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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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On Monday, my primary focus was getting the kids ready for their first day back at school. I organized the arts-n-crafts drawers, put back-to-school supplies in their backpacks, decorated their lunch bags, and set out their clothes. My next focus was an editing job I needed to finish. The house was full that day, and one of the kids was extra testy.

All things considered, I finally began my homework (due the next morning) at about 10 pm. After reading a few short stories and poems, I wrote the following analysis. (In other words, blame the scattered thoughts thrown together on the late hour and weary mind.)

I got it back on Thursday from the English professor, with an 80%. He said it was a marked improvement from my previous short analysis (for which I got 70%) and that I need to delve into the poem more and expound on my analysis. I didn’t tell him how mortified I am at my grades in his class thus far. Grades aren’t everything (although something in me is shouting out, “Yes they are” and I’m telling that something to please be quiet so I can hear myself think enough to write something relatively cohesive here).

I’ve actually never gotten a final class grade lower than an “A” and although I know there’s gotta be a first time for everything (and a friend on FB told me I should be shot on the sole basis of my GPA), I’m hoping that this won’t be the first time. A “B” or “C” in English for an English major? Definitely not acceptable. But I’m rambling.

Here it is, my too-short short analysis on “The Wanderer”:

Reading “The Wanderer,” a phrase that comes to mind is that of another poem in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books: “Not all who wander are lost.” This epic poem sets the character in the midst of nowhere; the ocean surrounds him on every side. He is alone, and throughout the poem, his loneliness is his only companion – a fact that brings him great sorrow and seems to take him almost to the point of insanity time and again, where he remembers fondly friends and feats and almost sees them there before him, yet with the break of day on the lonely sea, the images disappear in the fading mist:

“Then through his mind pass memories of kinsmen

joyfully he greets them, eagerly gazes

his fellow warriors, the floating spirits / fade on their way” (ll 51-54).

It is clear that “The Wanderer” is on a journey to which he sees no soon end, a journey where at times it seems he scarce remembers its beginning. He laments at length, remembering days gone by, heroic deeds performed by even more heroic men. Even his surroundings – endless sea – bring to mind a cold, gray sky that blend at the horizon with colorless waves. Although he states that he is wont to keep his sorrows and heartache deep inside, it is apparent his extreme mental struggle and the fight within himself to maintain both sanity and hope.

We read how, “Often the lone-dweller longs for relief /the Almighty’s mercy, though melancholy / his hands turning time and again / the ocean’s currents, the ice-cold seas” (ll 1-4), and are struck by the contrast, even at the beginning of the poem, of the wanderer’s belief system and his current situation. The tension grows. Which mindset will prevail? Will he give in to the hopelessness that surrounds him? Will his wanderings prove vain in the end? Or will he find an inner strength that will buoy his spirit in the midst of the drab ocean waves?

Time and again, this contrast between faith and fact is brought to the fore, even to where near the end of the poem, he speaks of what appears to be almost the end of time, yet he refers to it in past tense: “Mankind’s Creator laid waste this middle-earth / till the clamor of city-dwellers ceased to be heard / and ancient works of giants stood empty” (ll 85-87). As readers, we are brought low by his hopeless and barren descriptions.

Yet the writer ends the poem with hope, though distant, saying, “All shall be well for him who seeks grace / help from our Father in heaven where a fortress stands for us all” (ll 114-115). Like the waves of the sea, the poem tosses us back and forth, between despair and hope, yet through it we get the overall picture that, though he – the character – wanders, he is not lost.

This poem – alive with analogies and a message that obviously confirms the belief system of the writer – conveys significance similar to that of J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings:

All that is gold does not glitter

Not all those who wander are lost

The old that is strong does not wither

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken

A light from the shadows shall spring

Renewed shall be blade that was broken

The crownless again shall be king.” 

Both poems speak of a hope that does not die, in the dead of winter or in the midst of stormy seas.

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Not all those who wander are lostI have a small writing assignment for Tuesday. The professor has asked us to write a two-page response to the poem “Beowulf.” I haven’t read it yet, though I read the first few hundred lines in class today. The professor doesn’t want  a response on the poem in its entirety, but asked us students to choose a certain aspect or concept of it to expound and comment on.

He gave a few ideas of what angle to come from:

  • Contrasting the depiction of “hero” versus “king”
  • Looking at the concept of heroism and what it means to be a hero
  • Judging the depiction of women and the contrast between “good” and “bad” women
  • Contrasting the spirits of men throughout antiquity and men today; what has changed and what is the same

The professor then spoke for a while about the strong Christian message in the poem, bringing in the point that the story was not originally a Christian story yet was written down by a monk and therefore a Christian angle was forced into the story. In a half-hour period, the professor ridiculed the concept of good and evil, pointed out the hypocrisy of Christianity, and stated that the story of Cain and Abel was a mythological tale based on the age-old conflict between herdsmen and agricultural peoples. Every time he read a part of the poem that mentioned God or the main protagonist being sent by God or endowed by God, the professor’s voice and inflection bore strong mocking undertones. It was obvious by the end of my second class where the faith of this teacher rests … or rather, where it doesn’t.

I’m not “dissing” my professor, and actually I thought his point of view helped me realize a few insights about the poem. He mentioned the strange angle where the hero was bold and brave and strong, yet still claiming he would only win because of God’s power and anointing upon him. It seemed almost a false humility – a hypocritical one – where the hero stated his faith in God, yet his actions were different. Time and again, the professor spoke of the blatant, yet insincere Christian mores throughout the poem.

I wrote down a few thoughts while he was speaking. This is “raw” and unpolished. I might use some of it in my response on Tuesday:

Although it is meant to be a Christian poem, with the mores of Christianity and good versus evil, even back then the concept of true Christianity had been butchered – the depths or truths wrested and remolded to suit the belief system and culture of that day. The glory of war and bloodshed, feuds and fighting are placed on a pedestal, when the Founder of real Christianity stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They place emphasis on pride and honor and strength and might when Jesus hung naked, beaten and humiliated, on a tree. The “rood” spoken of in the other poem [The Dream of the Rood] was not glorious; it was a symbol of ultimate sacrifice.

Then, as now in many places, Christianity was warped to suit the culture, belief structure – and ultimately the nature of man.

One part of the poem shows the hero bringing a veritable army with him, remarkable armory, amazing weapons to where someone stated he had never seen such an impressive sight. Whoever “changed” this story when they tried to make it a “Christian” tale might have done better to just start over with a whole new concept … because again, it doesn’t fit with the true (though often overlooked) concept of Christianity. Jesus did not come with armies and glory to impress and bring honor upon Himself. He came alone. Unarmed. That was true humility, rather than false humility. God and Creator taking on the form of man, weak and frail, to bring hope to mankind.

I didn’t have time to write more, but I’ll post my actual response when I complete it. It might have some from what I came up with today, or I might feel led to go in an entirely different direction. As you read this, feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Oh, and when I got home, I checked Facebook and a good friend posted this quote from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. For some reason, as I read, it clicked and connected with the frame of mind I was in after writing about “Beowulf.” We are impressed by gold and glamour, by strength and might … all the while the crownless King wandered unnamed and unknown. But one day, one day that will change in the twinkling of an eye, when “The crownless again shall be king.”

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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