Lesson of the Moth Essay
In life, there are certain sacrifices that need to be made in order to pursue prosperity and contentment. A sacrifice can be doing something fulfilling that will ultimately have dire consequences, or giving up something in order to avoid the consequences. For example, one might take a risk by pursuing a career that offers a significant monetary reward but forces them to spend time away from their family. In Don Marquis’ poem, “Lesson of the Moth”, through the utilization of symbolism, personification, and extended metaphor, there is an exploration of the spectrum of personal sacrifice and how individuals are willing to live a life of safety because it ensures longevity, however by being so ‘civilized’, individuals often neglect happiness and fulfillment. The definition of sacrifice is the act of giving up something that is valuable and important for the sake of something else or for others.
In “Lesson of the Moth” the speaker, “Archy” notices a moth buzzing around a lightbulb trying to fry himself on the wires. When Archy asks the moth why he would want to do such a thing, the moth replies with a profound statement saying “It is better to be burned up with beauty than to live a long time and be bored all the while”. This aspect of personal sacrifice reveals one’s true values in life. The moth would have rathered that he was happy for one moment than live his life to its fullest extent but be full of regret for not taking that one significant risk. The irony in this statement is that a moth is an insignificant creature that wouldn’t appear to be wise and philosophical, yet the moth was willing to risk everything to fulfill his purpose in life, which was to immolate himself, sacrificing his life for one moment of beauty.
Contradicting this seemingly reckless and dangerous way of living life is the preservative lifestyle that the speaker lives with. Archy states that he would rather have “half the happiness but twice the longevity”, which shows how people’s values can be remarkably different. Archy has a much more conservative point of view and he believes that his life would be better if it was longer rather than happier. This opinion is based on the fact that a longer life means more time to spend with family and friends which can also provide a sense of fulfillment. An anonymous quote that relates to this dilemma is, “If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice”. If one chooses to live a life of safety, always fearful of the consequences, they end up by sacrificing their goals and aspirations in return for a longer life. Archy chooses to preserve his life, but what is his life worth if he doesn’t seek out the maximum level of enjoyment. One definitely should not risk their life for a short amount of beauty but the extended metaphor of the moth shows that devoting time and energy towards something important, rather than something boring and routine can provide a sense of attainment and fulfillment to an individual. Marquis employs heavy use of symbolism in “Lesson of the Moth”. He personifies a plain and uncomplicated creature, the moth, to symbolize life and sacrifice. The personification of the moth in this instance allows us to believe that the moth is on an equal level as the speaker because the human, “Archy” was having a deep conversation with the animated moth although insects aren’t able to speak to people.
The judgemental statement made by Archy at the end of the second stanza, “have you no sense?”, articulates the human perspective of life and how it should be preserved at all costs. With this judgemental attitude, Archy is unable to understand the inflexible perspective of the moth that revolves around sacrifice in order to attain whatever it is that it wants. The moth was striving to get into the light bulb which was being used to symbolize happiness and fulfillment. One could even say that the light bulb was a symbol for heaven to which the moth was desperately trying to enter. Another symbol used is the small unsightly cinder that the moth turned into after incinerating himself on the cigar lighter. The shift from a living breathing creature into a small pile of ash represents the irreversible nature of the sacrifice that was made.
Although the moth was able to achieve what he finally wanted in life, he ended up worse off than he was before. Ultimately, in the poem “Lesson of the Moth” by Don Marquis, there is an exploration of how one’s willingness to sacrifice a certain aspect of their life depends on their personal values and definition of happiness. Some people believe that a longer life is a happier life but others consider a long life full of routine and safety unfulfilling and boring. Both the views of the moth and Archy aim to accomplish the same thing; a happier, more fulfilling life. For the moth, the purpose of frying himself in the flame was really discovered in the pursuit of it rather than in the end result. Although it seems as if the moth was seeking death, in reality, it was seeking life.
Poets of Romantic Era: History and Literary Works
Romantic era was a literary, intellectual and artistic movement started as a reaction against neoclassicism and industrial revolution which rejected all the classical norms and traditions in literature. It started by the mid eighteenth century and remained till the mid nineteenth century. It all started with the French revolution. The motto of French Revolutionists based on the thoughts of two great French philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was liberty, equality and fraternity on political and social level. The first Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge went to France to witness the revolution from close quarters. They were greatly inspired by the ideas of French revolution and on their return to England brought those ideas in literature. In 1798, they jointly wrote a collection of poems “lyrical ballads” which marked the beginning of romanticism in English literature.
About the same time, industrialization in England was at its full pace that of course brought with itself some serious drawbacks along with the benefits. The poor of the time were exploited to their full. Their worth was estimated through their efficiency level. The Romantics rebelled against the atrocities of Industrialization with their full might. They unleashed their pens to fight Industrialization. They were people with sensitive personalities and felt the wickedness of the mechanization. They stirred the dormant spirit of the people of that time with their poetry. They highlighted the darker aspects of Industrialization. These poets are divided into two generations. William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge come in the first generation while Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron come in the second wave of Romantic poetry. Since the romantic poets were greatly inspired by the freedom movement, their themes of poetry were also new at that time and for the fact of their liberal approach in every aspect, almost all the romantic poets have written on different themes.
Imagination is a common theme among all romantic poets. It served as the arch stone of Romanticism. Coleridge saw imagination as the supreme poetic quality, a divine power that made the poet a god like being. William Blake writes, “One power alone makes a poet: Imagination, the divine vision”. Sincerity came from the core of heart of the poets. William Wordsworth writes, “You feel strongly, trust to those feelings, and your poem will take its shape and proportion as a tree does from the vital principles that actuates it”. Besides imagination, other most themes of romantic poetry are peculiar to each writer.
Child labour was most common in England during industrialization. Children were forced to work in factories for long hours. They were ill fed and were paid much lower than the adults. William Blake although considered by many as a pre romantic poet for he was a bit earlier than Wordsworth and Coleridge was no doubt a true romantic in spirit. He protested against the abuses of child labour. He, with the gift of his poetry, highlighted the evils of mechanized society of his time. Blake severely criticised the abuse of children who worked in the chimneys. For this, he published a poem entitled as, “The Chimney Sweeper”. In it Blake states:
“When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry “ ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep.”
The first version of this poem speaks from “Songs of Innocence” and in this, the poet or the narrator, in the shape of a child, tells us how he was sold by his father when he was very young. He was sold to work in the factories. This poem emphasizes on the innocence of children by comparing them to lambs. They are finally rescued from the horrific place of factory by an angel and taken into green meadows. Along with the escape of the children, we get a hint of Blake’s love and praise for nature. The children can be assumed as people and the angel as nature. Thus, the people of Industrial Revolution could only be saved from its evil by the angelic nature thought William Blake.
William Wordsworth is one of the real founding fathers of romanticism in English poetry. Many consider the date of publication of “Lyrical Ballads” that is 1798 as the birth of romanticism. In his “Lyrical Ballads”, Wordsworth along with S.T Coleridge broke most of the rules for writing poetry that existed before romanticism. Conventional meter, rhyming scheme and outdated themes were neglected with full vigor and an attempt for new was made which was welcomed with high zeal.
His poetry was mainly concerned with the beauty and charm of nature. He treated nature as a god. For him, it was a source of inspiration. He used to seek guidance from it. In his prelude, he seeks muse from nature (unlike in the traditional epics in which poets seek muse from divine spirits). He also treated nature as his parent. In his Prelude, he says that nature teaches him with the agents of fear and reward. According to him, the main cause of the sufferings of humanity was just because of their seclusion from nature. He warned the people of his age that they had become materialistic and were running after money just because of the curse of Industrialism. They were not human anymore as they worked like machines and their only aim was to accumulate as much wealth as they could. He asked the people to have a close communion with nature. Nature would solve their mental sufferings and in this way he treated nature as a healer also.
Wordsworth lived for most part of his life in the country sides of England. He is also known by the name of “Lake Poet” as he was born in Lake District. He travelled to many parts of the European continent to experience the nature from close quarters. He not only enjoyed the tranquil nature but also the fierce form of nature. These included mountains, streams, waterfalls, wind, etc. About nature, he writes in one of his poems “The Daffodils”:
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dances in the breeze…..
…. Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance…
… A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company.”
Thus, Wordsworth extracted serenity from the charming scenes of nature. It had a magical effect on him.
From this poem we can also get a hint of his view of poetry. Wordsworth defines poetry in the following words, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility”. In this poem he describes how the remembrance of the scene of daffodils charms him and helps him compose poetry.
“For oft on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude”.
William Wordsworth like Blake abhorred Industrial environment and praised nature. In his poem “Lines Written at a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”, William Wordsworth writes about how he remembers the pleasure and joys he got from his time spent in nature. The city he lived in made him nostalgic and called up happier times. He was sorry for his time during his stay in city while sitting in the lonely rooms of artificial city, and missed a lot, the pure and sublime nature.
While William Wordsworth wrote about nature, his close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about supernatural. In “Lyrical Ballads”, Coleridge wrote poems concerned with the supernatural. Coleridge produced “Kubla Khan” in which he imagines a paradise like place. It is still a marvelous piece of supernatural poetry. He writes,
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph the sacred river, ran
Through the caverns measureless to man…
…And here were forests ancient as hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery”.
With Coleridge ends the first generation poets. The second generation starts with John Keats. “Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, and Ode to a Grecian Urn” are some of his renowned works. He mainly focused on death, nature and beauty. He was bored of life due to his poverty and expressed escapism in his poetry. In his poem, “Ode to a Nightingale”, he says,
“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk…
… That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest brim”.
Most of his poems are concerned about beauty. He considers beauty as the most important thing in life. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” is his famous line. He once said “I have loved the principle of beauty in all things.” In Ode to a Grecian Urn he says “Beauty truth; Truth beauty”. By this line he means that beauty is immortal.
With beauty as an important thing among all other things, Keats gave his view about the function of poetry. He said that “Poetry should be an incarnation of beauty, not a medium for the expression of religious or social philosophy. He said “A poet is a creator and an artist, not a teacher or a prophet.”
He was a poet of great potentials. He died when he was only twenty five years old but despite his early death, he freed himself from the clutches of time by the gift of poetry and still lives in the heart of people.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, a contemporary of Keats, was another Romantic poet who had a rebellious spirit. He rebelled against the Industrialism. His rebellion was not limited only to worldly matters but rather he rebelled against the great authority of God. He printed a pamphlet with anonymous writer entitled, “The Necessity of Atheism”, while he was still a student at the university. He suffered a lot and was expelled from university for this act of blasphemy when the writer was discovered.
Shelley has also written about the power of nature and man’s relation with it. In “Ode to West wind”, Shelley symbolizes west wind to nature. Nature’s force of change is described in this poem. Nature’s contrasting force of immortality is compared with man’s mortality. In the end Shelley wish his spirit to be transformed with the west wind which promises rebirth with the revival of spring.
George Gordon Byron was the third and last of romantic poets. His poetry has three major themes; liberty, the power of nature and the folly of love. As Byron travelled to different parts of Europe, he saw that many people were subjected to suppression. This he criticized in many of his poems. “The Prison of Chillon” is one such poem in which he writes of a patriot who stood against oppression.
Byron also wrote about nature. He looked to nature from several angles. “The Prisoner of Chillon” connects nature to freedom while at the same time showing nature’s potentially deadly ability to flood the whole dungeon.
Byron’s many poems speak women and love. In Childe Harold Pilgrimage he seeks muse from several women. She walks in beauty is his another poem which speaks of virtues of a woman. For a great while he sought a perfect love but at a later stage he concluded that it is unattainable and this became the theme of many of his poems. In Don Juan, Byron mocks the ideal of love even when his protagonist falls in love with many women.
Concluding with what romantic poets gave to English literature is a very vast topic to write on but in short we can safely assume that if there was no romantic movement in English literature, the most beautiful part of English poetry would have been lost forever. Their unconventional writing style with diverse themes brought a revolution which even now people admire. The names of Wordsworth and John Keats if not more than other great writers are indeed no less popular in our contemporary world. In fact the zeal of their spirits and the power of their poetry has an extraordinary appealing force to the minds of and souls of not only the people of their age but of our age too.
The Emergence of the Beat Movement in New York in the Mid-1940s
The Beat Movement was a literary and artistic movement that was founded by a core group of leaders that consisted of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. This movement emerged in the area of Columbia University in New York in the mid-1940s at the hand of these four inspirational founding figures, but it was not until the 1950s, when the Beat Movement started to spread to the communities of North Beach in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in Greenwich Village in New York City, did this movement take it’s full effect.
In the world today, this movement is not active, but we the many impacts that it had on society today. In the years after World War II, the American society began to conform to a lifestyle in which husbands and wives had kids, women had quit their jobs after the war to take care of the kids, and there was a formal etiquette that society required. The goals of the Beatniks was to not conform to these norms of society and to have a less restricted lifestyle. Also, they stressed the importance of “individual expression and personal enlightenment”.
The Beat Movement widely rejected materialism, traditional American values, and had complete indifference to social activism. The Beatniks rebelled against the common traditional American values of materialism and proper etiquette. The American society placed a heavy emphasis and reliance on money. The Beat Movement rejected this idea and focused more on imagination and self-expression, which led to their practices of religions such as Zen Buddhism. The proper etiquette that was placed in society was to be composed in a nice manner and to not be publicly intoxicated. However, the Beatniks engaged in large illegal drug use and over excessive alcohol consumption, which widely defied the formal etiquette that was demanded by society. These rejections of the values of the Americans impacted society by placing more laws on illegal drugs and intoxication laws against minor and drinking, also laws against anyone drinking and driving.
Norms of society that the Beat Movement challenged was the norm of a typical family consisting of a husband and wife with two or three kids. The Beatniks broke this principle by engaging in an attitude that excepted and experimented with different sexualities, which went against the norm of having a husband or wife. These ideas impacted society by catalyzing different gay liberations that eventually formed. A belief of the society in America that the Beat Movement openly defied was the belief that jazz music was sinful and immoral, and that abstract art need to be censored because it was seen as wildly inappropriate. The Beatniks widely embraced jazz music and abstract art because it allowed them express themselves in a free manner and to run wild with their imaginations. This heavily impacted society by allowing for the evolution of different music genres of music such as rock and roll seen through musicians like Beatles and Bob Dylan.
In all, the Beat Movement was very impactful on the society in the past and in the future now. Although many people rejected them in the past, their contributions to society led to great things that emerged in society later in the future.