Lit.’s “LIT,” literally

The wannabe wordsmith’s
redacted //

📁 Conrad et al.  |  📁 Plath   |  📁 Walcott



I love my one&only as do poets love the poetry that kills them, as do sailors the sea that drowns them.

^ Adapted a little &, agreed:


The classics can console. But not enough . . .

A while back, as per the curriculum’s instructions, I was discovering the works of Toni Morrison. Now a similar set of instructions invites me to investigate the works of Derek Walcott. Like flotsam I’m adrift, listing and teetering, buoyed a bit — only just — by the Gulf stream’s salinity (or should I say in fact the Dead Sea’s? You tell me for, what occurred in the arena and environs of what’s today named Palestine, really underpins all that we call the Western canon of literature). I dwell, I’m sure you’ve ‘deduced’ — you [2nd pl.], the fabled fictitious, as in you aren’t at all there, you; you [2nd sing.], the mercurial one whose mental whereabouts is a mystery to humankind n beast alike — in Arabia Deserta. That is, the region above Arabia Felix — from desert to orange grove, yeah right, no, think Queen of Sheba, the heat of a relentless afternoon in Sana’a and the incessant burn of insatiable internal desire; a constant unflinching flame — and, below Arabia Petraea — that I’ll expand and add to Palestine: ‘The Hebrew Bible’, Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh and, to hell with time and geographical rigidness, Homer’s epics too.  [1]


If I should die, think only this of me…
She’s gone, and all our plans
           are useless indeed
And say with conviction:
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”
But fa sure, consider this rejoinder to Horace:
is it? Is it really worth it…

I see it and read it in “Unspeakable, unspoken” and I see it and read it in “Omeros.” Time heals yeah? And believe you me I listened to 1619 — I even put the audio files here for posterity — but you see, we can lionise Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece because what happened there is past and what remains are beautiful things like democracy and underfloor heating and fa sure, fantastic fiction in both poetic and prose from. So yes I see colonialism and slavery as they rightly should be seen, but — dear reader — has not humankind always been unkind to fellow humankind? Us and them was not manufactured by the likes of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama. No! It was there in Sumeria, it was there lurking in the orchard, it is, I brazenly say, within the fabric of humankind, part of the human condition.

The episode involving Odysseus's confrontation with Polyphemus in the Odyssey bears similarities to Gilgamesh and Enkidu's battle with Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
“Polyphemus”
By Guido Reni (1575–1642) (c. 1640). __ Must’ve been a cold day? Right! ;P __ The episode involving Odysseus’s confrontation with Polyphemus in the Odyssey bears similarities to Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s battle with Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Grindstone

Here are some pages of potential interest. I hasten to emphasise and underscore the adjective ‘potential’:

01. — On vocabulary (by J.H.K., 2020)
02. — On language (by Rouse, n.d.)
03. — Literary devices (by Bonnie & Clyde)
04. — “The Elizabethan era”
05. — “British literature of the 20th c.”
06. — “Global literature” (esp. Derek Walcott)
07. — “Comparative literature” (esp. Sylvia Plath)

In terms of public interest and the greater good, a duet of works by Walcott, for study purposes only:

📘 “Collected Poems 1948-1984”
— Initially, many were self-published (Editable PDF).
📘 “Omeros”
— A take on Homer (Editable PDF).


REFERENCES

Walcott, D. (1986). Collected Poems 1948-1984. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Walcott, D. (1990). Omeros. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux


Derek-Walcott's--Books
“The discontent that lies in the human condition is not satisfied simply by material things.”

— § —


NOTES

[1]   To try and trace the course or deduce the derivation of something is not always a scientific endevour. No! It can be far more speculative and subjective in certain circumstances. It was a long time in coming and the comeuppance was and is harsh. See:
“Empire of Deceit: entrapped in honey, money or, plain old power?”

*ART

Joseph Conrad places fiction in the schema of *art

— What is *ART?

As Maria Popova writes in The Atlantic on the subject of (the increasingly, nowadays, ‘controversial’) Joseph Conrad, “Much of his writing bears a profound philosophical quality, exploring the depths of psychology and other pillars of existence.” In this post I give you some of Conrad’s case for how strings of (“tired old”) words can be construed as a form of fine art. I would personally place literature (not music, as he does) at the pinnacle but, this is me and, I am not he:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential—their one illuminating and convincing quality—the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts—whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism—but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims. It is otherwise with the artist.
 
Fiction—if it at all aspires to be art—appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal to be effective must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion. All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the color of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to color, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.
 
The sincere endeavor to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose. And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fullness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.
 
Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and after a time, begin to wonder languidly as to what the fellow may be at. We watch the movements of his body, the waving of his arms, we see him bend down, stand up, hesitate, begin again. It may add to the charm of an idle hour to be told the purpose of his exertions. If we know he is trying to lift a stone, to dig a ditch, to uproot a stump, we look with a more real interest at his efforts; we are disposed to condone the jar of his agitation upon the restfulness of the landscape; and even, if in a brotherly frame of mind, we may bring ourselves to forgive his failure. We understood his object, and, after all, the fellow has tried, and perhaps he had not the strength—and perhaps he had not the knowledge. We forgive, go on our way—and forget. And so it is with the workman of art. Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little about the aim—the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult—obscured by mists. It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws of Nature. It is not less great, but only more difficult.
 
To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and color, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile—such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a few to achieve. But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And when it is accomplished—behold!—all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile—and the return to an eternal rest.

1619

Lest we forget or indeed, in case we aren’t yet fully au fait, you may like to listen to or download even, the “1619 Project” podcasts.

Dull drums

they dig and dent
without relent

Abandoned
“No way of escape”
I shall quote no one whatsoever.

Nah, I will. & here — with a bit of “Beyond Good and Evil,” penned by Nietzsche — I bloody fucking go again:


In the Jewish “Old Testament,” the book of divine justice, there are men, things, and speeches of such impressive style that the world of Greek and Indian literature has nothing to place beside them.  We stand with fear and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what human beings once were. … To have glued together [the] New Testament, a sort of rococo of taste in all respects, with the Old Testament into a single book, as the “Bible,” and “the essential book,” is perhaps the greatest act of daring and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) (1886)
The bold highlight is mine.

A sinful act. A guilt upon one’s conscience. As in: when one’s upon their knees in the dark of the polished mahogany confessional box, willing themselves out loud to think of baby lambs and flower beds yet fully savouring the feeling of being aroused by the tantrically intimate intonation of the gentleman upon the other side of the divide who may or may not himself be now highly aroused by one’s confession-cum-fantasy of the ‘thing’ that happened with the milkman. Would a gentle touch be too much, you silently ask yourself as he begins to describe your Angelic Salutations and is want to linger on the requirement not to allow your hand, with or without object, to saunter (satanically) southward. But, ain’t the bible in fact the greatest work of literature peer-ee-ud? And the King James version one of the greatest works of translation and/or English prose full•stop? Well, here’s this post’s first purpose, to introduce you — one & only — to Jacke Wilson’s sonorous but soft voice. The voice is the narrator of a podcast called: The History of Literature. The narrator’s name (Jacke Wilson; that’s pronounced by him as ‘jack’ not ‘jayke’ / ‘jacki’) is, intriguingly, a pen name. I discovered this when I’d wanted to put a face to this mesmerising voice. Jacke, you see, touches upon the Old Testament (“The Hebrew Bible”) here and basically says that this compendium of stories far surpasses its one know literary predecessor: Gilgamesh and its near contemporary Greek works (i.e., Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad). Noah’s flood, Adam and Eve, human sacrifice and daughters laying with their dad, I mean, who could possibly make such stuff up ipso facto (by that very fact or act) it’s just gotta b divine, ain’t it? Hasn’t it? Well, let us see what Jacke has to say on this and some two hundred other works of literature: 

01. — Jacke Wilson | The Person
02. — Jacke Wilson | The Podcast

#1 — 1839
William Wilson

William Wilson is a short story by one of my current favourite writers: Edgar Allan Poe. The novel covers a doppelgänger scenario and as I’ve read it said, it clearly explores the theme of the double (the delusional, the inner voice that will be called in extreme cases schizophrenia). In this mini novella, the second self haunts the protagonist and leads him to insanity and at the same time somehow represents his own insanity:

01. — 🔊 William Wilson
02. — 📙 Willian Wilson

William-Wilson-cover


Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
 
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
 
Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

#2 — 1899
The Heart of Darkness

The Heart of Darkness is by Joesph Conrad. Conrad one of my all time favourite authors not least because his mother tongue wasn’t English, he loved the sea and he wrote so well about the loneliness and torment of the human soul. Some of his stuff, especially The Secret Sharer, speak flipping volumes to those who just cannot, and do not, quite fit in. To those who can’t be ‘just another number,’ weekenders, latter-day talent show and reality TV viewer who today seem content (sedated/duped) with snapping and instagraming and content just to be, not, in other words, to think beyond and ask the question of why… Adam Curtis would explain this by way of his Century of The Self thesis. Never you mind my mercurial friend:

01. — 🔊 The Heart of Darkness
02. — 📙 The Heart of Darkness

The-Heart-of-Darkness-cover


The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.
 
We live as we dream – alone.
 
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

#3 — 1951
The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by Ernest Hemingway. Now, like everyone wants to retrospectively label Conrad as racist (by today’s standards okay, yes) I hear most critics say about Hemingway, amazing master of succinct prose but an awfully misogynistic fellow (seems so I guess) yet, I’m all confused here and I ain’t no debutante gadfly. You see, I never know if we should judge authors/artists or simply consider the work of fiction or the painted picture or the chiselled nude as a thing of its very own being. I mean, we aren’t wanting to make acquaintance with long since passed away people, and we can’t — with justification — judge them (too harshly from afar) because how can we know the extent to which their parents and/or the societal norms that pounded and pummeled their formative years impacted on their empathy for other modes of fellow human being. ANY WHICH WAY, this little story may be meant for men, men that like to hunt and kill, but who cares! I see in it a tale of dogged determination, nature’s turning of the wheel and the reality of us being but a handful of dust; for however high we soar we will all be grounded by gravity’s pull and the biological clock that would have us dead and left out to the vultures/ hyenas/ wolves by the age of say, 37. Alas, now is the time to think of only one thing (doing my f’ing assignment on Hermann H. Hesse). Here without further ado is this quaint work:

01. — 🔊 The Old Man and the Sea
02. — 📙 The Old Man and the Sea

The-Old-Man-and-the-Sea-cover


There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
 
There is no friend as loyal as a book.

#4 — 1963
The Bell Jar

This is the post’s second purpose to introduce The Bell Jar — a sort of autobiography by Sylvia Plath (it could be termed a Roman-à-clef too as we are told that real people and events appear in each and every chapter). It will be known to most that Plath took her life soon after writing this book (1) and that she decided it to publish it in England under the pen name: Victoria Lucas (2). It often comes with a public health warning, but come on, nobody here (who is actually no body) who’s stared so deeply into the abyss would wanna b chaperoned and spoon-fed mollycoddle. You see, I’m hearing the dull sound of drums, I’m not getting sleep, but I am letting Jacke try and rock me off, I’m not getting into the set texts, but I am getting more into the mind of Plath (**her works I should say) so here, my dears, are a quartet of resources for you:

01. — 📙 The Bell Jar (HTML & 🔊)
02. — 📙 The Bell Jar (PDF)
03. — The Bell Jar, a literary analysis

The-Bell-Jar-cover


If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.
 
I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print.
 
The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it.

Oh Brightest Star

you’re far paler than my moon


لا أخلو منك أبدًا
ولا للحظة / ولا لبرهة
ولا لثانيةٍ واحدة

A literary analysis of John Keats’ poem: “Bright Star” (1819) of which there are known to have been several versions.

“Bright star”


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—

No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.


— John Keats (1819)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

John Keats (1795–1821) was an English Romantic poet who died at twenty five and is today one of the most analysed contributors to English literature. The poetry of Keats is heavily loaded with sensualities and thus is in line with other Romantic poets who wittingly or otherwise wrote to accentuate emotion by way of emphasising (and poetically amplifying) the imagery of nature. I could dig a little deeper here, actually I kind of did, but I did not really want to over-focus on the poem’s context because somehow it makes the analysing of the poem more humdrum in that we would basically know its motivation (its muse and/or, for other poems, the implied and intended meanings — subtext, I feel, all too often is revealed by context). [1]  Maybe I’m being foolish, should analysis be but a guessing game? Should we concoct everything from the strings of punctuated words alone? Is it about us or them or the text? Yeah it’s a bit of all three but which should we emphasise? It comes down, I guess, to why we bother to pursue the task of textual analytics in the first place: is it for pleasure or is it for purpose?

2. The poem

Well, let us begin by going to the heart of the matter: the poem’s narrator — almost certainly Keats him very self — is saying: (i) I want to be with the one I love day and night forevermore else (ii), I want to die here and now. Put differently, a life spent without being intimately entwined with the object of one’s lust and obsession is not one worth living . . .

Paolo_Veronese_-_Unfaithfulness_-_Google_Art_Project
Faith No More
“Unfaithfulness”
by Paolo Veronese (1575)
Paolo_Veronese_-_Unfaithfulness
London Calling
Paolo Veronese (1528–1588)
Room 9 ‘Venice 1530–1600,’ National Gallery, London, United Kingdom

. . . In the first recorded draft of “Bright Star,” dated to early 1819, we read loves unto death; whereas, in a later version, death is an alternative to (ephemeral) love. This poem is a classic ‘English’ — or ‘Shakespearean’ — sonnet: three stanzas of four lines apiece then the two-line rhyming couplet at the end. It is punctuated as a single sentence and uses the expected rhyme — A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D-E-F-E-F-G-G — with a customary volta:

No—yet still stedfast, ...

occurring after the octave. Arguably there is something of a second volta marked by the caesura and the dash, when this turn of emotion is expressed:

—or else swoon to death.

As a dictionary will tell you, as it told me, an ‘eremite,’ or hermit, is someone who lives in seclusion from society, usually for religious reasons (to ponder the seminal question of why and/or in penance for an actual or imagined thought or act). This guides us to the notion of a solitary unblinking star, to a connotation of ever-present light and (reassuring) oversight.

2.1 Synopsis

Addressed to a star — this “patient, sleepless Eremite” — the poem tells of the narrator’s desire to be as constant as a star with regard to being beside their loved one. The first eight lines are not about love or even human life; Keats looks at a personified star. By the sestet we find the narrator upon their lover’s chest and read that that’s where they desire to spend every moment from that exact one, to eternity. Life is finite, youth and the intensity of initial love are fleeting. If one knows one’s end is fast approaching, why on earth, why in the world, would they not seek to be a star and lodge forever more, pillow’d upon their loved one?

2.2 Imagery & symbolism

The Star
The use of the star as an image within the poem will most likely have been to emphasise steadfastness; a dutiful and resolutely firm unwavering presence (as is my love for you). Could this star be Venus? But as a planet, it ain’t so steadfast. [2]  Could it be The North Star? Yet astronomers say this one ain’t the brightest of the bunch. Could it be the Andromeda Nebula (NGC 224) seen as a collective one?

In Greek mythology, Andromeda is the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Aethiopia (the latter we are obliged to assume is some variant of a self-obsessed and overly vain step-mother). Andromeda is the Latinised form of Ancient Greek Ἀνδρομέδα (Androméda) meaning: “ruler of men.” When Cassiopeia boasts that she is more beautiful than the Nereids (the 50 daughters of Nereus and Doris — spirit nymphs of the ocean), Poseidon (god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses; considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy of the Olympian gods) sends the sea monster Cetus to ravage the coast of Ethiopia as divine punishment. As a consequence, Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster, but is saved from death by Perseus (son of Zeus and, before the days of Heracles, one of the greatest Greek hero monster slayers; he beheaded the Gorgon Medusa for Polydectes and saved Andromeda from Cetus) . . . with a happy ever after ending for he escorts her on his magic carpet over Arabia to Greece to reign as his queen.
 
As a subject, Andromeda has been popular in art since classical times. In the Renaissance era, a popular source was Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”

Andromeda & Perseus
From left to right: “Perseus (upper right) and Andromeda (left)” by Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) (c. 1611); “Andromeda” by Gustave Doré (1832–1883) (1869) and, “Andromeda chained to the Rock by the Nereids” by Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856) (1840), hanging @ The Louvre Museum, Paris.

But, as Keats was an Englishman and stargazers there do like to go on about the ‘North star,’ let’s suppose that it was this one (the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor/Little teddy Bear; .a.k.a., ‘Pole Star’ / ‘Polaris’) — which historically it was assumed that the heavens rotated around — that the narrator is eulogising as “Bright Star.” Never mind though the exact one. Regardless of the star in question, it is said that stars, in poetic prose, personify a quiet and universal fixedness, the limitations of which are implied even as the star itself is praised. Shakespeare used such imagery in his play Julius Caesar when Caesar likens himself to the ‘Pole Star’ (yes, that’s the ‘North Star’). Shakespeare also celebrates love by way of the star as a symbol in Sonnet, № CXVI, see this excerpt:


… Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, 

That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.


William Shakespeare (№ CXVI)

Although stars may have ‘lone splendour’ (the likening of one to an ‘Eremite’ emphasises the sense of removal from the tangible world of humanity and, dare I say, aloofness), its cons are spelled out too: solitary & sans sensitive (in tandem with its steadfastness & splendidness). “Bright Star,” like other romantic poems, amplifies natural phenomena but Keats masterfully compares and contrasts.

You see, some natural phenomena is seemingly unchangeable — the seven stages of a star’s life-cycle, the rise and fall of black holes, plate tectonics too are not of a human scale nor almost, is a glacier’s creep — and is thus in stark contrast to the restlessness of humankind’s romantic passion. However, certain forms of love (Mania: obsessive love, from the Greek term ‘μανία,’ meaning “mental disorder,” from which the term “manic” is derived) can seemingly be construed by the afflicted individual as immutable. As one critic wrote of Keats’ usage of the star imagery in this poem, “The human heart can never be tranquil like the star, for human emotions know the conflict of joy and pain.” [3]

The Sea
Such an evocative body: the oceans, the seven seas, the ebb and flow on the tidal Thames with images of Londinium and tales of the Congo/Kongo; The Bay of Biscay and the Spanish Armada; clipper ships on voyages to Arabia and the Orient for spice; discovery ships seeking out new passages amongst ice-sheets and icebergs; HMS Bounty botany & mutiny, Tahiti, the Cherokee-class HMS Beagle w/ Galapagos finches on the mind.

The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,

Sewn in sailcloth, a plank at rear, one in front, a half-mast the backdrop for the call: “All hands bury the dead.” Was this the case for Usāmah bin Muḥammad bin ʿAwaḍ bin Lādin? It’s known there’s controversy about the veracity of this occurring out in the Indian Ocean on May 3rd, 2011… kept cryogenically, the more likely fate. After star-gazing and alongside the watching of an open fire, the setting and rising sun most surly be humankind’s infatuation with gazing at the sea and listening, if not for siren calls, then to the calls of (colloquially called) seagulls.

The Pasture
Its grazing not gracing so what springs to mind if not new born lambs encountering an unseasonably late snowfall — after all, it’s not deep and entrenched, it is new, soft and just a mask-like coating or veneer . . .

Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—

. . . — shepherds and their hooked crooks: we can rise with Marlowe (Red sky at night / Shepard’s delight) we can fall with Raleigh (Red sky in the morning / Shepard’s warning). Take either or both; mountains and moors are a world away from nascent industrialised urban squalor. Pure Love is a world away from perfunctory love. Stars are enduring, seasons (in Europe) are short-lived.

— § —


NOTES

[1]   Keats knew, it is assumed, that he was dying from tuberculosis — think Edgar Allan Poe and his poem: “Annabel Lee” {T.B. got George Orwell too, an artery burst in his left lung, killing him @ 46 yet he got hitched, in a hospital bed, the year before to one: Sonia Brownell; in attendance. amongst others, were Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh.} — and “Bright Star” is in no small part about this awareness. This delivers unto us con-text. When one first dwells on the sonnet’s closing sestet, we may question the utility of living forever if the one we love isn’t immortal too (i.e., Fanny Brawne, the real-world actual person who is almost certainly this poem’s mortal muse, isn’t being characterised as an undying goddess) yet, for Keats, a man in his early twenties well aware that he’d not likely see his 27th birthday —


Excuse me while I kiss the sky,
you got to get it while you can.
Love cannot save us from fate,
go back to her, I’ll go to black.

— living a normal lifespan (to be spent beside his ‘fair love’) would be tantamount to living forever.

I’d like to make note of the following words, words typed by Rumaan Alam in his review of a 2019 book on Lucian Freud entitled: The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years, 1922-1968


When I visit museums, I rarely listen to the guided tours and often try to look at the work before I read any explanatory wall text. I want to make up my own mind, or at least let my eye have first crack at things.

“Girl with a White Dog”
by Lucian Freud (1922–2011) (1950–1) — Oil paint on canvas, 76.2 cm by 101.6 cm @ The TATE, London. As Laura Freeman wrote in The Sunday Times, “No coiffure, no powdered shoulders, no airbrushed thighs. With Lucian Freud, paint becomes flesh. Skin puckers under armpits. Veins spread bluely across breasts in unheated studios. Skin is waxy-sallow in London winter light. He leaves out nothing. Not even a mole.”
“The painter must give a completely free rein to any feeling or sensations he may have and reject nothing to which he is naturally drawn.” -- Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
Lucian Freud
“The painter must give a completely free rein to any feeling or sensations he may have and reject nothing to which he is naturally drawn.”
— Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
“An artist should appear in his work no more than God in nature. The man is nothing; the work is everything.” -- Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
Lucian Freud: a self-portrait on aging.
Lucian Freud (1922–2011) once said, “An artist should appear in their work no more than god in nature. The human is nothing; the work is everything.”
just dust
“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”
― Evelyn Waugh

— § —

[2]   Venus can often be seen within a few hours after sunset or before sunrise as the brightest object in the sky (other than the moon) from both the East End of London and Rome’s Vatican City (née Papal States).

— § —

[3]   It is best not to be too literal. A star’s heart is the diametric opposite of ‘tranquil’ for it is an atomic bath of nuclear fission and fusion converting atoms of hydrogen into helium and generating tremendous amount of fire|🔥|نار [feisty, fervid & all-consuming]. Yet, my moon, you to me can be a sensuous soporific “Sea of Tranquility” (“Mare Tranquillitātis” / 8.5°N 31.4°E).

“The Grave of Love”

— a poem considered
— poetry critiqued

A literary analysis of Thomas Love Peacock’s poem: “The Grave of Love” and, an introduction to Peacock’s essay “The Four Ages of Poetry” (1820), P. B. Shelley’s response to it, “A Defence of Poetry” (1821) and the precursor to both, Philip Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry” (1595).

“The Grave of Love”


I DUG, beneath the cypress shade,
What well might seem an elfin’s grave;
And every pledge in earth I laid,
That erst thy false affection gave.

I press’d them down the sod beneath;
I placed one mossy stone above;
And twined the rose’s fading wreath
Around the sepulchre of love.

Frail as thy love, the flowers were dead
Ere yet the evening sun was set:
But years shall see the cypress spread,
Immutable as my regret.


— Thomas Love Peacock (c. 1807)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866) was an English poet, novelist and official of the East India Company. Peacock left school at thirteen but, by way of assiduous reading, made himself an accomplished classical scholar and a master of both French and Italian literature. He was not an author by vocation, but his executive position at East India House, allowed him the time to pursue an avocation as writer of essays etc. (it is worth noting that the East India Company is indelibly linked to the U.K.’s former colonial domineering of India). Peacock was too, a good friend of the noted Romantic poet P. B. Shelley and it is clear that both were influenced by the work of the other. Peacock tended to satirise the intellectual tendencies of his time in his works of fiction in which, “conversation predominates over character or plot.” It is widely said that his best poetic verse is found within his novels. Peacock’s finest literary achievements are his inimitable satiric novels — Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817) (based on the “idea of an orang-outang mimicking humanity!) and Crotchet Castle (1831) — in which his procedure is to collect a group of argumentative eccentrics in a country house and set them to talking. His protagonists represent extreme or bigoted or visionary points of view on all sides of the important topics of the time. In one of his best-known works, Nightmare Abbey (1818), he constructs (satirises) characters drawn from the eminent poets of the time, including Shelley as “Scythrop Glowry,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “Mr Ferdinando Flosky” and, Lord Byron in the guise of “Mr Cypress” — the latter, a misanthropic poet destined for exile.

Some English Romantics:
01. — S. T. Coleridge
02. — John Keats
03. — P. B. Shelley
04. — Lord Byron

The novel Gryll Grange (1860) was once described as being the last and “mellowest fruit from Peacock’s tree.” It considered a key concern of the (mid-Victorian) era: the championing of civilization, harmony, and completeness against both technology and religious asceticism (‘prudishness’). The main plot of the book concerns Mr Falconer who is an idealist, ascetic, and classicist. Falconer lives in a tower attended by seven virgins, but is persuaded to join a convivial house party at Gryll Grange, where he woos and wins its presiding genius, Morgana Gryll.

— Why ‘seven’? Please do tell me.

Peacock’s, “The Four Ages of Poetry” (1820) is a satirical perspective on the history of poetry and its societal role (see below). He adapts the Greek and Roman view of literary evolution as a slow demise from the early golden age into his own trajectory, that has two rises and falls — the first age being the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass (cf. [1] Shelley’s, “A Defense of Poetry” (1821) and [2] Philip Sidney’s “An Apology for Poetry” (1595) — both discussed below).

2. The poem

What is, when all’s said and done, this thing called love? Well my woman ((Oh! My man))… analysis by analysis, a step or a few forward, one or two back, we will learn what it encapsulates, what it can be defined as and, how it unfolds and immutably entraps those that fall for Venus’s nectar — like a black hole, there’s various entry points but no known exit/s. To be clear, “The Grave of Love” was in fact an untitled poem. It was found amongst Peacock’s belongings after his death. According to Edith Nicholls (Peacock’s grand-daughter) it was probably written in or around 1807. Unlike what I’d first guessed — the burial of an infant child — Edith speculated that the poem was to a young woman, one Fanny Falkner, whom he had loved. Edith wrote that, “They were engaged when she was eighteen, and he was twenty-two. For a few months they were entirely happy in mutual affection and sympathy. … The engagement was broken off in an unjustifiable manner by the underhand interference of a third person, and the young lady, supposing herself deserted, married another man.” I have titled it as I have because the venerable Arthur Quiller-Couch included it in The Oxford Book of English Verse (1919) as “The Grave of Love.”

“The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900”
— An anthology of English poetry, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, that had a very substantial influence on popular taste and perception of poetry for at least a generation. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1900. Interestingly, it was carried widely around the British Empire and was seen as a near essential ‘knapsack book.’ Quiller-Couch dedicated it to Trinity College, Oxford calling it, “a house of learning; ancient, liberal, humane, and [his] most kindly nurse.” In the preface, penned in 1900, he wrote, inter alia, “To be sure, [one] must come to such a task as [the compiling of this anthology] haunted by their youth and the favourites they loved in days when they had much enthusiasm but little reading.”


A deeper import
Lurks in the legend told my infant years
Than lies upon that truth we live to learn.


— Arthur Quiller-Couch (1900)

2.1 Synopsis

“The Grave of Love” is not a poem that’s often subject to analysis; the most precursory of searches will attest to this. Yet, it speaks of love (lost) and thus it speaks to me. It follows then that I read this and reread it many a time. I happened across it initially in, I think, a Norton anthology. In sum, the poem seems to be about a person — the narrator — laying someone to rest, but doing so metaphorically speaking and actually too. So, not burring the actual person or merely a thought of a person but the making of a shrine of sorts to symbolically lay that person to rest. The elfin bit made me think of an infant but this just did not and does not fit with the false affection and the immutable regret.

2.2 Vocabulary

Yep, yep we all have dictionaries but, I do think that having the following word meaning reminders readily @ hand will aid both understanding and appreciation.

Cypress tree
— (Or branches of it) Symbolic of mourning.

Elfin
— A person or their face) small and delicate, typically with a mischievous charm.

Ere
— [archaic] preposition: before (in time).

Erst
— A long time ago; formerly.

Immutable
— Unchanging over time or unable to be changed.

Regret
— We should note, I’m reliably informed, that the word “regret” had a much stronger meaning in 1807 than it does today.

Sepulture
— A small room or monument, cut in rock or built of stone, in which a dead person is laid or buried.

Thy
— [Archaic] A form of the word “your.”

2.3 Literary & Poetic Devices

The poem consists of three stanzas of four lines apiece. There’s rhyme aplenty:

shade / laid
above / love
set / regret

Allusion
— The making of an indirect reference of a person, place, &c. For instance in this poem “elfin” implies the object of the poem was not just small in frame but cheeky somehow too.

2.4 Analysis

Was DUG all caps for emphasis, or should it not have been? Have I merely reinforced a typo of a kind or was this the poet’s want? Anyway, there’s bitterness,

erst thy false affection gave

there’s remorse,

rose’s fading wreath /
the flowers were dead

and there’s regret:

Immutable as my regret.

Misunderstandings and seemingly run-of-the-mill errors of judgment can have monumental consequences, don’t I know it. Oh don’t I bloody fucking know it. You feel for the narrator, there digging the grave, he (let us assume it is a ‘he’) does this metaphorically so to speak (and yes, the poem itself is a metaphor too) but it is palpable: the earth, the sod and the mossy stone, all hark of the Emerald isle — the island of Great Britain — so too is the quintessential twined wreath of roses — red / English country garden etc. etc. — but then, amongst all of this, is the Cypress tree . . .

Etymology: Cypress tree
— The word cypress is derived from the Old French ‘cipres,’ which was imported from Latin ‘cypressus,’ which is the latinisation of the Greek κυπάρισσος (kyparissos). And then we have the knowledge of the Romantic era’s love of all things Greek by way of good Italian architecture, art and writing. In Greek mythology, Cyparissus (kyparissos) was a boy beloved by a deity (probably Apollo). In one well known version of this myth, the favorite companion of Cyparissus was a tamed dear, which he then accidentally killed with his hunting javelin as it lay dozing serenely in a wood. The boy’s grief was such that it transformed him into a cypress tree. Hence that tree became the classic symbol of/for mourning ((we know about Fig leave and Olive branches don’t we ;P)).
 
The myth is thus aetiological: it explain, or it tells us the reason for why this tree is of this particular significance culturally speaking.

Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus making music
“Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus making music”
— by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1834)
Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus making music
“Cyparissus”
— by Jacopo Vignali (c. 1625)

. . . the sigh press tree. Well, this lifts the tragedy of laying a loved one (or a terminated love affair) to rest to a higher plane. Timeless poetry can put one’s emotional ephemerality into some degree of perspective and for poetry’s roots, where do we go if not to The Iliad and The Odyssey; the foundational texts of Western literature. Where do we seek solace if not to poems and poetry, to long-read (or long form) articles and tomes that deal with the nature of the human condition. I mean, the sun had set and the flowers were dead.

Frail as thy love

Who’s love exactly?. . . Was it — this love 💔 — frail because it was false (‘fake’)? Frail because it was fickle (‘fleeting’)? Or frail because the giver of this love became feverish and then passed away?

Knowing the context (the notes of Edith Nicholls etc.) is — I feel more and more — an impediment not an aid to usefully analysing poetry.

— § —

The Four Ages of Poetry &c.

“The Four Ages of Poetry,” an essay of 1820 by Thomas Love Peacock, was both a significant study of poetry in its own right, and the stimulus for the 1821 essay: “A Defence of Poetry” by P. B. Shelley. Both are, in a way, nuances of the arguments made by Philip Sidney’s 1595 An Apology for Poetry (in which Sidney responds to some points made by a puritanical contemporary of his).

In essence, “Four Ages” (see the full essay, with commentary, here) is a utilitarian attack on the Romantic poets of Peacock era; characters indeed that he was closely and amicably associated with. Note well that Peacock was first and foremost a satirist and thus tongue n cheek was the order of the day — in other essays Peacock would write in defence of such poets! In a nutshell, Peacock offered a mocking account of how poets originally developed a claim to be historians and/or moral and ethical guides. He argued that: practice is mainly rooted in expression, so it should not be held as fact. In a counterpoint essay — “A Defense of Poetry” — Shelley places the poet on a pedestal see the full essay, with commentary, here). Arguably Shelly’s case for the poet is built upon the essay Philip Sidney wrote — “An Apology for Poetry” — back in 1595 that defended poets and poetry from prudish puritans see the full essay, with commentary, here). The shoulders of giants. . . ; decline and fall. . . & moment’s monuments. . .

First published in the journal Literary Miscellany in 1820, Four Ages was Peacock’s satirical perspective on the history and societal role of poetry. He describes the golden age as the age of Homer, the silver age as “the poetry of civilized life,” with two kinds of poetry, “imitative and original.” Peacock holds Virgil as an example of a strong imitator, and casts the original poetry of the silver age as the emergence of comic and satirical forms, and notes of the age the “labored polish of versification” as a new obstacle to poetry’s previously unencumbered music of sound and sense. The [Romantic], brass era is marked, according to Peacock, by poems of “verbose and minutely-detailed description of thoughts, passions, actions, persons, and things.” Peacock concludes that industrialised civilization has outgrown the need for poetry, and that as societies become more complex the intellectual role that poets had held is more effectively taken on by philosophers and statesmen. In the brass age, Peacock argues, the poet is “a semi-barbarian in a civilized community.”

Objection your Honour!

Shelley retorted to Peacock by saying that, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Shelley’s essay — “The Defence of Poetry” — contains many allusions to Peacock’s Four Ages, e.g., “If I know the knight by the device of his shield, I have only to inscribe Cassandra, Antigone, or Alcestis on mine to blunt the point of his spear;” taking one instance of a favourite character from each of the the three great Greek tragedians. Shelley begins with reason and imagination, defining reason as logical thought and imagination as perception, adding, “reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.” From reason and imagination, humankind may recognise beauty, and it is through beauty that civilization comes.

Language, Shelley contends, shows humanity’s impulse toward order and harmony, which leads to an appreciation of unity and beauty. Those in “excess” of language are the poets, whose task it is to impart the pleasures of their experience and observations into poems. Shelley argues, that civilization advances and thrives with the help of poetry. This assumption then, through Shelley’s own understanding, marks the poet as a prophet, not a man dispensing forecasts but a person who “participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one.” He goes on to place poetry in the column of divine and organic process: “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth … the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator.” The task of poets then is to interpret and present the poem; Shelley’s metaphor here explicates: “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”

Today, Defence of Poetry is considered by far the most important of Shelley’s prose writings. In it, Shelley claims that poets have the capacity to be philosophers; that they are the creators and protectors of moral and civil laws; and that if it were not for poets, scientists could not have developed either their theories or their inventions.” Shelley opens his essay by discussing the two faculties of the human mind: reason and imagination. He highlights the difference between them and says:“Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences,and imagination the similitudes of things. The reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.”

From the Romantic era, let’s rewind to the Elizabethan era. Philip Sidney in his 1595 “Apology for Poetry” reacts against the attacks made on poetry by the puritan and anti-theatrical writer, Stephen Gosson. To, Sidney, poetry is an art of imitation for specific purpose, it is imitated to teach and delight. According to Sidney, poetry is simply a superior means of communication and its value depends on what is communicated. The claims Gossen made (and were then countered by Sidney) are as follow:

  1. Poetry is the waste of time;
  2. Poetry is mother of lies;
  3. It is nurse of abuse;
  4. Plato was right to have banished poets from his ideal world.

For Sidney, (1) poetry is the source of knowledge and a civilizing force, for Sidney. Gossen attacks on poetry saying that it corrupts the people and it is the waste of time, but Sidney says that no learning is so good as that which teaches and moves to virtue and that nothing can both teach and amuse so much as poetry does. He contends that ancient Greek society respected poets quite considerably. The poets are always to be looked up. So, poetry is not a waste of one’s time. Sidney claims (2) that poet does not lie because he never affirms that his fiction is true and can never lie. The poetic truths are ideal and universal. Therefore, poetry cannot be false per se (or as others have put it, “the mother of all lies”). Sidney rejects too the notion that poetry is “the source of abuses.” To him (3), it is people who abuse poetry, not vice-versa. Abuses are more nursed by philosophy and history than by poetry, by describing battles, bloodshed, violence etc. On the contrary, poetry, the argument goes, helps to maintain morality and peace by avoiding such violence and bloodshed. Moreover it brings light to knowledge. Sidney (4) contends that Plato in his Republic wanted to banish the abuse of poetry not the poets. He himself was not free from poeticality, which we can find in his dialogues. Plato never says that all poets should be banished. He called for banishing only those poets who are inferior and unable to instruct the children.

As Sidney sees it, art is the imitation of nature but it is not slavish imitation as Plato views. Rather it is creative imitation. Nature is dull, incomplete and ugly. It is artists who turn dull nature in to golden color. He employs his creative faculty, imagination and style of presentation to decorate the raw materials of nature. For Sidney, art is a speaking picture having spatiotemporal dimension (belonging to both space and time or to space–time). For Aristotle human action is more important but for Sidney nature is important. Nature vs. Nurture. . . Oh how I want it to be the latter (we can hope society, family and parenting can improve) but all indications are that it’s nature, our dee en ay & our genes, that overrides and supersedes and is writ large 😦


REFERENCES

📙  An Apology for Poetry (1595)
📙  Melincourt (1817)
📙  The Four Ages of Poetry (1820)
📙  A Defence of Poetry (1821)
📙  Crouchet Castle (1831)
📙  Headlong Hall and Nightmare Abbey (1850)
📙  Gryll Grange (1861)
📙  The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900 (1919)

Brett-Smith, H. (Ed.) (1923). Peacock’s Four Ages of Poetry, Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, Browning’s Essay on Shelley (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Eliot, C. W. (Ed.) (1909). Percy Bysshe Shelley – A Defence of Poetry. English essays, from Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard classics, Volume 27. New York: P. F. Collier & Son.

Eliot, C. W. (Ed.) (1909). Sir Philip Sidney – The Defense of Poesy. English essays, from Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard classics, Volume 27. New York: P. F. Collier & Son.

Peacock, T. L. (1817). Melincourt. London: T. Hookham.

Peacock, T. L. (1831). Crotchet Castle. London: T. Hookham.

Peacock, T. L. (1850). ‘Headlong Hall’ and ‘Nightmare Abbey’. New York: George P. Putnam.

Peacock, T. L. (1861). Gryll Grange. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd.

Quiller-Couch, A. T. (1919). The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900. Oxford: Clarendon.

“Annabel Lee”

I love with a kind of love 💓
that’s far more than love /

This post carries a literary analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem: “Annabel Lee” (c. 1849). It is a powerful testament to love and particularly poignant in that it was the last poem Poe penned prior to passing.

“Annabel Lee”


It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Laughed loud at her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went laughing at her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the laughter in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.


— Edgar Allan Poe (c. 1849)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) as you (may) know was an American writer and poet. He’s widely regarded as a key figure in the American Romanticism movement and was one of the pioneers of the all-American short story (i.e., a novella — see e.g., Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” for an English equivalent).

Some English Romantics:
01. — S. T. Coleridge
02. — John Keats
03. — P. B. Shelley
04. — Lord Byron

Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” on the eve of his demise. It wasn’t published until he was dead and buried (I don’t think cremation was a done thing back then unless of course you were on the banks of the Ganges at e.g., a ghat at Benares). Poe died at 40 and was either dying of rabies or dying or rum when discovered in a state of delirium on a New York street. In a nod to Nietzsche or a coincidence a continent apart Poe once upon a time mused: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

In-depth profile:
Edgar Allan Poe

2. The poem

I am increasingly thinking I’m presenting all this topsy-turvy (tipsy as I am from the dashing dealt by crashing white horses, that are themselves corralled by Atlantic swell). I should present an analysis of the poem before the poet. I mean I’m a full on liberal-minded person, I’d advocate legalising it all and (I here mean to say) I am against capital punishment in all circumstances (thus I do believe human life, once born, is sacrosanct) yet (and this is the point I’m trying to ground compassionately) I feel it’s the poem we should cherish/castigate; love/loath; be moved by or be indifferent to and not the poet. Poets, like plumbers and plum pie producers, live and die. Poems, unlike plumbing or pies of plum do not necessarily have short shelf lives (some span centuries [e.g., Marlowe, Raleigh, Shakespeare and my starry-eyed Edmund Spenser — o how my eyes are blighted for not seeing you], some last millennia [e.g., Catullus, Homer, Horace, Ovid, and my electric Sappho]). It is then, a submission to you here that the poem should be of greater concern than the poet. Am I wrong? … Never mind (for now).

2.1 Synopsis

The story of “Annabel Lee” is about L O V E — there’s no ambiguity about that. But, was this a swan song? A eulogy to his imagined maker? (A declaration of loyalty to the good lord o high on up above.) Or, was it about the death of a loved one; a loved one who, due to reactionary elders, was separated from their lover? (Oh how my mind runs wild, oh how everything inevitably comes down to you and me!) You see, unfortunately, it has all been written on stone. There is precious little scope to read into it what we desire, need and want to because, received wisdom tells us “Annabel Lee” is a story of fresh/young/honeymoon-period love, that’s been cut short. The consensus view too is that the narrator is indeed Poe himself. (Circumstance/context informs us that Poe lost his wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm, in the year prior to producing this poem. Her death profoundly altered his state of mind — I’ve often wondered what’s worse losing a loved one to breakup or to death, yes the latter’s final {could anything be worse?} but, the former’s a perennial jailer’s chain around one’s soul that gives delusional hope of a reconciliation and a reuniting. This chain and the mirages it creates live on and live on and live on. Chained as thus, one comes to utterly obsess and be defined by this vain hope. It shapes one, it defines and it ‘distorts’ one.)

Virginia Eliza Clemm. -- Virginia married Poe when she was 13 and he 27, they were first cousins.
Virginia Eliza Clemm
— Virginia married Poe when she was 13 and he 27, they were first cousins. Poe painted this portrait in the hours after her parting.

Literary critics are pretty much unanimous in stating that Virginia’s drawn out demise and eventual death had a substantial effect on Edgar Allan Poe, who “became despondent and turned to alcohol to cope. Her struggles with illness and death are believed to have affected his poetry and prose, where dying young women appear as a motif, for instance in “Ligeia” and “The Raven” too. I ask you, I ask you here and now, is all true love doomed to fail? does pure love, unconditional love ever run smoothly? Think of the story of Venus and Mars — a tale of lustful love, that’s then forbidden (in a humiliating way). Once upon a time Venus (a.k.a., ‘Aphrodite’ and/or, in Greece, ‘Venus de Milo’) is wedded to Vulcan, Roman God of Fire, but she finds him too boring (prosaic & formulaic). She then has a passionate affair with Mars (Ares in Greece). But Vulcan suspects what is going on and he crafts a fine metallic mesh (sometimes described as being invisible) and entraps Venus and Mars on a sofa in order to expose them to ridicule. They — stuck on this sofa — are then humiliated in front of the other gods on mount Olympus.

Forbidden_Love
A magical kiss then, a love forbidden
Venus_and_Mars_National_Gallery
Venus and Mars
by Sandro Botticelli (circa 1484)
Piero_di_Cosimo_-_Venus,_Mars,_and_Cupid
Venus, Mars & Cupid
by Piero di Cosimo (c. 1490)

Guilty as charged
I know full well my insertion of forbidden kisses and treacherous trysts is off-topic (i.e., subject matter not in sync with the “Annabel Lee’s” theme). But in my defence I claim insanity as manifested in limerence; OLD disorder, if you do so prefer it called.
“I rest my case”
Quod Erat Demonstrandum, QED

In sum, many moons ago the poem’s narrator lived happily with Annabel Lee with whom he was madly in love with. Yet it is alleged that god’s angels got jealous of this pure love and orchestrated her downfall (“sending cold winds”). The narrator is utterly devastated but, his love for her continues (intensifies even?). He states that their two souls are one and will always be so (even when separated temporarily by death). He carries her everywhere, day and night (he sleeps beside the seaside at her tomb). The poem makes clear: that true love resides in souls and therefore is immortal (so to speak). Love and death are the duel themes of “Annabel Lee” (the infiniteness of love; the unfairness of death at a young age). For Poe (et al.) love is the greatest force present in the universe and nothing can destroy it; not the winged seraphs nor even, death. Although his beloved leaves the mortal world, he feels her presence 24/7.

2.2 Literary & Poetic Devices

This poem has six stanzas of variable length and structure. The poem’s rhyme scheme is said to be ABABCB throughout (something that i myself am still trying to learn to read).

Conrad Geller describes “Annabel Lee” as a festival of auditory effects, with a delightful mixture of anapests and iambs, internal rhymes, repetitions [and] assonances.” Indeed. Literary devices are techniques that writers use to convey their ideas and feelings (poetic devices serve the same aim but are specific to poetry and thus distinct from prose). Literary devices are employed to articulate one’s point and purpose by way of wordplay.

Alliteration
— The repetition of consonant sounds in the same line e.g., /w/, /th/ and /l/ sounds in the line: “But we loved with a love that was more than love.”

Allusion
— The making of an indirect reference of a person, place, &c. For instance in this poem “seraphs in heaven” imply that biblical angels can act quite demonically.

Assonance
— The repetition of vowel sounds in the same line e.g., /a/ and /i/ in: “It was many and many a year ago,” and: “This maiden she lived with no other thought.”

Enjambment
— The continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line or couplet. These have been used to great effect in “Annabel Lee” An example of this form: “And this maiden she lived with no other thought; Than to love and be loved by me.”

Imagery
— Used to enable readers to use their various senses e.g., we are moved to imagine cold marble forms and port to promenades in the dead of night accompanied only by memories and the sound of the lapping ocean waves.

Internal Rhyme
— The internal rhyme is rhyme within a given line of a poem. Here for example in: “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams” we have “beams” and “dreams.”

Personification
— Give human characteristics to inanimate objects e.g., the wind becomes human somehow and on it is carried death’s angels: “The wind came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.”

Symbolism
— Language (or words) used to signify ideas and qualities distinct from literal meanings. “The sea” is the symbol of evil and darkness, “moon” and “the stars” Annabel Lee’s undying beauty.

Refrain
— The usage of repetition for emphasis and reinforcement etc. Examples here are (1) In a kingdom by the sea and (2) Of the beautiful Annabel Lee. This helps with the rhyme and rhythm (that Geller et al. are so enamored with).

2.3 Analysis

Let us start with the title, the name of the object of the narrator’s ceaseless obsession:

Annabel is a feminine given name of English origin, a combination of the Latin name Anna, which comes from the Hebrew word for grace, and the French word belle, meaning beauty.
— Thus Annabel means: ‘Beauty of Grace.’

Lee is a name that can be a first name or a surname. It means a meadow (in a lee would be where one would erect “Silken Tents” &c.). Gardens are sown in clearings; Eden was a garden.
— Thus Lee (here) implies: an ‘idyllic place.’

The poem begins in a way that is deliberately close to the typical beginning of a fairy tale; an echo of “once upon a time,” and the second line brings to mind the figure of a lone maiden locked up in a faraway kingdom (think Rapunzel and Charles ‘Bluebeard’ Perrault).

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,

Stanza 1
[4] ...Annabel Lee
[6] ...loved by me.
Stanza 2
[3] ...love--
[4] ...Lee;
[6] ...me

We feel the chill of a cold hard marble mausoleum.

Chilling and killing
nighttime tides and offshore breezes
shut up in a sepulchre

… the devil and the deep blue sea

While she’s resting, he is not:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

At night we can close our eyes and fantasise, but in the day, we must do our duties despite being most wholly dead on the inside. He’s angry with Mr Maker, ain’t he? Poe, I mean, I mean, the poem’s speaker is riled by the way this Annabel of his was cruelly snatched away; by how the divine beings are behaving (the: the winged seraphs of heaven).

We are left to wonder what/who these ‘highborn kinsman’ are, a ref. (reference) to reactionary societal norms (for me) a def. (deference) to the almighty (for he)? (hu)man(kind) . . .

as all men know

. . . know that Tuberculosis (TB; “consumption”) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that typically reveals itself by way of a chronic cough fever and night sweats, and weight loss. We know and it seems Poe did too that tea bee was spread from one person to the next through the air:

A wind blew out of a cloud
the wind came out of the cloud by night

But even if we know with science and reason the reason for why — technically and medically speaking — somebody or someone was taken away from us doesn’t mean we shan’t be consumed with the question of why; shan’t become torn with the injustice and unfairness of it all. Depth sounding — love knows no bounds, the limits are fathomless:


Oh how the sounding sea,
Resonates within me.

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken
“Resounding”
by a Viking called Utgivningsår (circa. 1555).

The complexity of Mavis

literary analysis: a character from Morrison’s 1994 work of fiction, “Paradise.”

The novel ‘Paradise’ (or ‘paradise’ as Morrison later wished the title to be; to capitalise or not, a capital idea!) is not known for being an easy to read novel. In fact, as with many of Morrison’s books, it has a reputation for being the opposite—it should be noted that Morrison began writing to “forestall melancholy,” not to write easy to digest stories for cash. [1]  Be that as it may, it has nonetheless been said that the “complexity” of this novel distracts from “the profound and, deeply polemical message it conveys” regarding, “gender and American history” (Widdowson 2001 313). It has similarly been described as, “structurally complex … barely heeding the laws of time and place [and Morrison’s] most overtly feminist novel” (Smith 1998) and to be, “the most difficult and complicated of Morrison’s books” (Byerman 2010). [2]  In this short essay, the character Mavis Albright will be considered.

To address the question of why this charter is complex we need to consider some facts at the outset (facts relating to this work of fiction). One she was instrumental in the deaths of her two young children. Two her mother betrayed her location to her enraged husband (she had stolen his cherished verdant green Cadillac) and has previously had sex with him. And, three, she was at the one of the women residing at the Convent when the men of Ruby descended upon it to violently attack it. In acting independently our Mavis felt a rare happiness only once experienced before on a funfair ride—“When ‘the Rocket zoomed on the downward swing, the rush made her giddy with pleasure; when it slowed just before turning her upside down through the high arc of its circle, the thrill was intense” (33). She got this from the thrill and safety of absconding in Frank’s Cadillac, “the stable excitement of facing danger while safely strapped in strong metal” (ibid.). Later, in the “Mavis” chapter, we read what Connie said to Mavis in the kitchen of the convent, “scary things not always outside. Most scary things is inside” (39). This chapter also tells us something strange about the convent, “how still it was, as though no one lived there” (45). Is this magic realism? What exactly is real and fictional in this complicated work of fiction?

One reason for why Mavis is a complex character is to do with trust, guilt and confusion. She lost two of her kids (twin with rhyming names: Merle and Pearl) because of a mistake/error she made (so we think) this must be a huge mental burden to anyone. She did not trust the sympathies of the local journalist or the neighbours around her. She has paranoia too (maybe it is more like justified worries) because she wants to escape her abusive husband (understandable) and her surviving children who she feels want to kill her (less understandable, but her eldest daughter does seem to dislike her). Then there’s the mother-daughter trust issues. After escaping from Frank her husband), she ends up with her mum. But soon after her arrival she hears her mum telling him that his wife is with her and that he can come and get her. She heads West again with cash and tablets borrowed from her mother. As with many a great American novel she plans and dreams of California—in a colourful twist, she spray-paints the Cadillac repainted magenta. [3]  . . .


See too:
01. — An in-depth profile of Toni Morrison
02. — Analysis: Morrison and ‘ancestral roles’
03. — “Song of Solomon” by Morrison (1977)
04. — “Unspeakable, unspoken” by Morrison (1988)
05. — “Morrison, On Love,” just saying… by J.
06. — “Mask Wars,” just saying… by J.H.K.


. . .  Another reason for the character Mavis’s complexity could be because Morrison is linking her to an African spirit god. The character Mavis has been linked not to a biblical character as is often the case with Morrison’s fictional protagonists but with a West African deity (Bur 2006 165–166). It is argued that Morrison links Mavis to Osun. In African mythology, this is linked to a god of joy and children who is also feisty—“is easily offended”—remember that Mavis fights Gigi in a street brawl (who herself is probably sleeping with Seneca [4] ). In ‘Paradise’ (168) it does say that Mavis was a “joyful hitter” who enjoyed the fight, “pounding [and] pounding, even biting Gigi was exhilarating” (171). Linked to this is the question of how real the fiction is meant to be, is it a ghost story, is it all an allegory of the unfairness of Adam and Eve?

To the men of Ruby, the women’s self-sufficiency is deeply threatening and see it as, “a coven not a convent” (276). According to Morrison, ‘paradise’ coalesced around the idea of, “where paradise is, who belongs in it … all paradises are described as male enclaves, while the interloper is a woman, defenseless and threatening” (Smith). Mavis is plagued by a terrible situation, abused by her husband (and eldest daughter?) she apparently leaves her infant twins in a Cadillac on a hot day with the windows up, and the babies die” (23). The description if these events are, “wrought in the full glare of Ms. Morrison’s uncompromising gaze” (Smith 1998). Such vivid and ‘haunting’ moments have appeared in many of Morrison’s previous works—mothers killing their kids (‘Beloved’); fathers raping their daughters (‘The Bluest Eye’).

To sum up, Mavis is a complex character in a complicate and difficult to follow book. She certainly is not the only complicated character in this book, but her journey West is like a symbol of the American dream especially because of the icon car the Cadillac. The book shows to us (most) men’s hatred (and lustful desire) for women. This book is more about Adam and Eve than black and white. As critics point out, who was the white girl we read about in the opening lines? Morrison provokes the reader, challenging them to identify a character in terms of race without identify the race of most of the convent’s inhabitants (Byerman). Is our Mavis white? Is it Gigi or her lover Seneca? Maybe it does not matter too much as this book is more about gender than race.

— § —


Notes

[1]   This has been to the benefit of us all, in her acceptance talk for the Nobel prize in literature, she said the written word has the ability to, “limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers” and to keep fear at bay but it can also have the opposite impact, “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence” (Smith 1998).

[2]   In trying to understand literary analysis better I learnt a lot from the following point made by Keith Byerman: “Shakespeare never had an original idea for a story. He stole everything.” Writers steal. Writers lie. That is their business. Morrison takes whatever she needs from wherever she gets it. You could pull apart Paradise and find all those different frames of reference. There is some John Milton here. There is some Dante, William Faulkner, and Melville. Pick your source. Do not assume that because you identified the source, you have therefore solved the puzzle. … No! Morrison used a particular kind of source in a particular kind of way. She is always doing it for her own purposes.

[3]   Magenta is a colour that is often defined as purplish-red. It is hard not to link this defiant repaint as encouraging the reader to think of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, ‘The Color Purple.’ They key protagonist in ‘The Colour Purple’—Celie—has a difficult past which is borne from racial discrimination and violence against women. This work is as one with many of Morrison’s magic-realism fictional works because it also follows a journey that is constantly dealing with the vexed subject matter of identity.

[4]   Seneca, an interesting non-biblical name. Seneca was venerated as a moral Stoic thinker and for periods of time was one of Emperor Nero’s closest advisers (Kolbert 2015). Seneca He is said to have said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” This makes the reader think of the ending of life in African and the starting of slavery, the ending of slavery (explicit) and the beginnings of hidden slavery, the end of Haven and the Move west to Ruby. We then come to think of Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Solder’ the lyrics of it are as here:

Buffalo Soldier
Dreadlock Rasta
There was a Buffalo Soldier
in the heart of America
Stolen from Africa
brought to America
Fighting on arrival
fighting for survival
 
I mean it, when I analyze the stench
To me it makes a lot of sense
How the Dreadlock Rasta
was the Buffalo Soldier
And he was taken from Africa
brought to America
Fighting on arrival
fighting for survival

— § —


Works Cited

Burr, Benjamin. “Mythopoetic Syncretism in Paradise,” in Shirley A. Stave (Ed.). Toni Morrison and the Bible: Contested Intertextualities (pp. 159–174). 2006.

Byerman, Keith. “Language Matters II, Reading and Teaching Toni Morrison: Paradise.” University of Kansas. http://www2.ku.edu/~langmtrs/lmII/discussions/paradise.html. Accessed July 19 2020.

Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, University of Michigan. (1988)

—————— Paradise. New York: Knopf. (1994)

—————— “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation,” in T. Morrison, What Moves at the Margin (pp. 56–65). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (2008).

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Such a Stoic: How Seneca became Ancient Rome’s philosopher-fixer.” The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/stoic-2. Accessed July 19 2020.

Smith, Dinitia. “Toni Morrison’s Mix of Tragedy, Domesticity And Folklore.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/08/books/toni-morrison-s-mix-of-tragedy-domesticity-and-folklore.html. Accessed July 19 2020


Toni Morrison: Paradise
Once tasted, you can never be forgotten.

Ancestral roles

Literary analysis: identifying the ancestor role in Morrison’s 1994 work of fiction, “Paradise.”

The role of ancestor is a constant motive of much of Morrison’s magic-realist writing and it is something that she sees as being distinctively linked to Afro-American literature (Morrison 1988) and something that is important to the Afro-American community in the real world too. She makes it clear it is not so much the role of man but that of ancestor that can hold (and guide) the individual and the family unit, “if we don’t keep in touch with the ancestor that we are, in fact, lost.” (Morrison 2008 63). To understand the definition of the significance of the ancestor role in Morrison’s works of fiction, “one must become familiar with the function of ancestor in West African cosmology” (Beaulieu 2003 4). [1]  However, while in some of her novels, the ancestor character is pretty clear, it is not obvious in ‘Paradise’ (1994). In ‘Love’ we can attribute it to L, in ‘Song of Solomon’ we can attribute it to Pilate. Critics contend that the ancestor character is most explicitly spelt out and dealt with in the following works: ‘Tar Baby,’ ‘Beloved’ and ‘Jazz’ (ibid.). This short essay concerns itself with the possibility of Zechariah [2]  being the ancestor character in ‘Paradise,’ it also suggests that because gender not race is the key theme of this work, the ancestor element is possibly less important and thus, less prevalent.

Morrison asserts that the ancestor is one of the distinctive elements of Afro-American writing (2008 61) and terms them “timeless people” (62). The timeless status implies the ancestors’ abstractness and their ability to transcend both time and space, diachronically as well as synchronically. In Morrison’s understanding, the particular ancestors coalesce into an abstract mass whose influence on the present is marked, regardless of the times or eras the individual ancestors originate in. Such characters in Morrison’s magic-realist style function as advisor and guide. by always (or is it almost always?) including ancestor figures into her work she enables these “culture bearers” to serve as, “a bridging point between the past and present cultures, mixing the two and influencing the communities through their understanding” (Kota 2016 2).

‘Paradise’ is primarily concerned with two communities: the residents of the small town of Ruby and an old stately home called the Convent in the nearby countryside (Widdowson 2001 314). ‘Paradise’ begins with a group of men from Ruby prepare to kill five women who live in a nearby convent (Krumholz 2002). From the men’s perspectives, the women, like Eve, embody a loss of innocence and an ejection from the Garden of Eden, the earthly Paradise, a loss the men fear and wish to prevent. But as hunted does anointed with “holy oil,” the women are also Christ-like sacrificial victims and the men their executioners (Krumholz). After the massacre of the five women of the Convent by the men of Ruby, their bodies disappear, and the residents of Ruby are then obligated to make sense of the attack and the subsequent strange disappearances—“all the characters in the novel are haunted by past events” (Anderson 2008 146).

The Convent can be viewed as a kind informal women’s refuge. a kind of informal refuge for damaged women. This complicated work of magic-realist fiction is broken down into chapters named after the work’s key protagonists—e.g., “Mavis,” “Grace,” “Seneca.” All key characters are women and include, Gigi, a seductive young woman whose boyfriend is in jail; Seneca, a hitchhiker who has survived abandonment and sexual exploitation; Pallas, a wealthy lawyer’s daughter whose lover left her for her mother” (Kakutani 1998). For the characters of Morrison’s novel to “learn to live,” one literary critic argues they must, “negotiate borders not only between life and death and past and present but between all binaries” (Anderson 148). In ‘Paradise’ Morrison, “privileges liminality, as the Convent women, erased and negatively “ghosted” by the larger society, find empowerment through their communal spiritual experiences in the Convent” (ibid). [3]  . . .


See too:
01. — An in-depth profile of Toni Morrison
02. — Analysis: ‘paradise’s’ Mavis
03. — “Song of Solomon” by Morrison (1977)
04. — “Unspeakable, unspoken” by Morrison (1988)
05. — “Morrison, On Love,” just saying… by J.
06. — “Mask Wars,” just saying… by J.H.K.


. . .  Before considering the ancestor role in this work, we must focus more on gender. Why? Well because the focus on gender, reduced the need for and focus on the ancestor role. Whereas earlier Morrison novels like ‘Beloved’ and ‘Song of Solomon’ married the historical and the mythic, the mundane and the fantastic into a seamless piece of music, ‘Paradise’ is said to be, “devoid of both urgency and narrative sleight of hand. It is neither grounded in closely observed vignettes of real life, nor lofted by the dreamlike images the author has used so dexterously in previous works of fiction” (Kakutani 1998). However, it might be because this book is less about the Afro(-American) ancestor and more about gender inequality. Regarding the theme or the subtext, it has been argued that Morrison is saying that, “the price of Ruby’s insistence on maintaining a morally superior master narrative may well be the sacrifice of that very narrative. Rather than a perfect paradise, Ruby ends up as a conservative, patriarchal, thoroughly racialized, and violent community” (Dalsgård 2001). [4]

There is another view on the subtext, it is that Paradise is a. “provocative allegory of nationhood… it begins in July of 1976-the bicentennial of the United States… it is no coincidence that these men are black, and that the first woman they kill is white. When one reads the novel allegorically, as a reconfiguration of the founding of the United States, Morrison’s vision of totalising patriarchal historiography takes on double weight. Storace 1998; Davidson 2001 371). The novel ends (frustratingly and one must say intentionally) before we the readership can know the consequences of the massacre. But we do know what Misner thinks of it all, he inwardly chastises the town for thinking, “they have outfoxed the whiteman when in fact they imitate him… [this is a great thinking point placed here by Morrison:] How exquisitely human was the wish for permanent happiness, and how thin human imagination became trying to achieve it” (306). It is argued that Ruby, for Misner was an unnecessary failure (Davidson 370).

We first come across the character: Zechariah Morgan on page 96 of ‘Paradise’ (or as subsequently Morrison wished it had been titled “paradise” or alternatively “War”):

“My Father,” he said. “Zechariah here.” Then, after a few seconds of total silence, he began to hum the sweetest, saddest sounds Rector ever heard. Rector joined Big Papa on his knees and stayed that way all night.

What is in a hum? Nothing and everything. We can think of Pilate in ‘Song of Solomon’ to get some guidance here—it is this bellybuttonless ladies’ hum that opened and closed that book. Turning back to our Zechariah Morgan, he is the one who tells us about leading a group of people away from Louisiana toward Oklahoma. Being “too black” to be accepted into various communities along the way, this “disallowing gives them the impetus to migrate westward to establish their own town, Haven (Oki 2013 41)—recall that the character Mavis is headed West too to escape the chains of her husband to the promised lands of California. These basically forced migrations often noted in Morrison’s fiction have been linked by literary critics to the bible’s myth of “Exodus.”

It is Zechariah who talks about a mysterious “walking man” and says this is a moment of epiphany, a kind of revelation (Oki). Zechariah says of this incident, “you can’t start it and you can’t stop it” because, “this is god’s time… [god ain’t gunna] do your work for you, so step lively.” (Morrison 1994, 97–98). At the core of the history and its retelling are the figure of Zechariah Morgan as the link with the ancestor and the oven as a symbol of the ancestral ideas and stories (The Ancestor as Figure in the novels of Toni Morrison 128). It can be argued that the oven that Zechariah constructs in Haven and is then transported to Ruby is symbolic of the community and the fire that they gather around to pass on oral stories. As is mentioned, “Zechariah, the ancestral guardian of the 8-rock community, guides the original wayfarers in their search for the promised land” (ibid.).

To sum up, we can say that Morrison, in most, if not all of her books, seeks to champion the idea that being aware of one’s roots (one’s history in both cultural and ethnic senses) will have more importance to one’s success in life (be this inner contentment or being a good citizen) than would say ignoring the past and/or relying for the most part on self-help books et cetera. As has been said, the relationship between character and ancestor, in Morrison’s prose, “antagonistic or amicable, directly correlates with that character’s success in navigating life” (Beaulieu 5) Milkman’s shifting relationship with his (ancestor character) Aunt Pilate provides a great case study. Regarding ‘Paradise’ I think that Zechariah fits the bill, so to speak, of the ancestor character. It is not as clear cut as in other novels, but ‘Paradise’ maybe had a more contemporary subtext message which may have been less about rootedness and more about feminism.

— § —


NOTES

[1]   In West African mythology the ancestors live on in a spiritual continuum between worlds and generations. It is articulated as follows: “While anyone has the power to tap into the energies of the ancestors [it is typically the elders of the community that do this in order to] ensure that subsequent generations understand the importance of the ancestors … Morrison modifies this use of the ancestor and transforms it into a literary device that explores the manifold ways in which characters relate to their ancestors and, by extension, their communities” (Beaulieu 2003 4–7).

[2]   Zechariah is a historic character linked to the bible’s Old Testament and is thought to have helped pen the ‘Book of Zechariah’. What might be interesting and explain why Morrison chose this name for the (or one of the) ancestor figure(s) in ‘Paradise’ was because of Zechariah’s circumstances. He was said to have been in Babylon (modern-day Iraq) during the reign of Darius the Great in the era when the Jews had been exiled from Jerusalem (think: Africans forcibly transferred from Africa to the heart of America as a consequence of the slave ships) and were being encouraged to build (temporary) homes in lands they’d not originated from (think: Haven then Ruby).

[3]   As is argued, the convent is depicted as a liminal space in which, “the monolithic categories of religion, race, class, and gender converge and make cultural hybridity possible,” this is in stark contrast to Ruby and its men who, “perceive hybridity as a disruptive evil which threatens their sense of selfhood and nationhood” (Fraile-Marcos 2003 4). To be clear here, in an anthropological (and maybe to cognitive and psychological sense) liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that takes place in the middle stage of a rite of passage. French philosopher Jacques Derrida said that if learning to live is to be achieved, “it can happen only between life and death. Neither in life nor in death alone” (Anderson 146). In a liminal state of mind, the concerned individual—or protagonist in a work of fiction—will no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete; a stage between text and subtext, between conscious and unconscious:

Liminal Thinking (Gray 2016)
“Liminal Thinking,” an illustration by Gray (2016).

[4]   To expand on this point more fully: “By making Ruby’s success dependent on an ancestral heroic commemoration of the success of the community’s founding fathers in establishing a covenanted community in an inhospitable western landscape, by dramatising the angry accusations made by the community’s contemporary patriarchs against the younger generations when the discrepancy between its morally superior master narrative and its actual cultural practices becomes too vast to ignore, and by ultimately having Ruby scapegoat a group of unconventional women for its internal problems, Morrison invites us critically to acknowledge the presence of one of the most canonical European American narratives—that of American exceptionalism, in African American discourse”(Dalsgård 2001 244).

— § —

Works Cited

Anderson, Melanie R. “‘What Would Be on the Other Side?”: Spectrality and Spirit Work in Toni Morrison’s ‘Paradise.’” African American Review, vol. 42, no. 2, 2008, pp. 307–321. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40301213. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann (Ed.). The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, (2003).

Dalsgård, Katrine. “The One All-Black Town Worth the Pain: (African) American Exceptionalism, Historical Narration, and the Critique of Nationhood in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” African American Review, vol. 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 233–248. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2903255. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Davidson, Rob. “Racial Stock and 8-Rocks: Communal Historiography in Toni Morrison’s ‘Paradise.’” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 47, no. 3, 2001, pp. 355–373. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3176022. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Fraile-Marcos, Ana Maria. “Hybridizing the “City upon a Hill” in Toni Morrison’s “Paradise”.” Melus, vol. 28, no. 4, 2003, pp. 3–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/3595298

Gray, David. “The roots of Liminal Thinking.” Medium. https://medium.com/@davegray/the-roots-of-liminal-thinking-3be4bea6fd63. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Worthy Women, Unredeemable Men.” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/06/books/books-of-the-times-worthy-women-unredeemable-men.html. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Kota, Mounica. “The Hybridizing Nature of Ancestor Presence in Morrison’s Sula,” Oglethorpe Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 6 , no 2. https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/ojur/vol6/iss2/8. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Krumholz, Linda J. “Reading and Insight in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” African American Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2002, pp. 21–34. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2903362. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, University of Michigan. (1988)

—————— Paradise. New York: Knopf. (1994)

—————— “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation,” in T. Morrison, What Moves at the Margin (pp. 56–65). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (2008)

Oki, Shoko. ““War” in Toni Morrison’s Paradise: History and Its Discontinuity or Reconstruction.” Osaka Literary Review 51 (2013): pp. 37–49.

Storace, Patricia. “The Scripture of Utopia: Review of ‘Paradise,’ by Toni Morrison.” New York Review of Books. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1998/06/11/the-scripture-of-utopia/. Accessed 19 July 2020.

The Ancestor as Figure in the novels of Toni Morrison. sg.inflibnet.ac.in/08_chapter4.pdf. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Widdowson, Peter. “The American Dream Refashioned: History, Politics and Gender in Toni Morrison’s ‘Paradise.’” Journal of American Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 313–335. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/27556969. Accessed 19 July 2020.