Strings Under Tension

When did this guitar of mine sleep?

When will this crocus bouquet bloom?

When, if there is no time to keep?

A song of cherished hope now spells out our concaving doom.

 

Such songs feel like lifetimes ago.

A collective sigh, one of mine

Cast down into the undertow.

A bittersweet collection of moss gathered overtime.

 

Without context, where is feeling?

Its origin is allusive

Yet our doubt is left in passing

Longing for a time that never existed is nestled within the impulsive.

 

A jest is made in the cold dark

So that it might not seem as bleak,

By proxy, nothing goes unmarked.

We are together laughing, sickened by the joy of grief

 

I cherish the ever-tranquil rain

So long as I’m not drenched by it

It recalls the absence of pain

Despite our separation, its presence dampens my windows, washing us both into the pit.

 

Through every nation this ran

Vicarious pipes of knowledge,

Which reach the sunken eyes of man

Every new experience brings us closer to an inviting edge.

 

Oh no, the stone sinks in deep waters

Somber, still, confused of its course

My guitar is damp and faltered

Dragged down by a stone so unclear in its source.

 

It sinks in a bland grey palette,

Of such a city-scape we dwell

Through rivers which run like faucets

In nature’s demented hell.

 

It falls into virtual planes

A social hub of loneliness,

Collective misery and rain

Within the dank depths comes the Loch Ness.

 

It sinks through silent moonlit nights

A bedroom drenched in a blue hue

Restless beds, stained in nurtured frights

Down the corridors of such streets, lined in blue.

 

Throughout the stone has fallen deep

No longer do I hear the song

No longer does my guitar weep

Instead I spin, tick an hour, and ask where it all went wrong.

 

How we feed that which we all give

Give what we repeat to ourselves

In bleeding sympathy, we live

From us who vicariously live in different realms.

 

My guitar is kept in storage

It gave me what I entrusted,

And now leaves me here to forage,

In this world which I feel is maladjusted.

 

Now I’m left with a droning tone,

That has found no place in any note

A dissonant tune, not alone.

It’s left under the table, covering our throats.

 

From darkness comes a crackling fire

Men and women of charred cinder

Guitars tossed into the pyre,

And our symphony of fire will not be hindered.

 

Review

I chose to reimagine Sydney Owenson’s “Why Sleeps the Harp of Erin’s Pride” because it initially spoke to me. I had initially read the poem as a song of perseverance through oppressive times and the fangs that perseverance has. Having connections to the oppression of the Irish people by the English, I still believe this interpretation to be the most probable. Yet stripping the historical context, I took something different from it. Mainly the effects an oppressive environment has on a group of individuals within their social circle. This oppression isn’t exclusively cornered to the type that the Irish faced, rather oppression as a general concept.

I applied this to my generation, as I’ve seen, purely on anecdotal evidence, that my generation is much more pessimistic than others. Specifically, pessimistic about our society and its structures, all the way up to the school system itself; which carries a level of irony considering this was an assignment. And I’ve always found it interesting how my generation vents this deeply rooted frustration with our world. Firstly, I replaced the symbol of the harp with a guitar. Mostly because I felt this instrument symbolized the birth of our generation through the rise of rock and pop which popularized the guitar. Secondly, I wrote mostly in iambic tetrameter, with deviations at the end of each stanza. I did this as the original poem also wrote in this meter but with some deviations within it. I chose to leave my deviations at the end because I wanted to make those particular lines feel uncomfortable.

I began with discussing jokes, or “jests” in my generation. Meme culture isn’t only concerned with comedy, but it is a contextualization of our world, as ridiculous as that sounds. My generation is in love with dark humor, and those concerned with the struggles of living in this world and making fun of them. Comedy is a coping mechanism and this generation leans on that.

I also touched on social media and how we vicariously suffer as a result because of our exposure to so much information. Often, this information isn’t positive, and our mental health suffers for it as well as our hope for a prosperous future.

I begin the poem with a sentiment of longing towards my youth. Where such dark realities weren’t confronting me as they are in this time and my life like many others my age. Yet by the end I express that the guitar has been retired, and much like the Irish in the original poem, through oppression comes a fire. Whether because of pessimism or not, there is no doubt that my generation is very vocal about their frustrations with this world with a fiery energy.

-Daniel R.

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Erin’s Harp of Woe and Perseverance

When a people and its culture are colonized, their society and the culture associated with it, begin to blend with that of the colonizers. A consequence of this process is that the colonized culture becomes muddled as it is assimilated into the “dominant” culture. Such a process and its consequences are prevalent in the case of the colonization of Irish culture by the English. This consequence of a culture fighting for survival through assimilation is expressed within Sydney Owenson’s “Why Sleeps the Harp of Erin’s Pride?”.

Right from the beginning we are presented with quite the confronting question, “Why sleeps the Harp of Erin’s pride?”. Erin is the dative case for Ireland, the harp of its pride is in a state of unconsciousness. Ireland’s identity and nationalistic pride is unconsciousness. Yet I may ask unconscious to who? As we see throughout the poem, the song that the harp plays is quite somber and silent yet the harp continues to play with as much impact as it did when it wasn’t oppressed.

For still his Harp’s wild plaintive tones

Gave back their sorrows keener still,

Breath’d sadder sighs, heav’d deeper moans,

The tone of the song has shifted from the harp, being drawn out by the oppression and the sorrows of the Irish people rather than sole nationalistic pride. It may become a song of perseverance through oppressive times, times which can facilitate the union of the Irish people through their collective woe. The strong symbol used to portray the oppression of the Irish is the “Shamrock wreath”, which has some relevant historical context to it.

Wreathes are a prevalent symbol of Christmas and Christianity, the same goes for holly and ivy, which were customs that came from that of ancient Celtics. In “17th century Ireland…Penal Laws forbade the practice of the Catholic religion”. It was the case that “families would risk fine and imprisonment to attend a Mass in the dark of night, celebrated by one of the outlawed priests”. Some of these masses would take place in family’s homes. In order to signal to other families without alerting the authority, a candle would be lit in the window of the house. After receiving this signal, the rest of the families would light candles in their windows as to not draw specific attention to the house with the mass. “To the Irish, the meaning of the candle was clear, but to the stranger, it was merely an extension of the pagan custom of holiday decoration” (The Wild Geese).

These traditions have become a staple within Christian Christmas culture. Ones that were founded in Irish strife and adopted and muddled into the dominant culture. We may see that “today’s Christmas Wreath with a candle in the center is a reminder of the courage and the sacrifices made by (Irish) ancestors who placed a candle in a holly-encircled window to send out the message: The Lord is in this house tonight” (The Wild Geese).

For still he sung the ills that flow.

From dire oppressions ruthless fangs,

And deepen’d every patriot woe,

And sharpen’d every patriot pang.

In times of oppression a people will come together, with fangs of perseverance they continue their customs and culture within themselves. Yet in the face of colonization, this culture is faded, into the song that the harp sings of ills and woes. In a sense this same song, drawn from the woes of Irish culture, is still played in the traditions that were taken from it which continue to persist in separate cultures.

Source: https://thewildgeese.irish/profiles/blogs/the-christmas-wreath

-Daniel R.

The Mass, 2019

Parody of London by William Blake

 

It stalks, festering in its streets,

Water boils, through gutters flow,

It marks those we will all soon meet,

Struck in weakness, men of woe.

 

The resonance, the cry of man,

A child’s laughter laced in fear,

Vocal stains of past, through each ban,

Cognition of the mass I hear.

 

The toiled ground echoes their cries,

The cross on my forehead appalls,

The mass ignores their lowly sighs,

A vein rooting up house walls.

 

In the witching hour I hear

A beast and a harlot’s faint curse

To bring my infant eye a tear

So all may come to the mass hearse.

 

-Daniel Rodriguez

90

 

A Tense Marriage Between Romanticism and The Gothic

Romanticism and the Gothic are more tightly associated than one might see at first glance. The Gothic’s inception trails just behind Romanticism in 1764 with “The Castle of Otranto”. In a sense they are concerned with similar subjects yet through different lenses, mainly the sublime. While the romantics viewed the sublime as beautiful and a means of transcendence, the gothics take a different view. They see that the sublime can produce as much dread as it does awe.

There is a common misconception that the Gothic is strictly associated with darkness, this is simply untrue. As discussed by A.J. Blakemont in “The Gothic: 250 Years of Success”, the Gothic is interested in creating a contrast between the beauty and the darkness of the sublime. Beauty is typically represented by light shades, primarily white. Which we can evidently see in the Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, “The Abby in the Oakwood”. The sky is painted in a light shade of white, not only contrasting the dark cemetery below but creating a contrast with the dead trees that are spread across this backdrop of white.

This painting is quite interesting as it creates a direct contrast and parallel between the light and dark with some cross in-between, a parallel to the prevalent Gothic theme of the contrast between the beauty and darkness of the sublime. This can additionally be seen across the themes of William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”; primarily the theme of death.

We associate darkness with the abyss, the unknown. Edmund Burke explains in “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”, that a major part of the sublime is obscurity, which elicits a fear of the unknown. What subject is more obscure and dreadful than death? The little Maid’s relationship with death is not one strictly found in darkness nor in light. Her two siblings lie buried, presumably around her age, a very dark and difficult event to experience as a child. Yet she is not clearly enveloped within the darkness and the obscurity of death. Rather she finds beauty and solace in it.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My ’kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit—
I sit and sing to them.” (Wordsworth)

She goes as far as to “eat (her) supper there” which describes a comfort. As seen in her denial of her sibling’s numbers, she denies that there are 5, but rather 7; and there will always be at least 7. Death is not simply an end, not a purely morbid ending to a person’s existence. They continue to exist in memory, and that memory, which can only be proceeded after death, can be moving and beautiful.

Similarly, as represented in the painting, while death is rooted in the darkness of sublimity, as shown by the cemetery enveloped in darkness, aspects of death can be found in the beauty of the sublime. This is represented by the dead trees existing both in the dark and in the light. A contrast of light and dark, of beauty in the sublime and dread within the sublime.

-Daniel R.

abbey

Eddie The Romantic Poet

Poetry has cemented its place within music and at times seems inseparable from it. Poetry can exist within music, yet it is important to recognize that music can exist without poetry. Mostly what I mean by this, is an entirely instrumental song can convey as much meaning as one with lyrics. Music itself is a giant metaphor. It is a contextualization of the concrete (sound), that serves to represent the abstract. I believe the abstract that music represents and evokes is rooted in feelings and emotions. Much like romantic poetry, music is a spontaneous eruption of emotions into a conducted auditory landscape. Music is defined and appreciated for its ability to evoke an emotional response in the listener. This is the reason music is often placed in film and television to enhance emotional responses.

Metal especially is concerned with emotional response and the deviation from musical norms. Neither Metal nor Romantic poetry adhered to strict conventions, yet both were fascinated by “the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic” (Lecture Notes 8). Yet as it similarly applies to romantic poetry, this does not infer that either art forms are off-the-cuff or not meticulously orchestrated.

Iron Maiden’s rendition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” shows the marriage between Metal and Romantic Poetry. What initially speaks out to me is the driving and chugging guitar riff that is prevalent throughout the song. This riff conjures the rhythm of horses riding in a Calvary, it is very driving in a forward motion. To me it is conveying the epic nature of this voyage. As we see throughout the original text, imagery of the scenery and nature surrounding the journey is ever prevalent. We get constant descriptions of the environment such as: “The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out; At one stride comes the dark; With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea, Off shot the spectre-bark” (Coleridge). The emphasis on this journey throughout the natural sea is quite important to the Romantic poet’s fascination with the natural world. The line “Sailing on and on and on across the sea” within the song accentuates this feeling further. The repetition is done to greater effect by Bruce Dickinson’s vocal delivery than it could have by just being read. His emphasis on each “on” have both an epic feeling as well as a melancholic sempiternal feeling. This is better heard in the variation of the line, “And the curse goes on and on and on and on at sea” where the vocals more so lament the hardships of the crew at sea.

(Context for the title, Eddie is the ghoulish mascot of Iron Maiden that appears in the majority of their band art)

– Daniel Rodriguez

The Fall of Men

An important part of Equiano’s narrative, and his abolitionist agenda, is depicting the slave trade as horrid and inhumane. A key moment in which he does this is his arrival at Montserrat. “At the sight of this land of bondage, a fresh horror ran through all my frame, and chilled me to the heart” (Chapter 5). The sight of a very land bound and enslaved, coupled with Equiano’s dread is a painted image full of horror. This horror is given further context when Equiano quotes from Paradise Lost.

“Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can rarely dwell.

Hope never comes

That comes to all, but torture without end

Still urges” (Paradise Lost).

Paradise Lost is an epic poem by John Milton that centers around the “fall of man”, a biblical story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. I believe the application of this quote can be seen in different ways. Firstly, it can be seen as a depiction of the world of sin. Within the “fall of man” Adam and Eve are given everything within the Garden of Eden, peace, hope, rest, and happiness. Once they give way into the temptation of sin, this is stripped from them and they are exiled into the dessert. By association, the rest of humanity is stripped from this paradise. We must now work endlessly to merely eat and survive. The lands are dry and cruel, filled with sorrow unlike the lush land of the garden. Sin becomes integral to the human being, and we are subsequentially tortured by it with no end possible. Montserrat is the embodiment of this new-found wasteland. The sins of man represented through this land, a wasteland of toil and torture compared to the freedom of the garden.

Alternatively, this quote and what I imagined Montserrat to look like, is hell itself. Within the biblical hell souls are eternally tortured within its “doleful shades” of darkness. Hope is always lost in its victims and there is no end to the torture. Often hell is depicted in illustrations as victims spread throughout the brimstone land, bound and tortured in horrendous ways. Instantly I recollect illustrations of the slave trade and how closely they resemble those of hell in the case of their victims. I believe a similar message can be derived in this interpretation. Montserrat as hell, by proxy slavery as hell. And what was lost, freedom as heaven.

Equiano’s sentiment of dread and horror is very strongly captured within his use of this Paradise Lost excerpt. By quoting Milton, multiple times, not only is Equiano showing his literacy and understanding of Christianity, but he is showing the universality of literature and the English language. A majority of his intended audience were most likely to be Christian who could understand the allusions being used. If they themselves can understand and empathize with the same literature, then how much different are they from Equiano? if they are similarly literate in this language they share, how much different are they?

– Daniel Rodriguez

Painting-Jacob-van-Swanenburg

Dull Monkeys

 

Pope was, not surprisingly, mocked and criticized for his attack on “the dull”, as we can see in this satirical print of him (Image #2). Despite the mocking picture being directed against Pope, I believe it serves to further his satirical point within the Dunciad. What happens when the literature of power is classified by the dull and corrupt? Additionally, what happens when that literature is given mounts of time and thought? I believe the monkey-esque figure is collectively the dull scholar, the dull critic, and the dull reader engaging with Pope’s text. Pope mockingly pretends that the Dunciad is an ancient epic that needs scholarly investment. He is mocking those texts which indeed do demand such a privilege, not through the merits of their work, but through dullness. The appointment of Colley Cibber as Poet Laureate in 1730 is an example of this. He was not selected for the merits of his writing, but for his support of the Whig political party. He was appointed a position where his poems would receive attention at special events and such, a spotlight of dullness. Pope is criticizing a society that is disregarding merit for affiliation and consumability. Therefore when we see the monkey of a reader/critic/scholar engaging with a text that is a satirization of third-rate texts, they are made the fool. Pope’s head is representative of what this does to the consumers of these texts. Much like the case of Cibber, if these third-rate texts are held in this esteem and reach the ears of the masses, the dullness of the author can find a home in the reader and perpetuate the cycle. Monkey see, monkey do, as is said. We can see this same cycle within the Dunciad.

 

“As Fancy opens the quick springs of Sense,

We ply the Memory, we load the brain,

Bind rebel Wit, and double chain on chain,

Confine the thought, to exercise the breath;

And keep them in the pale of Words till death.

Whate’er the talents, or howe’er design’d,

We hang one jingling padlock on the mind:

A Poet the first day, he dips his quill;

And what the last? a very Poet still.

Pity! the charm works only in our wall,”

 

We can see in the first line how “Fancy” is dictating the sense of people in what they esteem as worthy literature. This is illustrating how the masses fancy literature through political or personal bias. Enough to engage with it and confine the counter thought that this literature is objectively unworthy. When this literature is exposed to many other dull ‘monkeys’ it is kept in the “pale” of words. I believe the use of “pale” is a pun of sorts. Actually meaning pail, it is replaced with pale as these works which are found in there pale in comparison to the great works of literature. Yet they have the potential to be put in the same pail of “Words”, or important literature. This is despite “the talents” of the author and “the design” of the work. Despite it all they are still a poet amongst the greats. This “charm” only works within the “wall” of the society which perpetuates it, and allows this dangerous cycle to continue. A collection of dull monkeys engaging with dull text.

-Daniel Rodriguez

A Giant To Whom?

Swift’s parody of the captivity narrative throughout part 1 of the novel showcases the disparity between perception and reality within the captivity narratives, specifically Rowlandson’s. A rather large aspect of Swift’s parody is the blatant size difference between Gulliver and his captors, the Lilliputs. “I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands” (Pg. 14 Part 1 Chapter 1). I believe Swift does this as a direct parody towards Rowlandson and the ironic disparity which surrounds her captivity.

Often within the captivity narrative the protagonist is portrayed to be vulnerable and at the mercy of their captors. Additionally, they usually take the form of an under-dog type character. One who has the odds stacked against them and we as the reader are hoping they prevail through their ordeals. It is very much reminiscent to biblical figures like Daniel in the lion’s den. Yet here, the lions are three times as small and pose almost no threat to Gulliver. This disparity is a metaphor for Rowlandson’s situation in her narrative.

Her kidnapping was a desperate attempt from the Algonquian tribe to have some leverage over the colonists. They were starving and at genocide’s door. While Rowlandson was but one individual, she represented the whole of colonists in her situation. The colonists outnumbered the natives and they out-gunned them. So, in a grand scheme, how much of a threat did they really pose to Rowlandson and to the colonists at large, especially when she was their only leverage? I would answer, not much, as I believe this is what Swift is conveying. This is directly visualized in this passage, “when in an instant I felt above a hundred arrows discharged on my left hand, which, pricked me like so many needles” (Pg. 15 Part 1 Chapter 1). While native attacks on colonists did damage them as a whole, it was but a thousand needle pricks to the metaphoric giant.

It is not a coincidence that Gulliver found himself stranded on this island after being deviated by a storm, on the brink of disaster. Later within the first confrontation he is fed and given drink by the Lilliputs. “a hundred of the in-habitants mounted and walked towards my mouth, laden with baskets full of meat” (Pg. 17 Part 1 Chapter 1). This conjured up pictures of the first thanksgiving where only half of the original colonists survived the long voyage. And only through the help of the natives were the survivors able to have enough harvest to last through the winter.

-Daniel Rodriguez

A Letter From The Looking Glass of A Human

Dear Mary Rowlandson,

I am writing to you after having read your narrative of captivity. A narrative is just as it is described, a narrative which requires the perspective of a singular mind. One curated from familiarity and comfort, not to be swayed by a different unknown. Yet that unknown is not hard to see when seen through human eyes devoid of blinding prejudice. The screams of anguish your people let out at Lancaster, are they not echoes of our own? The cries of motherly loss you let out at the death of your child, have our mothers not sung the same harrowing tune times over? Our people sing the same songs but in different tunes, deeper than our skin is our background, even deeper is our universal humanity. Yet I believe you have learned this despite the shields you put up, but will your people? The question may not be whether they are skilled enough readers to find the truth in your text, but are they strong enough to accept it? There is no safety in numbers when the one who speaks the hard truth steps from the doors of comfortable ignorance. They will face persecution from their peers who claim to be on the side righteousness. I fear the general masses will not be the one, and they will stay in their cocoon of imposing isolation. Yet as it did in the time of the Romans, it may only take one martyr to change the lives of our successors. A flock of sheep require a shepherd otherwise they will collectively stray or be led astray by those who claim to be just. Consider these words as I have considered yours.

Sincerely,

William Apess

(Daniel Rodriguez)

Human Nature’s Disastrous Nature

It is nearly common knowledge that the indigenous population suffered great intolerance and injustice during the colonization of the Americas. Yet there are multiple perspectives in the colonization which provide insights of the individuals rather than a universal whole. Mrs. Mary Rowlandson’s “Captivity and Restoration” is one of the many perspectives of the time. Her perspective is a very interesting one, coming from a Puritan set on keeping Puritan morals and ambitions. I believe this piece of literature is in direct contrast to Dryden’s “The Indian Emperor” in its subtext and perspective. While Dryden seems to promote imperialism and the seizing of secular profits, Rowlandson seems to warn against it.

We discussed in class that many of the early Puritans living in the American colonies made peace with natives through treaties and aimed to keep that peace. They believed in the original Puritan ideals of the city atop of the hill, serving God by keeping an eye to heaven rather than the secular ground. Yet when the monarchy sent their officials to the colonies, their eyes were indeed glued to the ground. The monarchy wanting to establish themselves as an empire, acted as imperials and began to seize land, breaking the treaties made with the natives. Later waves of Puritan immigration had a similar effect. These Puritans had forgotten their initial purpose of escaping religious persecution, and instead came to the colonies in search of wealth, a mindset known as the Great Declension. These two events strained relations with the natives heavily, eventually leading to the conflict we see in Rowlandson’s account.

Rowlandson describes her fate in captivity as the wrath of God at times, the fate of her fellow Christians who died in Lancaster, all the wrath of God. In her eyes this was due to the Great Declension. The Puritans had lost their way and disobeyed God, and much like the two first biblical figures who once disobeyed him, they are paying the price. This focus on secular profits go hand in hand with imperialism, by speaking of it as the Puritan’s doom, Rowlandson is warning against it.

I believe this subtext shows multiple things. Firstly, is the difference between the ideals of the first wave of Puritans as compared to the later waves, and how they were still lumped into a group with collective ideals. Even in modern day, Puritans are still lumped into one group that desired and perpetrated the Native genocide. This simply isn’t true and is no better than lumping all the natives of the time as “savages”. Secondly, I believe this shows that ignorance leads to intolerance from both sides. The natives might have been ignorant to the intentions of the different groups of the Puritan community, as well as the Monarchy’s involvement. Attacking first waves of Puritans who might have wanted to avoid conflict, lumping them into a universal evil. Likewise, the Puritans, ignorant to the native’s situation and disparity, marked them as collective savages.

Rowlandson forms very human relations with some of the members of the Algonquians. Both groups are briefly able to separate the individual from the whole and be witnessed as humans. But sharing the commonality of humans, they also share the same faults and continue to fall into the pit of generalizing a people as a universal evil. This ignorance would only serve to perpetuate the intolerance from both sides.

-Daniel Rodriguez