Month: February 2013

My Favorite Poetry Lines

Edna Vincent Millay
“What Lips My Lips Have Kissed”
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that I me sings no more

Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Spring and Fall”
Though worlds of wan wood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.

Wilfred Owen
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

George Gordon, Lord Byron
“So We’ll Go No More A-Roving”
For the sword out wears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breath,
And love itself find rest

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“What Lips My Lips My Lips Have Kissed”

NewYork_Wedding_Photographer_Kissing_219My vision of the speaker in “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed…” (by Edna Millay, in the Seagull Reader) is a woman who has spent her life looking for love and attention, but has never found it. After years of looking, her beauty has faded and her quest has been in vain. She is left forever alone, with no one but the rain to keep her company.

The speaker is overcome with sadness as she thinks of her past romances, and the lack of attention she sees from men now as she writes:

“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, and what arms have lain

Under my head till morning” (pg 223).

One thing I actually enjoyed about this poem was that it was not hard to understand. The speaker has forgotten her past lovers, or even why they were together. I got the sense that she may be an older woman since the fact that she can’t remember them makes it seem like a long time ago. As she listens to the rain “tap and sigh, upon the glass and listen for reply” she feels all alone; and perhaps unloved. Listening to the rain is not necessarily something you do when you are among people, but rather something done when all is quiet. Perhaps the rain reminds her of the young men that used to metaphorically knock at her door, as it taps at the windows, as the lack of men doing so now. In turn she writes:

“And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain

For unremembered lads that not again

Will turn to me at midnight with a cry”.(pg 223)

I think, like the rest of this piece, this excerpt is pretty self-explanatory and really gets to the core of her loneliness. Not only are there no more “lads” coming to call for her, but she describes them as unremembered; which gives me the feeling like even when there were men wanting her it never really meant anything. Maybe, though she has had many men in bed with her but never really had true love. This is why the men seem to blur together and she doesn’t even remember what they look like. She uses the metaphor of a lonely tree to describe herself giving the reader an image of a single tree, perhaps in a meadow that all the birds have flown from. Although the tree doesn’t know what exact birds have come and gone, It does notice that its “its boughs are more silent than before” (pg 223). Like the tree she is all alone, and although none of the “birds” that used to come around her were particularly special, she misses at least having someone around. If a tree is not giving a home to animals, or where there are people to come and pick its fruit, then it is useless. The speaker seems to feel this way too. There is a great sense of hopelessness in her like she is of no use, and no one wants her anymore. The last lines of the poem are probably some of the saddest I’ve ever read…

“I cannot say what loves have come and gone,

I only know that summer sang in me

A little while, that in me sings no more”(pg 223).

Here again she reiterates the fact that she doesn’t even recall the circumstances of the loves she has had; which could also indicate that there have been many. Here we are reconnected to the lone tree metaphor as she hints back to it with the summer and singing reference. The brief time the men came to call on her was like summer for the tree, with birds singing in its branches. Yet, now that the winter has come the birds fly south and the tree is left alone. The idea of the seasons representing the stages of life reminds me of last weeks “Spring and Fall…” where summer is like when you are young and vibrant, and winter is like the end of your life.

Overall, the them of this poem seemed to be utter hopelessness and loneliness. She left no hope for the speakers future. It reminded me of a lot of women I know that search out that attention from men constantly with someone, but never really together.

“Goldengroves Unleaving”

Spring and Fall To a Young ChildImage

In the poem “Spring and Fall” (from the Seagull Reader) Gerard Hopkins tells us the story of young Margaret who is distressed to realize the leaves on the trees are starting to fall, and thus the summer months are ending. Her “Golden Grove” is losing its luster and so she grieves its parting the way only a child would.

He compares the falling leaves to “the things of man” or in essence human being (pg 163). Margaret possesses the love for all things that only a child does, but which eventually fades as time goes on. Hopkins puts it: “As the heart grows older, it will come to such sights colder” (pg 163).  She seems so saddened to find that these leaves are falling off the trees, but is still too young to understand what is really going on. Her naivety will be replaced, however, someday when she will “weep and know why” (pg 163).

Yet the author is not just writing about the falling leaves, but rather the fall (which is strategically placed in the title) of man. I would stretch to say that the leaves themselves represent humans. Once high in the trees green and healthy they now crumple and decay on the ground. The poem seems not only distressed about the status of man at that moment, but also for dear Margaret’s future; which is expressed in the last line that reads “it is Margaret you mourn for”(pg 163). In other words, someday she will end up along the same path as the fallen leaves. Although she is high in the trees for now, as a child, someday she will start to grow older and fall as the leaves do. Perhaps this day is coming soon, since she is beginning to realize this process of the tree losing its leaves. At least, that is what is inferred.

The speaker of this poem seems very somber about the aspects of maturing which makes me thing that he may be someone much older than Margaret. I envisioned him as perhaps her grandfather playing with her outside at first, but then changed my mind when I realized he is not speaking to her in the loving way family would. He never mentions being sorry for her sadness, but instead speaks very “matter a factually”  about her assumed grim future.  I wonder, however, if it is really Margaret he is mourning for but rather himself. In this sense the story reminded me of “I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy” because the speaker of the poem seems to be looking at Margaret the same way the character looks at the baby. Because their own life has been disappointing they make the assumption that this is simply a fact of life and everyone must end up on the same road. Even he admits he doesn’t know how Margaret is really feeling only that “what heart heard of, ghost guessed” (pg 162). This particular passage was a difficult one for me to understand because I was puzzled as to why the speaker refers to himself as a ghost. There are many assumption I could make over this. In one sense perhaps he is a ghost of his former self who was once alive with ignorance as a child but is now ghostly as he sees the truth or (possibly more likely) will he be reminiscent of a ghost in that these words he has spoken to Margaret will haunt her forever? I’d say that the speaker is a leaf at the end of its cycle, breaking to pieces on the ground.

I saw two ways to interpret this falling of man metaphor in the poem. In one condition it could be a play on the natural decay of man and its similarity to the decay of leaves, but on the other it could be the fall of man from grace. I think it is most likely a metaphor for both. The “un-leaving” process represents the way that man has become hardened or unmoving, and also the brief life cycle we are all a part of.

The New Dress

“The New Dress” by Virginia Woolf (in “The Seagull Reader) painfully captures the ridiculous extremes we humans will go to in order to feel we are as good (or better) than those around us. As someone who grew up very poor, and often felt beneath my peers, I can fully relate to Mabel’s (the main character) emotions.

After being invited to a Clarrissa Dolloway’s, Mabel has a special dress fashioned out of an old patterned yellow silk. Thinking she has created something beautiful and vintage, she arrives at the party and instantly has a change of heart. After seeing the other women she begins to have an internal dialogue that rips her self esteem apart. She begins imagining that the people around her are having secret conversations saying: “Whats Mabel wearing? What a fright she looks! What a hideous new dress!” (page 493). This continues until she decides to leave so that she may find a way to become better than all those at the party.

Mabel’s story sheds light on something I think we all do, but know I do all the time. Often in new crowds of people or when I’m somewhere I don’t belong, I start to talk myself into something untrue. Throughout the story Mabel is convincing herself in her head that the other guests are laughing at her new dress behind her back, and that she does not belong. As she most famously puts it, “No! it was not right” (page 492).

As I read her story I couldn’t help being reminded of something that happened to me, when we (English and Digital Humanities students that is) were all together for the orientation weekend. We were at the library and the baby was hungry, but I had no real convenient place to go. I ended up having to feed her in this single wooden chair that was in the ladies restroom. Just as I was thinking “O thank heavens no one is in here” a woman walked in. The entire time she was in the stall I was thinking things like my, “she probably think this is so weird I hope she isn’t one of those people that gawk at women breastfeeding openly.” When she was washer her hands I was trying to avoid eye contact until she finished and said to me: ” you are a beautiful momma, I hope I look half as good as you when I have a little one!” Needless to say, my day was made. From just a little thing I learned a valuable lesson. To Mabel she may have thought that “she was a fly, but the others were dragonflies, butterflies, beautiful insects, dancing, fluttering, skimming, while she alone dragged herself up out of the saucer” but most likely the others weren’t thinking that at all (498).

The overall theme of the story seemed to be about insecurity. Many aspects of our culture these days, especially fashion, drive us to constantly compare ourselves to others. We have always been a people scared of being different. For some unknown reason it is considered better to go with the crowd and not stand out. Sure one stupid man sounded hurtful about Mabel’s dress, but most likely the others were not talking about her at all. Yet, when we are in that state of insecurity its like we create and entirely imaginary world within our heads. If only we could always have the mindset she discovers in the end when she waves her hand to Charles and Rose “to show them she did not depend on them one scrap” (page 499).yellow-vintage-dress_400