Wednesday, February 13, 2013

VanGogh 2

View of Arles with Irises in the Foreground

But the landscapes!
"Like Cezanne he dreamed of painting the world's virginity."
His emblematic irises dividing a field of buttercups
And behind the fig trees a glimpse of the red tiled roofs and towers.
He is jubilant in Arles: "That sea of yellow
With the band of violet irises and in the background that
Coquettish little town of pretty women!"
Motion and emotion dominate yet human misery is absent.
He paints with brush using the technique of pen, ink and pencil:
The first colors are organized,
The petals of purple iris individual with deep reds and blues
Outlined in a smile of luminous joy.
The buttercups become a mass of yellow dots, gold and brown
In front and behind.
The trees branch the leaves up and up to
The topography of painted sky.
It's a painting of diagonals of happiness;
An Ode to life.

Friday, February 8, 2013

VanGogh 1

What did he feel while he painted? He wrote that "in a picture I want to say something comforting as music is comforting." We have his rolling clouds, winding cypresses and sunflowers; his visions of used shoes.  Painting is a dirty and difficult occupation, he said.

A Pair of Shoes

Those shoes seem to have tramped hard
Through muddied trails and graveled paths.
The untied leather laces wind
Like used wire.
In front on the scuffed toe
Lines calculate the miles traveled.
The tongue leans over the side,
Stiff but bending in an obstinate crease.
Beside, its partner flops heel up
Hobnails white against the sole
Worn to an oddly-shaped display:
An engraving of intimate obscurity that
Keeps the secrets of the trudged paths.
The rootless traveler, weary,
Drops these companions of his wanderings
On a blue rough surface.
He does what has become natural:
Brushes oil on canvas.
Old worn shoes--the model of his life.
But what did he feel while he painted?
He claimed that we wanted to convey
"Les petites miseres de la vie humanie."
A compassionate painting?
A compassionate man?
Shoes seen without illusion,
A still life of fanatic fidelity
To human pain.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Rubaiyat

Shall I make for you an omelet
Of lark's eggs and truffles
Here in our garden of eden?
Shall we use as our table the moss-covered rock

In the glade, in the shade of the oak?
Shall we drink mellow wine
From the pink goblet shells
With the rose reflections of dew?

And shall you play on your lute
While I dance all around you
Twirling on grass-covered meadows?
Shall we sit in the sun

And dream of our laughter
To come in these days of enchantment?
And shall we be happy forever and always
In this chamber, our garden of love?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Original Sin

Cointreau glazing the sides of a crystal glass--
Bitter orange was the fruit of desire
That deceived the mother of mankind.
The pungent liquid rind
Coiled to the glass bottom:
The clear melting fire kissed her lips,
Burnt her tongue
And consumed the heart of Eve.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What a Pity to Waste it on the Young


When we were twenty and would never die, 

The world held grand prizes, ours for the taking.

Our feet trampled about.

We knew no fear.       

We were free, not yet stunted by experience.

We had forever to do our great deeds

And could tarry for a time…

A side road here, a short cut there, no matter.

Our eyes glowed with goals; we had power;

We knew the answers.

We were twenty and fresh and beginning,

Holding the world as a ball—ours to play with.

Desiring…discovering…experiencing everything

And welcoming it without fear.

Then, we threw the ball away,

Without thought, without care,

Because we were twenty and would never die.

The ball went farther and farther from us

Into the darkness beyond.

We didn’t notice; we weren’t looking.

Until one day it was no longer ours,

Just a speck in nothingness,

Untouchable, uncontrollable,

And we opened our eyes as saw Life.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013



Are those lines of age upon your face?

Is that what time is?

You have tried to grasp the moment

And the moment is as nothing,

Like grasping the present--

At a touch it is gone….Gone,

Forever to be remembered.

And there is nothing left

But the lines of age upon your face.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shadow Leaves


Silhouettes bounce on ceiling, walls, floor.

Grace in movement:

Forms darkened by night

Made black in light

Come alive in mime--

The wind-blown apple trees.

And I, enjoying the show,

Don’t doubt the reality of either: leaf or shadow,

Unlike Platonic heroes in fire-lit caves.                         

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ever Green

How does Daphne feel
Trapped in bark?
The result of one god's desire and another's revenge.
Her father wanted grandchildren from her
And the hunter to fulfill his lust.

Poets have portrayed her
Her fear overpowered her guilt and she ran.
She prayed for mutation, destruction
Desperate to escape, feeling the god's breath on her hair,
And exhausted from the chase.

Peneus granted her prayer with a laurel cage.
Apollo's passion burnt her.
She shrank from his kiss.
Trapped, unable to move
She recoiled from his touch.

As her human heart flutters still beneath the covering bark,
Beneath the unwanted male hand
Her metamorphosis is her hell.
Disobedience does not become Daphne
And her leaves, ever green, despair.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Day She Died


“How peaceful it is down here, rooted in the centre of the world and gazing up through the grey waters, with their sudden gleams of light and their reflections.” (Virginia Woolf, “The Mark on the Wall”)

The sea spread out for miles…and the sand. Her eyes searched  these limits and there was only sea rolling in, rolling in…and sand, cool and wet from the slap of the surf. She gazed at this world and was alone. She heard the wind and the waves, the gulls crying overhead—that screeching cry as if from hunger.

One gull floated above in a gliding gauze. Suddenly, with its head cocked downward to the sea, its eyes piercing as though it could see into the depths of the wetness to the sandy floor below, in a twirling motion with the grace of a ballerina, or, like an arrow shrieking to its mark so quick was it, it came down charging into the water. Then, just as suddenly, it popped back to the surface and flew into the air, its catch in its beak. Then it soared again.  The waves slapped the sand and she felt the cold salt water wash up upon her legs.  There were small shells beneath her feet that were disturbed in their motionlessness by the movement of her toes digging into the sand for support against the slap of water.

The wind that blew through the trees, the wind that the gulls soared through, blew into her face—the same wind.   The same sea that supported the fish hit her legs as it moved its everlasting movement. The same sand that held the shells and all the minute particles of life beneath in the dark recesses supported her feet. She could look at it all—feel it, hear it, smell it—but she was not a part of it. She was alone within her body and  mind.

She could see all of this life around her but she could not see herself. She could picture in her mind a woman alone on a long stretch of beach gazing to the end of the world; a woman standing very still but for the force of water swaying her… looking, listening, feeling, her arms hung limply at her side. Was this woman in her imagination the reality?  Soon she wouldn’t have even the image. She was alone and her separateness overwhelmed  her.

Suddenly the gull twirled in his diving spiral down into the depths of water. Moments passed…the sea kept moving, the wind kept groaning and the sun kept falling into the end of the world. Moments passed…and the gull did not emerge.

She breathed deeply and sighed. Her breath made an invisible ring of air outward and outward. She was the center. She gazed at the spot where the gull had disappeared. The water was swirling in a whirlpool, sending ring after ring outward, away from the center. Her vision pierced through that center—at the still point of the turning world—and she saw into the depths of that wetness, into its mystery. Moments passed…an eternity perhaps. Then she walked into the sea.


Note: In his biography of Virginia Woolf, her nephew, Quentin Bell, wrote that on March 28, 1941, “at about 11:30 [she] slipped out, taking her walking-stick with her and making her way across the water-meadows to the river….Leaving her stick on the bank she forced a large stone into the pocket of her coat. Then she went to her death, ‘the one experience,’ as she had said to Vita [Sackville-West], ‘I shall never describe.”  She left a note for her sister, Vanessa Bell, and another for her husband, Leonard Woolf. In that second letter she explained that she felt she was going mad again and that she would not recover this time.  “What I want to say is, I owe all the happiness of my life to you….I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.” To the world she left her novels and short stories.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Summer Portent

Here is a sketch based on a story that my Grandmother used to tell about her brother:

The summer that Brother put the stick of dynamite in the outhouse was the summer that came to be known as “The Draught of 1892.” It didn’t rain from May to September and it was so hot that the women left off wearing petticoats under their dresses—even Aunt Marie. I was ten and Brother was twelve and I told him that it was a stupid idea, but he told me that I was just a kid and to stop pesterin’ him if I didn’t want to help. I had a proprietorial attitude toward Brother though and didn’t want him to think I was afraid. He’d get that scornful look on his face that made his eyes darker and puckered up his chin and nose when he was mad at me. So I helped him.

I held the blue stick of dynamite tightly while he wound the specially waxed twine around one end of it. Then he carefully lowered it into the dark deep hole of the outhouse seat until it touched bottom. We trailed the twine twenty feet into the lilac bushes and I crouched down while he lit the match. We watched the smoldering sparks sizzle up the twine, making it look like a snake on fire. Suddenly Brother stood up and ran to the door of the outhouse. I hollered at him, “Wattya doin’?” I knew my voice was screeching.

“Hush. I wanna see what it looks like.”

“But you’ll be blown up.”

“The dynamite ain’t that strong.”

The smoldering sparks kept moving up the twine leaving a limp black tail of burnt dust. I watched with my mouth open as it neared the door. I held my breath. Brother followed it inside and stood over the hole looking down. Then there was a loud boom and I closed my eyes.

All the birds seemed to swoosh up in the air crying and fluttering around at once, blending with the noise of the explosion. The noise seemed to go on and on, echoing with the birds’ cries.

When it was still, I began to smell the most awful stink. It seemed to come on in waves with the heat of the air. I turned around and ran through a gap in the bushes away from the smell. I looked over my shoulder and saw Brother running out of the door, covered with brown slime, trying to wipe his eyes and his mouth but only managing to spread the muck around.

“Come on to the pond!” I yelled at him.

In a croaky voice he said that he couldn’t open his eyes so I ran back and grabbed him by the sleeve and raced to the pond in the field beyond the run-in shed. As soon as I got the gate open he ran down to the edge and dove in, shoes and all. I could still smell the awful stench and, looking down, saw that the muck was all over my sleeve and the side of my dress, so I dove in too.

The water was cool and sweet and I was barefoot so I could kick easily and get over to Brother in the middle of the pond.

“Wow! What a stink!”

He was laughing now and we started horsing around. Then we saw Daddy Brown running down the hill toward us. In the distance, with her skirts raised so high that her white knickers showed, Aunt Marie came in a sort of prancing run, lifting her knees up high. Behind her was Bingy, with her dress billowing out so that it looked as if she were flying toward us on an umbrella.

Daddy Brown stood on the edge of the pond with his hands on his hips looking stern and puzzled at the same time. Aunt Marie and Bingy came up and stood on either side of him.

“Come out of there this instant!” Aunt Marie’s voice was shrill with a sing-song elongation about the vowels that made words wrap around our bobbing heads. It was her fiercest voice and signaled the amount of trouble we were in.

“I told you it was a stupid idea.”

Brother ignored me and we paddled toward the bank and our doom.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

To The Lighthouse Discussion Questions

  1. Mrs. Ramsay is the ideal Victorian wife and mother: devoted to her children, submissive to her husband.  The term for this, based on a poem by Coventry Patmore, is "The Angel in the House." (See examples on pages 6, 32, 39, 83, 107.)
  2. Compare that aspect of her character with the following scenes: Lily's perspective (48-51); Mrs. Ramsay's desire to be "an investigator, elucidating the social problem (9) and her concerns on 58 and 103; Lily's "experiment" during dinner (90-92); Mrs. Ramsay's solution to the quarrel between James and Cam (114-115); Mrs. Ramsay's "triumph" on 123-124.
  3. What is revealed about Mr. Ramsay during the Q to R episode on 33-34?
  4. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay represent the Victorian marriage; Paul and Minta (172-174) represent the modern marriage. Judge each.
  5. Is Lily attempting to be the angel in the house in the "boot" scene on 149-154? Does she succeed? Is there a difference in her attitude between this scene and her "experiment" at the earlier dinner scene?
  6. What is the purpose of the "Time Passes" section?
  7. What dilemma does Cam face (165, 169, 189)?
  8. What dilemma regarding his father does James face? Is he similar to his father? Is his dilemma resolved? (184-185; 202-203; 206-207)
  9. What is Lily's dilemma throughout the novel regarding her wish to be an artist?
  10. What is the vision that Lily has at the end of the novel? (Also see 180-182.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front


In my elective class we will be looking at this novel and at some World War I internet sites. Here are discussion questions I have posted and several internet sites.

  1. Describe Paul Baumer as a person. Compare and contrast him to Katczinsky,Muller, and Kropp.
  2. Who is Kantorek and what is his importance to the book?
  3. What was German warfare like in World War I as presented in the novel. Give specific details.
  4. What is the main theme of the novel and how is it developed?
  5. How does Baumer learn that the enemy is not just faceless and nameless?
  6. What are Baumer's opinions of Military leaders?
  7. What does Baumer realize on his visit home?
  8. What images and symbols are used in the book? What is the purpose of each?

Friday, September 9, 2011


An interesting argument developed in class about interpretations of "The Lady of Shalott."

Some believe that Tennyson's purpose is a warning to women: If they become dissatisfied and want to bring about changes, they will be punished. (The proof for these students is the fact that the Lady dies when she breaks free of her bower.) Other students feel that this is Tennyson's warning to society: If you try to control women (or any group of people), they will rebel and rebellion can bring about loss and even death. Organized social change is, therefore, necessary.

Both interpretations seem viable to me and they are not necessarily opposite.

We'll be looking at Tennyson's "Ulysses" (a "dramatic monologue") next and contrasting that character with Homer's Odysseus as well as Dante's interpretation. My question is, what do the differences reveal about the Victorian sensibility? The specific passages in Homer and Dante are:

The end of Homer's Odyssey:
"Then flashing-eyed Athena spoke to Odysseus saying: “Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, stay thy hand, and make the strife of equal war to cease, lest haply the son of Cronos be wroth with thee, even Zeus, whose voice is borne afar.”
[545] So spoke Athena, and he obeyed, and was glad at heart. Then for all time to come a solemn covenant betwixt the twain was made by Pallas Athena, daughter of Zeus, who bears the aegis, in the likeness of Mentor both in form and in voice."

Dante's Inferno Canto 26 (look at lines 89 to 142):

Monday, August 29, 2011

“The Lady of Shalott”

Tennyson’s poem clearly portrays, I think, the conditions of the Victorian female. The image of the ideal woman during much of the Nineteenth Century was the virginal, the spiritual, the mysterious woman dedicated to her feminine tasks, meaning the care of her husband, family and household.

Tennyson’s Lady is enclosed in a room in a medieval castle: “Four gray walls, and four gray towers/…And the silent isle imbowers” her. (I think it’s interesting that “imbower”—embower—is derived from the Old English bur and that “bound,” “husband” and “boudoir” are all related. The French “boudoir” literally means a place to sulk. I also find it interesting that she is encased in “gray” rather than being surrounded by color…or life?) She sits weaving all day and has been told that she will be cursed if she pauses in her work. “She knows not what the curse may be,/And so she weaveth steadily.” I’d suggest that this curse represents her indoctrination: She has been brainwashed by religious tradition and the social mores to believe that it is the Order of Nature that woman be passive.

The Lady cannot participate in the world but looks at it through a mirror “That hangs before her all the year,” and “Shadows of the world appear.” Her place is the domestic sphere—in the shadows rather than in the world which is the male sphere. Those spheres are separate and, according to the Victorian ideology, they were created for the female’s safety. At first she is content to weave these shadows while remaining passive and silent. Then Sir Lancelot “flashed into the crystal mirror” and she “left the web, she left the loom” and looks out of the window and sees Camelot, not the shadow. “The mirror cracked from side to side;/’The curse is come upon me’ cried The Lady of Shalott.” Even so, she leaves her bower and gets into a boat to go to Camelot. The boat becomes her funeral barge and she dies before reaching her destination.

There are, of course, many ways that the symbols could be interpreted: Seeing Lancelot arouses her longing for love and/or makes her aware of her loneliness and isolation; when she looks out the window and sees “the water lily bloom” she awakens sexually; her loss of innocence represents guilt which leads to death—the ultimate silence. All of these could be viewed as warnings to the Nineteenth Century woman. However, it seems to me that her “protection” is really a means of control. I think that her leaving her loom symbolizes woman’s dissatisfaction with the limits placed upon her. Her rebellion means that she can no longer be controlled and she is, therefore, feared. As she comes “Silent into Camelot” the people “crossed themselves for fear.”  What do they fear?

In one of the many conduct books she wrote, Mrs. Sarah Stickney Ellis (1799-1872) observes, “A woman’s highest duty is so often to suffer and be still.” Perhaps that says it all.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Reading another blog brought me back to Montaigne's Essays. I think that one of my favorite lines is in his essay "Of Solitude": "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself."

I'm pondering what this means.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reading List

Here are the reading lists for my two fall courses:

World Masterpieces 2 (19th-Century to Contemporary--Sophomore level)

 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
 Fathers and Children by Turgenev (Norton Critical Edition, translated from the Russian by Michael R. Katz)
 A Doll's House by Ibsen (Oxford World Classics, translated from the Norwegian by Jame McFarlane)
 To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
 God's Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane (Heinemann, translated from the French by Francis Price)
 Maus, Volumes I and II, by Spiegelman (graphic novels)

From Empire to Wasteland (Victorian/Modern Literature--Senior level)

Norton Anthology of English Literature--The Victorian Age (I will list the readings here after I select them)
All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque (translated from the German by A.W. Wheen)
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot (Norton Critical Edition)
Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello (translated from the Italian by Eric Bentley)

Happy reading!!

Friday, July 29, 2011


Near the end of Book II of Frankenstein, the creature compares himself to Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost.  It is during his narration of his experiences since he first "awoke" and Victor Frankenstein abandoned him. He says, "I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me" (Oxford World Classics edition, 111).  It refers to Satan's comment in Book Four, "Which way I fly is Hell, myself am Hell" (line 75). (See my post of June 10, 2011, "Evil Personified...Milton's Satan.")

This makes me think of another question:

Are there differences in emotions and motives between Milton's Satan and the Frankenstein creature?

A comparison/contrast would be fascinating....and, of course, means rereading Paradise Lost.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein


In one of the courses I’ll be teaching in the fall (my last semester before I can retire full time!), we are reading Frankenstein, first published in 1818. We’re using this text as representative of the Romantic Period rather than the usual Romantic poetry. I’ve been having a great deal of fun with the novel. Here are some discussion questions that I’ve come up with so far:

1. Why is the novel subtitled “A Modern Prometheus”? (We’ll have to look at the Greek myth when considering answers.)

2. Is it Victor Frankenstein or his creature who is being referred to as Prometheus? (Melanie’s excellent comments brought up this question.)

3. This is an epistolary novel. What is the reason for the various narrative frames?

4. Is Victor Frankenstein a hero or a villain or something in between?

5. The creature doesn’t have a name but Shelley apparently referred to him as “Adam” and uses Adam’s question to God from Milton’s Paradise Lost as an epigraph. What is the significance of the epigraph?

I’ll have more questions and, hopefully, some answers before the semester starts.