The seas of pity lie/ Locked and frozen in each eye//

foreplay for love


If wild my breast and sore my pride
I bask in dreams of suicide
If cool my heart and high my head
I think, “How lucky are the dead.”


— Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell at their farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1937
Dorothy Parker was very famous in the interwar years for her talent with words. She had, it is said, a stinging repartee and the ability to churn out — at high velocity — endlessly quotable one-liners.
Dorothy Parker
Beneath Dorothy Parker’s sharp wit and acidic humour, was a writer who expressed well the deep vulnerability of a troubled, self-destructive soul who, in the words of philosopher Irwin Edman, was “a Sappho who could combine a heartbreak with a wisecrack.”

Susanna Kaysen (1994, p. 48) writes in her memoir, “our hospital was famous and had housed many great poets and singers. Did the hospital specialise in poets, or was it that poets specialised in madness?” Kaysen went on to ponder, “what is it about meter and cadence and rhythm that makes their makers mad?”


A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.

Kafka wrote,
Sexton quoted,
Auden would’ve approved.


REFERENCES

Kaysen, S. (1993). Girl, interrupted. Private Idaho: Turtle Bay Books.

Parker, D. (2001). The Collected Dorothy Parker. London: Penguin Classics.

toodle pip

There’s a feeling when say the circus leaves town. You walk over the rubbish strewn waste ground that had, until yesterday been bubbling with the hum of humans, scents of glossy candyfloss and a sensation of collective anticipation—to gawp from the stalls at the leotarded trapeze artists, to stare at the caged, dead-eyed lion (would tonight be the night it finally flips and severs the head of the comic compere?) and to see again the star of the show, the wild-eyed clown, comically nicknamed “Commander & Thief” (‘i’ before ‘e,’ accept after ‘c’). The grass is now threadbare in more patches than one, the trees around the periphery of “The Rec” (for recreational ground) have reverted to reclusive and solitary form; no longer serving as impromptu urinals and supports to hold whilst being rogered by Ray or orally relieved by Phil (some idiot had freshly carved out “JH 4 JH” on to one such trunk). A poster, once pinned erect, vivid, bright and gay, announcing the troupe’s tour dates with your home town’s name in bold (with drop shadow to boot), now lays sodden, soggy and washed out upon the ground (unlike one of its lucky compatriots, it hasn’t become a souvenir and, lovingly encased in laminate, been Blu-tacked upon some girl’s boudoir wall). It is emptiness. It is the inner realisation that the thing that had once so dominated your thoughts and attention… no longer exists. Yeah memories remain, but they are, when all is said and done, fictitious little affairs of your own making (whether you know this or not—I mean to say, depending on if you have bothered or not to read up on what lies behind dreams and the machinations of cognition—you and your brain will soon remold and reshape actual happenings into figments utterly removed from what once immutably was). This is that feeling: “I’ve got the spirit, but [I’m] los[ing] the feeling / /

The hair's a-flare
“The hair’s a-flare”
And yes, objectification is wrong, but did not my man Anderson break with protocol and quip, “the man’s an obese orange turtle on his back, flailing in the hot Arizonan sun”? Two wrongs don’t make a right, my ‘man’ man would say, but come along now my son, the emperor is naked and has long been the arch master in the art of name calling (e.g., [not i.e.] Wild Bill, Low Energy Jeb, Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted Cruz and latterly, Crazy Bernie and Sleepy Joe).

Let us not forget either these other performers who all, in their own walk on ways, played pivotal roles in this now concluded tragicomedy circus:

01. — Spicier
02. — Conaway
03. — Huckabee

Don’t walk away in silence
Don’t walk away

NOTES

The Daily Star… telling it as it is.
🔥|Fact|😉
“Truth isn’t truth.”
Fiction (as in: make believe)
Us (u ‘n’ i) vs. “The world.”

“Long Live Love”

— a monument to now

“*Listen* To Me”


I begun the day in a wistful way—
Your loquaciousness
is so very precious
Ur mind’s delicious
– – – – – – – – –
Despite all this adversity
this ever so harsh reality
& De Profundis’ centrality
– – – – – – – –
You dominate my mind totally
Visions of you so consume me
My constant motif is but you

—but t’was fleeting and soon faded away
. . . . . . .
So listen to me now and do not say,
or utter, a single ‘fucking’ word.
I’ll speak from where they say,
reason does not dare descend.
. . . . . .
Oh for the hands they are a telling,
they are tolling for last orders.
Ignore this play with wording,
it’s just sum wit rejoinders.
. . . . .
Because you do know me and I so know you,
let’s send to hell this thing called reason.
Let all caution be exiled to Timbuktu,
sense!? Let it sing to the horizon.
. . . .
Hear the heart drown out the head,
let reason go, let it sail to a vortex,
Quick to silver, subside to sand,
let it quarry a swirl of Semtex:
. . .
East lays laden with forbidden fruits of Eden;
Shades of purple, orange ‘n’ London-grey;
The road must now be undertaken for
Xanadu opens with a vision of jay.
. .
I know but one deep immutable truth,
you r my singular fountain of youth
.
send me by strive, your kiss of life.

I do know well the Greek modes of love /
I do know my station on their Dionysian-derived cline // oft depicted as a triangle (△) encircled in psychology journals:

“Greek Love”
— Humankind’s attempts to classify love /lʌv/ (the four-lettered word that conquers all else) starting with Sappho.

It’s out there (my station), I am an outlier. I’m now well beyond the pale, o loved one, I’m upon the opposite side of the river from the legions of righteous ones. I read it said that I’d be labeled a serial sinner (you know, condemned as a renegade reprobate). Myth and make believe — the tract I refer to — is though, but a form of statecraft (a claim that would once have been enough to see me be tethered to a stake and to feel the pain of the flame lick and lash at my naked floundering feet, see: 📙 “Hammer of Witches”). Myth and make believe (our “mumbo-jumbo,” jay) are the modus operandi for…, the mode to use when…, concocting statecraft. You see, statecraft is penned patronage. It is paid patronage for the poets and prose makers that write (well) what their paymasters want to be read and remembered. History is verily the victor’s diktat. (What that we are informed is seminal and pivotal, gospel and sacrosanct, the scripts and texts, the tracts and tomes that underpin our understanding, define our being and determine the circumference confines of our culture and civilisation, are what yesteryear’s men of good fortune decided they liked, determined should not be burnt and declared be deemed divine: “Praise You ma’Love.” The anthologies and authoritative lists are set in stone albeit of age-old codex form [more pulpwood cedar ‘n’ larch then than igneous granite {graveyard-grade} ‘n’ sedimentary clay {desert-baked}]. Diligently now, they are being scanned and transcribed to reside in digital form [with audio to boot]. Electronic egalitarianism yes! [1]  But, a further consolidation of what is and what isn’t canonical. Shibboleth — that’s the name given to the centurion gatekeeper who’s older than Rome and Athens — goes back, and I can painfully attest to this, to the bubbling springs of Babylon and the torrential downpours of Uruq. I mean — mouth the following ‘K.R.-style’ — “Come On” Dear reader!” Do we really believe that the carver of the Löwenmensch figurine — a lion-cum-human hewn from a woolly mammoth’s tusk — was anything other than a man; gifted with gold, or the like, by the then chieftain whose Machiavellian right-hand man had deduced that if the clan were to willingly waste there time worshiping an idol, they’d be less likely to question hereditary hierarchy and more likely to conduct their affairs in an opiated kind of way [pay your taxes, your dues to Caesar, do it faithfully, do it obediently for, who are we {who were they?} to hold the powers that be to account? we accept you had to rape and pillage the village in order to teach, you had to kill to save, war is peace, let man control woman in matrimony {thus he’ll not hit back at his master but instead wallop his wife when he gets home} and six + nine is no more or no less that fifteen on the clock {Look for the numbers, it is all about the numbers, not around the numbers, but into the numbers. seven has been found to be divine ((but only if read in ancient Hebrew form [[the power and the divinity is lost in translation]] for in that script, in Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning, …” — we will note that the number seven is written all over it [[(1) there are seven words in this opening verse (2), there’s 28 letters in total {{divisible by seven}} (3), the first three words have 14 letters {{divisible by seven}}, (4) the last four words have 14 letters too {{divisible by seven}} (5), the words: God, heaven, and earth also add up to 14 letters {{divisible by seven}} (6), the remaining words add up to 14 letters as well and (7) the middle word in Genesis 1:1 — when written I reiterate, emphasis and underscore, in ancient Hebrew form — is the shortest, with two letters, but, ‘but,’ the words to the right and left of it have 5 letters each so, combining with either would give us seven too {{proof positive of the almighty one, no? irrefutable evidence of The Invisible Hand or — dare we utter an or… or evidence that wordsmiths have been at play, crafting away, for several millennia or more? (((it is a known known that the good scriptures, while filled themselves with numerical patterns — hidden meanings — expressly forbade us, those made of clay, to dabble in such pursuits; to quote Deutronomy 18:10–12: “Let no one be found among you who … practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable.”)))}}.]])) seven is heaven — oh yes! It rhymes, but what of the sinuous serpentine six? and it’s naughty partner in crime: number nine? ((On six: In Revelation 13:18, the number of the Beast is written with the Greek symbols for 600 and 60 and 6. On nine: This number is related to the number six, being the sum of its factors — 3×3=9, and 3+3=6 — it also purported to be the number of finality and/or judgment; you see, it was in the 9th year of Hosea’s supremacy that the King of Assyria destroyed the northern capital city of the Israelites and too, it was the the 9th year of King Zedekiah’s reign that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, conquered the southern city of the Israelites.))}.].) And, to the unforgiving wilderness of solitude and exiled abstinence that I face on this side of the river’s bank, I say unto you: I know well the lines of “De Profundis” for recently, I’ve poured over them again and again. I hear it has a word count of circa 50,000 but this wasn’t noticed by I. I was, you see, carried away by the assonance (imagined) and the associations… the adages and the aphorisms… the allegories and the allegations:


Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword.

I, ____, take you, ______, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death DO us part:

📘 “De Profundis”
— analysis, audio & book in HTML/PDF formats.

Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan (1630) by Diego Velázquez
Baroque | Camp | “Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan” by Velázquez (1599–1660) (1630) — Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was a Spanish painter and the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. Velázquez’s artwork became a model for 19th c. realist and impressionist painters and, in the 20th century, artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon paid tribute to Velázquez by re-interpreting some of his most iconic images.

— § —


NOTES

[1]   Suffice to set out here — from the surfeit that’s out there free of charge — are the following six (I show no fear & no favour in their selection):
1. — ancient-literature.com
2. — archive.org
3. — classics.mit.edu
3. — gutenberg.net.au
4. — gutenberg.org
5. — sacred-texts.com

📕📕📕

{S.} {O.} {S.}

Last night, I was literally saved by a book


so, in deference and in homage of,


I do hereby present to thee


an encomium entitled:


“Between Bookends”


dedicated to


the book


Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
 
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything”
 
Science. Technology. Want for nothing. Maximum pleasure. Welcome to a world where society exists without war, poverty, sickness or unhappiness, where instant gratification and mass consumerism sooth the inhabitants into happy conformity. One man stands to challenge all this: Bernard Marx, alone in harbouring a longing to break free. His attempt to do so sets off a chain of events that could disrupt everything.” — Is this Brave New World that Huxley imagined where we are headed, or are we already there? Take the drugs and float away through Huxley’s relentless cityscape, and you might find answers to questions you didn’t know you should be asking. (This is taken from a too be published 2021 edition introduction by Yuval Noah Harari.) [1]


Brighton Rock
Graham Greene
 
“Heaven was a word: hell was something he could trust.”
 
A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, Pinkie is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold, who is determined to uncover him. This is Graham Greene’s chilling exposé of violence, class, and gang warfare inspired many imitators. Few, if any, can match the originality of Brighton Rock, and of Pinkie – one of fiction’s most unnerving and compelling villains.


Catch-22
Joseph Heller
 
“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”
 
It’s the closing months of the Second World War and Yossarian has never been closer to death. Stationed in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy, each flight mission introduces him to thousands of people determined to kill him. But the enemy above is not Yossarian’s problem – it is his own army intent on keeping him airborne, and the maddening ‘Catch-22’ that allows for no possibility of escape. Penguin, the publisher, writes, “No book has satirised military madness so hilariously and tragically. It is the tale of one man’s struggle to survive the sheer lunacy of war.”


The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Angela Carter
 
“Midnight, and the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves birthday, the door of the solstice still wide enough open to let them all slink through.”
 
We grow up on fairy tales but it is only later we realise what we have been fed. Angela Carter saw the power of these dark stories – stories in which objects betray, children threaten, men turn into animals and women are unsafe. Erotic, subversive, ancient, modern: the tales in this book pulse with a vivid, radical imagination. Turn the key, enter the chamber. Carter untwists our old tales and offers them up with sensuality, depravity, humour – and a mirror held up to ourselves. (From a yet to be published 2021 edition with an introduction by Laura Dockrill.)


Slaughterhouse 5
Kurt Vonnegut
 
“So it goes.”
 
Billy Pilgrim – hapless barber’s assistant, successful optometrist, alien abductee, senile widower and soldier­­ – has become unstuck in time. Hiding in the basement of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, with the city and its inhabitants burning above him, he finds himself a survivor of one of the most deadly and destructive battles of the Second World War. But when, exactly? How did he get here? And how does he get out? Travel through time and space on the shoulders of Vonnegut himself. This is a book about war. Listen to what he has to say: it is of the utmost urgency.


The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway
 
“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
 
In the baking sun, in a small village off the coast of Havana, lives an old fisherman named Santiago. It has been eighty-four days since he last caught a fish. The locals call it bad luck. Refusing to accept defeat, Santiago sets off in his tiny skiff alone, fishing further out than ever before. It is here, over a number of days, that he, his will and his character are tested beyond imagination. Faced with bad weather, hunger and thirst, the old man finds himself in battle with a giant marlin, a fish bigger than any to have been caught before. Nature is not kind and gentle in this fable, nor is Hemingway. You hold in your hands one of the very best pieces of writing to have ever been created.


When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi
 
“Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”
 
This magnetic, hopeful book was first published in 2016. Adored by millions of readers, it is a Vintage Classic already and a book that will stand the test of time. — We often ask ourselves how we should be living. In Paul Kalanithi’s deeply moving memoir, he is forced to ask himself the question, ‘how do you live when you are dying?’ At thirty-six, having just finished his training to become a neurosurgeon, he was faced with a devastating cancer diagnosis. This is his memoir. From student, to doctor, to patient, to father, and to writer, Paul preserved his last years and legacy in this truly unforgettable book.


To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
 
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
 
This evocative and amusing novel has charmed and inspired generations. — Summers for Scout in the Deep South are long and golden. Her story is one of innocence, and growing up. It is also about justice. When Scout’s father Atticus Finch, a lawyer, agrees to defend a black man against an accusation by a white girl, he takes on the prejudice of the whole town. Through the case, Atticus teaches Scout that your imagination is not just for childhood games, but for understanding other people. Because you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.


Stoner
John Williams
 
“He learned silence and did not insist upon his love.”
 
For nearly fifty years this book existed as quietly as its protagonist before it was rediscovered. It is now regarded as one of the most heart-stopping and beautiful classics of the twentieth century. — This is the great forgotten novel of the last century – a quiet book; the story of a quiet life. William Stoner is a man who learns to contain himself, but beneath the surface lie passions and principles. An undistinguished career, an unhappy marriage, a bitter conflict with a colleague; Stoner endures. He is a different kind of hero. This wise, moving story seethes with the power and beauty of an individual life.


The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
 
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
 
Atwood’s Handmaids have become a symbol of feminist resistance. This masterpiece blurs the boundaries between fiction and news headlines. — Imagine a world where women’s bodies are controlled by men. Where society has descended into religious patriarchy and censorship. Where the environment has been destroyed and a powerful few hold the reins to all wealth and freedom. Welcome to Gilead. This is the story of Offred, a Handmaid forced into sexual servitude, in the country once known as the USA.



Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness . . .
. . . Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
          Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


— John Keats (extract, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”)


NOTES

[1]   Vintage Classics [Penguin, 2021]: “MOST LOVED. MOST RED.” — ten must-read modern classics. You get me, don’t you:

William Burroughs and, Maurice Girodias (a bootleg pornographer and renegade Parisian publisher; he inherited Olymipa press — think: Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, “Tropic of Cancer,” which had explicit sexual passages and could not therefore be published in the United States; Anaïs Nin’s “Winter of Artifice” (1939) and James Joyce’s “Haveth Childers” Everywhere and “Pomes Penyeach” (1932) — and ran, for a time, Obelisk Press, notable publication firsts were Burroughs’ “The Naked Lunch” and, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov).
 
“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

“Elsewhere”

_ that’s where i am _

“Elsewhere”


Elsewhere Anchises,
 
Fatherly and intent, was off in a deep green valley
Surveying and reviewing souls consigned there,
Those due to pass to the light of the upper world.
It so happened he was just then taking note
 
Of his whole posterity, the destinies and doings,
Traits and qualities of descendants dear to him,
But seeing Aeneas come wading through the grass
Towards him, he reached his two hands out
In eager joy, his eyes filled up with tears
And he gave a cry: “At last! Are you here at last?
I always trusted that your sense of right
Would prevail and keep you going to the end.
And am I now allowed to see your face,
My son, and hear you talk, and talk to you myself?
 
This is what I imagined and looked forward to
As I counted the days; and my trust was not misplaced.
To think of the lands and the outlying seas
You have crossed, my son, to receive this welcome.
And after such dangers! I was afraid that Africa
Might be your undoing.” But Aeneas replied:
“Often and often, father, you would appear to me,
Your sad shade would appear, and that kept me going
To this end. My ships are anchored in the Tuscan sea.
Let me take your hand, my father, O let me, and do not
 
Hold back from my embrace.” And as he spoke he wept.
Three times he tried to reach arms round that neck.
Three times the form, reached for in vain, escaped
Like a breeze between his hands, a dream on wings.


Virgil, “The Aeneid” (Book VI). Translated from the original Latin by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013); published by The New Yorker in 2016.

^ I have now read this a dozen or more times and only now, is a meaning emerging. I’ve no context (((I could dig but I shan’t — i.e., I could read up on Virgil’s “The Aeneid” and/or look into a good half-millennia’s worth of essays and tomes that draw out and align his Roman founding myth with that of Ancient Greece’s — I did though happen across a few painted works of art on the subject and these are depicted below))) but what’s beginning to form in my mind is a passage depicting a dream, double vision, wanting a heartfelt wish to materialise, wanting beyond want a thing that is neigh on impossible to get or to have. More devastatingly so because, even if it were to be realised, the ramifications of it — I speak here more personally now — would soon act to indelibly taint and mar the realised dream. Back to the poem, some things can never be sated; sons and fathers reaching in vein to bridge breaches. Must there be fault-lines along this cline? I know not, if ever I had a connection, it has long since gone (I don’t feel beholden, I don’t feel denigrated). As my woman said to me, no response stings more than apathy. To elicit consternation and ridicule is better than a snoring Lecturer on student presentation day or, a swipe left without a second glance or a moment’s hesitation (I don’t recall if rejection’s a swipe to the left or to the right but, you get the point don’t ‘you,’ oh fic-fuckin-ticious you). Mums ‘n’ daughters; Freud (Sigmund) ‘n’ Freud (Lucian) & the Oedipal complex and, the impassioned lyrics “The killer awoke before dawn / He put his boots on / He took a face from the ancient gallery / And he walked on down the hall // He went into the room where his sister lived / And then he paid a visit to his brother / And then he walked on down the hall / And he came to a door / And he looked inside / Father? / Yes son / I want to kill you / Mother, I want to… /// was it ‘fuck,’ or just ‘kill’ too? Etc. etc. I’m sic n tired of relying on context for understanding, for my long-run weakness to blindly adhere to the interpretations of others. Literature is art, art is in the eye of the beholder, it is for me — in my isolation wing of solitary confinement — to decide what I see and what I feel when I happen across a piece of poetry.

Virgil reading “The Aeneid” to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia
By Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762–1834) (1790).
“Aeneas flees burning Troy”
By Federico Barocci (1535-1612) (1598).
“Aeneas meets Dido”
By Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti (1571-1639) (c. 1630).

I grasp

for you

“Verse XIV”

 
In this hour I feel you like never before
*
As you lay there imprisoned in a state of isolation, I lay here restless in the straight jacket of my making.
*
I see the naïveté of a youth transcend to the reason of an adulthood. Along has come a first dose of morbid fear: a realisation that this is life and no, no it’s not going to unfurl and happen but that it is, it is unraveling and happening.
*
In this hour I need you like never before.

Click here to see Bidoonism's pictorial profile of Lucian (
Click to see Bidoonism’s pictorial profile of Lucian “the lothario” Freud.

“Come On Gaius”

 
I love beginnings
Love! “So strong!” It is though
Oh how much I know this
Venus to Uranus
Exploded with a kiss
&
I hate though endings
Hate! “Too strong!” Not at all
All conspires against us
The mean and religious
Everything does curse us.
 

 


NOTES
 
[1]   Uranus _ 27 known moons _ 7th planet from the Sun; named after the Greek god of the sky _ I’ll believe in Pluto ’til I die _ Twenni-seven, huh! Twen Tee Sev En, HUH!

 
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.
 

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).

“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).

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.

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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).

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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.