“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.

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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

Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”

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“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (from the “The Seagull Reader”) was a surprisingly interesting short story. The subject matter is a controversial one in any era, so I cant imagine what people thought when it was read in the “spring of 1894” (page 120).

The story begins when Mrs. Mallard is told by her sister and and her husband’s friend, that they have read in the paper her husband was killed in a train accident. Immediately, she is hysterical. As the text puts it “she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms,” an excerpt that I thought was extremely powerful (page, 121). The words “wild abandonment” certainly do their job in portraying the heart break of the moment, because they are so strong. We are given a vivid image when Chopin says: “She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dream” (page 121). I found the authors ability to give a clear image of the scenario extraordinary!  As a mother I know exactly what she means about a child crying themselves to sleep.

Next, as Mrs. Mallard retreats to her room she begins to realize just what her husbands death means; which is where we see glints of the underlying feminism in the story. In a time when women were quite frankly enslaved to their husbands, she has been given a unique “get out of jail free card” of sorts. The text explains that ” she was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength” (page 121). The repression being that she has been held down or chained by her husband, and the strength hints to the reader that perhaps there is something more to her than just a common house wife. This is then confirmed later when you read that “she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” (page 122). Although she loved her husband, or at least as she puts it: “sometimes. Often she had not,” she cant help but feel a growing excitement that she is going to get a chance at a type of freedom women of her era just didn’t get. Though this sounds harsh its not meant to be. She loves her husband, but believes that any marriage is somewhat oppressive. Mrs.Mallard puts it: “kind intention or a cruel intention the act seems no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination” (page 122). In other words, even the happiest of marriages rob you of your freedom. She has an epiphany type moment as a result of Mr. Mallards death. The fact that she is sitting by an open window seeing an array of lovely things bustling outside, like patches of blue sky and distant songs, is a symbol of the exciting life awaiting her. Its like shes looking out that window into her future, or as the story puts it: ” drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (page 122).

I loved the word choice in the excerpt : “she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air” and “she was striving to beat it back with her will” (page 121). The feelings of grief are strong but the freedom awaiting her makes it difficult for her to help from becoming excited; though she is fighting the them because she feels guilty. I  can relate to this right now because I am in the process of moving to Portland. Our moms both live here and are devastated we are leaving, especially because of the grand-kids. However, we are so excited for a new adventure…which can be misunderstood as us being happy we’re leaving our mothers. Mrs. Mallard  isn’t happy her husband died, but rather that she is suddenly free to please only herself; which was an unheard of opportunity in her time. She says, “she knows she will weep again when she sees his kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead” (page 122). So we know she is upset he has died.

Finally, before leaving her room “she breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that light might be long” (page 122). This part was horribly sad in a sense, because to her marriage meant giving up fulfilling your dreams. Then as she comes back downstairs the door opens to her husband standing there. He is unaware of the accident and was actually no where near it. At the sight of him Mrs. Mallard dies of what the doctors say is “of the joy that kills” (page 122). Yet, really it is the sudden loss of complete joy that stops her already trouble afflicted heart.

What a powerful story! So many women in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s probably were surprised by it. But I wonder if their shock was because a women would react to their husband’s death in such a way, or that someone was saying what they all were thinking out loud. This story seems significant to me because it marks the turning point in history when women started to realize that something was off with the way we were being treated; and started to play with the idea of having their own dreams and goals beyond the kitchen and the bedroom.

Wasteland

Because T.S. Lewis’s The Wasteland is such a complex, and sometimes almost vague piece, the way each reader interprets the poem is unique. This is what I think Lewis meant when he said that we have the same interpretive rights as the author. To me this poem is solemn, it’s about the harsh reality of both his personal life and the world around him. I feel he is disgusted. In the first stanza he seems distraught that a midst all these horrible instances, like the war and flu outbreak, the world has the audacity to go on breeding and blooming like all the dead are to be forgotten. One great article I found said that “The Waste Land recognized that the traditional notions of society and culture had been, literally and physically, blown apart. He speaks of the comfort of winter like it masked the dreadful reality beneath by cover all in white. But now that the snow has melted it’s reviewed the ugly truth beneath it, theres is nothing to cover the graves and destruction that has been done.
http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=AmXnRqRR-9EC&oi=fnd&pg=PA7&dq=t.s+eliot+the+wasteland&ots=Ssu88B8YyR&sig=B56N7A1_pLh4AsspC-M6Y7fDMCI#v=onepage&q=t.s%20eliot%20the%20wasteland&f=false

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What’s Important?

In Howard Rheingolds book Net Smart we are faced with a question that few of us think to ask…am I using the Internet responsibly. The web has the ability both to take you to soaring heights, and bring you to the lowest of lows. This is what I feel the purpose of Net Smart is. Rheingold tries to open the readers eyes to see the full potential of what the Internet can be and the wasteful, sometimes even hurtful, way a lot of us are using it. For example, twitter can be used as this amazing way to collaborate and network with people, you would otherwise be unable to connect with, but it can also be a frivolous distraction from the physical world. This is also an important point made in Net Smart. We as users must be conscious of our virtual activity and remember that those emails or updates can wait. The real world is what’s important and the virtual one should be used to better our life in the physical world rather than inhibit our involvement in it. I love the part of the book where he says we should ask ourselves if we really need to be on the Internet right now? This just reminds me of something I heard one of the women on the view say when they were talking about being on your phone. She said she asks herself “is this really more important than spending time with my kids?” I think that type of thought is on the right track. The web is not meant to replace real life, simply to supplement it.

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http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/08/18/internet-obsession-or-addiction/1152.html