Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Month: December 2014 (page 1 of 3)

Poetry Analysis: Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time”


Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins to make much of Time” extols the ‘carpe diem’ motif, the rose being a powerful emblem of the brevity of life. ’ Carpe diem’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘seize the day.’ It was a common theme in Cavalier poetry. The rose also symbolizes the beauty of youth and its ephemeral nature. The poem was penned in 1648 and published in a collection of verse entitled Hesperides. The theme of the poem is similar to Ben Jonson’s poem “Song: To Celia” where the speaker stresses on the transient nature of life, but advises to seek union in holy matrimony and not in adulterous association. The latter combined with the ‘carpe diem’ motif was utilized in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” The combination of Christianity and the carpe diem motif is singular to Robert Herrick, and has not been employed in conventional poetry. The influence emerges from Herrick’s’ position as vicar of Dean Prior, as appointed by King Charles I. The background of the poem is the political turbulence that led to Britain’s Civil War. Therefore it emphasized the relishing of the present while it lasted.

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.…

Poetry Analysis: Rudyard Kipling’s “If”


Rudyard Kipling’s “If” is one of the most celebrated poems in the corpus of English Literature. The poem was published in 1910 in Kipling’s collection of children’s stories, Rewards and Fairies,along with “Brother Square Toes,” Washington’s inspiring tenure during the French Revolution.The poem aims at delivering moral instruction to the little minds and also functions as a source of motivation. It soon turned into an anthem to impart instruction and instill inspiration. The emphasis on the second person “you’ indicates the one-to-one correspondence between the speaker and listener.

The first lesson the poet communicates is to be positive in face of differences of opinion and disapproval. The easiest resort for a person is to blame his failures on others: the basic tendency of men to pacify the supreme ego . One should learn to take responsibility for his actions. Self-confidence and Self-respect are the best assets one can own. Nevertheless, self-confidence must not verge on over-confidence and must make room for others’ views and beliefs. One must rely on the self, while others regard his capabilities with suspicion. If one patiently and persistently waits for the fruits of one’s perseverance, nothing can stop him. A wise man once said: “A man is not poor if he does not possess a penny.…

Poetry Analysis: Seamus Heaney’s “Storm on an Island”


Seamus Heaney’s “Storm on an Island” is included in Death of a Naturalist (1991).The word ‘island’ foregrounds the concept of isolation. The modern way of existence, is an egotistical one. It is set in an era of competition, and focuses on survival instinct. People like to live as isolated entities divorced from each other, and lead a complacent life free from the responsibilities of brotherhood. The idea of the joint family is no longer cherished, and people prefer to confine themselves to nuclear families. The lesser the number, the more the advantages, and less significant the disadvantages. They are free from all hassles of ties and are self-satisfied. However, little do they comprehend that a “storm” can occur on this island too.

The poem begins with the line: “We are prepared: we build our houses squat.”That is, people presume they are prepared for the inevitable. They build their houses ‘squat’.’ Squat’ implies to cower or crouch, and therefore assumes a protective posture. The house is designed to function this way. The walls are set with solid rock, the house is roofed in ‘slate’ and the stage is set for the ideal life. The ‘wizened’ earth has never troubled them. Since the earth exists before the speaker, it is seen as aged (echoing once again the concept of living with the elders of the joint family).Beneath the age of the earth, the speaker fails to discern the vast experience that it encompasses.…

Poetry Analysis: Boey Kim Cheng’s “The Planners”


Boey Kim Cheng is a Singapore-born Australian poet Thoroughly disillusioned with Singapore’s exponential progress and hurried economic evolution, he believed that these were attained at the cost of spiritual stagnation and cultural retardation. His poem “The Planners” is very similar in design and theme to Margaret Atwood’s “The City-Planners”.

The planners of this so-called pseudo-modern civilization build their plan with such dexterity, that the minutest of demands are met. Their level of analysis scans all permutations of possibilities. The buildings are lined religiously alongside the roads. These roads are arranged to meet at convenient points, defying all logic. The different spaces are ‘gridded’ and linked mathematically in confinements, whereas creativity is infinite. The construction progresses and nothing interferes with it Even nature is not spared in the process, and therefore the sea draws back in fear and the skies surrender in abandon.

The flaws are effortlessly erased. Past mistakes are knocked of without any value, though one learns the most from one’s mistakes. The whole process is likened to a dental procedure. The blocks are removed with dental dexterity. All the gaps are neatly filled in with cement ‘like gleaming gold.” The country appears to adorn perfect rows of shining teeth, flaunting a flamboyant smile.…

Poetry Analysis: Moniza Alvi’s “An Unknown Girl”


Moniza Alvi was born in Pakistan .Her father was Pakistani and mother English. She left Pakistan when she was a baby for England. The poet is thus caught between two worlds and her poems exemplify her quest for her cultural identity. The prescribed poem appears to be set in India. Pakistan was a part of India before the partition, therefore the setting may be a symbolic thirst for her motherland. The title of the poem is “The Unknown Girl”, though it may refer to the girl in the poem, it may be a pointer to the poetess herself as she is unknown to the roots, the unconscious culture and heritage ingrained in her.

The poetess states how her neon studded jewelry glared at her in the evening bazaar. A woman in India is closely associated with elaborate jewelry and embellishment. This forms a part of her individuality, and her femininity. The act of hennaing is a form of body decoration with the dye of a plant. With the act of Hennaing, she seems to impart to the speaker significant feminine aspects of the culture. The hennaing comes out of a nozzle, slowly descending on her as her tradition was. The semi-solid henna is cool and a good conditioner, and therefore the girl feels her hands being ‘iced’.…

Poetry Analysis: Kamala Das’ “The Fancy-Dress Show”


Kamala Das is first and foremost, a confessional poet. In the rendering of her poems,she has divorced herself completely from social stigma and societal inhibitions. Her “The Fancy-Dress show” is an indictment of the society that is driven by brazenness and hypocrisy. She has utilized the metaphor of the fancy dress most aptly. The fancy dress show is always a competition, as is any concept in the modern world. People are always, what they are not. Inherent in the metaphor, is the feature of parading the same. They wear the guise primarily for outward profit, and not for inner satisfaction. Iago, the archetypal villain echoes the same when he exclaims in Othello: “I am not what I am.”

In the contemporary times, the poem rings a bell, for people are noticed more for their outward appearances and ostentation of public life. Inherent goodness is no longer the criteria for the identity of an individual. The hallmark of a priest remains his cassock. It is as if he is not a priest without this prescribed norm. And sadly ,the priests of the Modern day have deteriorated in principles to such an extent that their vocation is acknowledged only from the cassock. Gone are the days, when they were judged based on spiritual learning and instilling values.…

Poetry Analysis: Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking”


Theodore Roethke’s poetry is distinguished by its inherent rhythm and natural imagery. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1954 for his book, The Waking, named after the prescribed poem. “The Waking” is a villanelle , a poem of five tercets and a final quatrain with two rhymes The title is a very eloquent one. It at once symbolizes enlightenment, illumination and self-discovery. One ponders on why the poet has chosen the leaf as the speaker of the poem. “The Waking” is essentially a poem about self-knowledge, through various mediums of learning as echoed in the different stanzas. Perhaps the poet opts for a leaf as the mouthpiece, as it a passive spectator to the phenomenon of life .Furthermore, it is universal for subsistence. Roethke has been hailed as one of those who showed reverence for “everything that lived.”

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.

The beginning stanza takes the experience of life itself as a source of knowledge. We awaken to fall asleep. Here, Life is the waking and Death is the sleep. We all take birth in this world only to ultimately cross the threshold of death.…

Poetry Analysis: Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”


Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” expresses the speaker’s relationship with his father and his vivid remembrance of his rambunctious behavior. The poet’s attitude towards his alcoholic father is one that he accepts with all its nuances. The reckless father’s conduct though uninviting in general, is acceptable to the poet. He accepts it just as Death is inevitable.

The whiskey on your breath

Could make a small boy dizzy;

But I hung on like death:

Such waltzing was not easy.

The lines explore the spiritual and physical relationship between the father and son. The ‘whiskey’ smell could make a small boy dizzy. His father could be a source of embarrassment to him. Nevertheless, he accepts it with panache and maturity much beyond his years. ‘Waltz’ is a dance that involves couples going round and round. Therefore, it is symbolic of a relationship between two people involving a one-to-one correspondence. The rhythm of the steps points to the harmony of the bond. The phrase “round and round” implies the circle of life, that with repeated turns keeps them going together.

He romped or played about with his father till the pans slid from the kitchen shelf. The above action is emblematic of domestic disturbance and insecurity.…

Poetry Analysis: James Russell Lowell’s “Stanzas on Freedom”


The poet James Russell Lowell in “Stanzas on Freedom”(1843) addresses Men in general rendering the issue of slavery a universal one. Lowell was an abolitionist throughout his life.’Ye’ is the plural of the pronoun of the second person in the nominative case. He makes a request to the collective consciousness of the people. They boast of being born to fathers brave and free. The poet poses a rhetorical question, where the answer is implied in the question itself: “Are ye truly free and brave?” The chain of slavery is not a physical one, therefore you do not perceive it. One can only experience it through the pain of a brother. If you do not experience the same, then you are the baser slave imprisoned in the chains of callousness and cowardice as you allow for slavery to exist.

Women! who shall one day bear
Sons to breathe New England air,
If ye hear, without blush,
Deeds to make the roused blood rush
Like red lava through your veins,
For your sisters now in chains—
Answer! are ye fit to be
Mother of the brave and free?
Women are also equally responsible in abolishing the vicious circle of slavery. They enable the circle of procreation, give birth to sons who breath the air of New England.…

Poetry Analysis: R.S. Thomas’ “Evans”


The poem that begins in the interrogative is conversational in tone. Note that the interrogative stance adds to the fact that the details are factual, and not a story. Evans and his existence is described in terms of his kitchen, to pertain to the domestic simplicity of his existence. The kitchen is ‘gaunt’ and the flight is ‘bare’; it has nothing to conceal as in a sophisticated culture. The downward flight also signifies,R.S.Thomas the parson-poet coming down to earth, and accepting the bare facts of life. Everything is stark naked as reality is. The kettle’s functionality has deteriorated; its shrill whistle has reduced to a ‘whine’. The atmosphere is ‘cold dark’. “Cold’ because of the lack of warmth and love around him. “Dark’, owing to the ignorance that prevails. Words like ‘stark farm’ point out to the stark reality and abject poverty the poem seems to portray.

The poet begins the poem with “Evans?” implying that the person’s existence has to be reminded of. It comes across as a random topic in the midst of a conversation. “Rain’ that it at once symbolic of fertility and prosperity seems blood-like. Evans stands conspicuously like the one tree ‘Weather-tortured’. Nature that once served as an abode to the simple peasant has worked against him.…

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