Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween Mrs. White!!! :)

Vergissmeinnicht by Keith Douglas

I found the conversations which this poem brought up very interesting when we discussed it in class. It made me think of our discussion last year in Modern America, when we learned about the dehumanization which most of the American soldiers sent to Vietnam had experienced, and the corruption most of them went through in order to become the ruthless killers they were.

It also brings up a truth from both sides of any war: a soldier is more than just a killer. Everyone is born to at least one parent. I am sure many soldiers have friends or family who very much love them. But humans fight. It is a part of this world, and there are people who have to carry out the fighting. So the young and skilled are recruited, and taught to fight and kill and, often times, see the enemy as some beastly, unfeeling imitation of a human being. In Douglas' poem, he simply brings up a moment which I feel many soldiers must have experienced in the past: the realization that the enemy, however much it had attempted to kill him before, was not only human, but also capable of loving and feeling and hurting. Douglas describes a scene where "the lover and killer are mingled." He finds a "dishounered picture of [the soldier's] girl who has put Steffi.Vergissmeinnicht." Forget me not.

Sometimes men forget who they really are. They forget that the men shooting at them from across the field are humans. They forget that they have loved ones who would be horrified to see the kind of things war does to men. And then, sometimes when it's too late, as it was for this soldier, they remember the people who love them and the person he or she was before being blinded by the fear and violence of war. They die for being a soldier, and are remembered by the enemy as such, but remembered by their loved ones as human: "death who had the soldier singled has done the lover mortal hurt."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Reading Poems to a Senior Class at South High by D. C. Berry

I opened my poetry packet today and the first thing I saw was the first paragraph in this poem. “Before I opened my mouth I noticed them sitting there as orderly as frozen fish in a package.” Well that was quite an attention getter, a very unusual simile, to say the least, and I was curious as to what the author was talking about. So I read the whole thing, and I was definitely not disappointed. I loved it. It was so perfect, something I would never have thought of before.

The whole aquarium concept was intriguing. The author says he tried to “drown them with [his] words,” but instead the students had “opened up like gills.” Maybe it was because he had expected a different reaction from the students to the regaling of his poems, that they were just more interested in what he had to say than was anticipated. At least, that’s how I perceived it.

“Together we swam around the room like thirty tails whacking words till the bell rang puncturing a hole in the door…” Whacking words around sounded like a sort of discussion, so I assumed they had been analyzing his poetry, or at least just talking about it. But this description left such a comical image in my mind after I finished it that I couldn’t help but wonder how exactly the author felt about the students and his poetry. I couldn’t really tell whether he was happy that the students were not completely absent from reality while he was talking, or if he was indifferent to the defrosted fish sitting in front of him. .

And he didn’t seem too interested in what his audience thought of him: in that respect, he was very unaware and indifferent. In fact, he didn’t seem to care about anything in this poem, I felt like there was no real importance in anything he was trying to say. It was just a quiet description of a room full of students turning into fish as they listened to poetry. There was no passionate idea or essence of the author that I could find, it just existed. But I feel like that fit the subject of this poem very well: many people hear poetry impassively, not absorbing anything from it, and continuing on with their daily lives like nothing happened, even if what did happen was extraordinary. There are, though, those somewhat rare people who will take a poem and really think deeply about it and immerse themselves in the ideas it may introduce. So I considered this poem not only a simile of students to fish, but a comparison of our society to unresponsive, dispassionate beings when it comes to the appreciation of poetry.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Secret by Denise Levertov

Levertov seems to be describing the "discovery" of a secret which, like so many others, is found by the naïve mind of a child. The secret is found in a "sudden line of poetry." It is not a painfully thought out concept like that of a politician or a philosopher, it is realized in an instant, it is an epiphany found by two girls.

The author goes on to tell us that, although she wrote the line in one of her poems, she does not know what the secret is, and the girls have no intention of telling her. In fact, they have probably already forgotten it. This reminds me of all the "secret" things I had when I was young with my friends. We organized secret clubs, we found secret treasures, we had secret places to play; we never had the secret of life, though. And most of it ended up being forgotten eventually; fading behind all the more important experiences we had over the years. Yet it was our simplicity, our belief that we had something which no one else in the world had, something special, that made it all so “secret” that we never told anyone about it.

“I love them for finding what I can’t find.” The girls have found a miracle in one of the speaker’s poems. They have found something that unintentionally became momentarily life altering. And the speaker loves them for forgetting it, because that means the girls can find it over and over again in different places and occasions for the rest of their lives, perhaps saving some of their innocence.

The last thing that Levertov writes is that she loves the girls most of all for assuming that there was this secret of life, and for wanting to know it. She loves the girls for their hope and ambition to find something worthwhile in, or about, life. And, as a whole, I don’t think there is any secret meaning to this poem, or any deep dark implications of death or loss. To me, this is a poem about the optimism of the author when she sees the potential in the dreams and desires of a future generation, and the innocence of said generation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

Whitman's free verse poem flows very smoothly and clearly with his variation on the American Dream. His first line "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear," just about sums up this poem. His explanation of each occupation and the "songs" each worker sings make America seem like a quaint and hard-working country. Of course, that was many citizens' ideal situation: everyone working hard and earning their living through honest labor. To me, Whitman's poem says that the common, humble worker is what makes America. Not the politicians, not the C.E.O.'s, not the celebrities. The carpenters, masons and shoemakers, the mothers and fathers that work to live, these are the essence of America and its greatness.

The second point to Whitman's poem that I noticed was his emphasis on the ownership which each person, or thing, was given. The carpenter has his wood, the boatman has his boat, the shoemaker has his bench, the women have their sewing or washing, "...each what belongs to her, and to none else." Each person has his or her own special song. And, of course, each person has earned the right to these things through work and determination and hope in his or her endeavors.

The only problem is that all these people seem to have no ambition: as happy as I am that all these people are happy with their lives, I do wonder if the ideas of advancement and accomplishment, which have always been important in our society, have not been completely forgotten in Whitman's poem. There is no emphasis on education, it is all manual labor. Every person has a job, but none of them have aspirations to become anything more than what they already are.

The general operation of America and the many humble professions that Whitman mentions are highly romanticized in this poem, from what I can tell. He paints a warm, happy picture for his audience. Everyone is happy, singing songs and apparently loving their lifestyle. There is no mention of the destitution or hunger or sickness which also came with the less priviledged standard of life in this time period. It seems like Whitman has specifically avoided any mention of these things. It could be seen as rather deceitful, in fact: I'm sure that if people from the time this poem was written could give us a better look at their lives, not everyone would be as optimistic as Whitman. I suppose since he is basically idealizing everything he writes in this poem, though, that it was the best way to get his idea of happiness in America across, however misleading the finished product may be.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mr. Fear by Lawrence Raab

Mr. Fear, one of the few people that anyone in the world could describe to you. He is the darkness in a room at night, the sting of a bee, the pain of losing a loved one. He is the monster hiding behind our very worst dreams. As Raab says, “He follows us, he keeps track. Each day his lists are longer.” Raab is saying that Mr. Fear is keeping tabs every day of each new thing we begin to fear, whatever it may be, and then later letting it find its way into our dreams.

“Mr. Fear, we say in our dreams what do you have for me tonight?” I feel like everyone has asked themselves this question, in fact, this may even be one of our fears, waiting to see what new things we will soon come to be frightened of while we are supposed to be dreaming peacefully. But Mr. Fear is a devious one, with his “black sack of troubles.” He knows exactly what to use on each individual, he caters to each unique person’s "needs".

But that is his job, is it not? Raab seems to wonder how exactly Mr. Fear feels about his occupation. “Maybe he smiles when he finds the right one. Maybe he’s sorry.” We will probably never know, but it is an interesting thought: at first I pictured Mr. Fear as a menacing monster, cackling as he smugly found each new terror to bestow upon his helpless victims. But Raab makes me wonder if he is not some poor, tortured creature, a self-loathing and miserable beast, who despises his endless task.

Despite how Mr. Fear feels about his job, though, the chore is still followed through. “Tell me, Mr. Fear, what must I carry away from your dream. Make it small, please let it fit in my pocket, let it fall through the hole in my pocket.” For some reason this line gives me a deep-felt emotion. Maybe because this is something I have hoped for before: that I could take something bad that happened or was thought, and then somehow forget about it, let it be lost from living memory and never found again.

Raab seems to be referring specifically to dreams, though. And who can blame him? Who hasn’t had a dream that they wish they could forget? That was so filled with terrible thoughts and feelings that even thinking about it after it had passed was overwhelming? I have to say that there are some dreams that still provide a twinge of fear if I dare to dwell on them for too long, those memorable and disturbingly fear-filled dreams from who knows how long ago, that I had thought, even hoped, I had forgotten. It seems that all Raab wants is to quietly dream of the good things he has experienced, even if they are small, like a purse of crickets from a field and a small brown bat. Better to be given the simple, happy moments than a horrific nightmare. I certainly would not blame anyone for having this want.

This whole poem was one that I thought was easy to relate to. It described certain feelings that I myself have had before, if not in the exact words that I would use. I have wondered why the same fears continue to torment me, why some of them haunt my dreams, why some of the dreams are forgotten. Personifying the distributor of these fears gives me a whole new perspective on the process. Whether or not he enjoys it, Mr. Fear pulls out the most perfectly terrifying thing from his sack and gives it to us, sometimes we lose it, sometimes it stays with us for a very long time. Sometimes we wish that we could dream of the good things in our lives instead of being pursued by fear, and sometimes, oh those surprising and happy times, we get what we wish for.