By William Butler Yeats.
We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
Claude Monet’s A Woman Reading
As any lover of books can tell you, reading literature is an emotional journey, a journey that we the reader are not in control of. By choosing to read a text, we are giving ourselves over to that text, body and soul, and letting it transform us according to its purpose. Literature is a powerful agent, one that can change who we are people, and recently, attempts to map out these transformations in a tangible way have led to some interesting studies into how reading affects our psychological and cognitive processes. This article has an interesting summation of how the kinds of studies that are being conducted to try to examine how exactly literacy changes us as human beings.
These are very interesting studies to consider, although it must be kept in mind that there is only so much accuracy and predictive ability within these kinds of studies. Regardless, they act as a pleasant confirmation of what we readers feel and know to be true when we experience a work of literature that changes us forever.
Monet, Claude. 1872. A Woman Reading. Image. http://www.wikiart.org/en/claude-monet/a-woman-reading.
Why study English? What good does literature and art do for society? Well, that depends on who you ask. Unfortunately, the proponents of an artistic and literate life seem to have quieted in the recent decades, or, rather, are being drowned out by the sound of other media which have claimed part of the load of what it means to be literate and educated for themselves. We now have new entrants into the world of communication and entertainment in the form of television, film, podcasts, social media, online forums, etc… all of which, on the surface appear to make up a new, modern culture, or at least a “popular culture,” whose quality I am not addressing in this post. But even this new form of pop culture is trampled on constantly and methodically by the dominance, and perceived authority, of empirical thinking.
“What use is studying English? Why don’t you get a degree that can actually get you a job or do some good in the world?” If you are a modern scholar of literature, you’ve heard at least some variant of this argument against the humanities and for the various STEM
Hello, world! This is the first post of my new blog, A Literary Conversation, which I intend to use to explore what exactly it means to be a scholar of the art of literature in contemporary society and where exactly this scholarship and art’s importance lies in our lives. We live in a very unique period of history, a period in which digital literacy, more progressive values, and widespread communication capabilities have changed the landscape of writing and reading into a completely new image, one that hasn’t consciously been examined by many people, myself included. All I hope to do is work through the place that my art and passion occupies in the world around me. I hope you can either find some delight or utility in it.
P.S. Here are the just announced longlists for the 2016 National Book Award via the New Yorker: