Sunday, December 21, 2008

the dance

The Dance
by William Carlos Williams (p1009)

In Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling
about the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess.

I liked Williams style of writing so much from last week that I decided to blog on another one of his poems. In short, The Dance, is a messy amalgamation of words and run-on sentences that somehow link together to form two sentences. However, this strange structure does an excellent job of paralelling his topic, “The Kermess”. Much like his poem, the painting itself illustrates a chaotic scene of villagers dancing, celebrating, and drinking.

Yet despite the array of words, Williams is able to carefully depict every little sound or activity. He is able to draw the reader into the festival, both seeing and hearing the frenzy with descriptions like “the squeal and the blare and the tweedle of bagpipes”, or “Kicking and rolling about the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts”.

And in case you’re wondering what these people were frolicking to… here’s a sample of Renaissance music I found on YouTube (notice the clothes they're in).


by Pat Mora (p1005)

I live in a doorway
between two rooms. I hear
quiet clicks, cups of black
coffee, click, click like facts
budgets, tenure, curriculum,
from careful women in crisp beige
suits, quick beige smiles
that seldom sneak into their eyes.

I peek

in the other room señoras
in faded dresses stir sweet
milk coffee, laughter whirls
with steam from fresh tamales
sh, sh, mucho ruido,
they scold one another,
press their lips, trap smiles
in their dark, Mexican eyes.

Mora expresses her ties to both American and Mexican cultures through this poem. Through the use of coffee, she is able to contrast both cultures, or the “two rooms”, that shape who she is. The structure she utilizes for each part of her mirrors the other, giving a sense of equality. The two parts of the poem almost parallel each other exactly. She has assimilated into American culture, yet continues to be strongly rooted in her origins. One room showcases the Americanized aspect of capitalism, where hard work is valued and opportunities are endless. The women dress in “crisp beige suits” which obviously reflects a business setting. On the other hand, the “señoras” dress in “faded dresses” that represent Mexican traditions.

It is interesting how she concludes both parts of her poem. She points out that the women in suits have “smiles that seldom sneak into their eyes” while señoras “press their lips, trap smiles” within themselves. She almost laments the office setting of America, symbolizing structure and uniformity. And it’s almost as if her Mexican values relieve some of her stresses.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

the road not taken

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

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

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

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

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

In The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost utilizes figurative language to convey his message. He urges readers to discover the undiscovered and be unique to themselves. The frst stanza basically provides the setting. However, things start to get interesting in the second stanza. Frost comments that the other road “was grassy and wanted wear”. Opportunity lies awaiting for the wary “traveler”, yet in a way both roads were “really about the same”. Frost implies that although they different paths, both require the same amount of hard work and dedication to succeed.

In the second stanza, Frost seemingly contradicts himself once again by keeping “the first for another day” but doubting if he should “ever come back”. His language alludes to the profound decision that the read must make. A decision that cannot be reversed.

Lastly, the final stanza ends on a confusing note. The reader is not able to discern if “the difference” by taking the “less traveled” road is positive or negative. Furthermore, his “sigh” can represent relief as well as regret.

this is just to say

This Is Just to Say
by William Carlos Williams (p927)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The simplicity and straight-forwardness of this poem make it stand out. However, I think his plain language and short sentences further support his message. Williams believes in living in the moment. And his concise words reflect this way of life: quick, spontaneous, and unplanned. The narrator ate “the plums… in the icebox” despite the fact that he knew someone was “probably saving” them. Instead of thinking about the consequences and the problems that could arise, he decided to act in the moment and eat the plum. Instead of thinking about the future, he mind conveys his momentary thoughts, “delicious so sweet and so cold”. Yet at the end the speaker apologizes, possibly insincerely, with a minimal “forgive me”. He accepts his decision instead of trying to hide it. The poem calls people to reach for opportunities.

Romance is a second interpretation of this poem. The playful language it employs emphasizes their loving relationship. The husband seems to be teasing the wife with his witty message. Also, “Forgive me” is ironic because he knows that in actuality, his wife will not be angry, but rather maybe even happy that he enjoyed the plums.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

annabelle lee

Annabelle Lee
by Edgar Allan Poe

This poem is somewhat long so here’s a link: Annabel Lee

Also, I found a sung version of this poem here.

Along with much of Poe’s other works, Annabel Lee is about the death of a beautiful lover; the situation. The reason for her death and his sadness may have been the time period; the setting. Poe describes a “kingdom by the sea” which refers to the Middle Ages where kings and knights ruled their nations. Equality was nonexistent as people of nobility exploited the peasants and farmers. The author’s lover was taken by “her high-born kinsmen” which supports this sense of injustice. Furthermore, the “sepulcher there by the sea” that she is placed in is both physically and metaphorically something unattainable.

However, their love is undying and continues. Even after her death, nothing can “ever dissever my soul from the soul of Annabel Lee”. Despite their unfortunate setting and situation, their love is constant.

aubade on east 12th street

Aubade on East 12th Street
by August Kleinzahler (p904)

The skylight silvers
and a faint shudder from the underground
travels up the building's steel.

Dawn breaks across this wilderness
of roofs with their old wooden storage tanks
and caps of louvered cowlings

moving in the wind. Your back,
raised hip and thigh
well-tooled as a rounded baluster

on a lathe of shadow and light.

I think Kleinzahler’s goal with this poem is to illustrate the breaking dawn. And if so, he has done an excellent job. The explicit descriptions that he uses of the city waking up brings the reader into his poem. We can almost feel and hear the subways and their “faint shudder from the underground”. He continues to describe the rays of light upon the “roofs with their old wooden storage tanks” and the “caps of louvered cowlings” which are both awaiting the day to begin.

It is ironic that he chooses to describe the city as a “wilderness” despite the obvious difference. But in a way this makes sense because both are always changing, unpredictable, and bustling with life. Finally, “the lathe of shadow and light” bring together the last wisps of night and the first rays of morning, creating a memorable image and concludes his poem about morning appropriately.

Monday, December 1, 2008


by Langston Hughes

My old man's a white old man
And my old mother's black.
If ever I cursed my white old man
I take my curses back.
If ever I cursed my black old mother
And wished she were in hell,
I'm sorry for that evil wish
And now I wish her well
My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack.
I wonder were I'm going to die,
Being neither white nor black?

I was confused by this poem and left wondering who the speaker really was. Is he actually multicultural? Or does he wish to be? Nonetheless, Hughes speaks from a mature level after experiencing racism first hand through his “white old man” and “black old mother”. He expresses he sympathy and retracts his ignorant statements like “wishing she were in hell”. His level of understanding is further evidenced because he hates neither of his parents anymore. He realizes it is wrong for him to ever have blamed his parents for who he is. Lastly, he speculates upon the future and takes into account of his multi-ethnic background. He doesn’t know what will happen to him and therefore leaves the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

hanging fire

Hanging Fire
by Audre Lorde (p872)

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before the morning comes
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Well first off I thought this poem was simply about growing up and fitting in. However the line “and my skin has betrayed me” got me thinking about other possibilities beyond human hormones, but rather: racial tension. So I did a quick search on Audre Lorde and found that she was a Caribbean-American writer, poet, and activist. And the fact that the poem was written in 1978 provides a greater correlation to racial tensions due to the recent civil rights movement.

With this in mind, the poem really emphasizes the inequalities that blacks had to face during that time. The fact that “Nobody even stops to think about my side of it” and that she “should have been on the Math Team my marks were better than his” shows that the girl has been treated unfairly. The speaker advocates change and progression, yet she is hindered by society’s ignorance. Also, “hanging fire” is an idiom that means to stall or delay which again supports the speakers urge for change.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Thank God, bless God, all ye who suffer not
More grief than ye can weep for. That is well -
That is light grieving! lighter, none befell
Since Adam forfeited the primal lot.
Tears! what are tears? The babe weeps in its cot,
The mother singing, at her marriage-bell
The bride weeps, and before the oracle
Of high-faned hills the poet has forgot
Such moisture on his cheeks. Thank God for grace,
Ye who weep only! If, as some have done,
Ye grope tear-blinded in a desert place

And touch but tombs, - look up I those tears will run
Soon in long rivers down the lifted face,
And leave the vision clear for stars and sun.

When I first read this poem, I thought that it was about grief. And as the title suggests, tears usually is related to sadness. However, after rereading the poem, I realized that the tears are meant to be tears of joy. And instead of grief, Browning is trying to emphasize happiness. The tears from “the babe in its cot” and “the bride” are from their innocence or happiness.

Clearly, religion is an important aspect to consider in this poem. She begins the poem with “thank God, bless God” which shows her security within religion. She believes that God cleanses her grief and “thanks God for grace”.

Finally, the poem concludes with an uplifting image. Although tears form “long rivers” upon her face, she looks up with a “lifted face” nonetheless. She gazes up at the “stars and sun” which symbolizes her confidence in the future.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

aunt jennifer's tigers

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers
by Adrienne Rich (p844)

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

There are two intertwined tones that Rich expresses through this poem. The first, hope, and the second, remorse. Although these two tones might seem contradicting, they stem from the role and perception of women. Quite simply, Rich is a feminist and advocates this idea through her drawings. And clearly, Aunt Jennifer’s tigers are a significant symbol in this poem. They “do not fear the men” and they “pace in sleek chivalric certainty”. They embody strength and bravery. They represent Rich’s audacious spirit and hope for the future.

The tone changes into remorse when Aunt Jennifer realizes that her feelings can only be expressed as drawings. She is suppressed by societal views and locked in her negative marriage. “The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band” confines her to her helpless position. She cannot do anything with her “terrified hands” but convey these ideals in indirect ways.

Yet Rich concludes her poem with hope. In essence, Aunt Jennifer dies as a martyr, but more importantly, her work and message live on. Her tigers “go on prancing, proud and unafraid” despite her death and continue to influence and inspire.