By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The creative process is as equally fascinating as it is enigmatic. Here is an interview of Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, and The Marriage Plot, among other works, conducted by The Paris Review as part of their “First Time” series.
XL- Into My Heart an Air That Kills
By A. E. Housman
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Image courtesy of Sean Kelley, 2011 at http://www.ukhillwalking.com/articles/page.php?id=6351
His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpracticed by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can but operate upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply and observation will always find.
Such was the verdict of Samuel Johnson in a preface to one of the many published editions of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and it was the beginning of a sentiment that is often thrown around, but never elaborated on, in many academic and conversational settings. Every classroom I have experienced has thrown the phrase about at least once; Shakespeare has a supposed “universality” that speaks to all of humanity within his writing, but this is a phrase used and discarded at a whim, never fleshed out and just accepted prima faci. Is it true though?
O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?Answer.That you are here—that life exists and identity,That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Image courtesy of https://www.pinterest.com/ldygwen784/old-new-york/
Dejection: An Ode
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
IWell! If the Bard was weather-wise, who madeThe grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,This night, so tranquil now, will not go henceUnroused by winds, that ply a busier tradeThan those which mould yon cloud in lazy flakes,Or the dull sobbing draft, that moans and rakesUpon the strings of this Æolian lute,Which better far were mute.For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!And overspread with phantom light,(With swimming phantom light o’erspreadBut rimmed and circled by a silver thread)I see the old Moon in her lap, foretellingThe coming-on of rain and squally blast.And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,And sent my soul abroad,Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live!
Ode: Intimations of Immortality
by William Wordsworth
The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
(Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”)
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,The earth, and every common sight,To me did seemApparelled in celestial light,The glory and the freshness of a dream.It is not now as it hath been of yore;—Turn wheresoe’er I may,By night or day.The things which I have seen I now can see no more.The Rainbow comes and goes,And lovely is the Rose,The Moon doth with delightLook round her when the heavens are bare,Waters on a starry nightAre beautiful and fair;The sunshine is a glorious birth;But yet I know, where’er I go,That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
The existence of a “classical canon” in literature raises a multitude of questions when we begin to examine the idea itself. Which pieces of literature are considered classics? Why are those considered classics? Why read classics? Who decides what is a classic? I’m not sure any two people have the exact same list of classics, as there is no exactly identical human experience between two people, so how can the art they consume and value and respond to and see as a required part of their lives possibly be identical. On top of that, in the words of Italo Calvino, “however vast any person’s basic reading may be, there still remain an enormous number of fundamental works that [they have] not read.” We simply cannot experience the vast entirety of art and literature that has been created. In short, classics are not black and white, but rather a tag we attach to an ever changing, individually subjective pool of literature that matter to us in some undeniable way. So here is one wonderful rationalization of the classical category by the aforementioned Italian author Italo Calvino:
1. The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: ‘I’m rereading…’, never ‘I’m reading….’
2. The classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.
Over my Thanksgiving break, I finally finished reading the novel King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild, which illustrates in great detail the horrible atrocities committed during the Scramble for Africa by King Leopold II of Belgium, including the genocide of natives and rape of a country in a grievous display of greed and hubris on the part of the European monarch Leopold. I highly recommend reading this novel, for many different reasons, if not simply to learn about the deaths of roughly 10 million Africans at the hands of white colonialism that inspired the very accurate Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, that occurred only a little over one hundred years ago, an event that has since lost its impact and place in the minds of people across the globe.
Iram the Many-Columned
Our city fled
So I ran to see its roads
I looked—I saw nothing but the horizon
I saw that the fugitives tomorrow
And those returning tomorrow
Were a body that I tore on my paper.
And I saw—the clouds were a throat
The water was walls of flame
I saw a yellow sticky thread
A thread of history hanging on to me
With which a hand that inherited
The race of puppets and the dynasty of rags
Was pulling at my days, knotting them and undoing them.