Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sonnet 3 by William Shakespeare

Today, one of the early poems to the Fair Youth sequence. Throughout the first seventeen sonnets, Shakespeare is urging the Fair Youth to find a woman and have children. This particular poem uses a farming metaphor that results in (among other things) a rather bawdy sexual reference involving ploughing and a rather clever double meaning of the word "husbandry", which meant both "the care of a household" and "the cultivation or production of plants". First the poem, then the discussion.

Sonnet 3
by William Shakespeare

Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another,
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose uneared womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
  But if thou live remembered not to be,
  Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, as per usual. This means it's written in iambic pentameter and rhymed ABABCDCDEFEFGG. You will note the "feminine" endings of the first four lines: viewest/renewest and another/mother each result in lines of 11 syllables, ending with an unstressed syllable known as a "feminine" ending.

Discussion: The poem is one of address, directed to the Fair Youth. The first quatrain says "Go to your mirror and give yourself a good talking to: You ought to have children now, and if you don't, you are depriving the world and, moreover, depriving some woman of being the mother of your children."

The second quatrain launches with the farming metaphor. First, the gist of the stanza: "There's no woman who wouldn't want to bear your children. And you shouldn't be so caught up in yourself to stop posterity by not breeding." Now a bit about the farm metaphor in the first two lines - he begins it with a reference to an "uneared womb" - an analogy in which the womb is a field, and is barren (lacking ears of corn), then refers to "the tillage of thy husbandry", a bawdy play on words, since tillage relates to ploughing, a word related to the sex act as well as to the act of turning soil in the field. A married man was called a husband then, as now, but the word meant both "the care of a household" (a reference to the source of the word husband) and to the raising of crops and animals. Naughty, naughty Will. The second two lines in this quatrain is a reference to vanity - Shakespeare asks if he's willing to go to his grave without having procreated, with an implication (I think) that the young man needs to pick a woman and get busy, and not be too fastidious in his selection process.

The third quatrain introduces yet another argument, and it's a more guilt-laden one, since the Bard invokes the Fair Youth's mother: "When your mother looks at you, she's reminded of her own beauty in her youth; similarly, if you have children, when you are old, you'll remember your time now." Although he doesn't go to the "give your mother some grandchildren and make her happy argument" directly, it's lingering there anyway in the reading in my opinion.

The final couplet is the real turn in this poem, in my opinion: "If you don't want to be remembered, then by all means, die single and without a 'copy' of yourself." The phrase "you selfish young man" is implied, don't you think? "Go ahead and die childless! The world will forget you!" Geez, Will, pile it on, why don't you?

You may listen to a good recitation of the poem in this YouTube presentation, which features a portrait of William Shakespeare and the text of the poem:

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Monday, March 29, 2010

A Review of African Acrostics by Avis Harley

Over at I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) today is my review of African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley, illustrated with photographs by Deborah Noyes.

It was one of my favorite poetry collections from 2009, and I can't believe I somehow missed reviewing it until now. Here's the crux of my comments:

In addition to providing spectacular photographs of African wildlife including elephants, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras, impalas and more, the poems include factual information about the animals, all in the form of acrostic poems - a form known by many teachers and children, and one that usually results in rather simplistic poems. Not so with Harley's work - she takes acrostics to a whole new level of clever.

To write an acrostic, you take a word (or phrase) and write it down the left-hand side of the page, then you start each line with the applicable letter. In the case of the poem entitled "A Croc Acrostic", the acrostic is the name of the profiled animal: "CROCODILE". Harley, however, got creative with other animals. The poem about the rhinoceros is not a 10-line poem based on the animal's name. Rather, it is a 16-line poem based on the acrostic "BEAUTY IN THE BEAST", which is the "edgeways" word down the side of the poem entitled "Moody Guy".

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Canis Major by Robert Frost - a Poetry Friday post

Today would have been Robert Frost's birthday, in honor of which I am posting a short poem of his from the collection entitled West-Running Brook, of which I am the delighted owner of a first edition (as those of you who remember this post will recall). In fact, the reason I know my book is a first edition is directly related to today's poem, since my book, like all the first edition copies, has the word "roams" in the final line of the poem, as I've typed below. In all later editions, the Overdog romps through the dark, a much more playful sort of conclusion.

Canis Major
by Robert Frost

The great Overdog,
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye,
Gives a leap in the east.

He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.

I'm a poor underdog,
But tonight I will bark
With the great Overdog
That roams through the dark.

Form: Were you to number the lines of the poem, you'd find that the even-numbered lines rhyme in pairs (beast/east, west/rest, bark/dark). You'd find that Frost varies the precise meter within the lines (sometimes two anapests (ta-da-DUM ta-da-DUM) and sometimes an iamb followed by an anapest (ta-DUM ta-da-DUM), but each line contains two stressed syllables. The choice of meter gives the verse a skipping sort of feel when read aloud.

Analysis: Canis Major is the name of one of the major constellations. The "greater dog" contains Sirius ("the dog star"), which is the brightest star in the night sky. The big dog "follows" Orion the hunter through the night sky, and is depicted above in a constellation card published in London around 1825. His "upright" position is referenced in the poem, as is the idea that the constellation moves across the night sky from east to west.

I like Frost's closing stanza quite a bit - he implies that he's heading out to howl at the moon (roughly). By characterizing himself as an underdog, Frost is employing a double meaning: he is literally "under" the dog in the skies, but he also fancies himself an underdog in the common sense of the word: 1) a loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest; 2) a victim of injustice or persecution. In such a case, the word "bark" also takes on a second meaning - it can mean "to make the characteristic short loud cry of a dog" or "to speak in a curt loud and usually angry tone" (or even "to advertise by persistent outcry").

I leave it to you to decide whether Frost intended to be playfully making noise out of doors, or whether he meant to invoke the darker meaning (my preferred reading): that he was protesting something in the figurative, rather than in the literal, dark - a voice in the wilderness, if you will, rather than someone resembling the grandpa from Moonstruck.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Guess What I'm Reading?

I am not reading Jane Austen. At least, not exactly. I am listening to the audiobook of Pride and Prejudice.

I'm also reading Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach, which I am finding extraordinarily interesting. Auerbach opens the book by examining how Austen was sanitized - and sanctified - by her nieces and nephews during the Victorian era, both in her appearance (they commissioned a new portrait based on Cassandra's sketch of her sister, then made her increasingly prim (and plump) in subsequent printings. A niece opined that the new drawings were very nice, but didn't look much like Austen. They also suppressed many letters (or portions thereof) and much of her juvenilia. You see, Austen wrote with a Georgian sensibility, which was far less "delicate" than the sensibility of the Victorians. Like Austen's first biographer, her brother Henry, they put out stories emphasizing those of her qualities that Victorians found important in women - quite possibly including ones she didn't actually possess. They downplayed others of her less desirable characteristics, including her desire to be published, her pride in her work, and her delight in being paid for it.

Auerbach's approach to Austen is based in a feminist perspective, but it includes a number of scholarly approaches. After the introductory chapter, Auerbach examines Austen's works and discusses what can be learned about Austen from her juvenilia and novels. While I've seen a review calling that particular inference into question, thus far (I've read all but three chapters) I see no flaw in Auerbach's methodology. She draws her deductions by following "clues" Austen herself put in the manuscripts - meanings of names, tracking down literary references, etc. One of the most fascinating chapters I've read is on Mansfield Park, which includes noting that Austen references Crabbe's Tales as one of the books owned by Fanny Price, and that Crabbe's Tales includes a story with a timid young heroine named Fanny Price. Her deduction that Austen was smiling as she reference Tales has to be correct - or an understatement. The same holds true for the many references to the slave trade that are scattered throughout Mansfield Park, many of which are not overt to modern readers, but, when read by Austen's contemporaries - particularly those who were up on their reading in her time - they'd have been pretty clear.

Oh. And the other book I'm reading? It's a new poetry collection by Marilyn Singer that I purchased today entitled Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. I had to get it once I read the first three poems. Singer has written an entire book of "reversos" - poems that can be read forward or backwards, with each direction telling a different side of the fairy tale in question. I haven't finished reading it yet, but you can expect a review soon. After all, I bought it because I wanted to examine her form, and because I wished I'd written those opening poems myself.

So tell me, what are you reading?

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It Was a Lover and His Lass by William Shakespeare

From Act V, sc. 3 of As You Like It, one of the plays I discussed last June as part of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month", comes a delightful (and secretly bawdy) song, "It Was a Lover and His Lass". This particular scene consists of Touchstone, the clown, and his intended bride, Audrey (who is on record as saying "I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul." Act III, sc.3) running into two pages, who dance in a circle with them while one of the pages sings this song. Part of the joke is that Touchstone is really only after Audrey because he wants a tumble, the other part is in the lyrics of the song itself, about an amorous couple getting busy in a cornfield.

During last year's event, I mentioned all the songs in the play, and the other two songs, "Under the Greenwood Tree" and "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind" have each had their own dedicated posts, leaving this perfect-for-spring selection for today:

It Was a Lover and His Lass
by William Shakespeare

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o'er the green cornfield did pass
In springtime, the only pretty ringtime,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie
In springtime, etc.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, etc.

And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crownèd with the prime
In springtime, etc.

If you are interested in hearing a contemporary setting of this song, meaning one that was written by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Thomas Morley, then you may click here to launch a QuickTime file from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, part of Shakespeare's Life and Times, Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria: Victoria, BC, 2001-2005.

Form: The song consists of four verses and a chorus, which is repeated after each verse. The verses themselves are composed of a rhymed couplet separated by a hey, and a ho and a hey nonino. The chorus includes rhyme (springtime/ringtime, sing/ding/spring).

A word on meaning: The song tells the story of a lover and his lass who quite literally have a roll in the hay - or at least in the rye. The "nonsense" syllable, "nonny", is here subsumed in the word "nonino", pronounced "nonny no". The word "nonny" in Shakespeare's time was not mere nonsense, but was one of many, many slang terms for the vagina - the interlineation, therefore, of "with a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonny no" is in part a term to sexual (inter)action between the Lover and his Lass, and also attributed to them as the "song" they sing while thus engaged. Because although we think of him as "highbrow" today, that was not exactly how Shakespeare rolled - he was the master of double meanings and sexual puns, and this song is one example of it. This is a simple country tune (and yes, there's a double meaning in that) - you may accept is as innocent or giggle at its suggestiveness, as is your wont.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010


Looking into my file entitled "quotes for quoteskimming", I found this bit from the lovely and talented Anna Staniscewski. First, a quote from Wendy Maass that I found on her website, then Anna's thoughts on the matter. You can read the whole post here:

Wendy Maass quote:

Are sidekicks useful in other types of novels? Young adult novels are replete with best friends, which is natural to the social structure of high school. Epic or quest fantasy is another type of story that can hardly seem to do without sidekicks. In other types of novels, though, I have found that sidekicks do not often fit in. Why? Because for the most part, the hero's problems are personal; or at any rate the plot is more effective when it is the hero and the hero alone who can solve the main problem. Isolating your hero is generally a good idea.

Anna's thoughts:

I found the idea of isolating your hero particularly interesting when thinking about MG and YA books. Although Maass says that sidekicks are often found in YA novels, I would say they're much more prevalent in MG; this seems to be true both of speculative fiction and of realistic fiction. This could be because feelings of isolation tend to be something we associate more with teens than with children. Also, MG novels are often about forging relationships, so there's plenty of opportunities for sidekicks.
Other than that, I confess that my file was empty. I will, however, share with you this quote from the March/April 2010 issue of Writer's Digest, a quote from Nate Pritts, poetry editor of H_NGM_N:

I suppose I would encourage poets to realize that writing a poem is a small portion of what they owe to Poetry. A Poet doesn't just write poems. A Poet starts a journal or starts a press. A Poet gives a reading or organizes a reading. A Poet reads poems - thousands of them. A Poet cares about your poem as much as they care about their own.
And a wee thing from my commonplace book - a quote from the movie Hamlet II:

"You can't stop art."

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Woodpecker - a Poetry Friday post

This morning I could hear the tap-tap-tap-tap-tapping of a woodpecker in the neighborhood. It could be a downy woodpecker, a hairy woodpecker or a red-bellied woodpecker (all of which I've seen in my own yard), and I'm certain there are a few additional species in the area.

It brought to mind this short poem my grandfather was fond of reciting in his booming voice:

The woodpecker pecked at the wood-house door
He pecked and he pecked 'til his pecker got sore.

And yes, I'm laughing while typing this. As a kid, I didn't understand that there was a double entendre involved in this little rhymed couplet.

My grandfather was big on rhymes and songs. The songs in particular were sung lustily and full voice. They included a rather questionable re-write of the hymn "Jesus Lover of My Soul" that also has me laughing as I type. I'll post it in the comments, for those of you who might have an interest in it. (It being Lent, it doesn't "feel" right to post it in the body of the post somehow.)

My Poetry Friday is quite busy today - writing time now, and reading time later. Tonight is the launch party for the new edition of Up and Under, the literary journal published by the Quick & Dirty Poets. My poem, "Socratic Method", is included in the new issue, so I'll be reading that poem and at least one other at tonight's event in Mount Holly, NJ.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010


During Tuesday's writing session, I completed my 150th poem for the Jane project. What a satisfying round number that is.

Today, much of my time will be spent in assessing the project: what has been written and what I know for certain needs to be written, where gaps exist, what additional events or topics I'd like to add in.

After more than three years of work on my biography of Austen in verse, I am finally nearing the end. Based on the shape of the project now and the limited gaps I'm aware of before I start today's work, I am entirely confident that I'll be able to meet my self-imposed August deadline.

And with two grant applications sent in, I'm hopeful that a research grant will come through to allow me to head to England for supplemental research, although I'm pretty certain my best course of action is to try to forget all about them. They have better odds than the lottery, but even still, there's still competition for grants.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sonnet 33 by William Shakespeare

Today is a beautiful day here in New Jersey - sunny, highs in the mid-60's (~18 degrees Celsius), clear blue skies, noisy birds and all. The sun rose at 7:10 a.m. this morning and will set at 7:10 this evening, splitting the day in twain. Daffodils are nearly out, the grass (what survived the snows) is greening, and it is, to all appearances, spring.

It being Wednesday, it's time for some Shakespeare, and the loveliness outdoors put me in mind of the opening of his Sonnet 33, which begins on just such a glorious morning. His poem takes a turn, as sonnets are wont to do, but it seemed like a good pick for today anyhow.

Sonnet 33
by William Shakespeare

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
E'en so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
  Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
  Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) and rhymed ABABCDCDEFEFGG. This poem uses quite a number of "cheats", beginning with the first line, where "many" is supposed to be said as one stressed beat, and the last two syllables of "glorious" have to be ellided: "full MANY a GLOrious MORNing HAVE i SEEN". The final couplet ends with "disdaineth" and "staineth", both words with what is known as a "feminine" (or unstressed) ending.

Discussion: I really like the metaphor in this poem. Shakespeare opens with a beautiful day, in which he is admiring the sun, then speaks of how the sun becomes obscured by clouds. The first four lines are about the beautiful day; the second quatrain is about how the clouds have come in the afternoon and he's not seen the sun during the latter half of the day. The volta or "turn" comes at the start of line 9 (as it so very often - but not always - does), when he mentions "my sun" - a metaphor for the beloved Fair Youth. This is a poem about trouble in their relationship. Nobody can be certain what it is, but it appears that the Fair Youth has done something to hurt Shakespeare's feelings - perhaps he has shown favor to another poet, perhaps he has absented himself from Shakespeare, maybe they had a falling out.

The closing couplet is a bit tricky to parse. The first line ("Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth") means "My love for him hasn't decreased because of this", and the second ("Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth") means that if the actual sun can be obscured (or "stained") by clouds, then it only stands to reason that luminaries such as the Fair Youth can also "stain". It's not as simple as that, however, since Shakespeare was invoking the word "stain" in a somewhat unusual sense to describe the clouds in the sky - therefore, he was deliberately going for the word "stain" because he wanted the double meaning to exist in assessing what was going on with the Fair Youth. His feelings are hurt, certainly, but his use of the word "stain" seems to indicate that he might be a bit angry as well, and (to me, but perhaps I read into it), it implies that the Fair Youth is under the influence of someone of whom Shakespeare disapproves - whether because he dislikes that person and/or their morality, or because he dislikes the fact that the person is somehow preventing the Fair Youth from spending time with Shakespeare.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shakespeare news

I know, I know - it's not Wednesday. I promise a work of the Bard tomorrow, as per usual. But today, I learned this fabulous piece of news and had to share:

On March 22, Arden Shakespeare will release the play "Double Falsehood", by Lewis Theobald. Theobald wrote the play back in the early 18th century, and it was first performed in 1727, about 100 years after the death of Shakespeare. Theobald always claimed that his play was based on a lost version of an earlier play cowritten by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and first performed in 1613. The play tells the story of Cardenio, a character taken from Miguel de Cervantes' novel, Don Quixote.

Theobald claimed that some of the words in "Double Falsehood" were Shakespeare's own, which is almost certainly true, in the sense that Shakespeare may have employed some of the same words, but not in the same order - the writing of this particular play is, apparently, all Theobald's. Still, the play traces its origins to Shakespeare, who apparently wrote the first half of the original version, which was completed by Fletcher, then later re-written by Theobald.

I find it interesting that nobody's talking about the obvious points of interest here: that Shakespeare was a fan of Cervantes, say, or an exploration of his relationship with Fletcher. But I'm sure that will all follow, as certain as night follows day (and vice versa).

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The things we do in the name of research

Today found me northward bound, headed for New York City in the mizzling rain (with occasional dry patches and intermittent downpours) in order to get to the Morgan Library & Museum to see "A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy", which closed today. In fairness, I had every good intention of getting there in January, February, or earlier in March, but my life basically followed this arc: sick - snow - snow - snow - sick, with one or two weekends in which neither of those things applied but other demands were made on my time. And so it was that I arrived at 2:30 on the day the exhibit was closing.

Judging from the crowd (and from comments overheard about this being a large one, although in truth, it wasn't exactly crammed), I wasn't the only person to leave it until the 11th hour. In fact, I met a lovely lady who lives in NYC and hadn't managed to get there until today; at least the 2-hour drive gave me a bit of justification. Sort of. If one wants to make excuses. And I do. But I digress.

Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?

I will start by saying that the above quote, while from one of Austen's letters, was not one of the letters on display in the exhibit. There were more than a handful, however, for the reading (if you were so inclined), including at least 3 that were "crossed", meaning that after Austen filled the page in the usual way, she turned it sideways and wrote additional (larger) lines from bottom to top of the page, creating a checkerboard of handwriting. It was interesting to see exactly how big the paper was (something I'd never located a clear answer to in my research), and to see how small the letters had been folded - you could tell because you could still see fold lines on some of them, plus you could see how much (or rather, how relatively little) of the sheet had been left to be the "front" of the letter, on which the address appeared.

I smiled to see the letter in which she is gleeful on having gotten a new cloak while in Bath. She had ordered one for Cassandra, and made inquiries as to whether Cassandra might like the same lace or something different - in the process, drawing a small sample of "the pattern of its lace" so that Cassandra might judge.

I laughed aloud as I looked at her fair copy of her "plan of a novel, according to hints from various quarters", which was cunningly framed between panes of glass so that one could walk around it and read both sides. According to text versions of it that I've read, she put little superscript numbers in the text and identified the sources of at least some of the notions that enter her satirical outline of what would have been a truly terrible novel. And sure enough, there they were. She had left a much wider margin on the document than on her letters, and neatly wrote the names of the people who had given her unasked-for advice on what to write next (or, perhaps, on how to improve her writing).

I cried as I read Cassandra's letter to her niece, Fanny Austen Knight (later Lady Knatchbull), talking about Austen's death, which describes the manner of her death and includes this incredibly moving passage:

I have lost a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed,--She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself.

To see Austen's actual handwriting on the original papers was something indeed. You could see how she started so many of her letters with the best intention of legibility, and how she started to cram more and more lines in as she went on, writing smaller and tighter still as she ended, and sometimes flipping the paper to write another paragraph upside-down within the top margin she had initially planned on leaving free. You could see where her quill ran out of ink, and get a feel for the notion that she was using different quills at different times based on how fine the written lines were.

The exhibit included the first seven letters in the handwritten fair copy of Lady Susan, a novella written in epistolary form that is quite unlike any of the published novels, and is singular in presenting as the main character a seductive, attractive, conniving adulteress who schemes to "punish" her daughter by marrying her off to a guy the daughter doesn't care for, only to (eventually) marry her daughter's beau herself. It had a small scrap of cover material that was for "Susan: A Novel in Two Volumes". It's her handwriting, and that is the sum total of it. Susan eventually became Catherine, which was released after her death under the title of Northanger Abbey.

Other items that were written by Austen included a tally of her expenses one year, and a separate tally of her profits on her books, as well as a dedication written inside a book given to her niece, the aforementioned Fanny Austen (before her father changed their surname to Knight for inheritance purposes, and long before her marriage). It was truly an inspiring visit, and yielded me two pages of notes (no cameras allowed inside the Morgan, I'm afraid, and it was so rainy outside that I opted not to bother carting one along at all today).

Was it worth the trip in the rain, complete with traffic and tolls and exorbitant parking? I'd have to say "yes", even though I am now nearly exhausted. And now, I'm off to transcribe my notes, which were hastily scrawled and may not make sense to me the further from the Morgan I get in time.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Today, a fairly lengthy poem. I hope that when you get a 10-15 minute window of time, you will come read this poem in its entirety, for it is a marvel of construction (written in accentual verse - two or four (sometimes three or five) stressed syllables per short line - and cleverly using rhyme throughout, although in no set pattern) and it tells a most marvelous (in pretty much all senses of that word) tale of two sisters, one of whom allows herself to be tempted by the goblin men and their lovely fruit, only to find herself wasting away. Can the other sister sort out how to save her? And what does this allegory mean?

I know several YA authors have been influenced by this story, including National Book Award nominee Laini Taylor, whose story "Goblin Fruit" in Lips Touch Three Times is inspired by Rossetti's poem and my friend Tessa Gratton, who wrote this inspired piece at Merry Sisters of Fate about it. I like Tess's summary and explanation quite a bit, and so will you, I think.

Goblin Market
by Christina Rossetti

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries--
All ripe together
In summer weather--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy."
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
"Lie close," Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
"Come buy," call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
"O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Lizzie covered up her eyes
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
"Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds' weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes."
"No," said Lizzie, "no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us."
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr'd,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried "Pretty Goblin" still for "Pretty Polly";
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
"Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather."
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answered altogether:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
"Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so."
"Nay hush," said Laura.
"Nay hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more," and kissed her.
"Have done with sorrow;
I'll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap."

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other's wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.

Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day's delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came--
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: "The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep."
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
"Come buy, come buy,"
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged, "O Laura, come,
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather even
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?"

Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
But peering thro' the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent 'til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
"Come buy, come buy,"
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister's cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins' cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy."
Beside the brook, along the glen
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear,

She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.

Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death's door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook,
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, --
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
"Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs."

"Good folk," said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
"Give me much and many"; --
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
"Nay, take a seat with us,
Honor and eat with us,"
They answered grinning;
"Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us."
"Thank you," said Lizzie; "but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee."
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, --
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, --
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, --
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tear her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple.
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, --
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried "Laura," up the garden,
"Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men."

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
"Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin;
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?"
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months,years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."

Discussion of form: As mentioned up front, this narrative poem uses a mix of accentual verse, usually with four stressed beats per line, although at the start of the poem she has only two per line, and there are instances with three or five stressed beats. She's not using simple iambs (two-syllable feet composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one: taDUM) either, but mixes up her poetic feet with abandon. There is quite a bit of rhyme in the piece, both end rhyme (as in a rhymed couplet: "way/astray") and internal rhyme, where words that are not at the end of lines also rhyme, as in "Cat-like and rat-like,/Ratel and wombat-like". She is also a master of alliteration, as in this passage where Lizzie challenges the goblin men:

Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word

cuffed, caught, coaxed (for their opening C); bullied, besought (opening B); scratched and pinched (for their internal CH); kicked, knocked, mocked (for their internal K); mauled and mocked (for their opening M) - see how she has used alliteration to help hold this passage together, and how her use of those hard consonants (especially C, B, CH and K) are onomatopoetic (meaning that they sound a bit like their meaning)?

Her end rhymes are not always nearby. For instance, in this passage, "ink" rhymes with "drink", four lines earlier, and "word" rhymes with "curd", five lines later.

A word on meaning: The poem is straight-up about temptation: the goblin men try to rob young women of their innocence, and once they've done so, they have no interest in those women any longer. Commentators have drawn parallels between the temptation of the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the book of Genesis, and while they aren't wrong, neither are they 100% right - because Adam & Eve were eternally cast out of the Garden after they partook of the fruit, but because of Lizzie's act, Laura is redeemed, and is able to marry and bear children after all - a "fallen woman" reclaimed, as it were, which is extremely contrary to the contemporary Victorian thinking of Rossetti's time.

Commentators believe this poem stands for a lot of things: drug addiction, rape, the Victorian marriage market (where a non-virgin could not be "sold"), family ties ("there is no friend like a sister"), protofeminism, artistic repression, lesbianism. All of them are pretty easily identified, if you want to draw the parallels, but I find myself agreeing with Tess's conclusion that the poem is ultimately about temptation and sexual taboos. Here's a bit of what Tessa Gratton had to say:

But since I mostly come at this as a faerie tale fan (and feminist), I tend to stick more strictly with the idea that this poem, along with almost all faerie folklore, is about taboo. Specifically sexual taboo. The Goblins represent everything that is taboo for young Victorian women, and Lizzie represents everything that a good young Victorian woman should be: pure, strong, sacrificing, innocent, beautiful, responsible.

What is most interesting to me, is that Laura is redeemed. Most fallen women DIE. Especially in Victorian lit. Once you tarnish your purity, you are doomed. Excuse me, that should be with a capital: Doomed. But here we have a sister's love (the non-masculine, purest kind of love) as *stronger* than the evil temptations of Satan/goblin men. It's a sister-bond, a woman to woman relationship that saves the day, not a man, a husband, brother, knight-in-shining armor. This love is strong enough to forgive, to redeem without God's permission - and that's what makes this poem just a little bit subversive.

As a final note, although this narrative poem reads like a fairy tale, Rossetti told her publisher straight up that this was not a tale for children. To me, this indicates that it was her intention to be writing about sex; otherwise, there's no real reason a child (an older child, at any rate) couldn't read this particular story, since the goblins' treatment of Lizzie is no worse than what any number of witches and other "bad" fairy tale characters have meted out over the years (eating and beating children, forcing them to bathe in scalding liquids, etc.)

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Jane Project process post

Something that occurs to me, as I'm hard at work on the Jane Project, is that some of you might be interested in my process, such as it is. I know that I like reading other people's process posts, such as this one from Jeannine Atkins a few weeks back, where she compared her process to making soup.

I do not have nearly such a poetic metaphor for you today. Because I have to say that my process with the Jane Project has shifted - and continues to shift - as I've gone along.

Here's a bit of what that journey has looked like:

In the autumn of 2006, I was brainstorming possible picture book ideas. And one of them was to create an abecediary of women writers. Anyone out there enthralled with that notion is welcome to it, with my blessing, since as I did hours of research towards that idea, I ended up with plenty of easy picks - Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and her sisters, Virginia Woolf - but some letters really had me reaching. And it was too far to reach, for me, really. But I digress.

In December of 2006, I spent quite a bit of time in bed due to a flare of my rheumatoid arthritis. And it just so happened that the 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice was on heavy rotation on HBO, so that nearly any time I turned the TV on, it was on one of the three HBO channels we get on the TV in the bedroom. And I loved Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy) and Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins) and Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Bennet), so I watched it again and again. And it dawned on me that I'd be interested in learning more about Jane Austen in particular, and that rather than an abecediary of women writer's, I'd write a verse biography of Austen's life. Mind you, I knew next to nothing about Austen or, if truth be told, her works at that point in time. I'd seen movie versions of Pride & Prejudice (Keira Knightley), Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Sense & Sensibility (Emma Thompson), but that was it.

In January of 2007, as I started to feel a bit better, I started my biographical research, by which I mean that I read biographies. I bought myself a copy of Carol Shields's very small biography and found that I was entranced with Austen's life, which encouraged me to proceed with my project. I borrowed a copy of Claire Tomalin's biography of Austen from , then went out and purchased my own copy so I could mark it up. I borrowed a number of additional biographies from the library and started taking notes. Lots of them. Then I moved on to other sorts of books - commentaries on her work, books about Georgian and Regency England, etc. I borrowed quite a number of them from my library, but the library being limited to 40 or so books about Austen (in whole or in part), I ended up purchasing a number of books as well. (At present, my personal collection exceeds 150 volumes, ranging from pamphlets to thick academic tomes.)

I started writing poems based on Austen's childhood, about which precious little is recorded. Still, I found that poems bring some of the information and episodes alive far better than traditional biographies. Each poem is a snapshot of a particular person, place, incident, etc., and it allows that moment to shine in a way that it being rolled into a single chapter covering birth to age 12 or so doesn't allow for.

It occurred to me along the way that I really ought to read all her books. I'd read Sense & Sensibility once in the late 1990s, Pride & Prejudice once in about 2000, and put Emma down in 2001 due to an inability to get into it. So I started reading books. And watching cinematic versions of the books. And I ordered the Juvenilia, a collection of works written between the ages of about 12 and 20 or so, as well as a book called Chronology of Austen, a rather thick collection of research put together by Deirdre Le Faye, which includes events about Austen's ancestors as well as about the descendants of her siblings, based not only on family letters and records but on receipts at shops, journal entries by neighbors and more. It allowed me to find out information about Austen's lifetime that was not widely recorded in biographies - like that her neighborhood was plagued by a highwayman in 1793, and that the first floor of the Austen's home had flooded in 1795. And of course, I've engaged in a tremendous amount of internet research ranging from fan sites to sites dedicated to the Regency or Georgian England to access of scholarly journals.

I joined the Jane Austen Society of North America in 2007, which allowed me to spend time among other Janeites, some of whom have only ever seen a few movies, and some of whom are exceptionally well-versed in Jane's life as well as her writing. I was surprised to find myself elected Regional Coordinator for the Eastern Pennysylvania region, a two-year term that ends later this month. I was thrilled to attend two Annual General Meetings, where I attended a number of seminars on Austen's life and works.

Over the past three years, my process for writing the various poems has varied. Sometimes a poem can be as simple as a summary of a letter (or as complicated as a double sestina summarizing the plot of Pride & Prejudice - yeah, I wrote one). Sometimes I get an idea that requires so much research as to be ridiculous. For instance, I found a reference to Jane and her sister wearing pattens, and spent at least 20 hours researching precisely what a patten is. I've written at least two poems about them, one of which I posted here. I have other poems that make that 20 hours look like a drop in a bucket, with as much as 50 hours of research time to sort out the research for a particular poem and, in some cases, as many hours again invested in composing the actual poem.

I had one poem in which I was trying to describe a particular childhood incident involving Jane and her younger brother, Charles, that would not budge. I tried writing it for weeks and failed to find a way in. I ended up drawing a picture of the scene I wanted to depict, then writing free verse about it, then figuring out a way to write a piece of period-appropriate verse about it. In another case in which I wanted to describe Jane's relationship with an older woman in her neighborhood, I ended up prewriting free verse about my own "teacher crush" when I was in 6th grade, and about S's "teacher crush" in 6th grade, including free verse about what that teacher had said about S. Eventually, I found my way in. Sometimes, you do indeed have to go around your ass to get to your elbow, or so it seems.

It does get easier, the more I know about my subject, to write about it. But no matter how much I know about Jane Austen's life and time, I find that sometimes, the tangents are worth pursuing. Because they've allowed me to come up with poems that help put her life into context, and to create what I hope will be a collection of snapshots that will give readers a better sense of who she really was.

I've set a deadline for myself of completing the first draft of the collection by this August. And now, as I move into the home stretch, I find myself again hoping that a research grant will come through (I've applied for a JASNA grant and for the SCBWI WIP grant) that will allow me to get to England in order to actually acquire some first-hand observations to further strengthen the poems. And I am convinced that many of the poems I've already written may not make the final collection, while others I've yet to write may prove essential. Again I worry about figuring out "what to leave in, what to leave out" (as Bob Seger noted in "Against the Wind"), but for now, I'm going to keep putting together all the snapshots I can manage, knowing that I can remove the ones that are blurry or distracting later, if need be.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Full Fathom Five by William Shakespeare

Today, the second song performed by Ariel in Act I, sc. 2 of The Tempest. I say the "second song", even though some people believe it's a second verse to "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" because the rhyme scheme and verse structure are a bit different. Also, a musical setting of "Full Fathom Five" as a separate song has survived from Shakespeare's time to the present, set to music by King James I's lutenist, Robert Johnson, so I rather suspect they had different tunes as originally performed.

I've just now finished reading an ARC of Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev, sequel to Eyes Like Stars, which I so loved from last year. The book does not come out until June of this year, so I sha'n't post too much about it just yet. I will say, however, that I adore it, and that Ariel has me swooning and more determined than ever to read The Tempest, a copy of which I have already purchased in preparation for this year's Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month, which is shaping up to have lots of discussion and several fabulous prizes. But I digress.

The lines "those are pearls that were his eyes./Nothing of him that doth fade,/But doth suffer a seachange" have been on heavy rotation on brainradio for me for months (yes, brainradio plays more than music - it recites poetry as well), so it's no surprise that they came surging to the fore yet again once I spent so much time with Ariel.

Full Fathom Five
by William Shakespeare

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Classic Illustrated Edition

The kind folks at Chronicle Books sent me a review copy of their recent release, the paperback edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Classic Illustrated Edition by Lewis Carroll, compiled by Cooper Edens. The biographical information on Cooper Edens says that he "owns one of the largest collections of vintage picture books in the world"; his familiarity with quite a number of editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is evident throughout the book, which utilizes images of Alice from a wide variety of editions of the work created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The book includes images from at least 30 illustrators, beginning with John Tenniel (the original illustrator) and ending (I'm guessing here based on what some of the images look like) in the 1930s or so. There are blond Alices and brunette Alices, long-haired Alices and Alices with a bob, full-color Alices, tri-color Alices (red and white and black, say) and black and white Alices.

Here's Cooper Edens's three-paragraph introduction, which explains his vision for this book:

One never forgets a trip to Wonderland. Alice's curious world is one that inspires interpretation but defies description. As a result, the illustrations the story has inspired are richly diverse. As you will see, there is no singular vision of Wonderland.

In researching the visual history of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and the many different artists it has enchanted, I discovered that each artist focused on different elements of Lewis Carroll's story. Charles Robinson was drawn to its alluring wit; Arthur Rackham to its mysterious majesty; Willy Pogany and K.M.R. sought order in a disordered world; Gertrude Kay, Millicent Sowerby, and Margaret Tarrant delighted in its elegant fancy. For me, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a book so incredibly faceted that its many secrets begin to shine only when these distinct interpretations are brought together.

With great care and deep reverence, I have collected and selected these distinct illustrations to create a unique vision of a world whose boundaries are as infinite as imagination itself. It is my wish that in creating such a vision, I have further illuminated for you the Wonderland that Lewis Carroll imagined and which readers of all ages have visited for over a hundred years.
Reading this book made me aware of two things:

First, when reading a single story, I like having a single illustrator represented. There's something comforting in knowing that Alice is always 12, say, instead of sometimes 6. Especially when so many fantastical creatures are encountered and so many alterations occur to Alice, there's a continuity in having the same illustrator in charge of the images paired with the tale. Since this book is really the text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland illustrated with a variety of prints, I found the various depictions of Alice and Wonderland to be distracting at times. There are at least three illustrations of Alice talking with the caterpillar atop its mushroom - a terrific image, to be sure, but three of the same image (albeit from different editions of the story) doesn't really enhance/advance the plot, pictorially.

I suppose what I'm saying here is that if this book is simply another edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, then I'd just as soon have a single-illustrator version. Like maybe the Camille Rose Garcia edition that I just ordered from Powell's (they allowed me to preorder a signed copy - how sweet is that?) Or the Sabuda/Reinhart pop-up edition (that I already have). Or my copy of The Annotated Alice, ed. by Martin Gardner and with the original John Tenniel artwork (and some additional Tenniel sketches).

Second, I wanted this book to be something other than what it is. I really, truly wish this book had provided me with more history of the various illustrations and a whole lot more information about the illustrators who created the work - what time period they worked in, where they were from, what "school" they belonged to if they worked in a particular style, what their perspective or point of view was. Why did Besse Pease Gutmann, A.A. Nash and Charles Robinson depict Alice as a brunette with a chin-length bob? And why did Gutmann's Alice appear to have the build of an oversized toddler, while Nash's looks more like a 10-year old, and Charles Robinson's Alice appears to have a toddler's face at one point and that of a 12-year old at another (and one with longer, lighter hair at that)?

And it's not just Alice - the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Gryphon, . . . even the flamingo croquet mallet are all depicted quite differently. Sometimes the Red Queen looks demented, sometimes benign, sometimes hideous, sometimes not - I would have really liked a thoughtful comparison as to how the other characters are presented, and why. Cooper Edens hints at knowing some of this in his introduction, but we are unfortunately not to learn more.

I get where Mr. Edens is coming from. I do. And don't get me wrong - the variety of illustrations presented is interesting, and widely divergent. But I would have liked to see a survey of "depictions of Alice and of Wonderland through time" set out in a somewhat scholarly manner, rather than a variety of wildly different depictions of Alice and of Wonderland used to illustrate the original text. In short, I'd have liked for Mr. Edens to expound on his research and the discoveries he made about what the various illustrators were trying to do. And if he has any insight on who the models were for their art (assuming there were any), and on whether they relied on the works of any of the other illustrators at least in part (I assume some may have), then that's the sort of thing I think would be fascinating to know.

And yes, I know that in reviewing this book, I'm saying that I wish it were a different book altogether. It does not mean that it is not interesting, because it is. It doesn't mean it's not worth a look, because it decidedly is, particularly if one is interested in seeing how different (and in some cases, how similar) versions of a fantasy world can appear, and/or if one is an illustrator or an Alice-phile (if that is a word).

Final word: The book design on this is terrific, including a wrap-around cover that unwraps to reveal a collage of Alice images from all over the place. And when I say it unwraps, I mean it unwraps in a big way - it's part of the back cover of the book that folds over to cover the back cover, the spine, and the front cover, while also creating the front inside flap. Way cool. And the covers of the book (front and back) are covered with images, as are the inside of the blue "wrap" cover.

I will happily keep my copy of the book on my shelves, but I do still wish for that other book - the history of Alice's illustrations.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010


My friend Angela De Groot made a good point the other day. Sometimes, it's not really writer's block that's an issue:

"I believe writer’s reluctance dovetails with writer’s block – sometimes all you need is a beginning, somebody or something to help you get rolling. Once you do get going, hobbling along, falling down, dragging yourself back up again, you eventually get there."
On creating a believable world, brni has this to say:

"The small details are what flesh out your world, what make it live and breathe, but don't infodump. First, infodumps are boring. Also, they are dangerous. Each detail is something you can get wrong. You need to find the right balance for your story, the right amount of detail, and then be accurate with your details."
On whether there's such a thing as a muse, separate and apart from the author,bogwitch said this:

"Give credit to the Great and Powerful Oz if that makes things fun and exciting, but don't forget that there really is a little person behind the curtain, and that person is you."
To adult critics of YA literature, my favorite bit of advice (that applies in other situations as well), comes from Maggie Stiefvater: "Stop being nostalgic, it's ruining your camera lens."

And as Colin Firth just said on the Red Carpet prior to the Oscars: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." No, Colin didn't make that up - he's quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. (One more reason to adore Colin, of course.)

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig

Once upon a time I went on a bit of a tear reading (and, if truth be told, re-reading) the books in the series that begins with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. I remain especially fond of books 3 & 4 (The Deception of the Emerald Ring and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose - especially Crimson Rose since I love how she takes an anti-hero and anti-heroine and makes them the main characters, and I love them). Anyhoo. I got to the fifth book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, and was . . . disappointed. Didn't love the historical romance, not all that much happened with the contemporary romance either.

But Willig is back on her game with her latest release, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, which was released in January. In fact, I read it the same day it came out in stores, and just now recalled that I ought to talk about it.

In Blood Lily, we follow Penelope and her ne'er-do-well of a husband, Freddy Staines, to India, whence they've been sent to allow the scandal surrounding their hastily patched-up marriage (after Penelope was "compromised" during a country house party) to die down. Upon her arrival in India, Penelope meets the delicious Captain Alex Reid, who is to escort her and Freddy to their intended destination in Hyderabad. Intellectually and morally Freddy's superior in every way, it is easy to fall for the good captain, who has an understanding of and appreciation for Indian culture that Freddy and his cronies lack.

This one has phenomenal chemistry, a very interesting setting/set-up, and returns us to a feistier heroine than Charlotte was (in Night Jasmine). Penelope is an expert rider, a crack shot, and is bold enough to dive in the river to save someone while her worthless husband stands about. Her unhappiness in her marriage develops in an understandable way and her willingness to pursue other options with Alex makes sense as well.

Although not, strictly speaking, a Pink Carnation book, since that particular spy doesn't appear in the text, it is wonderful to follow Pen's story. The contemporary romance between Eloise and Colin was actually quite satisfying for me in this volume, apart from Willig's almost compulsion to repeat (at least two to three times more than required) that Eloise is still wondering whether Colin is actually writing a spy novel or is, in fact, a spy. Seriously. Trust the reader. You said it last book, and once was enough in this book. We didn't need it in nearly every contemporary chapter. But I digress.

Definitely a return to form. And now I'm wondering who the next hero or heroine will be, since it seems that all of the characters we've been introduced to thus far have been paired off, except for Turnip Fitzhugh. Oh - and looking at the author's site, it would appear that Book 7, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, is indeed going to be Turnip's book - and that Jane Austen will be making an appearance as a character. My squeeish anticipation for October 28th has now begun in earnest!

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Some good news!

After a month of sick pets and a week of sick me, I was ready for some good news. And boy, did the Universe send some my way.

Turns out that my poem, "Inside the New Mall", has taken third place in the Writer's Digest Poetry Competition. This means that I have won fabulous prizes! Like money! and my name and the name of the poem in the August (!) issue of Writer's Digest! and the respect of my parents and Mitch the barrista!

Needless to say, I'm tickled pink.

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Rondeau redoublé for Poetry Friday

The other day, I posted an explanation of this form, which I tackled as a challenge along with several of my sister poets. For today's Poetry Friday, I'm posting my original poem.

The challenge was to write a rondeau redoublé (my bright idea) that dealt with fresh starts (Liz Garton Scanlon's idea). I started several times to write an upbeat poem about new beginnings, and it never took off. Then one night, I came up with this one, which is, as you will see, not particularly upbeat. But it was a whole poem, and so I kept it.

Rondeau Redoublé
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

There's no such thing as a new start.
At least, that's what I think of saying.
I wish things different with all my heart,
That you would go, or I'd be glad you're staying.

Time was, we couldn't bear to be apart;
I couldn't see you go without dismaying.
Now I look forward to your go-awaying.
There's no such thing as a new start.

What was behind my change of heart?
It wasn't sudden, more like a slow fraying,
Our life unraveled, part by part.
At least that's what I think of saying.

I'm not quite certain why I am delaying,
I make up lists, draw up a chart:
Which things are whose, what goes, what's staying.
I wish things different with all my heart.

I cannot stop my memory from replaying
How things between us got their start.
How I would feel the breaking of my heart
When you would go, and I'd be glad you're staying.

I've seen it written losing is an art.
Not one I've mastered, I guess. I keep praying
That losing will grow easier, in part
To suffocate the small voice that keeps saying
There's no such thing.

Cheery, no? What can I say? Dour moods can create poetry, too. The phrase "losing is an art" is borrowed from the wonderful villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop entitled "One Art".

Analysis of form: If you're wondering (and even if you're not), the poem is written in a mix of iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter, meaning that the lines have either four or five iambic feet each. An iamb is a two-syllable poetic "foot" composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one (taDUM). In keeping with one of the more obscure "requirements" of the rondeau redoublé form, I've alternated a "masculine" and "feminine" ending. A masculine ending is a straight-up iamb; a feminine one has an additional unstressed syllable at the end (taDUMta) - a three-syllable foot also known as an amphibrach.
To read the rondeau redoublé written by my fellow poetry princesses, you may follow these links:

Tanita Davis
Sara Lewis Holmes
Andromeda Jazmon
Laura Purdie Salas
Liz Garton Scanlon

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sonnet 65 by William Shakespeare

Today, another of Shakespeare's sonnets addressed to the Fair Youth. This one is similar in some ways to Sonnets 55 ("Nor marble, nor the gilded monuments"), which I analyzed before, which falls into the "there's nothing permanent on the face of this earth" argument, but it extends it to the impermanence of things found in nature. It also has a bit in common with those sonnets in which Shakespeare plays around with legal terminology: the mentions of holding a plea and an action are a play on words, using legal terms as well as making sense without resort to that particular level of analysis. As in, say, the closing of the end of Sonnet 18 ("So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/So long lives this, and this gives life to thee"), the closing of this party expresses an intention to memorialize the loved one for eternity, but instead of expressing confidence that it will be so, he expresses only hope that it may be so - it's a qualified statement.

Sonnet 65
by William Shakespeare

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
  O, none, unless this miracle have might,
  That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Form: Shakespearean sonnet, of course, written in iambic pentameter and using the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Analysis: The word "oversways" is not widely used in modern parlance, but think of it as "trumps", in a way. Brass, stone, earth and sea have power, but death's power is stronger than all of them.

Shakespeare employs an interesting back and forth in the first two quatrains (four-line segments are called quatrains). The first two lines of the first and second two of the second are about rocks and brass and things built by man (as well as natural elements like earth and sea) and how they change over time. The second two lines of the first quatrain and the first two of the second one are about something smaller and far more fragile: Beauty, which has only the strength of a flower, and can be so easily trampled. How, Shakespeare asked, can something so fragile stand the test of time when big, strong things like rock and metal can't manage it?

He develops that theme more fully into the third quatrain, asking what the best way to preserve beauty is. How can he make some lasting record of the Fair Youth's beauty? And is there some way to keep Time from ruining whatever he produces? In the end, he prays for a miracle - that somehow, his written record of his love for the Fair Youth will last through the generations.

Dear Will,

Wish granted.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rondeau redoublé - an explication

As is my wont, I often post poems on Tuesdays, because everyone knows that once a week is not enough. Today, however, I'm going to talk about a particular poetic form, and it's for a particular reason: On Friday, the lovely poetry princesses (Tanita Davis, Sara Lewis Holmes, Andromeda Jazmon, Laura Purdie Salas, Liz Garton Scanlon, Tricia Stohr-Hunt) and I are going to post our original rondeau redoublés on our blogs, part of another group project/challenge/exercise in hysteria. So I thought perhaps a primer as to what the heck a rondeau redoublé is, anyhow, might be in order.

The rondeau redoublé is, as you can likely deduce from the spelling, a French form, which has been described as follows by the entertaining and educational Leonardo Malcovati:

this seriously minor, somewhat twisted and exclusively French metre, of which no more than a handful of examples (two of which, 'A Sylvie' and 'A Iris', of course, by Banville) exist, to show how twisted prosody can be, even in Europe.

Technically speaking a rondeau redoublé is made of six quatrains ended by a hemistich (of exactly the same type as the one in the rondeau form, and built on the first verse as well). The 24 verses, 4 of which are found twice (in the first stanza and as endings of stanzas 2-5) all belong to only two rhyme groups, one of which must be feminine and the other masculine; according to the usual conventions of this chapter, the tricky scheme of this form is:

I'll bet I lost you at hemistich, right? I'll try to make it a bit simpler to follow than that technically correct (but presumes you speak poetic form language) definition.

Let's start with the name: rondeau redoublé, or "doubled round". The most famous of all rondeaux in the English language is In Flanders Fields by the Canadian poet, John McCrae, which you can read all about in this prior post of mine. The rondeau takes the start of the first line, usually three or four words (technically called a hemistich), and uses it as a refrain at the end of the following two stanzas - hence the repetition of "In Flanders fields" twice more in that poem. The rondeau does not require a particular number of lines per stanza, but usually comes in with three stanzas and a total of 13-15 lines.

The rondeau redoublé, like its simpler sibling, uses a form of refrain, and it also borrows from the start of the first line in order to end the poem. The rondeau redoublé, however, has rigid stanza and line requirements. It traditionally has six stanzas and a total of 24-1/2 lines to it. The first five stanzas all have four lines each; the last has four full lines plus the hemistich (the snippet from the start of the poem), thereby ending the poem precisely where it started (although hopefully having taken you somewhere else in the middle). The "refrain" in a rondeau redoublé is derived from the first four lines of the poem, each of which serves in turn as the last line of the next four stanzas. The final stanza goes its own way, but must end with that hemistich we talked about earlier.

Oh. And one more thing: the entire poem consists of only two end-rhymes. Traditionally, the first stanza uses ABAB rhyme, which means that stanzas two and four end with an A-rhyme, whereas stanzas three and five end with B. The last line of the stanza helps dictate the rhyme scheme to be used in that particular stanza - it may therefore rhyme BABA/ABAB or ABBA/BAAB, but whatever it does, it must end with its assigned line from the first stanza. The sixth stanza has to stick to the scheme, and must end using that hemistich.

Here are examples of three good rondeau redoublé in English for you, all of which are under copyright, and I've therefore sent you thither and yon to have a look at them.

1. Rondeau Redoublé by Sophie Hannah
2. Rondeau Redoublé (and Scarcely Worth the Trouble, At That) by Dorothy Parker
3. Rondeau Redoublé by Wendy Cope

You may, like me, have noticed that they are all entitled "Rondeau Redoublé" (Dorothy Parker's has a subtitle of sorts). That is not a requirement of the form, but I have my suspicions that the reasons for using it as a title lie among the following list:

1. It is a sort of warning. "Look," it says to the reader. "I know this is an unusual form, and I want you to know what it is."
2. It is a sort of apology. "I know there are only two rhymes and a bunch of stuff gets repeated. Sorry. I had to do it as a requirement of the form."
3. It is a sort of bragging. "Look," it says to other poets. "I have written one of these extraordinarily difficult poems."
4. It is a sort of exhaustion. "Hey, I wrote the damned thing, and asking me to stick a title on it on top of what I've just done is simply asking too much."

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