Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

The poetess, Sylvia Plath, by making the mirror speak in the poem, ‘Mirror’, gives it life and uses it to explore the theme of change, decay, old age and death.

Lines 1 to 3: The mirror makes factual statements that it is made of silver and is precise in its job of reflection. It has no preconceived notions or ideas and so whatever appears before it, it takes in (swallows) immediately just as each thing is and reflects it back without distortion (unmisted), without being influenced by emotions, prejudices or ideas of love and hate.

Lines 4, 5: But it has no intention of being cruel. It wants to be truthful. It compares itself to the eyes of a little god having four corners as it can see and reflect everything in front of it.

Lines 6 to 10: Most of the time it reflects the pink worn out wall opposite it so much so that the wall has become a part of its personality. But its reflection of the opposite wall is broken (flickers) over and over again by faces that come to look into it and by darkness or night.

Lines 10, 11: The mirror compares itself to a lake. A lake is deep and when it reflects back a person, it seems to reflect him from its depth. So when a person looks into the mirror, it not only reflects back his physical appearance but through it, it reflects the depth of his self. A woman bends over the mirror (the lake) searching deep into the mirror to find out what she really is.

Lines 12 to 14: Dissatisfied with what she sees, she turns to the moonlight and the candles for consolation whom the mirror calls ‘liars’ as their dim light deceives by concealing her defects and her age. But the mirror continues to reflect her back faithfully the way she is. The woman bursts into tears and restlessly moves her hand as she realises she is aging and losing her beauty from the mirror’s reflection.

Lines 15,16: In spite of reflecting her truthfully, she considers the mirror important to keep checking herself. She visits it regularly especially in the morning.

Lines 17, 18: The woman has been looking into the mirror from the time she was a young girl. She seems to have drowned her youth in the mirror which compares itself to a lake. The mirror stands for the passage of time. The present reflection of the woman is compared to a terrible fish rising from the depths of the lake. It is a terrible fish because it reflects her old age and loss of beauty and is a reminder to her the old age and death are creeping closer towards her day by day.

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Ode to the West Wind By PB Shelley

Lines 1 to 5: The poet calls the West Wind wild and the breath of autumn. The unseen wind carries the dead leaves from the trees and spreads them on the ground. This is compared to (simile) ghosts running away from a magician. The leaves are also compared to (metaphor) a crowd afflicted by plague because they are black, red, yellow and pale.

Lines 6 to 12: The West Wind carries the winged seeds like a chariot to the cold winter ground where they lie like (simile) dead bodies in the grave of the soil till the East Wind blows in spring. The East Wind is the West Wind’s sister and is called ‘azure sister’, because it blows during spring when the sky is clear and deep blue in colour. It wakes up the earth that has been sleeping and dreaming during winter by announcing the arrival of spring which fills the plains and hills with colours and smells of flowers.

Lines 13, 14: The poet calls the West Wind that is moving everywhere destroyer and preserver. It is a destroyer because it prepares the trees for winter, which is symbolically the season of death, by bringing down the leaves and seeds. It is also a preserver because by bringing down the dead leaves and seeds it prepares everything for a new birth in spring.

Lines 15 to 21: The West Wind brings along with it clouds which are messengers of lightning and rain. These clouds are compared to (simile) dead leaves being shed from the tangled branches of the tree of heaven and ocean. The clouds spread across the sky by the West Wind are compared to (simile) the uplifted hair of a female follower of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and fertility.

Lines 21 to 23: The clouds are spread from the horizon to the zenith (metaphor) like the hair of the approaching storm. The storm is personified here.

Lines 24 to 28: The poet calls the West Wind the funeral song of the year coming to an end. The night sky or the autumn or winter sky becomes the dome of a vast sepulchre enclosing the dying earth. Within this sepulchre is enclosed the West wind with all its might and filled with clouds that will bring forth rain, lightning and hail.

Lines 29 to 36: The West Wind blowing in autumn wakes up the Mediterranean Sea from its summer sleep. It seems to have been put to sleep by the clear, winding streams emptying into it in Baeae’s Bay. The sea reflects old palaces and towers covered by moss and flowers along its shores and the shadows of these in the calm waters tremble in the ripples and in the summer heat. The scene is so sweet that one would faint while describing it.

Lines 36 to 41: The West Wind splits the calm and the level Atlantic Ocean causing huge chasms on its surface; it affects the bottom of the ocean too. The underwater sapless plants are depicted as getting frightened and spoiling themselves.

Lines 43 to 47: The poet wishes he were a dead leaf or a swift cloud or a wave to experience the West Wind’s power and share in its strength. He is only a little less free than the uncontrollable West Wind.

Lines 48 to 53: If the poet were as he was in his boyhood, full of energy and life when he could have easily beaten the West Wind in speed, he would not have asked the West Wind’s help.

Lines 53 to 56: He asks the West wind to lift him like a wave, a leaf or a cloud so that he could be freed from the thorns (metaphor) or problems of life. He too is wild, swift and proud like the West wind. But now he is chained and bent by the problems of life.

Lines 57 to 61: The poet asks the West Wind to make him its lyre like the forest and produce sad but sweet autumnal music. Indirectly he is asking the wind to share its powers (Be … My Spirit! Be thou me)and inspire him so that he can produce sweet poetry.

Lines 61 to 64: He asks the West Wind to spread his unaccepted ideas to the world so that they can give birth to a new way of life (simile) just as dead leaves help seeds to sprout.

Lines 65 to 69: By reciting poetry, he hopes to scatter his words (simile) like ashes and sparks from an undying fire.

Line 70: He expresses optimism (hope) that just as spring follows winter, his sadness will be followed by joy, and his ideas which were not accepted would be accepted.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth

I HEARD a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

In the poem, ‘Written in Early Spring’, Wordsworth feels sad about the fact that man alone among all creation is neither in harmony with his own kind nor with nature.

The poet is seated relaxed against a tree in a shady clump of trees listening to the music of the breeze, the chirping of birds and the creaking of insects. He is in the sweetest of moods. But along with pleasant thoughts in his mind at that moment, sad thoughts too arise.
Nature seems to have linked his soul with her soul in perfect communion. In that blessed mood, he is saddened to realize what man has done to his fellowmen and to nature. Man has inflicted pain on his own fellowmen and has destroyed nature.

The periwinkle intertwines itself on the primrose in perfect coexistence and the poet believes that every flower seems to enjoy the air it breathes. The poet is trying to say that the plants and the flowers coexist peacefully and seem to derive pleasure from their living.
Similarly, the birds seem to be in harmony and seem to derive pleasure in their movements of hopping and playing. In the same way the poet feels that the fresh branches seem to experience pleasure as they spread out into the air to catch it.

In the last stanza, the poet sums up what he has said. He feels that if the divine plan or ‘Nature’s holy plan’ is pleasurable and peaceful coexistence, he wonders why man alone has moved away from this plan. Only man lives in discord with himself and the rest of creation.

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The Noble Nature by Ben Jonson

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make Man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night -
It was the plant and flower of Light
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.

The poet, Ben Jonson, in the poem ‘The Noble Nature’, talks about what makes a man noble. He compares man to a sturdy oak and to a delicate lily in order to do this.
Growing physically like a bulky tree or living long like a sturdy oak does not make a man a noble being. The huge, strong and aged oak will soon become a lifeless, ‘dry’ and withered piece of log. So too will be the fate of a man who is only blessed with long life and physical and material well being.
The lily plant has a short life. It blooms in May and is very beautiful. Although the flower has the life span of a day and falls and dies by nightfall, it spreads beauty and delight in that short period. The poet feels that a meaningful life like the lily flower, though short, is what makes a man noble and even though a man’s life is short it can be a perfect life.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Snakecharmer by Sylvia Path

As the gods began one world, and man another,
So the snakccharmer begins a snaky sphere
With moon-eye, mouth-pipe. He pipes. Pipes green. Pipes water.
Pipes water green until green waters waver
With reedy lengths and necks and undulatings.
And as his notes twine green, the green river
Shapes its images around his songs.
He pipes a place to stand on, but no rocks,
No floor: a wave of flickering-grass tongues

Supports his foot. He pipes a world of snakes,
Of sways and coilings, from the snake-rooted bottom
Of his mind. And now nothing but snakes

Is visible. The snake-scales have become
Leaf, become eyelid; snake-bodies, bough, breast
Of tree and human. And he within this snakedom

Rules the writhings which make manifest
His snakehood and his might with pliant tunes
From his thin pipe. Out of this green nest

As out of Eden's navel twist the lines
Of snaky generations: let there be snakes!
And snakes there were, are, will be-till yawns

Consume this piper and he tires of music
And pipes the world back to the simple fabric
Of snake-warp, snake-weft. Pipes the cloth of snakes

To a melting of green water, tiII no snake
Shows its head, and those green waters back to
Water, to green, to nothing like a snake.
Puts up his pipe, and lids his moony eye.

Creation is a theme dealt with in all religious philosophies. The creator of all things is called God and man, the peak of creation, is also a creator in a limited sense. He thinks, acts and produces art, literature, technology, architecture and so on. The artist was considered and is considered even now as the prime creator among men. The poet creates too and in the poem ‘Snakecharmer’, Sylvia Plath does just that and more. She creates the character of the snake charmer depicting him as a creator, the creator of the world of snakes. The snake charmer could also denote Satan and he creates the world of evil. This meaning can be give with reference to the story of Adam and Eve.

She begins the poem by saying that just as gods and men begin worlds, meaning create, so does the snake charmer begin ‘a snaky sphere’, here ‘sphere’ standing for the ‘world’ of snakes. The instruments he uses are the ‘mouth-pie’ through which he blows hypnotic music and his ‘moon eye’. The tune issuing forth out of the mouth pipe can be compared to the words of Jehovah, as quoted in the Book of Genesis of the Bible, who created through His words and His first words were “let there be light”. ‘Moon eye’ could denote dreamy or hypnotic eye that can hypnotise the snakes or the ability of Satan/Evil to hynotise people into doing evil.

Plath then uses the image of water to speak about the world of snakes as water stands for life and creation. The charmer ‘pipes water green’ until the water flickers and like reeds, the snakes move. His notes make the ‘green river’ of snakes ‘twine’ or coil ‘around his songs’. The words ‘twine’ ‘around his songs’ seem to suggest that the snake charmer knows the world of snakes and controls their movements from the ‘snake-rooted bottom of his mind’. Green water could also be the symbol of greed, lust and jealousy, the vices that cause man to be evil.

The snake is compared to a tree and a human. The snake scales are compared to leaves and eyelids, and snake bodies compared to boughs and the breast of man. Again the control of the snake charmer over the snakes is stressed by saying that he ‘rules’ over his ‘snakedom’. The snake ‘writhings’ seem to take their essence from ‘his snakehood’ and ‘his might’. Satan is mighty in the world of Evil.

Just as man began his history from the Garden of Eden, so too has the snaky generation evolved from Eden’s navel. The allusion is to the serpent in the Garden of Eden mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Just as God made all things with the words “Let there be …”, so has the snake charmer uttered the words ‘let there be snakes’ and there were, are and will be snakes.

When the charmer tires of playing the pipe, he pipes the snake world back to the green water. For some time he creates and commands totally a tantalizing world of snakes and like God capable of destroying what he has made, he un-creates the world of snakes.

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Poetry by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not be-
cause a

high sounding interpretation can be put upon them
but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to
become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us – that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of some-
thing to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll,
a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a
horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician – case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents

school-books"; all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination" – above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads
in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand,
in defiance of their opinion –
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

Marianne Moore deftly deals with various aspects of poetry and writing poems in the poem, ‘Poetry’. She discusses about what good poetry does, the possible content of poetry, bad poetry and bad poems in the guise of good poems, and she also has a dig at critics. At the same time she shrewdly avoids defining poetry in clear terms. Instead she defines poetry in terms of what it should avoid being.

She opens the poem subtly with the words, ‘I, too, dislike it’ echoing the sentiments of a good number of people’s dislike for poetry as like them she believes that there are things more important than all this ‘fiddle’ or play with words. Yet the irony is that she, like the others, reads poetry.

But she concedes that in spite of reading a poem with ‘a perfect contempt’, one ‘discovers’ in it ‘genuine’ feelings and emotions and an appeal to the senses. The poem becomes important because it is ‘useful’ in getting in touch with one’s feelings and not because (here is where Moore has a dig at critics) a ‘high-sounding interpretation’ can be given to them. In fact, if a poem becomes too derivative, i.e. not original, and is not derived from true personal experience it becomes ‘unintelligible’. Just as ‘we do not admire / what we cannot understand’ we cannot appreciate unintelligible poetry.

She goes on to say that almost anything can become the subject of poetry, as varied as a ‘bat holding on upside down’, ‘the immovable critic’, ‘the statistician’ or ‘business documents’. What she warns poets is not to drag them into prominence by giving them undue importance and special treatment.

Moore then attempts at giving guidelines for what good poets should try to do while composing poems. She uses oxymoronic and almost paradoxical phrases to state her case. The words ‘literalists of imagination’ and ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’ define how a poet should attempt to write good poetry. He should strike a balance between reality and imagination. ‘Imagination’ is opposed to ‘literalism’ but the oxymoronic phrase conveys subtly the need to balance reality and imagination. Similarly ‘imaginary gardens’ are opposed to ‘real toads’ in them. Again the odd juxtaposing of words exquisitely presents the need to maintain balance. Then one avoids ‘insolence’ and ‘triviality’ in one’s poems.

Moore concludes her poem by addressing the reader as well. She makes this conclusion from what she has been saying. She feels that the reader is interested in poetry if he demands ‘rawness’ in the poems he reads. Authenticity in feeling and imaginative expression coupled with raw experience is what a reader should look for in poetry. This poem by Moore in some sense meets the standards she has set about poetry and writing poems.

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Enterprise By Nissim Ezekial

The poem ‘Enterprise’ looks deceptively simple and direct and yet becomes complex as one tries to peel its many layered meanings. The poet speaks about a bold and difficult journey as the enterprise that a group of people are undertaking. The journey seems to have ‘started as a pilgrimage’, for the purpose of ennobling minds and ‘making all the burdens light’, giving it a spiritual connotation. As the poem progresses one gets the impression that the journey is made by a group of people, possibly poets or writers. Yet again one gets the feeling that the journey seems to stand for the poets or writers’ own journey of life, of how they initially start their literary lives with verve and daring. In course of time the initial euphoria rubs off.

The poet says that the second stage of their journey was primarily exploration without being severely tested and the word ‘rage’ in the line ‘the sun beat down to match our rage’ seems to suggest the vigour, passion and enthusiasm with which the young group of writers took up the challenge of writing something revolutionary and inspirational. ‘The sun beat down’ could refer metaphorically to the obstacles that stood in their way. However, it was a successful stage where they ‘observed’, made ‘copious notes’ of everyday life, the way of the cunning people (serpents) and the simple people (goats) and the life in the cities where the ‘sage’ taught. The word ‘sage’ could refer to ancient wisdom found in ancient texts.

Differences arose when they met with contentious issues or when inspiration ran dry (desert patch) in their journey and they lost one from their group who was the best prose writer. The ‘shadow’ of differences grew. The journey got tougher when they were twice attacked by critics and ‘lost’ their perspective. A section of their group decided to part ways due to the onslaught. The leader of the group seemed to provide consolation and encouragement when he said that he ‘smelt the sea’, that is, the end of the journey.

The irony of the end stages of the journey was that they as writers ‘noticed nothing as they went’. They no longer observed and took copious notes. They were a ‘struggling crowd of little hope’ treading on, ignoring warnings and personal discomfort. At the end of the journey they were ‘broken’ or ‘bent’ hardly knowing why they were there. The words ‘broken’ and ‘bent’ are apt and powerful words that depict graphically the decline, confusion and disillusionment in the lives of writers. They had forgotten what they had started out with. The trip had exhausted them and they had not done anything great or rare.

The last line of the poem can be understood in so many ways and provides the punch line for the whole poem. Two meanings stand out. The journey of the group ends at home. They have to return to the original zealous ideas and thoughts that they had started out with. The second meaning could mean something entirely different. ‘Home’ could refer to the poet’s own consciousness - experiences, feelings and emotions – that acts as raw material to write authentically and without disillusionment. The poet’s own mind is the storehouse welling with material for writing. So the enterprise or journey is a metaphor for an artist’s life.

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A Walk by Moonlight By Derozio

Last night — it was a lovely night,
And I was very blest —
Shall it not be for Memory
A happy spot to rest?

Yes; there are in the backward past
Soft hours to which we turn —
Hours which, at distance, mildly shine,
Shine on, but never burn.

And some of these but yesternight
Across my path were thrown,
Which made my heart so very light,
I think it could have flown.

I had been out to see a friend
With whom I others saw:
Like minds to like minds ever tend —
An universal law.

And when we were returning home,
"Come who will walk with me,
A little way", I said, and lo!
I straight was joined by three:

Three whom I loved — two had high thoughts
And were, in age, my peers;
And one was young, but oh! endeared
As much as youth endears.

The moon stood silent in the sky,
And looked upon our earth:
The clouds divided, passing by,
In homage to her worth.

There was a dance among the leaves
Rejoicing at her power,
Who robes for them of silver weaves
Within one mystic hour.

There was a song among the winds,
Hymning her influence —
That low-breathed minstrelsy which binds
The soul to thought intense.

And there was something in the night
That with its magic wound us;
For we — oh! we not only saw,
But felt the moonlight around us.

How vague are all the mysteries
Which bind us to our earth;
How far they send into the heart
Their tones of holy mirth;

How lovely are the phantoms dim
Which bless that better sight,
That man enjoys when proud he stands
In his own spirit's light;

When, like a thing that is not ours.
This earthliness goes by,
And we behold the spiritualness
Of all that cannot die.

'Tis then we understand the voice
Which in the night-wind sings,
And feel the mystic melody
Played on the forest's strings.

The silken language of the stars
Becomes the tongue we speak,
And then we read the sympathy
That pales the young moon's cheek.

The inward eye is open then
To glories, which in dreams
Visit the sleeper's couch, in robes
Woven of the rainbow's beams.

I bless my nature that I am
Allied to all the bliss,
Which other worlds we're told afford,
But which I find in this.

My heart is bettered when I feel
That even this human heart
To all around is gently bound,
And forms of all a part;

That, cold and lifeless as they seem,
The flowers, the stars, the sky
Have more than common minds may deem
To stir our sympathy.

Oh! in such moments can I crush
The grass beneath my feet?
Ah no; the grass has then a voice,
Its heart — I hear it beat.

In the poem, ‘A Walk by Moonlight’, Derozio not only recounts an experience but also vividly describes the effect of such an experience on his mind and heart. The effect is profound and mind blowing, and the experience radically changes his perception. He relates about his walk back home on a moonlit night with his friends whom he ‘loved’ and esteemed and who were like-minded.

The poet was returning home one night with three of his friends after visiting another friend. The night was a ‘lovely night’ for the ‘moon stood silent in the sky’ and the ‘clouds divided’ ‘in homage to her worth’. She robed the dancing leaves with ‘silver weaves’. The poet feels that such a night was one of those ‘happy spots’ of memory of his past which never burns or fades away but shines on gently.

The poet gradually moves from the physical description of night to what the scene does to him. The ‘song among the winds’ made the poet focus his thoughts. The night created magic around them. They not only ‘saw’ with their eyes but ‘felt’ with all their senses the beautiful moon lit night. In this mood, the mystery of life was heightened and it evoked in their hearts awe and ‘holy mirth’. The scene brought about a mood which in turn made the poet’s mind alert and awake. Such a mind, the poet thinks, is a ‘light’ to itself. It perceives better and everything looks lovely. In such a state one apprehends the ‘ spiritualness’ or the permanence of ‘all that cannot die’ going beyond the ‘earthiness’ of the world of impermanent matter.

The poet then views nature – night wind, stars, the moon – not as inanimate but as full of life. Such a state has his ‘inward eye’ open to glories that seem to appear only in dreams. The bliss of heaven is experienced here on earth by the poet. The peak of perception that the poet arrives at is when he feels his human heart ‘gently bound’ to everything and forming ‘of all a part’ which in other words is communion and interconnectedness with the whole of nature. The flowers, the stars and the sky are then not ‘cold and lifeless as they seem’.

The poet reaches a climax in his experience which is expressed in the last stanza. In that moment of deep spiritual insight and heightened sensitivity, the poet feels that he cannot ‘crush’ the grass beneath his feet for he can ‘hear’ its heart ‘beat’.

The rhyme and the meter make the poem flow smoothly enhancing the theme of physical beauty of a moonlit night and its soothing, and spiritual and psychological effect on the poet’s soul.

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