Tag Archives: rhetorical devices

What Do You Want?

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
Chapter 11: Living Poetically

What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

This journal… does for me what prayer must do for the truly religious—sets things in proportion again…. What is interesting, after all, is the making of a self, an act of creation, like any other, that does imply a certain amount of conscious work. Ellen is very much aware of this, I feel. She would agree with Keats about “a vale of soul-making”…. May Sarton, Kinds of Love

Jean Lall… calls housework “a path of contemplation” and says that if we denigrate the work that is to be done around the house every day, from cooking to doing laundry, we lose our attachment to our immediate world…. [Something as homely as a scrub brush can be] a sacramental object, and when we use this implement with care we are giving something to the soul. In this sense, cleaning the bathroom is a form of therapy because there is a correspondence between the actual room and a certain chamber of the heart. The bathroom that appears in our dreams is both the room in our house and a poetic object that describes a space in the soul. —Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

nebr_purple_coneflower-140x138

I can’t tell you, item by item, how to live poetically any more than I could write my poetry and call it yours. The only “rule” that I know of for poetic living is practicing the “I-Thou” relationship that Martin Buber wrote about in his 1923 book I and Thou. 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

I and Thou, Martin Buber’s classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century’s foundational documents of religious ethics. “The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow-men … is my most essential concern,” Buber explains in the Afterword…. “One should [never view]… the conversation with God … as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday,” Buber explains. “God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me.”

Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one’s own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as “You” speaking to “me,” and requiring a response…. Walter Kaufmann’s definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber’s own explanations of the book’s most difficult passages. —Michael Joseph Gross, Amazon.com review

In a way, Buber’s book is an elaboration on the “do unto others…” maxim often referred to as the Golden Rule

As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
—Luke 6:31

—which scholars refer to as the Ethic of Reciprocity and which exists in some form in virtually every religion. Anne Lamott has expressed it thus:

Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?”  —Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

If you can consistently and joyfully practice I-Thou relationships (or the Ethic of Reciprocity), I have nothing more to tell you. You are already gentle with others and gentle with yourself. You never, ever beat yourself up. When you make a mistake, you correct it or, if that’s not possible, you learn from it and go on with your life. 

If — and this is more likely — you flounder around like the rest of us, then you might benefit from the modest wisdom I have gained on living joyfully and poetically:

Lighten up! The title of the late Richard Carlson’s 1997 book says it all: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff.

Defy entropy. Have a plan but don’t be a slave to it. Find and practice your dharma, your “righteous path, way of living, and ethical system… largely found within oneself, through contemplation, rather than in the external world.” ProQuest

Engage your imagination. As Nora Roberts points out in her novel Captivated, “The imagination [is] portable, unbreakable, and extremely malleable.” Be creative. Know that your potential is literally unlimited.

Show up. Be conscious and aware and totally in the moment.

Liberate yourself. Be larger than life. Do what you do with class and panache, beauty and grace. Practice courage. Be brave. Go the distance to become not just a good singer/dancer/accountant/cashier but a great one. 

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech of 10 May 1994

Keep moving. Continually co-create yourself. Let your actions be learned and practiced but not slavishly habitual. Play. Pretend. Always be aware that you have choices. Solve your problems as they arise.

Find your balance — that place between (a) spontaneity and intuition and (b) wisdom and orderliness. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success, maintains that the most successful people are those who trust their sixth sense.

Assignment 33.2

garden-of-eden-print-c10101487

  1. Make a list of 100 things you want. We’ll call these your goals. The items on your list can be grand or trivial: a movie you want to see, a new restaurant you want to try, habits you want to form, things you want to do before you die, places you want to visit, people you’d like to meet, desired changes in relationships….
  2. Choose just one thing from your list. It makes absolutely no difference which goal you choose.
  3. Write loosely in prose about, or make a diagram of, the distance between you and the goal and the steps you can take to overcome that distance. Conclude with reaching the goal.
  4. Close your eyes and imagine, but don’t write down, how you will feel when your goal is reached.
  5. Condense your prose into a Spenserian sonnet with the rhyme scheme abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. An example is the following sonnet (1595) by the English poet Edmund Spenser. The metrical pattern is generally iambic pentameter, and it is easier to discern if you understand that, four hundred years ago, many words were pronounced differently, with added syllables. The first line, for example, might have been spoken thus: “Hap-PY [or, more likely, HAP-py, making the line slightly irregular] ye LEAV-es! WHEN those LIL-y HANDS”; and the word derived in line 10 was probably pronounced “de-RIVE-ed.”

    Happy ye leaves! when those lily hands, (a)
    Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)
    Shall handle you, and hold in love’s soft bands, (a)
    Like captives trembling at the victor’s sight. (b)
    And happy lines on which, with starry light, (b)
    Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(c)
    And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)
    Written with tears in heart’s close bleeding book. (c)
    And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)
    Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)
    When ye behold that angel’s blessed look, (c)
    My soul’s long lacked food, my heaven’s bliss. (d)
    Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)
    Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)

    NOTE: Do not overtly express your feelings of victory or accomplishment in your poem. Let your artistry, and the rhetorical devices you use, do that for you.

    • Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    • Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

    Edmund Spenser 1552-1599
    Edmund Spenser 1552-1599

     

     

     

For Honest Poverty

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 32.2

Chapter 11: Living Poetically
Robert Burns, Part 2

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

robt_burns_alex_nasmyth_18281

Robert Burns wore his heart in his poetry. His topics range from romantic love to radical politics. In meter and rhyme, he attacked the church, the class system, and the inequality of gender roles.

An incident in the 1745 Scots rebellion, painted by David Morier

An incident in the 1745 Scots rebellion, painted by David Morier

Burns was born thirteen years after the Battle of Culloden, the beginning of the end of the traditional Scottish Highland way of life, and of the clans. The British, who had nominally controlled Scotland since the 1707 Acts of Union but had never been able to harness the independent Highlanders, mercilessly seized Highland farms, killing the occupants or driving them off their land summarily, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Highlands were cleared, the clan system abolished, the wearing of the tartan prohibited.

Thus, Robert Burns

belonged to a nation which had lost its independence but was at the same time part of a larger state in whose successes he could rejoice and in whose better government he was interested, so that his patriotism was always of a peculiarly double sort. His attachment to what, for want of a better word, must be termed his class, that is, to the lower orders, broadly conceived, reinforced and buttressed his nationalism. —Robert Burns Plus, accessed January 28, 2009

He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement and after his death became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. [Burns was a] cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world, [and] celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries…. His influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. Wikipedia, accessed January 28, 2009

Jane Austen, c. 1810; a sketch by her sister Cassandra

Jane Austen, c. 1810; a sketch by her sister Cassandra

The poem “Is There for Honest Poverty” is a plainspoken, songlike expression of Burns’s democratic principles. These were radical for the time. Read, for historical perspective on class distinction, the delightful novel Emma (1816), by Jane Austen. The title character is a wealthy, beautiful, clever, and basically kindhearted member of the rural aristocracy, but one with a misguided rigidity in matters of social class.

Emma persuades her young and impressionable friend Harriet not to marry the well-spoken, prosperous farmer who is courting her. The girl would be marrying beneath herself, Emma explains, and Emma herself would have to “drop the acquaintance.”

emmaAusten, in her gentle way, exposes Emma’s folly; she is properly ashamed. The author writes satirically, of course, as in all her novels, about artificial distinctions between “gentlemen” with inherited wealth or social position and those who had to earn their living — as merchants or tenant farmers, for example. The egalitarian fervor of the French Revolution (1789-1799) had not gone unnoticed in England, and it certainly influenced the politics and poetry of Robert Burns. 

As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) Auld Lang Syne is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and “Scots Wha Hae served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include A Red, Red Rose,” “A Man’s A Man for A’ That” ["Is There for Honest Poverty"], “To a Louse,” “To a Mouse,” “The Battle of Sherramuir,” “Tam O’Shanter,” and “Ae Fond Kiss….”

He is generally classified as a proto-Romantic poet, and he influenced William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelley greatly. The Edinburgh literati worked to sentimentalise Burns during his life and after his death, dismissing his education by calling him a “heaven-taught ploughman.” Wikipedia, accessed January 28, 2009 

Lady Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, and her siblings, Lady Henrietta Frances and George John Spencer, by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1780. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. —Wiklipedia

Lady Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, and her siblings, Lady Henrietta Frances and George John Spencer, by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1780. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. —Wikipedia

Assignment 32.3

  1. Analyze one of the poems at “The Ploughman Poet“: (a) What intimate glimpse of Burns’s soul does it provide? (b) How does it do so (through language, rhyme, meter, metaphor, and other poetic conventions)?
  2. Write a poem patterned after Burns’s style that illustrates one deep conviction of your own.
  3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
  4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
  5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.
  6.  * * *

 

Spare No Sibilants

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 31

Chapter 10: Meditation
Part 4: Poetry-Writing as Meditation

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1  

girl_art_project

The creative arts are the playground for recognizing and understanding our purpose in being here. When we truly allow our spirits to be filled with the purpose, our minds can begin to take stock of the necessary steps and needed materials so the body can become the mover or manifestor of the desire. Mind, Body, Spirit: Connecting With Your Creative Self,
by Mary Braheny and Diane Halperin

* * *

I wrote both of the poems below “meditatively” — that is, with an open mind, as part of a morning ritual.

The first poem originated from my noticing that at this time of year, the earth’s orientation to the sun is such that the rays slant more brightly and beautifully through my bedroom windows than in any other season.  I have said before that I live in a church basement, though that’s not quite accurate. Half of my apartment is below ground level. The windows — there are four, all on the south side — are full sized, made possible by window wells.

In meditative poems I try not to be intentional. I work with the poetic conventions I choose and let the tale tell itself. In this case, I chose the following:

There are other common rhetorical devices as well. (1) How many can you identify? (Please name the ones you find.)

The poem was going to be a meditation on a ray of light, but it turned into something quite different. (2) What might it have told me about myself that I hadn’t been aware of?

1. WHIMSY ON WELCOMING WINDOWS IN WINTER

My walkdown is half below ground and thus darkish
with windows on only one side, and these mullioned
and frosted and dusty, gray-tinted with shadows
from brickwork and privet… and silent, so quiet
that lightning and thunder at midnight can’t penetrate;
but, more’s the pity, I can’t discern birdsong;
cicadas lamenting and crickets scritch-scritching,
however, are easily heard in midsummer.
I once had a fright from a possum who tumbled,
at least I inferred that she had, to the floor of
the window-well; captive, she skittered around on
the old metal screens; and I, thinking the threat must
be human, in fear and confusion, punched in nine-
one-one on the phone, and no fewer than two dozen
uniformed men armed with pistols came quickly
to rescue a woman alone in her bedroom,
defending her person from one hapless menacing
possum. The men with the guns were forgiving,
and, surely, one had to do something, not knowing
the danger. I do love a window that faces
the south in the wintertime, feral four-footed
invaders, indeed, notwithstanding; for sunlight
slants through in a comforting, angular way that
is perfectly suited for afternoon naps and
geraniums, too.

January 18, 2009

restored_winter_garden_2002_ground0

The inspiration for the following poem was the much-embellished language of Elizabeth Peters’s delightful Victorian archaeologist and detective Amelia Peabody Emerson. Peters has written a few dozen books about the Emersons, all narrated (for the most part) by Amelia, whose husband refers to her affectionately as “Peabody.” There is an unrestraint about her utterances (as there is, as well, about Victorian houses, furniture, and other artistic expressions) that is greatly at odds with the more modern, pared-down prose of later writers. If something can be clearly expressed using five words, Amelia will use fifteen.

tomb234There is, I am overjoyed to find, a new book in the series: Tomb of the Golden Bird (Amelia Peabody Mysteries).

Again, the poem wandered into uncharted territory. (3) What do you think I learned about myself in the process of writing this poem? (HINT: There are no wrong answers.) 

2. LIBERTINE (AMELIA)

 “They will rid us of resident

     “rodents,” said Amelia Peabody —

Oh, what a droll redundancy

     Of D’s and R’s and S’s.

Amelia is generous with consonants

     and commas and asides,

     not sparing

     an embarrassment of prepositions

     or extravagant Egyptian

     nomenclature.

Ah, to scatter syllables

     with no fear of reprisal,

Scribbling whatever adjectives

     arise, page upon page,

To be intemperate at last

     and feel the weight of pent-up participles

     lifted from one’s shoulders,

     nobly carried, one might add,

     despite the rain.

Now to feast upon the delicate,

     the succulent, the opulent

     accessories, plucked in

     leaner days from one’s

     repast, but frozen — for

     one knew their banishment

     would end at last.

Economy, begone! Pack your

     valise and abdicate

     your stern and pious reign.

Don’t slam the door when you

     egress. Expect no severance pay,

     for you’ve exacted

     more than you were owed.

And now, a toast, companions

     in the liberation, mes amis.

Now lift your flagons, lift them high,

     and drink to whimsy, arrogant,

     peculiar, wry, benevolent.

Drink to liberty

     in flowing crimson silk

     arrayed; Amelia Peabody has

     gained the citadel, and

     holds aloft the flame.

O, wasted wealth of words, O, damned

     display of Latin origins.

O, Norse and Arabic, O, Gaelic,

     Greek and Cherokee, and more;

Ye assonant ambassadors, rejoice!

Amelia has restored

     your scattered fortunes.

Spare no sibilants;

     there shall be subsurrations,

     seventy times seven, and

     a score besides.

Throw wide the gates for

     summer’s retinue,

     ripe pomegranate.

Go and populate the periodicals, reclaim

     the islands where verbosity

     has honor still.

Amelia has gained the citadel,

     and yet, take care that your extravagance

     is eloquent, laid on with artistry. For as

     “the tombs themselves descend in

     “sinuous curves,”

Endeavor to deserve, when you are

     gone, an orderly effusion

     in the manner you (yourself)

     displayed.

Immerse yourself in immortality.

     Immerse yourself COMPLETELY,

     like Amelia,

Who bathes and then adjourns to the

     verandah,

Where breezes ruffle Nefret’s hair

     that shimmers in the light like

     golden threads.

 

February 2006

peabody

Assignment 31.1

  1. Answer the questions highlighted above in red.
  2. Write a meditative poem in blank verse using iambic or trochaic tetrameter. Your poem should have no more than twenty lines. BEGIN WITH A MINIMALIST, CONCRETE SUBJECT, AND DO NOT WRITE OVERTLY ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS.
  3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
  4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
  5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

* * *

Habit Forming

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 30

Chapter 10: Meditation
Part 3: The Force of Habit

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 

 

Ava and Little Jack

Ava and Little Jack

Grandmother Rocking Little Jack Beside the Christmas Tree
— A Poem

My jingle bracelet caught his eye — tiny,
shiny, singing bells and balls of yellow-
gold and lavender, of sky blue, purple,
red and green. His little fingers touched them
almost reverently; he’d not imagined
such a thing could be. He satisfied his
curiosity on bells and balls, and then
resumed examining my nose, with much
tenacity.

He crawls, at ten months old, efficiently;
the floor is slippery in spots, but he is
not deterred, and, when he’s on the loose, you
have to watch him carefully, although, of
course, the stairs are guarded by a gate, and
there’s a heavy shield around the fireplace,
and all the breakables are set up high.

And now he’s bathed and dry and clean and smells of
baby powder and of eau de baby,
which, if they could package it, would never
lack for customers; it must be made in
heaven. He’s content upon my lap, and
we play Pat-a-Cake, and Pat-a-Cake
again, and when I try to change the game and
interest him in Ride Little Horsie, he
resists a bit, attempts to clap his hands
without assistance, and sometimes he misses,
so I help, and Pat-a-Cake it is
again, and yet again.

The rocker was his great-great-grandmother’s,
the kind with indestructible upholstery and
springs, the most completely perfect chair to
rock a baby in and sing a nonsense
song. Before too long he brings his furry
light-green blanket to his cheek and nestles
in my arms, resisting momentarily the
urge to rest, for he is not quite finished
with exploring yet. But he grows heavy
as he gives it up, and lets his eyelids
close, and we are satisfied — I more than
he, I think, because I am the one who
knows how differently so many children
fall asleep.

God above and God within, I praise you
for creating him. God within and
God above, please keep him safe and warm and
loved. So keep us all. Amen.

* * *

Little Jack at 2 months

Little Jack at 2 months

This poem is in blank verse meaning that it has regular meter but no systematic rhyme scheme. The meter is mixed iambic and trochaic pentameter.

A poem a day

Writing a poem is part of my morning routine. Usually I choose, as a subject, something I have dreamed about, some small thing that happened the day before, a change in the weather, a new acquaintance… something that reminds me to take absolutely nothing for granted. Some of these poems are dreadful. Others have promise, and I set them aside to work on at a later time.

I can hardly overemphasize the importance of beneficial habits, routines, customs, traditions, and rituals to living poetically. When our mothers or grandmothers did the washing on Monday and the ironing on Tuesday, it was for a good reason. It was so they wouldn’t stand there scratching their heads on Monday mornings wondering what they were going to do that day.

A well-ordered life — not one that is rigid, that doesn’t allow for spontaneity — should be your goal. Find the balance that works for you.

Cultivate these meditation habits

If you have to think hard about how to do a meditation “right,” then you’re not meditating, you’re thinking. That’s why I have cultivated some meditation habits over the years that help me get more out of practices such as chakra clearing. You can form these habits, too, and you don’t have to be meditating to do so. Then, when you are meditating, these habits will be engrained and you won’t have to clutter your mind with them. Here are a few:

Breathe from the Diaphragm ("Human Respiratory System," drawn by Theresa Knott)

Breathe from the Diaphragm (

  • Inhale “navel to spine.” Use your diaphragm to draw in air. By breathing in this way all the time, you are actually drawing more air farther into your lungs and you are, in a manner of speaking, practicing a continuous relaxation exercise. You’re less likely to experience signs of unhealthy stress such as headaches and numbness in your hands than when your breathing is habitually shallow.
  • At least a few times a day, whatever you’re doing, practice “inhaling the light.” Some people believe that there is an eighth chakra, in the form of a small sun above your head. Other meditators talk about breathing in the light from your own energy field, or aura. Yet another approach is to imagine that you’re inhaling “the light from a thousand universes,” which is, in a sense, literally true. Your goal is to feel, without thinking about it, that every breath fills your body with light and energy.
        The sensation of exhaling has different purposes, depending on the meditation, so once you habitually start “inhaling light,” you can decide (or the meditation guide can instruct you) what to do with the out breath. Sometimes you’ll exhale dark thoughts, negativity, pain, sickness, fear…. Other times you’ll use exhalation to “push” the light you’ve just inhaled throughout your body, or to a spot where there is pain or inflammation.
  • Whenever you listen to music that particularly pleases or stirs you, “tune” your body’s vibration to the music’s vibration. This is really easier than it sounds. The “Crystal Chakra Awakening” meditation (number 5 in the second set on page) is good practice for sympathetic vibration.
  • Practice self-acceptance all the time, even when you screw up — especially when you screw up. This doesn’t mean justifying the screwup. It’s more about having the humility to allow yourself to make mistakes. Beating yourself up is ego-centered, and it’s a waste of the time you could be spending getting on with life. 

Assignment 30.1

  1. If you haven’t done so already, start with Jack Kornfield’s soothing meditation instruction and then proceed to Susan Piver’s relaxation, breathing, and lovingkindness practices (numbers 9, 10, and 11, top set on page). Practice the four meditation habits described above.
  2. Write a poem in blank verse using iambic or trochaic pentameter. Your poem should have no more than twenty lines.
  3. Continue with your meditation journal.
  4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

You’ll also find hours of music for meditation and relaxation, nature sounds, meditation instruction, and other meditation resources at Zero Gravity’s website, www.LifeIsPoetry.net.

Adapted from Sister Alma Rose Has the Last Word

* * *

 

 

Ritualize

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 27

Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
Part 6: Personal Rituals, continued

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

Baking cookies

Baking cookies

If you have done Assignment 5.1 (Declutter Your Life) — especially if you were ruthless in your decluttering — perhaps you’ve made time to practice some of the customs and rituals that bind us as communities and families, and that help us meet our individual needs for structure and purpose. Here, in no particular order, is a list of individual, family, social, and religious customs, traditions, and rituals, some of which might be part of your life:

Story time

Story time

  • family meals — preparing, eating, conversing, and cleaning up
  • saying grace at meals
  • Christmas caroling (or wassailing)
  • holiday observances and meals
  • housekeeping
  • prayer
  • meditation
  • confession
  • communion
  • congregational worship
  • dance
  • sports
  • family game night
  • campfires
  • day trips
  • picnics
  • barbecues
  • gardening
  • volunteer work
  • visiting relatives
  • visiting the sick
  • weddings
  • bridal and baby showers
  • viewings and funerals
  • bedtime stories
  • ablutions (hygiene — washing, brushing teeth, and so forth)
  • going for walks
  • dating (dinner and a movie?)
  • reading out loud to family
A traditional snowman

A traditional snowman

While some rituals, traditions, and customs become irrelevant and fall out of use, others cling for no apparent reason. We still “knock on wood” after asserting that, for example, we’ve “never gotten so much as a parking ticket” — possibly a remnant of the ancient practice of waking the tree gods and invoking their protection against future parking tickets. The practice of blessing someone after he or she sneezes may derive from an old belief that demons can enter your body when you sneeze. (Gesundheit means, roughly, “good health.”)

I enjoy these harmless practices because they connect me with ancestors whose names I’ll never know… although it’s getting harder to find real wood, and “knock on laminate” doesn’t have the mystique of “knock on wood.”

After school

After school

On the other hand, the tradition of the “Sunday drive” has all but disappeared. When I was a little girl, residential air-conditioning was practically unheard-of and television sets were almost equally rare. Sunday dinner was usually eaten in the mid-afternoon, but in the summer it was too hot to cook during the day, so often we’d pile in the car with a picnic basket full of egg-salad sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, potato chips, and cold pop — grape Nehi, perhaps. Alongside most country roads there were picnic tables under spreading cottonwoods or sycamores every few miles. We’d stop at the shadiest spot we could find, spread our tablecloth, and have our little feast, observed by squirrels and birds waiting to tidy up after us.

Nehi advertisement on a matchcover

Nehi advertisement on a matchcover

Now, on summer Sunday afternoons, for better or for worse, the ritual of televised Major League Baseball has largely replaced the family outing. Indeed, family dinners, in many families, are consumed in front of the family television or — sadder yet — televisions.

Assignment 27.1 Ritualize

Read “Women’s Altars” at Sister Alma Rose Has the Last Word.

Evaluate the rituals and traditions you observe. What is their purpose? In what ways are they metaphorical? Are they time-wasters, or do they provide structure and meaning? Are there rituals and traditions that you don’t practice but that would benefit you and your family? How can you work them into your family routine?

  1. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return your assignment to you with comments.

* * *

Natural High

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 26

Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
Part 5: Personal Rituals

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

* * *

misty_sunrise_2The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

* * *

Nature is the opposite [that is, reflection] of the soul, answering to it part for part…. The ancient precept, “Know thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study nature,” become at last one maxim. —Emerson, “The American Scholar”

* * *

Journalist and child advocate Richard Louv discusses the problem of nature deficit disorder in his new book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. “Never before in our history have children been so separated from nature,” Louv tells Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith….

last_child_in_the_woodsLouv claims that, according to recent research, lack of direct contact with nature is connected to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He also cites statistics showing [that] children who play in nature perform better at school….

“Biologically, we are still hunters and gatherers…. What happens to the human organism when you take nature away from it and replace it with television and computers? I call that ‘cultural autism’ where children’s use of the senses is reduced to the size of a screen, like a computer. Only in nature are we using our full senses all at the same time in a positive way.” —CBS, The Early Show, May 9, 2005

* * *

See More Sunrises

tuscany_sunriseYou know those bromides people use to cheer you up? Tomorrow is another day. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Hope springs eternal. Every rose has its thorns. Every cloud has a silver lining. Into every life a little rain must fall. Above the clouds the sun is shining. After the rain comes the rainbow.

Don’t they just make you want to spit?

When you’re wallowing in discontent (for whatever reason, from a bad hair day to a compound fracture), do you really want to hear Ethel Merman booming, “I’ve Got the Sun in the Mornin’ and the Moon at Night” or have some perky Pollyanna reminding you that he is happiest who hath power to gather wisdom from a flower? Why do people say these things?

Because they’re true

rowboats_lake_treesAfter we’ve been living on earth for a while, observing the patterns and cycles of nature—day and night, summer and winter, storm and sunlight, decay and renewal—we begin to internalize and generalize from the natural world. We learn to take certain things for granted and to not be disconcerted by them—thunderstorms, for example (unless we are a certain type of dog that perceives every storm as a New and Completely Unexpected Type of Event and quivers under a bed until it’s over).

The same is true of the household routine. Mom and Dad go out for dinner and Mrs. Featherstone, who makes us go to bed immediately because she doesn’t want to be disturbed during Jackpot Bowling on television, comes to baby-sit, and we put our goldfish, Wilbur IV, who has recently died, into her purse. But we endure Mrs. Featherstone because we know that Mom and Dad will come home while we’re asleep and Mrs. Featherstone will go back to her cave.

So when I read about these children who have been locked in closets and basements for years, I am doubly appalled. Besides the general horribleness of it, imagine what it must be like to have no firsthand knowledge of the basic cycles of life and nature—to literally not know that every morning brings a new dawn.

Millions of tiny diamonds

misty_sunriseOn a magnificent summer morning I watched the sun rise over the Missouri River and the prolific farmland of western Iowa. The hills across the river were invisible under a great white pillow of cloud through which poked a few church spires and grain elevators. So much vapor rose from the river itself that it might have been on fire. Gradually the bright green and yellow fields came into view and the vapor turned crystalline, like millions of tiny diamonds ascending, hovering, and rising again. It dawned on me, as it were, that such displays are always available and much more satisfying than whatever I am usually doing when the sun comes up (sniffing at a pile of clothes to see if they’re clean, licking the bottom of a frozen-yogurt carton, looking in the mirror and frowning at my jowls).

I vowed to spend more time outside the closet I keep myself in… to watch more sunrises and remember that we really are new every morning… to grow more flowers and walk outdoors in every kind of weather except “obscenely cold” or “the U.S. Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for eastern Douglas County because a funnel cloud has been sighted in the general vicinity of Mary Campbell.” But, hey! I live in a basement. 

Adapted from Unfamiliar Territory, by Mary Campbell

* * *

The world is too much with us…

This is one of William Wordsworth’s most famous sonnets:

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
      Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
      Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This sea, that bares her bosom to the moon;
      The winds that will be howling at all hours
      And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not–Great God! I’d rather be
      A pagan, suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
      Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus, rising from the sea;
      Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

* * *

Assignment 26.1

  1. What are the meter and rhyme scheme of Wordsworth’s poem?
  2. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return your assignment to you with comments.

* * *

* * *

The Magi

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 25

Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
Part 4: Epiphany

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

* * *

A 1938 portrait of T. S. Lewis, by Wyndham Lewis

A 1938 portrait of T. S. Lewis, by Wyndham Lewis

2:1  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 

2:2  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

2:3  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

2:4  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

2:5  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

2:6  And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

2:7  Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

2:8  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

2:9  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

2:10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

2:11  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

2:12  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

The Gospel According to Matthew, King James Version

* * *

The Journey of the Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T. S. Eliot

* * *

A journey of the spirit

Portrait by Paul Van Somer of James VI, King of Scots; James I, King of England; 1603-1613

Portrait by Paul Van Somer of James VI, King of Scots; James I, King of England; 1603-1613

Bible scholars have long debated the identity of the magi (pronounced MAY-jee or MAY-jye; singular is magus, pronounced MAY-guss). Were they Persians from the ancient priestly caste of Zoroastrianism? Were they kings or exiled Jews? Were there, in fact, three such visitors? Or are they simply part of the “mythology” surrounding the birth of Jesus?

What matters, for the purpose of our present discussion, is that, biblically, the magi represent the acknowledgement by non-Jews of Jesus as not merely a king but a divine king, one to be worshiped.

The date of their arrival is, by tradition, held to be January 6 — the last of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” This date — and the liturgical season that follows it, leading up to the Lenten Season — is called Epiphany (Greek for “to manifest” or “to show). In a nonreligious context, we might use the word epiphany to describe a sudden insight or revelation.

The best poetry is language distilled, every word essential, anything superfluous filtered out and discarded. In your study of “the Journey of the Magi,” be assured that there is nothing accidental in, say, the choice of the word satisfactory to describe the arrival, or in the repetitiveness in

And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This….

What was Eliot’s “epiphany”?

I suppose that you could make it your life’s work to study this poem and still not explain every nuance. It’s important to know that Eliot was baptized into the Church of England and became a British citizen (he was born in St. Louis) in 1927, the year this poem was published. What seems obvious (and is therefore suspect) is that the poet is alluding to his spiritual journey from agnosticism to Christianity, perhaps colored by his embracing England as his home. 

Assignment 25.1

Write a poem in free verse (unrhyming, without strict meter, but still using other rhetorical devices common in poetry) of no more than thirty lines about a metaphorical journey toward a life-changing realization — an “epiphany” — of your own. Identify the rhetorical devices used in your poem. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return your assignment to you with comments.

 

* * *

Publish your “little book” in an easy little way

Find unique, affordable cards, gifts, and books at Zero Gravity’s Holiday Store. Gift certificates available.

Sample diverse blogs at Alpha Inventions 

 

The Sun Returns…

…and other metaphors of Christmastide

victorian_calendarsanta

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 22

Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
Part 1: Christmastide

At no time of the year — with the possible exception of Easter — are our activities more saturated with metaphor than at Christmastide. The –tide in Christmastide refers to “a time or season.” Technically, Christmastide is the Christian festival observed from December 24, Christmas Eve, to January 5, the eve of Epiphany.

It is no accident that ancient pagan customs are so tightly woven into Christian holidays. The missionaries who were called to “Christianize the heathens” believed, correctly, that Christianity would find greater acceptance if the converts were not required to shed all vestiges of the old religion.

Thus it happened that December 25 — coinciding roughly with the ancient Roman weeklong Saturnalia celebration and with other winter solstice feasts — was “selected” as the date of Jesus’ birth. The solstice occurs on the shortest day (or longest night) of the year, between December 20 and December 23 in the Northern Hemisphere and between June 20 and June 23 in the Southern Hemisphere.

Cultures throughout the world have, from prehistoric times, celebrated the winter solstice, when the “sun stands still”—that is, when the sun, as observed in the Northern Hemisphere, appears to stop “moving southward” and returns to the north, bringing with it the promise of warmth and spring.

Winter was a dangerous season for our long-ago ancestors. Death claimed them more often in the winter, when they huddled in their meager shelters for warmth, and when there was no fresh meat or produce. And so they rejoiced when the longest night was past, and the sun stayed a bit longer each day, though the bitter cold remained.

NEWGRANGE

Newgrange today, aerial view

Newgrange today, aerial view

There are many prehistoric winter-solstice monuments into which the sun shines at dawn on the shortest day of the year and sometimes the days surrounding it, striking a particular spot in the monument and dramatically illuminating it. One of the most precise of these monuments, in terms of solar alignment, is the passage-tomb of Newgrange, in Ireland.

Newgrange light passage entry, 1901

Newgrange sunlight passageway, 1901

Erected more than five thousand years ago, Newgrange is the oldest building in the world. It was once surrounded  by dozens of immense standing stones, of which just twelve remain. The structure itself, in addition to its connection with the solstice, was apparently a tomb and the center of a site where religious rituals and ceremonies took place. 
The first solstice rays enter Newgrange

The first solstice rays enter Newgrange

Abandoned after a thousand years, Newgrange lay hidden for four millennia, until late-17th-century workmen found the entrance to what they believed was a cave. Excavation and restoration began in 1962. The restoration continues to be controversial; some consider the site overcommercialized, others feel that the new work is not in keeping with the period.

Nevertheless, seeing the sun’s first solstice rays striking the stone must be exhilarating indeed, even for jaded citizens of the twenty-first century. “In the bleak midwinter,” the life-giving sun signals a pledge to complete its circuit ‘round the sky and bring with it the seasons of planting, cultivating, and harvesting.

Unlike the proto-Celtic peoples who worshiped at Newgrange, few of us today are wholly at the mercy of nature’s fickle temperament as we go about our daily lives. But when all is said and done, we are every bit as dependent upon the steady turning of the great solar wheel.

***

MRS. ARTHUR’S ANCIENT TALES

Some say it is a sin to practice pagan things at
Christmastide, and give each other presents, and be
festive much at all. But Mrs. Arthur, who is wise, lives
in a house that looks like gingerbread, with ivy growing
up the garden wall, and she believes that ancient
celebrations were the peasants’ or the common people’s
preparation to receive their own, the Baby Jesus, and
for all I know, she might have been there, Mrs. Arthur,
that’s how old she is.

Morris dancers, Thames at Richmond, 1620

Morris dancers, Thames at Richmond, 1620

We sit up in her attic room and listen to the wind
blow cold around the chimney, though we and
Mrs. Arthur’s pug, Sir Bedivere, are snug and warm,
while she knits or crochets and talks about the
days when Christmas mumming plays were practiced
in advance for weeks and weeks. “They had the time,
you see,” she says. “The grain was harvested, and
anyway, the solstice means ‘the sun stands still.’ There
was a man who played the Fool, and one was the Old
Hobby Horse, he wore a giant skirt in which to catch
the maids, of course. And someone’s killed and
resurrected in the mumming, for the earth is dead and
bare and so the mumming is a kind of prayer, a begging
to the sun to come and stay another year.

“And even now, upon St. Stephen’s Day, in Ireland and
Wales, grown men called ‘wren boys’ dress in straw or
some disguise and go from house to house, for
revelry—a merry time, no doubt, they have.”

Maenad

Maenad on Wheel of Life

She talks about the Yuletide and she doesn’t turn a
hair when telling of the sacrifice of goats and,
auld lang syne, of men, but mostly boars, and
that, she adds, is why we feast on Christmas ham.
“And what is Yule?” she asks, rhetorically (I’m not
supposed to answer). “It’s the wheel, of course,” she
says, as if I should have known; “just as the mummers
and the morris dancers mark the turning of the year;
likewise, the golden chariot and its path around the
earth. It disappears, the world goes dark and cold, and it
returns; but in the days of old, before the sacred birth,
before the Christ, the folk were never sure if they would
see the spring again. They feared that Death would come
for them, and so they wore the skins of goats and such,
and covered up their heads, and drank a great deal
too much wine, and hoped Death’s angel wouldn’t
recognize them when it was their time to go.

Druid cutting oak mistletoe

Druid cutting oak mistletoe

“Now, mistletoe—‘dung-on-a-twig’ it means in the
old Saxon tongue, because it grew where birds had
left their droppings on a branch—
has long been sacred, for it stays when all the autumn
leaves have fallen down and pranced away and would
be prancing still, except the snow comes, and the leaves
decay, and that’s what makes the garden bloom.”

Now Mrs. Arthur draws a breath and then resumes her
chattering, and I adore the stories and the soft and
secret voice she tells them in, as if it’s she and I alone who
are allowed to know the ancient tales.

Decorative mistletoe

Decorative mistletoe

“The mistletoe is
sacred as a symbol of fertility [she winked at me], and that
which grows upon the oak is the most mystical of all,
because it’s rare to find it there; it lives more commonly
on apple trees. The Druid priests believed it was the spirit
of the tree itself, and so they gathered it midwinter, as a
healing charm and life-giver, and at summer solstice so
the cattle and the flocks would flourish
and the crops would thrive.”

“And was it wrong of them?” I asked, just as I
always did, so she could say, “Oh, no. You see, it
was the only way they knew. And there is wisdom in
tradition and in ritual (though not in human sacrifice,
of course, but in the principle of giving to the
earth her own).”

And so, each year, we hang the mistletoe, suspended
from an oaken beam, and decorate a living Christmas
tree with lights and ornaments and candy canes, and
give each other presents that we’ve made, though hers
to me are thick and cozy sweaters, mine to her are
mittens with an extra thumb or some such thing.

At Christmas dinner there are nine. We thank the
Lord for nourishment, and then we drink a toast
with wine: “A Merry Christmas to you,” Mrs. Arthur
lifts her glass. “To you as well,” we chorus, and we
lift our glasses also. “Tell the gospel,” she says, and
we echo, “Tell the gospel. Tell the people that they
are made new today, and always, by the grace of
God.” She smiles and nods then, and we say,
as one, “Amen.”

 

* * *

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY

The holly and the ivy when they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown

Refrain

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing in the choir

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet savior

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good

The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
on Christmas Day in the morn

The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all

Historians believe that the first stanza — the only one that mentions ivy — is based on another song — traced back to the 12th century but probably much older — in which holly represents men and ivy represents women. Deer are also mentioned in the older song, called “The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy.” Here is one version of a stanza from that song, which clearly comes down on the side of the men:

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

In another ancient song, “Ivy, Chief of Trees,” however, the ivy prevails.

European holly; photo by Jürgen Howaldt

European holly; photo by Jürgen Howaldt

Sister Alma Rose drinks holly tea, but she won’t let me
have any. “Don’t even think about it, dear,” she says.
“Don’t even touch. It’s poison if y’all take too much,
but such a feast for birds,” she says. “I heard about a
boy bit off a piece; the leaf, it cut his lips to shreds.
A wonder that he isn’t dead,” she says, and sips her
brew contentedly. (I disobeyed and had a taste; I
won’t make that mistake again.)

Yule log

Yule log

“Holly frightens witches, too, and goblins, some believe,”
says she, “and it protects the house from lightning, and
a holly switch is good for bees. In ancient Rome, it was
the sacred plant of Saturn, pagan god of farm and harvest.
Secret Christians decked their homes with holly during
Saturnalia in December, Saturn’s time of celebration,
for it wasn’t safe to be a Christian then, you see.
Some people still put holly on the bedpost as protection
from disease and, too, to bring them pleasant dreams.

“And the Druids, centuries ago, they treasured holly
(for it blossomed even in the snow), and wore it when
they went to cut the sacred mistletoe. And nowadays
we bring all kind of greenery inside at Christmastide,
as in the times of old, to signify the things that never die,
despite the winter’s dark and cold.”

* * *

Wassailing

Wassailing

WASSAILING

Have you ever wondered why, at Christmastime, we go “a-wassailing among the leaves so green”? The word wassail is akin to Old English “be healthy,” but originally wassailers drank to the health of apple trees (and other vegetation, as well as livestock), not necessarily to each other. The custom of “apple wassailing” involved pouring spiced hard cider, or placing cider-soaked bread, on the roots of the trees “for their health.” Of course, there was always enough wassail to quench the thirst of the revelers as well.

In medieval Europe, the lord of the manor traditionally opened his home to his serfs, serving food and wassail as a gesture of goodwill and as reassurance that he would protect them from harm, as was his obligation.

* * *

TOMTE: THE CHRISTMAS GNOME

A tomte watches at the cradle

A tomte watches at the cradle

A tomte  (Swedish) or nisse (Danish) is a delightful creature of Norse pagan origin—a gnome (or brownie—it all depends on whom you ask) who protected a farmer’s home and children, especially at night. The word tomte comes from the Swedish tomt,  a farmstead.

Gnomes have been distributing Christmas presents since the 1500s, you see, but the people had forgotten until the folklore revival of the 1800s. All of Scandinavia recalled then that the Christmas gnome  (Danish julenisse, Swedish jultomte) brought gifts at Christmastime. An 1881 issue of the Swedish magazine Ny Illustrerad Tidning featured the first published painting by Jenny Nystrom, who linked the Swedish Santa Claus with the gnomes of Scandinavian folklore. Nystrom’s tomte was jolly, white-bearded, and red-capped, though not exceedingly plump.

Jenny Nystrom's tree gnome

Jenny Nystrom's tree gnome

The appearance of goats in Nystrom’s artwork also draws from ancient Scandinavian lore. Long ago, people disguised in goatskins knocked on their neighbors’ doors as a sort of practical joke. (One assumes that the skins had been dried, cleaned, and de-loused.) Goats pulled the god Thor’s chariot, you know, and masquerading at holiday times is a tradition older than history. It survives at Christmastime in morris dances and mumming plays.

Well—before the gnomes arrived in Sweden, Christmas presents were delivered by goats. It was a huge undertaking, as you can imagine, for the goat; and when gnomes began to dwell in Sweden, the goats quite understandably sought their help. With goats pulling gnome-built sleds piled with gifts, the task became a joyful one indeed.

Assignment 22.1

Describe in a brief essay (about 250 words) the predominant metaphors of pre-Christian winter-solstice celebrations and customs, and the way these metaphors correlate with traditional Christian celebrations of the birth of Jesus. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

An early Santa Claus riding a goat

An early Santa Claus riding a goat

Gnome and goat arrive to deliver Christmas gifts (Jenny Nystrom)

Gnome and goat arrive to deliver Christmas gifts (Jenny Nystrom)

Metaphorical You

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 19
Chapter 7 (continued): Metaphorically Speaking

All the Animals You Are

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

 

Blake was a painter as well as a poet. Here is Blake's *The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun* (1805)

Blake was a painter as well as a poet. Here is Blake's *The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun* (1805)

Sharpen your intellectual claws. We are going to attack (metaphorically) one of the most famous and admired poems in English literature, “The Tiger” (or “The Tyger”), by William Blake (1757–1827). First, though, you’ll read another of Blake’s poems, “The Lamb,” which is often studied as a contrast to “The Tiger.”

THE LAMB

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

THE TIGER

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Jargon to impress your friends

William Blake's Title Plate for *Songs of Experience*

William Blake's title plate for *Songs of Experience*

Here’s a bit of vocabulary that you can use to sound really smart when discussing the mechanics of these poems:

Quatrain — Four-line stanza, usually containing a rhyme scheme. “The Tiger” consists of six quatrains.

Rhyme scheme — Pattern of rhymes in verse. A different letter represents each rhyming sound. In “The Lamb,” the rhyme scheme of the first eight lines is AABBCCDD. In “The Tiger,” the rhyme scheme of each quatrain is AABB, if you allow eye and symmetry to rhyme. Blake might have been indulging in “near rhyme” (half rhyme, slant rhyme) there. It’s also possible that the words were pronounced differently in the late 1700s, when Blake wrote the poem. Or there might be intentional irony in the nonrhyming couplet, which is, in a sense, not symmetrical. (Other common quatrain rhyme schemes are ABAB, ABBA, and ABCB.)

Couplet — Pair of consecutive rhyming lines. In “The Tiger,” each quatrain has two couplets.

Foot — A group of 2 or 3 syllables — one stressed, one or two unstressed — forming a “metrical unit,” the basic unit of poetic rhythm (TI-ger is a foot in “The Tiger.” Compare with “ARE you // GO-ing to // SCAR-bor-ough // FAIR,” which combines two-syllable and three-syllable feet.)

Trochaic foot (trochee) — A two-syllable foot, in poetry, in which the first syllable is stressed and the second syllable is unstressed, as in the four trochees “PE-ter, // PE-ter, // PUMP-kin // EAT-er” (as well as in “TI-ger, // TI-ger, // BURN-ing // BRIGHT.” The absence of a final unstressed syllable [which would be present if Blake had written “TI-ger, TI-ger, BURN-ing BRIGHT-ly”] is called catalexis).

Iambic foot (iamb) — A two-syllable foot, in poetry, in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second is stressed (Christopher Marlowe‘s famous line “Come LIVE // with ME // and BE // my LOVE” consists of four iambs.)

Tetrameter — A line of poetry in which there are four metrical feet (All the examples above are either in trochaic tetrameter or, as in the Marlowe line, in iambic tetrameter.)

Trimeter — A line of poetry in which there are three metrical feet (In “The Lamb,” the first two lines are in trochaic trimeter; the following six lines are in troachic tetrameter with catalexis.)

Frontispiece, by William Blake, for *Songs of Innocence and of Experience*

Frontispiece, by William Blake, for *Songs of Innocence and of Experience*

Observe how Blake uses, in addition to metaphor, the following rhetorical devices in the two poems:

Anaphora — Repetition of words or phrases at the beginnings of lines

Alliteration — Repetition of the same beginning letter or sound for words in a series or in close proximity

Cacophony — Harsh-sounding passages in poetry or prose; note that harshness comes from hard consonant sounds (K, T, and CH, for example) as well as word meanings (The cacophony in “Tiger” contrasts markedly with the euphony in “Lamb.”)

Euphony — The opposite of cacophony — pleasant-sounding, perhaps mellifluous; note that pleasing sounds come from soft consonants (such as L, R, and V) as well as word meanings

A poem you can sink your teeth into

“The Tyger” seems to provide unending food for thought, which is one of the things that make it a truly great poem. Here is one analysis:

Of course, there can be no gainsaying [denying] that the tiger symbolizes evil, or the incarnation of evil, and that the lamb (Line 20) represents goodness, or Christ. Blake’s inquiry is a variation on an old philosophical and theological question: Why does evil exist in a universe created and ruled by a benevolent God?  Blake provides no answer. His mission is to reflect reality in arresting images. A poet’s first purpose, after all, is to present the world and its denizens in language that stimulates the aesthetic sense; he is not to exhort or moralize. Nevertheless, the poem does stir the reader to deep thought. Here is the tiger, fierce and brutal in its quest for sustenance; there is the lamb, meek and gentle in its quest for survival. Is it possible that the same God who made the lamb also made the tiger? Or was the tiger the devil’s work? —Cummings Study Guides, accessed November 4, 2008

This commentator sees the tiger as a symbol of evil and the lamb as a symbol of Christ. I respectfully gainsay his or her view. A symbol can be but is not always a metaphor. A handshake might symbolize friendship or agreement, but it is not a metaphor for friendship or agreement, just as the U.S. flag is not, in itself, a metaphor for our country.

William Blake, in an 1807 portrait by Thomas Phillips

William Blake, in an 1807 portrait by Thomas Phillips

The writer fails to consider “The Tiger,” which appeared in Blake’s book Songs of Experience, in relationship to “The Lamb,” from Blake’s Songs of Innocence. (Blake considered the two books a unit and published them together, as Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.) Another shortcoming of the reviewer’s analysis, in my opinion, is that it assumes a conventional attitude toward religion, Christianity, God, and Christ that Blake did not possess.

He did not hold with the doctrine of God as Lord, an entity separate from and superior to mankind; this is shown clearly in his words about Jesus Christ: “He is the only God … and so am I, and so are you.” —Wikipedia, accessed November 4, 2008

Finally, it’s not at all clear that Blake saw his metaphorical tiger as pure evil — the lamb and the tiger are not necessarily opposites — but rather as beautiful and terrifying.

Because scholars have for over two hundred years continued to debate the complex message of “The Tiger” without reaching consensus, I shall boldly contribute my own theory: The lamb (both in the poem “The Lamb” and in the allusion to the lamb in “The Tiger”) are metaphors for facets of the human personality, including Blake’s own inner angels and demons, and the “contrary states” of human life.

When one is young and innocent — untested — one is “tender,” “meek,” “mild.” (Need I mention that Blake and his wife and lifelong companion, Catherine Boucher Blake, had no children?) With adulthood comes experience and power, to be used for good or ill. One does not stop altogether being a “lamb” when one gains the “fearful symmetry” of a “tiger.”

The following analysis of “The Tiger” presents a more refined understanding, I think, of the poem and its intricacy:

The reference to the lamb in the penultimate [second-from-the-last] stanza reminds the reader that a tiger and a lamb have been created by the same God, and raises questions about the implications of this. It also invites a contrast between the perspectives of “experience” and “innocence” represented here and in the poem “The Lamb.” “The Tyger” consists entirely of unanswered questions, and the poet leaves us [in]… awe at the complexity of creation, the sheer magnitude of God’s power, and the inscrutability of divine will. The perspective of experience in this poem involves a sophisticated acknowledgment of what is unexplainable in the universe, presenting evil as the prime example of something that cannot be denied, but will not withstand facile explanation, either. The open awe of “The Tyger” contrasts with the easy confidence, in “The Lamb,” of a child’s innocent faith in a benevolent universe.Sparknotes.com, accessed November 4, 2008

Assignment 19.1

What animal are you?

Regardless of Blake’s intention — and who’s to say that it was static and fully formed even as he wrote the poems? — I believe it’s fair to say that we are all, metaphorically, at different times and in different situations, an entire menagerie. Throughout history and literature, people have been compared to and represented as lions, puppies, rats, mice, panthers, fawns, even elephants.

I wrote “The Kitten” (below) strictly to illustrate this lesson — as a metaphor for my own vulnerability — not to win any poetry prizes. I live alone now, but I was once pampered and protected. I can be sturdy and resilient — like, say, a Saint Bernard. I can be an “eager beaver.” Sometimes I like to hibernate, like a bear. But occasionally — when, for example, I have to carry a bag of groceries home from the store, or when the plumbing gets stopped up, or when I’m weary or just plain lonely — I’d enjoy being treasured and taken care of.

THE KITTEN

I am a kitten, wishing to lie
in a soft, sunny spot with my lover nearby,
to be fed when I’m hungry and stroked when I sigh
and held all through the night when the wind rises high.

Your assignment is to write something similar — it needn’t be in the form of a rhyming poem; a few lines of graceful prose will do as well — about yourself. Begin with the words “I am a,” then name the animal you are, and describe a few of that animal’s features that are like your own characteristics.

Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return it to you with comments.

Publish your “little book” in an easy little way

Find unique, affordable cards, gifts, and books at Zero Gravity‘s Holiday Store. Gift certificates available

 

The Darkness. Is Dark.

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Assignment 17.2
Chapter 7 (continued): Metaphorically Speaking

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

Working Definitions of Art, Poetry, and Verse

Figure 1: Working Definitions of Art, Poetry, and Verse

 

Perpetrating truculent profligacies can put you in a pickle

First, review our working definitions of art, poetry, and verse (above).

There is such a thing as bad writing, which, simply put, is writing that doesn’t communicate well. I suppose that bad poetry exists, too, though I prefer to think of it as “amateur verse.” Poetry, as we’ve discussed, generally requires some knowledge of rhetorical devices and the disciplined application of them.

Below are excerpts from poems appearing in the New American Poetry Anthology* (1988 edition). The NAPA sponsored a competition and, one infers, accepted most of the entries, calculating that the poets whose work was published would buy copies of the book (at $50 each plus shipping; back then, $50 got you a couple weeks’ worth of groceries). There are some fine examples of poetry in this book, although the excerpts below are not among them. Common themes are loneliness, love lost, love found, regret, aging, and, of course, The Darkness, with its pesky ineffable primitivities.

Amateur Verse?

Table 1: Amateur Verse?

I do not criticize the poets. Their sentiments are often moving, even heart-wrenching. The NAPA exploits the poets and their emotions, however, by characterizing amateur verse (lines of dubiously metrical text) as prizewinning poetry in order to make a profit.

Please copy the table, add your comments to mine (column 2) based on our working definition of poetry, on what you’ve learned about rhetorical devices, and on your subjective responses to the poems. E-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Feel free to disagree with my opinions and offer your justification for doing so. I will not grade your submission, but I will return it to you with comments.

_______

* Not to be confused with Donald Allen’s 1960 project The New American Poetry

Next: Everybody Wants to Be Happy

LifeIsPoetry.net Holiday Store now open. Shop early for holiday cards and gifts. Books ordered through Lulu.com may require a few weeks for delivery.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 234 other followers