The Effects of Blindly Obeying Orders in The Farmer’s Children
“The Farmer’s Children” by Elizabeth Bishop reveals her outlook on the children’s actions through literary techniques such as characterization. Upon being sent out to guard the barn’s machinery on a winter night, Cato and Emerson did not question their stepmother, but obeyed her. There was an unhealthy filial relationship between the boys and their stepmother which led to physical and emotional damage in them. Their alcoholic father and neglectful stepmother lacked love and attentive care for their sons which ultimately resulted in the boys’ deaths. Bishop incorporates the theme of a child’s pure, unwavering compliance to their parents’ requests. Her use of allusion, characterization of parents, and characterization of the children reveal this theme. In this narrative, Bishop contrasts the pureness of Cato and Emerson’s hearts and the evil characterization of their parents to convey the theme of how blindly obeying orders can be treacherous.
Using allusions, Bishop applies striking similarities between classic fairy tale elements and her characters to expose the brothers’ blind faith in their parents. Upon confronting his step sister about his missing gloves, the stepmother scolds Cato when, in reality, Lea Leola was to blame for stealing them. The stepmother rebukes, “Now Cato, see what you’ve done!… you boys hurry up and get out of here. I’ve had enough trouble for one day” (Bishop 289). This quotation alludes to Cinderella and her relationship with her stepmother. In “Cinderella,” she didn’t criticize her daughters when they tore Cinderella’s dress for the ball; she was more devoted to her own children than to her stepdaughter. Similarly, the characterization of the farmer’s wife aligns with the evil stepmother archetype since her daughters enjoy the warmth of a loving mother while her stepchildren, Cato and Emerson, face the cold. Even with such unsupportive, unaffectionate parents, Cato and Emerson fail to confront their stepmother on the dangers of traveling down the icy road on a frigid winter night, ultimately contributing to their own deaths. Meanwhile as Judd’s replacements, Cato and Emerson were oblivious to their father and Judd’s drinking habits. The narrator explains, “Then he began to think of his father and Judd, off in town… he loved him dearly” (Bishop 292-293). This quote illustrates how Cato puts faith and trust in his father, unaware of the farmer’s true motives. While Cato is loyal and faithful to his father, the reverence is not mutual. Another allusion in “The Farmer’s Children” is the closely knit relationship between a father and his children which was also present in “Beauty and the Beast.” In “Beauty and the Beast,” despite his failing career, Belle constantly motivates her father to invent. Ironically, Bishop describes the father-son relationship when Cato recalls his admiration for his father as he and his brother freeze to death. The innocence within Cato and Emerson never doubted what their father claimed he did in town, but rather, mindlessly accepted his word. Thus, allusion is used in Bishop’s “The Farmer’s Children” as a technique to add meaning to the children’s blind acceptance of their parents’ attitude and orders to them.
The literary technique of characterization, used by Bishop to describe the parents, is effective in the story as it presents how undeserving the parents are of their children’s obedience. Contrary to Cato’s assumption, “[the father and Judd] went on ‘business,’ something to do with selling another strip of land, but probably mostly to drink; and while they were away Emerson and Cato would take Judd’s place in the old barn” (Bishop 287). As previously stated, Cato revered his father, but the father downplayed his parental role and thus, the same devotion was not returned. It never occurred to the boys that their father was not selling property; instead, they consistently took Judd’s place without complaint. As for the stepmother, “she went to find an extra quilt to put over Lea Leola, Rosina, and Gracie Bell, sleeping in one bed in the next room. She spread it out and tucked it in without disturbing them” (Bishop 291). This proves the favoritism she has for her own children. After whisking the boys out the door without gloves or blankets, the stepmother returns to her beloved daughters with an extra quilt while they remained in the comfort of their home. These examples of the cold-hearted characterization of the parents reflect the resolution of the story when the children’s dedication to their parents’ wishes prompt their deaths.
Bishop also incorporates a characterization of the children’s purity throughout the story to demonstrate their oblivion to the true nature of their parents’ behavior. For example, the stepmother reminds the boys of their duty: “‘I suppose you boys forgot you’ve got to get over to the barn sometime tonight,’ she said ironically. Emerson protested a little” (Bishop 289). Emerson is not especially confrontive to his stepmother, rejecting her reminder or criticizing her for suggesting such a trip out in the merciless cold; instead he joins his brother in accepting their fate. Additionally, when Cato and Emerson exit the house, they “[try] to warm their noses against the clumsy lapels of their mackinaws, the freezing moisture felt even worse, and they gave it up and merely pointed out their breath to each other as it whitened and then vanished” (Bishop 289). This shows that despite the bitter winter, the boys dutifully proceeded with their task. The purity and cliche of the children cost them their lives. Therefore, Bishop differentiates the characterization of the parents and the children through the parents’ unreliability and the children’s virtue.
Ultimately, the conflicting characterization between the couple and their children emphasizes an overall theme of how mindlessly following orders ends with adverse consequences in Bishop’s “The Farmer’s Children.” By highlighting comparisons and contrasts between the two, the character portrayals and allusions to fairy tale elements help illustrate the theme. Bishop inspires the reader to question seemingly logical decisions and behaviors of their parents. Overall, by highlighting these instances of fairy tale comparisons and opposite characterizations, the story accentuates the importance of sensible decisions in the real world.
Pity and Revenge in Frankenstein and The Cry of the Children
Both the poem The Cry of the Children by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley portray acts of cruelty in an attempt to arouse pity from readers. The victims in each case feel bitter self-pity and respond with resentment towards those who wrong them. The working class children in the poem and the Monster in Frankenstein are pitiful characters because of how they are treated, but they are not completely helpless. They still can exercise free will and choose how to react to their treatment. There is a great difference in their outward dispositions even though their initial sentiments are similar. Both authors create characters that suffer injustices and desire pity, but their characters’ responses to their challenges determine whether or not they deserve the readers’ sympathy. The children in Browning’s poem feel sorrow and general despair towards their lives. They look forward to death, saying, “It is good when it happens” (Browning, line 51). The children are brave abou something that is universally feared. Browning uses the children’s unexpected outlook to show how they cope with hardships. They tell those who suggest that they should leave their work and play in the countryside to “Leave us … from your pleasures fair and fine!” (Browning, lines 63-64). The work never seems to end, as Browning stresses by using the phrase “all day” three times between lines 73 to 77. Browning emphasizes the childrens’ misery by showing how they do not even want to think of running and playing: “If we cared for any meadows, it were merely/To drop down in them and sleep” (Browning, lines 67-68). The children are resentful towards those who do not sympathize with them, but they do not dwell on things they cannot have. In contrast, the Monster in Shelley’s novel allows himself to be consumed by his sorrow until it turns to anger. Early in the story, he is similar to the children in Browning’s poem. When he is alone and cold in the forest he sits down and weeps (Shelley 68). However after being rejected by the family he tries to befriend, he says,“despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge” (Shelley 92). The family rejects the monster, but they do not force any further hardships on him. His sorrow is justifiable, but his anger is not. The Monster continues, saying, “I did not strive to control them; but, allowing myself to be borne away by the stream, I bent my mind towards injury and death” (Shelley 93). The Monster willfully builds up hatred in his heart. Shelley wears away the pity that the audience may feel for the Monster by slowly revealing his cruelty.Meanwhile, in Browning’s poem, the children’s response to the injustices they face is that they lack goodness, not that they should embrace evil. They have no faith, for they have received no religious instruction, as is shown in stanza 10 when they say that they only know two words of a single prayer. They also lack faith in God’s benevolence. They say, “grief has made us unbelieving” (Browning, line 131). Browning’s readers would have seen faithless children as a tragedy. Browning, however, shows why her young protagonists think that God does not hear them. They say, “the human creatures near us/Pass by, hearing not, or answer not a word.” (Browning, lines 107-108). It is their simple reasoning that makes them doubt God, rather than any sort of innate cruelty. The Monster’s reasoning is selfish and biased. He attempts to portray himself as innocent and striving for goodness but contradicts himself on multiple occasions. He claims that he “felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice” (Shelley 87). However, he also admits that he feels a “bitter gall of envy” (Shelley 87) when he sees the happiness of the family he watches. He feels entitled to a share in their happiness. He views the scientist, Frankenstein, as a God-like figure for having created him, but curses the man for leaving him alone (Shelley 88). The Monster cannot blame anyone for needlessly inflicting such emotional pain on him, but feels wronged because he sees pleasures in the world that he cannot access. Even the children in Browning’s poem do not claim a right to happiness or curse God for their misery. All the children desire is peace. The Monster is capable of sustaining himself without aid and could be free from oppression, but could not be satisfied with this kind of life. Regarding the family he observes, he says, “my heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures” (Shelley 89). The monster’s desire for love is not a crime, but the resulting anger and plans for revenge make him guilty. He imposes himself on others and is angry when they reject him. Like the Monster, the children feel that their Creator does not love them, if He exists (Browning, lines 125-135). Their reaction, however, is only weeping. The Monster soon determines that Frankenstein is his enemy, referring to him as “him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge” (Shelley 97). He blames Frankenstein for all the suffering he experiences. Frankenstein, meanwhile, is not guilty of directly harming the Monster. He admittedly does not love or care for the Monster either, but this does directly connect to the hatred that the Monster feels towards him. When the Monster captures a boy and learns that he is related to Frankenstein, the Monster strangles him out of hatred for Frankenstein. He even relishes this murderous act, saying “my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph” (Shelley 97). The Monster believes that he is justified in seeking revenge because of his unsatisfying existence. He says, “I am malicious because I am miserable” (Shelley 98), implying that misery is sufficient justification for murder. He talks as though he is a victim of far greater injustices than those he was endured. He asserts that he will not submit to “abject slavery” (Shelley 98), yet there are none who wish to enslave him in any way. He demonstrates that he is capable of deep thought, but persists in trying to justify his crimes in ways that far exceed any committed against him. Unlike the Monster, the Children are forced to work in slave- like conditions. They are oppressed and suffer much greater physical hardships than being unloved. Yet, even as small children, they have more strength of character and forbearance than the Monster. They do feel resentment with their sorrow; “the child’s sob in the silence curses deeper/Than the strong man in his wrath” (Browning, lines 159 -160). Even in this state, they do not harbour thoughts of revenge and murder. Browning wrote her poem in order to arouse pity from her audience. Her characters maintain a certain level of virtue despite their youth and the cruelty they experience, and therefore would have won her readers over. Shelley’s Monster inspires pity at first, but it soon turns to disgust. Shelley’s work has more depth because it is more than a tragedy or a horror story. It is an example of behaviourism. The Monster tries to claim that his actions are the result of his surroundings and the actions of others; “Shall I respect man when, he contemns me?” (Shelley 98). He ruins his chances of pity or sympathy by making the choice to inflict suffering on others who can’t or won’t give him love. His crimes are premeditated. He says, “I will watch with the wiliness of the snake, that I may sting with its venom” (Shelley 116). Browning’s work forces her readers to face society and understand the victims of hardship, while Shelley’s work makes readers consider the reasons for unhappiness within themselves. Works Cited:Browning, Elizabeth. The Cry of the Children. Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed.Eds. Julia Reidhead et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2006. 1922-1925. Print Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1996. 68- 116. Print.
Powerfully Subdued: An Analysis of the Romantic View of Nature in “The Fish”
Nature often horrifies and frightens us. Whether it is a snake that has the potential to kill with one bite or a raging flood that can destroy an entire town in a matter of minutes, the natural world often causes us to cower in sight of its abilities. However, what we truly fear is not an animal lacking legs or a gross amount of water; we as humans dread the inalienable power that nature holds, and this fear often turns into a desire to control, subdue, and destroy. Nevertheless, artists during the period of Romanticism in the 19th century worked to conquer the destructive desires surrounding nature and in doing so recognized the immense awe and respect the world could draw out of a person thanks to its inherent beauty. Though written after Romanticism had come and gone, Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” reflects much of the period’s ideology regarding the power of and appreciation for nature. While humans may have the power to restrain and even vanquish certain aspects of the natural world, Bishop, through the image of the fish, portrays nature as resilient and commanding and in the end reveals that we can often find much more of a reward in letting it be.
Often times we view nature in the same way that the fisher in the poem originally sees the fish. She notes that the fish’s “skin hung…like ancient wallpaper…stained and lost through age.” The narrator understands that the fish once had power, though only a glimmer of what it was still exists due to its old age. Similarly, as humans have created ways to subdue nature such as a pesticide to protect crops or a dam to block a river, we connect the world with a fading, timeworn power. Drifting to a focus on technology and industry, we grow farther apart from nature which only further decreases its ability in our eyes. The fisher continues to comment on aspects of the animal that make it out to be less than desirable such as how it is “infested with tiny white sea-lice.” At this point, she chooses to see the bad and disagreeable of the fish that hamper it and its abilities. We too often perceive only the negative aspects of nature and therefore regularly view it as weighed down and burdened, and we often applaud our own inventions and intelligence for having brought that weakness about. Though humans fail to recognize it at times, nature has immense power that we will never be able to fully control.
Though the fish may appear subdued, Bishop’s use of language helps its strength and impressive nature shine through. After the fisher has spent some time assessing her catch, she realizes that “five old pieces of fish-line [and] …all their five big hooks [have] grown firmly in his mouth.” The fish has not only been caught once and lost or let go, but an astounding five times. As the fisher recognizes how much the marine beast has survived and endured, she begins to understand its resilience and starts to describe it in much more admiring terms. Similarly, the Romantics see through the curtain of insignificance that humans attempt to place over nature and instead comprehend it in light of all of its history and all that it has prevailed over. In her new perception, instead of seeing the multitude of hooks and lines as a detriment to the fish, the fisher views them as “medals with their ribbons.” The afflictions that once held the animal back now serve as a reason for esteem. Further testifying to the resilience of the fish, the prizes it bears paint the many encounters it has endured in a positive light. Likewise, in Romanticism, the triumphs and grandeur of nature are taken into account rather than the times when its abilities have not pleased humans. With this new favorable assessment of the fish and of nature, the fisher and we as humans can find much more pleasure in the two than we can by simply condemning them.
In the end, the fisher realizes that the most beneficial use of the impressive fish is to let it be. In the beginning, the fisher focuses on the multitude of colors that make the animal uglier and more uncomfortable to behold; with the different perspective, she now shifts her concentration to another mix of hues in which “oil ha[s] spread a rainbow.” In changing her attitude in how she perceives the fish, the fisher no longer notices the unpleasant aspects of the beast but instead something that people everywhere view as beautiful. When looking at the natural world with a Romantic view, our focus as humans also shifts from the obnoxious features that we once sought to destroy and control to the wonderful ones that inspire joy and awe. As “victory fill[s] up” and all that the fisher can observe is rainbow, she “let[s] the fish go.” The fish triumphs just as it has five times before and just as it will continue to do. The fisher could kill and keep it, but understands that much more pleasure can be found in releasing it for others to experience. With the same logic, why would anyone want to stem the bliss and amazement nature brings?
Just as in the fish written about by Bishop, humans often have the desire and ability to overpower nature; however, if we focus less on domination and more on admiration of the beauty it has to offer, we as humans gain much more in the end. The Romantic view of nature seeks to convey that if we alter our perception as the fisher does, we have the means to esteem the power we once feared. Many people believe that the period of Romanticism started and ended in the 1800’s, yet can we not see reflections of its perception of nature in the Environmentalism of today?
Fading in the Anthropocene
In their poems “At the Fishhouses” and “For the Union Dead”, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell respectively examine the landscapes of their childhoods as a means of determining what is lost in mankind’s strives towards modernity and what survives. Both poets utilize strong imagery to depict their worn locales and each narrator retains a childlike wonder despite, or perhaps due to, the crushing weight they bear as witnesses to a time gone by. But their perceptions of this loss create distinct representations of the same fate of fading in the Anthropocene: while Bishop’s little town will be lost just as Venice sinks into the sea, the downtown Lowell wanders will be lost in great strokes of tragedy as was done to Hiroshima. Those left behind in “At the Fishhouses” are witnesses, whereas those in “For the Union Dead” are survivors of history.
“At the Fishhouses” begins with a description of a scene that seems eternally suspended. The verbs in the opening stanzas are stative, “the five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs,” “all is silver,” “the big fish tubs are completely lined,” and, “on the slope . . . is an ancient wooden capstan.” Yet Bishop’s descriptions insist that the scene she observes is the product of continual changes brought on both by nature and the society which has resided within it: the man’s shuttle is “worn and polished,” the ironwork on the capstan “has rusted,” the buildings have “an emerald moss growing on their shoreward walls.” Such details imply that, should she return in later decades, she would find a different scene in which these processes of erosion, decay, and growth were further advanced, but the settings she views in the poem would still be present. Despite the passing of time these monuments to the toils of man continue to stand resolute.
The fixed nature of the setting is further undercut once the speaker becomes an active participant in the narrative, offering the old man a Lucky Strike and engaging him in conversation. With her entrance the reminders of historical process become overt: “he was a friend of my grandfather” implies her grandfather’s death, and “the decline of the population” tells of broader changes occurring within the seaside town or within the sea itself. The knife the old man uses to scale the fish has been whittled down to nothing, however he continues his work and, “There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb” as there have assuredly been for decades. He remains, a testament to a time seemingly gone by, but still recognizable to the casual viewer within this physical space.
In being presented as a symbol for that which has seemingly passed, the old man develops an identity as the story’s witness: be it to a past that can no longer be touched by the narrator or to his own history being enveloped by the sea in real time. He exists as witness, rather than as survivor, due to the perceived passivity of his action. The old man continues in his daily toil, executing the same duties with pauses only to recall that which has fallen behind him. He is not responsive to the tragedy occurring, merely mentioning the “declining populations” rather than addressing them head on. Nor is he memorialized for the deeds he has done, the fading town watches in abject apathy as he continues to produce the same labors he always has, with his knife turned to a nub and the shorn scales of the fish the closest thing to a celebration of his efforts. In contrast to those left behind with Lowell, the old man retains his original form and sense of duty, where Colonel Shaw became a simulacrum and the other remnants became inorganic tools to be utilized, the narrator’s family acquaintance is permitted to continue his work, his purpose within society remaining widely unacknowledged but static until he presumably dies.
Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” expands upon this context of the individual experience of time and loss with senses distinct from those of Bishop. In his vignettes, Lowell presents the myriad ramifications of loss, and how each is remembered within the postmodern society of Boston; these grandiose expanses of memorials to things lost and the lost themselves contrast the narrower interpersonal perspective on history that Bishop’s provincial setting invokes. Vanished buildings, displaced monuments, misplaced childhoods, crumbling traditions, frayed dignity, and annihilated cities are represented in successive quatrains through the eyes of the poet reviewing the changes which have overtaken his native city.
As with Bishop, Lowell tellingly objectifies the process of loss by his persistent attention to visual stimuli. The first stanza is passive,
The old South Boston Aquarium standsin a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.The airy tanks are dry.
Lowell is merely examining, rather than reacting to, this testament to a time gone by. Now a diminished survivor, this aquarium is just the first of many attenuated monuments that populate the poem. Saint-Gaudens’s “shaking Civil War relief,” is now “propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake,” and the neighboring Statehouse has relinquished its own traditional centrality and dignity as well. Braced and held upright by girders and gouged out underneath to make room for a parking garage, it appears a symbolic victim of the modern, mechanical society that persistently displaces the traditional past in both this poem and, to a lesser degree, in Bishop’s.
These physical symbols of local cultural attrition provide the context for losses of a different order in Lowell’s poem. The death of Colonel Shaw and his black regiment during the Civil War represents a lofty philosophical significance in Lowell’s narrative that could not have been achieved without the visual of the “bronzed Negroes” immortalized in their fight in the twentieth century; a harsh reminder of the racially charged fight in midcentury Boston, where “the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons” as they fight for desegregated schools. Modern senses of loss and destruction are further represented by an advertisement of “Hiroshima boiling”, adding another modern balance to the losses presented by Colonel Shaw’s memorial.
Just as Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” presents its catalog of losses, it also presents a peculiar parallel for its survivors: as with Bishop, almost nothing mentioned in the poem quite disappears. The aquarium stands in ruins, but still it stands. Its “cowed, compliant fish” may be no more, but a “bronze weathervane cod” still sits atop the roof, having, “lost half its scales” just as the fish in Bishop’s poem lost all that was beautiful about them, too. Later the fish reappear, in the angry final lines of the poem, having suffered metamorphosis into dynamic, mechanical monsters:
Everywhere, giant finned cars nose forward like fish; a savage servility slides by on grease.
These two versions of the fish-as-survivor characterize the two opposing types of survivor in the poem. Survivors appear either as static simulacrums of their former selves, or brutal mechanical transformations of what once was. Some of the poem’s many figures have lost all but a vicarious existence, living on in the form of monuments. These icons are static except in the sense that they suffer the same physical erosion seen in “At the Fishhouses” and, in the opinion of Lowell, a parallel erosion of their dignity, through desecration, displacement, or neglect. Distinct from the more natural processes of Bishop, there is a different order of survivor, like the extinct dinosaurs who reappear as devouring steam shovels, or the Mosler safe whose commercial viability overshadows in the minds of its promoters the human losses at Hiroshima, or the new mechanical fish that end the poem. Each of these survivors embodies a new, aggressively commercial immortality.
This focus on the modern obsession with materialism and profit is not as present in Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses.” In “For the Union Dead” Lowell uses the temporary displacement of Saint-Gaudens’s bronze relief of Colonel Shaw and his black regiment in a context awash in parking lots, finned cars, and crass commercialization, to create “a plain and physically correct symbol” for the violent yet barely conscious displacement of mourning in the postmodern world he resides in. While Bishop did write on the disconcerting onset of a devouring commercialism, even going so far as to move to Brazil, in part to evade the mass-production culture that was increasingly dominating her native land, this poem does not exist as a critique of this cultural shift (Midcentury Quartet, 1999) . “The decline of the population” remains shrouded in ambiguity, and the only line which may vaguely hold the critical lens is that of, “a million Christmas trees stand/ waiting for Christmas.” The act of survival for Lowell, be it via memorial or mechanical service, inevitably pertains to a sense of material desire.
The displaced Saint-Gaudens statue is the central image linking the first group of survivors to the concept of the simulacrum. It preserves in vicarious stasis its “bronze Negroes,” who maintain a curious simulation of life mirrored by the “stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier[s],” who “doze over muskets / and muse through their sideburns.” But the Saint-Gaudens statue differs from all the other static monuments in one sense: it “sticks like a fishbone / in the city’s throat” as an uncomfortable survivor, reminiscent of such values as heroism, sacrifice, and racial equality, that no longer seem relevant in the bustling downtown of Boston. Colonel Shaw emerges finally as the poem’s protagonist, seen largely in terms of the way heroic death is memorialized: Colonel Shaw is seen in terms of a culture that is on the verge of utter disappearance. His heroism is of a past order that seems uncomfortable even for an observer who mourns its passing.
He is a reminder of the past just as Bishop’s old man is in “At the Fishhouses”. Both remain inflexible in their pursuit, and this places them on the margins of the contemporary culture the poets are exploring. For Lowell, “He is out of bounds now./ He rejoices in man’s lovely, peculiar power to choose life and die—/ when he leads his black soldiers to death,/ he cannot bend his back.” Just as for Bishop, with the old man and the sea “I have seen it over and over,/ the same sea, the same,/ slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones/ free above the stones,/ above the stones and then the world.”Though Colonel Shaw represents an almost oppressive maturity, childhood remains a constant presence throughout the poem, and despite facing the great expanse of local history with all its losses, the gestures and wishes of childhood persist in the adult. The child’s awareness is introduced in the second stanza, which generates much of the poem’s continuing imagery. The child whose “nose crawled like a snail on the glass” of the aquarium parallels the adult who “pressed against the new barbed and galvanized / fence on the Boston Common.” The child’s impulse “to burst the bubbles / drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish” suggests a temptation toward violent gesture that is echoed throughout the poem. Though the impulse to violence is later transferred to other figures, it is first seen in the speaker, with his yearning for “the dark downward and vegetating kingdom / of the fish and reptile” that reflects a yearning to reach back through the pre-moral awareness of early childhood to the amoral awareness of the “lower vertebrates.”
The body of the poem frequently echoes this yearning to escape from cognition and the pain of historical awareness and self-consciousness and responsibility, an escape that the leaders of Boston seem already to have achieved. It might also imply a yearning for the freedom to act on baser instinct, a freedom shared by the lower vertebrates but rejected by Colonel Shaw. The “Parking spaces” that “luxuriate like civic / sandpiles in the heart of Boston” suggest this lingering childishness in the minds of the city’s urban planners. But the speaker of the poem is not exempt. When he crouches before his television set to watch the “Negro school-children,” he is mimicking his own action as a child peering through the glass of the fish tank; despite his prevailingly gritty, realistic tone, unwittingly lost in wonder.Bishop remains tied to her own personal history as well, as she too feels the burden of understanding the fading histories of her hometown, though this is not expressed as explicitly as is done in “For the Union Dead.” In her seaside town scales plaster everything, just as young children are seemingly perpetually covered in glitter; the “sequins” turn her fading society iridescent, covering a harsh truth in a beautiful gleaming armor, a gold leaf preservation, hiding the cracks and the rotting wood. She listens eagerly to the stories of her elders and sings to a seal, personifying him with attributes such as curiosity and mannerisms such as casual shrugs. Despite the, “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,/ element bearable to no mortal,” that she is faced with upon looking out of this fading town, she, as with Lowell, retains a sense of childlike wonder, unable to remove herself from her most human characteristic as she examines the world and man’s effect on it in the widest possible lens.
In gazing through this wide lens, the question of what is lost and what remains seems a natural conclusion. For Bishop, the characters in “At the Fishhouses” witness the slow destruction of their history and carry on, whether due to or in spite of losing their footing in the Anthropocene is a matter of speculation. Regardless, the old man was able to persevere, gazing out to a changing scenescape but not irreparably changed as the characters in “For the Union Dead” have become. Lowell presents the loss of history as an occurrence that arrives with sweeping strokes: every step towards modernity leads to the eviction of swaths of the past. Despite their myriad similarities, Bishop and Lowell view the nature of time and loss from diametrically opposed positions. Bishop views the loss of the seaside town as an organic process; first the city grows and thrives, then it slowly fades into disrepair and unto death. Lowell, in contrast, sees the loss of Boston’s history as man-made, as choices, conscious or no, to gold plate certain memories and gut others.
The old man is witness rather than survivor because his place is to thrive and fall with the town: one does not survive the organic process of death, merely bears witness to it until it can be seen no more. The soldiers in Boston were able to become testaments to a message from the past much needed in Lowell’s present: they survived the city’s spring cleaning of its history because they felt they had no choice. Colonel Shaw had something to say about the present, the old man speaks only in comparison to the past. Loss in all its forms is inherently fraught and inscrutable, but in these poetic observations both Bishop and Lowell found ways to address and come to terms with the nature of their shifting Anthropocene, watching it walk past them as all they understand fades into memory.
“First Death in Nova Scotia”: A Reading of Elizabeth Bishop
There are many things that children do not understand. Their lack of experience makes them ignorant to what is happening around them, and even oblivious to the presence of death. When someone a child knows dies, it is a really rough transition: Where did he go? Am I not going to be able to see him again? What will happen next? When a person is young, that person’s understanding is less developed, so there is a lot of questioning. “First Death in Nova Scotia” is about a little girl that just experienced her first loss, which was the death of her little cousin Arthur. The speaker introduces us, the readers, to the situation she has to endure and tries to make us understand what it is for her with a few childish analogies. Elizabeth Bishop confronts innocence with death in the hands of a little girl, who does not know a thing about death. Bishop gathers a variety of concepts and techniques in the poem demonstrate the innocence of the speaker.
One of those concepts is the language, a simple, childlike vocabulary which makes us understand her way of thinking. With her vocabulary, the speaker portrays her confusion and ignorance about death because of the metaphors and similes that she uses. In the fourth stanza she said, “He was all white, like a doll / that hadn’t been painted yet” (31-32). This comparison shows the lack of description the speaker has to say about her cousin because she is a young girl who has had a really happy, enjoyable childhood and has never experienced such a sad and confusing thing. It is out of her comfort zone. Another example is in the third stanza, “Arthur’s coffin was / a little frosted cake” (28). This language used shows how the speaker tries connect the situation with the things she is familiar with to create an image of her cousin so she can understand what is happening. This comparisons shows her knowledge about death, which is really poor. This is how Bishop emphasizes the idea of death being a new thing to the speaker and how hard it is for her to explain what she sees. Confusion is another thing the author uses within the poem to show how difficult this situation is for the child, and how she is facing it for the first time. In the third stanza the speaker’s mother tells her, “Come and say goodbye / to your little cousin Arthur” (22-23). She’s so confused that she doesn’t know what to do and her mother has to guide her into this process. This is also the only thing said referring her cousin’s death, no one shows any emotion towards Arthur’s death. It is as though the little girl is the only one that cares about him. This silence helps to intensify the little girl’s confusion. In the last stanza the speaker says: “But how could Arthur go, clutching his tiny lily, with his eyes shut up so tight and the roads deep in the snow?” (47-50). She knows he’s gone, but at the same time she doesn’t know. It is that feeling same one gets when one knows that something happened but you don’t know why it happened, what exactly happened, or what is going to happen next. She just knows that he left her and she is not going to see him again, she is uncertain of where her cousin is. But, the sentence that shows all of the speaker’s confusion is in stanza number two, where she says: “Since Uncle Arthur fired / a bullet into him, / he hadn’t said a word” (11-13). The reader gets the feeling that Uncle Arthur is the one who killed cousin Arthur because the author does not specifies who the “him” is, but in reality is indicating the death of the loon that uncle Arthur killed earlier. This confusion is made so the reader would get a sense of what it is like to being the speaker, and what is happening in the speaker’s mind. Another way the author indicates the little girl’s confusion is the absence of words like “death”, “dying”, or “dead”, with the title as an exception. This vocabulary indicates that speaker is too young to understand the whole death concept, and she does not know how to refer to it.
The repetition of cold and neutral colors, like white, symbolizes the concept the speaker has towards death, which demonstrates that the speaker sees her cousin’s death colorless and cold, something negative and depressing. This symbology isolates death making it stand out from other things; for example, white is a color different from others, a unique color. The cold can also mean the idea that when someone close dies, it seems like the whole world freezes. The speaker tries to contrast the white-theme with some red motifs like the “red eyed-loon” (29), or when she refers to the “red robes” of the royalty characters. However, this warm, life concept with the color red is much scarcer than the cold, death pattern made with the white color, making them the major topic of the poem. That is a really immature and innocent concept some one can have about death, because it is not just that. For many cultures, death is something powerful and majestic, and they venerate it, it can be as equal as life and birth. As an example of that, in the second stanza she states this description, “His breast was deep and white, / cold and caressable” We all know that when you died, you get cold because of a phase called the algor mortis or “death chill” but besides that she wants to connect and specify cold and white with death. There is constant referral the speaker makes about Jack Frost, who is related to cold, white, winter weather. In the fourth stanza, the speaker said he has always painted “the Maple Leaf (Forever)” and describes how he is starting to paint Arthur’s hair “and left him white, forever” (34-40). This is how the girl makes death a separate thing of everything else. At the very beginning of the poem, the speaker says, “In the cold, cold parlor / my mother laid out Arthur” (1). In this line, there is a reference Bishop makes about Nova Scotia, a really cold place in Canada which is also the poorest, most desolate and discontent province there is in the country, also the girl states that little Arthur has been separated from the rest of the family, building again the isolation of death. In the same stanza, the speaker says there is a dead red loon that has been placed in the same room as Arthur, and again the isolation is being brought into the poem.
Lastly, the rhyme scheme in the poem it is very simple and therefore it makes it easy to write, or think. Bishop uses words children, like the speaker, can understand and make, such as “cake” (28) with “lake” (30), and “small” (31) with “doll” (32). This shows the author’s innocent, childlike, simple, and ignorant concept that young people have towards death. Many aspects of the poem fit in this concept, and makes a steady theme in the whole piece.
After reading “First Death in Nova Scotia” by Elizabeth Bishop, we can extract many themes from the poem. However, the revelation of death at an early age is the main issue. Bishop uses many techniques like confusion, simple vocabulary, rhyme scheme, and symbology to represent the theme. The confrontation of this techniques and the thesis statement give as an idea of the speaker’s thoughts and guide us to understand the choose of words in the poem. The speaker take us in every situation she is experiencing and describes it in a very unique way, just like a child would.
Analyzing “How do I love thee?…” By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
William Wordsworth once described poetry as being “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…”(1). He could not have described Barrett’s Sonnet 43 more succinctly, in spite of the fact that he preceded her by half a century. Barrett wrote 44 sonnets about her love for her fellow contemporary poet and later husband, Robert Browning, a series which she titled “Sonnets from the Portuguese”. Critics’ opinions vary on this matter, but most agree that her choice is a reference to one of her earlier compositions about the love between a young girl and Camoens (2), a Portuguese poet of the 1500’s. Others believe that the title is a private joke between Barrett and Browning, as the latter was fond of calling her his little “Portugee” (3). For purposes of this essay, we shall assume that the sonnet is written in homage to her beloved Browning. In any case, Sonnet 43 comes towards the end of the series, and as such inevitably possesses a climactic appeal when read in context with the other sonnets. This essay will briefly discuss the genre and other technicalities of this particular poem, before analysing it in more detail to determine its impact and effect up on the reader.As we have already briefly mentioned above, “How do I love thee?” is a sonnet, a 14 lined poem with a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CD CD CD in the style favoured by Petrarch. In it the composer has utilised iambic pentameter (there are five iambs, or two-beat feet of unstressed-stressed syllables per line), which adds to the musical quality of the piece. Sonnets originated in Sicily in the 13th Century – the English name is derived from the Italian ‘sonetto’ meaning ‘little song’ (4) – and were often accompanied by the lute, recalling a serenade or perhaps the courtly love ballads of the Middle Ages. It is evident from the outset of the poem then that love will most likely play a role in this particular genre of poetry, as it does in this instance. Petrachan sonnets differ from other poems of the same genre in their formal structure. In the first eight lines, or octave, we are presented with the theme of the piece: Love. Then we have a volta, or twist, followed by the last six lines (or sestet) which develop the theme further. In Sonnet 43, Barrett raises this style to another level. In the octave, she describes the loftiness of her love in abstract, spiritual terms, drawing parallels between her intense love and religious or political fervour; in the sestet she includes her feelings of grief and the loss of innocence, giving her love a more realistic stance. She uses a constative (5) speech act, where she is describing her love in a relatively calm, logical – and even philosophical – manner. The fulfillment of the speech act “consists in its recognition” (6) as is clearly illustrated in this case.Yet the poem still successfully has the impact of being a passionate declaration of love, convincing us that this love is not a passing fancy but real and everlasting. Let us examine the poem in more depth. She begins with a question – “How do I love thee?”(l.1)Is this a rhetorical question? Barrett desires the reader to ponder the question in anticipation of what is to follow. There are so many ways in which the speaker loves the object of her affections that she feels the need to count and list them one by one, using anaphora with her repeated phrase ‘I love thee…’:“I love thee to the depth and breadth of height…”(l.2)Here we have not only internal rhyme (depth, breadth), but also a sort of paradox: she is using abstract analogies to describe her love as being three-dimensional and therefore very much a part of the real world. Her love extends to the limits of the physical world. There is also an element of intertexuality, as this could also be a reference to an Epistle of St Paul to the Ephesians, where the Apostle desires to understand “the length, breadth, depth and height of Christ’s and the fullness of God” (7). This links directly to the idea of her love as a spiritual thing, as she reiterates in the next line, with the mention of her soul:“My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight…” (l.3)This line suggests that this love is a part of her very being, pertaining to her body and soul. Barrett was very religious, and as such this would have held more meaning for her than someone less inclined towards such beliefs. For her, this love had become the very core of her being, the meaning behind her existence. Resulting from the extensive use of ‘th’, these lines also introduce soft, ‘breathy’ syllables into the sonnet, reminiscent of the act of living. There are also elements of assonance in these lines, with the words ‘feeling’, ‘Being’ and ‘ideal’, which helps the poem return to a livelier expression lest perhaps it lapse away into faint breaths and sighs. In this line: “For the ends of Being and ideal Grace” (l.4), we can assume that she is referring to God, the Beginning and End of all things. With this in mind, she is comparing her love for Browning to her love for God, elevating it to something which is out of this world. She brings it back into our spectrum with the words ““I love thee to the level of every day’s/ Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight” (l.5-6), suggesting that her love is one of the bare necessities of life, as necessary as air, food, water or shelter. But she still chooses this ‘necessity’ of her own free will (“I love thee freely, as men strive for Right” (l.7)). This may also be another reference to God, echoing the Christian belief in loving possessing a free-will in loving God and doing what is right in order to achieve perfect happiness. Similarly, in the next line, describes her love as being “pure”, for she does not desire any “praise” for her action. Then we have the volta, where her tone changes: she starts to describe her love as a passion that hurts, the passion that she has in old griefs and childhood days. She loves him with a love she seemed to lose with her childhood innocence, or “lost saints” – it is as though she loves him in the same way one loves when one is young, with her whole being, entirely and guilelessly the blind faith of a child, “without a doubt because of a lack of life experience that would go contrary to it” (8). Her last lines are sentimental, echoing the intensity of this love:“I love thee with the breath,Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,I shall but love thee better after death.” (l.12-14)This may seem to some critics to be a gross hyperbole, but when one keeps in mind the religious nature of the speaker, and the poet’s belief that there is a life after death, it takes on a timeless, romantic significance. We can comprehend the emotional complexity and maturity of the speaker’s character and feel uplifted by the intensity of the pure love which she describes so much so that it is far more effective and creates a greater impact than any modern love song.Footnotes:(1) W. Wordsworth and S. Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical ballads, with other poems : in two volumes, Biggs and Co. Bristol, London : 1800, Preface.(2) Anonymous, “ARTS1030 Introduction to English: Literary Genres” , UNSW, Sydney, 2010, p24.(3) Anonymous, “Sonnet 43 – A Love Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning”, Cummings Study Guides, Internet, World Wide Web http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Sonnet43.html (31/03/10)(4) Ibid.(5) J. L. Austin, How to do things with words, Oxford: Oxford Uni Press (1912?)(6) M. Devitt & R. Harley, Blackwell’s Guide to the Philosophy of Language, (2003)(7) Anonymous, “What is the analysis of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 43?”, Answers.com, Internet, World Wide Web http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_analysis_of_Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning’s_sonnet_43 (31/03/10)(8) Jules P. Life, “How do I Love Thee- Elizabeth Barrett Browning”, Living Life with a Passion, p5, Internet, World Wide Web http://juleslife.wordpress.com/2007/06/08/how-do-i-love-thee-elizabeth-barrett-browning/ (31/03/10) READING LIST- Anonymous, “ARTS1030 Introduction to English: Literary Genres” , UNSW, Sydney, 2010- Anonymous, “Sonnet 43 – A Love Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning”, Cummings Study Guides, Internet, World Wide Web http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Sonnet43.html- Anonymous, “What is the analysis of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 43?”, Answers.com, Internet, World Wide Web http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_analysis_of_Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning’s_sonnet_43- Austin, JL, How to do things with words, Oxford: Oxford Uni Press (1912?)- Devitt, M & Harley, R, Blackwell’s Guide to the Philosophy of Language, (2003)- Life, JP, “How do I Love Thee- Elizabeth Barrett Browning”, Living Life with a Passion, p5, Internet, World Wide Web http://juleslife.wordpress.com/2007/06/08/how-do-i-love-thee-elizabeth-barrett-browning/- Wordsworth, W and Taylor Coleridge, S, Lyrical ballads, with other poems : in two volumes, Biggs and Co. Bristol, London : 1800, Preface.
Devices Used In Jane Eyre and Aurora Leigh to Represent Female Subjugation
Though the authors and genres of the works Jane Eyre and Aurora Leigh are distinctive, the messages and methods of communication within both are quite comparable. Both authors aim to, among other things, expose the plight of their female contemporaries and offer strong suggestions as to how the injustices faced by women might be rectified. The heroines of both stories, Jane and Aurora, face subjugation and oppression of many kinds, most being a direct result of their gender. Both authors utilize, in similar ways, certain literary devices in order to symbolize both the incarceration and notions of liberation for their protagonists. These two aspects of the stories, bondage and freedom, continually display the principal conflict in both plots: the struggle between ideal aspirations and the confinement of practicality and reality, specifically as applied to women (Pell 397).One of the most easily recognized symbols within both of the stories is the home. In Aurora Leigh, and in Jane Eyre, the home becomes, while both women are still girls, associated with domestic bondage of various kinds. The place in which Jane spent the first ten years of her life, Gateshead, was a fine, stately house and also the most understandable object of her distaste. Her parents having died in her infancy, Jane was severely ill-used by the family of her late maternal uncle. She was, amidst the splendor of affluence, abused physically, mentally and emotionally, continually reminded of her inferiority and seclusion. Despite the quality of her surroundings, Gateshead would always represent the worst period of Jane’s life. Once removed to Lowood, a poorly-administrated, charity-funded boarding school, Jane proclaimed “I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations, for Gateshead and its daily luxuries” (Bronte 24). For Jane, the move from Gateshead to Lowood was the first small step of many toward independence.Though at Lowood Jane became more content than she had even been in her short life, after eight years the walls finally began to unbearably confine her. She lamented, “I went to my window…there were the skirts of Lowood; there was the hilly horizon. My eye passed all other objects to rest on those most remote, the blue peaks: it was those I longed to surmount: all within their boundary of rock and heath seemed prison-ground, exile limits” (Bronte 85). The physical confinement of the school began to constantly remind Jane of the social limits they inflicted upon her; as long as she stayed, her life would never change nor improve.Thornfield, the estate on which Jane comes to find freedom from Lowood as a governess, provides her with improved salary, a bit more independence and quality living conditions. The house, however, much like the others, still serves as a reminder to Jane that she is not completely her own, ever-dependent on the patronage of the wealthy. Upon returning to the house one day, Jane thought “I did not like re-entering Thornfield. To pass its threshold was a return to stagnation: to cross the silent hall, to ascend the darksome staircase, to seek my own lonely little room…was to quell wholly the faint excitement wakened by my walk” (Bronte 117). Though a happier existence, her life at Thornfield only perpetuated her lifelong ‘protection’ from the world. Her later laments on the subject are those she uttered not only for herself, but for all women of her time: “What good it would have done me at the time to have been tossed in the storms of an uncertain struggling life, and to have been taught by rough and bitter experience to long for the calm amidst I now repine!” (117). Bronte writes, through Jane’s predicament, of the intended protection of women that essentially cripples them.Aurora Leigh also finds the home to be an oppressive place, but unlike Jane, it is the idea of the home that more confounds her than the building itself. While she is quite young, the expected idea of a home is thrust upon her by her aunt into whose care she is left upon the death of her father. The young girl is given books that are meant to instruct small wives-to-be, ‘books that boldly assert/Their right of comprehending husbands talk/When not too deep, and even answering/With pretty “may it please you,” or “so it is.”’ Her aunt assures young Aurora that all will be well with young ladies “As long as they keep quiet by the fire” (Browning 51). When Aurora shows resistance to this accepted and nearly inescapable feminine fate, she is told by this same aunt “I know I have not ground you down enough/To flatten and bake you to a wholesome crust/For household uses and proprieties” (Browning 70). Thus the idea of home was early tainted within the strong young mind of Aurora Leigh and also, through this vivid imagery, within the mind of any reader who happens upon her story.Beyond the teachings of her aunt, Aurora is brought to despise this idea of home also by her cousin, the young Mr. Romney Leigh. She knows him most of her life, and comes to love him as a friend, though ill-matched for any other sort of relationship. In one passage of the poem, Aurora grows livid as her cousin refuses to take her writing seriously. He reduces the female gender to “Mere women, personal and passionate/You give us doating mothers and perfect wives” (Browning 81). In his mind, no doubt, this is complimentary, though Aurora sees it differently. She rebuffs his comments, explaining that women, though often proving themselves to be only what he says, become this way as a result of a certain neglect. She argues “A women’s always younger than a man/At equal years because she is disallowed/Maturing by the outdoor sun and air,/And kept in long-clothes past the age to walk” (Browning 85). Ironically enough, this conversation includes also a marriage proposal on the part of Romney, an invitation to Aurora to become a member of that expected household which she had already come to scorn. She expectedly and soundly rejects, knowing the proposal to be only a social item of propriety and economics, rather than a gesture motivated by love or passion, for which she might consider entering into such a contract.In addition to the home and marriage becoming symbols of constriction for Aurora, she speaks also of Britain as a tamed or domesticated sort of country which has forced itself and its expectations upon her. She was born and partly raised in Italy, something that her aunt continually tries to make her forget, finding the influences to be much too reminiscent of the unapproved woman her brother, Aurora’s father, chose to marry. It is, however, in these memories of Tuscan landscape that Aurora feels free. Though she learns to love Britain, she sees it as “Not a grand nature. Not my chestnut-woods/Of Vallombrosa” (Browning 57). Just as Aurora’s memories of nature in Italy provide for her a sense of inner freedom, so do Jane Eyre’s reflections on her natural surroundings bring intimations of liberation. In her description of the Moor-House, the place in which she comes to live after Thornfield, Jane uses mostly natural language, treating the house as if it were a part of nature itself. “They loved their sequestered home. I, too, in a the gray, small, antique structure , with its low roof, its latticed casements, its mouldering walls, its avenue of aged firs-all grown aslant under the stress of mountain winds; its garden, dark with yew and holly-and where no flowers but the hardies species would bloom-found a charm, both potent and permanent” (Bronte 354). This is the most positive and sentimental description Jane gives of any of the houses she resides in. Is this because the house itself held a special charm? Perhaps, but more likely because it was the first place in which she felt true kinship and thereby a small sense of independence.It is no wonder that Jane chose to associate a place dear to her with nature as it is made clear, throughout the novel, that nature is her only ever-present comfort. She explains that “I have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose…Nature seemed to me benign and good: I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I from whom man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness” (Bronte 328). At one point in the story, as Jane becomes more and more subdued into the prospect of accepting her cousin, St. John Rivers’ marriage proposal against her better judgment, nature, in a sense, frees her by carrying to her the voice of her true love on the wind, reminding her of where her heart is, “It is the work of nature. She was roused, and did-no miracle-but her best” (Bronte 425). Though Jane ultimately finds independence in money, kinship in newfound family, and happiness in the arms of the man she loves, nature sustains and provokes her toward greater things from the beginning of her life onward.Amidst the small victories of Jane and Aurora, the hopelessness of women of limited financial means is a theme that pervades both stories. Jane Eyre, from her earliest years, is constantly reminded by those around her that, because of her poor financial situation, she will always be obliged to live in the service of others. One of her least favorite of the household staff in Gateshead, Miss Abbot, explains to her that “they will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it is you place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them” (Bronte 13). Even Bessie, the most well-meaning and caring of Jane’s childhood associates advises her “You should try to be useful and pleasant, then perhaps you will always have a home here” (Bronte 13). Because of her situation, young Jane is prevented from even dreaming of the independence that she will one day realize. When she is older, Jane remembers her childhood thoughts of “Liberty, Excitement, Enjoyment: delightful sounds truly; but no more than sounds for me; and so hollow and fleeting that it is mere waste of time to listen to them. But Servitude! That must be matter of fact” (Bronte 86). The importance of wealth is made abundantly clear to Jane as a child. Her physician, in response to her expression of intense personal misery, asks the ten year-old girl if she would like to search out and live with some paternal relatives, though they would likely be poor. Jane cannot see past her upbringing and assumes that such people are incapable of love or kindness. This ill-founded judgment prolongs her captivity at Gateshead (Bronte 24).Aurora Leigh similarly faces the inevitable trials of a woman of little means and connection. When she refuses the proposal of Romney Leigh, a man who loves her not and who she does not love, Aurora is reprimanded by her aunt, as marriage, she believes, for the poor is a matter of economic position, not love. She scolds “You suppose, perhaps, /That you…/Are rich and free to chose a way to walk?” (Browning 93). Despite her aunt’s ranting, Aurora is unmoved in her decision not to live only to improve or maintain her social status. She reflects later that if her life is to be always about financial improvement, then she shall never personally thrive, for “What you do/For bread will taste of common grain, not grapes” (Browning 124).It is by this idea of invaluable principal that both Jane and Aurora chose to live throughout their lives, determined to succeed in a way that is true to their own priorities, regardless of immediate consequences. Both women sufficiently overcome the countless obstacles hurled at them. They do not succumb to the pressures of stagnant domestic life, or the limitations of their caste. Through the successes of these heroines, in the midst of undeniable conflict, Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Barrett Browning communicate their own hopes that the female sex might be inspired to do the same, against whatever obstacles they may and will encounter.Essay Word Count: 2,023BIBLIOGRAPHYC. Bronte, Jane Eyre (1975)E.B. Browning, Aurora Leigh (1989)N. Pell, “Resistance, Rebellion and Marriage: The Economics of Jane Eyre’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 31:4 (1977): 397-420
Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop: Two Small Fish in a Big Sea
It is no secret that Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop were close friends. Although written decades apart, poems titled “The Fish” were created by both authors. Upon reading Bishop’s poem against Moore’s, we can see that both of the poems deal with themes of endurance against a greater force and of the unpredictability of life. The poems are not entirely alike, of course, with differences in form, speaker, and subject matter. Important to fully examining Bishop’s “The Fish,” she and Moore’s correspondence was well-documented, including letters on Bishop’s “The Fish.” Their back-and-forth letters reveal the influence Moore had on Bishop’s poetry, as well as instances in which Bishop stood up for the more independent choices in her writing.
While Bishop’s “The Fish” can easily stand alone as a magnificent poem, analyzing it with Moore in mind leads readers to underlying themes that one might not pick up on alone. The two poets met through a mutual friend in the mid-1930s and instantly became friends, corresponding via letters. As Lynn Keller notes, “The care Bishop apparently took composing her early letters and the descriptions they contain reflects, then, not only her desire to share with Moore intriguing or delightful experiences, but also her awareness that this correspondence provided a unique opportunity for monitored practice in writing skills” (Keller). Bishop frequently asked Moore for advice on various poems, making Moore’s influence on Bishop’s poetry is undeniable. Keep in mind that Bishop was still a young poet when the two first met; “the older writer soon placed her protégée’s work in an anthology, writing an insightful preface to the new poems” (Sweeny). Especially important, Bishop and Moore corresponded about Bishop’s “The Fish.” “I am so much longing,” Bishop wrote to Moore in January of 1940 (the same year Bishop’s that “The Fish” was published), “to see some of your new poems. I am sending you a real ‘trifle’ [‘The Fish’]. I’m afraid it is very bad” (Keller). Moore responded with criticisms and suggestions for change. A month later, Bishop replied, “I have been reading and rereading your letter ever since it came … Thank you for the marvelous postcard, and the very helpful comments on ‘The Fish.’ I did as you suggested about everything except ‘breathing in’ (if you can remember that), which I decided to leave as it was” (Keller). Here, one sees how seriously Bishop took Moore’s advice.
Bishop begins by mentioning that she has read the letter multiple times, and Bishop goes on (in the full version) to describe exactly what edits she, Bishop, made in response to Moore’s letter. However, one also sees that Bishop does not let Moore decide what changes must be enacted. In the letter mentioned, Bishop refers to what becomes the twenty-second line of “The Fish,” where she does not change the words “breathing in.” This shows how Bishop was an independent poet, but a poet who still truly valued Moore’s input. Their correspondence, in part, surely led to “The Fish” being published by Partisan Review in March of 1940.
Moore’s influence on Bishop’s “The Fish” is present in more than just the changes that Bishop made. It is important to have a somewhat in-depth understanding of each poem, on its own, in order to compare and contrast the two. Marianne Moore’s “The Fish” describes a scene in which sea creatures are exposed by sunlight while the sea crashes upon a cliff. The end of the poem indicates that the cliff will continue to endure while the sea and all of its creatures grow old at its side, thus making the cliff the most permanent object in the poem. Moore experiments with the space on the page to make a poem that takes on its own physical shape that has the appearance of ebb and flow. The poem’s appearance echoes the persistent imagery of the sea that Moore describes as “a wedge/ of iron through the iron edge/ of the cliff” as the poem crashes up against the margin of the page and retreats with its indents (Moore 18-20). Moore’s “The Fish” is a poem full of contrasts. The rigidity that the form (syllabic verse combined with an AABBCC end-rhyme scheme) creates is directly contrasted with the natural flow of the ocean that is portrayed in the physical appearance of the poem. There is also a contrast between the form and the content of the poem: the mysterious life beneath the water against the predictability of the end rhyme and syllabic verse. When the sun hits the water, it turns from “black jade” (Moore 2) to “turquoise sea” (Moore 17). The water is illuminated, an illumination which comes along with the reader’s discoveries of the “jelly fish … crabs … toadstools” (Moore 23-25). Moore’s “The Fish” thus describes a scene with immense detail, but the meaning of the poem is meant to extend beyond the descriptions given, as will be touched upon later in this essay.
Bishop’s “The Fish” also contains considerable and precise detail, including a wide variety of colors that culminate to the ultimate “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow” epiphany at the end of the poem (Bishop 75). Bishop’s “The Fish” tells the story of a fisherman (presumed to be male in this essay, although Bishop is not specific) who catches “a tremendous fish” (Bishop 1). He examines the fish from its scales to its eyes to the five frayed lines and hooks that remain lodged in its mouth. The fisherman ultimately decides to release the fish that has endured so much. The poem is written in free verse but contains short and controlled lines. This structure echoes the nature of the fish that is controlled by man, hooked many times, but is ultimately free in the sea. Bishop utilizes long, descriptive sentences, rich in color and figurative language, that flow throughout the poem, like the sea itself flows. Many colors are present in the composition as well: brown, lime, green, and white to name a few just within the first third of the poem. By the end of the poem, as touched upon earlier, the speaker exclaims, “everything/ was a rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!/ And I let the fish go” (Bishop 74-76). This final epiphany represents all of the details (all of the colors in the poem) coming together, and the speaker realizes that this fish has endured so much that it deserves to live on. To take life from this fish would be a shameful act.
This theme of endurance is present in both Moore’s and Bishop’s “The Fish.” Besides sharing a title, the poems also share common thematic elements. For one, both Moore and Bishop’s poems remark upon the alternating predictability and unpredictability of life. Moore does so through contrasting the unknown life that is lurking beneath the surface of the sea with the fact that the sea will always be confined by the boundaries that the cliff creates. One does not know what is in store for the sea-life other than that the creatures will, at some point, die. Bishop takes Moore’s original theme to a new level; what is predicted or expected is not what actually happens. Bishop expresses this theme by contrasting what the speaker is doing, catching a fish, with what the speaker ultimately decides to do, release the fish. Based on the setting, the reader may predict that the speaker will keep (and ultimately kill) the fish. However, the speaker unpredictably decides to set the old fish free. In Bishop’s case, what is predicted or expected is not what actually happens. While the speaker is not able to foresee what is in store for the weathered fish (whether or not another hook will grow “firmly in his mouth” [Bishop 55]), he does know that its life is finite. Still, the speaker leaves the fish to endure. Reading the poem, one knows the fish must die, but it is left to live out its life, whatever might happen.
The idea of “endurance” is also present in both poems. The end of Moore’s “The Fish” suggests that the cliff will continue to endure, while the sea and its inhabitants grow old and die at the cliff’s side, thus making the cliff the strongest force in the poem; it is riddled with “dynamite grooves, burns, and/ hatchet strokes” yet still endures and stands strong (Moore 32-33). The fish that is itself described by Bishop is the strongest force in her poem, which features a creature that has endured (and escaped) multiple fishermen, as five hooks and frayed lines hang from this fish’s lip (Bishop 54-56). Various parts of the fish are described as “battered and venerable” (Moore 8), “ancient” (Moore 11), and “speckled with barnacles” (Moore 16), emphasizing how long this fish has been alive and how much it has withstood. Everyone knows that fish are living creatures with finite lives, but the description of this fish may actually leave readers second-guessing the axiom that all living things must die. The reader will never know what happens beyond Bishop’s “The Fish,” as the creature of the title is released into the sea, perhaps the same sea that crashes against Moore’s persistent cliff.
Despite these thematic divergences, the most obvious difference between the two poems is that of form. Moore’s is less than half the length (line-wise) of Bishop’s, is written in syllabic verse with an end-rhyme scheme, and experiments with the space on the page to create a particularly distinctive appearance. Bishop’s poem is written in free verse, yet with short and controlled lines, and is much longer. These two different forms have entirely different effects on each of the poems. The most notable difference in the content of the poems is the subject matter. While they are both named “The Fish,” the two poems are overtly about different things. Moore’s poem is titled “The Fish,” in part, because the title runs into the first line; the fish are merely a part of her description of what lies beneath the sea. Bishop’s poem is centered around the fish; there is no poem, here, without it. Bishop’s fish holds all of the power, symbolism, and description within the poem. By arranging this poem around a fish, Bishop calls attention to the most minute of details, one fish in an infinite sea. The fish is minuscule but is the most important being in the universe of this poem, as it leads to the speaker’s ultimate epiphany: this fish has endured so much that it must live on, because this is not a life that the speaker deserves to take. The difference in the handling of the fish marks a stark contrast between these two poems.
Reading Bishop’s “The Fish” with Moore in mind helps the reader to pick up on the importance of endurance and unpredictability as central poetic themes. Comparing and contrasting the two poems calls attention the poets’ forms and to how the poets handle their fish, whether as a detail in the sea or as a center of a poem’s universe. Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” can clearly stand on its own without the additional reading of Marianne Moore’s “The Fish,” and even without knowledge of the women’s friendship and correspondence. However, knowing that Bishop was a long-time reader and friend of Moore’s enhances how one might read the poem and casts particular themes in an especially lucid light.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Fish.” Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Cary Nelson, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 17-19. Keller, Lynn. “The Bishop/Moore Correspondence on “The Fish”” Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2016. Moore, Marianne. “The Fish.” Anthology of Modern American Poetry, edited by Cary Nelson, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 319-320. Sweeny, Emma Claire. “Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.” Web log post. Something Rhymed. WordPress.com, 1 May 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Hopkins and Elizabeth Bishop: Evidence of “God’s Grandeur” in “Filling Station”
In his essay “Action and Repose—Gerard Manley Hopkins’s influence in the Poems of Elizabeth Bishop,” Ben Howard notes the strong influence Hopkins had on poems like “The Prodigal” and “The Fish,” by Elizabeth Bishop. Another one of Bishop’s poems that seems to draw heavily, both thematically and stylistically, from Hopkins is “Filling Station,” which describes a dirty gas station and the family that owns it. In its exploration of the dirt that man smears all over his environment, the poem seems to imitate several elements from Hopkins’s “God’s Grandeur.”The most obvious connection between “God’s Grandeur” and “Filling Station” is its shared subject matter. The first line of Bishop’s poem, “Oh, but it is dirty!” (1) directly reflects the world “seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil” that Hopkins describes (6). Additionally, just as Hopkins’s poem focuses on the fact that it is “man” who causes this dirtiness (7), Bishop describes the “Father” and the “greasy sons” as the embodiment of the station’s grime (7, 11). Finally, the most compelling image that Bishop takes from Hopkins is that of God’s grandeur as “the ooze of oil / Crushed” (3-4). The words “oil” and “grease” permeate the poem, and Bishop even employs the word “crushed” in the third stanza, directly evoking Hopkins’s line. Bishop takes Hopkins’s image of oozing oil, however, and turns it on its head, using it to represent not the power of God (as it does in the Hopkins poem), but the influence of man. In addition, Bishop’s use of the oil image differs from Hopkins’s in that in “God’s Grandeur,” it is the action of crushing the olive and producing the oil that gives the image its significance; in “Filling Station,” however, the oil stagnates in a “disturbing, over-all / black translucency” (4-5).In addition to appropriating Hopkins’s subject matter of man’s dirt, Bishop also employs some of his well-known stylistic features. The most significant of these is the creation of hyphenated, compound adjectives. They appear in Bishop’s poem in lines like “oil-soaked, oil-permeated,” and “grease-impregnated” (3, 17-8). Though these compound adjectives do not specifically appear in “God’s Grandeur,” they are prominent in many of Hopkins’s other poems. “The Windhover” has perhaps the best examples of these compound descriptors in that it features a “dapple-dawn-drawn falcon” and ends with the image of “blue-bleak embers” (2, 13). Bishop and Hopkins also both employ strings of adjectives to describe the same noun: in Hopkins, the world is “seared…bleared, smeared” (6), while in Bishop the oil around the station is “disturbing, over-all black” (4-5). Finally, Bishop’s poem perhaps appears to make some use of Hopkins’s sprung rhythm. All the lines have either 3 or 4 major stresses, suggesting a more organized metrical scheme than free verse. At least some of the lines, such as “Sómebody embróidered the dóily. / Sómebody wáters the plánt, / or óils it, máybe. Sómebody,” with their consistent pattern of three stresses and varying numbers and patterns of unstressed syllables, seem to be in sprung rhythm, unmistakably reflecting Hopkins’s influence.While “God’s Grandeur” and “Filling Station” begin by describing filthy scenes, both poems feature a volta or turn at the last stanza. In Hopkins, this turn occurs at the start of the sestet with the phrase, “And for all this” (11). The sestet focuses on how the presence of the “Holy Ghost” in nature maintains a “dearest freshness” in spite of man’s blackening influence (13, 10). In Bishop, the description of the filling station moves to the family’s porch, decorated with a “doily” and a “big hirsute begonia” (30, 27); the presence of the doily, which “somebody embroidered” and which adds a personal touch to the scene, causes Bishop to reconsider her initial assessment of the ‘dirty’ filling station and focus on its unique aspects (34). The poem’s turn, like in “God’s Grandeur,” may also revolve around the presence of nature; the family’s porch not only introduces the begonia, but it also holds the doily, “embroidered in daisy stitch / with marguerites” (31-2). As a result, for Bishop as well as for Hopkins, nature reminds one of the “dearest freshness deep down things.”The scene on the porch also alludes to the Hopkinsian idea of individuality or unique inscape as the main source of something’s worth. Indeed, the turn in Bishop’s poem comes about in the realization that “somebody embroidered the doily. / Somebody waters the plant,” and that these objects are special precisely because they belong to this particular family (34-5). Another feature of the porch is a comic book, which provides “the only note of color— / of certain color” (22-3, emphasis mine). This seems to point to the idea that this filling station, as the sum of its individual parts, has haeciettas, that which differentiates it from all other gas stations. In the final stanza, with the act of “water[ing] the plant, or oil[ing] it, maybe,” and the movement of the “rows of cans,” the poem’s predominant sense of stagnation is lost (35-6, 37); instead, the newly-appreciated filling station takes on the positive sense of movement, the “flam[ing] out” and “gather[ing] to a greatness,” that characterizes Hopkins’s vision of the “grandeur of God” (2, 3, 1). Just as Howard notes in the title of his essay, it is this contrast between “action and repose” that marks the ultimate influence of Hopkins on Bishop.
Poetry, Gender and Nature versus Reality: Aurora Leigh and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Victorian era was a period of great social and political upheaval, especially for women. Increasing opposition to the lack of women’s political rights in relation to marriage and property laws, such as the fact that any income a woman earned automatically belonged to her husband, as well as debates on education, was termed “The Woman Question.” However, there were also both men and women, such as Sarah Stickney Ellis and Coventry Patmore, who believed that allowing women more freedom was going against their “natural” temperament. The deeply embedded patriarchal values in Victorian society meant that instead of openly declaring women as the inferior sex, instead they were praised for the virtues women were supposed to possess naturally – selflessness, patience, ability to love, and maternal instincts. Although apparently praising women for their contributions to society, this ideology was instead used to justify women’s inferior roles and was highly restrictive and patronising.Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem Aurora Leigh interested me as it seemed to reflect and highlight a lot of the issues that were surrounding the complex “Woman Question” in Victorian times, in particular the kind of education that was deemed appropriate for females, and their expected roles as wives and mothers, rather than the freedom to pursue their own career. The concept of the “Woman Question” in Victorian society appears to be full of many competing ideologies, both the dominant voices and the dissenting ones. The poem, written in the style of a modern epic,1 concerns the education, upbringing and poetic aspirations of a young girl, who chooses not to comply with society’s expectations and marry her cousin Romney but dedicate her life to pursuing a career as a poet. Aurora Leigh can be seen as an early feminist text, and therefore expresses ideas that were not supported by the patriarchal society of the times, however, it was also immensely popular in Victorian society.2 I found it interesting that this could be so, and challenged my understanding of the Victorians, as I would have believed that as a voice of dissent, it would be unpopular or frowned upon. I was curious as to how poems such as these could be reconciled by the general public with the patriarchal ideology of the times.However, as Antony Harrison discusses in his chapter “Discourse, Ideology, Poetry,”poetic works were consumed by the Victorians more widely than other forms of art, and it was expected that poetic words on a page meant more than other writing; “embodied the voice of a being possessed of extraordinary epistemological capacities.”3 As poetry was such a popular form of entertainment in the Victorian period, the messages and ideologies poems portray are therefore more likely to influence the readers. I found that this confirmed itself in my mind upon reading an extract from Sarah Stickney Ellis’ “The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits.” Ellis’ book represents the dominant ideology of the time, which believed that girls should be educated in manners of ‘the heart’ rather than intellectual pursuits, so they are better equipped to run a house, raise a family and be a loving, comforting wife, “the humble monitress who sat alone, guarding the fireside comforts of his distant home.”4 Despite the popularity of books such as this, it seemed to me that the nature of Browning’s poem, as a more exciting and dramatic form, would have a wider appeal, and thus more effectively transmit a particular ideology, under the guise of eliciting pleasure.5The primary subject in the book one extract of Aurora Leigh is that of her education. Aurora’s education is administered by her aunt, and is listed in a repetitive and termed a ‘liberal’ education in a somewhat mocking fashion, in order to highlight the uselessness of the things Aurora is learning, “I danced the polka and the Cellarius/Spun glass, stuffed birds, and modeled flowers in wax/ Because she liked accomplishments in girls.”6 However, this is an effective technique in order to ensure the reader is made fully aware of the fact that the poet herself was not lacking in an education, and is knowledgeable about subjects such as literature and history, for example the famous French author Balzac – “I learnt my complement of classic French/kept pure of Balzac”7, such as which was not taught to Aurora in the poem because his work was considered inappropriate for females. At the time, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of Victorian England’s most famous female poets, and it was known that she had an unusually ‘masculine’ education – she studied Latin and Greek, as well as philosophy and literature.8 In this way, Barrett Browning appeared to me to embody the argument for women to have an education equal to that of men – she proved that it would not be ‘wasted’ on women, that they are just as capable of talent and successful careers.Aurora Leigh was the first poem written by a female poet about a character who was also a poet, and so is often interpreted as semi-autobiographical. However, there are obvious discrepancies between the character of Aurora Leigh and Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself, particularly in relation to marriage. Whilst Aurora Leigh rejects her suitor Romney, choosing instead to concentrate on her poetry, Barrett Browning was deeply in love with her husband Robert Browning, with whom she eloped with to Italy. I have often thought that marriage, for a Victorian activist of women’s rights, would be out of the question, as it would require her to compromise her political values, or somehow reconcile them with her decision. Whilst poetry was an influential form of art that could be used to mold the reader’s values and opinions in reality, the poem also seems to demonstrate that it is much easier to discuss social issues through the fictional characters of Aurora and Romney, than through life itself. These contradictions seems to embody the many aspects and arguments of the “Woman Question” that was so widely discussed throughout the Victorian period.The dominant ideology in Victorian times in relation to women was the idea that women were born with certain personality traits that made them fit to be wives, mothers and generally subservient to the male population. This was justified by the widely accepted belief that it was willed by God to be so, and hence, “a woman who tried to cultivate her intellect beyond drawing-room accomplishments was violating the order of nature and of religious traditions.”9 In Aurora Leigh, the character of Aurora’s aunt is used as an example of this kind of woman, “She had lived, we’ll say/A harmless life, she called a virtuous life/ A quiet life, which was not life at all.”10Whilst Aurora’s aunt represents the ‘natural’ virtues of a Victorian woman – quiet, charitable and dutiful (for she is doing her duty by raising Aurora), there are also contradictory examples of nature in the poem. Aurora is educated within “the sight of the great lime-tree on the lawn,” an allusion to Coleridge’s poem This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, in which the lime-tree, as in Aurora Leigh, becomes an inspirational and consoling vision of the beauty and creative force of nature.11 However, this vision is blocked by Aurora’s aunt – “sat just in the chair she placed/ with back against the window, to exclude…”12 This symbolic contradiction between what is seen to be ‘natural’ and used to justify the patriarchal values in Victorian society, and the inspiring, non-judgmental view of nature itself, represented by the lime tree, can be seen as a comment on whether these values are in fact ‘natural’ at all.Representations of gender and “The Woman Question” in Victorian society are often complex and full of opposing ideas and opinions, both in present times and in the past. At first reading, Barrett Browning’s poem Aurora Leigh to me appeared to simply be a poem advocating women’s equal rights, particularly in regards to career and education. However, upon learning more about how this patriarchal society justified the subjugation of women through religion and the idea of ‘natural virtues,’ and the extent of political and legal power, as well as marriage and property laws, I began to realise how deeply entrenched in every aspect of life these ideas were, and how difficult it must have been for anyone to fully oppose it without sacrificing the comforts of a normal life. In this way, the author uses fictional characters to communicate the belief in the right for equal gender roles, thus reinforcing the importance of poetry in Victorian society.Resources:Harrison, A. ‘Introduction: Discourse, Ideology, Poetry’ in Victorian Poets and the Politics of Culture. London: University Press of Virginia, 1998 p 11Carol T Christ et al, ed. The Norton Anthology of Victorian Literature: The Victorian Age, 7th ed. (W.W Norton & Company: New York, 2000)Bristow, J (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.