Wednesday, September 30, 2009



by Seamus Heaney

Masons, when they start upon a building,

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney Reading "Scaffolding"

Favorite Poem Project: Roethke

Thesis Statement

Writing as we are about literature, there are certain elements that must be in every esssay. First, you want to name the author and the title of the work. Second, the particular themes you want to focus on, and third, the structural elements--irony, imagery, diction, tone, prosody, etc.--that express those themes. In other words, you have to have a point to make about HOW the poem expresses its WHAT, that is, its subject. Which, by the way, is usually something found beyond the first reading.

So: we can mix this up a little, but the formula should be something like this:

Billy Collins' poem "Whatever" is a delicately phrased sonnet that uses tactile images of decaying leaves and barren fields to evoke the futilty of a selfish love.

Reading Guide

Robert Hayden

A lost father warms a house in "Those Winter Sundays."
by David Biespiel

If there were a Top of the Pops for poetry, Robert Hayden’s "Those Winter Sundays" would be on it. Ten years ago, based on a Columbia University Press survey, the poem was ranked the 266th most anthologized poem in English. This put it nearly a hundred spots ahead of "Paul Revere’s Ride" (#313), but still lagging far behind Robert Frost’s "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (ranked 6th).

Born in 1913, Hayden grew up in a destitute African-American section of Detroit known as Paradise Valley. A neighbor’s family adopted him at the age of two when his parents separated and his mother could no longer afford to keep him. His adoptive father was a strict Baptist and manual laborer. Still, the new family nurtured Hayden’s early literary interests, and as a teenager, he was immersed in the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance and in traditional poets such as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Carl Sandburg.

While in college Hayden studied with the English poet W. H. Auden, who stressed a poetics of technical precision, for which Hayden was naturally suited. Poetic form would always remain important to him. Technique, he once said, enables discovery and definition in a poem, and it provides a way of "solving the unknowns."

In 1940, Hayden published his first volume of tidy lyrics called Heart-Shape in the Dust. The book drew little attention. But that would change. For the next forty years Hayden’s precise style would become widely acclaimed. In 1976 he was the first African-American to serve as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the post we now call U.S. Poet Laureate. He died in 1980.

"Those Winter Sundays" is his heart-wrenching domestic masterpiece, and very much a poem of discovery and definition.

What it discovers is a synchronicity of sound that embodies the poem’s spirit of reconciliation. Listen to the K sounds: blueblack, cracked, ached, weekday, banked, thanked, wake, breaking, call, chronic. That percussive, consonant-cooked vocabulary is like a melodic map into how to read the poem, linking the fire, the season, the father, and his son.

Then there’s what the poem defines, unspoken love. It begins with the father toward the son, when he makes the fire. Then, the unspoken love is returned, when the adult son asks, "What did I know, what did I know...?" The tone of that repetition—more statement than question—cuts from indifference to guilt to admiration. It’s a fast moment in the poem that blossoms into the last word, "offices," a metaphor that expresses the endurance required of long-term love, of manual labor, and of the official fatherly role.

Yet it all begins with that quiet, understated opening line ("Sundays, too, my father got up early"), which defines Hayden’s initial memory, as well as bringing to mind the other unmentioned six days of the week—and for how many years?—when the father began each day in the cold darkness, to warm up the home for his still-dreaming child.

Reprinted from David Biespiel's monthly column on poetry for the Sunday
Book Review of The Oregonian.

Robert E. Hayden (1913 - 1980)

Robert E. Hayden was the first black poet to be chosen as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a position described by Thomas W. Ennis of the New York Times as "the American equivalent of the British poet laureate designation." Hayden's formal, elegant poems about the black historical experience earned him a number of other major awards as well. "Robert Hayden is now generally accepted," Frederick Glaysher stated in Hayden's Collected Prose, "as the most outstanding craftsman of Afro-American poetry."

The historical basis for much of Hayden's poetry stemmed from his extensive study of American and black history. Beginning in the 1930s, when he researched black history for the Federal Writers' Project in his native Detroit, Hayden studied the story of his people from their roots in Africa to their present condition in the United States. "History," Charles T. Davis wrote in Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, "has haunted Robert Hayden from the beginning of his career as a poet." As he once explained to Glenford E. Mitchell of World Order, Hayden saw history "as a long, tortuous, and often bloody process of becoming, of psychic evolution."

Other early influences on Hayden's development as a poet were W. H. Auden, under whom Hayden studied at the University of Michigan, and Stephen Vincent Benet, particularly Benet's poem "John Brown's Body." That poem describes the black reaction to General Sherman's march through Georgia during the Civil War and inspired Hayden to also write of that period of history, creating a series of poems on black slavery and the Civil War that won him a Hopwood Award in 1942.

After graduating from college in 1944, Hayden embarked on an academic career. He spent some twenty-three years at Fisk University, where he rose to become a professor of English, and ended his career with an eleven-year stint at the University of Michigan. Hayden told Mitchell that he considered himself to be "a poet who teaches in order to earn a living so that he can write a poem or two now and then."

Although history played a large role in Hayden's poetry, many of his works were also inspired by the poet's adherence to the Baha'i faith, an Eastern religion that believes in a coming world civilization. Hayden served for many years as the poetry editor of the group's World Order magazine. The universal outlook of the Baha'is also moved Hayden to reject any narrow racial classification for his work.

James Mann of the Dictionary of Literary Biography claimed that Hayden "stands out among poets of his race for his staunch avowal that the work of black writers must be judged wholly in the context of the literary tradition in English, rather than within the confines of the ethnocentrism that is common in contemporary literature written by blacks." As Lewis Turco explained in the Michigan Quarterly Review, "Hayden has always wished to be judged as a poet among poets, not one to whom special rules of criticism ought to be applied in order to make his work acceptable in more than a sociological sense."

This stance earned Hayden harsh criticism from other blacks during the polarized 1960s. He was accused of abandoning his racial heritage to conform to the standards of a white, European literary establishment. "In the 1960s," William Meredith wrote in his foreword to Collected Prose, "Hayden declared himself, at considerable cost in popularity, an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles. . . . He would not relinquish the title of American writer for any narrower identity."

Ironically, much of Hayden's best poetry is concerned with black history and the black experience. "The gift of Robert Hayden's poetry," Vilma Raskin Potter remarked in MELUS, "is his coherent vision of the black experience in this country as a continuing journey both communal and private." Hayden wrote of such black historical figures as Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, and Cinquez. He also wrote of the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the American slave trade. Edward Hirsch, writing in the Nation, called Hayden "an American poet, deeply engaged by the topography of American myth in his efforts to illuminate the American black experience."

Though Hayden wrote in formal poetic forms, his range of voices and techniques gave his work a rich variety. "Hayden," Robert G. O'Meally wrote in the Washington Post Book World, "is a poet of many voices, using varieties of ironic black folk speech, and a spare, ebullient poetic diction, to grip and chill his readers. He draws characters of stark vividness as he transmutes cardinal points and commonplaces of history into dramatic action and symbol." "His work," Turco wrote, "is unfettered in many ways, not the least of which is in the range of techniques available to him. It gives his imagination wings, allows him to travel throughout human nature."

Speaking of Hayden's use of formal verse forms, Mann explained that Hayden's poems were "formal in a nontraditional, original way, strict but not straight-jacketed" and found that they also possessed "a hard-edged precision of line that molds what the imagination wants to release in visually fine-chiseled fragmental stanzas that fit flush together with the rightness of a picture puzzle."

It wasn't until 1966, with the publication of Selected Poems, that Hayden first enjoyed widespread attention from the nation's literary critics. As the Choice critic remarked at the time, Selected Poems showed Hayden to be "the surest poetic talent of any Negro poet in America; more importantly, it demonstrated a major talent and poetic coming-of-age without regard to race or creed." With each succeeding volume of poems his reputation was further enhanced until, in 1976 and his appointment as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Hayden was generally recognized as one of the country's leading black poets. Critics often point to Hayden's unique ability to combine the historical and the personal when speaking of his own life and the lives of his people. Writing in Obsidian: Black Literature in Review, Gary Zebrun argued that "the voice of the speaker in Hayden's best work twists and squirms its way out of anguish in order to tell, or sing, stories of American history—in particular the courageous and plaintive record of Afro-American history—and to chart the thoughts and feelings of the poet's own private space. . . . Hayden is ceaselessly trying to achieve . . . transcendence, which must not be an escape from the horror of history or from the loneliness of individual mortality, but an ascent that somehow transforms the horror and creates a blessed permanence."


Those Winter Sundays (1966)

by Robert E. Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shakespeare's 29th Sonnet (1609)


When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Realism of Distance, Realism of Immediacy"

Review of Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners (excerpt)

by Joyce Carol Oates

Originally published in The Southern Review, Winter 1971
Copyright © by Joyce Carol Oates

"The prophet is a realist of distances."
—Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor died in 1964. Reading and rereading this book is a moving experience: not only is Mystery and Manners (Occasional Prose of Flannery O'Connor, selected and edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald) a valuable and exciting collection of essays in itself, it is a testament to the deep humanity of Miss O'Connor, to the modesty and wisdom and gentle humor that lay behind her vivid, sometimes repulsive fictional accomplishments. Her death at the age of thirty-nine is one of our bitterest losses. It is impossible to guess, given the body of work she has left and the evidence of shrewd, speculative intelligence in these essays, just how far she might have gone; as it is she remains one of our finest writers, though she has not written any single "masterpiece."

Mystery and Manners is a collection of essays, lectures, critical articles, and notes by Miss O'Connor, dealing with a variety of subjects: raising peacocks, regional writing, the nature of literature, the teaching of literature, the peculiar problems of religious writers, and even a long essay about a terribly afflicted but somehow beautiful child named Mary Ann. Miss O'Connor's writing is direct and startling in its simplicity. She is not pretentious. She is not even very dogmatic, though she is certain of a few things and repeats them in one way or another—the beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and art must operate through the senses, beginning and ending humbly.

Miss O'Connor's writing is incarnational—a celebration of the distant in terms of the immediate. It is not important whether her fiction mirrors an accurate sociological world (does it?—doesn't it?), because its territory is not really Georgia; "Georgia" is the surface of the mystery. She states again and again that fiction concerns itself with mystery.

The mystery of the divine is dramatized through the immediate, through the manners of a region (the best American writing is always regional). Miss O'Connor remarks in "The Teaching of Literature" that Henry James once wrote of a hypothetical young woman of the future who would be taken out for airings in a flying-machine, but "would know nothing of mystery or manners."

The mystery he was talking about is the mystery of our position on earth, and the manners are those conventions which, in the hands of the artist, reveal that central mystery.

There is much in this excellent book that cannot be drawn together except arbitrarily. A "realist of distances," Miss O'Connor possessed a devastating eye for the immediate; here are some scattered remarks that seem exceptionally worthwhile:

The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live ....

Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do.

Unless we are willing to accept our artists as they are, the answer to the question, "Who speaks for America today?" will have to be: the advertising agencies.

I think that every writer, when he speaks of his own approach to fiction, hopes to show that, in some crucial and deep sense, he is a realist ....

The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.

I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.

. . . there's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.

Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama.

Originally published in The Southern Review, Winter 1971
Copyright © by Joyce Carol Oates

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Each year as my students and I discuss twentieth-century poetry, I always can count upon Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” to inspire some of the most interesting and conflicting opinions. Amazingly, examination of this fairly brief and seemingly accessible work usually initiates an elaborate and occasionally emotional conversation that moves beyond the poem’s clever use of rhythm and clear sense of sound into the direction of animated debate about the possible presence of messages covering child abuse and alcoholism.

Rather than reading the poetry as an elegiac tribute by a son to his father, perhaps a belated statement of love by the speaker, many in my classes want to condemn the father for his behavior, especially for the pain they perceive him inflicting upon the young boy in the poem. A few also accuse the mother in the work of acting almost as an accomplice because she witnesses the roughhousing without interfering to stop her husband’s clumsy carousing.

When pressed for evidence of the violence they claim Roethke presents, particular phrases or images are noted. The students begin by citing the opening two lines, which certainly establish drunkenness. In addition, they declare the poem suggests physical injuries to the small boy, whose ear is scraped by his father’s buckle and who feels his father “beat” him. The mother obviously appears upset, the students claim, and they wonder if the father’s battered knuckle resulted from a barroom brawl. Finally, they conclude the first stanza’s allusion to death opens the poem for darker, if not more ominous, interpretation.

When consulting with colleagues at my university and elsewhere, I find this response to be a somewhat common reaction among growing numbers of students as well as some scholars. Indeed, in the last couple of decades, as society’s awareness and alarm over child abuse have increased, and concern over all forms of substance abuse has become more prominent, one can understand why a legion of readers might highlight these issues in their analysis of “My Papa’s Waltz.”

Nevertheless, I find myself repeatedly rising to the defense of the parents in the poem, not so much for their specific actions or inactions, but because I believe we also need to read the piece within the context of its time frame. In the era this poem was authored, the late-1940s, readers would not have shared the same sensibilities about these issues that contemporary readers exhibit. Certainly, the definition of child abuse would not have been as broad as that expressed by my students, and a man returning home with whiskey on his breath after a day of work would not immediately raise great concern since it would not have been very unusual.

If we switch to a different time frame and another frame of mind for the persona in the piece based upon the poet’s autobiography, we would retreat even further a few decades to early in the twentieth century. Roethke was born in 1908 and could not have been very old when the actions might have occurred since the boy’s height only extends to his father’s waist, and that may be with him standing on his father’s shoe tops. Also, we know the father’s work in a greenhouse would have explained the battered knuckle and the caked dirt on his hands.

Therefore, in the current interpretation of this poem by some readers, we see a contrast between contemporary readers’ objections, responding within their own perceptions of proper parenting, and the author’s apparent intention at honoring a more pleasant memory of an enjoyable incident with his father, even if it “was not easy.” After all, the poet refers to his father as “papa,” connoting greater affection. Additionally, the word choice of “romp” reflects a more playful tone. The two dance a carefree version of the upbeat waltz. Indeed, the poet’s use of “beat” pertains to the father keeping the musical beat for their movements, and it possibly foreshadows the poet’s own eventual understanding of rhythm as evidenced in the poem itself, which mostly uses an iambic trimeter line to echo the musical beat in a waltz composition and maybe imitate the swaying of waltzing dancers.

When we remember Theodore Roethke’s father died when the poet was only fourteen, and that loss appeared to impact much of Roethke’s later life as well as his writing, the mention of death seems even more elegiac. In fact, when we find similar lines in the first and last stanzas (“I hung on like death” and “still clinging to your shirt”), we may believe the father’s death is foreshadowed and that the son is unwilling to let the father go despite possible pain, even decades later when Roethke writes the poem.

In any case, one could contend the competing readings of this poem allow for a richer and more rewarding experiencing of Roethke’s lyrical recollection, and the conflicting conclusions help all conjure a more haunting image. As someone who appreciates ambiguity in all forms of art, whether in a Roethke poem or the finale of The Sopranos, I suggest “My Papa’s Waltz” for this Father’s Day weekend, and I recommend an additional delight by listening to Theodore Roethke’s reading of the poem.


The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Posted by Edward Byrne at Saturday, June 16, 2007
Andrew Shields said...
This is truly fascinating and thought-provoking. Thanks.

June 17, 2007 12:10 AM
Anonymous said...
This post has been removed by a blog administrator.
September 17, 2007 9:13 AM
Anonymous said...
I agree that it is thought provoking. Almost half of this poem I could not understand, this has helped me much thank you!

September 17, 2007 12:12 PM
Tad Richards said...
It's not quite the same thing, but when I show the Marlon Brando movie, "The Wild One," to students today, they always pick up on one thing that we never would even have noticed, seeing the movie in our leather-jacket-dreaming youth: Johnny's (Brando's) father beat him.

This comes from the line when the vigilante mob catches Brando, and are beating him up: "My old man used to hit harder than that."

November 29, 2007 5:56 PM
Anonymous said...
I have a similar experience when discussing this poem with my tenth graders. While they often have a difficult time with poetry, I find that it is one of the few poems they actually get charged up about, especially when I offer them the alternative meaning. While I disagree with their interpretation, I am pleased with their wholehearted attempt to support it because, without realizing it, they are analyzing poetry! I often follow up Roethke’s poem with "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden and have them compare each speaker's tribute to his father. I find that Hayden's poem helps them to understand the alternative interpretation to Roethke's because they begin to think about how a father displays his love differently than our expectation of how love should be shown. They draw upon their own relationships with their parents and are able to see that fathers often show their love indirectly.

December 13, 2007 8:07 PM
Mary said...
I can almost hear a class debating this poem. It's interesting how many of your students interpret this poem in a negative light. For me, it's a joyous and whirling (if exhausting) childhood memory, but I can understand the alternative explanation. When I re-read the poem a second time, a few things came to mind to support the "happy" side of the fence. These aspects have probably already been discussed in your class, but in case this adds fun to the debate...

In the title, "My Papa's Waltz," it struck me that the word "My" is significant. It seems to speak to the boy wanting to claim this person as his father, in an affectionate way -- and I further take that to mean the content of the poem may be a cherished, happy memory. The word "My" is not really necessary in the title, as it is evident in reading the poem that this is a father/son event. So it does seem to be a tender term used purposely by the author.

Another thing I noted was the "We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf." I agree with you that the word "romp" is significant; but I also feel like the word "slid" speaks to the entire situation being non-violent. It does seem like an actual dancing waltz was going on, or wouldn't the word choice of the pans coming down have been more intense, such as "fell" or "crashed"?

I also paid attention to "my mother's countenance could not unfrown itself." That sounds very much like the description of a mother who is dismayed by a mess being made right in front of her but also trying to be tolerant of it, since she does see the fun the boy is having. Otherwise, I feel like the word choice for her facial expression should have been more upset/dramatic/nervous in nature. It also seems unrealistic that a mother would (essentially) be forever frowning in this situation in a hurt way, yet standing by to watch the violent scene. It seems she would either be upset and intervene (if her son was being hurt) or beat a hasty retreat. Maybe that's not such a great point, but it's how it hit me emotionally.

The last thought I had was the father "waltzed me off to bed." If we can assume the child is literally put to bed, that seems to indicate a fatherly duty. If the poem is interpreted as more ominous in meaning, the ending just doesn't make sense to me.

Those are my 2 cent's worth, but I don't have much experience with poetry, so I know all you true poets will have much better ideas. :)

December 20, 2007 10:19 AM
Edward Byrne said...
Hi, Tad. "Anonymous," and Mary:

I appreciate your notes very much.

Tad: I used to teach that movie in my Film Studies class, and I remember students discussing the character's motives for his behavior, particularly attempting to connect his actions to personal biographical influences or debating the sway of contemporary social conditions of the times.

As "Anonymous" mentions, I also pair "My Papa's Waltz" with "Those Winter Sundays" for examination of the similarities in subject matter and differences in delivery or tone of voice. I second that recommendation.

Mary, those are excellent suggestions, providing wonderful additions that persuasively argue for a more sympathetic reading of the poem based upon the slight perception of differences in definitions or connotations associated with specific word choices, subtly revealing the persona's true emotional mood. If you don't mind, I'll have to borrow those insightful observations in my next class discussion of the poem.

December 21, 2007 9:51 AM
Mary said...
Of course I don't mind. Wow, the way you detail my suggestions, I sound absolutely brilliant -- thank you for that! :)I would be truly humbled and honored if you wanted to use any of my ideas for class discussion. In doing so, if anyone in class shouts out: "What a lame idea!", you have my full permission to explain that the idea came from a former Valpo student -- just making another run at understanding and appreciating poetry.

December 21, 2007 11:46 AM
Anonymous said...
I'd always read this as a euphemistic poem about, the way kids with bruises on their faces describe them as "little scrapes".

It always seemed to me that Roethke's vehicle was irony in this poem; i.e. by explaining away his father's dragging him as a "waltz". I appreciate, however, the alternate (and probably more accurate ) interpretation. Mine now seems extemporaneous given the time when the poem was written.

May 18, 2008 2:43 PM
Anonymous said...
As a literature undergrad student and, two decades later, physician, I occasionally reflect on this poem. It is my favorite.

I find it interesting that people become so polarized by Roethke's tribute to his father. The roughness and hint of violence is undeniable, but the author's affection for his father lends this poem it's gravity and poignancy. It is a testament to the talent of Mr. Roethke that he could evoke such strong yet contrary sentiments.

July 2, 2008 11:49 AM
Anonymous said...
I'm a 3rd year student of Kuwait University. I'm majoring in English. This course I'm taking American Literature and our book is "The Norton Anthology of AMERICAN LITERATUT". Today's lecture will be about
Theodore Roethke: "My Papa's Waltz". As I read the poem for the 1st time I felt sorry for that boy and I blamed his father for doing such a thing. But after reading your article Mr.Edward Byrne, I have a different opinion about the poem and the situation of the father and his son.
Thank you for teaching us that things should be revised and looked from different angles to avoid mistakes.
from, Amina

January 5, 2009 11:56 PM
Anonymous said...
So I'm 15 and the first time I read this poem I fell in love with it! I was very angry when my classmates thought that the boy was being abused by his father. This poem speaks about a hard working father who came home late at night when it was time for his son to go to bed. He didn't even wash his hands first he just started to spend time with the little boy by dancing. It's a ritual for them. The mother look at them disapprovingly because the father should be getting the child ready for bed but instead he's romping with the child and making him more hyper. But the mother does not intervene because she knows it's how they bond.
To the little boy, it's the only time he gets to spend with his father and he values it very much. Even though it is slightly painful for he he endures it because he loves spending time with his dad. This poem was simply brilliant!!! I loved it! :)

February 1, 2009 12:26 PM
Anonymous said...
There are many pieces of "evidence" in the poem to suggest child abuse; there are no references, only conjecture, that suggest the father just got home from work.

March 11, 2009 9:24 PM
Edward Byrne said...
I believe suggestions are not that the father "just got home from work," since he apparently has been drinking a while. Instead, readers can assume the father is a man who labors hard with his hands and has returned late from drinking after a difficult day of work.

The poem is clearly autobiographical, written about Roethke and his father, who worked in a nursery growing young plants and trees. When the poem was originally published, it was positioned by Roethke in his book beside other similar "greenhouse" poems. In an early draft of the poem Roethke began the last stanza with the following two lines that also explain the condition of the father's hands as a result of his work: "The hand wrapped round my head / Was harsh from weeds and dirt."

However, as I mention in the post, I do not see "many pieces of evidence" for child abuse, especially as expressed in the intent of the author at the time the poem was written in the 1940s about an incident that happened perhaps three decades earlier.

The child's ear is accidentally scraped while the son enjoys dancing with his "papa," a term of affection, and the use of "beat" refers to the father keeping time for the dance, as well as the boy's early learning of the importance of "beat," as in the meter now used by him as a poet, including in this elegy. Indeed, an early draft of the poem used "kept" instead of "beat."

Certainly, the poem contains marvelous ambiguity suggesting pain; however, the real pain for the speaker is not physical. Instead, as in many elegies, the example of pain in the poem may be metaphorical for the true ache of loss and regret--perhaps the pain of sorrow that accompanied the father's early death and the regret that reflects a wish that there had been a greater closeness and even more openly affectionate relationship experienced with the father.

March 12, 2009 1:15 AM
Mandy Olverson said...
Thanks for opening up such a lively debate between my two sons 15 & 17 who are presently being home schooled.They were able to think through the meaning of the poem My Papa's waltz, & explore the relationship between farther & son in more depth & come up with an interesting written analysis.

April 6, 2009 10:15 AM
LittleCatGrim said...
I'm glad to have read this blog and everyone's opinions; they're all insightful.

I just read this poem as part of an English assignment, and I as someone who enjoys reading and interpreting poetry, this one struck me as a bit ambiguous. I am unsure whether to take this literally or figuratively, but I'd also like to do more research on Reothke.

All in all, however, I think his poem makes for an engaging read. The masculine, feminine, and slant rhymes role of the tongue quite well from line to line—just to name one element to the poem.)


April 21, 2009 12:43 AM
Anonymous said...
I have bit confussion about the last 2 lines.....
But the whole poem fascinated me.

September 7, 2009 4:36 AM
Prongs said...
I am an avid poet reader and I love to write poems. It's something I do in my free time and I write things taht have happened to me in my childhood, much like Roethke does in "My Papa's Waltz"

September 17, 2009 12:23 PM
Anonymous said...
While I certainly do not object to the majority interpretation of this poem, I can clearly see the abuse angle of the reading. Abused children still love their parents; they depend on them and forgive them over and over. A waltz could certainly be a term used, in a coded way, to talk about a beating. Children, especially between siblings, have terms they used together; my brothers and I called it dancing. Before our beating, we struggled and held on for fear of falling while we were lifted off the ground and bounced against the walls. Off to bed meant he was done with you, give up and hang on. When I read this poem, I took it as the weekly beating, not a happy time. I hope this is not what the author lived through; no one should be treated that way.

September 24, 2009 8:34 AM
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Excellent Commentary on Poets and Poetry

Theodore Roethke Bio

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1908. As a child, he spent much time in the greenhouse owned by his father and uncle. His impressions of the natural world contained there would later profoundly influence the subjects and imagery of his verse. Roethke graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1929. He later took a few graduate classes at Michigan and Harvard, but was unhappy in school. His first book, Open House (1941), took ten years to write and was critically acclaimed upon its publication. He went on to publish sparingly but his reputation grew with each new collection, including The Waking which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1954.

He admired the writing of such poets as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Blake, and Wordsworth, as well as Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Stylistically his work ranged from witty poems in strict meter and regular stanzas to free verse poems full of mystical and surrealistic imagery. At all times, however, the natural world in all its mystery, beauty, fierceness, and sensuality, is close by, and the poems are possessed of an intense lyricism. Roethke had close literary friendships with fellow poets W. H. Auden, Louise Bogan, Stanley Kunitz, and William Carlos Williams. He taught at various colleges and universities, including Lafayette, Pennsylvania State, and Bennington, and worked last at the University of Washington, where he was mentor to a generation of Northwest poets that included David Wagoner, Carolyn Kizer, and Richard Hugo. Theodore Roethke died in 1963.

A Selected Bibliography


Collected Poems (1966)
I Am! Says the Lamb (1961)
Open House (1941)
Party at the Zoo (1963)
Praise to the End! (1951)
Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical (1964)
The Far Field (1964)
The Lost Son (1948)
The Waking: Poems 1933-1953 (1953)
Words for the Wind: The Collected Verse (1958)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"My Papa's Waltz"

My Papa's Waltz

by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"The Sound of Trees" by Robert Frost

The Sound of Trees

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

Robert Frost

Monday, September 21, 2009

"The Tuft of Flowers" by Robert Frost (1915)

The Tuft Of Flowers

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,--alone,

"As all must be," I said within my heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim over night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly-weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

"Men work together," I told him from the heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."

Joseph Corad Bio (1857-1924)

Biography of Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad grew up in the Polish Ukraine, a large, fertile plain between Poland and Russia. It was a divided nation, with four languages, four religions, and a number of different social classes. A fraction of the Polish-speaking inhabitants, including Conrad's family, belonged to the szlachta, a hereditary class in the aristocracy on the social hierarchy, combining qualities of gentry and nobility. They had political power, despite their impoverished state. Conrad's father, Apollo Korzeniowski, studied for six years at St. Petersburg University, which he left before earning a degree. Conrad's mother, Eva Bobrowska, was thirteen years younger than Apollo and the only surviving daughter in a family of six sons. After she met him in 1847, Eva was drawn to Apollo's poetic temperament and passionate patriotism, while he admired her lively imagination. Although Eva's family disapproved of the courtship, the two were married in 1856.

Instead of devoting himself to the management of his wife's agricultural estates, Apollo pursued literary and political activities, which brought in little money. He wrote a variety of plays and social satires. Although his works were little known, they would have tremendous influence on his son.

A year into the marriage, Eva became pregnant with Joseph, who was born in 1857. The Crimean War had just ended, and hopes were high for Polish independence. Joseph's family moved quite a bit, and he never formed close friendships in Poland.

After Apollo was arrested on suspicion of involvement in revolutionary activities, the family was thrown into exile. Eva developed tuberculosis, and she gradually declined until she died in 1865. The seven-year-old Conrad, who witnessed her decline, was absolutely devastated. He also developed health problems, migraines and lung inflammation, which persisted throughout his life. Apollo too fell into decline, and he died of tuberculosis in 1869. At age eleven, Joseph became an orphan.

The young boy became the ward of his uncle, who loved him dearly. Thus began Joseph's Krakow years, which ended when he left Poland as a teenager in 1874. This move was a complex decision, resulting from what he saw as the intolerably oppressive atmosphere of the Russian garrison.

He spent the next few years in France, mastering his second language and the fundamentals of seamanship. The author made acquaintances in many circles, but his "bohemian" friends were the ones who introduced him to drama, opera, and theater. In the meantime, he was strengthening his maritime contacts, and he soon became an observer on pilot boats. The workers he met on the ship, together with all the experiences they recounted to him, laid the groundwork for much of the vivid detail in his novels.

By 1878, Joseph had made his way to England with the intention of becoming an officer on a British ship. He ended up spending twenty years at sea. Conrad interspersed long voyages with time spent resting on land.

When he was not at sea, writing letters or writing in journals, Joseph was exploring other means of making money. Unlike his father, who abhorred money, Conrad was obsessed by it; he was always on the lookout for business opportunities.

Once the author had worked his way up to shipmaster, he made a series of eastern voyages over three years. Conrad remained in the English port of Mauritius for two months, during which time he unsuccessfully courted two women. Frustrated, he left and journeyed to England.

In England in the summer of 1889, Conrad began the crucial transition from sailor to writer by starting his first novel, Almayer's Folly. Interestingly, he chose to write in English, his third language.

A journey to the Congo in 1890 was Joseph's inspiration to write Heart of Darkness. His condemnation of colonialism is well documented in the journal he kept during his visit. He returned to England and soon faced the death of his beloved guardian and uncle. In the meantime, Conrad became closer to Marguerite, an older family friend who was his closest confidant. For six years he tried to establish intimacy with her, but he was eventually discouraged by the age difference and the disparity between their social positions.

Then, 1894 was a landmark year for Conrad: his first novel was published; he met Edward Garnett, who would become a lifelong friend; and he met Jessie George, his future wife. The two-year courtship between the 37-year-old Conrad and the 21-year-old Jessie was somewhat discontinuous in that Conrad pursued other women during the first year of their relationship, but his attention became strongly focused on Jessie by the autumn of 1895. Garnett disapproved of the match, especially since Jessie was miles behind Joseph in education. Nonetheless, they married in March 1896.

The children who followed the union were not warmly welcomed by their father; an absent-minded sort, he expressed surprise each time Jessie delivered a baby. His days were consumed with writing, a struggle no doubt exacerbated by the gaps in his knowledge of the English language.

The major productive phase of Conrad's career spanned from 1897 to 1911, during which time he composed The Nigger of the Narcissus, Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, and Under Western Eyes, among other works. During this period, he also experienced serious financial difficulties, often living off of advances and state grants, there being little in the way of royalties. It was not until the publication of Chance in 1914 that he experienced some level of commercial success.

As the quality of his work declined, he grew increasingly comfortable in his wealth and status. Conrad had a true genius for companionship, and his circle of friends included talented authors such as Stephen Crane and Henry James.

Still always writing, he eventually returned to Poland, and he then traveled to America, where he died of a heart attack in 1924 at the age of 67. Conrad's literary work would have a profound impact on the Modernist movement, influencing a long list of writers including T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Big Sister Is Watching You

Big Sister Is Watching You
By Whittaker Chambers

EDITOR'S NOTE: 2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of National Reviewpos. In celebration, NRO will be digging into the NR archives throughout the year. This piece by Whittaker Chambers appeared in the December 28, 1957, issue of NR.

Several years ago, Miss Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead. Despite a generally poor press, it is said to have sold some four hundred thousand copies. Thus, it became a wonder of the book trade of a kind that publishers dream about after taxes. So Atlas Shrugged had a first printing of one hundred thousand copies. It appears to be slowly climbing the best-seller lists.

The news about this book seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could not possibly take it seriously, and that, apparently, a good many do. Somebody has called it: "Excruciatingly awful." I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous. It reports the final stages of a final conflict (locale: chiefly the United States, some indefinite years hence) between the harried ranks of free enterprise and the "looters." These are proponents of proscriptive taxes, government ownership, labor, etc., etc. The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality. This," she is saying in effect, "is how things really are. These are the real issues, the real sides. Only your blindness keeps you from seeing it, which, happily, I have come to rescue you from."

Since a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does, many incline to take her at her word. It is the more persuasive, in some quarters, because the author deals wholly in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to most primitive storyknown as: The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures.

The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. Insofar as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in boardrooms. Otherwise, the Children of Light are geniuses. One of them is named (the only smile you see will be your own): Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian dAntonio. This electrifying youth is the world's biggest copper tycoon. Another, no less electrifying, is named: Ragnar Danesjold. He becomes a twentieth-century pirate. All Miss Rand's chief heroes are also breathtakingly beautiful. So is her heroine (she is rather fetchingly vice president in charge of management of a transcontinental railroad).

In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as "looters." This is a fairly inspired epithet. It enables the author to skewer on one invective word everything and everybody that she fears and hates. This spares her the playguy business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. Instead, she bundles them into one undifferentiated damnation.

"Looters" loot because they believe in Robin Hood, and have got a lot of other people believing in him, too. Robin Hood is the author's image of absolute evil — robbing the strong (and hence good) to give to the weak (and hence no good). All "looters" are base, envious, twisted, malignant minds, motivated wholly by greed for power, combined with the lust of the weak to tear down the strong, out of a deepseated hatred of life and secret longing for destruction and death. There happens to be a tiny (repeat: tiny) seed of truth in this. The full clinical diagnosis can be read in the pages of Friedrich Nietzsche. (Here I must break in with an aside. Miss Rand acknowledges a grudging debt to one, and only one, earlier philosopher: Aristotle. I submit that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche. Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, so her ulcerous leftists are Nietzsche's "last men," both deformed in a way to sicken the fastidious recluse of Sils Maria. And much else comes, consciously or not, from the same source.) Happily, in Atlas Shrugged (though not in life), all the Children of Darkness are utterly incompetent.

So the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash. In the end, they troop out of their Rocky Mountain hideaway to repossess the ruins. It is then, in the book's last line, that a character traces in the dir, over the desolate earth," the Sign of the Dollar, in lieu of the Sign of the Cross, and in token that a suitably prostrate mankind is at last ready, for its sins, to be redeemed from the related evils of religion and social reform (the "mysticism of mind" and the "mysticism of muscle").

Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism. Upperclassmen might incline to sniff and say that the author has, with vast effort, contrived a simple materialist system, one, intellectually, at about the stage of the oxcart, though without mastering the principle of the wheel. Like any consistent materialism, this one begins by rejecting God, religion, original sin, etc., etc. (This book's aggressive atheism and rather unbuttoned "higher morality," which chiefly outrage some readers, are, in fact, secondary ripples, and result inevitably from its underpinning premises.) Thus, Randian Man, like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world.

At that point, in any materialism, the main possibilities open up to Man. 1) His tragic fate becomes, without God, more tragic and much lonelier. In general, the tragedy deepens according to the degree of pessimism or stoicism with which he conducts his "hopeless encounter between human questioning and the silent universe." Or, 2) Man's fate ceases to be tragic at all. Tragedy is bypassed by the pursuit of happiness. Tragedy is henceforth pointless. Henceforth man's fate, without God, is up to him, and to him alone. His happiness, in strict materialist terms, lies with his own workaday hands and ingenious brain. His happiness becomes, in Miss Rand's words, "the moral purpose of his fife."

Here occurs a little rub whose effects are just as observable in a free-enterprise system, which is in practice materialist (whatever else it claims or supposes itself to be), as they would be under an atheist socialism, if one were ever to deliver that material abundance that all promise. The rub is that the pursuit of happiness, as an end in itself, tends automatically, and widely, to be replaced by the pursuit of pleasure, with a consequent general softening of the fibers of will, intelligence, spirit. No doubt, Miss Rand has brooded upon that little rub. Hence in part, I presume, her insistence on man as a heroic being" With productive achievement as his noblest activity." For, if Man's heroism" (some will prefer to say: human dignity") no longer derives from God, or is not a function of that godless integrity which was a root of Nietzsche's anguish, then Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity. So Randian Man, at least in his ruling caste, has to be held "heroic" in order not to be beastly. And this, of course, suits the author's economics and the politics that must arise from them. For politics, of course, arise, though the author of Atlas Shrugged stares stonily past them, as if this book were not what, in fact, it is, essentially — a political book. And here begins mischief. Systems of philosophic materialism, so long as they merely circle outside this world's atmosphere, matter little to most of us. The trouble is that they keep coming down to earth. It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.

Nor has the author, apparently, brooded on the degree to which, in a wicked world, a materialism of the Right and a materialism of the Left first surprisingly resemble, then, in action, tend to blend each with each, because, while differing at the top in avowed purpose, and possibly in conflict there, at bottom they are much the same thing. The embarrassing similarities between Hitler's National Socialism and Stalin's brand of Communism are familiar. For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question becomes chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently?

Something of this implication is fixed in the book's dictatorial tone, which is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!" The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture-that Dollar Sign, for example. At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house. A tornado might feel this way, or Carrie Nation.

We struggle to be just. For we cannot help feeling at least a sympathetic pain before the sheer labor, discipline, and patient craftsmanship that went to making this mountain of words. But the words keep shouting us down. In the end that tone dominates. But it should be its own antidote, warning us that anything it shouts is best taken with the usual reservations with which we might sip a patent medicine. Some may like the flavor. In any case, the brew is probably without lasting ill effects. But it is not a cure for anything. Nor would we, ordinarily, place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.

Ayn Rand Bio and Works

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) - original name Alice (in some sources Alissa) Rosenbaum

Russian-born American writer, whose works combined science fiction with philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism, social Darwinism, and Nietzschean individualism familiar from the books of Mickey Spillane. Rand became a highly visible advocate for the inviolate supremacy of individual rights with her novels THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1943) and ATLAS SHRUGGED (1957). "The genius must have his freedom and his independence," she once wrote. Rand rejected Communism and fascism and fiercy defended a system in which economics have to fit man, not the other way round.

"Great men can't be ruled." (from the Fountainhead)

Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg as the daughter of Fronz Rosenbaum, a chemist, and his wife Anna. She witnessed the Russian Revolution and the social upheaval, during which his father found work only in a Soviet store. At the age of 21 Rand graduated from the University of Petrograd in history with highest honors. After the family's shop was confiscated, they went to Odessa. In 1926 Rand moved to the United States, and took her surname from the typewriter she used, a Remington-Rand.

Rand started to study English, working as a junior screenwriter and movie extra for Hollywood between the years 1926 and 1932. Starting as a filing clerk, she became an office head in wardrobe department. Rand wrote screenplays for Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. One of her scenarios, 'The Skyscraper', based on a story by Dudley Murphy, told about an architect, named Howard Kane, who breaks through all obstacles on his mission to build a skyscraper.

In 1934-35 in New York Rand was a free-lance script reader for RKO Pictures, then for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While in Hollywood she met Frank O'Connor, an actor, whom she married. Rand's first novel, WE THE LIVING appeared in 1936, but her breakthrough work was courtroom play NIGHT OF THE JANUARY 16th (1934), where the audience was asked to determine the verdict. While collecting material for The Fountainhed Rand worked without pay as a typist for Eli Jacques Kahn, and architect in New York City. With Hal Wallis Productions Rand had a special contract which committed her to work only six months of each year. During the other six months she pursued her own writing.

In Hollywood Rand worked until 1949, when she became a full-time writer and lecturer. When HUAC (the House Committee on Un-American Activities) started in 1947 its investigation on the film industry, it put on a host of friendly witnessess, whose testimony it knew in advance. Among its witnesses were Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, and Gary Cooper. In the early 1950s Rand moved to New York. She was a visiting lecturer at Yale Univeristy, New Haven, Connecticut (1960), Princeton University, New Jersey (1960), Columbia University, New York (1960, 1962), University of Wisconsin (1961), Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1961), Harvard University, Cambridge (1962), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (1962).

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." (from The Fountainhead)

Rand's best-selling novel The Fountainhead was adapted into screen in 1949. The romantic tale of an idealistic architect, Howard Roar, kwho clashes with the compromises of society, gained a huge popularity. Many critics consider that the central character was modelled after Frank Lloyd Wright, whom Rand tried unsuccessfully interview.

In 1950 Rand met a college student named Natham Blumenthal, who became a member her discussion group, 'The Class of '43' that met to critique Rand's works in progress. In 1954 Rand and Blumenthal (then known as Nathaniel Branden) declared that they had fallen in love. Rand's next novel, Atlas Shrugged, was dedicated jointly to O'Connor and Branden. Rand expected that the philosophy of the book would make a great impact on the public discussion but was disappointed in the reception. In National Review Whittaker Chambers stated that one could hear the echo of the gas chamber in Rand's books. Depressed and unjustly interpreted, Rand's affair with Branden cooled. However, Branden established an institute to advocate her ideas. Soon its branches had spread all over the U.S.

The enormous work, 1 168 pages long, portrayed what Rand considered to be the inevitable result of the unselfish concern for the welfare of others - socialism or anarchy. The book is mentioned in many American reader surveys as one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. In the story the US government becomes increasingly socialist and violates individual rights and human reason in protecting the public good. John Galt, Ayn Rand's mouthpiece, and his Objectivist colleagues retreat to the mountains. Galt claims, that it is irrational to sacrifice the self for the good of society. As civilization crumbles they are prepared to return only when they will be able to rebuilt along the lines of Objectivist philosophy. Galt's Gulch, a capitalist utopia, is born to promote free enterprise without government controls.

In the 1950s Rand's Objectivist philosophy was especially popular among college students, who were attracted by her instructions to heed one's self-interest, and to maxime the superman potential without social conscience. Rand published her manifestoes in The Objectivist Newsletter in the early 1960s and became a permanent guest on television talk shows. In the 1974 she ceased publishing the Newsletter, but after the collapse of the Soviet Communism her essays gained a new audience in Moscow. Rand died on March 6, 1982. Her books have been sold over 20 million copies in the Unites States, where they have never been out of print. Among her early devotees and members of 'The Class of '43' was Alan Greenspan, a noted economist and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

"Rand was passionately patriotic about her adopted country. There are many things about America, though, that she never understood, and the pervasiveness of religion in this country was certainly one of them. She imagined America as she imagined capitalism, and her success is evidence of the fact that her own fantasies coincided with those of others - and probably that her own simplicities met the need of others for one simple, all-embracing explanation of everything. This makes for a movement, but it doesn't make for good philosophy or viable politics." (Peter L. Berger, in The New York Times, July 6, 1986)

Ayn Rand called her philosophy "Objectivism" because it is based on the premise that reality is an objective absolute. One must perceive and understand reality to survive. One's highest value should be one's ability to reason. This also manifested in the way Rand viewed her own life, not through feelings but through her interest in ideas and her thinking: "I do not regard any particular day of my childhood as especially memorable. What I regard as significant are certain trends and intellectual developments in my childhood, but not single days or events" (from a letter to Gene Shalit, in Letters of Ayn Rand, 1995). In the novella ANTHEM (1937) Rand studied a future society where the collective mind have suppressed individual thoughts. WE THE LIVING reflected Rand's deep antipathy of communist ideology. The story follows the struggle of a young Russian girl, Kira Argounova, who wants to live her own life in a society where "man must live for the state."

Selected works:

WE THE LIVING, 1933 - film adaptation in 1942 (Italy), a revised and abridged version of the Italian film in 1988
ANTHEM, 1937
THE UNCONQUERED, 1940 (adaptation of We the Living, prod. on Broadway)
THE FOUNTAINHEAD, 1943 - film 1949, dir. by King Vidor, starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas
YOU CAME ALONG, 1945 (screenplay, with Robert Smith)
LOVE LETTERS, 1945 (screenplay)
THE FOUNTAINHEAD, 1949 (screenplay)
CONSERVATISM, 1962 (lecture)
LETTERS OF AYN RAND, 1995 (edited by Michael S. Berliner)
JOURNALS OF AYN RAND, 1997 (edited by David Harriman)

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Old Man's Winter Night

An Old Man's Winter Night
by: Robert Frost

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him -- at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; -- and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man -- one man -- can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.

From "Mountain Interval", 1916

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Heaney Poem #4


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Course Syllabus

Senior AP English
Mr. Ortiz
September 2009

Course Description: The purpose of this class is two-fold: first, it is designed to offer seniors an opportunity to read several significant works in American or English literature. Our main focus on these works will be formalist in nature, i.e., we will be exploring texts primarily in regard to their compositional excellence. This will require a working knowledge of the elements that contribute to the aesthetic quality of a literary work. Concepts such as tone, imagery, diction, plot, prosody, irony, tragedy, comedy, point of view, and voice will receive particularly close attention as we explore how formal qualities shape literary works and literary history.

We will also study the humane values that such works often express. The rich interplay between the formal literary qualities of a work and its political, religious, or philosophical insights will be at the core of class discussion. Our emphasis on narrative structure will also insure that the compelling nature of the texts we study will reach as many students as possible.

The writing assignments in this class will offer each student the opportunity to become a more fluent and insightful writer. Particular time will be given to the thesis statement, i.e., the central controlling judgment at the heart of a successful essay. In this way, the reading and writing parts of this course complement each other: close reading will facilitate compositions of depth and precision. Writing assignments not turned in on the due date (excluding illness or emergencies) will receive a failing grade with no chance of a make-up for that paper.

Students will also keep a Literary Journal that they will be required to write in three times a week. Some entries will be in-class assignments, free-writing periods, annotations of a passage or chapter, brain-storming, and other methods of exploring the composition process. This will allow students to write without some of the pressures of immediate evaluation, and foster a sense that the writing process is a fluid, dynamic activity that should be creative and supple.

Writing assignments will be organized to facilitate three goals: writing to understand a text, writing to explain a text to the reader, and writing to evaluate the text according to generic, historical, and philosophical considerations.

The seminar format of the class is extremely important to a mature study of literature. Attentive participation in the class discussion will be account for 15% of the student’s quarter grade each term. Students who fail to comport themselves with maturity in the seminar will be asked to leave.

Given the nature of our reading assignments, I hope each student in the seminar views the course as an introduction to the college-level study of literary texts that can enrich one’s life no matter what career one ultimately follows. Aesthetic beauty as found in literature is a subject that no single course can exhaustively study. The techniques of literary analysis we use this year are in fact a means to an end: the contemplation of works of verbal beauty that show forth luminously the dignity of the human person.


Paradise Lost, John Milton
The Prelude, William Wordsworth
Oedipus Rex, Sophocles
Antigone, Sophocles
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
Hamlet, Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Old School, Tobias Wolff
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Selected poems

Weekly Assignment Schedule: There will be a typed, formal essay due approximately every Friday. Length will be 2 pages in the fall; and 4-5 pages starting in January.

Monday: Discussion of work studied in seminar setting. AP terminology handout for incorporation into student writing.

Tuesday: Timed in-class essay on topics discussed in class and on readings assigned for homework

Wednesday: Peer Evaluation of in-class essays based on controlling thesis, on tone, logical development, use of supporting detail from text, and command of the basic elements of effective composition (with direct reference to Ellsworth’s English Simplified). Evaluation of papers that demonstrate a wide-ranging, effectively used vocabulary—both critical and literary—will also be a part of this process.

Thursday: Discussion of work studied in seminar setting; rewrites due for both in class essays and formal written papers.

Friday: Reading aloud of formal written papers, and defense of those papers based on critiques in class from peers and teacher.

Our reading, writing, and discussion of each work will focus on:

1. How do details of tone, metaphor, imagery create characterization?

2. How is the story told? What is theme, and how do narratives develop them?

3. How do stylistic concerns shape the meaning of themes?

4. How do symbolism and other textual details reflect values and embody historical/literary/philosophical judgments?

5. How does diction in the work change the meaning of characters, action, and themes?

6. Does the work employ irony? How? On the level of dialog, scene, chapter, or act?

7. How does the issue of voice shape the work? Are there competing voices? Is there a main narrative voice? Is that narrator reliable? If not, how do we know he or she is not? What are the thematic implications of an unreliable narrator?

8. Does the work use allusion as a major structuring device?

9. Does the work employ flashbacks or other narrative devices? What are the implications of such devices?

10. In what way does the beginning and ending of a work change the meaning of the whole piece?

Reading Schedule by Month:

September: Old School, Heart of Darkness

October: Antigone, Hamlet

November: Paradise Lost

December: Paradise Lost

January: Remains of the Day

February: Into the Wild

March: The Prelude

April: Lyric Poems

May: Review Concepts and Terminology

Monday, September 7, 2009

Seamus Heaney Bibliography


Eleven Poems (Queen's University, 1965)
Death of a Naturalist (Faber & Faber, 1966)
The Island People (BBC, 1968)
A Lough Neagh Sequence (Pheonix, 1969)
Door into the Dark (Faber & Faber, 1969)
Night Drive (Gilbertson, 1970)
A Boy Driving His Father to Confession (Sceptre Press, 1970)
Wintering Out (Faber & Faber, 1972)
Stations (Ulsterman Publications, 1975)
Bog Poems (Rainbow Press, 1975)
North (Faber & Faber, 1975)
After Summer (Gallery Press, 1978)
Hedge School (Janus Press, 1979)
Ugolino (Carpenter Press, 1979)
Field Work (Faber & Faber, 1979)
Gravities (Charlotte Press, 1979)
A Family Album (Byron Press, 1979)
Selected Poems 1965-1975 (Faber & Faber, 1980)
Poems and a Memoir (Limited Editions Club, 1982)
An Open Letter (Field Day, 1983)
Verses for a Fordham Commencement (Nadja Press, 1984)
Station Island (Faber & Faber, 1984)
Hailstones (Gallery Press, 1984)
From the Republic of Conscience (Amnesty International, 1985)
Clearances (Cornamona Press, 1986)
The Haw Lantern (Faber & Faber, 1987)
The Sounds of Rain (Emory University, 1988)
New Selected Poems 1966-1987 (Faber & Faber, 1990)
The Tree Clock (Linen Hall Library, 1990)
Squarings (Hieroglyph Editions, 1991)
Seeing Things (Faber & Faber, 1991)
The Golden Bough (Bonnefant Press, 1992)
Keeping Going (Bow and Arrow Press, 1993)
The Spirit Level (Faber & Faber, 1996)
Audenesque (Maeght, 1998)
Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 (Faber & Faber, 1998)
The Light of the Leaves (Bonnefant Press, 1999)
Electric Light (Faber & Faber, 2001)
District and Circle (Faber & Faber, 2006)
The Riverbank Field (Gallery Press, 2007)


Sweeney Astray: A version from the Irish (Field Day, 1983)
Sweeney's Flight (with Rachel Giese, photographer) (Faber & Faber, 1992)
The Midnight Verdict: Translations from the Irish of Brian Merriman and from the Metamorphoses of Ovid (Gallery Press, 1993)
Jan Kochanowski: Laments (Faber & Faber, 1995)
Beowulf (Faber & Faber, 1999)
Diary of One Who Vanished (Faber & Faber, 1999)


Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (Faber & Faber, 1980)
The Government of the Tongue (Faber & Faber, 1988)
The Place of Writing (Emory University, 1989)
The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (Faber & Faber, 1995)
Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture (Gallery Press, 1995)
Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (Faber & Faber, 2002)


The Cure at Troy A version of Sophocles' Philoctetes (Field Day, 1990)
The Burial at Thebes A version of Sophocles' Antigone (Faber & Faber, 2004)

© All poems remain the copyright of Seamus Heaney and are reproduced with his permission

Seamus Heaney Poem #3


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney Poem #2

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close,
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Seamus Heaney Poem #1

Personal Helicon
for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Faulkner's Works (September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962)

Soldiers’ Pay, Boni & Liveright, 1926, published with author’s speech of acceptance of Nobel Prize, New American Library of World Literature, 1959.

Mosquitoes, Boni and Liveright, 1927.

Sartoris (also see Flags in the Dust below), Harcourt, 1929.

The Sound and the Fury, J. Cape & H. Smith, 1929.

As I Lay Dying, J. Cape &H. Smith, 1930, new and corrected edition, Random House, 1964.

Sanctuary, J. Cape &H. Smith, 1931, published as Sanctuary: The Original Text, edited with afterword and notes by Noel Polk, Random House, 1981, published as Sanctuary: The Corrected Text, Random House, 1993.

Light in August, H. Smith and R. Haas, 1932.

Pylon, H. Smith and R. Haas, 1935.

Absalom, Absalom!, Random House, 1936, casebook edition edited by Elisabeth Muhlenfeld published as William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Garland Publishing, 1984.

The Unvanquished, drawings by Edward Shenton, Random House, 1938.

The Wild Palms, Random House, 1939; later released under Faulkner’s original title If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem in Novels: 1936-1940, Library of America, 1990, and by Vintage Books in 1995.

The Hamlet (first book in the Snopes Trilogy; also see below), Random House, 1940.

Go Down, Moses, and Other Stories, Random House, 1942; published as Go Down, Moses (Faulkner’s original title), Vintage, 1973.

Intruder in the Dust, Random House, 1948.

Requiem for a Nun, Random House, 1951.

A Fable, Random House, 1954.

The Town (second book of the Snopes Trilogy; also see below), Random House, 1957.

The Long Hot Summer: A Dramatic Book from the Four-Book Novel; The Hamlet, New American Library, 1958.

The Mansion (third book in the Snopes Trilogy; also see below), Random House, 1959.

The Reivers, a Reminiscence, Random House, 1962 (condensation published as Hell Creek Crossing, illustrations by Noel Sickles, Reader’s Digest Association, 1963), New American Library, 1969.

Snopes: A Trilogy, Volume 1: The Hamlet, Volume 2: The Town, Volume 3: The Mansion, Random House, 1965, published as Three Novels of the Snopes Family: The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion, Random House, 1994.

Flags in the Dust (unabridged version of Sartoris), edited with an introduction by Douglas Day, Random House, 1973.

Other published editions of Faulkner’s novels:
Mayday, University of Notre Dame Press, 1976.

Father Abraham, Random House, 1984, published as Father Abraham, 1926, Garland Publishing, 1987.

Elmer, edited by Dianne L. Cox, foreword by James B. Meriwether, Seajay Society, 1984.

The Collected William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, As I Lay Dying, Random House, 1985.

Novels, 1930-1935 (includes As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, and Pylon), Library of America, 1994.

Novels, 1936-1940 (includes Absalom, Absalom!, The Unvanquished, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, and The Hamlet), Library of America, 1990.

Novels, 1942-1944 (includes Go Down, Moses, Intruder in the Dust, Requiem for a Nun, and A Fable), Library of America, 1994.

Noveks, 1926-1929 (includes Soldiers’ Pay, Mosquitoes, Flags in the Dust, and The Sound and the Fury), Library of America, forthcoming.

Each of Faulkner’s novels has been translated into at least one other language, and several have been translated into as many as thirteen languages.

Short Fiction:
Short story collections:
New Orleans Sketches (written in 1925), introduction by Carvel Collins, Rutgers University Press, 1958; Grove Press, 1962; Random House, 1968; University Press of Mississippi, 2002.

These Thirteen (also see below), J. Cape & H. Smith, 1931.

Doctor Martino, and Other Stories (also see below), H. Smith and R. Haas, 1934.

Go Down, Moses, and Other Stories (see above), Random House, 1942 (also published in a limited edition).

The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley, Viking, 1946, revised and expanded edition, 1967 (published in England as The Essential Faulkner, Chatto & Windus, 1967).

Three Famous Short Novels, Random House, 1942, published as Three Famous Short Novels: Spotted Horses; Old Man; The Bear, Vintage, 1978.

Knight’s Gambit, Random House, 1949 (published in England as Knight’s Gambit: Six Stories, Chatto & Windus, 1960).

Collected Stories, Random House, 1950, published as Collected Stories of William Faulkner, Vintage, 1977 (published in England as Collected Short Stories, Volume 1: Uncle Willy and Other Stories, Volume 2: These Thirteen, Volume 3: Dr. Martino and Other Stories, Chatto & Windus, 1958, reprinted, 1978).

(And author of foreword) The Faulkner Reader: Selections from the Works of William Faulkner, Random House, 1954.

Faulkner’s County: Tales of Yoknapatawpha County, Chatto & Windus, 1955.

Big Woods, drawings by Edward Shenton, Random House, 1955, published as Big Woods: The Hunting Stories, Random House, 1994.

Uncle Willy, and Other Stories, Chatto & Windus, 1958.

Selected Short Stories, Modern Library, 1961.

Meriwether, James B., ed. A Faulkner Miscellany, edited by James B. Meriwether, University Press of Mississippi, 1974. Features essays about then-unpublished and -uncollected manuscripts and typescripts, along with publication of several of them.

Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph Blotner, Random House, 1979.

The Faulkner Reader, Random House, 1989.

Hemingway's Works published in his Lifetime (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961)

1923 Three Stories and Ten Poems (Short Stories)

1925 In Our Time (Short Stories)

1926 The Torrents of Spring (Novel)

1926 The Sun Also Rises (Novel)

1927 Men Without Women (Short Stories)

1929 A Farewell to Arms (Novel)

1930 The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (Short Stories)

1932 Death in the Afternoon (Novel)

1933 Winner take Nothing (Short Stories)

1935 Green Hills of Africa (Novel)

1937 To Have and Have Not (Novel)

1940 For Whom the Bell Tolls (Novel)

1942 Men at War (Edited Anthology)

1950 Across the River and into the Trees (Novel)

1952 The Old Man and the Sea (Novel)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Works of Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)

A Boy's Will (1915)

The Pasture
Into My Own My November Guest Stars To the Thawing Wind
A Prayer in Spring Flower-Gathering Rose Pogonias A Dream Pang
In Neglect The Vantage Point Mowing Going For Water
Revelation The Tuft of Flowers The Demiurge's Laugh Now Close the Windows
In Hardwood Groves October Reluctance The Trial by Existence
Pan With Us A Line-Storm Song My Butterfly Ghost House
Love and A Question

North of Boston (1915)

Mending Wall The Death of The Hired Man Home Burial After Apple-Picking
The Wood-Pile Good Hours The Code The Fear
A Servant to Servants The Self-Seeker The Mountain The Housekeeper
The Generations of Men The Black Cottage A Hundred Collars Blueberries

Mountain Interval (1916)

The Road Not Taken An Old Man's Winter Night The Exposed Nest
A Patch of Old Snow The Telephone Meeting and Passing
Hyla Brook The Oven Bird Bond and Free
Birches Putting In The Seed A Time to Talk
The Cow In Apple-Time Range-Finding The Hill Wife
'Out, Out--' The Gum-Gatherer The Line-Gang
The Vanishing Red

New Hampshire (1923)

The Grindstone I Will Sing You One-O I Will Sing You One-O
Fragmentary Blue Fire and Ice In A Disused Grave Yard
Dust of Snow To E.T. Nothing Gold Can Stay
The Runaway The Aim was Song Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
For Once, Then, Something Blue-Butterfly Day The Onset
To Earthward Good-by and Keep Cold Two Look At Two
A Brook In The City The Kitchen Chimney A Boundless Moment
Evening in a Sugar Orchard Gathering Leaves The Valley's Singing Day
Misgiving A Hillside Thaw Plowmen
On a Tree Fallen Across the Road Our Singing Strength The Lockless Door
The Need of Being Versed In Country Things

West-Running Brook (1928)

Spring Pools The Freedom of the Moon The Rose Family
Fireflies in the Garden Atmosphere Devotion
On Going Unnoticed Acceptance The Cocoon
A Passing Glimpse A Peck of Gold Once By The Pacific
Lodged A Minor Bird Bereft
Tree At My Window The Peaceful Shepherd A Winter Eden
The Thatch The Flood Acquainted With the Night
Sand Dunes Canis Major A Soldier
Immigrants Hannibal The Flower Boat
The Times Table The Investment The Last Mowing
The Birthplace The Door in the Dark Dust in the Eyes
Sitting by a Bush in Broad Sunlight The Armful What Fifty Said
Riders On Looking Up By Chance At The Constellations The Bear
The Egg and the Machine

A Further Range (1936)

Departmental Two Tramps In Mud Time

Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Short Faulkner Bio

William Faulkner
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949

William Faulkner (1897-1962), who came from an old southern family, grew up in Oxford, Mississippi. He joined the Canadian, and later the British, Royal Air Force during the First World War, studied for a while at the University of Mississippi, and temporarily worked for a New York bookstore and a New Orleans newspaper. Except for some trips to Europe and Asia, and a few brief stays in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, he worked on his novels and short stories on a farm in Oxford.

In an attempt to create a saga of his own, Faulkner has invented a host of characters typical of the historical growth and subsequent decadence of the South. The human drama in Faulkner's novels is then built on the model of the actual, historical drama extending over almost a century and a half Each story and each novel contributes to the construction of a whole, which is the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County and its inhabitants. Their theme is the decay of the old South, as represented by the Sartoris and Compson families, and the emergence of ruthless and brash newcomers, the Snopeses. Theme and technique - the distortion of time through the use of the inner monologue are fused particularly successfully in The Sound and the Fury (1929), the downfall of the Compson family seen through the minds of several characters. The novel Sanctuary (1931) is about the degeneration of Temple Drake, a young girl from a distinguished southern family. Its sequel, Requiem For A Nun (1951), written partly as a drama, centered on the courtroom trial of a Negro woman who had once been a party to Temple Drake's debauchery. In Light in August (1932), prejudice is shown to be most destructive when it is internalized, as in Joe Christmas, who believes, though there is no proof of it, that one of his parents was a Negro. The theme of racial prejudice is brought up again in Absalom, Absalom! (1936), in which a young man is rejected by his father and brother because of his mixed blood. Faulkner's most outspoken moral evaluation of the relationship and the problems between Negroes and whites is to be found in Intruder In the Dust (1948).

In 1940, Faulkner published the first volume of the Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, to be followed by two volumes, The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959), all of them tracing the rise of the insidious Snopes family to positions of power and wealth in the community. The reivers, his last - and most humorous - work, with great many similarities to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, appeared in 1962, the year of Faulkner's death.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Short Frost Bio

Robert Lee Frost (named after Southern General Robert E. Lee) was born on 26 March 1874 in San Francisco, California to Isabelle Moodie (1844-1900) teacher, and William Prescott Frost Jr. (1850-1885), teacher and journalist. San Francisco was a lively city full of citizens of Pioneering spirit, including Will who had ventured there from New Hampshire to seek his fortune as a journalist. He also started gambling and drinking, habits which left his family in dire financial straits when he died in 1885 after contracting tuberculosis. Honouring his last wishes to be buried in Lawrence, Massachusetts where he was born, Isabelle, Robert and his sister Jeanie Florence (1876-1929) made the long train journey across the country to the New England town. Isabelle took up teaching again to support her children.

With both parents as teachers, young Robert was early on exposed to the world of books and reading, studying such works as those by William Shakespeare and poets Robert Burns and William Wordsworth. He also formed a life-long love of nature, the great outdoors and rural countryside. After enrolling in Lawrence High School he was soon writing his own poems including “La Noche Triste” (1890) which was published in the school’s paper. He excelled in many subjects including history, botany, Latin and Greek, and played football, graduating at the head of his class. In 1892 he entered Dartmouth, the Ivy League College in Hanover, New Hampshire, but soon became disenchanted with the atmosphere of campus life. He then took on a series of jobs including teaching and working in a mill, all the while continuing to write poetry.

Frost got his first break as a poet in 1894 when the New York magazine Independent published “My Butterfly: An Elegy” for a stipend of $15. A year later a wish he had had for some time came true; on 19 December 1895 he married Elinor Miriam White (1872-1938), his co-valedictorian and sweetheart from school. They had gone separate ways upon graduation to attend college, and while Frost had left early, Elinor wanted to wait until she was finished before getting married. They would have six children together; sons Elliott (b.1896-1900) and Carol (1902-1940) and daughters Lesley (b.1899), Irma (b.1903), Marjorie (b.1905-1934), and Elinor Bettina (1907-1907).

The newlyweds continued to teach, which Frost always enjoyed, but the demanding schedule interfered with his writing. In 1897 he entered Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, though illness caused him to leave in 1899 before finishing his degree. Despite that, it was one of many institutions that would award him an honorary degree later on. The next ten years, the ‘Derry years’, were trying times for Frost with a growing family to support. In 1900 they moved to a farm bought by his paternal grandfather in Derry, New Hampshire to try poultry farming. The same year his son Elliot died of cholera. Frost suffered greatly from grief and guilt, and compounding this was the loss of his mother to cancer the same year. In 1907 Elinor Bettina died just one day after birth. But the farm was a peaceful and secluded setting and Frost enjoyed farming, tending to his orchard trees, chickens and various other chores. This period inspired such poems as “The Mending Wall” (written in England in 1913) and “Hyla Brook” (1906). The house built in the typical New England clapboard style is now a restored State Historical Landmark.

But it was soon time for a change. In 1911 he sold the farm and the Frosts set sail for England. Elinor was enthusiastic about traveling, even with four children, and they moved into a cottage in Beaconsfield, just outside of London. Then finally it happened; after writing poetry and trying to get noticed by publishers for over twenty years, Frost’s first collection of poetry A Boy’s Will was published in England in 1913 by a small London printer, David Nutt. American publisher Henry Holt printed it in 1915. Frost’s work was well-received and fellow poets Edward Thomas and Ezra Pound became friends, supporters, and helped promote his work. North of Boston (1914) followed. When World War I started the Frosts were back in New Hampshire, settling at their newly bought farm in Franconia in 1915. A year later Robert began teaching English at Amherst College. Mountain Interval was published in 1916 which contained many poems written at Franconia. He was also starting lecture tours for his ever-growing audience of avid readers.

In 1920, Frost bought ‘Stone House’ (now a museum) in South Shaftsbury, Vermont. There he wrote many of the poems contained in his fourth collection of poetry New Hampshire (1923) which won him the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. It includes “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”;

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
While he also farmed on the idyllic property with its breathtaking views of mountains and valleys, another project Frost undertook was the founding of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont. After his son Carol married Lillian LaBatt (1905-1995) and his grandson Prescott arrived, he gave them Stone House to live in where Carol planted his thousand apple trees. Frost bought a second farm in Shaftsbury, “The Gulley”. At the height of his career, his next collection of poems West-running Brook (1928) was published just one year before another great loss of a loved one hit him; his sister Jeanie died.

By now Frost was a popular speaker and had a demanding schedule of which Elinor, acting as his secretary, organised for him, so he spent a fair bit of time traveling, though still maintaining an impressive output of poetry. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry a second time in 1931 for his Collected Poems (1930), and also in 1937 for A Further Range (1936), and yet again in 1943 for his collection A Witness Tree (1942). All his children were married and he spent much time with them and his grandchildren, though it was not long before the heavy blows of loss struck again; his beloved daughter Marjorie died in 1934 after the birth of her first child, and in 1938 Elinor died of a heart attack. In 1940 Carol committed suicide.

Leaving the Stone House and The Gulley behind, in 1939 Frost bought the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton, Vermont for his summer residence, located near the Bread Loaf School. He occupied the cabin on the property ‘Than smoke and mist who better could appraise, The kindred spirit of an inner haze?’ (“A Cabin in the Clearing”) while his friends and colleagues the Morrisons stayed in the main house. Collected Poems (1939) was followed by A Masque of Reason (play, 1945), Steeple Bush (1947), A Masque of Mercy (play, 1947), Complete Poems (1949), and In the Clearing (1962). At the Inauguration of American President John F. Kennedy on 20 January 1961, Frost recited his poem “The Gift Outright” (1942).

Robert Frost died on the 29th of January 1963 in Boston, Massachusetts. ‘Safe!, Now let the night be dark for all of me. Let the night be too dark for me to see, Into the future. Let what will be, be.’ (“Acceptance”) He lies buried in the family plot in the Old Bennington Cemetery behind the Old First Congregational Church near Shaftsbury, Vermont. His gravestone reads ‘I Had A Lover’s Quarrel With The World’.

Just nine months after Frost’s death, Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College, singing Frosts’ praises and speaking on the importance of the Arts in America. Later he said;

“The death of Robert Frost leaves a vacancy in the American spirit....His death impoverishes us all; but he has bequeathed his Nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding.”

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.