do we read), and since we have a different view on life, the meaning we draw may be different from what the author wanted to say. So who is right? Should we go with the author’s intent or with the reader’s response? I lend toward the intent of the author, but there is some play between these two, as we use wisdom and experience to mediate between the two. The two Stevens poems seemed to embody this idea. “Thirteen Ways…” seemed very open-ended allowing the reader to come to his or her own conclusions, while “…Two Pears” seemed to come to a definite point; lines 23-24 read:

The pears are not seen
as the observer wills.

Robert Frost


“The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” (1920)
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923)
“Gathering Leaves” (1923)
“In Disused Graveyard” (1923)
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” (1923)
“Desert Places” (1934)
“Two Tramps in Mud Time” (1934)
“Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” (1934)
“Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same” (1942)
“The Gift Outright” (1942)

On The Gift Outright:
Out of the poems I read, this one was the hardest for me to get, and I think it was because its message was the one I needed most to hear.

“Possessed by what we were still unpossessed by” (6), we living in what would be America were colonials from places we had once possessed, places for which we had once fought. Now here, we applied out energies to other things; the speaker calls our new attention weakness (8). File that away for further thought. Yet, we chose and broke out of this. (Is ‘surrender’ (11) meant to make us primal or noble?). We became “such as we were” (12) and fought for this new land. Afterward, we began a smoldering campaign westward; meanwhile, leaving behind no great art and no great stories. When I first read this poem, I took the ending to be bleak, but some time having past, I took the ending as a reproof, a gentle rebuke. The speaker, in on sense commends action (“salvation in surrender” (11)) and condemns misappropriation (“artless, unenhanced” (15)) He wants us to act but not absent of thought. The speaker calls us to do something, to leave something behind.

This part about rebuke I needed to hear. Can I be open enough to accept life-giving words from another? Can I accept criticism? Is my life so perfect that I don’t need to change? There is so much that I am not and so much that I cannot do. I need brokenness, humility, practice in listening to others, practice at doing an honest day’s work. I need to let this sink in.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Raymond Carver

(May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988)
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (1981)

Two things jumped out at me when reading this: definitions of love and expressions of love.

Mel mentions three kinds of love, spiritual love (which he does not define), physical love (which he calls an impulse driving you to another person and his/her essence), and sentimental love (which he calls the day-to-day caring about another). He and Terri argue over whether her former husband, Ed actually ‘loved’ her. (170). As the conversation goes on, Mel considers how he could actually love his first wife; he is sure that he did. Mel seems to hold on to love as something delicate, like an ancient document, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, that might tatter if handled wrong. He wants love but is afraid to lose it. This becomes evident when he talks about watching the elderly couple recovering; these two are in the same room, but the gentleman could not see his wife, and this was breaking his heart. Seeing this kind of love made Mel want it, and his conversation with Terri, Nick, and Laura helped him crystallize that desire and express it. But how was he going to attain it?

We need to go back and figure out what we are aiming for so that we can be sure and move toward it. What is love? The english language lack some of the expressiveness regarding love that some other languages have. A man could use ‘love’ to commend his wife or to commend her cooking (both of which would be advisable); however, these loves are not the same type. Spanish has a word for romantic love as well and a word for mild affection. And to Mel I would commend Greek; they have some beautiful categories:

Agape – This is a selfless love. It seeks the other’s best good at the cost one’s own self and self-interest.
Phileo – This is brotherly love, friendship. It is a love of mutuality and team-work.
Eros – This is romantic love. It is a gleam in another’s eye and the passionate embrace.

We want relationships to last a lifetime. We want them to thrive. And no relationship can sprawl across the wake of this world like kudzu (did you know strawberries grow in the same way as kudzu, just not as fast) like strawberries (does this sound too dopey—Just read it and think ‘Amazing’ ‘I want that’), no relationship can thrive without heavy amounts of agape. When a man sits down and listens to his wife and talks to her and is interested in her… When a woman lets her husband know that she values his work, especially in those little feminine ways… Am I suggesting we just feed each other’s egos? No. We all have faults and blind spots and stubbornness. We pursue each other’s best interest as we pursue each other, and along the way phileo and eros will soothe and warm.

Martín Espada

(b. 1957)

“The Lover of a Subversive is also a Subversive”
“The Skull Beneath the Skin of the Mango”

The first:
“Bully” a play on one of Roosevelt’s favorite expressions, meaning “good, agreeable, heartily.” I sort of feel like the Indians of the past authors’ poems, that some of my culture is being displaced, but is this always bad. I would hate for the memory of Theodore Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr or many other American icons to disappear from living memory. However, there are deeper meanings in life—family, friendship, God—that I would be happy to fight for. As much as I tie to my cultural marker, I would be happy to embrace another’s, if we both loved the deeper meanings most.

Adrian C. Louis

“Dust World” (1992)
“Without Words” (1989)
“Looking for Judas” (1995)

From “Without Words:”
As I read this, the loss of meaning stares me in face. The speaker is sad (that word is often feels light, but here it is meant to carry significant weight). He is drinking his sadness or drinking to his sadness. In the process, he decomposes a little more and a little more. Continuity: he doesn’t like the lifestyle. Clashing form: the change that comes from their decomposition. The change is enough to take their mind off the sadness.

Sherman Alexie

(b. 1966)

“Evolution” (1992)
“Scalp Dance by Spokane Indians” (1993)
“How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” (1996)

As I read these poems, I felt just a sense of “ugh” and “ohhh” and “man,” deflation, sadness, and empathy. Then one of the lines from “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” struck me:

All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food. (1-2).

To Alexie, this empathy is common but worthy of disdain. I say this with two things in mind: 1) It doesn’t energize the people to help the situation, and 2) Helping means supporting your friends as they establish and live “normal” lives.

1) Just as in Langston Hughes poem “Dinner Guest: Me” the fellow guests were emotionally stirred but were not stirred to action, I think Alexie criticizes my empathy that does not lead to action. So how can we help?

2) Sometimes a region or culture needs massive amounts of help. I think of Europe after WWII, devastated emotionally and economically. We (the U.S.) helped them rebuild through aid in the Marshall Plan. In the 1950/60s, large blocks of New York City’s youth were involved in gang-fighting, heroin, sex—the accounts are of much sadness and emptiness. David Wilkerson and the churches joined together to help break this culture. It is during this time (1967) that we get the picture of Robert Kennedy helping to get Bedford-Stuyvesant back on its feet. Today, there are people like this working to help our Native American brothers and sisters too.

Sometimes, though, we need something more on the personal scale. When “normal” is destroyed for a culture, we need neighbors and friends to come beside us and help us rediscover normal, or reinvent normal, or just live normal lives beside us. When we see this, when we feel that others are investing in our lives, normal will seem a lot like friendship.

Louise Glück

(b. 1943)
From The Meadowlands (1996)

It was fun to read these poems through the lens of myth and then through the lens of contemporary society. I think I get bogged down trying to make everything something profound, so I thought I would just say some thing short about these.

"Penelope’s Song"
This one seemed to have a lot of crossover between mythical and contemporary. I saw Penelope climbing a tree, looking and longing for Odysseus. I also saw a housewife wanting her husband home. He has been gone too long, long enough for a tan (18). Did I say she wanted him? She is a mix of frustration, exasperation, and maybe anger. He gets home, and all he wants in his grilled chicken (19). She shakes her boughs (20) letting him know that she truthfully wanted to him to spend time with her. She is subtle, trying to let this be known without causing his face to ‘be marred’ (23), presuming that he is going to get angry with her.

"Quiet Evening"
This was so beautiful. I read it almost completely in the modern sense. It seems like an older couple, now empty-nesters, enjoying an evening of each other’s company.

I’ve heard that sociologists say it takes 9-14 years for the thinking in a relationship to shift from “me” to “we.” So this couple seems to have moved into these years, and it just seems so beautiful:

So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus,
not to hold him back but to impress
this peace on his memory:

from this point on, the silence through which you move
is my voice pursuing you. (9-13).

The beauty in this relationship seems magnified when I re-read it: In the quote above, Penelope takes Odysseus’ hand, impressing their evening into his memory. In the opening line Odysseus takes Penelope’s hand; “then we’re alone/ in the life-threatening forest.” (1-2). It is almost like he is summoning this memory to his mind. And suddenly, true to her intent, he has her and peace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Adrienne Rich

(b. 1929)
“Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” (1951)
“Diving Into the Wreck” (1972)
“Power” (1974)

Throughout her works, rich uses some amazing images. In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” the speaker is watching her Aunt sow. In the piece she is working on tigers are pacing in ‘sleek chivalric certainty.’ (4). The speaker comments that her Aunt had ‘terrified hands,’ (9) terrified at the subject of her work. Another image connects these two, that of a wedding ring:

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. (7-10).

Rich’s speaker is making a forceful argument for the feminism rising in her day. We will see this come out in her writings, both in its good forms and in its bad forms.

Some more amazing images appear in “Diving into the Wreck.” As the diver moves from the surface into the sea, we look through his mask and watch the air, first blue, turn bluer, then green, then black. (34-36). The reader gets a real sense of shift from the civil to the savage: 1) the diver’s mask fills his blood “with power,” (38) yet the sea offers him no aid, he has to “learn alone” (41)how to move, how to go about his business; 2) later, we see him searching the wreckage with a battery-powered lamp (57) then assuming the persona of an ancient mermaid (72).

With this last image the diver begins to identify with his adventure: becoming a mermaid, becoming a merman, becoming the figurehead of the ship’s prow, and with a dual persona becoming the ship’s water-worn instruments.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sylvia Plath

“Tulips” 18 March 1961
“Ariel” 27 October 1962

“Tulips” and “Ariel” seem to form two ends of a spectrum. In “Tulips,” the speaker seems downcast, hesitant to hope; in “Ariel,” the speaker is crazy with hope. A key idea between these two is that of agency. One of the best gifts given to men is a creative force, a desire and will to change things around us. We are agents of change, steadily shaping the things around our lives. In “Tulips,” the speaker seems to have lost her sense of agency. She needs someone to be in her life and help her regain that, to help the life and message of the tulips become her own.

Anne Sexton

“Her Kind” (1960)
“The Truth the Dead Know” (1962)
“And One for My Dame” (1962)

Sexton’s work seems to challenge the traditional 1950’s/1960’s view of womanhood.

In “Her Kind,” the speaker talks about her day by day (“light by light”) existence, wanting something else. In the second stanza, she breaks out of the norm a little by doing normal duties for non-normal recipients, worms and elves, and in the last stanza we see her carted off to be burned for her witchcraft. In one sense, it is commendable for her to try to break out of the norm, especially if life for her and her family is so earthbound, so un-engaging like it is in “And One for My Dame.”

This young dame grows up with a Dad who might as well live in his car. He is a cheat (12), works more than he has to (36), and doesn’t involve himself and take joy in raising his family (21-22). Later she marries, and her husband isn’t any better. His sample cases are “branded with [her] father’s name.” (45).

Is there anything transcendent in their lives? Are there any great mysteries approached, realities hinted at? Any deeper meaning? Why wouldn’t housewives rebel? Against materialism and banality?

But don’t let such rebellion against triviality suck out with it the great meaning within the home and motherhood. Motherhood has just as much dignity as any woman who chooses to enter the marketplace. And a man who comes home and loves his wife and their family can truly free her to enjoy it.

John Berryman

From “The Dream Songs” (1964-1968)

I read that there were 384 Dream Songs in total, so I read the first and last to try to get a direction for his writing. O my goodness! Wanting to dig up his dead father just to… It is horrible. Don’t read it. But it that is just a symptom of what is going on in Berryman. I can’t read this as persona. He has to be dealing with his Dad’s suicide. Suicide is so sad and awful; we are ALL born with God-given dignity, value, worth, and purpose. That man left such a whole in his son’s life. He wasn’t there. He couldn’t pour himself into John’s life. Berryman seems absolutely wild wanting something in his life. Some longings are undeniably present within us and at the same time, seem ethereal and half-seen in their nature. The best ones we can take for granted, if we have had them. Berryman’s life is tragic and reminds me of the value of every act of love, the value of everything that seems common.

Robert Lowell

“Skunk Hour” (1959)
“For the Union Dead” (1960)

On the first:
The four of the characters in this poem seem to say something about isolation, community, and contentment.

The Heiress seems to enjoy isolation. Her son is doing well. Her lands and estate are taken care of by a good man.

The Cobbler seems to enjoy community. “there is no money in his work,/ he’d rather marry.” (23-24). He values a relationship more than a big estate.

The Speaker seems to side with the Cobbler, wanting love, but for some reason he is bitter against intimacy. He calls the local “lovers’ lane” a graveyard, yet he ‘sobs.’ I hear ‘sobs,’ and I think of desire and affection throught the tears. Later he says, “I myself am hell.” Is he hard to get along with? Has he had failed relationships in the past? Has he went through a major loss? He sees these opposing attitudes in himself, and says “My mind’s not right.” I say he might be able to find and grow and enjoy a relationship.

The Mother Skunk has a bit of this contentment in relationships and community. She leads her kittens around the town looking for their meals, and finds a good one at our speaker’s back door. She relishes what she has in life and “does not scare” when someone tries to take it away.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Elizabeth Bishop

"The Man-Moth" (1946)
"One Art" (1976)

It sounds as if the Man-Moth could be ever more applicable today. If commuting was an ordeal then (and was it and ordeal), then 2 hour Atlanta traffic would be monstrous.

Frank O'Hara

“Poem” (1950)
“Today” (1950)
“The Day Lady Died” (1959)
“Why I Am Not a Painter” (1957)

In contrast to some of the other movements, it seemed that Frank O’Hara didn’t have a central set of ideas that are visible in his work. I may just not have seen enough of his work or know enough about the period.

I thought that he might have been playing with time in “Poem,” but ended up concluding that the speaker was talking of a past memory, though the alternative (him talking in flashback) does sort of convey the shock of accidentally coming across a murder scene.
“Today” seemed to convey the fifteen minutes of fame, celebrity buzz, as seen on tv, I love the 80s mentality that something may be unimportant, but it is really important right now.

Theodore Roethke

"My Papa's Waltz" 1948
From the North American Sequence, "Meditation at Oyster River" 1964

On the second:
It is neat how Roethke ties the day/night cycle to life and death. At the end of section I, we see the sun going down. Section II begins by saying, "The self persists like a dying star/" and then places us in a sleep while death, symbolized by nature and animals, goes about its normal activities.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks seems to have some skill in writing, able to use metaphor well and pack some very complex feelings into her poems. I read a couple extra poems to try and figure out more of who she is, and it really helped when I got to “The Boy Died in My Alley.” In that poem, the speaker says “I joined the Wild and killed him/ with knowledgeable unknowing.” (26-27). I wondered what “the Wild” meant.

In Brooks’ poem, “Gay Chaps at the Bar,” Brooks explores the sentiments of an African-American man returning from fighting in World War II. In the section, ‘The White Troops had Their Orders but the Negroes Looked Like Men,’ we see that in war the whites who normally oppressed them realized that blacks were just as human and just as noble as anyone else. Tragically, however, we see these brave men going back home and facing a society that is trying to reestablish its past disregard and subjugation of African-Americans. That society sits in smug pride and disdains black Americans. They would not reach out and help or understand their black brothers and sisters; they would forever keep them as unenlightened savages—they would keep them “wild.”

“Wild” is a derogatory term that would choose to see a person or group as animal-like: ruthless and instinctual, devoid of common kindness, instead of seeing him, her, them as truly human: full of dignity, self-sacrifice, compassion, and beauty.

When I read “The Boy Died in My Alley,” and the speaker said he or she “joined the Wild,” I asked myself, Is violence so prevalent, do they hate and are so disgusted with their environment, that a person would degrade themselves to that level?

On this note, one other thing caught my eye. I wondered why the speaker would call this Boy an “ornament.” I don’t think it is consistent with the rest of the poem to see this as joyful, to say racist, nor to see sarcasm (the repetition makes the speaker sound deeply struck by this death). It could be irony, but more than likely it is pained hope.

Brooks uses the phrase, “I saw him Crossed,” (29) a crucifixion image, to describe the Boy’s death. In line 31-34, we see him in agony; in lines 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39, we see his cry rising to heaven; and in lines 40-41, the speaker says that “The red floor of my alley/ is a special speech to me.” It seems like the speaker feels a similar pain and a similar cry. I read this poem, and I have a hard time not reading the speaker as a praying Grandmother. When she uses the word “Ornament,” it seems like she’s thinking, I like that it happened, In one sense, because it brings attention and maybe an answer.

It is interesting to note that unlike the record of Jesus' crucifixion, here, there is no mention of a resurrection, that is to say, there is no solution; we do not see the problem end. And in that Brooks is calling her reader to be that change.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Claude McKay

"The Negro's Tragedy" (1945)
"Look Within" (1945)

On the first:
Brook - to put up with
Ken - mental perception
thorn-crowned - Jesus crucified

No one understands all that an African-American suffers, unless he or she is one, and they hope that we will recognize our injustice and hatred, repent and start acting like family.

On the second:
Fascism - a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism, racism, and militarism, etc.: first instituted in Italy in 1922.

Mote - from the Old English or Dutch 'mot', sawdust: a speck of dust, tiny particle

James Weldon Johnson

"O Black and Unknown Bards" (1908)
"The White Witch" (1922)

This man seemed like he had an interesting life. He lived in Florida, Georgia, and New York, and was once an Ambassador to Venezuela.

His first poem reminded me of Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" and the idea of having eyes in your heart.

On the second poem:
Antaeus - Greek Mythology - warrior that was invincible as long as he was touching his mother, the earth.

Johnson seems to be writing from a solidly Christian viewpoint. Knowing this you can read "The White Witch" in at least two ways, either as poem chronicling the oppression of blacks by whites or in a Biblical sense, as an older man warning a younger man against the lure of adultery. If you grab a Bible and turn over to Proverbs, you will see many ideas expressed as portraits of men and women. Wisdom is likened to a lady seeking to guide and help. Foolishness is likened to a lady diverting people from their work and leading them to forms of theft. And Adultery is likened to a lady who calls after men. One nice note is that Proverbs ends with a picture of an honorable man and an honorable woman. (And I might venture to say that her character is hot).

Zora Neale Hurston

"Sweat" (1926)

Random Thought:
I really don't have a lot for the men of their village. They know about Delia's husband Sykes sleeping around and don't do anything about it. They talk about "learnin' him," but them don't go ahead and do it. The least they could have done was refuse him business when he was spending his money on the other woman.

On the Story:
I don't really get the ending, "that eye that must, could not, fail to see the tubs. He could see the lamp.' Was Delia thinking that Sykes would imagine she put the snake in there and didn't warn him? Or did Delia not want Sykes to know that she was there and could help him?

Another line troubled me, "a surge of pity too strong to support bore her away..." Pity, nowadays, has two senses: one looks on another's situation or misfortune and empathizes, wishing to help; the second looks on another and despises them, refusing to help. I WANT to feel that Delia would pity with empathy and help that rascal (I use this in the most insulting sense of the word I know), and in the end, Sykes would be so overcome by her love that he would repent and love her too. However, it seems that Delia feels otherwise. She lets the river water--probably the 'Jurden water' she sang about and in her mind judgment--rise up and take him. His judgment may be just, but it comes at a terrible price for Delia too, as she must abide with final hatred rather than compassion.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Richard Wright

"The Ethics of Living Jim Crow" 1937

Levels of Discourse: 1) Theory, 2) Drama, 3) Kitchen Table
Purpose in Writing: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive
Symbols: Black Cinders, Broken Milk Bottles
Affecting Justice and Community

I began reading this essay, and my first reaction was shock. I saw these kids throwing cinders and thought, wow, that's evil. Then, I saw another group of kids throwing broken glass and thought, wow, that's also evil. There is a sad irony to the groups' choices of weapons: cinders are the remnants of a fire--something able to bring warmth and comfort and industry; and the broken bottles are said to have once contained milk--something known for its nutrition and life-sustaining properties.

I wonder what it would be like to be in each group and to try to bring change from within each group. Dr. Adrian Rogers, in reference to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, once said you can't stop an idea with a bullet; you stop one idea with a better idea. And part of what proves the quality of your idea is your willingness to suffer for it. It is relatively easy to die for what you believe, but it is significantly harder to live and suffer for what you believe--to take verbal jabs, thick coldness, disregard, even physical abuse. But Oh! what a testimony it produces and a change it can bring:

Jesus on the cross--mocked, maligned; now resurrected, reigning, and bringing life
The United States--without a voice, taxed and taxed; suffered, faught, and gained independence
Gandhi and the people of India--subjugated and suffering; gaining their self-rule
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and African-Americans--segregated, demeaned, fire-hosed; gaining their Civil Rights.