Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Category: American Literature (page 1 of 4)

Poetry Analysis: Edgar Allan Poe’s “To Helen”


Edgar Allan Poe epitomized his ‘Helen’ as “the first ideal love of my soul.” Edgar Allan Poe’s “To Helen” is a tribute to the mother of his school friend, Mrs.Jane Stannard. She is a young matron of Richmond, who had profound affection and motherly love for him. By summoning her as ‘Helen’ he has crowned her with the highest virtues of a woman that is quite often put on a pedestal in classical mythology. The beauty of Helen has always been the highest paradigm, whether extolled by Homer in “The Illiad”, “The Trojan Women” by Euripedes, or by Marlowe in his Dr.Faustus. The poem was first published in 1831 collection Poems of Edgar Allan.

Beauty always lies in the eyes of the beholder. Helen, to him, radiated an inner beauty that he likens to the boats of Nice that transported wanderers over the scented sea long ago. He was able to sail smoothly through life owing to her unconditional love. Jane Stannard’s moral support steered him through the rough weathers of life. The word “Nicean” functions as an adjective for Nice, a city in France, situated on the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the most significant towns on the French “Riviera” and is a fashionable winter resort of the English.…

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.…

Poetry Analysis: Alice Walker’s “Poem at Thirty-Nine”


Thirty-nine is a significant time in the life of a woman. She reaches her prime and is on the verge of entering forty. It is a difficult phase for her if she is a single mother. Alice Walker had met Melvyn Roseman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer in 1965, and had her daughter Rebecca in 1967. They divorced in 1976.The speaker at this juncture has probably reached a stage, where she longs for the presence of a father in her daughter’s life. She thus becomes nostalgic for her own father.

She begins the poem “Poem at Thirty -Nine” by stating how nostalgia set in with thoughts of her Father coming to her in flashback. She wished that he was not so overcome with fatigue when she was born. Her father ” earned only $300 a year from sharecropping and dairy farming” worked hard for a living and could not devote much time to her. According to her, he was “wonderful at math but a terrible farmer”. He taught her to deposit slips and write checks, and how life is lived. She recalls his methods of educating her as he would have explained: “This is the form.” For the speaker, the bits of paper were more to her than just papers…they were for her a better way of life as compared to the life of her father which she had seen.…

Poetry Analysis: Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”


Maya Angelou born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, is an American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. The poetess presents in ‘Still I Rise” the average black American woman who rises like the phoenix each time she is bent by oppression. The typical Black American would be willing to break rather than bend. Here, she triumphantly asserts with conviction how she continues to rise with renewed vigour.

History is said to bear testimony to the events of the past and the character of a person. Nevertheless history is quite often produced from the biased view of the individual historian, and most of the time is distorted. Indeed, the pen is mightier than the sword. However, Maya Angelou declares that she will rise from history that may “pin her in coruscating prose.” Though she is subject to bitter, twisted lies, and though she is trampled in the dirt, she will rise like dust. She endeavours to touch everything with her personality, just as dust touches everything on its way, by it presence. She reminds one of the celebrated Uzbek poet Boborahim Mashrab who asserts: “From the dust of my shirts edge there will rise hundred thousand gods”.…

Poetry Analysis: Maya Angelou’s “Poor Girl”


Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 is an American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. In the “Poor Girl”, the speaker sympathizes with a girl who her ex-lover is seeing now. Though she addresses her as ‘Poor Girl’, one discerns that is not only sympathy, but empathy as well. The speaker is contemplating on her own predicament, as she was cheated in the past by the same person.

She begins the poem addressing her ex-lover. She asserts that she recognizes the fact that he has got another love. Note that she uses the word ‘another’ as his love is not exclusive. The girl adores him unconditionally just like she used to. For both of the women, love was the very breath of their life, as they hung on his words. The word ‘hang’ connotes desperation, as in clinging on for dear life. The words came across as ‘gold’; sounding the age-old adage that “All that glitters is not gold.” The girl in question presumes that she understands the man’s soul, but actually does not. They were at a point united in their beliefs; but now separated as time and space has changed the speaker’s conviction regarding the man.…

Poetry Analysis: Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman”


Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 is an American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” in included in the collection And Still I Rise.

The woman portrayed here is the woman of substance, as she rises above conventional paradigms that enslaves her into a domestic archetype or aesthetic construct. The pretty /plain woman dialectical pair may also serve to emblematize the dialectical pair of the white/black with regard to an American Black writer.

The poem challenges the oft-quoted adage that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In this modern era of ‘reification’ or commodification, people are akin to things, that they are assessed on the basis of their packaging and material worth. The more the individual is visually appealing, the more the confidence-factor. In such a context, Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman poses a question mark, as to what lends her so much of confidence. She quips with unflinching self-assurance that she may not be her appealing in the conventional sense. Nor does her figure pose a challenge to a fashion model. People fail to believe her as she reiterates that her x-factor lies in something beyond this.…

Poetry Analysis: Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B”


Hughes penned “Theme for English B” in 1949 at the age of 47. Here the word ‘English’ stands as a symbol for universality; It does not need to be attributed with any grade (A, B) to mark its significance.The speaker in the poem is an imaginary one conceived by Langston Hughes and not the poet himself, as the speaker is ‘born in Winston-Salem’, while Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. The college that Hughes is speaking of in his poem is not Columbia University. It is the City College of New York located on the highest hill in Manhattan. Arnold Rampersad who edited Hughes’ Collected Poems has stated that the college that features in the prescribed poem is the City College of New York on his visit to the CCNY during its 30th annual Langston Hughes Festival.

 

The title of the poem suggests a theme for English B. The mention of an English B underlines the existence of an English A, that renders the English A default-the standard one. And the question arises for the need for an English B. The instructor in the class asks the student to go home and write a page. The only requirement is that the page must come out of the writer; it is only then that it will be true or ‘genuine’.Such a stance goes against the New Critics who divorced the author from the text; and stated that the text is autonomous.…

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