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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Literary Criticism: Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting".

Wilfred Owen is a war poet. His poems express the pity and anger he felt towards war. His poem, "Strange Meeting" is also a record of war. According to George Sampson, "Strange Meeting is the most memorable poem of the period of the first world war." "My subject is war", Owen wrote, "and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity." Indeed, Owen discusses war as a tragic and pitiful experience. His approach is realistic and he stresses the waste and devastation caused by war.
In Strange Meeting, the narrator, after his death, meets one of the enemy soldiers he had killed in the war, in the hell or in the underworld. The miserable experiences in the war helps him to understand the naked truth that the enemy in war is one-self. The soldiers are the victims of the war. This knowledge makes, the narrator and the stranger he met, friends.
The opening line is a reflection of the idea that death is but an escape for a soldier from his miserable life. The escape is to the underworld, described as a long tunnel. The tunnel is full of sleepers. While probing along the sleepers, suddenly, one of them springs up. He looks at the poet in sympathy. For, it is the German soldier, whom the poet has killed on the previous day. The poet wonders, why there are marks of sorrow on the face of the soldier.
According to the apparition, his distress is due to the loss of chance to warn the world about the truth of war. The consequence of each war is deterioration. It will tuck a nation from progress. The speaker wishes to rush to the battle field and to wash the clogged wheels of the chariot with the pure water of brother hood.
However, the speaker realises that human beings will only continue the course. They will either be satisfied and adjusted with the ruins made by the war; or they may be discontented. If discontented, they will turn into greater violences. The speaker had courage, knowledge, wisdom and ability, yet could not stop the course. Wilfred Owen speaks with a prophetic vision, when he say, there is no escape for men from modern war. The speaker, after his death wants to reveal this truth to the human world. For that, he wish to pour his spirit. He wants to avoid wounds and cess of war. Owen here represents himself as a pacifist.
To conclude, through the poem, Owen gives stress to the need for peace. Each nation fails to realize the fact that they are marching backwards while indulging in war. The real service of an individual to his nation will be his retreat from the battle. The soldiers are also warned that they are their own enemies so long as they fight.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Literary Criticism: W.B.Yeats's "Circus Animal's Desertion"

W.B.Yeats, probably the greatest English poet of the Twentieth Century, had his most enduring work-the poetry of his maturity and old age. His poetry is characterized by its intense lyricism, its use of symbolism, its sensuous beauty, precision and realism. During the last period of his poetic life, a metaphysical strain began to enter his poems. His poem, The Circus Animal's Desertion is about the poet’s inability to write poems any longer. In his old age Yeats retrospect on some of the themes of his earlier poems and plays. He speaks of them as circus animals that have now deserted him, leaving him with his human passions. According to T.R.Henn, Yeats may have derived the idea of the circus from the drawings of his brother of horses, riders and circuses that he made for the Cuala Press Edition of Yeats's works. The poem is written in Ottava Rima.
The poem is presented in the three episodes. In the first episode, the poet laments about his loss of ability in finding the new characters and in finding new themes. He waited weeks for the evolution or formation of a new character and a new theme, but in vain. He therefore feels like a broken man who has to be contented with the common passions of his heart. By "Circus Animals", Yeats means his characters and his themes. As he feels that his poetic faculty is lost, he says that the circus animals have deserted him. The images like stilted boys, burnished chariot, lions and woman make his idea of circus complete. With these images, he remembers his glorious past in his literary career and his ability to deal with various kinds of themes, which he now find banished.
The second episode deals with his recollection of various themes he had in his poetries as well as his plays. The first volume of poems he published is The Wanderings of Oisin in 1889. That is why he tells that Oisin led the way by the nose. Oisin is the hero of an old Irish myth. He was carried off to a fairyland across the ocean by the fairy Niamh. He returned to Ireland after one and a half century and discovered his friends dead and his countrymen converted to Christianity. The story of Oisin has a great coincidence with the real life situations of Yeats. Yeats includes himself in the Irish Freedom Movement due to the charm of Maud Gonne. But later, we can see Maud Gonne deserting Yeats and joining with the Irish Rebels. The Moderate Yeats can't see the spirit in young men for a bloodless revolution, which Yeats liked to put forward. Thus, as Oisin experienced, Yeats went through the three islands of infinite feeling, infinite battle and infinite repose.
Later Yeats feels that dealing the themes in such a way, adopting the characters from the old myth is silly. Also, Maud Gonne influenced him much. For her, and as the part of the freedom movement he created his play The Countess Cathleen. The part of the titular dramatis personae was enacted by Maud Gonne. She could make the character a great success. In the play, the heroine sells her soul to the devil to save the starving peasants. Yeats finds similarity to this character, what had done by Maud Gonne. She sacrificed herself for saving her country- men's freedom. This political fanaticism alienated Maud Gonne from Yeats. Later, as another part of the same story, Yeats identifies himself in his character Cuchulain, an Irish legendary hero, who dies fighting against the waves, while his associates, the fool and the blind man robbed the poor homes in the sea shore. The reference may be to the marriage of Maud Gonne to Major Macbride, who Yeats regarded as
A drunken, vainglorious lout, who
.......had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart.... (Ester 1916)
However, Yeats managed all the negativities. He never becomes an opportunist. He went through his own mode. He involved himself completely in players and painted stage.
He might me thinking about the Abbey Theatre. From 1902 to 1910, he was the President of the Irish National Dramatic Society and the producer cum manager of Abbey Theatre. He wrote plays, produced and directed them, and could hardly find time for any thing else. The play and the theatre are emblems of reality, which was submerged, in his blind enthusiasm for them.
In the third episode of the poem, his mind is presented as a land where a heap of wasted are gathered. He is searching again in the unused part of the old themes to draw up a new part from them. But he feels himself mean to do so. His mind has become a waste-land, with nothing better than a heap of dirty refuse matters like old kettles, old bottles, broken can, old iron, old bones and old rags. In the closing part, the poem has a pessimistic note. The poet makes it sure that he cannot rise in the same status of the previous, the muses that had inspired the whole human kind. The images such as the raving slut and the rag-and-bone shop are really vivid and astonishing. They represent the sharp agents of his mental agony.

Literary Criticism: Coleridge's "Kubla Khan"

In the poem Kubla Khan, Coleridge introduces Kubla Khan, ruler of the Mangol Empire in China during the 13th century A.D. His kingdom symbolized wealth and mystery to Europeans ever since Marco Polo first wrote about his travels there. Throughout the poem, Coleridge builds a sense of the exotic and mysterious. The complete title of the poem is "Kubla Khan, Or A Vision In A Dream A Fragment". Coleridge conveys the grandeur and majesty of Kubla Khan's creation, pairing with the idea of a pleasure dome, a place of luxury and leisure. The opening images of the poem have striking similarities to the lines in "Purcha's Pilgrimage", which Coleridge said, he was reading immediately before he drifted into his deep sleep.
The site of the pleasure dome is by the side of a sacred river, which Coleridge calls the Alph. Really, no river with this name exists. Critics imagine it as Alpheus in Greek legend, which flows underground and then comes up as a fountain. Some critics are of the opinion that the term is similar to alpha, the first letter of Greek alphabet, which symbolizes "the beginning". Coleridge may also be referring to other "sacred" rivers like the Nile in Egypt and a river in Kashmir, which opened itself a passage through the mountains. Since rivers and water are life giving, the sacred river may be seen as a symbol of life. The river flows beyond man's reach into a series of underground caverns, 'measureless to man'. The ultimate destination of the river is the sunless sea.
Coleridge is giving a vivid depiction of Khan's kingdom. Ten miles of land, which are exceptionally rich, are enclosed behind a wall with towers to protect it. The gardens fill the area with brightly coloured flowers and sweet smelling trees, watered by numerous winding brooks, which brinch off from the sacred river. These gardens are set among ancient forests, which have been there as long as the land itself. The river and forests provide an ageless backdrop for Khan's dream. Although Coleridge notes the differences between Khan's planned estate and nature's realm, both seem to exist in a harmonious balance. There is an evocative series of images of an earthly paradise in the explanation of kingdom.
The movement of the river is followed as it plunges down a chasm that is deeply wooded with cedar trees. Coleridge uses a simile to show the distance of this site from Khan's imposing gardens. The waning moon describes that period as the moon decreases from full, so less and less of it is visible. Thus, this mysterious chasm is compared to a spot haunted, by a woman crying in anguish, as the moon's light diminishes, for her demon lover. The picture gives a feeling of magic and witchcraft to the place, as if the sound of the river water was like wailing of a woman. The idea of 'demon lover', and unnatural being, is again taken up in the description of the earth, as it pushes up the water (of river into a fountain). There are violent motions in the mysterious valley 'fast, thick pants', 'forced', 'burst' etc. Symbolist critics point out sexual and birth imagery in these lines.
The power of the fountain, which pours forth the river, is apparent. Huge boulders are tossed up with the water due to its force. Two similes are used to illustrate this force. In the first, huge boulders are compared to hails. The second makes them seem even lighter. A 'thresher' is a person or a machine that separates the useful, heavier part of a kernel of grain from its lighter, useless shell or chaff. Here, nature itself is like a thresher. Along with the boulders, the river emerges. It takes a wandering path through the gardens.
Although Khan's gardens initially seem a place of peace and balance, Khan himself hears a different message coming from the distant rumbles of the chasm and the cave. The tumult of the river issues a warning that human creations are not permanent. The voices of his ancestors provide testimony to the fact that the greatest creations of the world eventually come to ruin. Coleridge once more says about the pleasure dome--
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
The poet harmonizes the opposing forces, sun and ice, in his miraculous dome, which has since vanished without trace.
Next, the poem abruptly changes into a first person narrative. Kubla Khan's physical creation becomes poet's vision, as he recounts seeing a young girl playing a stringed musical instrument in a dream. The maid in the vision, like Kubla Khan, is from a foreign place. Abyssinia is another name for Ethiopia. Mount Abora, like Alph, is a name that Coleridge created. Several critics note its similarity to Mount Amara in Milton's "Paradise Lost". Milton describes Mount Amara as a mountain at the head of River Nile. Another reference is to "Travels to the sources of the Nile" by Bruce. Bruce refers to two tributaries of the Nile called Abola and Albora that flow through Abyssinia. However, the reader is not given much details of the vision; no images are provided. The reader may assume that Mount Abora is similar to Khan's paradize only because the poet says that it creates such deep delight.
In the concluding lines, the poet describes the power of successful poetic vision. His creativity, like the sacred river, comes from tumult with his words. The poet, when achieves his dream, can combine the chasm and the gardens, and thus taste the honey like paradise. The poem leaves unanswered whether or not the poet will be able to capture that dream.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Literary Criticism: Wordsworth And His Tintern Abbey Lines

William Wordsworth is one of the most widely read and respected poet in English Literature. “Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” is a fine display of his poetic genius. The poem is evidently subjective. The speaker expresses that he longed to return to the special place a few miles above Tintern Abbey since he visited there five years before. In the past five years, he always pondered over this magical place with its steep lofty cliffs and its beautiful scenery. The sereneness of the place gives him a chance to stop and think - seclusion.
Wordsworth begins his poem talking about how five years have passed since he visited this magical place. He longed to visit the waters from the mountain springs, to hear their soft inland murmur. He wants to see the steep and lofty cliffs that rise up from the ground. He talks about how the day has come for his return to this wonderful spot. He loves the way that the cottages are, “Mid groves and copses; these pastoral farms, green to the very door.” He loves the way that the greenery goes up to the very doors of the little cottages, and also the way that the wreaths of smoke from the fires in the cottages are sent up in silence from among the trees.
He has had a long absence from these ‘beauteous forms’. In the midst of the stress and noise of towns and cities, in hours of weariness, his only resorts were the memories of this wonderful place. With that memories he was immediately refreshed. Then, all the weary weight of this unintelligible world was lifted from him. He was being lead by his affections for this place, which in turn affected his thoughts and acts. Those memories were like daylight in the darkness of the world. When he could stand the world no longer, he turned his thought to the place he loves. He talks about how he often turns his spirit to this wondrous place, and the repetition of ‘spirit; turned to thee’ emphasizes that this beautiful area is incredibly important to him, it always refreshes him.
Wordsworth proceeds indicating the evolution of his attitude to nature. This he does in three stages. The first stage may be called the infant or childish stage. He compares himself, in this stage, to a roe sporting gaily among the mountains. All his senses seemed to be busy to take in the pleasure. The important point to be noticed about this stage is that it was not love of nature that urged him to seek her company. He approached nature as a refugee. He wanted to escape from some thing. Critics identify this something as the “fear to lose humanity”. The cruel deeds of men witnessed during the French Revolution repelled and disgusted him. Nature offered him a good shelter.
The second stage is that of adolescence. He started to love nature passionately during this period. He could not imagine him to be apart form nature. He was able to hear the music of nature. However, it was the external loveliness of the nature that influenced him.
………………The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye……….
The ‘eye’ represents all the senses. The colours and shapes of things made an overwhelming, all-absorbing demand on his mind. The roar of the water-fall, the high rock, and the thick wood gave him the milk of delight. He describes his pleasure at this stage as “dizzy raptures” and “aching joys”. It implies that the pleasure was so intense.
The third stage was free from the “aching joys” and “dizzy raptures”. Here, he began to feel the presence of something that linked up all things in the universe. He believed that the universal soul animated all things and that it was present in every atom of the universe. He perceives that Man and Nature are one and the same thing. His pantheistic belief that God is an omnipresent force of nature and dwells in everything in the universe is organized here.
In the concluding stanza, he talks about how he would love to take his dear sister, Dorothy Wordsworth across his knowledge about the nature. Wordsworth finds an echo of his own feelings of the past in the eyes of his sister. She is now in the stage of experiencing the aching joys and dizzy raptures. Wordsworth advices her to be sincere in her trust to nature. Then nature would help her to relieve her of all her pain, and would act as a healing balm to her mind. The poem is concluded with a prayer to nature for her sake. If ever, she is destined to suffer, she would call to mind how her brother instilled in her the faith that Nature would offer a healing balm to all the miseries in life.

Who among the following is the best playwright?