February 2011


In this category, students experiment with textual criticism, weighing in on which version of Ariel an English class should read.  The version that Ted Hughes edited and published, to enormous international effect, in 1965 and 1966 (UK and US)?  The version that Plath left in a binder on her desk when she died?  A hybrid version, as one can reconstruct through The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, which was published about 15 years after her death?

After reading “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” again, I realized that I began to question Yeats’ methods in the poem.  I began to wonder why he used the specific rhyme scheme, and why the poem was structured in a specific way.  I wondered why the title was structured similarly to the way the poem was as well.  Yeats’ way of describing the Airman’s feelings was tough to understand at first, but then i again questioned why the Airman’s feelings were explained in 4 separate parts of the poem.  I also began to wonder why Yeats’  ended the poem with the Airman foreseeing his death, as well as starting off the poem the same way.  Now after reading it again, I’m starting to believe the purpose of everything was to have the reader question aspects of the poem, and wonder why it ended the way it did.

After re-reading the poem “This Is a Photograph of Me” by Margaret Atwood I realized the many different ways I could have shaped my essay.

Margaret Atwood was a renowned feminist and the invisibility the narrator felt could have been translated as a form of female oppression.  The narrator was invisible and unnoticeable which meant she was unimportant to the world just as feminists believed that men made women unimportant through female oppression.  Also, the poem could have been viewed as a literal suicide with the “ghost” telling the reader about her suicide through the description of the photograph.

The larger question to this poem would have been whether Atwood was the speaker of the poem or not.  If Atwood herself was the speaker the poems meaning would have had another dimension of meaning as the poem would have been grounded in reality.

If I were to re-look at “The Wheel” by Yeats, I would look at the poem through the lens of either Yeats as an old man or the colonization of Ireland by England. “The Wheel” deals with how we as humans perceive time. As an old man, this could be Yeats reflecting on getting closer to the end of his life. In a more tangible context, I could look at how Yeats sees the experience of Ireland through time. Whether  Yeats sees Ireland’s freedom in the future or if Yeats believes England will never let Ireland go. A formalist question would be whether the poem holds the two views of time, linear and circular together or if one takes precedent over the other.

The poem “A Prayer for My Son” by William Butler Yeats turned out to have a lot more dimension to its content and structure than I had originally perceived. The title for a while didn’t cross my mind as anything important other than as a means of telling the reading  the general idea of the poem. But then I looked further into it, and with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary, I looked into the other definition of the word “prayer.” In my first draft I brushed aside the first definition of prayer (one who prays) because it seemed so basic and obvious that it was unimportant and couldn’t possibly be relevant to the structure. But as I continued working on my paper, I realized that the title was the start of  the poems ambiguity. In addition, it was a way for Yeats to test the reader to see which way they interpreted the word and depending on how one interprets the title, the entire meaning of the poem is altered. After picking up on the double meaning of the word, my entire essay went in a different direction and focused on Yeats’ use of ambiguity and tied the idea to the ambiguity associated with both religion and life. I found it very telling that Yeats focused on two very broad topics (religion and life) and was able to show the ambiguity with both  by passing the ambiguity off with the use of prayer and birth, two essential elements to religion and life.

After reading, and then re-reading my poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, one important factor of the poem I found very interesting are the allusions Poe uses to represent the narrator’s subconscious that instinctively understands his desire to obsess and mourn. These allusions relate back to the main symbol of the poem, the talking raven, in an organized, structured way that provides in-depth analysis of the overall depressed tone of the poem. For example, the setting of the poem takes place at midnight during a “bleak December.” The month December has been traditionally associated with the forces of darkness, adding to the already morbid tone of the poem. The narrator goes on to mention other allusions, such as the “Night’s Plutonian Shore,” which describes the underworld in ancient Roman mythology as the place from which the “ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly Shore-” that “perched above my chamber door,” and the allusions to Hugin and Munin, two talking ravens representing thought and memory in ancient Norse mythology.

One thing that I came upon while reading “Oranges” the second time as well as reviewing my essay was the importance of the title. Upon my first reading, I didn’t really take into consideration the effect of the word oranges and it’s effect on the poem. Two things I noticed were the literal and metaphorical meaning of the word. The literal meaning I felt was important because the poem takes place on a cold, December day, so in focusing on a tropical fruit like an orange, I think there is some irony there (which I plan to discuss in my revision). The metaphorical way it was used is that in eating an orange we have to “unpeel,” it to get to it’s core and I think the poem too is written to be “unraveled.” Both of these observations I plan to dissect in my essay.

One observation about “The Wheel” is that there are only two pronouns in the entire poem: “we” and “our”. Both these pronouns are first person plural. The lack of pronouns makes it harder to distinguish between who is doing the action. In the first four lines, “Through winter-time we call on/ spring,/ And through spring on summer call,/ And when abounding hedges ring/ Declare that winter’s best of all;” there are three clear verbs (“call”, “ring”, “declare”) with only one pronoun. This also reflects the subtle yearning of the approaching season in the sense that one does not think about the fact that according to the speaker of the poem they are always waiting for the next season.

One particular element that I noticed when reading (and re-reading) Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the imagery he uses at this fork in the road. To describe the literal road not taken, in lines 7 and 8 he says, “And having perhaps the better claim/ Because it was grassy and wanted wear”. Frost gives a visual representation of the path in order to describe the fact that this is the path that is less traveled than the other one. In the next stanza (lines 11 and 12), he says “And both that morning equally lay/ In leaves no step had trodden black”. He uses imagery again to describe that the leaves laid equally on both paths in the morning, signifying that both of the paths showed no mark of being traveled upon. The use of imagery in this poem shows how Frost was lead to believe that he was taking less traveled path, however once he had started to travel, he realized that the paths were actually traveled quite equally.

Lines 9-10: “Though as for the passing there/ Had worn them really about the same”

This poem uses form to express the opposition that develops between the speaker’s homeland and Byzantium. He uses diction to express this tension by comparing the young and old. The young are described to be vibrant and “sensual;” whereas the old are “tattered coat[s] upon a stick.” The speaker then transitions into apostrophe, which emphasizes the theme of the natural vs unnatural world. He asks for the divine to separate his soul from this “dying animal” and to recreate him as a mechanized, golden bird. This image directly conflicts with the imagery presented at the beginning of the poem as the speaker mentions birds sitting in a tree in his description of “that [...] country.”

This is a quick overview of the ways in which form affect and add to the meaning of “Sailing to Byzantium.” To see more of why form matters, you’ll have to read my paper…

One formal element to Under Ben Bulben is the rhyme scheme. Throughout the entire poem, Yeats writes with a slant rhyme where the words sound similar and are close to rhyming but don’t 100% match up. However, in the 5th stanza, the poem turns into perfect rhyming couplets. This rhyming puts an emphasis on the fifth stanza because it is the first group of lines that actually rhyme. In addition, Yeats opens with discussing Irish culture and the intellectuals of Ireland and then does not mention Irish culture throughout the rest of the poem, until we reach the 5th stanza. Because he does not mention Ireland until the end of the poem and then makes the end the only rhyming stanza signifies Yeats emphasis on Irish culture and the 5th stanza of the poem. My interpretation is that this stanza is Yeats’ last words and last command to poets to make an impression on future generations.

When reading “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” I noticed a few things.  I saw that Yeats used symbolism and word choice a lot to represent the thoughts of the airman.  In my essay I’ll discuss the different times Yeats represents this with foreshadowing and how it plays a part in describing the airman.  I had to read the poem a few times before I actually realized the airman believed he would actually die doing his “job”.  Though at first I felt writing 6 pages would be difficult, the variety of symbolism and word choice in relation to the character and his feelings are going to make it a little easier for me.

In This Is a Photograph of Me, by Margaret Atwood. This poems narrative style and metaphors convey a message of invisibility, confusion, despair and hopelessness.  The narrative style of the poem allows for an intimate reading of the poem, as if the author is sitting across from you and describing the photograph itself.   The metaphors allude to a sense of despair where suicide is the only way out (“the photograph was taken /the day after I drowned”). 

For example, in the last two lines of the sixth stanza and the complete last stanza, metaphors to a spiritual rebirth can be found. “The effect of water/ on light is a distortion/ but if you look long enough, /eventually/you will be able to see me.”  There is no sense of suicide in these lines instead there is a sense of happiness.  “Water/on light is a distortion” is a metaphor for the happiness the speaker feels letting go of everything that held the speaker down even though the speaker has committed suicide.  

The speaker then continues to say “but if you look long enough, /eventually/you will be able to see me.”  The idea of not being able to physically see the speaker in the photograph is a metaphor for not being able to see her when she was alive.  The speaker felt invisible when she was alive and still feels invisible while she is dead.  Yet, the feeling of despair and loneliness has left her spirit.  The speaker now feels happy and free.  Despite committing suicide the speaker feels as if for the first time the reader can truly see her, if they look hard enough.

In this category, the writers air one of their main close reading observations about the poem they’ve chosen.  Rather than simply telling us that “form is meaning”–e.g., that word choice or allusion or line breaks or metrical irregularities are meaningful–these posts show us something awesome about how a poem works.  How does your poem, in its patterns and its variations from its patterns, convey meaning?

The poem I am going to write about is “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. This poem incorporates imagery with allusion, as well as other important poetic terms. However, the story about how a talking raven follows a distraught man’s slow descent into madness is the most intriguing reason as to why I chose this poem.

The poem that I am going to write about is called “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. I am not a huge Frost follower, however the name of this poem really caught my eye. The idea of having to choose between two plausible options at a fork in the road is extremely interesting and one that I can relate to; literally when I drive in and out of NYC (extremely confusing) and figuratively in life in situations when you can’t “have your cake and eat it too”. There is also a particular uncertainty about this poem that attracted me from the minute I saw the name.

That poem I have chosen for my close reading essay is “The Wheel” by Yeats. In many of Yeats poems he asks questions, but in “The Wheel” he actually ends giving what seems to be an answer: “Is but its longing for the Tomb.” The ending is pretty dark. Also when I first read this poem I instantly had the urge to reread it, which I figure is a good sign.

The poem I’m going to write about is called “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by Yeats.  When I first read this poem it caught my attention quickly, maybe because it’s short and simple.  I honestly have no clue as to how I’ll write an essay on this, but I’m sure after reading it a bunch of times I’ll see and understand aspects of the poem that I didn’t catch at first.  The poem describes one mans feelings towards his “job”, something he doesn’t dislike but doesn’t love at the same time.  When I read it the second time I was able to put myself in the perspective of the character, and that allowed me to enjoy the poem more.  I like it because it has that strange sense of predicting death, which to some may come off as weird.  Once I fully dedicate myself to understand this poem completely, I’m sure it’ll make a good essay.

The poem I chose to write my close reading assignment on is titled, “Oranges,” written by Gary Soto. I picked this poem out of chance, by flipping through the book. After reading it, I immediately enjoyed it. I automatically became eager to dissect it’s finer elements that are beneath the page. The poem is about a boy who tells a story about the first time he walked with a girl. The poem incorporates vivid images allowing the reader to visualize this young boy on his first, “date.” What struck me about this poem was it’s simplicity, however, I think there’s alot more to this poem and I am very excited to delve further into it.

The poem that I am going to write my close reading essay about is Yeats’ poem “Prayer for my Son.” While I am still somewhat hesitant about being able to write four pages on such a short poem I think it will be good for me to write the paper about it because of the impact the poem had on me. While I understand I can’t write my paper about my emotions, I plan to use my reaction to the poem and look at specific reasons why I had the reaction I did. If my immediate appearance fooled anyone, I am incredibly Irish and Yeats’ poems interest me because all four of my grandparents came to America from Ireland. The poem focuses on the relationship between father and son, something which I can see from experience in two generations; the first being with my grandfather and his four sons, and the second with my dad and my brother. I hope to channel my emotions about the poem and experiences from my family to understand why the poem was as successful as it was when portraying the message.

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