Category: essay

Essay #5

Andrew Davis

16 April 2015
Revised, 4 November 2016

The idea of “Digging”: that generously gives back, return upon return,(the close-reading of Seamus Heaney’s poem) is heritage of a family legacy. Much conversation upon what connects a particular people to a place could be in-exhaustive ad infinitum, and what job, role, or profession is to make one’s self into a man, what will be one’s living is carried down in men from one generation to the next, and the weight it begins to gain through the years becomes so heavy–the words a father impresses on his fellow male descendant. The beginning of the poem is deceivingly  simple. Consider how much matter the poet addresses in the opening sentence:

“Between my finger and my thumb /  [t]he squat pen rests; snug as a gun.”

This is not a simple sentence. The predicate is of much sensitivity. Consider the verb “squat” that isn’t thought of, generally, as poetic by its harsh sound lacking in musicality; and perhaps the author means to carry the cadence with the diction he would most certainly apply to the rugged atmosphere, or the crudeness and lack-there-of anything pure in the wild. Most certainly, the reader must consider the ars poetic image or the process the writer presents. What is the process? Since squatting as a process might not be necessarily related to a reader, initially, as one of beauty, one theory is Heaney is honing and carving out a negative sense of the word, which every writer would understand from a very early age which deals with the outward biases of societies upon writers. In families where everyone has to provide some type of labor to get ahead in the world, often, it becomes the weight of children to carry on that labor: factory work, working in a field, and it is important to stress just how important these types of physical work are if you are to make it, if you mean to survive, in the less fortunate places of the world, where opportunity is hard to come by. Bigger than the family legacy, even, all endeavors of art, to the public, are considered biasedly to be unprofitable.  This can be very easily relayed to the reader through an image of a writer sitting at a desk writing and the obstinate wondering at how one economically, politically, or whatever could possibly pass the day away writing when there are real world problems to solve. The image could be in a sense of fetish and bondage, a torturous act of rendering art that gives the writer pleasure. Hard to negate a negativity or the sensitivity for the profession of writing, and the act itself is a victim at stake; the author’s process, then is catharsis. The poet, then, is being assertive–not to be confused with aggressive–on a particular choice one has to make. Consider the environment in which the image is created, especially when that environment is a war-torn Ireland–at civil war between Catholic and Protestant. The pen is an object being held that is filling space between the fingers and might even be considered uncomfortable for people. The poet gives, again, an assertion in his stance on how to address these issues operating the common colloquialism of “[t]he pen is mightier than the sword”. Thereby (refraining this line at the end of the poem) the poet not only adds a music quality to the poem, but also Heaney creates a mantra so that to the reader a motto from Heaney’s book on life, his axiom, is given and handed-down to the world to let them deal with it. After defining what sense, or senses be it, of “Digging” for the writer, Heaney gives us another definition of digging in a following observation:

“Under my window, a clean rasping sound   [w]hen the spade sinks into gravelly ground:  [m]y father digging. I look down”

The captured moment is steeped in repetitious sounds and onomatopoeia. The detailed seconds instinctively capture the “s” we associate with spade. What is more evident is the fact from where to the ear the sound originates What the author heard and notated is produced by Heaney’s father. Now that the noise has been captured we know as readers how Heaney means digging exactly: not only literally, but figuratively. This digging one associates with the business of Irishmen. This is how the heritage is employed and we instinctively should know from the onset that Heaney stands in quite an opposing different stance actively to the choice of his father whose digging a potato field. While there is a heritage with many men digging potatoes as industry carried down from generation to generation, Heaney has made a choice to go a different path than his family. There is a wealth of books on similar subject where men of the pen have traveled long distances to physically create distance between themselves and their own subject matter; however, as easy as it seems this is quite difficult because Heaney hasn’t left: he’s still there in the farm-house where he grew up. This is one part fear, one part courage:  to choose to dig with a pen because it has, not only to do with an inheritance, much to do with acceptance of a ritual and past-time thought of as a hobby, and not a way to make a living, In essence making the word digging his own Heaney draws authority on voice. We are immediately in media res between the conversations of his father and him. These and more are tools of the trade: projection. To further emphasize this point the reader may find the potato in the following room or stanza:

“[t]ill his straining rump among the flowerbeds [b]ends low, comes up twenty years away [s]tooping in rhythm through potato drills [w]here he was digging.”

So, another interesting thing is recognizing the reader’s ongoing action synthesized through the act of looking down through the poet in observation of his father and the reader looking down to the next stanza. “Flowerbeds” are important to note for word choice: connotations the potato bears in similarities to flowers by way of gardens, The word is like a synecdoche. There is an allusion to the exercise, not just his father’s, but the writer’s, and the reader’s. There is an association with digging repeating in refrain so that digging takes on new senses and new meanings. When one thinks on the elegy there is another implied way that we experience his father’s and grandfather’s experience through elegy, and that digging is even a part of the process of memory. How hard it is to separate the praise for these men from the work, or stereotype, the voice will choose not to preference, while not reading as demeaning is a careful balancing act which Heaney does masterfully. The meaning further reverberates upon knowing that Seamus Heaney is in his own grave. Memory is a part of the process because of the time. Twenty years will have passed foreseeing the death of his father in the grave, so that now his father’s ritual is an expiring memory. Of all points this cannot be stressed enough: the death of the Naturalist is not his father’s death (though Heaney’s calculation is correct) it is the inheritance of naturalism in Heaney. The drills and straining are so closely connected that there is instinctively a comment and conversation on physical exertion. Stooping is part of the process. and putting the potato towards the end draws upon its own importance. The piece is very conversational in word choice such as using “till” instead of “until” which gives the poem really a mark of honesty, not to be confused with sensitivity. Another process is introduced in the following stanza:

“The course boot nestled on the lug, the shaft [a]gainst the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep [t]o scatter new potatoes that we picked, [l]oving their cool hardness in our hands.”

Therefore, we have a further observations of the digging process and also how the potatoes are created. The process of how to pick a potato is performed and the third person pronoun “we” is the reader and the author taking part in an intimate process with his father and himself. We even hold the potato itself. The  spade is further used and observed. We feel their pain in the process, particularly in the placement of the spade and the work of digging and seeding the potato garden. The following couplet of praise or exclamation further alludes to the elegiac aspect of the poem:

“By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.”

Concretely it is resolved that Heaney is the naturalist alluded to in the title of the collection Death of a Naturalist. A praise, a praise is inherent in this, Heaney is observing these multiple things and taking his life under consideration, specifically his own life choices and how he will be different than his own dad and how he will escape his heritage of farming potatoes. We rest on this point of the family:

“My grandfather cut more turf in a day  [t]han any other man in Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle [c]orked sloppily with paper. He straightened up [t]o drink it, then fell to right away [n]icking and slicing neatly, heaving sods  [o]ver his shoulder, going down and down  [f]or the good turf. Digging.”

The importance is made alone by repeating the process again and again, though the details change ever slightly or the autobiographical focus shifts from character to character. A physical process cannot be ignored one which passed from family member to family member without question to be paid and is necessary for us to understand Heaney’s family tree, legends, and all. We don’t fully understand the negative consequences or tone quality it takes until the turn in the following stanza which aids in questioning just how positive the praise for the men is:

“The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap [o]f soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge [t]hrough living roots awaken in my head.  But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.”

And perhaps the negative tone quality still does not diminish the testament and witnessing of this work these men have done that Heaney separates himself from: be it allergies, the intensity of the work, the pressure to be performed to create, and feed not only yourself, but others is a heavy burden. Seamus Heaney makes a choice that it is with the pen, “[he’ll] dig with it”, This poem and others can be found in his collection entitled Opened Ground.

Work Cited

Heaney, Seamus. Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,  1999. 3-4. Print.

Essay #4

A Close-Reading of “My Hero Bares His Nerves” by Dylan Thomas

Recently, in web searches, I discovered a website entitled, “Thomas Delighted”, which

forces a feminist reading of Thomas’ poem. The anonymous author of the website

suggests “[that] this poem just exaggerates the stereotype that men are heros and

women are princesses waiting to be saved or seductresses waiting to steal men’s

power” (My Hero Bares His Nerves [from a Feminist lens]). I wish to offer a counter-

point to the former interpretation. (Possessed by Thomas Hardy) Dylan Thomas rewrites

Hardy’s “The Voice”.

Complicated in his image of an arm and anatomy, Thomas writes, “[m]y hero bares

his nerves along my wrist / [t]hat rules from wrist to shoulder” (lines 1-2). As readers, we

should not be so quick to read these lines biologically. The voice is the voice of the poet;

however, Thomas communicates to us that the words he chose are not his own, but the

words he writes are the words of his hero. Yet who is the hero that Dylan Thomas praises

in this poem?

Donald Davie, author of Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, writes of the relationship

between Hardy and Dylan Thomas (See Don McKay’s article in University of Toronto

Quarterly, 1986). Don McKay explores the relationship further in his article, entitled

“Crafty Dylan and the Altarwise Sonnets: ‘I build a flying tower and I pull it down’. There

are other places online where one might find the relationship cited, such as the Wikipedia

biography of Dylan Thomas, in which readers will find how Thomas would reference Hardy

in his public readings. Therefore, I suggest Thomas Hardy as a replacement, in the poem,

for “my hero”.

 

Rereading the first two lines in this manner,  “nerves” should be defined as sensitive

points, or troubles, strife, and suffering. These are not the afflictions of the poet, but

the afflictions of Thomas Hardy. Note, in the third line, Thomas writes of a “ghost” (line

3), and further, Thomas describes a “mortal ruler” (line 4) ruling over his arm, which is to

imply the poet’s loss of control. The inhabitation and haunting of Thomas indicates that

Thomas Hardy is no longer alive, and Hardy has control of Thomas’ arm (however Thomas

tries to defend against the supernatural force), whether he likes the spirit or not, against

his will: “The proud spine spurning turn and twist;” (line 5).

The voice turns from Thomas to the voice of Hardy: “And these poor nerves so wired to

the skull / Ache on the lovelorn paper” (lines 6-7). The question this séance permits is

whether the I, in the second stanza, is the poet or the dead poet which imbibes of him?

This further adds critical commentary to Hardy’s later life and what caused the writing of

“The Voice”. In Hardy’s biography, on Encyclopedia Britannica, he was estranged from his

wife “some 20 years” before her death. In that time, he had an affair with Florence Emily

Dugdale, who would become his second wife. The article adds that the loss of his first wife,

would be the subject of his later work, including “The Voice” (the poem that Thomas

imitates). This informs lines 8-10, which encompasses “love”, which encompasses

Hardy’s “love hunger”, and which answers who is “tell[ing ] the page the empty ill” (line

10). Thomas reads Hardy’s work, which will be the focus of reading the third stanza.

Somewhere in the embodiment of Hardy, Thomas gains an understanding of Hardy’s

life: “Tread, like [A] naked venus / [t]he beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait” could

read as the decay of Emma Hardy into sand, and the “plait” being “bloodred” symbolizing

her death in connection with the style of hair she was known to wear which is found in her

various photographs. Further evidence of the affair is found in what Emma speaks,

“Stripping my loin of promise, / He promises a secret heat” (lines 14-15).

 

War is a topic of Thomas’ poems. The line that follows in the next stanza has to do

with communication during the war and the telegraph, which would not have been a mode

of communication during Hardy’s time. The point of view shifts back to the poet. In poetry

is T.S. Eliot’s quote upon appropriation and knowing how to properly steal a poem, which

would make Thomas and Hardy “knaves of thieves” (line 18), and Emma “[love’s or]

hunger’s emperor” (line 19). Thomas cannot continue imitating Hardy, therefore

his body rejects Hardy, as excremental waste: “He pulls the chain, the cistern

moves” (line 20). Perhaps, Thomas is rejecting Hardy’s concept of love; perhaps, Hardy is

rejecting Thomas, now giving the poet some advise where he went wrong in love

questioning how Thomas is any different than Hardy, post mortem? Perhaps,this is some

indication of the poem and how the poem comes out of Thomas in its process–Hardy

speaks through Thomas, Hardy releases his hold on Thomas,  and then Thomas moves

upon the paper.

However one might read the end of this poem, Thomas shares with the reader his

experience with a dead poet that he admires. The subject of the poem is “the mortal

coil” of which Hardy has been studied from Thomas’ point-of-view. Poets are not void

of the harmful, cruel maladies that plague men: they are, equally at fault and they are

human. It is from the fault of someone admired that a person may learn some moral.

 

Therefore, in opposition of one feminist’s hasty reading of this poem, one may read a

counter perspective: Thomas’ poem is not celebrating a machismo of the early 1900s.

Thomas is writing of a fault of one he admired and what Hardy’s mortal coil was.  This

is what Thomas is learning about the history of men and poetry. This is a concept that has

plagued men for centuries: the abstraction of love. Each poet handles love differently.

Works Cited

“Dylan Thomas.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopedia Britannica,

Inc., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.

 <http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/592795/Dylan-Thomas>.

McKay, Don. “Crafty Dylan And The Altarwise Sonnets: ‘I Build A Flying Tower And I Pull It

Down.’.” University Of Toronto Quarterly 55.4 (1986): 375-394. Humanities International

Index. Web. 24 May 2016.

thomasdelighted.tripod.com/id17.html.My Hero Bares His Nerves (from a Feminist’s Lens),

nd. Web. 24 May 2016.

Thomas, Dylan. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. New York: New Directions, 1957. Print.

“Thomas Hardy.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopedia Britannica,

Inc., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.

<http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/255167/Thomas-Hardy>.

 

 

Essay #3

A Close-Reading of the Unrhymed Couplets in the Honorable Earl of Rochester’s,

“A Satyr against Reason and Mankind”

In the first distich, of “A Satyr against Reason and Mankind”, John Wilmot presents

the speaker of the poem: “Were I (who to my cost already am / One of those strange

prodigious creatures, man). . .” (1-2). “Cost” implies there is a price to pay for being one

of mankind.  Wilmot will continue to develop the idea through the treatment of a working

thesis, antithesis, counter-thesis, and conclusion in the body of the poem. Another

important word choice in the couplet is “prodigious”. By tracking its etymology,

“prodigious” aids the negative idea of “cost” because of abnormality. By defecting man

with an unknown fault Wilmot gives rise to curiosity in his audience to identify what the

particular failing is. The speaker is highly critical of mankind within his role and presence.

Here is an example of Wilmot’s logic: in order to treat a subject one must have a pure

understanding of it. For Lord Rochester, to further critique reason, man must first exist.

 

To establish reason as something concrete versus something abstract, Wilmot has to

establish a symbol. There are several diverse figures of language which follow to represent

reason. For example the second distich that Wilmot creates is a conceit drawn between

books and bladders: “Books bear him up awhile, and make him try / To swim with bladders

of philosophy. . .” (20-21). However, what is far more entertaining than creating the

object of reason out of books is that dissecting their matter would spill in a fluid of nasty

excrement!

 

Properly creating a treatment of man and reason, Wilmot continues with an example

of mankind. The figure that is closest to the poet is a Wit. Rochester presents for the

reader a portrait of a Wit’s dealings with relationships, having a good understanding of the

Wit’s philosophy on love being a wit himself. Therefore, two concepts of love must exist:

romantic love versus sexual love. When the Restoration Wit writes the following distich,

“Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape, / ‘Tis not that they’re beloved, but fortunate;

/ And therefore what they fear at heart they hate…” (43-44) it is to portray a particular

man’s need of sexual appetite, his fear for committing to a relationship, while gravitating

upon the seriousness of creating another being between two individuals, consummating

and connecting as one. The word choice of “fops” further establishes a negative context in

which to read this couplet. Therefore, a comment is being made on the seriousness of

which individuals take the creating of mankind. As creation is not being taken seriously,

that the sexual act is only being made consummate for relief of pleasure, the Earl is

suggesting the seriousness to which individuals take their own being. However, in

existence is an opponent contrary to Wilmot’s working thesis. Drawing between man and

reason, definitive types of the former and definitive types of the latter, the working thesis

aims to suggest that man comes from such animalistic practices. Further developing a

hypothesis that dismisses two primary practices of mans’ existences: creating thoughts

and the working of thoughts, and creating men, and the mechanics of creating men. The

testing of the premise brings about the antithesis.

 

An act of the flesh needs a parallel treatment of like-mind; in the restoration period,

the poet would find his challenger in a church. For the former act, committable

sin—taking of the flesh, outside a marriage—needs a proper judge. The antithesis is

present in the fourth distich, in which Wilmot crafts the persona of a priest in these

following critical lines: “But now methinks some formal band and beard / Takes me to

task. Come on, Sir I’m prepared…” (46-47). The word choices of band and beard allow for

the creation of a symbol that represents the priest, and their personification develops

from the symbol acting through the verbal phrase, “takes me to task”.

The fifth distich is a fragment of dialogue in the voice of the priest. The priest makes a

judgment call against the Wit in the following lines, “Likes me abundantly, but you take

care / Upon this point not to be too severe” (50-51). However, what is important to note,

the taste (that the priest does not have for the likes of the wit) is fragmentary. Further

comment is being made upon the Wit. Wilmot gives the priest the knowledge to know that

Wits are “severe” upon “points” and matters of opinion. Even more important to note is

that the “point” is in a manner of personification because with the application of logic it is

impossible to be severe on a point. In the next distich, quite similarly, God is a form of idea

or reason for personification (64-65). The seventh distich simply hashes out the opposite

senses of warmth and freezing having the reader “Dive into mysteries, then soaring pierce

/ The flaming limits of the universe. . . ” (68-69), and immediately following these

feelings the priest handles a major critical point of the academic aptitude of religion by

presenting abstractions asking the reader to “[s]earch heaven and hell, find

out what’s acted there, / [a]nd give the world true grounds of hope and fear” (70-71),

allowing for a response to the antithesis.

The counter-thesis, and re-working of the initial premise Wilmot creates follows in

the voice of the Wit. The re-introduction of the initial speaker allows the priest and the

wit to debate about religion. Immediately each couplet that follows is a critique of the

former antithesis of the priest. The first couplet treats sources of the religious material,

and both of them being of particular disdain: “From Patrick’s Pilgrim, Sibbs’ soliloquies; /

And ‘tis this very reason I despise” (74-75). A recount, of the feelings of hot and cold the

priest perceives in lines 68-69, morphs with the witty speaker’s experience, of having to

learn religion in school: “Borne on whose wings each heavy sot can pierce / The limits of

the boundless universe” (84-85). The abstraction of religious feelings “hope” and “fear”

from salvation or “heaven”, or from damnation and “hell”, transmit into the wit’s

negative personification of the abstraction of god: “’Tis this exalted power whose business

lies / In nonsense and impossibilities” (88-89).  Therefore the speaker concludes that the

only way to live properly is not to think outside of the bounds of Earth, but to breathe and

be here, opposes somewhere else and all the hard work it takes to fabricate something

from nonexistence: “Our sphere of action is life’s happiness, / And he who thinks beyond,

thinks like an ass” (96-97). All of these first hand experiences and thoughts leads to a re-

evaluation of “reason” into instinct which is more akin to what the speaker perceives as

necessary.

The Witty speaker further debates the priest ending “This plain distinction, Sir, your

doubt secures, / ‘Tis not true reason I despise, but yours” (110-11). Supplanting the word

choice of “doubt” creates a paradox, considering most would be arguing against the priest

on the grounds of religious faith.  Considering the use of life experience in the evidence

and testimony of the Wit during the debate may suggest the Wit’s reason for thinking that

faith exists. This adds to the debate on Reason and Mankind, and clarifies that the Wit

believes the priest shares a kinship with himself in the doubts of their reason and their

species. While one has the luxury to turn away from Earth and posit about a future life, the

latter must stare into it and make peace with it. Yet, the concept of instinct is not fully

present until the following two lines.

 

The only other living things, besides mankind and their imaginations, are present in

the animal kingdom. The priest leaves the company of the wit, as the wit turns his thought

from teleological debate to “creatures”. The Wit forces itself to comprehend the

differences between man and animal, relaying a positive comment on the thought-to-be

inferior beings: “Those creatures are the wisest who attain / By surest means, the ends at

which they aim” (117-18). Since the Wit finds nothing in common with anything else in

existence, now it forces itself to enter commune with animals. Much like the wit satiates

its appetites, so do animals. Just as animals in a corner will snap and bite, the wit finds

something in common with reacting viciously when the wit itself is in a corner: “With

teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt / Nature’s allowance to supply their want”

(113-14). It is in the uses of “allowance” and “want” that Wilmot matches what man’s

want is, perhaps out of moral or religion or any other ethical philosophies have here

before proven hindering.

 

The want to attack another living, innocent sentient being is a violation of moral code

and ethic. This leads to a life of destruction and chaos for the wit which upon its life states:

“Leading a tedious life in misery / Under laborious mean hypocrisy” (151-52). Recognizing

this weakness the Witty speaker concludes that man, at the core of its being, is an animal

asking the reader, “Look to the bottom of his vast design,  / Wherein man’s wisdom,

power, and glory join” (153-54).

After a close read of the distiches present in the first part of the poem, seeing where

previous scholars abound in thoughts on form, psychology, language study, arrive at a

distinction of the poem ahead of its time in historic, and/ or speculation on sociologic

theory. A character persists throughout the poem. Postmodern and deconstructionist

theory and beliefs in this character argue that it needs to exist. The character must exist

because of the turmoil the character witnesses. This is a testament to the triumph of “A

Satyr against Reason and Mankind”. Where other scholarly attempts fail in recent years is

to explore how Wilmot chose to go against the common grain of form from the period.

 

Everything written, during the 17th century, follows the pattern of the heroic couplet,

not often turning from a precision with the form. Initially, Wilmot might come into

contempt for his doggerel sounding verses. The question (I would pose to the most critical

of scholars is) thus: what is the need for the persistent, heroic couplets, if what is so

triumphant in this piece is against the grain of popular 17th Century poems, against all

philosophy of the time, against that period’s popular opinion?

 

Many scholars see an over-arching nihilism present within the poem. The poet calls

not only for the absence of religion, not only the current state of man to return to a more

primitive time, when dealing in the treatment of creatures because man is a creature, but

the poet, also, enlivens an argument for the complete relishing of desire. The problem is

not the destruction of religion, but rather that the poet cannot unleash its vengeance like a

common animal upon another animal. As much as Wilmot might be tempted, he is

trumped by his own, humanist, morals and ethics. Therefore, everything Wilmot presents

within the poem calls for the reader to go against the common thread of society.

Presenting what the poet learns firsthand, readers have an account which gives them a

guide to refer to.

 

The close-reading of the poem necessitates a paper that will lead to the argument for

the unrhymed couplets to be the ground from which to arrive at literary analysis of John

Wilmot’s “A Satyr against Reason and Mankind”. This further sets him apart from the

wits and the restoration Poets of the time on his own merits, and without the trials of

biographical and critical contempt that the Wit in his period faces, which he blatantly

demands to end.

Work Cited

Cousins, A. D. “The Context, Design, And Argument Of Rochester’s A Satyr Against

Reason And Mankind.” SEL: Studies In English Literature, 1500-1900 24.3 (1984): 429-

439. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.

Gill, James E. “The Fragmented Self In Three Of Rochester’s Poems.” Modern Language

Quarterly: A Journal Of Literary History 49.1 (1988): 19-37. MLA International Bibliography.

Web. 5 Dec. 2013.

Johnson, Ronald W. “Rhetoric And Drama In Rochester’s ‘Satyr Against Reason And

Mankind’.” SEL: Studies In English Literature, 1500-1900 15.3 (1975): 365-373. MLA

International Bibliography. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.

Russell, Ford. “Satiric Perspective In Rochester’s A Satyr Against Reason And Mankind.”

Papers On Language And Literature: A Journal For Scholars And Critics Of Language And

Literature 22.3 (1986): 245-253. MLA International Bibliography. Web.5 Dec. 2013.

Wilmot, John. “A Satyr against Reason and Mankind” The Norton Anthology

of English Literature. Greenblatt, Stephen. Vol. C. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 1679.

Print.

 

29 November 2013, revised 21 May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Halcyon days: a close reading of a song by The Tea Party…

Halcyon is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a bird identified with the kingfisher and held in ancient legend to nest at sea about the time of the winter solstice and to calm the waves during incubation” (def. 1).

Sy Montgomery, a contributor at Encyclopedia Britannica writes of the kingfisher’s “courtship ritual”: “the male… offers fish to the female as she perches” (kingfisher).

In their song “Halcyon Days”, by the Tea Party, the refrain repeats the idea in the chorus:

now i see a light
shining from above
i think they’ve finally come
the halcyon days

So, what is the myth that informs this lyric? Which voice is being imitated? There is a rebirth out of the underworld as a wish yet fulfilled. The song’s stanzas have a drowning effect. It is out of the light shining in the chorus that the song lifts up out of the dragging down to imitate the effect of the Latin underworld.

“From Latin Alcyone, daughter of Aeolus and wife of Ceyx. When her husband died in a shipwreck, Alcyone threw herself into the sea whereupon the gods transformed them both into halcyon birds (kingfishers). When Alcyone made her nest on the beach, waves threatened to destroy it. Aeolus restrained his winds and kept them calm during
seven days in each year, so she could lay her eggs. These became known as the “halcyon days,” when storms do not occur” (halcyon days).

My best guess is that the song is from the perspective of Alcyone’s husband finally being drawn up, out of the underworld, to be reborn. The colloquialism “there are many fish in the sea” is repeated to men, but it would seem in this case of the myth that men are the fish that women catch. Does a man actually choose his woman? The choice seems to remain with the woman: whether or not she will dive into Homer’s sea, to find and rescue the right man for her.

————————————————————————————-

Notes

“halcyon days“. Wiktionary: A wiki-base Open Content dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8th July 2015. Web 26 Aug. 2015.

“kingfisher.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

“Kingfisher.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kingfisher&gt;.

A close-reading of “Bloom”

A thought on the endangered sea turtle, while visiting Cincinnati Zoo: Radiohead’s dim glimpse through its eyes

The train circles round to the waterfowl exhibit. My girlfriend and I point out the ducks to her children. Their faces fill with excitement, seeing the typical white birds and green mallards. Annabel grabs my attention and shows me turtles she spotted on a tree limb fallen out into the water. I begin thinking of sea turtles. I didn’t even think about how Radiohead’s The King of Limbs had been influencing me. I’ve listened to the album many times. It was just this week the lyrics finally hit me–such a rhythmically intricate album, how the percussion shines over the words. The main idea of the opening track is to be informed of how sea turtles are impacted in their environment. Seeing many bulletins about conservation in the zoo, seeing the turtles in the wetland exhibit, and the song cause me to stop and think about the animal, though there was no specific exhibit on green sea turtles.

“Bloom” is written from the perspective of a sea turtle. “So, why does it still hurt,” Thom Yorke asks, while he sings about the turtle drinking the ocean? Red Tide may be responsible for many sea deaths, and the title is interrelated to another type of food the green sea turtle eats: algae. The title of the song could also suggest a discoloration or pollutant present in the water. The audience knows some damage has been inflicted because the turtle is “moving out of orbit” and “turning in somersaults” in which listeners witness a part of its death–unable to feast on passing jelly fish.

Much of this correlates to the damage humans inflict on wildlife, which would suggest a negative connotation of why humans are king, pointing to the title of the album. While it may be ambiguous what is killing this particular creature in the song, one thing that is made important is for the listener to educate themselves on the many causes attributing to the species being on the endangered list.

The day is hot and my girlfriend and I sweat profusely as we move between one exhibit to the next with the tiring kids. We see a sea turtle in an aquarium exhibit where it isn’t the centerpiece, but a part of the ecosystem. One thing I note is how large the sea turtle is–looking like a rock underneath the water, not moving, and covered with algae. How smart the animal is to camouflage itself with food that sustains its need for sustenance. Food is overly priced at the animal park, so we leave for sandwiches before we make the trip back to Richmond, exhausted, hungry, but happy.

Work cited

Radiohead. “Bloom.” The King of Limbs. XL, 2011. LP.