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I heard the murmur, and the murmuring sound,
In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay
Tribute to ease; and, of its joy secure,
The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,
Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,
And on the vacant air. Then up I rose,
And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being: and, unless I now
Confound my present feelings with the past;
Ere from the mutilated bower I turned
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings,
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees, and saw the intruding sky.—
Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.
                                                (1798. From Wordsworth’s “Nutting,” lines 38-56)

In Wordsworth’s “Nutting,” the narrator of the poem recounts an incident from his youth in which, going out to gather hazelnuts, he comes upon a “virgin” bower where, to his own surprise, he discovers in himself a capacity for wanton, violent destruction and yet manages to learn from it. The story, told to an unnamed “Maiden,” reads as an instruction upon the necessity of a close, physical  relationship between man and nature for the development of man’s capacities for imagination and self-awareness.

With line 38 Wordsworth is well into his story, his boyish self having reached his destination and the hazel trees with their “tempting clusters hung.” He lies down with his cheek on a rock and tells us, “I heard the murmur and the murmuring sound,” (38) repeating the syllable “mur” so many times that alongside the direct meaning of the words there is an onomatopoeic sense of the sound of a nearby brook “where fairy water-breaks do murmur on /for ever” (33-34). Wordsworth’s language achieves a similar effect six lines later when, in describing the young boy’s violent attack on the hazel tree, he employs a combination of alliteration and onomatopoeia to immerse his reader in the aural experience of the bower once more—but to completely different effect. The repetition of the harsh “b” in “both branch and bough” (44) mimics the violence of the boy’s breaking the branches in its abruptness, creating in language the sounds of the branches breaking under their brutal onslaught and shocking the reader with their sharpness. Coupled with the onomatopoeic “crash” (44), (whose shock power is fortuitously increased by its relegation to its own line by the width of the column in our version), these harsh sounds serve to set us in the bower next to the boy as he attacks the trees. We hear, in the childlike glee of “crash,” the boy’s delight in his own power of destruction just as we hear in the “b”’s the crack of the branches.

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Though not usually thought of as one of his “supernatural” poems, Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” uses supernatural elements to allow Coleridge access to a sub-rational and extra-sensual realm which transcends time and the laws of nature, in order to better understand himself and examine the relationship between the imagination, perception, and nature.

At work in “Frost at Midnight” are several supernatural elements of a more “every day” type than those evident in “Kubla Khan” or “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which rather than eclipsing reality, intertwine with and heighten it. The first of these which is the titular frost, whose “secret ministry” (1) begins and ends the poem. According to Merriam Webster, one of the definitions of “supernatural” is anything “attributed to an invisible agent,” which the unseen agency behind the Frost is. That the frost accomplishes its duties “unhelped by any wind” (2) emphasizes its independence and power for self-activation, which Coleridge develops over the length of the poem to turn the frost into a symbol for the force of the imagination and its transformational power.

Perhaps the most evident supernatural element in the poem is the “stranger,” the “film, which fluttered on the grate” (15) of the fireplace, which provides the link between Coleridge’s present and his past, bridging the gap across time with associated memory. It is the stranger which allows Coleridge to gain access to his sub-rational mind and it is the stranger which guides his thoughts as he transcends time and space to follow its flutterings. The stranger is “the sole unquiet thing / … in this hush of nature” (16-17) Coleridge tells us, removing it from the sphere of nature’s laws and simultaneously imbuing it with just human-enough characteristics (aided by the personification of its name) to allow it to take on the mythic role of guide and “companionable form” (19) on the journey into Coleridge’s own subconscious. The stranger guides Coleridge’s “idling Spirit” (20) to “make a toy of Thought” (23) as it bypasses rational, causal thinking and tries to bend reality to itself: “every where / Echo or mirror seeking of itself” (21-22). It is the association of Coleridge’s thought with the supernatural element of the stranger which allows him to be transported back through time to his childhood memories of school—of sitting in a classroom, eyes transfixed upon “that fluttering stranger” (26), the demonstrative pronoun implying that it is the self-same stranger that Coleridge sees in the past and the present as it transcends time and space to bridge his thoughts. In his memory, the stranger serves a second supernatural purpose in triggering the boy Coleridge to dream “with unclosed lids” (27) of  “the old church-tower / Whose bells … rang / … / So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me / With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear / Most like articulate sounds of things to come!” (28-33). His dreamlike visions of his “sweet birth-place” (28) are given in these lines an ethereal quality, making them seem as if they are of another world—which the boy Coleridge most likely felt they were, sitting in a school “pent ’mid  cloisters dim” (52). The bells become a similar supernatural symbol to the stranger, allowing the boy Coleridge deeper access into his subconscious, while at the same time “haunt[ing]” him with their “sounds of things to come” and, like the stranger, giving the hopeless boy a future to look forward to. With the stranger there is always the anticipation that it may bring about a visit from his aunt or sister; with the bells, what he anticipates is less clear, though whatever visions the bells bring are “soothing” (34) and, if only momentarily, lighten his burden and give him hope.

Coming out of his reverie, Coleridge does not, however, leave the supernatural behind, but rather brings it out into the natural world with him, as he turns his thoughts once more to imaginative power, equating it once again with the transformational forces of an active nature as he apostrophizes his sleeping son: “thou … shalt wander like a breeze / … / shalt thou see and hear / Of that eternal language” (54, 58-60). Here he urges his son towards a supernatural understanding of the natural as extending beyond the realm of the five senses and the rational to a pantheistic, time-transcendant (“eternal”), unifying vision of the inseparability of nature, man, and imagination. The poem ends with one last supernatural vision, this time of a nature without temporality, in which the seasons are mixed, winter with summer, as they unify to be “sweet” (65) to the poet’s son. The image of the “eaves-drops” (70) caught between melting and falling to earth and being hung up once more by “the secret ministry of frost” (72) ends the poem  with an imagined vision, hearkening back to the opening image of the ministry of frost, but with the added supernatural element of not only time still, but time transcended, as, in that moment of anticipation before the drop freezes or falls, there is a possibility of the future held in suspension, just as there was the for the boy Coleridge listening to the church bells in his home town. It is that supernatural element of the bending and transcending of time by imaginative vision or supernatural symbols which allows Coleridge to enter into a sub-rational realm of contemplation and imaginative power wherein he can come to better understand himself and his relation with a pantheistic nature.

“my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower”

frost-churchtower-wilson

Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know
That things depart which never may return:
Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss is mine
Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.
Thou wert as a lone star, whose light did shine
On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honoured poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,—
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.
                                                                            (1816)

In “To Wordsworth,” Shelley eulogizes the still-living Wordsworth to accuse the older poet of having betrayed his ideals. He makes use of Wordsworth’s own language and ideas to indict him, rejecting his influence and implying that, in this betrayal, Wordsworth has committed symbolic suicide.

Shelley opens his sonnet with an allusion to Wordsworth’s “Intimations Ode,” his “That things depart which never may return” (1-2) echoing Wordsworth’s “The things which I have seen I now can see no more” (Ode, 9), even in its diction of “things.” In alluding to Wordsworth’s ideas in words reminiscent of the older poet, Shelley creates an identification between Wordsworth and himself, one solidified in line 5 when Shelley indicates that the feeling of mourning he ascribes to Wordsworth in the preceding sentence Shelley now shares with him: “These common woes I feel” (5). This identification is mutual, for Shelley declares that the loss he feels Wordsworth “too feel’st” (6), aligning the two poets. Hence, it is surprising when the continuation of line 6 drives a wedge of difference between them. Shelley declares that though they both feel the loss, “I alone deplore [it]” (6), breaking the identification as soon as it is established.

This break in identification signals a shift in Shelley’s attitude towards Wordsworth,  encapsulated in his switching from the present tense in addressing Wordsworth in the opening lines (“thou… feel’st”) to the past tense in the remaining eight. Shelley begins the octet with “Thou wert as a lone star,” (7) a second allusion to Wordsworth’s own work—this time to “London, 1802” in which Wordsworth apostrophizes Milton, saying “thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart” (London, 1802, 9). This is not the only parallel between the two poems: both sonnets apostrophize a former poet whom the speaker admires. However, Milton, at the time of Wordsworth’s writing, was dead, while Wordsworth was still alive when Shelley wrote “To Wordsworth.” That Shelley uses the past tense for the living Wordsworth implies that he is as good as dead to Shelley, now that he is no longer the “lone star” and “rock-built refuge … / Above the blind and battling multitude” (9-10).

The structure of the poem itself stresses this symbolic death of Wordsworth. The rhyming couplet, which, in a Shakespearean sonnet, would come at the end, appears in lines 9 and 10, when Shelley describes Wordsworth’s former status as “refuge” to the “multitude.” The couplet, which usually signals the end of a sonnet, here signals the end of Wordsworth himself, driving home that the “Poet of Nature” (1) to whom the poem is addressed died at the point that the man ceased to be a symbol of power and refuge fixed above the masses—at the point he deserted “truth and liberty” (12). That the couplet comes early in the poem reflects Shelley’s belief that Wordsworth’s end as a poet, too, came too early. Unlike Milton’s, it was not coterminal with his physical death, but preceded it by many years.

Shelley, then, implies that Wordsworth, by betraying his ideals, failed to reach the degree of influence that Milton did. In rejecting identification with Wordsworth’s ideas and diction in line 6, Shelley proves that Wordsworth has not influenced him as greatly as Milton did Wordsworth. Believing that Wordsworth betrayed “truth and liberty,” Shelley ultimately rejects Wordsworth’s influence. The final lines cement this rejection as they complete Wordsworth’s symbolic death: though their literal meaning is that having deserted truth and liberty, Wordsworth left Shelley to grieve the end of the old Wordsworth, the inversion Shelley employs allows him to end the poem with “that thou shouldst cease to be” (14), which at first seems to refer to Wordsworth’s actual death, rather than the end of certain of his convictions. With this final line, Shelley renders Wordsworth a “thing depart[ed],” letting him fall victim to his own ideas of transience, implying not only Wordsworth’s death, but figuring that death as a suicide.

This is my final paper from my Introduction to French Lit class (Tales of Identity, 19th and 20th century French Lit) from the end of last year. It addresses the question of whether or not a person can have multiple selves, multiple “moi’s.” And somehow (this somehow may have a lot to do with my writing this in one night, mostly in the small hours of the morning), my answer to that question was “look, we’re all onions.”

Looking back on that, I recognize that not only was it a dopey metaphor; it also wasn’t the right one for what I was getting at.

Being onions implies that there’s something at the center because the layers are, after all, layers and cover one another and cover something at the center. But that’s not what I was going for. More like we’re all a bag of chips, each of our selves being a chip jumbled about inside our cellophane. And sometimes the chips collide and break and sometimes you get that weird deformed chip that was two chips before they fused together at some point in the process of becoming chips. But they’re all chips and they’re all united by being the same flavor and in the same sealed bag. Maybe I should stop it with the weird food metaphors now.

L’Oignon d’Identité: Une Clarification du Structure d’une Identité Multiple

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Brief, brief thoughts on, responses to, and analyses of various texts of or relating to existentialism.

The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard

(For ease’s sake I’m simply using “Kierkegaard” as opposed to “Kierkegaard through the mouthpiece of Anti-Climacus” or “Anti-Climacus.” Not sure what the accepted stance on this is anyway.)

Particularly striking in Kierkegaard’s categorization and explanation of despair was his concept of the dichotomy and synthesis of finitude and infinitude. Synthesis itself is an essential category to Kierkegaard’s understanding of the self as he defines selfhood as being the synthesis of two opposing elements in relation to a third element (the “positive third” of the “spirit”). In examining the makeup of the self according to this definition, Kierkegaard puts forward a number of dichotomies, which must, necessarily, be synthesized in the creation of a self. The first of these is finitude/infinitude, a category almost as resistant to interpretation as selfhood itself. Upon first reading, the vague definitions I took away of Kierkegaard’s concepts of “finitude” and “infinitude” were that finitude dealt somehow with the facts of being a human (what a man is in terms of his capacities, abilities, situation, and environment, in the most factual senses) and that these facts were limitations upon man and then that infinitude was essentially the opposite of this: instead of limitations, infinitude meant imagination, possibility, everything that dealt with the non-factual side of man and rather with his hopes and dreams. Read More

A head, tongue pinked and hanging loose, tensed                                                                                                                                         For the moment when, knowing I knew, he                                                                                                                                                           Should spring to shade: momentary bunker                                                                                                                                                    Beneath an unremembered bit of trunk                                                                                                                                                              Cut to widen the path on which I stood.                                                                                                                                                              His tail outstuck; I watched it twitch, uncertain.                                                                                                                                                If not for that I might have let it be,                                                                                                                                                                   But that quick promise drew me in, waking                                                                                                                                                     Violent inquisition. Unthinking,                                                                                                                                                                             I rolled the log aside, beaded eyes’ spark                                                                                                                                                         Expecting. Yet when I looked, two halves spilled                                                                                                                                              Their carmine gore across the path. Tail stilled.                                                                                                                                                  I looked and stayed a beat, transfixed, til from                                                                                                                                                   Further down the path my brother’s yell approach’d.                                                                                                                                          And on I walked, determined not to think.

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite / That ever I was born to set it right!

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet (I.v.210-211)

There are some stories which appear over and over again, around the world, under different names and with different details, but always, at base, the same. Universal. These stories, however, are short, authorless, moral. Stories told to children, with simple meanings. Stories that originated in different parts of the world at different times to tell simple, human truths. But these are not the only kinds of universal stories in the world. There is another, rarer kind. The kind that originates in one place, the product of a specific time, and still tells the story of humanity. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of these. Hamlet’s true universality lies in its adaptability. True, Hamlet is not universal in the sense that everyone around the world understands it in exactly the same way, but it is universal in perhaps a more powerful way: it is a story with so many facets and possible interpretations that any culture can latch onto it and find meaning relevant to their circumstances. It is for this reason that Hamlet has never faded away into the dust of history and, I believe, never will. There are many ways in which to interpret Hamlet, but one of the most common is politically. With globalization, Hamlet made its way slowly, but surely, around the world, touching culture after culture, and culture after culture accepted it and made it its own—more often than not with politics in mind. In this way, Hamlet has become politicized, acting as a vehicle for political movements all over the world, from Japan to the Middle East. And, no matter how different the messages tacked onto it, Hamlet never ceases to be Hamlet, instead growing stronger with each reinterpretation, ensuring its own survival.

In this paper, I intend to discuss two examples of politicizations of Hamlet: one, the Japanese film The Bad Sleep Well, and the other, the Middle Eastern play The Al-Hamlet Summit. Both seek to convey political messages via reinterpretation of Hamlet, changing and adopting various parts of the story to suit their different needs and thereby both ensuring the existence of their message and the continuation of Hamlet’sthe-bad-sleep-well1

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