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Category: we discuss the classics

Archive for the ‘we discuss the classics’ Category

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Venice, by Arthur Symons

I haven’t been to Venice (yet, its definitely on my list of places I want to go, for any number of reasons [the Icon Museum is one of them]), but I love the atmosphere that this poem paints of it. I am, in general, someone who prefers short(ish) poems over poems of epic proportions (though there are some really long poems I am definitely fond of), and this one manages to paint a very vivid and unified picture in eight lovely and melodious lines.

Arthur Symons

Water and marble and that silentness
Which is not broken by a wheel or hoof;
A city like a water-lily, less
Seen than reflected, palace wall and roof,
In the unfruitful waters motionless,
Without one living grass’s green reproof;
A city without joy or weariness,
Itself beholding, from itself aloof.

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

TDLaSM: Snow-Flakes
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

’cause I taught it last week – TDLaSM: The Rainy Day


The Rainy Day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

Emily Dickinson

Except the heaven had come so near,
So seemed to choose my door,
The distance would not haunt me so;
I had not hoped before.

But just to hear the grace depart
I never thought to see,
Afflicts me with a double loss;
‘T is lost, and lost to me.

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

This is not as classic and tradified a poem as the other entries into this category were, and far less well known. It is, for its sheer richness of sound and imagery, one of my favourite poems, however, and so I thought I’d share it with you here.

The Well
Jay MacPherson

A winter hanging over the dark well,
My back turned to the sky,
To see if in that blackness something stirs
Or glints, or winks an eye:

Or, from the bottom looking up, I see
Sky’s white, my pupil head –
Lying with all that’s lost, with all that shines
My winter with the dead:

A well of truth, of images, of words.
Low where Orion lies
I watch the solstice pit become a stair,
The constellations rise.

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Things Dearly Loved and Seldom Mentioned IV

(If this is going to be a regular feature, it really needs a catchier [and shorter] name). Also, more poetry today – this time from the author of The Red Badge of Courage. An Episode of the American Civil War.


A Man Said to the Universe
Stephen Crane

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”


Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Things Dearly Loved and Seldom Mentioned III

Here’s another poem for the “things dearly loved and seldom mentioned” category – IE things you don’t really post about loving or liking or being fond of because you think that everybody knows them, only to find out by chance that, hey, not everyone knows them! It’s clearly a bias in the first place – you work in a certain field and so things are tradified there and your blinders make it seem like surely everyone must come across these things all the time, because, hey, you do – only to then stop and think “Hmm, come to think of it, the overlap of people teaching American lit classes and the people reading this blog might not be all that large…” :-) (and if it is, hey presto, canon formation? [Oops?])

Weeks ago, at DFDF, S ran a lovely workshop where everyone was asked to bring poems they love (or hate), and I took a Rilke along (you’ve got to have Rilke along) and two about Ozymandias, and S. told me that I’d kind of flaked off on the whole ‘Sib posts the classics she loves’ project (I know! Sorry! I’ll try to do better), and so, here’s another one of those:

The Imaginary Iceberg
Elizabeth Bishop

We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship,
although it meant the end of travel.
Although it stood stock-still like cloudy rock
and all the sea were moving marble.
We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship;
we’d rather own this breathing plain of snow
though the ship’s sails were laid upon the sea
as the snow lies undissolved upon the water.

Read the complete poem here.


So, any thoughts on the iceberg?


Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Annabel Lee

Tomorrow is session two on the works of Edgar Allan Poe in one of my classes and we’ll be discussing Poe’s “Review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales” as well as his “Philosophy of Composition”. For transfer work, we’ll be applying things learned from these two theoretical works to both the short story we read and discussed last week, and to (and this is where the title of this post comes in) his poem “Annabel Lee”. Which is – in my opinion – fantastically well composed, and I love the sheer rhythm and soundscape of it … which also means that, once you’ve got it in your brain, it kind of stays there. So I thought I’d share. Three anapaests and then a iamb make for a beautiful rhythm that grabs you right there in the first line, don’t you think?

Annabel Lee
Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love–
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me–
Yes!–that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we–
Of many far wiser than we–
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling–my darling–my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

–> Dramatic Rendition.

Bonus random fact:
Nabokov’s original title for Lolita was The Kingdom by the Sea, and Humbert Humbert’s childhood sweetheart’s name is? Annabel Leigh. How about that.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Things dearly loved and seldom mentioned

Teaching an introductory class to literature and writing ones PhD are both exercises that make you ponder how much knowledge one can take for granted a lot, I find. Teaching in general does that, and I always try my best to adjust things I expect people to know to what they actually know, so there’s nothing new there, but it’s more obviously a large part of your life when you are pondering it on two different levels at the same time, and so it’s been on my mind, albeit not consciously or dominantly enough to make me consider posting about it, more on a case-by-case basis.

Something a friend posted elsewhere on the internet made me ponder it some more, and the levels on which it works. On one level, we have this tradition of naming ‘classic’ movies everyone should have seen (but probably hasn’t – Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Dr. Zhivago), on another one you have all those movies that media studies academia considers famous and one should have seen (and probably hasn’t – M, Panzerkreuzer Potemkin, North by Northwest) […] and on an entirely different level are things people love and know really well and in fact love and know so well that they think surely everyone else must know them too, because they’re classics/were famous once/… . So you never mention them to other people, because you think they’re old hat/everyone knows them/they are simply not something you discuss randomly with people/you don’t want to sound like a broken record/appear preachy/ you think you must already once have talked about with that other person (but actually haven’t), etc.

When we link people to things, or give them things as presents, we look for the news, the unusual, the exotic, the unexpected – because we expect them to  already be familiar with things that are:
a) reasonably well known in general, and
b) extremely well known by ourselves.
So you seldom find people giving other people a copy of, for instance, “Hamlet” as a random and unasked for gift. Not because its obscure or they don’t like it, but because they think, “Oh well, it’s Hamlet, they’re bound to know it!” Consequently, that hypothetical giftee might go a long time without reading or watching “Hamlet,” because while its famous and one ought to check it out, d’oh, one doesn’t always read famous things without some impetus behind it … or watch famous movies (see Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, etc from above).

I want to change that, at least for a bit. I want you to mention your ‘obvious’ favourites to me, and I want to mention my ‘obvious’ ‘common knowledge’ favourites to you. Because chances are that common knowledge *isn’t*, and what you love and think everyone knows not everyone does (know, that is – liking or disliking it is an entirely different kettle of fish).

So, let’s talk about ‘the woods [that] are lovely, dark and deep,’ why it “abwechselnd Stein in dir wird und Gestirn” and the albatross around one’s neck.  About A Day at the Races and “Fawlty Towers” and “Dalli Dalli.” About whether one is a falcon, a storm, a great song? Or, going back to “Hamlet,” about why “to sleep, perchance to dream” should really *not* be taken out of context or applied to, you know, sleep. (“To die, to sleep-To sleep-perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause-“).

So: Tell me your well loved and well known authors, poets, playwrights, movies, books, poems and plays, and I shall do the same!

In keeping with the season and the spirit of this post, my first famous  & well loved thing is this:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost, 1923

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

What well known and loved poem can you share in exchange? Is there one?