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A Comparison of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost and “Storm Warnings” by Adrienne Rich

In “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” nature is an overarching theme. In both works, the poets write of nature as a powerful force that mankind cannot control; each writer uses different aspects of nature to bring out their theme in unique and poignant ways. Nature is portrayed as ephemeral, fleeting and unpredictable, yet also showing strains of predictability in its repeated cycles and seasons; the reader can infer the implications of nature bearing similarities to mankind as a whole as well as to the individual. Both Robert Frost and Adrienne Rich seem to respect the power and magnificence of nature at the same time that they recognize in its deeper elements certain parallels with humanity. True to the general personality of poetry, “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” can be taken at face value or delved into more deeply to unearth symbolic truths of a figurative nature.

“Storm Warnings” by Adrienne Rich weaves together a message that nature cannot be controlled by writing of two related concepts – the weather of the heart and weather in nature at large. Neither form of weather is completely predictable, nor are they controllable. Weather in nature, the poem points out, has been charted and can be predicted by the dropping of the “glass” – the barometer – but it still cannot be controlled: “Between foreseeing and averting change / Lies all the mastery of elements” (ll. 15-16). Breaking the barometer cannot destroy the oncoming storm, just as destroying a clock cannot stop time, as Rich points out in the following lines: “Time in the hand is not control of time / Nor shattered fragments of an instrument / A proof against the wind; the wind will rise” (ll. 18-20). The poem seems to speak of the inability to have power over elements of nature, no matter how much humanity might make such attempts.

The narrator of the poem appears well aware of the weather that can sweep the land, and is wise to the knowledge that her only defense against the onslaught of nature is closing the doors and remaining protected or barricaded inside with the lines, “We can only close the shutters / … / This is our sole defense against the season” (ll. 21, 26). Even then, increment elements seep through the keyhole, an ominous portrayal that mankind cannot completely control any part of nature – neither weather nor time. Adrienne Rich writes of man’s learning to cope with the weather as a way to almost “settle” with mankind’s inability to control the elements of nature.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost also speaks of the uncontainable authority of nature, yet brings out a different idea than Adrienne Rich’s poem. Frost’s work speaks of the ephemeral elements of life by using parallels in nature – its “gold” that is the blossom of spring and the perfect dawn of a day: “Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold. / Her early leaf’s a flower; / But only so an hour” (ll. 1-4). The poem rings of the poignant character of all things earthly, which seem to fade almost before their time. The implication is not only those transient elements in nature, but also within the fleeting lives of humanity, which come and go so quickly.

The poem by Frost also brings in religious undertones when referring to the Garden of Eden and its perfection at the dawn of humanity; yet its’ eventual sinking to grief, bespeaking the fate of nature itself, with the lines, “Then leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief” (ll. 5-6). Nothing man can do would have the power to change this; the unspoken message of Frost’s poem seems to be that it would be useless to try to wrest nature to serve one’s own purposes, for “nothing gold can stay” (ll. 8). The poem seems almost sad in its portrayal that nothing gold within nature is lasting or eternal.

Both “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” utilize similar themes of the power of nature and its pervasive influence upon humanity in spite of mankind’s manifold abilities and progressing technologies. The idea or message at first glance almost cheerless, yet an underlying significance can be wrought from both poems. This more hopeful undertone whispers of the ability of both nature and man to be recreated in a way that is also uncontrollable and almost beyond understanding. Nothing gold can stay, yet each new day another dawn rises; each new season welcomes the “gold” of blossoms and spring’s unique beauty. In “Storm Warnings,” although people who live in such “troubled regions” (ll. 28) batten down the hatches and hole up in protection against oncoming storms – of nature or of the heart – the unspoken truth is that the storm will pass. The sun will be seen once again … or hope will rise once more.

Although both poems convey the power of nature to destroy or be destroyed, to fail and fade with the passing of time, both can also be taken with the hope that nature always cycles around to rebirth and renewal. However, when the storms loom low and fierce, and when dawn gives way to a day that scorches the sky, it is difficult for anyone – poet and pessimist alike – to see beyond the harsh and inclement parts of nature. At such times, as Rich writes, one can only “Draw the curtains as the sky goes black / And set a match to candles sheathed in glass” (ll. 22-23). Her words give credence to the idea that – whether someone is facing the storms of nature or of the heart – there is always something to do to welcome a little bit of light, a fleeting glimpse of gold, into one’s life as protection against complete despair.

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In the English class I’m taking, after reading and discussing “The Crucible” for our essays, we watched the movie. I remember when the movie came out. I didn’t watch it then.

When I watched it in class, of course I knew what to expect as the story line and dialogue was almost identical to the play by Arthur Miller.

But the end was a little different, and I’d have to say I enjoyed the ending of the movie more than the book. It showed how the perspectives of the townspeople had changed, if only slightly. And it showed three characters who remained fearless to the end.

And that’s when I wrote this short poem (yes, in the middle of class):

What happens when you know
You go
Not to death
But life

Then death is not
A thing
To fear

No shadow
No valley
No tunnel
Endless, dark

But hope waits
At the end
And light
This is why

When you know
You go
Not to death
But life

There is no fear
But clear
And open eyes

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The Crucible analysis

In “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller portrays two women whose characters, when juxtaposed, seem to vastly contrast each other. Although the exact words are not used, one woman is basically put forth in the story as “good” and the other woman as “evil.” Such black and white rulings of these characters would be almost ironic, considering that Arthur Miller wrote his play to expose the hazards of judging people with different mindsets or belief systems. Miller portrayed that such illogical reasoning is dangerous or at the very least, counterproductive. Exploring the characters and motives of the two main women, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor, a rough microcosm comes into view, paralleling the message of the story as a whole. The reader begins to recognize that more is at play than a surface rendering of “good” versus “evil.”

Abigail Williams, the “bad” girl, is introduced in the play as the ringleader who led other girls to a taboo gathering; her primary purpose was so to cast a spell upon Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor – with whom she had an affair when she lived with them as a servant. Clearly, what to John was a small detour off the path of righteousness was to Abigail the doorway to a new world. Abigail is confused, and her reasoning illogical, but that is no different from the logically impaired perspective of many in the town of Salem, even the most powerful and well educated. Abigail’s reasoning that if Elizabeth died, she would obtain John fit well among the illogical perspectives of many characters in the play. Her motives were, in a morally secure world, wrong; yet they were so well-hidden that few saw through her guise of persecuted innocence.

If Abigail’s reasoning was illogical and her motives impure, her methods definitely tipped the scale against her character. She was willing to let numerous innocent people be accused and die, and in many cases was the one sitting in the seat of the accuser. Having the story written as a novel would have been helpful at this point, because the only glimpse into Abigail’s point of view is the discussion she had with John Proctor, which was for a time cut from the story by Arthur Miller. In that conversation, the young woman seemed completely convinced of the righteousness of her cause as well as enraptured by her fantasy that she would have John once his wife died: “God gave me strength to call them liars … Oh, John, I will make you such a wife when the world is white again” (150). Perhaps Abigail was truly deluded, or perhaps very good at playing the part, even to John Proctor. It is almost that, by that point in time, she had gone so far that, whether she believed in her lie or was deliberately faking it the whole time, she knew it would be suicide to stop there.

At the end of the story, the “evil” woman escaped, faultless in the eyes of many, into the night, having stolen her uncle’s money to take her far from the volatile situation. Here again the reasoning of the men in power can be brought into question. If the main accuser was gone, having stolen money – which in those days must have been a severe crime, more tangible than sending one’s spirit to hurt another in the night – would it not stand to reason that perhaps her testimony should be brought into question? Yet such an idea never arose and the men who held the lives in the sway of their judgment continued on their oblivious path toward false sentencing and ultimately, murder.

Elizabeth Proctor, by contrast, was the “good” woman. She entered the story fully in the first scene of Act II, a scene almost awkward to read. The unnatural discourse between husband and wife seems an egg-skin cover stretched thinly over a wound. When John Proctor blew up toward the end of their dialogue, his words acted as a rift in that strained cover, yet Elizabeth simply turned the power of judgment over to him, stating, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man” (55). This heated exchange brings to light the issues that brimmed beneath the surface in their marriage, which don’t come out completely until the very end of the play.

The clearest view into Elizabeth’s mind and heart arises from a conversation that took place in the last meeting between her and John before he died: “I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery. … I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept” (137). Here, Elizabeth’s heart was exposed in a way that no other character’s was, and the deeper reason is shown as to why they had a strained marriage. Elizabeth always thought herself inferior, unlovable. One can only imagine the world of her younger years, possibly one child of many, forgotten and overlooked, very likely judged harshly for minor infractions. One pictures little joy in such a community and a one-sided approach to Christianity, which was more a form of Old Testament legalism without the promise of love and forgiveness. Never once in the story were concepts such as abiding joy, life abundant, or forgiving love mentioned. It was all judgment and harsh rulings, the very element that Jesus called into question when he exposed the motives of the religious class of his time, the Pharisees.

Elizabeth’s character represented, in a way, all those who grew up under the thumb of distorted belief systems. Her perspective and existence was a product of that upbringing, though she was likely blind to it herself. In this respect, Elizabeth’s character was not much different from Abigail’s. Raised with little love and little true understanding of the world around them, these women’s only survival was in their obedience to rules that in many cases were neither logical nor biblical. Both women were beset by fear: Elizabeth by fear that she was unloved and could never truly be loved for who she was; Abigail, by fear that if she didn’t take matters into her hands, her life would be spent alone and unhappy.

In the end, Elizabeth discovered that she truly was loved. Perhaps it was too little and too late, but her husband loved her. Her husband was willing to give his life, perhaps not exactly or entirely for her, but in a way his act represented that unselfish love. John Proctor’s love for his wife gave him the strength to confess his deeds with Abigail, and although it cast him in a bad light and brought him death, he chose rather to die for the love of his wife than to live without her. One analysis states that, “Elizabeth’s noblest act comes in the end when she helps the tortured John Proctor forgive himself just before his death” (Shmoop).

History reveals that Elizabeth Proctor, although accused, was not condemned. If Arthur Miller was accurate in his portrayal of her character, one can only hope that her life was transformed by the fact that she learned she was loved. Perhaps she felt not so plain and acted not so suspicious, for true love transforms the heart in ways that cannot be explained but only experienced. Abigail, on the other hand, escaped from the situation, running from her fear in the end. One can only assume that it followed her to the end of her days. Her story was not a “happily ever after” as she never faced those things she feared the most.

The “good” woman and the “evil” woman were both products of their upbringing. Still, they had the power to choose whether this would determine their decisions or whether they would rise above and take the more difficult path of truth, acceptance – even of one’s own deepest fears – and of love. One is not surprised – considering the actions of these two women throughout the story – by the decisions they made in the end. There was no character arc for Abigail, but there was for Elizabeth, who came to understand love and forgiveness in a way she never had. Presumably, hopefully, it set her free to truly live.

[If you enjoyed this literary analysis, please like Bonita Jewel’s Facebook Page for more links to literary analyses, tips on writing, quotes, and more!]

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: Screenplay. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.

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Raw but Precious

I had a couple of exceptional professors this semester. They were clearly interested in each student and expressed their desire, numerous times, to see their students succeed. It was interesting to see how their encouragement and confidence played out in the classroom. Compared to other classes I’ve taken at this college over the past couple of years, there was a very low drop rate in these classes and students seemed more engaged than in some other classes.

It got me thinking how blessed I am to have had some pretty awesome teachers in my life, starting with my parents.

My mom home schooled six of us … no small feat in itself. She made learning fun. She taught me to read at a very young age and instilled in each of us, I think, a love for learning. She capitalized on “teachable moments” and was always full of interesting facts (which she called useless information, but you never know when such things come in handy). Most of all, she was there and I always felt her unconditional love.

My dad, who continued his education after years of missionary work overseas, and obtained his Bachelor’s degree at the age of 40, taught me by his example that you’re never too old to keep learning, or to finish what you’ve started. And when I was in my teens, I remember him telling me time and again that no matter what path in life I chose to take, he knew God would be with me and that he and mom would support me.

After I left home as a teenager, I was blessed to encounter many people who acted as teachers for me in some way. When you think of it, actually, everyone can be a teacher, if our minds and hearts are open to learning. Not just people, but things as well, can teach us deep and meaningful truths. About life. About love. About purpose.

So today I’m thankful for teachers. Of every kind. Especially those who took the time and cared enough about me to help make me what I am today. (Hopefully someone who will continue to learn and grow and change for the rest of my life.)

I love what Mitch Albom says about teachers. Those ones who see you “as a raw but precious thing.” Such teachers can change a life. Have changed many lives. I hope one day to do the same.

[Why so many “Thanksgiving Posts”?]

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lightbulb

In the Native American class I am taking, we were discussing an interview with Vine Deloria, a famous Native American author.

One of the students observed that we tend to be inconvenienced by our conveniences. I hadn’t heard it put that way before, but she made a good point.

I returned home and had quite a few things to do online. I wanted to post something on my blog, research for a couple of papers, and of course check Facebook. My internet worked for about five minutes and then it cut off. I couldn’t get it working for quite some time and felt very inconvenienced about the whole thing until I remembered what my classmate said.

The internet is a convenience I have grown very accustomed to having. I use it for my work, for my “hobby” of blogging, for research, and for staying in touch with friends and family. I use it frequently to find photos or music or information.

When it suddenly stops working, my efforts are inconvenienced, but it is so true that the very use of the worldwide web is a huge convenience in my life. Fifteen years ago I got online maybe every couple of weeks. These days, unless I am sleeping or attending classes, I get online every couple of hours … and sometimes stay online for a couple of hours as well.

I am thankful for the conveniences of life. There are too many to name and number right now. At this very moment I am making use of electricity for light, the computer, the internet, and the heater. And that is just one thing.

Thank God for conveniences. And for the times we feel inconvenienced by those conveniences so we do not grow too terribly attached to them.

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Throughout “The Faerie Queene, Book 1,” a variety of tensions present themselves, some intended by the author, Edmund Spenser, and others perhaps unintentional yet very much present. The very nature of the poem lends to a strong tension, as it is a story that is written to portray the positive nature of Christian virtues while warning the reader against the danger of those virtues’ moral opposites.

One secondary tension inherent in such a morally allegorical tale is the pull between human nature and spiritual strength, which comes forth in various parts of the story. These are the most obvious tensions; however, other more subtle tensions exist in the story, creating a tale with numerous layers of understanding and perspective.

In the very first lines, we find a tension between Christian faith and a pre-Christian worldview in a story clearly written to promote Christian values. Before Edmund Spenser begins the tale of the knight of holiness, he refers to a muse who helped him in previous works and then calls on the aid of various muses to assist him in his writing, as he states,

“Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,

As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds …

Helpe then, O holy Virgin chiefe of nine,

Thy weaker Novice to performe thy will

Lay forth out of thine everlasting scryne

The antique rolles, which there lye hidden still.”

The author spends the first four verses asking for the assistance of various Muses rather than requesting the help or inspiration of God or angels, thus blending Greek mythology into a primarily Protestant poem before the tale even begins. This unexpected and perhaps even unintended tension is brought forth as Spenser uses an introduction similar to early Greek poets such as Virgil and Homer, who held pre-Christian beliefs and had a different worldview than that of Spenser.

In the fourth canto, Spenser deliberately uses tensions to describe the “house of Pride,” describing it as a place of unsurpassed beauty, yet it had no foundation:

“A stately Pallace built of squared bricke

Which cunningly was without mortar laid

Whose wals were high, but nothing strong, nor thick

And golden foile over them displaid.”

The stateliness of the palace juxtaposes its weak foundation. Parts of the palace were also old and crumbling but overlaid with gold paint to hide the ruination:

“And all the hinder parts, that few could spie

Were ruinous and old, but painted cunningly.”

Again, a tension is created between the beautiful appearance of the palace and its true nature. As this palace is an allegory for pride, Spenser’s intention was to portray the danger of entering a prideful state of mind – a perspective that makes one seem beautiful and strong but in reality lacks substance and is built on a false foundation. The admonition is clear that such a “house” (or palace) is doomed to fall.

In the ninth canto, the main character, Redcrosse, finds himself caught in a pull between despair and truth in his meeting with the character named Despair and his rescue by the fair Una (Truth) – two characters whose names describe their true nature.

Despair tempts Redcrosse to take his own life by telling him that those who died enjoy peace and surcease from life’s battles:

“Is not short paine well borne, that brings long ease

And layes the soul to sleep in quiet grave?

Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas

Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please.”

As Redcrosse succumbs to Despair’s perspective and prepares to drive a dagger into his own heart, Una wrests the knife from his hand, challenging him to continue his journey by saying:

“Come, come away, fraile, fleshly wight

Ne let vaine words bewitch thy manly hart …

In heavenly mercies hast thou not a part?

Why shouldst thou then despeire, that chosen art?”

This third form of tension is created by the tale’s characters, yet expresses a deeper tension between human nature and spiritual strength, which the author portrays can only come through the avenue of truth. Redcrosse was ready to end his life and thus the struggle, yet Una convinced him to keep on fighting, reminiscent of biblical instruction to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12) and “keep the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

In a time when moral relativity is the virtue of the day, such strong tensions between good and evil, flesh and spirit, pride and humility, seem rather archaic and irrelevant. At the same time, these issues created the basis of much of our modern culture and aspects of them are still “hot topics” today. Although there are more than fifty shades of gray to choose from as we sort through issues of morality or virtue, the very fact that humanity cannot easily dismiss these tense issues altogether shows that there is more at play than mere opinion.

Edmund Spenser, through the tensions put forth in his stories, makes it clear that these contrasting issues are a part of what molds our culture and our very natures by the choices we make and the paths we follow.

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Angel StatueIn “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” author Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves the natural with the supernatural in an unexpected yet stimulating way. It leaves us to ask ourselves what our response would if we were confronted with the supernatural right outside our door.

By blending the mundane and repugnant parts of life with the miraculous, Marquez effectively uses a creative tone and unique style to create a story that conveys elements of everyday life, yet supersedes it. His story invites us, as readers, to look a little closer at the events in our lives and determine how we are responding to the mundane we face. He inspires us to take a second glance at the not-quite-normal events that whisper a deeper meaning. His tale implies that the mingling of mundane with miraculous could change our lives, if we look at them with the right perspective.

The tone of the story is set in the beginning, with the most natural and unwelcome of occurrences: a sick child in the midst of drab and inclement weather. In the first few sentences, Marquez’ writing style immediately grabs the imagination as he writes, “The world had been sad since Tuesday.” In the first paragraph, he then brings in a magical element by introducing the surreal character of an old man with enormous wings. Marquez immediately shatters any mindsets we have of powerful and holy angels by placing him face down in the mud and unable to extricate himself, “impeded by his enormous wings.”

With a hint of irony, we read that the very objects that should have empowered this man to fly above the elements – his wings – instead hindered him and brought him no end of unwanted attention. This tone of irony is weaved throughout the story. We see it in the “wise old woman” who determined that the old man with wings was an angel … and then suggested clubbing him to death. We see it in the wording Marquez chose when he stated that the husband and wife “felt magnanimous” when they opted to set the angel afloat on a raft with enough food to last him a few days … “and leave him to his fate on the high seas.”

In parts of the story, the author’s tone conveys a sense of regret that humanity, as a whole, fails to appreciate the “magic” that is part of our lives. Instead of appreciating an experience and living fully in the moment, we tend to look at “what’s in it for me”. When the husband and wife, Pelayo and Elisenda, decide to exploit the angel by having the onlookers pay to see him, this sense of selfishness and greed is apparent. Here, again, we are given the opportunity to imagine what we might do if faced with a similar situation. No angel is going to fall from the sky into my yard on a stormy day, but in the daily run of things, how am I using the opportunities presented to me? Gabriel Garcia Marquez invites us to ask ourselves questions such as these not in a sermon but through a story.

In his unique use of magical realism, Marquez also weaves those natural tendencies of humanity with supernatural elements, creating scenes that make me want to read the story again, to see if I missed something important. As if perhaps the magic can spread beyond the pages of the book and into the world around me. For instance, the angel is so much “man” that Father Gonzaga notices he’s “much too human.” He smells. Everything about him is opposite of everything we picture as angelic and holy. But when looking closer, angelic character can be glimpsed in the pages, such as his unending patience. He endures the mistreatment – being locked up with the chickens, pushed around, poked and prodded. He doesn’t fight back. He waits … almost as if he knows it’s only for a time. This, if nothing else, is a sign of the angel’s supernatural origin – his bearing in the midst of trauma. Perhaps we also, in spite of very human and sometimes unsavory circumstances, can manifest attributes of patience and endurance. The story invites me to determine that it is possible.

Finally, towards the end of the story, the angel’s patience is rewarded. His wings sprout new feathers with the dawning of spring. The tone and setting of the story match the action. The long and dreary winter is over. New life is beginning all around, and within. Like the rest of the angel, those new feathers are straggly and unimpressive, “the feathers of a scarecrow, which look more like another misfortune of decrepitude.”

But they are enough.

He looks to the sky, feels the breeze, and begins to fly, slowly at first but rising higher and eventually disappearing over the ocean, beyond the blue.

Elisenda watches from the kitchen. We read that “she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.” What a strange juxtaposition of her emotions against clearly supernatural circumstances. Elisenda is watching an angel take flight – the same angel that provided her and her husband with enough money to build a two-story mansion – and she feels nothing but relief that this annoyance is gone. At the end, just as in the beginning, a normal person is confronted with surreal events, and fails to see it for the amazing happening that it is. Elisenda likely never truly appreciates the miracle that entered her life unexpectedly and left just as abruptly.

With the tone that the author sets in the ending, we are left to ask yet another question:

How many times do we glance up for a moment, see a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, and just look away?

How often are we confronted with something amazing and fail to see it for what it is because we refuse to get past the question, “What’s in it for me?”

With his use of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez opens the door to some interesting questions and invites the reader to not only enter a place of imagination and mystery, but also to look into one’s own thoughts and actions and see how they measure up against the elements of everyday life.

 

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