Adrienne Rich’s Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers – finally makes sense


Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

As we will come to know later in the poem, Aunt Jennifer is a very mild woman who lacks self-confidence and is terrified of most things in her life.  She is seen designing a tapestry of tigers in a green forest. The tigers appear to prance around confidently, unafraid of the hunters hiding among the trees. They move around in elegance and certainty. ‘Chivalric’ symbolizes knightly bravery. Using astounding poetry, she describes the tigers as bright topaz denizens – ‘denizens’ meaning inhabitants. The world of green is their home – the forest. A beautiful contrast of colors is sprung. The tigers wander through the forests with a grace that everything around them belongs to them. This gives them a dignity that makes them unafraid of man.

Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

Aunt Jennifer, as we will see in the last paragraph, is a woman, who is terrified of the marital ordeals in her life. Hence, the wedding band appears to be weighing her down. She appears to be bound to social and marital obligations and the wedding band appears more of a restraint than a symbol of love or joy or freedom. She seems to have lost her freedom of expression in her marriage, and therefore expresses herself through the only way she knows – her art of designing tapestries. Being the mild woman she is, she wishes to channelize her desire of becoming that bold woman who stands up for herself. This she does, by creating tigers who are entirely opposite in nature to herself. Whilst she is terrified of everything in life, the tigers are bold and strong and do not fear anything. Whilst she is meek and unable to express herself, the tigers are elegant and pace with assured certainty. Why, Aunt Jennifer seems frightened even in the making of these bold, elegant beasts! This is seen in the fact that her fingers tremble in pulling the light, weightless ivory needle.

With creativity, it can be seen that like a ringed-in animal at a circus with no freedom, Aunt Jennifer appeared to be ringed in (with her wedding band) with no freedom.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go prancing, proud and unafraid.

The poet has smartly used a synecdoche in which Aunt Jennifer’s hands represent her whole being.

The poet does not show if she sympathizes with Aunt Jennifer or not. This paragraph vaguely indicates that the poet may have expected better from Aunt Jennifer. She might have stood up for herself more and freed herself from all social, marital obligations and restraints. It might be too late; it might not – but when aunt is dead, she will still be imprisoned in her restraints. There will be no freedom for her, even in death. However the tigers that she has crafted will continue to prance around their home – the forest – bold, proud and unafraid.

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John Keats’ A thing of Beauty – finally makes sense


A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Its loveliness increases, it will never

Pass into nothingness; but will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Very simply put, yet poetic, Keats describes a thing of beauty as emanating joy forever. Its beauty only increases and it will never cease. The benefits proffered by a thing of beauty are listed as giving sound rest with good dreams and well-being.

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth,

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits…

The earth minus the beautiful things is a despondent, spiteful place thriving in callous insensitive dearth and is harsh toward human beings. Every day human beings face gloomy days packed with unhealthy spite and darkness. However, in spite of all, a thing of beauty helps remove the dark cloud that burdens our souls. Hence, the poet says that we – human beings – each day create an ornate band, made of all the lovely things we see. This band keeps us bound to the despondent earth – as we would otherwise be hopeless.

… Such the sun, the moon,

Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon

For simple sheep; and such are daffodils

With the green world they live in; and clear rills

That for themselves a cooling covert make

‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,

Rich with a sparkling of fair musk-rose blooms;

And such too is the grandeur of the dooms

We have imagined for the mighty dead;

All lovely tales that we have heard or read;

An endless fountain of immortal drink,

Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

This closing paragraph simply tells us some of the beautiful things on Earth. After all, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder – Everyone can highlight something beautiful in anything. The examples cited by the poet are as such: the sun, the moon, trees, flowers, streams, musk-rose blooms, architectural sepulchers, even fairy tales or heroic legends. The ‘simple sheep’ are human beings – the poet sympathizes with the innocence of human beings. Keats sees the beauty in innocent humans seeking solace in nature, and Mother Nature in its own way sprouts a shady abode of relief and consolation. The expression ‘Lily of the valley’ is quite well known and rouses images of a delicate lone white flower holding up its head amidst a setting of thorns and barbs and everything contrary in nature to delicateness – so too are the daffodils mentioned in the poem.

The poet also sees beauty in the death of martyrs and legends. ‘The mighty dead’ are those martyrs who have died bravely for a cause. We honor them by erecting magnificent, grand sepulchers in which beauty is seen. If one looks around, there are innumerable beautiful things to notice – they seem to flow immortally as a fountain, from the gods above to help the pitiable human beings to cope with the harshness of life.

Robert Frost’s A Roadside Stand – finally makes sense!


The little old house was out with a little new shed

In front at the edge of the road where the traffic sped,

A roadside stand that too pathetically pled,

It would not be fair to say for a dole of bread,

But for some of the money, the cash, whose flow supports

The flower of cities from sinking and withering faint.

 The poem presents an old house where a peasant family probably lives. The peasant has put up a new shed beside the road. The shed has been personified (personification) to plead. The poet, however, stresses that it does not plead for bread or the basic amenities of life i.e. the peasant has not set up the shed as a means of living but rather as a source of additional income apart from his trade. The peasants who live in the countryside yearn for some city money. Note that there is no difference between the money in the countryside and money in the cities – the only difference being their usage. While money in the countryside was fit only for a hand-to mouth lifestyle, the city money, in excess, could bring in luxurious benefits. In the poem, Frost artfully describes the city money as the incentive for the growth and upkeep of the city’s flowers and beauty.

The polished traffic passed with a mind ahead,

Or if ever aside a moment, then out of sorts

At having the landscape marred with the artless paint

Of signs that with N turned wrong and S turned wrong

Offered for sale wild berries in wooden quarts,

Or crook-necked golden squash with silver warts,

Or beauty rest in a beautiful mountain scene,

The polished traffic is the skillful use of a transferred epithet in the depiction of the urban city-dwellers who passed through the countryside with their minds preoccupied in their profession and the related.  The poet states that in their preoccupation, if ever aside remained a moment, they spent it on scrutinizing and judging the destitution of their surroundings. They appear mad at having the beauty of the landscape marred by the presence of the shed and other rustic signs. The poet goes on to mention a few of the produce being sold at the shed.

You have the money, but if you want to be mean,

Why keep your money (this crossly) and go along.

The hurt to the scenery wouldn’t be my complaint

So much as the trusting sorrow of what is unsaid:

Here far from the city we make our roadside stand

And ask for some city money to feel in hand

To try if it will not make our being expand,

And give us the life of the moving-pictures’ promise

That the party in power is said to be keeping from us.

The paragraph is a Dramatic Monologue by the peasant in charge of the shed. The peasant agrees that money indeed belongs to the city dwellers, however, if they were interested in imparting biased judgment and other uninvited observations, they could keep their money to themselves and move along. Their complaint on the marred scenery does not hurt the peasants as much as the sorrow that is left unsaid. ‘Trusting Sorrow’ is a metaphor and refers to the fact that the peasants set up the shed in the hopes (‘trusting’) of attracting city folk to buy their produce, thus providing the additional income to enjoy the luxuries of life. However, they are disappointed (‘sorrow’) in the fact that no one is interested in their sales, but rather on the elimination of the shed that mars the landscape. Once again, the poet stresses on the fact that the peasants do not want the money as the lone source of income but as an additional allowance that will provide them with the lifestyle depicted in the movies. ‘City Money’ is used by the poet as it differs from country money in usage but shares the same source. Using light satire, Frost admonishes the political party in power for keeping the farmers from enjoying an equal lifestyle like the city-dwellers.

It is in the news that all these pitiful kin

Are to be bought out and mercifully gathered in

To live in villages, next to the theatre and the store,

Where they won’t have to think for themselves anymore,

While greedy good-doers, beneficent beasts of prey,

Swarm over their lives enforcing benefits

That are calculated to soothe them out of their wits,

And by teaching them how to sleep they sleep all day,

Destroy their sleeping at night the ancient way.

Farmers tend to live in rustic areas due to the presence of farmlands. The idea behind the paragraph is that real-estate brokers force farmers from the villages into towns promising them riches and benefits. The farmers will indeed be rich for a while after which they will be left scoundrels ultimately resulting in the benefit of the brokers. ‘Greedy good-doers’ and ‘beneficent beasts of prey’ are both oxymoron (and great use of alliteration). They stand for the estate brokers who try to make the farmers leave the land by promising the farmers benefits that make them complacent, so the farmers will not have to think for themselves any longer as they will no longer be in want. Now sluggish, the farmers have learnt to sleep all the day thereby losing their sleep at night. ‘The ancient way’ spoken of over here simply refers to the lifestyle wherein one works and toils during the day, coming home tired in the evening and thereby taking a well-deserved good night’s rest.

Sometimes I feel myself I can hardly bear

The thought of so much childish longing in vain,

The sadness that lurks near the open window there,

That waits all day in almost open prayer

For the squeal of brakes, the sound of a stopping car,

Of all the thousand selfish cars that pass,

Just one to inquire what a farmer’s prices are.

And one did stop, but only to plow up grass

In using the yard to back and turn around;

And another to ask the way to where it was bound;

Using the terms ‘childish longing’ the poet skillfully demonstrates how the wish for a customer becomes almost an obsession with these peasants. However, it still is in vain. Sadness here has been personified again, as lurking near the open window, almost praying for a city-dweller stop by the shed and at least inquire on farmer’s prices, let alone purchase anything! Citing an example, Frost says that a car indeed stopped by, but it had nothing to do with the shed. It merely revved up its engine, plowing up grass in order to turn around. Yet another car did stop, but only to ask for directions. ‘Selfish cars’ is yet another skillful use of a transferred epithet.

And another to ask could they sell it a gallon of gas

They couldn’t (this crossly); they had none, didn’t it see?

Another car stopped by to ask for a gallon of gas. Now enraged at the thoughtlessness of the city-folk, the peasant rebukes the driver, “No, we don’t sell gas! We sell produce – Don’t you see??”

No, in country money, the country scale of gain,

The requisite lift of spirit has never been found,

Or so the voice of the country seems to complain,

I can’t help owning the great relief it would be

To put these people at one stroke out of their pain.

And then next day as I come back to sane,

I wonder how I should like you to come to me

And offer to put me gently out of my pain.

Once again the poet wishes to draw a fine line between the city money and country money. The country scale of gain is different from that of the city’s as its standards are much lower. Due to these low standards, the country scale of gain cannot provide the happiness (lift of spirit) as they earn just enough to meet their daily needs. This urges the poet to wish that he could put the farmers out of their pain at one stroke. This somehow inspires readers to do so too by augmenting guilt. This poem is a rage that the poet feels wherein he himself empathizes with the peasant farmer. However, he also wonders for the future wondering how he would respond if someone else comes up to him and offers to put him out of his pain at one stroke, tomorrow, once he has steadied himself back to sane. By this, he wonders about the efficiency of such kind of a solution as the farmers may not accept such immediate relief from their problems.

Pablo Neruda’s Keeping Quiet – finally makes sense


Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

The poet uses the number twelve that probably represents the dial of a clock.

For once on the face of the Earth

let’s not speak in any language,

let’s stop for one second,

and not move our arms so much.

Let’s not speak in any language. Here the poet is encouraging a unified movement among people, with no discrimination based on race or language. This would be a mass movement for the first time on the face of the earth, and would greatly enhance unity. Let us stop for a moment and not move our hands so much in violence i.e. Let us not fight and argue so much.

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines,

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.

It would be an splendid moment with reduced industrial activity (engines). The silence or the peace would form the common link between all of us, bringing us all together.

Fishermen in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would look at his hurt hands.

Fishermen represent proficient hunters of all kinds. The whales represent the oppressed class of human beings, because of their helplessness. It is therefore a cry for the oppressed. In this quiet moment of introspection, people would stop hurting others in an attempt to understand themselves. The whole of humankind is in a mad rush to finish off their existence and achieve whatever goals they set. People are so occupied with the daily rush of things and the flurry to accomplish their various goals that they never take the time to look into themselves and understand themselves. Mankind has been personified as the salt gatherer in the poem. In an exotic moment of peace, people would finally slow down and look into themselves in an act of introspection, identify their follies and rectify them, making them better human beings.

Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victory with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their

brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.

Green wars can be thought of as wars wherein people utilize nature – to hide (conceal) themselves among the foliage of forests or make use of the environment. “Victory with no survivors” is a paradox. People who win a war claim to possess victory; but is that so? Have they not lost tremendous lives in the process? How then can they claim to have had victory? All wars originate from the lack of self-understanding, and the understanding that all individuals are equal, which is why the poet stresses on introspection. There can be two interpretations drawn out from the last few lines of the stanza. One interpretation expounds that the people responsible for wars such as politicians, scientists, trigger the war and later stay in the shade walking hand in hand with the rival as brothers, while thousands of lives are lost in the battle. Another explanation is that people are never happy to go to war. They realize the absurdity of victory from war. As a result of this reflection, People can be friendly as brothers, and walk about in the shade doing no violence.

What I want should not be

confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.

The poet’s words should not be confused with death or a state of complete dormancy. The poet’s message is about life and he does not want it to be related in any way to death. It is not a state of inactivity but rather of continued action at a slower pace.

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with

death.

As mentioned before, the basic concern of all human beings is being alive. Human beings are single-minded about survival. Human beings are in a mad rush to finish life and accomplish all their varied targets. If people could slow down for once and do nothing, the massive silence will intrude the despair of never appreciating or recognizing ourselves. When we look around, all we see is an extremely pathetic condition wherein people are only concerned or afraid of dying and never of understanding themselves. Death is a threat to many of us because it means that we will not be able to fulfill all the targets that we create. We will not be able to accomplish the task of survival in peace.

Perhaps the Earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

This paragraph is possibly empathetic toward human beings, persuading them to take a lesson from nature. During winter, the earth is blanketed with a coat of ice, and it appears as though there is no life in the environment. Even the air is frigid (frosty) and draughty. However, this is not the end and this does not last for long. The earth gets itself refined of all these trivial discrepancies, counting them all as a part of the rejuvenation process. Despite all natural disasters and calamities, the earth continues its journey. After a certain period of time, the cycle of reconstruction continues. The earth rejuvenates itself and moves on, alive once again.

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

Maintaining a third person viewpoint to the entire dilemma, the poet leaves us on a train of thought. Now that he has passed on the message, his work is done and he quietly leaves the scene.

Stephen Spender’s An elementary school classroom in a slum – finally makes sense


Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.

Like rootless weeds, the hair torn around their pallor:

The poet speaks of a specific slum on behalf of all others, he writes about the children who have nothing to hope for, who live in a slum away from the gusty waves and the fresh breeze of liberty that all children should possess. They are called weeds as they have been set apart from the other children (flowers) their age and do not have a bright future (rootless). Their hair is naturally unkempt as they have a lot more to worry about than their appearance.

The tall girl with her weighed down head. The paper-

Seeming boy, with rat’s eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir

Of twisted bones, reciting a father’s gnarled disease,

His lesson from his desk. At back of the dim class

One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,

Of squirrel’s game, in tree room, other than this.

The tall girl seems to be the oldest of the children in the slum. Her head is weighed down with the burden of responsibility that she is too young to bear. As all the families of these children were poor, it was only natural that parents expected the oldest child to leave education and rather work for a living, after they reach a certain age. The paper-seeming boy with rat’s eyes describes yet another child who appears to be extremely malnourished. With the words ‘rat’s eyes’, the poet is trying to convey a picture of the shrewdness the poor possess, as well as the greed, as no one seems to have enough. Just as the rat cautiously looks around before going for the bait, the poor grasp any opportunity they have to the necessary liberties such as food and money.

The stunted child who seems to have inherited his father’s disease (but lacks diagnosis or treatments, as those were unaffordable luxuries) reads his lesson from his desk. There is a sweet young child at the back of the dim room who does not stand out among the pitiful bunch of students and is unattended to. As a means of escape from this reality, his mind thrives on his wild imagination. Just as a squirrel darts in and out of its tree house as in a game, the child’s eyes move dreamily in a world of his own other than his class.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,

Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.

Belled, flowery Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map

Awarding the world its world. And yet, for these

Children, these windows, not this map, their world,

Where all their future’s painted with a fog.

A narrow street sealed with a lead sky

Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

The sour cream color of the walls denotes the poverty-stricken conditions of the room that the students call ‘school’.  The paint in the room has faded out and the irony employed by the poet skillfully points out the donations for charity funds pinned up (as a contrast) on the drab walls. The other posters that embellish the dreary walls are a picture of Shakespeare’s head and one of the beautiful Tyrolese valley (that denotes civilization, yet another prospect out of reach of the children), and a map. An open-handed map represents a random, indefinite map. It does not endear to any particular place but is a general one. For the children, these maps serve as windows to the outside world within which their future is uncertain. The children cannot afford to dream of the outside world. For them, their world, their future, lay outside the windows of the classroom – the slum. Their future is confined within the boundaries of the slum – with its pallid environment canopied by a lead sky (the use of the term ‘lead’ also denotes burden and desperation) The narrow street and bleak skies denote the end of all hope – a pessimistic prospect, far away from everything beautiful – such as rivers and capes. The Stars of words is a play on the literary aspect of words – the aesthetic feature of words. The children are not given the opportunity to learn even the rudimentary terms let alone aesthetic ones.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example,

With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal-

Shakespeare was a classical writer whose works mostly revolved around royalty and the rich nobles (For example, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and the merchant of Venice). The map appears as a bad example because the children do not comprehend the presence of a world outside until the map reveals it to them. Shakespeare’s writings and the map introduce the children to such wonderful aspects as ships, the sun and love – all things that are too far-fetched in the lives of the children. Together, Shakespeare and the map have been condemned for creating an image in the minds of the children wherein they believe that the lifestyles of the rich are good. So in order to be good, the children feel they need to be rich and this tempts them to steal.

For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes

From fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children

Wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel

With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.

All of their time and space are foggy slum.

So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

The families of the children cannot afford a decent place to sleep, and they live in cramped up, congested holes / shacks. The slagheap of children again denotes malnourishment. The author creatively uses Imagery in comparing the hopeless lives of the children with their simple belongings such as their spectacles. While on the one side, it is true that the children cannot afford repair on their things like glasses, the literary meaning of the lines show their broken lives. All their belongings are broken even the silly ones like their glasses that are held together with weak rims of steel. Their dreams are broken in pieces and held together by frames that denote the precincts of the slum. Their future, time and space are a fog. The maps that are their windows to the outside world are blotted by the profundity of the slum. Doom ultimately indicates death. If the map is not utilized properly, the children will have to spend their entire lives within the slum.

Unless, governor, inspector, visitor,

This map becomes their window and these windows

That shut upon their lives like catacombs,

Break O break open till they break the town

And show the children to the green fields, and make their world

Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues

Run naked into books the white and green leaves open

History theirs whose language is the sun.

This paragraph emanates hope. The poet appeals to the governor, inspector or some kind-hearted visitor to intervene financially into the problems of these children. The windows demonstrate exploration and fascination.  If the children do not receive any kind of financial help, the windows (the map) that are the only prospect for the children to dream again will close in on them and their lives, digging their tombs (catacombs) within the confines of the slum. We need to break open those windows and let these children outside and show them the green fields (that contrasts to the bleak environment of the slum). The color green represents ‘Hope’ and the color blue represents freedom. We can thus introduce them to a world of Hope and Freedom. The use of the term naked means no restraints or inhibitions. The children are to learn as much as they can and receive quality education. The white and green represent currency or money in some interpretations. The last line is a poetic comparison of knowledge to the sun. History only remembers the well-educated and the people who stand out from their surroundings and fight for a cause. These children are capable of being memorable in history if given the opportunity to.