CW Project: The Hunter’s Willow

The Hunter’s Willow

Ross Koppel

 

I awoke and to the swamp I travelled

Death in mind

With uncle left and brother right

And hound not far behind

 

We made our way, quite clumsily

Through the muck and mire

The sky turned black, the wind did howl

And the weather turned quite dire

 

Rain and thunder crashed upon us

And from it we made haste

A great willow tree in our gaze

Some shelter for to taste

 

We had some joy

And safety then

Us three

Not merry men

 

And when the storm began to fade

We found ourselves quite lost

Our future ended, we had been made

What devil had we crossed?

 

Away and back we meandered

Through that lonesome bog

Until again we saw that tree

Steadfast in the fog

 

I felt the shudder of the cold

Against my lips so blue

And my actions I took next

To this day I rue

 

I was so cold and I accept full fault

As I produced a fire

And down and down that willow burned

Becoming nature’s pyre

 

The hound did bark as the storm returned

My brother loosed a scream

With no shelter to run to I’d become

A villain so it seemed

 

My uncle was the first to go

On the devil’s ride

With no energy to spare

We left him where he died

 

I chopped him up and cooked his flesh

And fed him to the hound

My brother, of course, would not partake

He was the next man downed

 

Hunger had taken them from me

And I did tend the beast

And to this swamp and in this muck

I was never to be released

 

One night I was awakened

By the howling of the mutt

And from the shadows walked at me

The bodies I had cut

 

My family shambled to my place

And I then raised my gun

I shot and shot but to no avail

I knew that I was done

 

The Hound had charged and bit and scratched

And I saw that I had failed

For my shot had hit a mark

And through the dog it sailed

 

I ran and ran with these specters

Chasing after me

I found my way out of that swamp

A city light to see

 

It has been many, many years

Twenty, give or take

And to this day when thunder falls

I shudder and I shake

 

I had ate my brother

And my uncle too

And of my poor courageous hound

It was I who had shot him through

 

But memories serve me no fear

In comparison to this

On any night dark and foggy

When my family I miss

 

Their bodies would come unto me

And I would run and hide

For had I not burned the willow

They never would have died

 

Some nights I hear the snarling

Of a devil dog

And some nights I see the shamble

Of my brother through the fog

 

There is but one place in this world

For safety I may go

It is beneath the great weeping arms

Of that burned willow

 

 

Review

The Hunter’s Willow is heavily inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The similarities are myriad. The Hunter’s Willow tells a similar story of an individual committing a crime against nature, and in so doing curses himself and his companions. The form is similar as well, featuring quatrains and an ABCB rhyme scheme. There are differences as well. The Hunter’s Willow is not broken into parts, fails to feature an audience and never breaks away from quatrains and does not include any portions of ABAB rhyme.

In keeping with romantic tradition, The Hunter’s Willow features an extensive theme of nature’s power, especially in the form of encroaching darkness and fog present in many of the paintings viewed during class. The poem features the metaphorical encroaching darkness in the form of dead things literally chasing the narrator for twenty years, as well as frequent use of fog and night.

The formal elements, specifically rhyme is sustained in The Hunter’s Willow. The rhyme follows a very strict ABCB pattern throughout the poem. The Rime will at times break from quatrains and break from the strict rhyme scheme, but Willow does not. The extensively varied meter of Willow serves to break the monotony of repetitive meter.

The curse of the albatross and the curse of the willow function in similar ways. An individual is lost and is presented salvation in the form of some natural gift. Coleridge used an albatross that granted the sailors luck, I used a willow that provided shelter. Both poems then feature a destruction of that gift, a curse involving the death of the narrator’s friends or family, and then an inability to escape that memory.

The Hunter’s Willow is a contemporary poem. Coleridge’s crossbow and sails has been replaced with a gun and city lights. However, The Hunter’s Willow is not purely modern, as there will always be hunters, hunters will always have dogs, there will always be willow trees to hide under, and hunters have always and will always hunt with family.

-Ross Koppel

 

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Dear Healing Harp of my Country

Thomas Moore’s Dear Harp of My Country carries a theme of healing throughout. Given via lecture and discussion that the harp itself is a symbol of Irish/Scottish/Celtic/Gaelic nationalism, Dear Harp of My Country can be read as an extended metaphor for rediscovering Irish pride and healing the Irish people through that same rediscovery.

Dear Harp of My Country begins with the lines:

“DEAR Harp of my Country! in darkness I found thee,

The cold chain of silence had hung o’er thee long,”

In so doing the poem brings immediately a sense of pain and suffering to the poem by using such phrases as, “darkness,” and  “cold chain of silence.” This contrasts strongly against the final pair of lines:

“I was but as the wind, passing heedlessly over,

And all the wild sweetness I wak’d was thy own.”

Following the thought-thread that the harp is a symbol of Irish pride, or in this case perhaps even the northern islands themselves, it seems as though the darkness and binding in the beginning of the poem has been healed, contrasting the “chains” of the beginning and the “wild sweetness,” brought upon by the newly freed harp.

So, this is where this interpretation becomes quite personal.

I once dated a harpist. She spoke extensively of the healing and therapeutic properties of the harp, and how the harp has been classically hailed as an instrument of healing. She even went so far as to become involved in a project to use the harp to heal the California redwoods. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G_eRrZKvkM

Now, then, with these two concurrent thought strings, one of the harp as a symbol of Ireland and another with the harp as a symbol of healing, I see this poem as a rediscovery of two things. Firstly, the rediscovery and freeing of the harp is a rediscovery of Irish pride. Secondly, the rediscovery and freeing of the harp is a rediscovery of the power of healing.

This is a poem of healing, in more ways than one.

-Ross Koppel

SF 2017

I did an almost line for line rewrite of London 1802. The hardest part was keeping it in iambic pentameter, maintaining wordsworth’s rhyme scheme, and switching to the 11 word/line section in the middle. I feel as though I didn’t have to rewrite much of the poem’s meaning, because so much of it already applies to SF.

SF2017

Get up! Arise awake it’s time to go.

Your world, our land does flood we need your aid

The water sits, the church becomes unmade

Heroic souls have come and gone to show

That lack of wealth a seed to plant and sow

To find true joy we must relinquish our trade

And should we be revived and raised from the shade

With virtue and freedom and power in tow,

You soul was like a star and lived far away

You had a voice not unlike the ocean

As pure and free as pure and free and high as the heaven

And so you did go forth as life led on

In such a cheerful way, and yet your love

Upon herself the worst of life she’d don

 

-Ross Koppel

The Mad Monk’s Mother By the Sea

The Monk by the Sea, by Caspar David Friedrich is easily and readily comparable to The Mad Mother. At the surface level, the description and image of the Mad Mother herself, standing atop the crag, paralyzed in loneliness, looking down at the rock and cliff and sea below her is immediately reminiscent of The Monk by the Sea, who is also looking down, paralyzed in loneliness, at the rock and cliff and sea below the Monk. The powerful whitecaps of the monk’s sea echo the “leaping torrents” of The Mad Mother line 46. The broken rock beneath the monk’s feet demands comparison to the Mad Mother’s “high crag” and her “sea-rock’s edge.”

Furthermore, the scope of the pair of pieces share certain similarities. While both the painting of the monk and the poem about the mother have a human protagonist in the title, both painting and poem are truly about the natural world in which the two exist in. The poem describes much standing atop rocks, and gazing out at the power of the sea, and all manner of natural obstacles her travels have created for her. Similarly, the eponymous monk is but a speck against the vastness of the oceanic landscape before the monk. While both appear humanist at first glance, and both appear humanist in title, both pieces show the fury and power and gargantuan scope of nature in the face of a single protagonist.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly on the subject of comparing these works is the general sense of clarity and space that is presented to the reader and presented to the viewer. Riffing on the idea that the mother is carrying around her dead and decaying child discussed during Wednesday’s class, it is of interest to note that this theme of death and life is all but hidden within the bowels of the text. There is a lack of clarity and concreteness that leaves the poem open to interpretation. Similarly, the painting works in this nondescript, sort of hidden form. The sky in the background has strange shadows encroaching, the cliff-face the monk is standing on is ill defined. It could be a beach, or a cliff, and the whitecaps might not even be water. In both pieces there is uncertainty at the forefront.

-Ross Koppel

Equiano’s Abolition

The first painting, John Bull Taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question, questions the motives of abolition, asserting through subtle political cues that abolitionists are “in it for the money.” The man who claims it is a sin to buy anything other than East India sugar has stock in the East India company. Where the Africans are seen dancing, there is a trick in place to make them appear tortured, to make the general populace agree: slavery should be gotten rid of.

In many ways, this straw-man critique of “oh hey look, abolitionists are bad” can actually be targeted at Equiano. Equiano is one of the abolitionists who wants to see slavery removed for economic reasons. Equiano says “a commercial intercourse with Africa opens an inexhaustible source of wealth to the manufacturing interests of Great Britain… The abolition of slavery, so diabolical, will give a most rapid extension of manufactures, which is totally and diametrically opposed to what some interested people assert.” Here Equiano takes the slavery question, the torturous, “diabolical” act of slavery, and calmly, casually, looks at the question and provides an answer to the question. Equiano says, “listen. If we stop the slave trade, we get to go to Africa, colonize that too, and increase our manufacture. Nobody wants to trade with the diabolical masters. Even if you think slavery is good for industry, you’re thinking small scale, plantation size. Let’s go big scale. Let’s think on a continental scale.”

In this way, Equiano partially exemplifies the abolitionists in the “Clear View” painting. He is the money driven abolitionist who is more economic than moral, but he is not the emotionally manipulative, East India stockholder. He is a calm, rational, money-driven ass.

-Ross Koppel

 

The New Latin

Phebe Gibbes include a myriad references to older English works. It is entirely possible that these references, allusions and quotations are hinting towards English’s status as the “new Greek,” or “new Latin.” That is to say, it is well within the scope of reason to assert that older English works are taking the place of Greek and Classical works in terms of importance and scale. While older individuals such as Dryden and Milton constantly used references to Greek and other classical non-English literature as a ways to almost, assert themselves as superior, better educated or otherwise smarter, more well read, or otherwise better than, so too would someone like Phebe Gibbes use older English texts to assert their dominance and authorial superiority.

This concept is a continuation of a prior concept mentioned earlier, the idea that English itself is a method to assert cultural or otherwise dominance over a non-English group, such as the indigenous Indian people or “Hindoos” as some would call them. So while English is becoming weaponized as a means of control and power, English is simultaneously being elevated to a new level, a level on par with the “greater” or “superior” languages of Latin and Greek. A reference to Shakespeare, Milton or Dryden is the new reference to Homer and Socrates.

In Letter IX, there is an interesting passage. “I shall be asked, by way of answer to my wild question, ‘Can wealth give happiness? – Look round and see, what gay distress, what splendid misery!’ which is so truly English, there is no standing; I therefore hasten to conclude myself” (68). What is most interesting about this passage is not the actual quotation “can wealth give happiness…” by Edward Young, but her commentary on the subject. This profundity that we are given is “so truly English.” This seems as though it should be a universal question asked throughout the world! A fundamental philosophical question, “can wealth give happiness?” And yet no, because an Englishman said it, because it was asked in the “new Latin,” the sentiment, the thought, the profundity, is a truly English thought, and not a universal question.

Ross Koppel

Standardizing? Weaponizing?

It seems apparent that in the time of Samuel Johnson, the dictionary, and the standardization thereof was a method to allow foreigners to enter English controlled or English ruled areas, and live among the English, with English customs and courtesies. Johnson’s view of English is very much innocent as well, remarking that “Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas” (3) Again, it becomes apparent, when reading Johnson’s words that his view of the English language, and truly all language, is nothing more than a way of sharing ideas. Sure, Johnson wants to codify the language and has classist issues with slang, but in essence, his dictionary is a way of distilling, or reducing the English language to something simple and clean and designed to unite people in pursuance of scientific discourse.

Contrast this, however, with Macauley’s words, roughly 80 years later. Macauley is planning on using Johnson’s standardized English as a weapon. No longer is English the “instrument of science” and “signs of ideas.” Now, Macauley wants to see languages used and abused. He wants to see native languages taught to the native peoples with the express intent of showing them the errors of their religion. Specifically, Macauley says “It is confined that a language is barren of useful knowledge. We are to teach it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions.” Here it is shown that the native languages are of no value, and by extension and linked, the “Hindoo” language, as Macauley refers to it, contains a religion that is false. The linking of the language to the religion is quite the attack on non-English languages, when viewed through the European, Christian lens.

What’s more, Macauley goes so far to say that “when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.” This too is a massive attack, and a vicious one at that. The idea that all information in a language can be of less value, simply because the language chosen to convey that information is perceived to be of less value is an incredible assertion.

By Macauley’s time, English is more than a thing to be standardized, more than a way of sharing ideas. By Macauley’s time, English is a weapon. English has been weaponized, rather than standardized.

-Ross Koppel

You People are so Petty. And Tiny.

Gulliver, the world traveler, says in the very beginning, in the letter that precedes the text proper, that he is but a Yahoo, and should live his life more like a Houyhnhnm. However, it is not apparent that Gulliver liked humanity, even before he had ever traveled to Houyhnhnmland. Gulliver, while in Brobdingnag, is forced to sit and listen to one of the giants compare him, England, and all of humankind to insects, with the addition that humans “Love, they fight, they dispute, they cheat, they betray” (100). Perhaps this was Swift’s view of humanity, as seen from a disconnected place. Perhaps when viewed from an alternate angle, or any other angle than from within, humans do very little more than loving, fighting, disputing, cheating and betraying.

This goes on, though. Gulliver is insulted and wounded by these words, but reconsiders his anger, eventually settling that “If [he] had beheld a Company of English lords and ladies… [he] should have been strongly tempted to laugh as much at them as this King and his Grandees did at me”  (101). This serves to further the argument that humanity itself is ridiculous, as Gulliver notices, even from within humanity. Humans are petty, and tiny.

-Ross Koppel

Rowlandson’s Presentation of the Natives

Of interest in the text is the idea that Rowlandson’s presentation of the natives was awful and racist. While this is quite true, and the words “savage” and “barbarian” are thrown around quite a bit, it seems apparent that the work, over time, attempts to cast the natives in a progressively better light while the narrator herself continues to actively actively attempt to be racist.

By page 50, the natives are making her pancakes, allowing her some of their personal meat, and many other things that one would not expect to be done towards prisoners of war. On page 57, she calls her master “friend” and a few pages later even forgets that she is in captivity, and must remind her self that she is in the presence of “barbarians.”

It seems to be that one of the subtexts of the story is a woman’s struggle to maintain her racism. In fact, by the end of the piece, she is thankful for the ordeals that she has gone through. She has learned to “stand still and see the salvation of the lord.”

-Ross Koppel

“To extend not only the boundaries of the Empire…”

One of the more interesting subtleties of the “Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s ‘The History of the Royal Society’” is the positioning of Sir Francis Bacon’s left hand. Sir Francis Bacon, seen seated beside an Angel, and between Charles II and a medley of scientific and nautical instruments, is pointing to, interestingly, neither Angel, nor instrument, nor King. Sir Francis Bacon points to a firearm, mounted on the wall, hanging conspicuously beside many instruments of science.

This raises a question. Considering all of the points of focus in the engraving, what is the artist saying about Sir Francis Bacon, and considering that this is the “Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s ‘The History of the Royal Society,’” what then is being said about the Royal Society as a whole?

First, the grouping of the firearm with the instruments of science can only point to the idea that maybe, historically, the Royal Society had other ideas on their mind, ideas other than science and reason. It is unreasonable to assume that the narrator of “The New Atlantis” was searching for a utopia, and it is unreasonable to assume that the narrator was exploring for exploration’s sake. As per usual, the sailors of “The New Atlantis” were almost certainly looking for trade and conquest.

Ah, but those were only a handful of sailors in a work of fiction! Surely the Royal Society itself was focused in science, and not in conquest.

Well, the original, 1662 Royal Society charter begins with a formal greeting from King Charles the Second. Immediately following that, the author, King Charles the Second, says “We have long and fully resolved with Ourself to extend not only the boundaries of the Empire, but also the very arts and sciences.” King Charles, with conquest on the brain, wants to prove to the world that England is best in both conquest and science. He continues, “that such studies… may shine conspicuously amongst our people, and that at length the whole world of letters may always recognize us not only as the Defender of the Faith, but also as the universal lover and patron of every kind of truth.”

The intent appears, given the above, that the Royal Society was to function to bring English knowledge to the “world of letters,” or all peoples with a written language. The key here is not that King Charles wants to bring knowledge to all people, but he wants to bring English knowledge, he wants everyone to know that England is better, and presumably, if he has to send his sailors to knock on your door and tell you, he will probably do that.

-Ross Koppel