Love and Innocence

Field’s poem “Power in Silence” has a reoccurring motif about the importance of innocence, specifically focusing on the first and last stanzas. In the first stanza, the author is writing about her young lover. The young woman is “[her] girl”, a child, someone who does not have years of life experience yet to shape her person. The girl is “the light”, “she is the sapphire”, she “puts the music in the pearl”. Here, pearl is a metaphor for life and the author’s universe. The girl puts music—brings excitement, joy, comfort—in the author’s life. A pearl also represents purity and innocence. By putting music and giving life to these values, Field deems purity and innocence as healthy, prospering, and important for years to come. The sapphire stone likewise represents prosperity, beauty, inner peace, innocence, and good health. The girl is described as “royal” and “jeweled”, as are the values she embodies. The final line in this stanza is that she puts “the music in the pearl”, drawing the most attention to the figure of innocence spreading refreshing life and wellness into the world. In the final stanza of this poem, the motif about innocence is more upfront. Each line has at least one word that is associated or a description of purity and innocence. Words like “dove”, “wings”, “warm”, and “bird”. The word “light” is also repeated. A dove is white, which is the color of purity. Wings are fragile and angelic. Warmth is comforting. Birds are dainty and vulnerable. “Love” is the last word of this stanza, and the “Power in Silence” poem, meaning that love cherishes all this purity and innocence. 

Motifs within Greek Mythology

The Third Book of Songs begins by referencing a recurring motif of youth and old age through the Greek God Zeus. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Zeus” as the chief god of the ancient Greeks (OED), and is known throughout Greek mythology as the god of men. Michael Field could be potentially using Zeus and Greek mythology as a way to capture the readers rather than using Christianity and the bible.

In the first Stanza we see words next to each other like “useful day” and “all waxed gray,” which introduces the idea of growing from being naïve to wise.  When we grow up, society begins to mold different beliefs about sexuality and social norms. More specifically, when we see children, we often perceive them as innocent and not having such mature thoughts. One example of when we see this motif is when the stanza compares the young and old; the line states, “the tiny hand in eld’s weak palm.” I see this as the connection between the youthful life and the old life as it elaborates on the imagery of a life cycle. In the next stanza, another line states “we had never had one heart: by time set a space apart.” In this stanza that it could be showing how in this life we are following and have never found love. This could relate back to the authors speaking to their sexuality and never being able to love who they love because society does not allow it.

When we examine the author we can see this story carries a deeper meaning. While the story was written under Michael Newfield, the writers were actually two women. When we learn about our authors, we can see how they felt a need to hide their gender and sexual identities through the text and their own lives. More specifically, when we look deeper into the text, we see that the authors used religion as a way to express their prejudices. In this story about Greek mythology we see undertones of homophobia being shined through with religious practices.  This relates back to their lives and struggles being lesbians in a time where homosexuality was not accepted.

Death is not the end, but the chance to start anew

The motif of death comes up a lot in all of the books and seems to change from a more positive outlook, to one that is dark and macabre as the books progress. Initially in Book 1, the Field puts forth the notion that death is something that should not be feared and paints death to be as comforting as a “tender hand” (Field 8) and a “warm, soft, permeable mound” (Field 8), as expressed in the “Death, men say, is like a sea” poem. This poem uses the reasoning that death help one forget their mistakes and sins that they have committed in their life, as a way to prove the gentle and welcoming nature of death. The same perceptions of death are actually first expressed in the beginning poem of the entire collection, “Mortal, if thou art beloved”, as the poem starts by stating that if “[m]ortal, if thou beloved/Life’s offences are removed” (Field 5), reinforcing the idea that death gives you a fresh start and it is not something that should be frightening. This perspective stays true for the first two books, but changes in the third.

In Book 3 and onward, there are more references to places and members in the underworld that is seen in Greek mythology. For example the poem, “Acheron”, refers to a river in Greece, but also exists in Greek mythology as it was thought to be connected to the underworld and means “River of Woe” (Acheron). The poem depicts the scene of someone guiding their loved one to death, which alludes to the mythical figure, Charon, who is a ferryman who resides in the Underworld and guides souls. The poem offers a unique view on death, which is introduced in the first line “[t]hou must not leave me!” (Field 50). This exclamation literally expresses the desire to stay with one’s partner, but also insinuates on a deeper level, a rejection of death as it is separating two lovers. The following poem, “It was deep April, and the morn”, also picks on the presence of Greek mythology rooted in death and the underworld, by including Lethe, another river in the underworld, and Charon.

The reversal of emotions towards death continues as the poems about death become more melancholy and eerie. One poem to note is, “There comes a change in her breath”, which literally describes a woman dying in her sleep, and instead of seeing the good in death, the poem roots itself in looking at the situation from losing one’s life, as seen in the lines “[o] life at ebb, O life at flow” (Field 51) and “Her life, her breath!” (Field 51). And lastly, the ending poem of the poem collection offers an interesting outlooks on the relationship between life and death through the imagery of a phoenix. Once again, there are positive imagery and emotions being attributed to death in the same way as the beginning of the collection. Like a phoenix dies and leaves its previous life and sins behind, Field asserts the same thing can be done for humans due to death.

This change is essential as it could allude to the health issues that Katharine and Edith had to struggle through, so their concept of death could have changed when getting cancer and knowing that could die and leave each other alone, which ended up happening. It is also essential to note this change in emotion towards death as it offers comfort and solace to those who are dying or have loved ones who are dead, but also does not ignore the pain and emotional turmoil that one feels from loss and death. Finally, the notion of death as a reset to start again, is the most essential, as it could be a self-comforting mechanism that Katharine and Edith developed due to their illnesses.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Acheron”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 Feb. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/place/Acheron. Accessed 15 September 2021.

What exactly is a ‘comic’, anyways?

The funny thing about comics is that they’ve never been taken super seriously as a literary medium in critical conversation. The more ironic thing is that right now, the comic book as a medium is responsible for much of popular culture discourse — adaptations of comic books are leading Hollywood’s TV shows and movie spheres, from the likes of the DC TV shows on the CW to Marvel’s cinematic universe blockbusters.
Comic books, usually when brought up evoke a very specific image as the Keywords for Comic Studies essay on the topic discusses. In the Jared Gardner essay, he goes over the various forms of publications that have been referred to as comic books throughout history. First were “autho-litographies” and other visual prints that were developed starting in the 1860s, and cartoons were regularly published in periodicals in that period. Newspaper comic reprints eventually took over as the dominant form of comics, with compilations later becoming the ‘comic book’. Eventually in the 1940s, after the Great Depression, superhero comics led the medium with the rise of Marvel and DC.
Modern comics have now evolved a little, with superhero comics still leading the pack, other forms have become popular. Graphic novels are on the rise now, gaining in popularity outside of the Marvel/DC dominated landscape. A recent Washington Post article examines this popularity boom, noting that among young readers literary graphic novels were selling well (MacPherson). MacPherson also points out another interesting debate at the heart of comic books as a critical medium:

“Before we go any further, though, here’s another question at the heart of the matter: Should we call these books “comics” or “graphic novels”? Over the years, “comics” has become something of a pejorative, meaning a less-than-literary book played for laughs. “Graphic novel” sounds more highbrow, but it’s not always correct, given that many of these books now are memoirs and other kinds of nonfiction. In addition, some people still get tripped up by the multiple meanings of the word “graphic” (MacPherson).

The debate about taking comics seriously critically also comes into the terminology of what is a comic book, and if calling a comic a graphic novel makes it more acceptable as a literary work. Interestingly, American comics are also losing popularity. Eastern comic books, particularly Japanese manga are now regularly outselling American superhero comics for many reasons, as Stratos notes in a report that compiled reactions to this statement.

I personally find it a very interesting medium, and I think it deserves more critical and scholarly attention. Graphic novels, comics, manga etc. are now all rising in popularity for distinct reasons, dominating the cultural landscape somehow in conversation. Dismissing it would be a disservice and a failure on the literature academia world’s part to understand how this medium is thriving today. The debate about what constitutes a comic is an examinable one as well, and maybe part of the conversation about why critical conversation is lagging in discussing the medium.

Works Cited

Gardner, Jared, and Jared Gardner. “Comic Book.” Keywords, 1 Jan. 2021, keywords.nyupress.org/comics-studies/essay/comic-book/.

MacPherson, Karen. “Perspective | Don’t Be Afraid to Let Children Read Graphic Novels. They’re Real Books.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Feb. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/dont-be-afraid-to-let-children-read-graphic-novels-theyre-real-books/2020/02/27/ed374b92-4dd7-11ea-9b5c-eac5b16dafaa_story.html.
Stratos. “Worldwide, Manga Is Outselling American Comics.” UltraMunch, 28 May 2021, ultramunch.com/worldwide-manga-is-outselling-american-comics/.

The Anxiety of Losing Love

In Michael Field’s Underneath the Bough, there seems to be a recurring pattern of switching back and forth between an emphasis on love or an emphasis on death.  Specifically at the beginning of book five on page 80, Michael Field quite directly switches back and forth either one line after another or by having the mentions broken up by a few lines.  The speaker seems to be lying on her deathbed in the first stanza, then imagines two lovers together, and then returns to the present as the speaker and her companion await a dreadful fate.  In the first stanza, Field states “A woman is lying in her shroud/ To whom a lover has never vowed”.  Here, the death of this woman highlights the absence of romantic love in her life.  Death seems to extinguish any potential for love.  When the second stanza mentions the two lovers, it describes them embracing as “the winter daylight died”.  In the last stanza, Michael Field states, “Then we forgot the lovers; for the room/ Was filling with a doom”, which again brings together this union of love and death.  The speaker and her companion cannot acknowledge love, for themselves or others, as death is upon them.  Love only exists in the silent expression of holding hands.

This brief poem of book five highlights a recurring pattern across all the books in Underneath the Bough.  Field makes direct connection to love and death all throughout.  As the speaker grapples with their existence between these two harsh outcomes, the collection offers perhaps the idea that death often allows people to realize that authentic love is present.  Across books, another brief example of this pattern is at the end of book three in the poem titled “Daybreak”.  Field writes, “And yet choose to wake in death? / Eros, while my Love has breath / I will breathe beside her” (55).  The speaker will express their love until ultimately death consumes one or both of them.  In this collection, as I have tracked through these two brief instances, any mention of love seems to be immediately followed by a mention of death.  It’s almost as if Michael Field’s acknowledgement of love, and the happiness and warmth it provides, simultaneously identifies their anxieties about an impending death, often for only one half of the couple.      

Breath and Wind in Underneath the Bough

There are so many ways we can play with the idea of wind through language – can comment on the state of life with the phrase “winds of change” or we can set the tone of an entire work of literature by telling our readers that it was “a dark and stormy night” where winds blew the roofs off houses. There is literary fun to be had with the idea of wind because it is tangible and powerful, yet ever-changing and invisible. These characteristics of wind can then be applied to what they represent such as the overwhelming experience of love or the inevitable promise of death. In my reading of the Michael Fields collection of poems Underneath the Bough, I observed how the authors play with the motif of wind or air in many different circumstances to convey concepts that are also above human control but have a great effect on life.

I think that this interest in the air as a concept can be seen in Michael Feilds’ interest in higher powers and how we are ruled by them or how we interact with them. This is especially apparent in their fascination with the Greek Gods of old, especially with Zeus as he was king of the gods and the god of thunder (you can’t have a thunderstorm without the winds that push the cloud formations). Whenever “wind” is named, it is a force that moves others, not the force that is controlled by anyone. For example in A girl on page 51, there is a single line pertaining to “wind” which may seem insignificant “Like aspen-leaflets trembling in the wind” (Fields 51). Then again on page 53 when the wind “takes the crest of my waves resurgent”(Fields 53). This is not just flowery imagery meant to transport you to lovely settings, it connects these poems to the whole of the collection through its attitude towards wind and how it has power over everything.

I was intrigued by the poem on page 51, There comes a change in her breath because it does not speak of powerful winds which chill the bones or knock down trees, but of one person’s breath and how it represents their being. In the greater context of this wind motif, this describes how the wind within ourselves, our breath, acts as our own power which is only a small part of the higher power of worldly winds. As they write in this poem “Her life! Her breath!” as if to say that they are one and the same. Air is a force that makes flowers’ “petals backward curled” and on which “fragrance” is carried (Field 52, 54). Much like love and life, it can be cruel and kind. There are many other poems in this series such as Daybreak and A valley of oak-trees that deal with air and what it carries, both healing and trauma, so its presence cannot be ignored in this series nor the significance of its power. Wind and air in their many forms are used to convey large ideas because they are just as large, but perhaps better understood by all humans who live on this earth.

Baldwin on Black Male Identity in the United States

According to “Keywords for African American Studies”, two essential keywords within African American Studies are, unsurprisingly, “diaspora” and “race”. These keywords are at the foundation of the binary between Black male identity and the United States. Alluding to the diaspora and focusing on race, in this excerpt from “The Fire Next Time”, James Baldwin affirms this binary but shows that it collapses when the young Black man realizes that he must fall into a minimized identity—what he calls “a gimmick”— to survive.


Even though the diaspora is not explicitly discussed in this passage, Baldwin alludes to it by creating distance between himself and the United States. He refers to the United States as “this republic” and “this country”. He strays from any possession or affiliation. In contrast, he speaks on race without hesitance. He writes “I was icily determined…to die and go to Hell before I would let any white man spit on me”. An understanding of these keywords lays the groundwork for the binary between Black male identity and the United States.


By using progressive diction to enforce logic, Baldwin proclaims the universality of his explanation to all Black men in the United States. For example, he writes “I did not intend to allow the white people of this country to tell me who I was, and limit me that way, and polish me off that way. And yet, of course, at the same time, I was being spat on and defined and described and limited” (Baldwin). The use of “and yet, of course” in this sentence enforces an assumption of understanding and universality. His logic progresses through this transition, leaving no room for confusion.


Further, Baldwin’s use of em dashes maneuver time and emphasize the development of this conflict throughout (his, and) Black male life. In all three instances that he pauses mid-sentence, he references the past. He writes, “I was icily determined—more determined, really, than I then knew—never to make my peace with the ghetto”. These transfers to the past show that the conflict between his identity and the United States was already budding. These repetitive reflections reinforce that the binary was always there.


In the end, these elements apply a gravity to his collapse of the binary, when he states: “Every Negro boy—in my situation during those years, at least—who reaches this point realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a “thing”, a gimmick, to lift him out, to start him on his way.” Here, the binary collapses because, to survive, the Black male has to shape his identity in a way that the United States will accept. The conflict between Black male identity and the United States still exists, but the first must give into the other. Through these elements, Baldwin applies unavoidability and universality to this claim.

Nature is the Natural Metaphor

In this week’s blog, I decided to read and analyze Psalm 91 of the Old Testament. The Psalm relies on imagery and metaphors of nature to articulate a sense of hope for trusting in “God” (91:1). The nature of this metaphor resembles similar metaphors that exist in Micheal Field’s, Underneath the Bough– where the environmental nature connects to human nature. 

The Psalm establishes a symbolic presentation of the life of a bird and our own human life. The song first begins with an allusion to extraneous stories in the Bible. For example, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High/ will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (91:2). A reference to “Most High” alludes to other mentions of God in the Bible; however, literally, the highest place of dwelling would be trees, directly connecting birds to the song (91:1). Birds have a distinct physical trait that distinguishes them from any other animal– that is — they can fly. Due to their ability to dwell in the air and high places like trees, their natural being separates them and protects them from many dangers that lurk on the surface of the Earth. In the eyes of humans, they seem to be protected by this seemingly magical ability. Thus, birds are a perfect metaphorical partner to God-protected humans, as they share a seemingly magical presence of protection. 

The metaphor to birds become more explicit in the proceeding lines: 

“Surely he will save you/ from the fowler’s snare/ He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings, you will find refuge;/ …You will not fear/…the arrow that flies by day” (91:5-12). 

The bird imagery begins with “the fowler’s snare” (91:6). A fowler, according to Merriam Webster, is a person who hunts wildfowl. A snare is the typical type of trap used to capture birds and other small animals. 

The song uses these metaphors to construct a representation of evil that resides in everyday life. However, the “feathers” of the Almighty will protect all who take shelter underneath his wings (91:8). Thus, the song uses the metaphor of a bird’s wings protecting other birds to God’s protection over humans. 

Even those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” will not fear the “arrow that flies by day” (91:1,12). Humans historically used arrows for hunting birds. We have evolved from a hunting and gathering society, so arrows were a way to capture food. Despite this, birds would have continued to fly through the air– without an ounce of fear. In these lines, the arrows symbolize the similar threats that we face in everyday life. Hardships like death, malice, heartbreak, disease, tragedy, and every other adversity humans face. Yet, like birds, humans would have no fear with the “trust” in “the Almighty” (91:4,2). 

Nature presents many natural metaphors that connect to human nature. Similar to Micheal Field’s Underneath the Bough, Psalm 91 uses natural elements, specifically birds, to articulate and perpetuate ideas of hope for humans. The bird metaphor in this Psalm speaks to the power the “Most High” possesses in protecting those who love the Lord (91:1).


	

What’s Underneath Michael Field’s Bough Motif

The motif of the bough, or tree branch, was something that stood out to me due to its significance within Field’s title. In Books 3, 4, and 5, the bough is mentioned three times on three different types of trees. The first time it is mentioned in this section is in “Forsaken,”when Field writes; “Have you seen the olives at set of sun,/… That tossed him his sparkles, snatched his rays,/ Becomes a region of limitless grays,/ Dead, bough on bough” (52). The bough in question here is on an olive tree, which is loaded in literary significance in its allusions to the Bible and Greek mythology as a symbol of peace, goodwill, or friendship. What’s interesting here is that the olive branch has died, perhaps symbolizing a loss of friendship or, when considering the context of Underneath the Bough, the loss of “Beloved.” The olive tree is also closely tied to the repeatedly referenced Greek god Apollo, who symbolizes music, arts, the sun, and poetry. This allusion to Apollo could also explain the use of the “he” pronoun in relation to the sun and olive tree. Thus, the olive bough here represents the loss of Beloved not only as a friend, but also as a creative partner in a joint artistic endeavor after the “sun has set” on their time together. 

A bough is soon mentioned again two pages later, yet this time it is the branch of a cherry tree; “In woods, what is more dear/ Than a cherry bough, bees feeding near/ In the soft, proffered blooms? Lo, I/ Am fed and honored thus” (54). This vision is in complete contrast to the former, as rather than a branch of gray olives, here is a branch of cherry blossoms being pollinated by bees. Field continually juxtaposed life and death in the Books, and they do so here as well. Upon this branch, new life is blooming and the speaker is being “fed” by the blossoms like the bees. This could again be a metaphor for creativity and poetic inspiration after the speaker has reckoned with the loss of Beloved; there is rebirth and creation in these lines.

Lastly, Field mentions a bough much later again in Book 5 and dedicates a whole individual poem to it. In “One Branch,” they write; “A branch of wild-rose buds/ In sunny studs/ of orange-red, flecked by the warm, diffused,/ Violet flowers,/ Breathing a breath transfused…”  (89). This imagery is warm, welcoming, and literally flourishing with life, as the rose-buds are described to be “breathing.” Field’s moves from the initial dead olive branch, to the blossoming cherry tree, and to the lively rose branch illustrate the stages of life but also perhaps the stages of grief and healing. I think that overall, the bough motif can represent a specific locale of poetic expression that reflects the mood and creativity of the speaker. This expression is seemingly only possible in nature, which serves as a source of sustenance and inspriation. Being “underneath” a bough also connotes a sense of shelter, with the rich poetic cycles of life and nature surrounding. 

Diasporic Queer Asian American

Keyword: “Diasporic Queer Asian American”

This term is impossibly loaded–though it is not impossible, only barely possible. Each word can be a keyword on its own, but because the subject that I always seem to be interested in is at the crux and intersection of this encompassing term. I am looking at Ocean Vuong’s collection of poetry Night Sky with Exit Wounds whose speaker at large is a Vietnamese refugee who becomes Vietnamese American through the geographical act of refuge in the US; the speaker’s queer body and linguistic journey is spun/torn around in the web of imperialism, colonialism, familial (and other kinds of)  kinship. So, to bear all these markers of reality at once is to be fragmented in the living experience: the body is fragmented, the language is fragmented, the subjectivity is fragmented. (And this hasn’t considered yet other markers of gender, disability, class, religion, etc.).

To think of Vietnam and the Vietnamese language is not to think of a pure language and unified country because the history of Vietnam is the history of colonization and imperialism: prominently by the Chinese, the French, the American. So, the language (romanized by French missionaries) and the body (subjugated continually to ideological regimes) have been hybridized, altered to the point where there is no such thing as the original.

For now, I believe these markers have to be examined simultaneously because Vuong’s poem asks me to; he has found a way to express a diasporic queer Vietnam American subject in his poetics (or so I think) (the works I’m thinking of are listed below). So, the questions arise: how to write linearly about the form and content of such intertwined and inextricable experiences? How does the diasporic queer Asian American subject process their intertwined experiences?  How can one find belonging, kinship, and home when the word home is so fraught? How can one heal from the violence that has been wrought upon one’s body and language? Can one aim towards unity from such bodily and linguistic fragmentation?  Is it possible to heal?

Vuong’s work:

Poem 1: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/152940/not-even-this

Poem 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u3o615KRog

Novel 1: On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous