40 Matching Annotations
  1. Dec 2015
    1. who reappeared on the West Coast

      With each stanza, you get a sense of a people emptily wandering from place to place, in vain search of fulfillment or even just pleasure. It reminds me of Helga, in Nella Larsen's novel, who seeks spiritual satisfaction all over America (and in Denmark), failing to understand or acknowledge the root of her discontent.

    2. Paterson

      Ginsberg grew up in Paterson, but could this also be an illusion to William Carlos Williams' similarly epic poem, "Paterson?" In "Howl," Ginsberg seems to be interested in the modernist generation of writers and thinkers, what they accomplished and what became of them, so I'm wondering if there are further calls to Williams, or to other modernist writers like Eliot, who were similarly concerned with the degradation of humankind and the inability to resolve issues like war, industry, capitalism in works like "The Wasteland" and "To Elsie."

  2. Nov 2015
    1. The Waste Land

      The epigraph to Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” written in Greek and Latin, is a quote from Petronius’ Satyricon, and reads (approximately) in English,

      “I have seen with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her ‘What do you want?’ She answered, ‘I want to die.’ ”

      The tragic story of Cumaean Sibyl, a Greek prophetess, recounts the negotiation between Apollo and Sibyl, who bargained for immortality but made the mistake of neglecting to wish for eternal youth, and thus withered away for near eternity until she was small enough to live in a jar. Image Description

      In this myth, Sibyl suffers a slow and painful exile that culminates in her caged isolation, her jar a constant reminder of her tragic mistake. In the case of Sibyl, eternal life is a kind of exile, for she has been banished to a thousand years of feeling herself deteriorate--by the time she is small enough to live hanging in a jar, she only wishes for death. In this instance, before the poem has even begun, Eliot presents exile as punishment, something so painfully isolating that it would drive a powerful, near-immortal prophetess like Sibyl to suicidal pleas. In the instance of Sibyl, exile is torment not just because she has become isolated from humanity, but because there is no foreseeable end. Figures like Sybil, Philomel, and Phlebas are not able to roam or wander the scorched earth; instead, they are tethered (temporally, spatially, existentially) to their exile, suspended within a nightmarish iteration of solitary confinement that demands for a reconsideration of values such as immortality and transformation.

      Eliot has not yet begun to complicate his exploration of exile and its effects; here, he offers the image of a prophetess, a clairvoyant with access to the divine, begging for death after undergoing the torment of eternity. Later, with his other allusions to exile with figures like Philomel and Tiresias, Eliot indicates that there exists the possibility of redemption, even exaltation, coloring the experience of exile as something at once traumatizing and transformative.

    2. The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale  100 Filled all the desert with inviolable voice And still she cried, and still the world pursues, “Jug Jug” to dirty ears.

      The Greek myth of Philomel depicts an Athenian princess who, after being raped and mutilated by her brother-in-law, transforms into a nightingale. In this tale she has been exiled from humanity and robbed of her ability to communicate with other people with words, but her story can never be forgotten; instead, it lives on and "fills all the desert with inviolable voice," forever reminding humanity of her unjust fate, her trauma rewarded with supernatural transfiguration. Image DescriptionWithin the context of "The Wasteland," Philomel exemplifies the exiled figure that recurs throughout the poem. Other notable figures of exile in “The Wasteland” include Tiresias (from “The Fire Sermon”), a blind prophet was was transformed into a woman for seven years; and Phlebas the Phoenician (from “Death by Water”), who dies and is exiled to the River Styx, where he “enters the whirlpool” of other mortals. What these particular figures of exile have in common is an experience of empowerment and transformation in their exile. Philomela, no longer a human, has the power of transfiguration; Tiresias, no longer a man, gains a particular understanding of both masculinity and femininity, a second sight no one else possesses; Phlebas, no longer alive, reflects on life from Styx and understands mortality, a knowledge one can only gain after experiencing death.

      With this, Eliot expresses multiple attitudes towards exile. For him, exile can be something liberating and restorative, giving those like Philomel (and Tiresias and Phlebas) the power to transcend their trauma and gain a unique understanding of humanity and existence as an outsider. However, Eliot also illustrates that exile is still, after all, exile: it is an experience so alienating (and dehumanizing, in the case of Eliot’s hyperbolic figures) that it drives its victim to a point of meditative isolation. In “The Wasteland,” where Eliot crafts a landscape of a barren and desolate sprawl, it may be the case that everyone in the poem is a figure of exile. After all, “the nymphs are departed” (line 179)—there is no pleasure or joy that can be had anymore, and all of humanity has abandoned this scorched earth. There is nowhere else to go, and thus they wander. “The Wasteland” depicts a disconnect of humans between themselves and each other most explicitly with figures like Philomel, with her lonely cries of “Jug Jug” to dirty ears (103), but the poem asserts a loss of community and communication between all of its numerous characters and voices, a cacophony of the lost and the exiled.

  3. Oct 2015
    1. You sang: Bye and bye I’m gonna lay down dis heaby load . . .

      Brown's explicit inclusion of folk songs as a contrasting image to the continued subjugation of African Americans is so effective in both driving his opposition between "they" and "you" in the poem, and juxtaposing/comparing Black art and the Black struggle. By specifically incorporating verses from folk songs, Brown illustrates two simultaneous effects of Black exploitation: the bitterness and anger, as well as optimism and strengthening.

    2. Strong men. . . . Stronger. . . .

      These ominously ambiguous final lines (and the core idea of the poem in general) really remind me of Levine's "They Feed They Lion." The tension builds in similar ways and one gets a sense of a forthcoming climax or resolution.

    3. “Ma Rainey” (1932)

      Here's a helpful, illuminating article about dialect poetry and its purposes/effects. With "Ma Rainey," not only does Sterling Brown use an African American dialect to reflect (and make visible) the authentic way a people talked, he also effectively makes a politicized statement about how a language doesn't need to be the "standard," "proper" English in order to be poetic or literary. Reading the unfamiliar English of "Ma Rainey" felt a lot like reading something like Chaucer or Wycliffe, where you have to slow down to savor and process the poem's sentiments and sounds.

    1. “Ain’t got nobody in all this world, Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

      While this is a classic theme of blues, it seems reflective of Modernism itself, with its melancholic assertion of individual experience, alienation, and disillusionment with the modern world.

    2. I, too, am America.

      Hughes' speaker is making a statement about the multiplicity of voices in the American canon--he critiques the assertion that we discussed briefly in class, that the white experience is a universal experience, asserting his desire for inclusion and acceptance.

    1. Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

      "Death by Water" tells a story of a Phoenician named Phlebas, who was apparently great in his lifetime, but has now died and "enters the whirlpool" (the river Styx, which is said to exist in between earth and the underworld), as death has disregarded his greatness. The speaker says "consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you," reminding the reader of mortality's indifference and the possibility of death's exile.

    2. The nymphs are departed.

      The beginning of "The Fire Sermon" offers imagery of an abandoned society, devoid of any vestiges of human life. The nymphs are departed, have left no addresses, which suggests that they have fled the barren land. Mythologically, nymphs are associated with pleasure, song, nature, and youth; clearly, this Unreal City has nothing to offer in terms of hedonism, so the nymphs have no choice but to depart without a trace, perhaps to return back to nature.


      Last call at the pub. The group must wrap up their conversation, concerned with aging Lil and her soldier husband. The repetition and capitalization of "HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME" suggest an urgency for them to leave and say their goodbyes. Albert's been "demobbed" (demobilized) and discharged from the military, so he is experiencing a sort of exile on his own as well.

    4. The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king So rudely forced

      The Greek myth of Philomela depicts an Athenian princess who transforms into a nightingale after being raped and mutilated by her brother-in-law. She has been exiled, literally dehumanized, her speech suppressed, but is supposedly redeemed with her sorrowful song which "filled all the desert with inviolable voice," reminding the world of her unjust fate.

    5. mon semblable,—mon frère!”

      So far, the poem has explored and referenced much of Europe, including Russia, Lithuania, Germany, France, England. This is interesting, considering Eliot hails from Missouri. Why is the poem so Eurocentric?

    6.   April is the cruellest month

      How does Eliot's thematic description of the months and seasons in this stanza coincide with the timeline of World War I?

    7. Is the speaker referring to a sort of (spiritual) purgatory here? If it's in past tense, what is the speaker's living state now, as he writes the poem? "I knew nothing" is in past tense as well--what has he learned since then, and will we find out at some point in the poem?

    8. Who is the "you" in this passage?

    1. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

      I've heard this phrase before, as a sort of idiom for "it is what it is." I wonder if this is what Stein had intended with this line, and why "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" became such an oft-quoted/appropriated line out of everything in "Sacred Emily." What is it about rose imagery that is so compelling, lexically and iconically? Perhaps Stein had considered this with her repetition of "rose," both in this line and throughout the poem, as it seems to be that "Sacred Emily" is, at least in part, about the impressions of names and words.

    2. Pat ten patent, Pat ten patent.

      Lines such as this make me feel as though Stein (or the speaker) is playing with and thinking about language and sound; repetition like this suggest a sort of contemplation about how words look and feel.

    3. How old is he.

      Why isn't this punctuated as a question, despite its phrasing?

  4. Sep 2015
    1. mountain folk from Kentucky or the ribbed north end of Jersey

      Williams addresses a breadth of people, though he limits his description to the span from New Jersey to Kentucky. Is this choice purely because Williams hails from "the ribbed north end of Jersey," or is there something to be said about this particular realm of land that falls along the Appalachian Mountains? Is this region of America particularly isolate/desolate/filthy to Williams?

    2. as if the earth under our feet were an excrement of some sky

      Interesting way of looking at the earth and our surroundings. The tactile construct which grounds us is an "excrement of some sky." Connecting this to the recurring motif of the imagination, it seems that the earth is merely some disappointing realization of the sky's seemingly infinite possibility, a limiting and desolate construct to which we are restrained.

    3. that she’ll be rescued by an agent— reared by the state and sent out at fifteen to work in some hard-pressed house in the suburbs—

      Salvation exists only in domesticity, whether in marriage or housework (i.e, that of a maid)

    4. no peasant traditions to give them character but flutter and flaunt

      The speaker observes that these women are rootless, that they have no point of reference for where they came from or what should be. These Elsies are doomed, innately displaced and alienated because of their lack of "peasant traditions" which shape one's character and imagination.

    1. Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again;

      Image Description

    2. Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,

      Image Description

    1. Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,

      Did the speaker realize this while he was contemplating which road to take, or is this observation merely hindsight?

    2. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep,

      Why is he so entranced and tempted by the woods, which seem mysterious, even dangerous?

    3. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near

      Why does he stop even though natural instinct would tell him that this is a strange/bad idea?

    1. WHEN I died

      Posthumous reflection, not only on his life's work, but the culmination of it. The speaker observes what has happened to his library after he has died, and how those who opposed him have attempted to destroy what he had created. His tone is bitter but resigned, knowing that in death, he could no longer resist the push for ignorance in Spoon River.

    2. Choose your own good and call it good.

      The speaker is suggesting that these powers who have censored his influence are willfully ignorant and uncritical of their actions or intentions. This line illustrates how his adversaries act without regard to ethics or morals, and instead construct and justify their own definition of what is right or good. Now that the speaker is dead, those who attempted to thwart him can stifle his knowledge and influence without consequence or obstacle.

    1. the other world

      This seems to refer to the whole realm of whiteness, both in physical spaces and within a bubble of racial ignorance.

    2. shut out from their world by a vast veil

      "Veil" stood out to me as an interesting description. The barrier between DuBois and this other world isn't a wall or a curtain, but instead a veil that obscures and blurs this difference, while being nonetheless transparent. DuBois can see, at least to some degree, this world from which he's alienated, making his experience all the more frustrating.

    3. The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defence,—else what shall save us from a second slavery?

      Reading this passage, I was compelled by the phrase "second slavery." While he is likely referring to the Jim Crow laws that systematically oppressed black folks for nearly a century, and were still in practice at the time of this text's publishing, DuBois' other references to double-consciousness and anti-blackness imply that "second slavery" can refer to the internalized self-hatred and white supremacy that racism can ingrain, a slavery within one's mind.

    1. Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

      The story's conclusion feels both tragic and triumphant. While the narrator has been wholly enveloped by her mental illness, she also feels liberated and vindicated, having overcome the confinement of the yellow wallpaper that has tortured her 24/7. Her plan to escape has come to fruition despite all obstacles, including her husband's now unconscious body.

    2. John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious! But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.

      The narrator is mentally confined to John's diagnoses; because he is a doctor, because of his high status, and because he is her husband, she must take his word rather than trust the anxieties and anguish that she feels. In this sense, she is experiencing a double consciousness--she has begun to see herself through John's eye, claiming relief that her clearly escalating illness is not a serious case, for her physician husband has told her so.

    3. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition. But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself—before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.


      "To manipulate (a person) by psychological means into questioning his or her own sanity...It is also popularly believed to be possible to ‘gaslight’ a perfectly healthy person into psychosis by interpreting his own behavior to him as symptomatic of serious mental illness."

    1. UNTIL the Great Exposition of 1900 closed its doors in November, Adams haunted it, aching to absorb knowledge, and helpless to find it.

      I'm still interested in Adams' narrative choice for this essay; it is autobiographical, yet he's chosen to open the text with an objective, third-person statement. I feel as though this distances Adams the essayist from Adams the character from "Dynamo," almost as if the change he underwent was so transformative that he perhaps doesn't identify with his past self anymore, driving the essay's motifs of transformation and collapse.

  5. Aug 2015
    1. And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth They feed they Lion and he comes.

      Finally, the lines "they belly opened / And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth / They feed they Lion and he comes" indicates either apocalypse or salvation. In the stanzas prior, the repetition of phrase build a rising tension that culminates in the final line, "They feed they Lion and he comes." From this, we do not know exactly what happens when the lion comes, though we do know that the lion is intensely powerful and lethal. Regardless of this ambiguity, we are given a sense of relief and even exaltation, an indicator of some resolution after an extended period of struggle and growth.

    2. From my five arms and all my hands, From all my white sins forgiven, they feed, From my car passing under the stars, They Lion, from my children inherit,

      The speaker shifts focus and addresses himself, using the pronoun "my" for the first time, rather than "they." With this, he gives the reader a hint towards his role in this polluted, gritty, toxic dystopia. Phrases like "from my children inherit," and "white sins" evoke the image of Christ as a potential savior for the working class and perhaps a subject of the poem.