How a Passion for English Encouraged Me to Learn Not One But Two Ancient Languages

Ah, every semester of life seems to  encapsculate a new challenge. This semester’s has more than a few. Currently, I’m happily, willfully suffering through Latin and Ancient Greek and I for some reason I thought keeping a sort of progress benchmark will not only show me that I am learning and progressing but it will also keep me accountable to my self. This week I’ve spent approximately 21 hours on Latin. That’s a lot. I still can’t sight identify the cases of nouns and am still shaky on both their meanings and the meaning of the cases. I’m far better at it than I was on Monday, however, and that’s a win for me. I’m happy to have people on my side cheering me along in my journey through the Classics–the “real classics”. These grievances are some of the reasons that classicists are known to be so “scrupulous” (and I secretly love it).

The other reason I decided to write about my experiences with Latin and Greek is to come up with a goal–to know when I’ve really ‘made it’. Think of my goal literature as a the pair of pants that you buy a size or two small and hope to get into. Going into this language journey, I don’t think I knew what a reasonable expectation was. I know very little but that’s how everyone starts out, right?

Let me first touch on how I got here in the first place. It all started day one of my honors course Freshman year. We were reading Homer’s Iliad and the first thing my teacher day after introduction was ask for questions. I, having read all the translation notes in the introduction, was thinking about the nature of translation. Being an English major and fanatic, I’ve read a lot of things–most of which however were written in English. I didn’t have to question whether or not I trusted the person who wrote it, after all it was that authors book. With this one, that’s not the case. Could I really criticize the nature, syntax, diction of the text when all of this could be six degrees away from what the original author penned?

So there I was sitting in my desk, staring at my first college professor. I had to come up with a question. So I asked about the translation–why this one? There has to be at least a dozen; nothing about this one in particular felt special. He responded with some spiel about accessibility of the text along with cost, but nothing really concrete. He did however mention on more than one occasion that you haven’t read Homer until you do in the original Greek.

Flash forward one semester to the second half of my Freshman year. I’m in another course on ancient literature but this time of my own volition (latin root: volo, look at me go!). I loved this course. It was the highlight of my week. I really was into all the books we read (Petronius, Apuleius, Longus) and I wanted to critically dive into them. But I was faced with the same problem that reared its head first semester. Could I trust the translation? If I was analyzing diction and word choice then it seemed that I couldn’t. It’s like someone took all my critical analysis skill away from me and left me on a deserted island. I was not happy. I tried to read published criticism on the works but all the Classicists would analyze discrepancies in the original Greek or Latin texts. I couldn’t keep up.

I love analyzing literature and having just had my eyes opened to a huge pool of literature that presented new questions and challenges to any I had previously experienced, I wasn’t going to be satisfied easily. I went to a talked hosted by my university given by Emily Wilson and I was geeking out. She was analytical like I was. However she had more than a few languages under her belt, among them both Latin and Ancient Greek. She gave me hope in my own ability to reach that level of fluency and criticality. So I decided, after being urged on a little, that I would undertake not just Greek or just Latin but both…at the same time.

So here I’m left with a pair of goal pants that I’m doubtful will ever fit. I think I’m in good hands though. There’s people I can reach out to for a life raft if I need one (or just a few casual words of encouragement, an acknowledgement of my struggle and effort). Since the end is in the beginning I think it only right that I use the poem that solidified my choice to take Ancient Greek as my goal. It’s Sappho fragment 90:

Οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρῳ ἐπ᾽ ὔσδῳ
ἄκρον ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτῳ λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπνεσ,
οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐδύναντ᾽ ἐπίκεσθαι

Right now I can verbalize all these words, which is more than be said of my ability when I first saw it. So that’s progress. As for Latin I’m kinda of two minds. To chose Petronius from the class on ancient romance novel or to go with Ovid (“the exegesis on the dangers of romantic love”). I was more in the former’s camp than the latter’s, but now things have swapped. When I can read Ovid, I’ll know I’ve made it. I’m thankful for being pushed to pursue Ancient language because for as challenging as it is, it’s taught be a lot about myself. For that, I am grateful.


There’s No Crying in Baseball

Recently I was looking through my unpublished drafts and found this. While late, it’s still relevant. I like it and so I decided it was worth publishing…

Life, unlike baseball, includes crying. I don’t really know why I decided to title this blog post how I did; it just fit. A lot has changed since I’ve properly written a blog post–I feel as though the one on Stevens wasn’t quite like the ones that preceded it, so it doesn’t even count. I must now take down the “4 English AP” subtitle on my blog, because sadly that time in my life has past. I can sincerely say that nothing, nothing has caused me to change as much as a person, challenged me to think critically, question everything. While in doing so it may have thrown a wrench in my future plans, I have hope that its all for the best. That’s all you really can do: have hope.

I’ve read some Flannery recently. I love her. Today, I started a play gifted to me that’s one by Tennessee Williams, who is probably my favorite play-write (of course aside from the Bard himself). The play is called Orpheus Descending. As far of I’ve read, I like it, but I doubt there’s any play by Williams that I could dislike.

I have had the urge to write on a few occasions–now being one of them. I’m currently sitting in the reading room in the Cudahy Library. I have to say the library itself is absolute trash, but the reading room is pretty. It reminds me of a church with its geometric, stained-glass windows and soft lighting. Since the end of my senior year, I’ve written three pieces: two of which are about nights out and the other is about a boy. All are classic Honore. I can only write what I know.

Sitting in this place always seems to make me thing of religion. At the end of last year, I opened up a little more to the idea of faith–especially in reading and loving people like Rabindrinoth Tagore. If you know me, you know I was raised in a Catholic environment–that is I went to Catholic school for all of my “formative” years”. I hated it. It’s such a bubble. There’s just so much I could say about it but all the only relevant information you need to know is that my experience left me spiteful of all religion and with a sour taste in my mouth. Now just how I ended up at a Jesuit university perplexes me. However, I think it’s good for me. This past week at a social function I met one of our lovely Seminarians–that is someone who is studying to become a Priest–and since then I’ve been thinking about God more than I have since escaping Catholic School. I think my current thoughts on the situation are summed up pretty well by the sentiment expressed by Chance the Rapper in his song Acid Rain, “I’m still asking God to show his face”.

Now you’re probably wondering at this point ‘when is she going to start talking about books’. The answer is now. I touched on in an earlier blog post how poetry has started to grow on me. At this point, however, I can verily call it a passion of mine. My tastes have begun to shift a little lately though. In my Honors course, we have had to read a lot of ancient classics–from the Iliad to the Aeneid as well as Plato’s CritoApology, and Symposium and to top it off both Genesis and the Gospel of Mark. While I didn’t name all of the books we’ve read, those are the main ones. As ancient literature goes, I never could really dig it. Think about it. What are you even really reading–my professor loves to quip, “You can’t say you’ve read the Iliad until you’ve read it in ancient Greek”. I have to say he’s right.

All that said, I still think there’s value in ancient literature (my claim here is substantiated by the fact that next semester I’m taking a class by the same professor called “Romance Novel in the Ancient World”) if only for the fact that it adds value to the types of literature that I love, like poetry.  For instance one day in class we were talking about Helen of Troy and immediately I was reminded of Yeat’s Leda and the Swan, the last poem we did in my Senior year Engl-ish class. I knew that there was mythology at the base of the poem, thanks to the Norton Critical edition footnote, but I didn’t appreciate it. When I looked at the poem at the poem again it was as if it were through new eyes.

So while this post isn’t about one book or another; it’s not a review. I think it captures well how my eyes are being opened, gradually, by the arts to seem more of what’s out there.

Aren’t All Discoveries Happily Had?

I must confess that I’ve written probably six blog posts between the last one I published and this one. Yet, I didn’t have the gusto to post them. Somehow they didn’t fit. This post may be short but I just had to divulge my discovery–one that few people will care about. As you can probably tell by my lengthy discussion of him, I love J.D. Salinger. I’ve read all of his work. Franny and Zooey I even read twice; I picked it up for the second time a few months ago when I had a Franny-esque crisis regarding religion. Salinger, through Franny, helped me quite a bit in figuring things out.

In hopes of discerning just what role religion and God and all that jazz were going to play in my life, I picked up a few books by James Martin, S.J.–yes I willingly decided to pick up a book written by a Jesuit and (shockingly) I really enjoyed it. Martin writes the sort of books that I want to write. They are all peppered with anecdotes and sort of resemble memoirs. My favorite of his thus far has been A Jesuit Off-Broadway because it’s real. It doesn’t portray religion as this lofty thing, as something strange and dated, but as something that can enrich one’s life if that’s what she chooses.

In each of his works, Father Martin never fails to mention Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk (who ‘after the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the fourth most responsible person for his own priesthood’).  So after myriad mentions, I had to figure out what made this guy so important. I hopped on Google and found that Merton’s most well-known work–and he’s a prolific author–is called The Seven Story Mountain. It’s his autobiography, totaling just short of five-hundred pages. I thought to myself, “There’s no WAY I will ever waste five-hundred pages of my time on this memoir of a monk. Even if Martin likes him so much.”

And yet…yes, I picked it up and am just over a quarter done with it. It’s wild. Subsequent to picking it up, I’ve heard it described as a modern version of St. Augustine’s Confessions which I couldn’t agree with more. People like Augustine, Martin, and Merton do a fantastic job of humanizing religion which, funnily enough, is exactly what J.D. Salinger does in Franny and Zooey, albeit it in a different manner. A lot of the ideas expressed by Salinger about being sick about worldliness, phoniness echo the disgust that Merton describes in his work. Also despite being a Catholic, Merton was drawn to Eastern religions and even wrote a book on Zen Buddhism. All of these facts got me to thinking, “Salinger sure would’ve love Merton”.

Thus, I was back to Googling and boy was I chuffed when my searching came up with this result: an article detailing how Salinger and Merton took a course in the department that Merton taught in at Colombia. While there’s no certainty that they crossed paths, in my romanticism, I believe that they must’ve.

I felt the need to share my happy, accidental discover on my very strange and atypical college journey of discovery with the void that is the internet. I am at the same time entirely different and exactly the same as I was last year when I read Salinger–still reading, still searching for the answers. My friend Hailey says that I’m normal in my need to course to live. However, she thinks I’m looking for answers in all the wrong places. She says that the only true answers are in me. As for what prompted my religion-related path, you’ll have to buy my memoir to get that gem of a story.

Savoring a Little Stevens

It being a Saturday morning and I, having nothing to do, figure the most productive use of my time is to do my ‘weekly’ blog post that has unfortunately turned into a sort of bi-weekly blog post. I just completed my first week as a camp counselor and I’m loving it, but boy does my job give me sympathy for anyone who has to work with children; I didn’t realize just how hard it is. Despite its difficulties, my job has caused me to realize how crucial some sort of challenge is in order to lead a fulfilling life. Oddly enough, my downcast mood faded when I commenced working. On the book front, things are also improving. I completed August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean in about a day and in doing so, I felt at least a little like myself again.

In order to procure a copy of said play, I trekked to the library–a place that always instills happiness in me. While there, I lazily sauntered through the aisles and stumbled upon these two sections, both of which required restraint on my part to stop me from taking an obscene number of books home.

I dodged the pictured criticism for now (the one about “For Esme with Love and Squalor” was especially difficult to leave behind), but I did pick up some on Frost–in the hopes it would help me further my understanding of “Home Burial”–along with item I the Wilson play that was the impetus for my journey. On my way out of the poetry section, having just picked up two books on Frost, I spotted The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens and I immediately knew there was no question that Wallace was coming home with me.

We covered “The Emperor of Ice Cream” in my Engl-ish class which I liked but it wasn’t like I madly in love with it or anything. The only other poem by Stevens that I’d seen prior to picking up this book was “Sunday Morning” which I didn’t love initially. However, poetry is sort of like music in the sense that if you’re exposed to it often enough, it grows on you which is exactly what happened in the case “Sunday Morning.” I’d attempt to analyze that poem but I surmise the results I’d come back with would be similar to that of “Home Burial.” Despite only being about half way through the collection, it’s difficult for me to choose only one poem to analyze. Stevens has it all: funny poems, serious poems, spiritual poems; how can you expect a girl to just choose one?

A brief respite was needed to determine which poem to talk about and I’ve come to the conclusion that “Restatement of Romance” is the one that will be most manageable to tackle–in truth “Sailing after Lunch” is the poem that I find myself most drawn to but alas it’s too long. I figure there’s no place like the title to start my analysis. What’s in a name anyhow? I think as titles go, Stevens is generally a pro. This poem, in particular, is strange in the way the actual body of the poem relates to the title. I was reading this criticism and the author argues that the title is unusual given the actual text of the poem. He even goes as far as saying Steven’s poem “lacks any of the passion, sensuality, sentimentality, or effusiveness characteristic of so much conventional romantic poetry.” I don’t know if I agree.

I read that line. Then I read the poem again. Then I went back to the criticism. For me, there’s always this sort of back and forth (if I’m reading thoroughly and actively). I find the process necessary to determine what I think; after all, critics aren’t right just because they’re critics. In the case of “Restatement of Romance,” I initially sided with the critic. I mean he’s right. In this poem, like a lot of his poetry, Stevens is ‘unconventional’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the poem lacks romanticism. Perhaps, you (or I) might see it by looking at the poem a little closer.

I think this critic is a little off track from the get-go. His definition of romance is plainly, obviously wrong. In a moment like this one,  I feel compelled to find the dictionary definition to help shed some light on the situation, but what I think will more helpful to understanding this poem is not Merriam-Webster’s definition but Stevens’ as he reveals it through the poem–I’m sure Sound and Sense or How Does a Poem Mean? have a hard and fast rule for this sort of thing (aka the role a title plays in a poem), but where’s the fun in that? The first thing I notice when reading a poem usually isn’t how it sounds or the number of syllables to a line–which I bet is the first sort of thing that English teachers and Perrine do. So instead of focusing on that–and despite there definitely some sort of syllable pattern going on–I’m going to focus on what stands out to me. 

In the first stanza, there’s a comparison drawn, in the form of a simile, between the way “night knows nothing of the chants of night” and the way the speaker of the poem “is”. This idea is expounded on as you get further into the stanza; the speaker reinforces the idea that he is like night saying that “in perceiving [the ‘truth’ about night that’s exposed in the first line] I best perceive myself.” Before moving on from stanza one, I feel it necessary to mention the resemblance of the second line (It is what it is as I am what I am”) to Iago’s line in Shakespeare’s Othello, “I am not what I am” (I.i.65).

I think that the comparison between night and self is crucial to the overall meaning of the poem and to Stevens’ definition of romance. The second stanza presents “we two”– a couple consisting of the speaker, “I”, and the other, “you.” There’s a sort of paradox at play as the poem unfolds in the third stanza. Wallace writes, “…but you and I, alone,/So much alone, so deeply by ourselves,”. I think, in the context of the whole poem, what Stevens is trying to convey is that the “we two”–both the speaker (I) and the other (you)–are separate from night and in spite of their togetherness remain still separate, alone. What’s interesting about this is his word choice. The use of the “we” implies that neither can really, truly be alone…yet Stevens makes clear they are. Perplexing, right? 

The whole poem doesn’t really mesh (with the idea of night with the idea of the couple and their relationship) until the final stanza. Stevens lifts the veil of obscurity in writing, “So far beyond the casual solitudes,/That night is only the background of our selves,/Supremely true each to its separate self,/In the pale light that each upon the other throws.” It is here where I think Stevens’ definition of romance is finally revealed. What I get from this poem is that Stevens believes romance requires both parties involved to remain their self even when part of a larger whole, even when part of a relationship. So to the critic who wrote the article that argues that the poem has nothing to do with ‘romance’: you’re wrong. It does have to do with romance but not Oxford dictionary definition sort of romance, or even my definition of romance, but Wallace Stevens’. He’s revealing his truth and I like that. You (the critic), on the other hand, may not. 

Stevens isn’t Frost, but I suppose that’s why I like him. Out of all of his work, “Restatement of Romance” isn’t my favorite; I prefer “Explanation,” “Theory,” “Negation,” or “Poetry is a Destructive Force.” I chose this poem to write about because I thought it would be easy but then I really looked at the poem. It’s on the shorter side but, in being so short, it requires you have to savor every word and in savoring every word, the analysis gets incredibly long. Plus it sure as hell doesn’t help that I don’t know what I’m looking for or what to say about the poem, except for the reasons it strikes me. I also must say that wrestling with literature is much more challenging when you can’t talk it out. If I were writing this post a few weeks ago I would have brought it into my English class so I could have another opinion on the matter. Maybe it’s good to struggle though. Also, apologies for the lateness of this post. I’m still learning to discipline myself (so nobody else has to). Here’s to hoping the next post is on Faulkner. I’m also definitely editing my ‘schedule’; I’m going to shoot for a post every other Sunday, but I hope it will end up being a more frequent thing. 

Where Have I Gone, Where Am I Going

As of late, I’ve been in a little bit of a funk. I haven’t read or written in exactly a week, which for me is like a lifetime, and I feel guilty about it. I surmised that I would get like this following the end of my daily interactions with English, but I don’t know how to get out of it. The worse part of is all is the loss of my favorite reading spot (a nice little spot outside of S211); I’ve tried a few new ones to replace it, but they don’t have the same mystique. I figured reading or writing would help the situation but its been challenging to bring myself to do either. (I’ve started two posts and have carried my Faulkner around religiously but neither have I had the wherewithal to really delve into.) I keep telling myself that I’m being ridiculous–which I almost certainly am–but my acknowledgment is not helping me whatsoever. I don’t know what to write or how to write it anymore. Where have I gone? I feel entirely lost.

My wallowing in self-pity will end here. When I began this post, I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish writing anything at all and despite the fact that I’m still unsure if I will, I’ve stumbled upon a legitimate topic that is unrelated to my issues. It happened to dawn on me that there was a poem that I discovered a while back that didn’t do it for me at first, but reminiscing about it brought me a great deal of joy. The poem was E.E. Cummings’  “[in Just-],” a poem about muddy puddles, a happy poem.

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
balloonMan          whistles

The initial problems that I had with Cummings’ poem lie in the fact that he totally disregards the rules. Who the hell said he could have so many damn line breaks! Necessary? I think not. I don’t know how you personally feel about rule breakers, but I’m not so fond of them; maybe it’s because I was indoctrinated by the MLA handbook or maybe it was the Catholic schooling in my formative years that brainwashed me, either way, I’m definitely a rule follower. There’s a time and a place for the rules to be thrown out the window and I’m beginning to learn that poetry is one of those places. So needless to say, E.E. Cummings wasn’t the first poet I was drawn to when I first got my feet wet with poetry because of his rampant rule breaking. This poem includes many of his rule breaking tendencies; it has myriad line breaks, interesting punctuation, and strange spacing.

I found some criticism–I know how shocking–and it confirmed at least one of my conclusions about the poem: that the purpose of most of Cummings’ punctuation is to express the joy specific to children. Iain Landles writes, “The unusual compounds that Cummings invents are suggestive of a “child’s language”: hence, “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful.” These compounds have been described by Richard Kennedy as “the natural condition that children enjoy (but that adults dislike).”” I have to admit this conclusion about the spacing and punctuation being evocative of the mood of the poem wasn’t something I thought of, or even agreed with, upon first read; it wasn’t until after my (former) English teacher made me take another look at it, rather than just writing it off, that I realized that he is, indeed, right and this critic seems to agree.

Landles also points out that all the “and” clauses make the poem sing-song-y and nursery-rhyme-esque. As with most criticism, the critic usually builds to some big, lofty conclusion about theme but for this poem, it isn’t so. All that Landles does is prove that this poem essentially has no point…but in having no real point it definitely has meaning. Which brings me to a quandary: what’s the point of writing? Does it even have to have one? I often find myself asking these questions of my own writing–as evidenced by my minor breakdown at the beginning of this post–as well as other people’s. There’s no pre-requisite for writing. No matter the form, be it a poem or a blog post, sometimes expressing a feeling or reminiscing on a memory is enough to make something worth writing. In watching a spoken-word poem by Sam Sax (which can be seen here at 19:37), I heard a line about written language that rang particularly true to me: “There’s a theory of [written] language that suggests it was created to touch the ineffable, approach God, give shape to what by its nature is priceless.” I love this line. All writing doesn’t have to Pulitzer material; most of mine isn’t, that’s for sure. It just has attempt to give form to the abstract, give form to feeling. That being said, I was wrong about E.E. Cummings (as I was wrong about my Shakespeare hatred and my generalized poetry hatred–but let it be known I was right about my black-and-white-movie hatred). Cummings’ work doesn’t have the depth of Frost’s “Home Burial,” that I love so dearly, or Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan” but that doesn’t mean there’s  something wrong with the poem. Rather it’s my error. I’m looking for an apple in a bowl of oranges. Cummings’ poem captures an emotion perfectly and unexpectedly. That’s why it works.

As I touched on in the beginning of this post, I feel as though there’s a war in my head between what I want to say and what I think I should say and the conflict that ensues between the two sides is what prevents me from writing. It’s always when I stop being and starting thinking that I get down on myself. This post is certainly not my best post (paper checker gave me a C). It’s sort of like Cummings’ poem in that it has no real point, yet, it had to be written. Writing this post helped to remove the rubble blocking my writing/reading flow; now I’m raring to go. With no deadlines, I’m making my own. From now on, I will post every Sunday. If I’m in the middle of a book (like I am now with my current Faulkner), I’ll either write about a poem/short story or do an in-the-process post. Here’s to the hope that it’s only up from here.

One Last Hurrah: “A Rose for Emily”

I can’t bear to write a blog wrap up, so instead I’m going to sum up the last school year by blogging about William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I figure what’s a more appropriate wrap up than by looking at the first Faulkner work I ever read, way back in December, to see what I missed the first time around–and boy did I miss a lot. Now that a semi-professional Faulkner reader (not quite to the level of Volpe yet), it’s easy to see the parts of the story both in terms of plot and style that are quintessentially Faulkner–I sure do love his work.

“A Rose for Emily” is a short story written in a way that sort of reminds me of O’Henry–whose brilliance, may I say, is incomparable to that of Faulkner–in that the ending comes as a little bit of a shock. The story follows Emily posthumously as the townspeople recall her life, how she was part of a well-respected family and lost both her father (to death) and the man who she thought could be her future husband in a short time which caused her to become a sort of recluse. Her slow fade into isolation follows her relationship with a man named Homer Barron. Their relationship was seen as odd at the time because Barron is black and Emily is part of a high-class white family. The combination of buying poison, a funny smell, and the disappearance of Mr. Homer all lead to the last scene of the story when, following Emily’s death, some of the townspeople barge into her house, break down a door, and find the man lying dead in bed.

One aspect of the story that I didn’t pay quite so much attention to the first time around was the narrator of the story. The story is written in first person plural, a detail that slipped past me. The role of the narrator is sort of weird in the story, while they’re outsiders to the events, they know too much to be entirely removed from the story they’re telling. I like Faulkner’s choice of narration because it gives the reader a more complete and complex view of Emily’s situation. I looked up some criticism and apparently, there are some discrepancies as to whose voice the narrator really is. Some critics make the same assertion about the identity of the narrator that I just did, but others seem to think that the voice is “distinct from…the voices of the town.” One critic even states the narrator is the “most important character, but also the villain of the story.” This conclusion is perplexing to me, but I think he could be on to something.

Another thing I noticed in the story was that Emily is referred to twice as idol-like which can’t be just a coincidence–nothing is in literature, is it? Is Emily some weird representation of God? Especially in the context of Faulkner describing Emily as “with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows,” yet, to me this seems a little unlikely. I found some other criticism that has an opinion on the idol matter, arguing that the circumstance of each time Emily is classified as such is majorly significant to the meaning of the classification. The critic argues, “the upstairs connotes private life as opposed to public life displayed downstairs. Emily has shut off the top floor–or her private life–and allows the townspeople to view only her public image. Just as an idol occupies its nook in a wall, Emily continues to occupy her niche as the last Grierson.” I like this take on the text because it’s cohesive in the scope of the text and it explains the weird usage of ‘idol.’

The bigger question about the story, for me at least, is what happened? Why did Emily kill Homer? This question lacks a real, concrete answer. The critics are confused too; there’s no real conclusion on why she did the deed. I suppose there could be more than one right answer because of the lack of explicitness on the part of the story. Maybe that’s what makes “A Rose for Emily” so profound. Without question, it craves analysis; a trait so very Faulkner.

Having read three of Faulkner’s novels since my first look at this story, it easy to see how stylistically this one is so similar to his other works. For one, There’s the unmistakable Faulknerian trinity. This can be seen in the way he describes Emily’s house, ” decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies” (1). Then there the meticulous detail in word choice like in this beautiful sentence that also describes the house: “It smelled of dust and disuse;” it’s also seen in this description of Emily: “Her skeleton was small and spare” (2). Then he uses the juxtaposition of opposites like when he writes that the house has a “back-flung front door” (4).

Even in terms of the content of the story itself, I am reminded of other Faulkner pieces. Firstly, I find the connection between Emily and her house eerily similar to that of Joanna Burden in Light in August. In general, Emily and Joanna are similar characters. Both have relationships with black men, both are upper-class white women, and both are outsiders in their communities. Also, I don’t know what it is with characters that are into arts and crafts, but between Emily’s “lessons in china-painting” and Hightower with his “art pupils and…hand-painted X-mas cards,” Faulkner must have a thing for artsy characters (7, 26). Perhaps he indulged in making popsicle stick houses in his free time.

It’s crazy how re-reading a text can yield so many new insights. My second look at “A Rose for Emily” makes me curious at what a second look at The Sound and The Fury or Light in August could impart to me; however, I am not prepared to fight those battles again just yet. With the end of school nearing, I’ll have all the more free time to indulge any and all of my English-related whims (which I’m sure will include a fair few Faulkner novels). I’m incredibly sad to be losing my English class. In some sense, I’d like to believe that these (1 2 3) quotes have at least a little truth in them; it’d make moving forward a little easier. On that note, I think I’ll end this post. I’m not one for all the sad stuff that comes with endings. I am one for Faulkner, however.

A Chat with The Prophet

Fun fact: I’m incapable of writing anything without first putting my hair up. It’s a weird idiosyncrasy of mine fairly reminiscent of Violet in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events in that it is said “Anyone who knew Violet well could tell she was thinking hard, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet had a real knack for inventing and building strange devices…and she never wanted to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair.” While I’m not really inventing anything, the first step to getting down to the good stuff is putting my hair up. It is only then the words start flowing.

Okay, okay time to get down to business. Time is fleeting (t-minus six days until senior year is over) so there’s not a moment to spare. My read of choice recently has been Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet–that’s right more poetry. Written in 1923, this collection of “prose poetry fables” may very well be the oldest book I’ve read this year (it only narrowly beats out Mrs. Dalloway which was published in 1925). There’s a lot of reason to love a piece of poetry but for me, these reasons fit into a few tidy categories: either it’s reassuring, it’s beautiful, or it’s technically amazing (for punctuation, grammar, wordplay, or dare I say line breaks). For me, reading Gibran’s poetry was reassuring, making me feel as if my truth was true for more than just me, that I’m not alone in how I feel. Gibran’s work also sort of reminds me of Rachel Jamison Webster’s The Endless Unbegun because they both reveal weighty truths, hail love, and tell a story in poetry.

I’m firmly against fulfilling stereotypes which is why I wanted to, used to hate poetry. Woman are expected to like flowery language, to be soft and feminine–not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things; I just contend that I’m not only those things and that there should be no expectation that I’m any of those things. I think I got so caught up in trying to fight these norms that I failed to realize that it was all right to fit in some of these stereotypes. I got so caught up in being an anti-stereotype crusader that I didn’t think about what brought me joy, like poetry. (Now that I’m thinking–and writing–about this, and I apologize for my tangent but after all this is my blog, I bet this is where my desire to be a chemical engineer came from: wanting to be different. My ongoing struggle with seeing my inherent value engendered this need to find my worth somewhere else; in being different, in picking a widely hailed ‘difficult’ major, a major that few women chose, in making a lot of money. I had to prove to myself my own worth. I felt that these aspects of myself were the only reasons that I was worthy of any praise. It wasn’t until this year that I realized that I don’t have to be any of these things to prove my worth. Being myself should be good enough.) Where this point was initially going– before my consideration took root and precipitated into a full-fledged, Invisible-Man-esque realization–was to the conclusion that Gibran’s poems are so powerful that they induced a few tears in me over the course my reading. Alas, there’s no need to laugh, ’tis true; poetry can be that powerful.

The general structure of The Prophet is that of a story which follows, yes but of course: the prophet. He’s about to board this ship that he’s been waiting for and he’s filled with a pervading sense of melancholy, as there is with all endings–I should know; I’m staring one down at this very moment. The first poem concludes with a heavy, yet undeniable truth: “And ever has it been known that love knows not/its own depth until the hour of separation” (8).  Before he leaves, however, Almitra, a “seeress” tells the prophet “speak to us and give us of your truth” (10). The rest of the book consists of poems that answer either one of Almitra’s or the townspeople’s questions. I’m going to pick a few of my most-liked topics that he touches on.

I’ll start with my favorite answer which is about one of my favorite topic: love. Instead of analyzing the full poem–even though I desire to do so, yet its length is holding me back–I’m just going the lines I find most profound. Here’s the full poem for reference. Take a gander.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Lines six and seven are the first that struck me because they attest to how powerless people are in the face of love; the prophet cautions, “think not you can direct the course of love.” Something else that makes this line so beautiful to me is the idea that you have to be “worthy” in order for love to “direct your course.” Let me be clear, what I like the idea of worthiness in the context of love is that it reinforces the idea that love is a privilege, that love isn’t something we should take for granted. Gibran isn’t saying we should be judicious in our loving, rather we should love freely and unabashedly, but in doing so, we shouldn’t take the love we get or give for granted. This line also asserts that love is powerful–so powerful, in fact, that it has the power to “direct your course” in life.

Then the prophet instructs “if you love…/…let these be your desires.” He lists a few desires, but the ones listed in lines 11-13 are the ones I’m particularly drawn to. The idea that “too much tenderness” can yield pain seems indescribably, equivocally familiar. The next two lines that follow this one (“To be wounded by your own understanding of love;/And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”) coalesce perfectly. My own understanding of love–both self-love and love of others–is something that I’m slowly realizing is flawed. In the past, I–the version of me from last September–was somebody who was unconsciously halfheartedly loving. I’m learning to be okay with loving, to be okay with acknowledging that loving something means that I can lose it. Risky business, love is. These lines show that being “wounded by your own understanding of love” is part of the deal and you have to allow yourself “to bleed willingly and joyfully,” to expect and be unafraid of the possibility of being hurt by love.

The next poem that I found to be a pleasurable read is one in which Almitra asks the prophet to speak about “Reason and Passion” (50). Let me preface my explanation of what makes me think that this poem is so astute with the fact that I am 100% a big-picture person. In being such, a question that I constantly ask myself is “why am I doing what I’m doing and how will this help me accomplish my end goal?” This past year, my end goal has been continuously evolving, all the while increasingly orienting toward my passion, English. This poem in particular backs up the importance of passion in reason and vice versa, which makes me feel better about not knowing exactly what my end game is. Gibran writes, “For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction” (50). The comparison between “passion” and “a flame” is classic, but the twist lies in the point that Gibran’s making; he’s arguing that passion has the capacity to be destructive if not attended to. This balance, a sort of yin-yang action, between reason and passion is reassuring. It makes me feel that I’m not wrong or selfish to follow my passion, but rather it’s necessary for me to be fulfilled and successful in my life.

Normally a pretty solid indicator of the quality of one these blog posts is how much I enjoy the writing process. This post was especially engaging and my guess is that it’s because Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is such a masterpiece. I will concede that I did dawdle a little in getting from point A to point B; instead of being a direct flight, this journey had a few layovers. In the end, however, I made my point. Gibran gave me some advice and reassurance that I needed even more that I was aware of. I wish these blog posts could be dissertations, but I don’t know how tolerant you, my reader, would be of that. Also, I would be writing from now until eternity if that were the case–no complaints from me on that one, but the logistics of such a predicament could be trying. My conclusion after all of this thinking, analyzing, and writing is that, in spite of any stereotypes about literature and women, I’m a poetry-loving English major and a woman. But that doesn’t mean I’m conforming, I’m simply following my passions (Isn’t life a both/and situation not an either/or?). Wherever my heart leads me, I must go.

An “Invisible Man” Finale

As promised, I found the evasive Soon, One Morning; it’s not on the internet which is saying a lot–I mean everything is on the internet, right? Wrong. So suffice it to say I voyaged to ETHS’ trusty Central Library instead of enduring another day of The Writing Center–funnily enough, I don’t find its environment very conducive to writing. Being in Central Library makes me want to write a novel or perhaps just make a career out of being a librarian. Like I said, this final(e) post will, like most of my Invisible Man writings, be woman-related and more precisely it’ll be about Mary. I’m prepared to give Ellison the benefit of the doubt on the “woman issue.” Let’s see what he has to say.

A few notes on the book before really diving into its contents. It’s from 1965 so it’s pretty old. The book has only been checked out twice since the turn of the century. It seems to have never been popular with only five check-outs in its heyday. After some brief googling (turns out the internet isn’t useless after all), I’ve found some notes on the man who put this collection together: Herbert Hill. Interestingly enough, he was the labor director for the NAACP for twenty-eight years. It seems that his personal relationships with many of the authors in the collection helped him to procure some of the previously unpublished work that it contains, like this piece by Ellison.

Okay now on to the good stuff, the stuff I’ve been searching the internet for days for. Included with “Out of the Hospital and Under the Bar” is a note from Ralph Ellison on the piece. He expresses regrets about cutting the chapter out of the novel which I can appreciate. He says that Invisible Man would’ve “been a better book” had he not cut it out (243). That being said, he did cut it which, personally, I find unfair to the reader and to women in general. It also sort of irks me that he says that he’s “pleased for Mary’s sake to see this version in print,” why for Mary’s sake? Shouldn’t it be for the sake of all women? Also if he really felt as strongly about this chapter as he makes it sound, I’d be willing to be he could’ve left it in. Men.

The chapter, “Out of the Hospital and Under the Bar,” amounts to approximately forty pages. After reading it, I have to say that I’m mildly disappointed. The story picks up following the explosion at the paint factory and follows through until when T.I.M. would’ve met Mary in Harlem. A very brief summary of what transpires is that T.I.M. wakes up in the hospital to Mary who is trying to help him out of his predicament, a.k.a being strapped down in a hospital bed. She insists that T.IM. knows why he’s there and refuses to help him until he tells her why. He insists that he knows nothing about what landed him in his situation but eventually he makes something up to procure her help and finally escapes the hospital, the machine.

While I can understand that this chapter shows Mary as more of a risk-taker and self-reliant than how the book does, I just think the chapter that was published is much better, much more cohesive in the scope of the novel. It pains me to say this because I’m all for strong women characters. I’m slightly reassured however to hear Ellison voice his regrets saying that Mary “deserved more space in the novel,” because I agree, but I can also see why this chapter doesn’t fit in the book (243). By portraying Mary as a sort of savior, I think the novel’s focus shifts too much–after all isn’t it T.I.M.’s journey that’s in question. I like Mary. I like the novel. Yet, I’m not so sold on “Out of the Hospital and Under the Bar.” Maybe Ellison does know what he’s doing. The cut was necessary.

I doubt Ellison was looking for my or any other woman’s approval when he cut this chapter but I’ll let him have it. It’s also important to note that the addition of this chapter would not make up for all of the sexist depictions of women peppered throughout Invisible Man. It would take Ellison more than a few revisions to fix those issues. I also have to concede that maybe my “one-pagers” didn’t get progressively better; I definitely peaked on number three. Throughout the year, I enjoyed doing most (if not all) of my English assignments, but these one-pagers I particularly savored. That’s why I’m sad for them to come to an end. I suppose they don’t have to–but after all, what is a writer without a reader? Who knows, maybe I’ll write one more just for the hell of it, just to prove that I didn’t peak at three. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man isn’t as terrible as my first assessment of the text. These one-pagers showed me that. They’re a tool that I will not take for granted in my future English endeavors, even if they do lack a reader.  

Sick of Ellison Yet? I’m Not

If I had to sum up my Invisible Man “one-pagers” thus far I would title the collection “A Novice Wades Through a Sea of Invisible Man Criticism.” Maybe I’m too dependent on criticism. Then again, maybe not. I’m going to diverge a little, out of concern for the interests of my reader(s), because me liking criticism doesn’t mean everybody does. So to get out of my rut of feminist rants and criticism analysis, I’m going to shift foci. In my opinion, one of the most compelling scenes in the novel is the funeral scene following Brother Clifton’s death. In some ways, it acts as a climax to all the Brotherhood-related drama, but it also opens the door to T.I.M questioning the Brotherhood’s motives. In the end, however, the funeral scene is just of one many flickers of light in the darkness that is T.I.M.’s ignorance. It takes T.I.M. nearly one hundred more pages to evade the darkness and step into the light.

Before talking about the funeral scene, it’s important to put into context Clifton’s death. T.I.M witnesses Clifton selling paper Sambo dolls in the street prior to his murder. The mention of Sambo reminded me of the Battle Royale scene when a blond man looks at T.I.M and says “That’s right, Sambo” (26). This connection made me think that there’s something going on with the Sambo dolls. I had no idea what this doll even was so I Googled it and was very disturbed by the result. T.I.M. sees Clifton controlling the doll with “some mysterious mechanism…causing [it] to move up and down in a loose-jointed, shoulder-shaking, infuriatingly sensuous motion” (431).  The fact that Ellison has a character refer to T.I.M. earlier in the novel as Sambo and then shows a Sambo doll being controlled by some invisible means makes it impossible for me to not think that the situation represents something deeper–that T.I.M.’s is being controlled by his circumstances and by the Brotherhood.

T.I.M. is just as disturbed by the Sambo dolls as I was. He thinks, “Why had he picked that way to earn a quarter? Why not sell apples or song sheets, or shine shoes” (434). He knows Clifton is above such baseness. However, this questioning is before he realizes the pernicious nature of the Brotherhood. T.I.M. wonders why Clifton “had chose to fall outside of history” when “he knew that only in the Brotherhood could we make ourselves known, could we avoid being empty Sambo dolls” (434). Oh, the irony! Isn’t that exactly what the Brotherhood is making them, these Sambo dolls? After T.I.M sees Clifton gunned down in the middle of the street, he asks all the ‘why’ questions. Why did he choose to sell those dolls? Why did he provoke the cop; didn’t he know better? Why did he “plunge outside of history and peddle an obscenity” (438)?

It is through his questioning that T.I.M. comes to a revelation about the nature of history. He concludes, “history records the patterns of men’s lives…All things, it is said, are duly recorded — all things of importance, that is. But not quite, for actually it is only the known, the seen, the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, those lies his keepers keep their power by” (439). History is a tool used by people like the Brotherhood to justify their methods. The Brotherhood worries about itself first, leaving groups, like blacks, behind. T.I.M’s clearly disoriented by this conclusion; all of his pondering causes him to “tremble so violently [he] had to lean against a refuse can” (441). Finally, he has a little aha moment thinking “what if Brother Jack were wrong” (441)? Reading this line gave me a little hope. It’s unbearable watching T.I.M. constantly walk into terrible situations blindly. The worse part is that it takes him forever to figure out he’s being deceived. My hope, however, was false, despite declaring that he “had been asleep,” T.I.M. doesn’t disentangle from the Brotherhood and remains almost as clueless as he was before his revelation.

Now on to Clifton’s funeral. What I found so interesting about the funeral scene is the shift in sentence length. Most of the book is relatively long-winded and sing-songy but when it comes to the funeral you get these short choppy sentences like “His name was Clifton and they shot him down. His name was Clifton and he was tall and some folks thought him handsome” or “He often smiled. He had good eyes and a pair of fast hands, and he had a heart” (455). The repetition in the first parts of these sentences also gives T.I.M.’s speech at the funeral a sort of poetic flare. Later in his speech, this continues; he says, “Here are the facts. He was standing and he fell. He fell and he kneeled. He kneeled and he bled. He bled and he died” (456). This language is beautiful. It’s passages like these that make me forgive Ellison for writing a book about 150 pages too long and what makes this scene my favorite in the novel; it’s truly a pleasure to read lines like these.

Aside from the rhythm of the speech, I noticed some other, strange things about the funeral service. The first thing I noted was a description of a peanut vendor who “stretch[ed] out his arms with his palms turned upward” (454). This made me immediately think that some sort Christ-related allusions were at play. This combined with the fact that the funeral procession was happening on “the top of [a] little mountain,” which is reminiscent of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, made me more certain that something was going on. The last straw for me, in all of these allusions, is when T.I.M. says in his speech, “His name was Clifton, Tod Clifton, and, like any man, he was born of woman to live awhile and fall and die. So that’s his tale to the minute.” How can you read this and not think of the Apostle’s Creed? So what does this all mean; I think that perhaps Tod is a Christ figure…or maybe T.I.M. is. I’m uncertain. All of these details attest to Ellison’s writing prowess. The man has skills.

Ellison’s novel, sort of like my response, meanders a lot, but it is filled with many profound little details. While it was incredibly frustrating at times to “bear with” T.I.M.’s ignorance, I concede that in the end, it’s worth it. It pains me to say that in spite of its length, Invisible Man has the same artistry as Toni Morrison’s Beloved–though I have to say I still prefer that novel over this one. Also, to hell with it, I’m going back to writing about women or criticism (or even better, women and criticism) because I find it more interesting–not that I didn’t enjoy decoding this scene, I just prefer that topic more.

A Deep Read of “Invisible Man”

Sometimes I find it challenging to write about books, albeit rarely. In those situations, the challenge is usually rooted in the fact that I can’t really relate to the text. However once the themes of a novel start to reveal themselves to me, I normally cling to one and can’t let it go. This is definitely the case for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I’ve found the topic that I’m passionate about: the invisible woman–yes, it maybe be a touch ironic considering the title but that doesn’t make me any less passionate about it. I also feel the need to say that I have, indeed, nearly finished the novel at this point, but will limit my analysis to the allotted chapters for two reasons: 1) we haven’t spoken in class about the rest of the chapters yet, and I don’t have enough confidence in my own unaided insight to reveal them and 2) there’s more to talk about in just the allotted chapters than I have words for in the “approximately 500” word limit.

In chapter thirteen, we are introduced to the Brotherhood that is lead by Brother Jack. Upon entering their hangout, the Chthonian, T.I.M discovers that the brotherhood isn’t all brothers; there’s women and they’re alluring at that. It’s at the door we meet Emma with her “hard, handsome face” (300). In this scene there’s a few different paradoxes and a weird disoriented feeling at play–T.I.M.’s unsure if he’s ascending or descending in the elevator, he sees a knocker on the door yet they use a doorbell, and depite entering the brotherhood’s domain, the door is answered by a woman. Emma, herself, is also a paradox. Her initial description is followed with another conflicting one. T.I.M. is easily distracted (or maybe just excited) by “pressing tensely against her perfumed softness, seeing her smile as though there were only she and I” (300). This representation of women is incredibly annoying to me; it causes me to scoff at the novel and its women yet again. Why does she have to be “soft” and “exotic.” Despite T.I.M’s proclamation that he was “disturbed not so much by the close contact,” I just don’t buy it; he seems pretty enthralled by Emma. It’s also worth noting that Emma is a sort of show piece, with each time she’s mentioned she’s smiling.

After the introductions have been had, Brother Jack takes to ordering Emma around like a dog, instructing her, “Emma, the bourbon! Two bourbons” (302). While Brother Jack is distracted by securing his beverage and making his plans concrete, there’s something going on between Emma and T.I.M. They’re making eyes at one another. He classifies her glare as “not the harsh uninterested-in-you-as-a- human-being stare that I’d known in the South, the kind that swept over a black man as though he were a horse or an insect; it was something more, a direct, what-type-of-mere-man-have-we-here kind of look that seemed to go beneath my skin;” Emma is sizing T.I.M. up and he feels uncomfortable about it and my bet is it’s because she’s a white woman (302). At the same time, however, after his blackness is called into question he thinks, “I’d like to show her how really black I am” (303). This scene allows Emma more power than most woman in the book, she’s a little bit of a seductress, but at least she’s clever in her actions.

T.I.M. and Emma’s flirtation peaks when “Emma came up and challenged [T.I.M] to dance” (314). This line was particularly interesting to me because of the verb “challenge.” With the situation being so reminiscent of Battle Royale to use a verb like challenge, which Oxford defines as “A call to someone to participate in a competitive situation or fight to decide who is superior in terms of ability or strength,” is a very deliberate choice by Ellison. This word choice isn’t the only thing interesting about this description. Ripples of a statement made earlier by the doc on the way to New York are very much present. He told T.I.M. that he “might even dance with a white girl,” a prediction made true with Emma (152).

I knew that there was something more to Emma than meets the eye. Doc tells T.I.M a woman is “any man’s most accessible symbol of freedom,” but I still felt there was more to her than just representing freedom–she wouldn’t be the first woman to do so. Battle Royale flashback anyone? Me being me, I decided to search for some more criticism. It seems to me that our relationship has made it to the next level; there’s no going back now. It’s a lifestyle that I entirely endorse. My first search was in the Gale Virtual Reference Library, but its results were lackluster.

After searching a couple dozen literary journals, I found these five (count ‘em: 1  2  3  4  5) takes on the role of woman in the text. All five seem to agree that “the Invisible Man has been taught, by indirect cultural affirmations, to equate white women with power and possession and not as human beings” (4).  The third builds on this idea saying, “The narrator of Invisible Man in fact loses what slight recognition he has of woman-as-human at the beginning of the novel as he becomes more closely allied with manhood, Brotherhood, and his own personhood.” I know what you’re thinking: “How does all this relate to Emma?” Critical essay number one answers this. The author claims that Emma “represents stage two of [T.I.M.’s] development which is apparent when he tries to convince himself that he is not intimidated by her, but the fact that he overcompensates for his past feelings of racial anxiety makes us believe the contrary…the young protagonist doesn’t realize that he shares Emma’s fate. Both are instruments for the exercise of another’s control and assertion of power” (1). This parallel is important. Maybe, Ellison gives the women of the text more precedence and power than meets the eye. Maybe, that’s the whole point. Number five agrees with my assertion stating, “Women help the progression of the nameless narrator…because they aid him in recognizing the fundamental truths underlying the dangers and powers of his invisibility: manipulation of others, dehumanization, freedom, and responsibility.” There are so many connections and so little time. It is abundantly clear to me, however, that this book is





The minute I think I have a handle on it, I further entangle myself in its web of complexities.

At the start of this, I intended on touching on the interesting things that Ras the Exhorter had to say about women, but it seems I’ve already said far too much; I get carried away easily. I also must point out the difficulties of piecing together different critical essays to further a point–interesting and rewarding, but difficult. There’s so much I have to learn…and I’m not just talking about from criticism. To think, I only have two more responses to flush out the rest of the novel. What ever shall I do? Our time is dwindling and I’m just getting started. Must all good things really come to an end? I hope not. Alas, time is not yet up. I have two more response in me. The best is yet to come.