Archive for the 'Essayist' Category

Adrienne Rich

May 9, 2007


Born white and middle class
Married and had three sons before she was thirty
Separated from her husband and committed herself to radical feminism and lesbian vision
Leading feminist poet of the twentieth century
Populates her poems with emblematic female figures
Defies modernist injunctions and is in search of a common language to describe a shared historical experience
One of the most well-known contemporary love poets
Personal feeling can never be completely separated from politics


Living    in the earth-deposits   of our history
Today a blackhoe divulged   out of a crumbling flank of earth/ one bottle   amber   perfect   a hundred-year-old/ cure for fever   or melancholy   a tonic/ for living on this earth   in the winters of this climate
Today I was reading about Marie Cruie:/ she must have known she suffered   from radiation sickness/ her body bombarded for years   by the element/ she had purified/ It seems she denied to the end/ the source of the cataracts on her eyes/ the cracked and suppurating skin   of her finger-ends/ till she could no longer hold   a test-tube or a pencil
She died   a famous woman   denying/ her wounds/ denying/ her wounds   came   from the same source as her power

-Power (in whole)

First having read the book of myths,/ and loaded the camera,/ and checked the edge of the knife-blade,/ I put on/ the body-armor of black rubber/ the absure flippers/ the grave and awkward mask./ I am having to do this/ not like Cousteau with his/ assiduous team/ aboard the sun-flooded schooner/ but here alone.

I came to explore the wreck./ The words are purposes./ The words are maps./ I came to see the damage that was done/ and the treasure that prevail./ I stroke the beam of my lamp/ slowly along the flank/ of something more permanent/ than fist or weed
the thing I came for:/ the wreck and not the story of the wreck/ the thing itself and not the myth/ the drowned face always staring/ toward the sun/ the evidence of damage/ worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty/ the ribs of the disaster/ curing their assertion/ among the tentative haunters.
This is the place./ And I am here, the mermaid whose dark ahir/ streams black, the merman in his armored body./ We circle silently/ about the wreck/ we dive into the hold./ I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes/ whose breasts still bear the stress/ whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies/ obscurely inside barrels/ half-wedged and left to rot/ we are the half-destroyed instruments/ that once held to a course/ the water-eaten log/ the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are/ by cowardice or courage/ the one who find our way/ back to this scene/ carrying a knife, a camera/ a book of myths/ in which/ our names do not appear.

-Diving into the Wreck

Whenever in this city, screens flicker/ with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,/ victimized hirelings bending to the lash,/ we also have to walk… if simply as we walk/ through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties/ of our own neighborhoods./ We need to grasp our lives inseparable/ from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,/ and the red begonia perilously flashing/ from a tenement sill six stories high,/ or the ong-legged young girls playing ball/ in the junior highschool playground./ No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,/ sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,/ dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,/ our animal passion rooted in the city.

Your dog, tranquil and innocent, dozes through/ our cries, our murmured dawn conspiracies/ our telephone calls. She knows- what can she know?/ If in my human arrogance I claim to read/ her eyes, I find there only my own animal thoughts: / that creatures must find each other for bodily comfort,/ that voices of the psyche drive through the flesh/ further than the dense brain could have foretold,/ that the planetary nights are growing cold for those/ on the same journey, who want to touch/ one creature-traveler clear to the end;/ that without tenderness, we are in hell.

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone./ The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,/ they happen in our lives like car crashes,/ books taht change us, neighborhoods/ we move into and come to love./ Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,/ women at least should know the difference/ between love and death. No poison cup,/ no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder/ should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder/ not merely played but should have listened to us,/ and could instruct those after us:/ this we were, this is how we tried to love,/ and there are the forces they had ranged against us,/ and these are the forces we hand ranged within us,/ within us and against us, against us and within us.

The dark lintels, the blue and foreign stones/ of the great round rippled by ston implements/ the midsummer night light rising from beneath/ the horizon- when I said “a cleft of light”/ I meant this. And this is not Stonehenge/ simply nore any place but the mind/ casting back to where her solitude,/ shared, could be chosen without loneliness,/ not easily nor without pains to stake out/ the circle, the heavy shadows, the great light./ I choose to be a figure in that light,/ half-blotted by darkness, something moving/ across that space, the color of stone/ greeting the moon, yet more than stone:/ a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

-Twenty-One Love Poems


John Updike

March 21, 2007


John Hoyer Updike
Born in Pennsylvania
Attended Harvard University on a full scholarship
Known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, having published 22 novels and more than a dozen short story collections as well as poetry, literary criticism and children’s books
Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems have appeared in The New Yorker since the 1950s
Works often explore sex, faith, and death, and their inter-relationships


The scum has come. / My cocoa’s cold. / The cup is numb, / And I grow old.
It seems an age / Since from the pot / It bubbled, beige / And burning hot-
Too hot to be / Too quickly quaffed. / Accordingly, / I found a draft
And in it placed / The boiling brew / And took a taste / Of toast or two.
Alas, time flies / And minutes chill; / My cocoa lies / Dull brown and still.
How wearisome! / In likelihood, / The scum, once come, / Is come for good.

-Lament, For Cocoa (in whole)

My child as yet unborn, the doctors nod, / Agreeing that your first month shall be March, / A time of year I know by heart and like / To talk about- I too was born in March.
March, like November a month largely unloved, / Parades before April, who steals all shows / With his harlequinade of things renewed. / Impatient for that pastel fool’s approach, / Our fathers taunted March, called him Hlyd-monath, / Though the month is mild, and a murmurer. / Indeed, after the Titan’s fall and shatter / Of February, March seems a silence. / The Romans, finding February’s ruins / At the feet of March, heard his wind as boasting / And hailed his guilt with a war-god’s name.
As above some street in a cobbled sea-town / From opposing walls two huge boards thrust / To advertise two inns, so do the signs / Of Pisces the Fish and Aries the Ram / Overhand March. Depending on the day, / Your fortunate gem shall be the bloodstone / Or the diamond, your lucky color crimson / Or silver gray. You shall prove affable, / Impulsive, lucky in your friends, or cross, / According to the counterpoint of stars. / So press your business ventures, wear cravats, / And swear not by the moon. If you plant wheat, / Do it at dawn. The same for barley. Let / The tide transplant kohlrabi, leeks, and beans. / Toward the month’s end, sow hardy annuals.
It was this month when Caesar fell, Stalin died, / And Beethoven. In this month snowflakes melt- / Those last dry crusts that huddle by the barn. / Now kites and crocuses are hoisted up. / Doors slap open. Dogs snuffle soggy leaves, / Rehearsing rusty repertoires of smells. / the color of March is the one that lies / On the shadow side of young tree trunks.
March is no land of extremes. Dull as life, / It offers small Flowers and minor
holidays. / Clouds stride sentry and hold our vision down. / By much the same token, agonized roots / Are hidden by earth. Much, much is opaque. / The thunder bluffs, wind cannot be gripped, / And kites and crocuses are what they are. / Still, child, it is far from a bad month, / For all its weight of compromise and hope. / As modest as a monk, March shall be there / When on that day without a yesterday / You, red and blind and blank, gulp the air.

-March : A Birthday Poem for Elizabeth (in whole)

Sunflower, of flowers / the most lonely, / yardstick of hours, / long-term stander / in empty spaces, / shunner of bowers, / indolent bender / seldom, in only / the sharpest of showers: / tell us, why / is it your face is / a snarl of jet swirls / and gold arrows, a burning / old lion face high / in a cornflower sky, / yet by turning / your head, we find / you wear a girl’s / bonnet behind?

-Sunflower (in whole)

At verses she was not inept, / Her feet were neatly numbered. / She never cried, she softly wept, / She never slept, she slumbered.
She never ate and rarely dined, / Her tongue found sweetmeats sour. / She never guessed, but oft divined / The secrets of a flower.
A flower! Fragrant, pliant, clean, / More dear to her than crystal. / She knew what yearnings dozed between / The stamen and the pistil.
Dawn took her thither to the wood, / At even, home she hithered. / Ah, to the gentle Pan is good- / She never died, she withered.

-Poetess (in whole)

In the novel he marries Victoria but in the movie he dies.
-caption in Life

Fate lifts us up so she can hurl / Us down from heights of pride, / Viz.: in the book he got the girl / But in the movie, died. /
The author, seeing he was brave / And good, rewarded him, / Then, greedy, sold him as a slave / To savage M-G-M.
He perished on the screen, but thrives / In print, where serifs keep / Watch o’er the happier of his lives: Say, Does he wake, or sleep?

-In Memoriam (in whole)


October 30, 2006


Hilda Doolittle
First poet to publish a poem that was identified as “imagist”
Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to an upper-middle class family: father was a professor of astronomy and mother was an artist who taught painting and music
Belonged to the Moravian faith, a Protestant denomination that seeks to recapture the original vitality of Christianity by strictly adhering to the word of the Bible: H.D. did not practice as an adult, but its mysticism effected her poetic career
Attended Bryn Mawr for three terms but left without a degree: became friends with William Carlos Williams and dated Ezra Pound
Became briefly engaged to Pound, who remained a lifelong friend
Left for Europe in 1911 with her then lover, Frances Gregg, and remained in Europe for the rest of her life
Published three poems in “Poetry” that simultaneously established her literary identity as “H.D.” and founded the imagist movement: Pound created the title “Imagiste” to attract attention to Doolittle’s work and unintentionally began the poetry movement
Married Richard Aldington, a British poet and imagist: separated from him and had an affair with Cecil Gray which produced her only child; Perdita: met Bryher who became her companion for 28 years
Poetry takes an interest in the world of antiquity and myths: wrote narrative poems that revised Greek, Egyptian, and biblical stories in a mystical, feminist way
Strove to find a new beauty
Following her separation from Bryher, Doolittle broke down and was hospitalized in a Swiss clinic
Remained in Switzerland and Italy until the end of her life: spent her last years in hotel rooms
Her gravestone lies flat in Nisky Hill Cemetary, Bethlehem, Penn., and usually has sea shells on it, left in tribute: it bears lines from her poem “Epitaph:”

“So you may say, / Greek flower; Greek ecstasy / reclaims forever / one who died / following intricate song’s / lost measure.”


Rose, harsh rose, / marred and with stint of petals, / meagre flower, thin, / sparse of leaf,
more precious / than a wet rose, / single on a stem- / you are caught in the drift.
Stunted, with small leaf, / you are flung on the sand, / you are lifted / in the crisp sand / that drives in the wind.
Can the spice-rose / drip such acrid fragrance / hardened in a leaf?

-Sea Rose (in whole)

All Greece hates / the still eyes in the white face, / the lustre as of olives / where she stands, / and the white hands.
All Greece reviles / the wan face when she smiles, / hating it deeper still / when it grows wan and white, / remembering past enchantments / and past ills.
Greece sees unmoved, / God’s daughter, born of love, / the beauty of cool feet / and slenderest knees, / could love indeed he maid, / only if she were laid, / white as amid funereal cypresses.

-Helen (in whole)

Helen was the daughter of Zeus who appeared in the guise of a swan to the mortal woman Leda and impregnated her

I have had enough. / I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, / every road, every foot-path leads at last / to the hill-crest- / then you retrace your steps, / or find the same slope on the other side, / precipitate.
I have had enough- / border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, / herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch – / there is no scent of resin / in this place, / no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, / aromatic, astringent – / only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover / that wanted light – / pears wadded in cloth, / protected from the frost, / melons, almost ripe, / smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling / to the empty branch? / All your coaxing will only make / a bitter fruit – / let them cling, ripen of themselves, / test their own worth, / nipped, shrivelled by the frost, / to fall at last but fair / with a russet coat.
Or the melon – / let it bleach yellow / in the winter light, / even tart to the taste – / it is better to taste of frost – / the exquisite frost – / than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, / beauty without strength, / chokes out life. / I want wind to break, / scatter these pink-stalks, / snap off their spiced heads, / fling them about with dead leaves – / spread the paths with twigs, / limbs broken off, / trail great pine branches, / hurled from some far wood / right across the melon-patch, / break pear and quince – / leave half-trees, torn, twisted / but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden / to forget, to find a new beauty / in some terrible wind-tortured place.

-Sheltered Garden (in whole)

I know not what to do, / my mind is reft: / is song’s gift best? / is love’s gift loveliest? / I know not what to do, / now sleep has pressed / weight on your eyelids.
Shall I break your rest, / devouring, eager? / is love’s gift best? / nay, song’s the loveliest: / yet were you lost, / what rapture / could I take from song? / what song were left?

-Fragment Thirty-six

Jane Austen

October 26, 2006


Spent short, secluded life away from the spotlight
One of eight children born to an Anglican clergyman and his wife
Spent most of her life in Hampshire, rural area of southern England
Turned down marriage proposal in 1802, intuiting how difficult it would be to combine authorship with life as a wife, mother and gentry hostess
Started writing at 12
The Austen name was never publicly associated with any of Jane’s novels
Through her heroines, exposes how harshly the hard facts of economic life bore down on gentlewomen during this period when a lady’s security depended on her making a good marriage
Unanswered question for Austen is whether such a marriage can be compatible with the independence of mind and moral integrity that, like Austen, her heroines cherish
Criticized the novel form, but also perfected it
Narrative voice shifts between a romantic point of view and an irony that reminds us of romance’s limits
Austen stated her novels were:

“pictures of domestic life in country villages.”

“Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked”

“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”

“I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter.”

Sense and Sensibility 1811

First published novel
Explores relationship between two sisters: Elinore and Marianne Dashwood: Elinore representing ‘Sense’ and Marianne ‘Sensibility’
Family is left impoverished after the father’s death and enter into a search for a husband
Austen wrote the first draft when she was 19
Characters may be loosely based on Jane and her sister, Cassandra
Filled with subtle irony


“Nay, mamma, if he is not to be animated by Cowper! -but we must allow for difference of taste. Elinor has not my feelings, and, therefore, she may overlook it, and be happy with him. But it would have broken my heart, had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility. Mamma, the more I know of the world the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward’s virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm.”

“It would be an excellent match, for he was rich, and she was handsome. Mrs. Jennings had been anxious to see Colonel Brandon well married, ever since her connection with Sir John first brought him to her knowledge; and she was always anxious to get a good husband for every pretty girl.”

“‘He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived,’ repreated Sir John. ‘I remember last Christmas, at a little hop at the Park, he danced from eight o’clock till four without once sitting down.’
‘Did he, indeed?’ cried Marrieanne, with sparkling eyes; ‘and with elegance, with spirit?’
‘Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert.’
‘That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue.'”

“Marianne would have thought herself ever inexcusable had she been able to sleep at all the first night after parting from Willoughby. She would have been ashamed to look her family in the face the next morning, had she not risen from her bed in more need of repose than when she lay down in it. But the feelings which made such composure a disgrace, left her in no danger of incurring it. She was awake the whole night, and she wept the greatest part of it. She got up with a headache, was unable to talk, and unwilling to take any nourishment; giving pain ever moment to her mother and sisters, and forbidding all attempt at consolation from either. Her sensibility was potent enough!”

“‘What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?’
‘Grandeur has but little,’ said Elinor, ‘but wealth has much to do with it.’
‘Elinor, for shame!’ said Marianne; ‘money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.'”

“Whatever the truth of it might be, and far as Elinor was from feeling thorough contentment about it, yet while she saw Marianne in spirits,, she could not be very uncomfortable herself. And Marianne was in spirits; happy in the mildness of the weather, and still happier in her expectation of a frost.”

“When they had paid their tribute of politeness by courtesying to the lady of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd, and take their share of the heat and inconvenience to which their arrival must necessarily add.”

“‘By all the world, rather than by his own heart. I could rather believe every creature of my acquaintance leagued together to ruin me in his opinion, than believe his nature capable of such cruelty.'”

“‘I am sorry for that. At her time of life, any thing of an illness destroys the bloom for ever! Hers has been a very short one! She was as handsome a girl last September as any I ever saw, -and as likely to attract the men. There was something in her style of beauty to please them particularly. I remember Fanny used to say, that she would marry sooner and better than you did; not but what she is exceedingly fond of you, but so it happened to strike her. She will be mistaken, however. I question whether Marianne, now, will marry a man worth more than five or six hundred a year at the utmost, and I am very much deceived if you do not do better.'”

“John Dashwood had not much to say for himself that was worth hearing, and his wife had still less. But there was no peculiar disgrace in this; for it was very much the case with the chief of their visitors, who almost all laboured under one or other of these disqualifications for being agreeable- want of sense, either natural or improved- want of elegance- want of spirits- or want of temper.”

“‘He is the most fearful of giving pain, of wounding expectation, and the most incapable of being selfish, or anybody I ever saw. Edward, it is so, and I will say it. What! are you never to hear yourself praised? -Then you must be no friend of mine; for those who will accept of my love and esteem must submit to my open commendation.'”

Henry James

October 24, 2006


American-born writer, interested in literature, psychology, and philosophy
Wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 12 plays and a number of works of literary criticism
Born in New York City into a wealthy family
Father was one of the best known intellectuals of his time
Traveled back and forth between Europe and America during his youth
Outbreak of WWI was a shock and became a British citizen in 1915 to protest the US’s refusal to enter the war
Died of a stroke on December 2nd
Draws understanding and sensitive portraits of ladies
Themes of innocence of the New World in conflict with corruption and wisdom of the Old
Became interested in the unconscious and supernatural

Washington Square (1880)

Inspired by a story James heard at a dinner party
Tells how Morris Townsend tries to win the heart of heiress Catherine Sloper against the objections of her father
Endures as a matchless social study of New York in the mid-nineteenth century


“During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practised in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in American has constantly been held in honour, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of ‘liberal.’ In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognised sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science- a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.”

“It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Dr. Sloper had become a local celebrity.”

“She grew up a very robust and healthy child, and her father, as he looked at her, often said to himself that, such as she was, he at least need to have no fear of losing her. I say ‘such as she was,’ because, to tell the truth—. But this is a truth of which I will defer the telling.”

“Once, when the girl was about twelve years old, he had said to her-
‘Try and make a clever woman of her, Lavinia; I should like her to be a clever woman.’
Mrs. Penniman, at this, looked thoughtful a moment. ‘My dear Austin,’ she then inquired, ‘do you think it is better to be clever than to be good?’
‘Good for what?’ asked the Doctor. ‘You are good for nothing unless you are clever.'”

“After this, the tide of fashion began to set steadily northward, as, indeed, in New York, thanks to the narrow channel in which it flows, is obliged to do, and the great hum of traffic rolled father to the right and left of Broadway.”

“It was here, as you might have been informed on good authority, that you had come into a world which appeared to offer a variety of sources of interest; it was here that your grandmother lived, in venerable solitude, and dispensed a hospitality which commended itself alike to the infant imagination and the infant palate; it was here that you took your first walks abroad, following the nurserymaid with unequal step and sniffing up the strange odour of the ailanthus-trees which at that time formed the principal umbrage of the square, and diffused an aroma that you were not yet critical enough to dislike as it deserved; it was here, finally, that your first school, kept by a broad-bosomed, broad-based old lady with a ferule, who was always having tea in a blue cup, with a saucer that didn’t match , enlarged the circle both of your observations and our sensations. It was here, at any rater, that my heroine spent many years of her life; which is my excuse for this topographoical parenthesis.”

“He looked straight into Catherine’s eyes. She answered nothing; she only listened, and looked at him; and he, as if he expected no particular reply, went on to say many other things in the same comfortable and natural manner. Catherine, though she felt tongue-tied, was conscious of no embarrassment; it seemed proper that he should talk, and that she should simply look at him. What made it natural was that he was so handsome, or rather, as she phrased it to herself, so beautiful. The music had been silent for a while, but it suddenly began again; and then he asked her, with a deeper, intenser, smile, if she would do him the honour of dancing with him. Even to this inquiry she gave no audible assent; she simply let him put his arm around her waist- as she did so it occurred to her more vividly than it had ever done before, that this was a singular place for a gentleman’s arm to be- and in a moment he was guiding her around the room in the harmonious rotation of the polka.”

“‘That’s the way to live in New York- to move every three or four years. Then you always get the last thing. It’s because the city’s growing so quick- you’ve got to keep up with it. It’s going straight up town- that’s where New York’s going…
They invent everything all over again about every five years, and it’s a great thing to keep up with the new things. I always try and keep up with the new things of every kind. Don’t you think that’s a good motto for a young couple- to keep ‘going higher?'”

“She confessed that she was not particularly fond of literature. Morris Townsend agreed with her that books were tiresome things; only, as he said, you had to read a good many before you found it out. He had been to places that people had written books about, and they were not a bit like the descriptions. To see for yourself- that was the great thing; he always tried to see for himself. He had seen all the principal actors- he had been to all the best theaters in London and Paris. But the actors were always like the authors- they always exaggerated. He like everything to be natural. Suddenly he stopped, looking at Catherin with his smile.
‘That’s what I like you for; you are so natural! Excuse me,’ he added; ‘you see I am natural myself!'”

“…for Catherine, at the age of twenty-two, was after all a rather mature blossom, such as could be plucked from the stem only by a vigorous jerk.”

“‘Don’t you see anything in people but their bones?’ Mrs. Almond rejoined. ‘What do you think of him as a father?’
‘As a father? Thank Heaven I am not his father!’
‘No; but you are Catherine’s. Lavinia tells me she is in love.'”

George Eliot

October 21, 2006


Marian Evans
Spent her childhood at Arbury Farm on the Warwickshire countryside
Strongly affected by Evangelicism
Associated with a group of freethinking intellectuals in the town of Coventry: reluctantly denounced her belief in Christianity
Translated for leading figures of Higher Criticism in Germany
Appointed assistant editor of the Westminster Review, a learned journal formerly edited by John Stuart Mill, ,after her father died
Fell in love with George Henry Lewes, brilliant critic of literature and philosophy, married and father of 3, and moved in with him as a common-law wife: was not invited to dinner, those who wanted to see her had to seek her company as a visitor on Sunday afternoons which became legendary occasions: decision to live with Lewes cost her a number of social and family ties, including her brother Isaac
Fiction owes much to Austen’s with concern with provincial society, satire of human motives and focus on courtship
Combines expansive philosophic meditation with acute dissection of characters’ motives and feelings
Likened herself a historian and scientist
Perhaps the greatest English realist, often compared with Leo Tolstoy: the most important Victorian intellectual
Sympathetic to a feminist point of view, stresses values of loyalty to one’s past
A novest of characters (like Austen)
Called the first ‘great godless writer’

"My function is that of the aesthetic not othe doctrinal teacher."

Silas Marner 1861

Silas Marner : The Weaver of Raveloe
Story of redemption through love
Combines humour and rich symbolism with a historically precise setting to create a tale of love and hope
explores the issues of redemptive love, the notion of community, the role of religion, and the status of the gentry and family

“A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts.”
—William Wordsworth


“…how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother? To the peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery.”

“To people accustomed to reason about the forms in which their religious feeling has incorporated itself, it is difficult to enter into that simple, untaught state of mind in which the form and the feeling have never been severed by an act of reflection.”

“Have not men, shut up in solitary imprisonment, found an interest in marking the moments by straight strokes of a certain length on the wall, until the growth of the sum of straight strokes, arranged in triangles, has become a mastering purpose? Do we not while away moments of inanity or fatigued waiting by repeating some trivial moment or sound, until the repetition has bred a want, which is incipient habit?”

“The yoke a man creates for himself by wrongdoing will breed hate in the kindliest nature…”

“The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent. A man will tell you that he has worked in a mine for forty years unhurt by an accident, as a reason why he should apprehend no danger, though the roof is beginning to sink; and it is often observable that the older a man gets, the more difficult it is to him to retain a believing conception of his own death.”

“‘Did ever a ghost give a man a black eye? That’s what I should like to know. If ghos’es want me to believe in ’em, let ’em leave off skulking i’ the dark and i’ lone places- let ’em come where there’s company and candles.'”

“Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.”

“Favorable Chance, I fancy, is the god of all men who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe in. … The evil principle deprecated in that religion is the orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind.”

“I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours with our words is that our good will gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips. We can send black puddings and pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own egoism; but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil. There was a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe; but it was often of a beery and bungling sort, and took the shape least allied to the complimentary and hypocritical.”

“Nobody in this world but himself knew that he was the same Silas Marner who had once loved his fellow with tender love, and trusted in an unseen goodness. Even to himself that past experience had become dim.
And then the red faces made their way through the black, biting frost to their own hoes, feeling themselves free for the rest of the day to eat, drink, and be merry, and using that Christian freedom with out diffidence.”

“She was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep- only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky -before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway.”

“The prevarication and white lies which a mind that keeps itself ambitiously pure is as uneasy under as a great artist under the false touches that no eye detects but his own, are worn lightly as mere trimmings when once the actions have become a lie.”

“When we are treated well, we naturally begin to think that we are not altogether unmeritorious, and that it is only just we should treat ourselves well, and not mar our own good fortune”

“In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction; a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.”

“‘…there’s nothing kills a man so soon ashaving nobody to find fault with him but himself. It’s a deal the best way o’ being master, to let somebody else do the ordering, and keep the blaming in your own hands. It ‘ud save many a man a stroke, I believe.'”

“This excessive rumination and self-questioning is perhaps a morbid habit inevitable to a mind of much moral sensibility when shut out from its due share of outward activity and of practical claims on its affections- inevitable to a noblehearted, childless woman, when her lot is narrow. ‘I can do so little- have I done it all well?’ is the perpetually recurring thought; and there are no voices calling her away from that soliloquy, no peremptory demands to divert energy from vain regret or superfluous scruple.”

“‘Eh, my precious child, the blessing was mine. If you hadn’t been sent to save me, I should h’ gone to the grave in my misery. The money was taken from me in time; and you see it’s been kept- kept till it was wanted for you. It’s wonderful -our life is wonderful.'”

“‘Well, yes, Master Marner,’ said Dolly, who sat with a placid, listening face, now ordered by grey hairs; ‘I doubt it may. It’s the will o’ Them above as a many things should be dark to us; bu there’s some things as I’ve never felt i’ the dark about, and they’re mostly what comes i’ the day’s work. You were hard done by that once, Master Marner, and it seems as you’ll never know the rights of it; but that doesn’t hinder there being a rights, Master Marner for all it’s dark to you and me.’
‘No,’ said Silas., ‘no; that doesn’t hinder. Since the time the child was sent to me and I’ve come to love her as myself, I’ve had light enough to trusten by; and, now she says seh’ll never leave me, I think I shall trusten till I die.’"

“‘Oh, Father,’ said Eppie, ‘what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are.'”

Amy Lowell

October 3, 2006


Amy Lawrence Lowell
Born into a wealthy and prestigious family
Quarreled with Ezra Pound over who should lead the imagist movement: Unlike Pound, Lowell did not think that imagist poetry needed to be obscure: Pound declared her type of poetry “Amygism”
Advocated a clean poetic line, devoid of sentimentality and conventional meter
Composed volumes of translation and creative writing in Orientalism
Received a Pulitzer Prize in 1926, a year after her death
Promoted Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman for their infusion of Asian aesthetics into their poetry
Presented poetry in theatrical readings: created a cult following traveling the country
Open homosexual: wrote many love poems to her partner Ada Dwyer Russell
Wrote the longest sequence of lesbian love poetry in the U.S. before Adrienne Rich: wrote pioneering texts in the lesbian-feminist tradition


Across the newly-plastered wall, / The darting red dragonflies / Is like the shooting / Of blood-tipped arrows.

-In Time of War (in whole)

Translation of a Japanese poem
Completed during major Allied offensives in WWI

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; / The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; / The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, / And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows. / Under a tree in the park, / Two little boys, lying flat on their faces, / Were carefully gathering red berries / To put in a pasteboard box. / Some day there will be no war, / Then I shall take out this afternoon / And turn it in my fingers, / And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate, / And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves. / To-day I can only gather it / And put it into my lunch box, / For I have time for nothing / But the endeavour to balance myself / Upon a broken world.

-September, 1918 (in whole)

September 1918 was an important period for the Allied offensive in WWI
Speaker sees the beauty in the afternoon, but won’t take pleasure in it until the war is over: questions what a poem should be like in a time of war; what is poetry’s role during war

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air. / The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light. / Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their relfections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my fingers sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.

– Bath (in whole)

An example of what Lowell called ‘polyphonic prose’: described as a form that makes use of all the voices of poetry (free verse, meter, assonance, conosance, alliteration, rhyme, and circular return)

I put your leaves aside, / One by one: / The stiff, broad outer leaves; / The smaller ones, / Pleasant to touch, veined with purple; / The glazed inner leaves. / One by one. / I parted you from your leaves, / Until you stood up like a white flower / Swaying slightly in the evening wind.
White flower, / Flower of wax, of jade, of unstreaked agate; / Flower with surfaces of ice, / With shadows faintly crimson. / Where in all the garden is there such a flower? / The stars crowd through the lilac leaves / To look at you. / The low moon brightens you with silver. / The bud is more than calyx. / There is nothing to equal a white bud, / Of no colour, and of all; / Burnished by moonlight, / Thrust upon by a softly-swinging wind.

-The Weathervane Points South (in whole)

An example of Lowell’s term ‘cadenced verse’: which encompassed Asian and French poetic forms
First published in Vanity Fair
Comparable to Georgia O’Keeffe’s representation of the white flower in her artwork: both women were influenced by the “Boston Orientalists” of the late 19th century

“The poets in this volume do not represent a clique. Several of them are personally unknown to the others, but they are united by certain common principles arrived at independently. These principles are not new; they have fallen into desuetude. They are the essentials of all great poetry, indeed of all great literature, and they are simple these:-
1.  To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.
2.  To create new rhythms- as the expression of new moods- and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist upon ‘free-verse’ as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
3.  To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.
4.  To present an image (hence the name: ‘Imagist’). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
5.  To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
6.  Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.”

-Some Imagist Poets, Preface

Claude McKay

September 26, 2006


Festus Claudius McKay
Born in Jamaica to peasant farmers, lived in the West Indie until 23
Came to the U.S. to study agriculture and to become a writer
Poetry expresses a new sense of black political assertion and a rich awareness of black cultural life
Figure of the Harlem Renaissance
Identified with oppressed and working people
Active socialist


If we must die, let it not be like hogs / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, / While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, / Making their mock at our accursed lot. / If we must die, O let us nobly die, / So that our precious blood may not be shed / In vain; then even the monsters we defy / Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! / O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe! / Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, / And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow! / What though before us lies the open grave? / Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

-If We Must Die (in whole)

Written in response to vilent anti-black riots in Chicago, 1919
First appeared in ‘The Liberator’
McKay’s most famous poem

Bananas ripe and green and ginger-root, / Cocoa in pods and alligator pears, / And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit, / Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,
Set in the window, bringing memories / Of fruit trees laden by low-singing rills, / And dewy dawns and mystical blue skies / In benediction over nun-like hills.
Mine eyes grew dim and I could no more gaze, / A wave of longing through my body swept, / And, hungry for the old, familiar ways, / I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.

The Tropics in New York (in whole)

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, / And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, / Stealing my breath of life, I will confess / I love this cultured hell that tests my youth! / Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, / Giving me strength erect against her hate. / Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood. / Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state, / I stand within her walls with not a shred / Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. / Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, / And see her might and granite wonders there, / Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand, / Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

-America (in whole)

May allude to ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass / In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall / Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass / Eager to heed desire’s insistent call: / Ah, little dark girls, who in slippered feet / Go prowling through the night from street to street.
Through the long night until the silver break / Of day the little gray feet know no rest, / Through the lone night until the last snow-flake / Has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast, / The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet / Are trudging, thinkly shod, from street to street.
Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way / Of poverty, dishonour and disgrace, / Has pushed the timid little feet of clay. / The sacred brown feet of my fallen race! / Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet / In Harlem wandering from street to street.

-Harlem Shadows (in whole)

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes / And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway; / Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes / Blwon by black playrs upon a picnic day. / She sand and danced on gracefully and calm, / The light gauze hanging loose about her form; / To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm / Grown lovelier for passing through a storm. / Upon her swarthy neck black, shiny curls / Profusely fell; and, tossing eons in praise, / The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls, / Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze: / But, looking at her fasely-smiling face, / I knew her self was not in that strange place.

-The Harlem Dancer (in whole)

Publication announced McKay’s entrance into the American literary scene
Shakespearean sonnet form

Carl Sandburg

September 21, 2006


American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer and folklorist
Was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents
Major Chicago poet
Poetry speaks unapologetically: direct, representative of the masses
Transforms poetry into more of a political pamphlet: changes the use of poetry
H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg

“indubitably an American in every pulse-beat”


Among the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and red crag and was amazed; / On the beach where the long push under the endless tide maneuvers, I stood silent; / Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant over the horizon’s grass, I was full of thoughts. / Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers, mothers lifting their children- these all I touched, and felt more solemn thrill of them. / And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides , and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of night- and all broken, humble ruins of nations.

-Masses (in whole)

Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti comes along Peoria Street every morning at nine o’clock / With kindling wood piled on top of her head, her eyes looking straight ahead to find the way for her old feet.
Her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, whose husband was killed in a tunnel explosion through the negligence of a fellow-servant, / Works ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, picking onions or Jasper on the Bowmanville road. / She takes a street car at half-past five in the morning, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti does, / And gets back from Jasper’s with cash for her day’s work, between nine and ten o’clock at night. / Last week she got eight cents a box, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, picking onions for Jasper, / But this week Jasper dropped the pay to six cents a box because so many women and girls were answering the ads in the Daily News. / Jasper belongs to an Episcopal church in Ravenswood and on certain Sundays / He enjoys chanting the Nicene creed with his daughters on each side of him joining their voices with his. / If the preacher repeats old sermons of a Sunday, Jasper’s mind wanders to his 700-acre farm and how he can make it produce more efficiently / And sometimes he speculates on whether he could word an ad in the Daily News so it would bring more women and girls out to his farm and reduce operating costs. / Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti is far from desperate about life; her joy is in a child she knows will arrive to her in three months. / And now while these are the pictures for today there are other pictures of the Giovannitti people I could give you for to-morrow, / And how some of them go to the county agent on winter mornings with their baskets for beans and cornmeal and molasses. / I listen to fellows saying here’s good stuff for a novel or it might be worked up into a good play. / I say there’s no dramatist living can put old Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti into a play with that kindling wood piled on top of her head coming along Peoria Street nine o’clock in the morning.
-Onion Days (in whole)

I waited today for a freight train to pass./ Cattle cars with steers butting their horns against the bars, went by./ And a half a dozen hoboes stood on bumpers between cars. / Well, the cattle are respectable, I thought. / Every steer has its transportation paid for by the farmer sending it to market, / While the hoboes are law-breakers in riding a railroad train without a ticket. / It reminded me of ten days I spent in the Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh. / I got ten days even though I was a veteran of the Spanish-American war. / Cooped in the same cell with me was an old man, a bricklayer and a booze-fighter./ But it just happened he, too, was a veteran soldier, and he had fought to preserve the Union and free the niggers. / We were three in all, the other being a Lithuanian who got drunk on pay day at the steel works and got to fighting a police man; / All the clothes he had was a shirt, pants and shoes– somebody got his hat and coat and what money he had left over when he got drunk.

-‘Boes (in whole)

I am the people- the mob- the crowd- the mass. / Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me? / I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes. / I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns. / I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget. / Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then- I forget. / When I , the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool- then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. / The mob- the crowd- the mass- will arrive then.

-I Am the People, the Mob (in whole)

Hog Butcher for the World, / Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; / Storny, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders: / They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. / And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again. / And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wonton hunger. / And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and give them back the sneer and say to them: / Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning. / Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities; / Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness, / Bareheaded, / Shoveling, / Wrecking, / Planning, / Building, breaking, rebuilding, / Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, / Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs, / Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle, / Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people, / Laughing! / Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

-Chicago (in whole)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. / Shovel them under and let me work- / I am the grass; I cover all. / And pile them high at Gettysburg / And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. / Shovel them under and let me work. / Two years, then years, and the passengers ask the conductor: / What place is this? / Where are we now?
I am the grass. / Let me work.

-Grass (in whole)

Compare to the natural imagery in Rosenberg’s ‘Dead Man’s Dump’: what is the earth’s role in a time of war?
Is Sandburg’s poem ironic: is the grass a helpful force or a force of dangerous amnesia?

Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes, / sob on the long cool winding saxophones. / Go to it, O jazzmen.
Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy / tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha- / husha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.
Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome treetops, moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang! you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns, tin cans – make two people fight on the top of a stairway and scratch each other’s eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.
Can the rough stuff … Now a Mississippi steamboat pushes up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo … and the green lanterns calling to the high soft stars … a red moon rides on the humps of the low river hills … go to it, O jazzmen.

Jazz Fantasia (in whole)

Jazz was still an emerging form when Sandburg wrote this poem

There was a high majestic fooling / Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.
And day after to-morrow in the yellowing corn / There will be high majestic fooling.
The ears ripen in late summer / And come on with a conquering laughter, / Come on with a high and conquering laughter.
The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse. / One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk / And a spot of red is on its shoulder / And I never heard its name in my life.
Some of the ears are bursting. / A white juice works inside. / Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind. / Always- I never knew it any other way – / The wind and the corn talk things over together. / And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn / Talk things over together.
Over the road is the farmhouse. / The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose. / It will not be fixed till the corn is husked. / The farmer and his wife talk things over together.

-Laughing Corn (in whole)

Walt Whitman

September 21, 2006


Said to have invented contemporary American literature as a genre
Abandoned the rhythmic and metrical structures of European poetry for expansionist freestyle verse
View that America was destined to reinvent the world as emancipator and liberator of the human spirit
Open homosexual of his time: poetry includes homosexual and homoerotic images: draws the connection between poetry and ejaculation
Early abolitionist
Invented the catalog style of writing: use of listing within poetic form, loosely binds together many different individual things
Tries to reinvent a poetic form that will stay true to his subject matter (primarily Democracy)
Believes in “Adhesive” Democracy and love: is not a ‘melting pot’, America must make room for diversity


I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, / Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, / The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, / The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, / The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, / The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, / The wood-cutter’s song, the phoughboy’s on his way in the morning, or of the girl sewing or washing, / Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, / The day what belongs to the day- at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, / Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

-I Hear America Singing (in whole)

Sexual imagery at the end
Free verse: radical for this time period
Focuses on working class
Themes of sense and body: Whitman’s poetry is “in the moment”

I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul, / I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, / Born here fo parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, / I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, / Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance, / Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten, / I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature without check with original energy.

Urge and urge and urge, / Always the procreant urge of the world.

-Song of Myself

Whitman has no tolerance for Dogma
Believes in the connection between the individual and the mass