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Searching for a Resolution; Tour of “The Dead” House

People interact with art for many different reasons, and one of those reasons is the transformation that a person’s intellectual and emotional state go through when using art. Books that have turned into movies have grown in popularity because of their ability to take the emotional feelings that have been created through a text and shape them to be recreated by the physical settings and description the text provides. This claim is similar to what Professor Fowler discusses in her work Art and Orientation. On page 596 and 597 Fowler states, “The usual motive of a person who turns to art, be it verbal, visual, or aural, is a desire for the virtual experience it offers…fiction provides this primary experience.” People read to escape, and authors understand that. Embedded in texts are cues for our mind and body to move through the text as if it were a physical location, “Art invites us by means of real and virtual sensory experience, into emotional or intellectual states and attitudes that combine into sequences” (Fowler 597). A story’s setting becomes that more important, and James Joyce’s The Dead follows this idea. The physical setting and movement in The Dead contributes greatly to the reader’s takeaway of the story, it creates tension, awkwardness, and unease in the reader which leads the reader to search for a resolution that will alleviate the tension and formulate a conclusion that will increase meaning of the story for the reader. This claim will also be supported with the physical space witness at the house which James Joyce based the setting of The Dead on.

 

Throughout The Dead the reader encounters situations which create awkwardness from physical situations that do not match the spatial or emotional ideas that are occurring. The story begins with just a situation like this, “Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet” (Joyce 151). Upon first impression of the story the reader is already encountering a sort of bustling-chaos that Lily is dealing with at the entrance of the house which creates a form of unease. It is also important to note that the story begins at the entrance of the house, following the first line a description of the hallway and pantry is noted. Fowler states on page 559, “…recall that buildings have an interface with the human bodies of their users, and that that interface is an important locus of design and analysis.” This is important to consider for Joyce’s opening of The Dead because when the text is closer inspected, it is realized that Lily really wasn’t run off her feet. The dinner party that is central to this text has been occurring for a number of years, “For years and years it had gone off in splendid style as long as anyone could remember”, so it would seem that Lily would be able to handle herself at the door (Joyce 151). Just as well, when at the physical house where The Dead is based off of it is apparent to see that the hallway, while not extravagant, is able to accommodate a large number of people. When our class shuffled in we were all able to file into the next room all while greeting Brendan Kilty and taking off our coats. This creates a discrepancy between the text and the way a body is oriented in the hall which continues to add to the awkwardness.

The time of year also is important to consider in this piece, as it is thought to have occurred on January 6th which is not even a week into the new year. Awkward situations occur most frequently when Freddy Malins arrives, “Besides they were dreadfully afraid that Freddy Malins might turn up screwed…and when he was like that it was sometimes very hard to manage him” (Joyce 152). This is important because “…his poor mother made him take the pledge on

New Year’s Eve” (Joyce 160). Freddy Malins has made a resolution to give up the drink, but in 6 short days (or possibly sooner) he has already reverted back to selective moments of sobriety. The gossip about his new year’s resolution makes it awkward for a reader who reads through his over the top compliment of Aunt Julia’s singing performance. When someone vows to make a change for the coming New Year it is always interesting to see if they really will follow through with it. When we toured the house on January 6th I reflected on my own New Year’s resolutions and realized how little of an effort Freddy Malins must have given to have not even made it a week before he gave up sobriety.

Walking up to the second floor of the house we entered a large room with a chandelier and a square piano. This was where the dancing would take place. When considering the room size our whole group was able to stand comfortably inside, but what about a group’s ability to dance within those walls? Brendan Kilty mentioned that when Yeats and Lady Gregory came to view the house he had asked them to perform the Quadrille to see if there really was room and they were able to successfully. Imagining this room contributes greatly to the part with Miss Ivors and Gabriel. The French dance, Quadrille, is a slow dance which intertwines partners. In a room of that size depending on how many other couples were dancing as well there would be enough room for Gabriel and Miss Ivors to have their conversation in a hushed manner all the while putting on a warm show and front for the other people, “When their turn to cross had come he was still perplexed and inattentive. Miss Ivors promptly took his hand in a warm grasp and said in a soft friendly tone: -Of course, I was only joking” (Joyce 163). The text and dancing create two different orientations of what is occurring in the story. Miss Ivors carries on the dance as if between two friends, which is how it can be seen, but her words negate the warm demeanor

that is thought to be shown. This moment is especially awkward for Gabriel, and when Miss Ivors leaves the party despite the protests it leaves many unanswered questions for the reader.

Lastly, the ultimate unease and awkward situation is when after Gabriel and Gretta speak of Michael Furey and Gabriel settles in the bed next to his wife. The last pages of the text builds tension between Gretta and Gabriel. Before they say their goodbyes to the dinner party Gretta stands on the staircase listening to Mr. D’Arcy sing, and Gabriel looks on and watches her, but at first does not know it is his wife, “A woman was standing near the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmon pink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife” (Joyce 182). This lack of recognition is curious, and could foreshadow the lack of connection between the Conroys that Gabriel thinks about later in the evening. After viewing the stairs though, the way they twist makes one realize it could completely be possible that Gabriel really couldn’t see her face and was only when he really looked was he able to make out that it was his wife. The text does work here to create some distance between the couple, physically on the stairs as well as emotionally with the connection of the song. When they arrive at the Gresham they talk of Michael Furey and after Gretta cries herself to sleep, Gabriel settles next to her, “He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife” (Joyce 193). In terms of orientation this is a very strange manner of position for a husband to take. The use of the word cautiously feeds into the awkward feeling of distance that has occurred between the two, and yet if he really meant all of the conflicting emotions he has about how close they really are he wouldn’t have taken such an intimate position of lying next to his wife.

All of these situations create an awkward and uneasy feeling in the reader which forces the reader to search for a solution to these feelings, just as Gabriel does in the ending of the

 

story. The main question though, would be if the story truly has a resolution and what it would be? Through the text and the orientations that are given, there is no real resolution to the story, but it is the search for a resolution that gives meaning to the reader and the story. Without this uneasiness the reader would be content with what is occurring in the story and there wouldn’t be a need to contemplate the ending further and it is the ending paragraphs that make this story one of the greatest. The reader identifies with Gabriel, who is trying to reach for a conclusion about life and it is this big picture reflection that the reader is doing as well and leads to such an impactful ending.

In conclusion, there are many areas in James Joyce’s The Dead which bring up awkward, uneasy, and tension filled moments that lead a reader to have unanswered questions. The conflict of orientation and text fuel this. The physical setting of the house on Usher’s Island contributes to this idea of conflict by negating some of the texts suggestions and agreeing with the underlying message, such as Lily not really being run off her feet because of the large space of the house’s entrance and the habitual dinner party, Freddy Malin’s shortcomings on his New Year resolution, the conflict of Miss Ivors warm dance and sharp words, and the distant feelings and intimate positions that are shared between Gabriel and Gretta. It is because of these ideas that the reader searches for an answer that is not available at the end of the story and is able to create their own meaning from the powerful last paragraphs, thus taking away a greater sense of understanding from the story than they would any other way.

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A Prayer for my Father; Why Read Yeats

A majority of what I’ve learned in life is from my Father. He has always been a role model for me throughout my academic career. I grew up going to the local public library with him, and it is from him where I get my love of English and literature. While my Father has always encouraged my love of literature, he has never understood my fascination with poetry, and although I will be writing this paper for a student of our age who is interested in poetry I can’t help but also have my Father in mind.

I believe that out of all the poets we have read this semester the one who made the biggest impression on me was William Butler Yeats. I believe that he has a lot to offer those who have spent a good amount of time studying poetry, and those who have spent no time in poetry. The best reason to read Yeats is because he memorializes and romanticizes a fondness of home through his works about Ireland, he works through pressing issues, internal and external, through dialogues in his poetry which explore both sides of an argument, and he artfully engages with political matters through his writing as well. All of these reasons are insightful to the modern day reader. My Father has always said that poetry was a luxury, to have time to contemplate the meaning of a work was something he didn’t have, but Yeats is ready for anyone at any time.

The meaning of home has been a theme throughout my life, and is a theme for many college students across the country. Home can be many things, it can be a physical house with family and loved ones, it can be a location on a map where memories were made, or home can even be a single person. For William Butler Yeats, home is Ireland and its beauty is captured and memorialized through his poetry about it. One of the best poems to exemplify Yeats’s fondness of home is the tranquil and peaceful tone that is his poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Yeats lived in London with his family and while walking through Fleet Street he is noted in his autobiography to have heard the tinkle of water from a fountain in a shop window and was wrenched with homesickness for Ireland. This is what inspired one of his most famous works. The first phrase in the poem, “I will arise and go now”, are repeated in the beginning of the first and last stanza. The word ‘arise’ begins the poem with a positive connotation which is important to note because the other words in the poem might give it a sense of being a somber and quaint poem, with phrases such as ‘small cabin’, ‘live alone’, and ‘pavements gray’. It is the use of these two tones together that create the sweet sadness of homesickness. In the first two stanzas this poem is describing Yeats’s home, he is romanticizing the hum of bees and the peace he feels when he is at home, “And I shall have some peace there” stated in line 5, but in the last stanza he is brought back to his London reality.

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement gray,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

 

While some might think it is a sad reality check, Yeats is happy that he has such a fond home that he can always carry with him in his heart. This idea is so central to college students because college can be a difficult time being away from home. Even after 3 years of college and living away from my Reston home I still can feel homesick on a gloomy, rainy day. When you feel this way though, you should read The Lake Isle of Innisfree because even when away from home the warmth of home is a feeling you can always remember, and when away from home you can always know you have a place to go to, even if it is just “in the deep heart’s core”.

With the same idea of home, while looking through Yeats’s poetry specifically about Ireland or of his home of the tower the poem To Be Carved on a Stone at Thoor Ballylee could be over looked, but I believe it is one of the most romantic memorialization of his home. It is only one stanza, and no more than 6 lines long but the title itself carries the purpose for the poem, “to be carved on a stone at Thoor Ballylee”. Yeats restored the old Norman tower (thoor) to be his home, and this poem is an explanation of specific pieces of information that represent his home.

“I, the poet William Yeats,

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George;

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.”

 

This poem holds a key concept for Yeats’s idea of home, which is stated in the last two lines. While in this specific poem he is referencing that the characters of this work be forever engrained on his home even after time passes and ‘all is ruin once again’, it also can be applied to his other works about Ireland, and other works about his feelings and thoughts that will remain of importance no matter what the world weathers in the future and after his time. This is of a similar concept to the words of a parent or professor, or the impression of home on a college student that will remain even when things seem to be in ruin, during finals for example, the characters and impressions of home and comfort will always remain.

Lastly, Yeats uses A Prayer for my Daughter to convey ideas of home in relation to a person. Yeats’s is mostly noted to be a dark poet who often doesn’t have a lot of positive outlooks but this is one of the poems that pushes back on that idea. In this poem he values the idea of his daughter having a stable home, in which a college student can read this a be reminded of the stability that home brings and the love of a parent which can also be considered home. The two points in this poem that relate to this idea the most are in the sixth stanza where Yeats wishes that his daughter is a tree, “Oh, may she live like some green laurel/ Rooted in one dear perpetual place”. The simile used to describe his daughter as a tree and the use of the word perpetual gives the idea that in a home there is a hope for stability and permanence. Just the same in the last stanza he brings up the idea of home again, “And may her bride-groom bring her to a house/ Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;” This is a valid wish for any parent and student to feel. This poem means a great deal to me because my Father means home to me, and I’m sure family members mean home for other students as well, which they can find in this Yeats poem.

Similarly, students of today are continuously faced with issues of identity, of morality, and of the future. Yeats also faced these issues and often times used his poetry to look at both sides of an issue and work through his thoughts and ideas. Intellectual students consider everyday issues that impact them and the world such as if acting on feelings is the right path to choose, what is right and wrong in the world and what ultimately makes a good person? Yeats contemplates these questions as well through different poems such as, In Memory of Major Robert Gregory, and Vacillation.

In In Memory of Major Robert Gregory Yeats contemplates death and what makes an ideal man. The loss of someone is something that many students have faced, myself personally. In January of this year, my friend Paul Kim passed away. Paul was someone who I went to school with since middle school and we both transferred to UVA in the Fall of 2015. I had never lost someone close to me and when I read the first stanzas of In Memory of Major Robert Gregory I think of him. “Now that we’re almost settled in our house/ I’ll name the friends that cannot sup with us” are the opening lines of the poem. Paul and I were almost settled into our home of UVA and Charlottesville together, but now he can no longer sup with myself or our friends. When I spoke on Paul’s behalf at the UVA student memorial in Old Cabell I heard other students memorialize their friends and classmates in their own written speeches just as Yeats does in this poem. We contemplate the people we have lost just as Yeats does through his stanzas and eventually contemplate what makes an impact of a good person just as Yeats does about Major Robert Gregory. The repetition of the lines, “Soldier, Scholar, Horseman, he,” focuses on what Yeats attributes to be memorable traits of his dear friend but those words can also be applied to mean other things for a student who has lost someone today. A soldier can be someone who was loyal and brave, a scholar is very applicable to a student who has lost someone who may have mentored them or as in my case someone I’ve gone to school and taken classes with for over 5 years, horseman might not seem relevant but it could mean someone who had an affection for animals or someone who was in touch with nature.

Also later in stanza 11 of In Memory of Major Robert Gregory, line 81 states;

“Some burn damp fagots, others may consume
The entire combustible world in one small room

As though dried straw, and if we turn about

The bare chimney is gone black out

Because the work had finished in that flare.

…What made us dream that he could comb gray hair?”

 

Here Yeats is contemplating death, and the idea that once someone’s purpose is fulfilled they are taken from the earth. Someone who was so bright that as though dried straw burned so bright and quickly that it is silly to think they would be around long enough to grow old like the rest of us. People who have lost loved ones may similarly think about why someone was taken from the living.

A similar dialogue of contemplation about life is voiced in Vacillation. It is most apparent in stanza 7 some of the distinct ideas that Yeats is discussing,

The Soul. Seek out reality, leave things that seem.

The Heart. What, be a singer born and lack a theme?

The Soul. Isaiah’s coal, what more can man desire?

The Heart. Struck dumb in the simplicity of fire!

The Soul. Look on that fire, salvation walks within.

The Heart. What theme had Homer but original sin?”

 

Yeats is considering a lot of things here in this stanza such as the importance of God and salvation, and contemplation of reality. Many students today have these exact same thoughts. Those who leave religious homes for the first time might be tempted to branch out and discover what life means without having that constant religious support, or if there really is a God and what does that mean for life if there isn’t? Should someone seek reality? What is life without sin? Yeats explores both sides of this issue through the poem but especially through the dialogue format show in this stanza.

Politics is also a matter that Yeats’s was very involved in and cared about. Politics is at the frontline of the college student’s world today. With disagreements between Conservatives and Liberals, a lack of communication and a lack of involvement America today can be thought of to be in political turmoil. As someone who struggled with his ideas of government and politics Yeats’s work can be a perfect place for students to work through the political differences occurring now. Seen previously Yeats obviously can work through two sides of an issue, which is something important that students of today could use especially in politics. The poem which depicts this idea best is Easter 1916.

The poem depicts the horrendous political event of the Easter Rising of 1916 where Irish nationalist revolted against the British government and proclaimed an Irish Republic. Yeats knew many of those who were killed personally, but through this poem he is able to see the people who would be typically depicted as monsters as real humans who he passed by on an everyday basis. “I have met them at close of day/… I have passed with a nod of the head” he described his encounters with the political radicals, humanizing them and understand them on a moral level. In the third stanza Yeats uses an extended metaphor to compare the political extremists to a stone in a river,

“Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem

Enchanted to a stone

To trouble the living stream.”

 

He uses this metaphor with hearts with one purpose alone to commend these people for so strongly believe in a cause they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of their life for it.

It is this idea that resonates today and can be used by students of today to understand the politics on the other side of the isle. If you voted for Trump or if you voted for Hilary at the end of the day that vote is a person with feelings and a heart whose beliefs might differ from yours, but you are should be able to understand them from a human level.

In conclusion I believe there are many reasons to read Yeats, but the best are because his poetry show the many sides of his life and his humanity which is something that everyone shares. A college student can learn a lot from literature, and a lot from Yeats. William Butler Yeats offers a romantic memorialization of home, the ability to work through thoughts and issues from both sides of a dialogue, and an emphasis to engage with political matters artfully. As I read Yeats I am reminded of my Father, an intelligent and strong literary role model who I look to for advice and guidance, just as someone can look to Yeats’s poetry for as well.

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The Suspicion of Courtliness

 

The stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the round table are stories that have been celebrated for hundreds of years. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is no different. What is most striking about this poem is the vivid imagery that comes from the description of the Green Knight. Whenever he is mentioned in the poem, either as himself or as Sir Bertilak, I feel the need to pay closer attention to the text. In the poem our hero Sir Gawain is put through tests by the Green Knight and it is determined that Sir Gawain has proved himself to be courtly enough for the Green Knight to approve King Arthur’s House which is so widely celebrated in the land. It is interesting that the Green Knight is allowed to make this judgement call about the House of King Arthur when his own actions create suspicion about his courtliness and should be examined closer. The discrepancies of the Green Knight’s characterization in the text causes the reader to be suspicious of courtliness in the text, this is shown through the conflicting language about his morality, the nature of his intention during his arrival in King Arthur’s House, and the language he uses when talking about himself and others.

The Green Knight can be regarded as a magical force that comes into the poem to judge the men of King Arthur’s Round Table, but even though the texts claims that he is mortal, the events that occur could lead a reader to think otherwise. In the first stanza that introduces the Green Knight the narrator says, “I should genuinely judge him to be half a giant, /or a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals” (FITT i. 140). While maybe the Green Knight is rather abnormally brawn and tall, he is still regarded as mortal and a man. This is contradicted though with the main feature of the Green Knight, “No soul had ever seen/ a knight of such kind/ entirely of emerald green.” (FITT i. 148). The Green Knight, incidentally, is totally and completely green. His skin, his hair and even his horse is green. The green tint of the knight’s skin suggests he is not a mortal being, as it is a feature that no other human possesses. The text emphasizes the hue of the Green Knight and describes greens in great detail, but to close that section the text brings us back to the idea that he is in fact human, “No waking man had witnessed such a warrior/ or weird warhorse- otherworldly, yet flesh/ and bone.” (FITT i. 196). Understandably, it is hard to believe that there is such a knight, which is why it is important for the text reference his ‘otherworldliness’ but it make the last point to say that he is of ‘flesh and bone’ and draws attention to it with a break in the stanza in the middle of the sentence.

If the Green Knight’s hue wasn’t enough to begin suspicions about his mortality, then the ability to have his head chopped off, still live and talk should be.

“Blood gutters brightly against his green gown,

yet the man doesn’t shudder or stagger or sink…

…cops hold of his head and hoists it high, …

For that scalp and skull now swung from his fist;

to the noblest at the table he turned the face

and it opened its eyelids, stared straight ahead

and spoke this speech…” (FITT i. 429-447)

 

This is the first part of the game that Sir Gawain has agreed to play with the Green Knight. After this happens the Green Knight gallops away, leaving the crowd shocked and in awe of what just happened. The specification of blood in this incident brings back the emphasis on the Green Knight’s mortality, but it is immediately contradicted because a major body part has been severed from his body and he is able to have his severed head speak to the tables before him and leave in a dramatic fashion. This is the last time we see the Green Knight as himself until the end of the poem and I think that is purposeful. To leave us with a magical and supernatural event leaves the reader in awe too, but also suggests that there is more to the Green Knight and that he is a character to watch. This turns out to be true, as he is then able to shape shift into Sir Bertilak which is essential to the plot of the poem.

Another discrepancy in the Green Knight’s characterization is the nature of the actions he takes when he arrives at King Arthur’s celebration, versus the nature of his language when being there. The Green Knight claims that he comes in peace, but there are many places where it might seem otherwise. When the Green Knight is first mentioned the text states “a fearful form appeared…” (FITT i. 136). If the Green Knight really means to come in peace, then why would the text use its first impression on the reader to show the Green Knight is actually a character to be feared? When the Green Knight speaks to King Arthur about the reason he has come he says, “Be assured by this holly stem here in my hand/ that I mean no menace…” (FITT i. 265). While it is true that this holly could be taken as a sign of truce and peace, just as well “…in the other hand held the mother of all axes, /a cruel piece of kit I kid you not:” (FITT i. 208). The Green Knight has a weapon in his hand, and even though he claims that the holly stem in his other hand cancels out any malicious intent it is very suspicious that he has such a weapon with him. The Green Knight is even described as a fiend, in FITT i, line 214, “The handle which fitted that fiend’s great fist”. The use of fiend suggests there is malicious intent that corresponds with that the axe in his hand. There is other language that follow this as well, the manner he is described to speak to Sir Gawain in FITT i, Line 377, “Then the Green Knight spoke, growled at Gawain:”. This should be noted because the first half of the line already described the action that is occurring. ‘The Greek Knight spoke’, it is that additional verb that brings attention to this strange way of describing the communication between the Green Knight and Sir Gawain.

The Green Knight’s game is also evidence of his deceitful entrance into the House of King Arthur,

“So at Christmas in this court I lay down a challenge:

if a person here present, within these premises,

is big or bold or red-blooded enough

to strike me one stroke and be struck in return,

I shall give him as a gift this gigantic cleaver

and the axe shall be his to handle how he likes.” (FITT i. 284-289).

 

The Green Knight’s game isn’t the real test of King Arthur’s court, even though he states that it is. The real test comes later when he has his wife confront Sir Gawain and test his loyalty and honesty while he is Sir Bertilak. This first part of the game is only to be able to have Sir Gawain held in a bond to come to find him later in the poem so he is able to test him as Sir Bertilak. Just the same he could have given his axe to Sir Gawain for a year’s time, and then asked that he return it and that also would have made it possible for the events with Sir Bertilak to occur. The gruesomeness of the Green Knight’s game also shows that he is a violent and malicious knight which contradicts his peaceful holly entrance.

One of the other discrepancies in the Green Knight’s characterization is the way he speaks to others, and about himself. If the Green Knight is who judges Sir Gawain to be the courtliest knight around then the Green Knight has to be a very courtly knight as well, but that is not what we get from him. When no one steps up to play the deadly game the Green Knight taunts the court,

“’So here is the House of Arthur,’ he scoffed,

‘whose virtues reverberate across vast realms.

Where’s the fortitude and fearlessness you’re so famous for?

…skittled and scuppered by a stranger- what a scandal!

You flap and you flinch and I’ve not raised a finger!’

Then he laughed so loud that their leader saw red. (FITT i. 309-316).

A courtly knight who wants no violence or harm to occur would not show up as a guest in a court on an important holiday celebration and taunt those who call said court home. He is also very boastful of himself, “If I’d ridden to your castle rigged out fir a ruck/ these lightweight men wouldn’t last a minute.” (FITT i. 281). He is claiming to be so powerful that men of one of the highest regarded courts would be mere lightweights and not able to compete with him at all. Being rude and being boastful as a guest in another man’s court is not someone who you would think to be the best judge of character. These characteristics also show later in the poem when Sir Gawain shows up to receive his blow, “Did I budge or even blink when you aimed the axe, / …or flap when my head went flying to my feet?” (FITT iv. 2274-2276). He again is boastful of himself and his own bravery, which is interesting to note because he is testing to see if Sir Gawain would do exactly what he is doing. The deceit that occurs from the Green Knight concealing his identity and playing the role of Sir Bertilak to test Sir Gawain is also a lie, which would count as a sin just as Sir Gawain lies and conceals the gift he received from the Green Knight’s wife, “Because the belt you are bound with belongs to me;/…for it was all my work! /I sent her to test you…” (FITT iv. 2358-2362). The Green Knight knows that Sir Gawain was deceitful, just as his was by concealing his identity.

In conclusion the Green Knight’s characterization throughout the poem gives reason for the reader to be doubtful and mistrustful of the authenticity of his idea of courtliness. This creates the question of how much we should trust the Green Knight, and how does this impact how we view the ‘ultimate courtly knight’ Sir Gawain. If the reader cannot trust the Green Knight, as proved by the discrepancies of his characterization, then the reader also would have a hard time believing the characterization of Sir Gawain, and ultimately King Arthur’s court because the Green Knight approves of Sir Gawain as a representation of the Knights of the Round Table.
 

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Lessons From Yeats

William Butler Yeats and Thomas Sterns Eliot are regarded as some of the best poets of the modern literature world. They wrote some of the most influential poetry that we have today, and to have the opportunity to take a glimpse at some of their works has been a great experience. I have always been interested in poetry because I like the idea that different people can attribute different meanings or relate to a poem in a specific way because of who they are and the experiences they have had in their life. I have had that experience with Yeats’s poem “A Prayer for my Daughter”. This poem has a special personal connection to me because it reminds me of my Father. I would describe my Father as a wise literary man who worries about his two daughters and the troubles of the world very often, just as Yeats does in this poem. I believe that, after the sampling of poetry by T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats that we have done in class, W. B. Yeats has more valuable life lessons and teachings in his poetry than T. S. Eliot. This makes Yeats a more relatable and enjoyable author.

When I read through “A Prayer for my Daughter” I was reminded of many life lessons and teachings my Father has shared with me throughout my 20 years of life. Eliot also shares wisdom and life lessons in his poetry, such as in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” where he shares the problems and fears that has held back his Prufrock character from achieving what he wants in life, and “Wasteland” where vignettes of relationships show modern problems that lead to the downfall of love. In “Prayer for my Daughter” Yeats shares wonderful wisdom, but also in other works such as “Easter 1916” where he comes to terms with a tragedy and respects those who stood for a cause, and “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory” where he discusses what makes a good life and a good man.

“A Prayer for my Daughter” by Yeats is very different to the usual apocalyptic themes that are apparent throughout his works. In this poem Yeats describes a night where he stays up watching his infant daughter sleep in her crib. He is troubled by the world and what is has come to in recent years and fears for his daughter’s future. The poem follows with wishes and wisdom that Yeats had for his daughter and shares with the reader.

The opening of the poem begins with the auditory imagery of a storm howling, and is immediately contrasted with the soothing visual imagery of an infant, Yeats’s daughter, sleeping. These two images are important to have us begin with because they show us the contrast of the two characters which carries the rest of the poem. It also represents the two sides of this poem, a father and a daughter, old age and youth, the innocence and the corrupted. The storm is mentioned again in the second stanza on line 9 “I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour/ And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,” this time in conjunction with the narrators troubled thoughts which leads the reader to relate the two together. This line means the most to me because it reminds me of my Father, who is constantly thinking and is troubled by the world and what it could hold for his daughters. This also adds to the value of the poem because it is relatable to a parent who just wants the best for their child. It also is relatable for a child who, like in my case, is reminded of the worry a parent goes through.

Following these first stanzas the narrator of the poem begins to describe the value of beauty. Starting on line 17 of the third stanza Yeats writes “May she be granted beauty and yet not/ Beauty to make a stranger’s eyes distraught/ Or hers before a looking-glass…”, this is where the first life lesson of the poem begins. Yeats is hoping that his daughter will have beauty—all parents want their children to be beautiful—but it is known that too much beauty can lead to trouble. It is an extremely realistic wish for his daughter to be beautiful, but not so beautiful that she becomes absorbed in herself. If his daughter was extremely beautiful then it would be too much for others to handle and they would only pay attention to her beauty. He continues this on line 34 of stanza 5 by stating “Hearts are not had as gifts but hearts are earned/ By those that are not entirely beautiful;”, here Yeats is saying that if his daughter were to be too beautiful, she would have many hearts as gifts and not value them. The use of the word ‘earned’ here is important because earn has positive connotations that mean you worked hard and are now rewarded for that hard work, which is how Yeats implies obtaining a heart should be. Only people who are not entirely beautiful are able to do such a thing.

This is the most realistic and relatable lessons that Yeats offers from this poem, which makes it the best one. Only a handful of people in the world can be compared to the beauty of Helen. In reality a majority of people are pretty average looking, which is what makes Yeats’s words so impactful. He gives a sense of pride to the everyday people like you and I who do not turn out to have the beauty of Helen. We earn the people to whom we are close; this is what it means to truly value a relationship. My father has always believed and told me that I am beautiful, but he also has always made sure that I understand that not everyone is going to find me attractive and that I need to be okay with that and appreciate myself for attributes other than my appearance. I think this has really helped me in my life because I was able to understand that not everyone is going to like me and I have to be confident in who I am.

The second major lesson from “A Prayer for My Daughter” is to value and seek stability in your life. In the sixth stanza, line 41, Yeats wishes his daughter “become a flourishing hidden tree” and later in line 47 of the same stanza he says “Oh, may she live like some green laurel/ rooted in one dear perpetual place”. Here he is comparing his daughter to a tree, hoping she will become as grand and stable as a tree. We see this in the language he uses, the very notion of describing her as a tree and relating his daughter to nature gives her a very feminine description. Trees and nature are often feminized in literature because they relate to mother nature and being fertile, so it makes sense that Yeats would wish his daughter to be a tree. The idea of being a ‘hidden tree’ shows that he wishes her to be protected and humble.

I can also relate to the wish of a father longing to have his daughter ‘rooted’ in one place. Growing up I moved around quite a bit, and my father knew how difficult it was to adjust to a new place every few years. For high school he promised I would stay at one school, and he kept that promise.  Even when my whole family moved to Texas my senior year of high school he allowed me to stay behind in Virginia and live with my best friend and her family to complete school ‘rooted in one dear perpetual place’.

Stability can also be found through love and a relationship. In the last stanza of the poem, line 73, Yeats hopes that his daughter’s future husband can bring this stability, “And may her bride-groom bring her to a house/ where all’s accustomed, ceremonious”. Just as every parent wants their child to be beautiful, every parent wants their child to find love and to find someone who will accept and cherish them the way that they do themselves. The mention of a house suggests a family, and by describing it with the words accustomed and ceremonious it suggests the idea of tradition and traditional family gender roles. I believe here Yeats and my father share these ideas in common, as they both hope that their daughter’s husband will be able to provide for her and that she will be able to care for him and the house and have children without any complications. My father very much values traditional roles in the home and has emphasized them in our own home. I do believe there is a stability that comes from having a mother at home and a father at work, and this lifestyle is one that I wish to have for my own children because it was such an important part of my childhood.

Lastly I believe that Yeats hopes his daughter will stay innocent and always look for the best in people, to not be bothered by the bad in the world because she will always be enough. Yeats uses his beloved Maud Gonne as an example of what he does not want his daughter to be like in stanza eight, line 59, “Have I not seen the loveliest woman born/ Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn, / Because of her opinionated mind/ Barter that horn and every good/… For an old bellows full of angry wind?”. The idea of the storm and rough weather relating to Yeats’s troubled mind is supported here again with his comparison of Maud Gonne’s troubled mind. While Yeats openly longed for and loved Maud, he recognizes that she is troubled by the politics of being an Ireland activist and troubling herself with the world’s problems. There is an awareness that he and Maud share that leads them to be troubled individuals and that is the opposite of what he wants for his daughter.

While at first this could seem like he hopes his daughter wills stay out of politics and critical thinking I believe it to mean that he hopes his daughter can always see the good in the world despite being aware of these troubles. This is reiterated in the ninth stanza where the entirety of the stanza is used to describe the idea that Yeats hopes his daughter stays true to herself and understands that she is all she needs in the world to be happy. Beginning on line 67, “And learns at last that it [the soul] is self-delighting, / self-appeasing, self-affrighting” we understand he hopes his daughter knows that she is all she needs to be content. The three words followed by ‘self’, delighting, appeasing and affrighting, are all very different and show that in every situation that life brings she would be able to take care of herself. Self-delighting is hoping that she would be able to find happiness within herself and her soul. Self-appeasing uses the idea that when things are rough she would be able to calm and sooth herself, being able to rely on herself when times get tough. Self-affrighting means that she is able to surprise herself, which is important especially in times when she is doubting herself and what she can achieve.

I believe these are all very important life lessons that any parent would want for their child, and that Yeats puts them so beautifully together by contrasting the beauty, youth and innocence of his baby girl with the storm of his own mind and age. The honesty that comes from Yeats is very true and tender, and I believe that most people have either a parent or a parent figure that has shared these truths of life with them. I was reluctant to choose Yeats as my poet because I am not fond of his cynicism and negativity but the truth and melancholy that comes from this poem reminds me so much of my father that I have come to love it. I believe this to be Yeats’s best poem because of its relatability, and it has been wonderful to share this poem and essay with my father from whom I have acquired a love of literature, just as I’m sure Yeats’s daughter did as well.

 

Paper

Falsely Feminist Fantomina

Fantomina; or Love in a Maze is the story of Fantomina, a young lady of distinguished birth, who seems to outsmart her lover Beauplaisir with numerous disguises in an effort to continue their relationship. At first glance this text seems to be telling the story of a strong female character who is taking control of her sexuality, but the female character is actually bound to act in accordance with the social expectations of the early 1700s.  Many people believe that because Fantomina was written by a female author that revolutionary ideas of equality and critique of the patriarchy are present in the text. However, it is not a feminist text because the actions of Eliza Haywood’s character Fantomina uphold the gender politics of the time it was written.

The first indicator that Fantomina is not acting out her own free idea of sexuality and independence and is instead being influenced by the pressures of her society begins in the theatre when she sees the men paying attention to the prostitute. Never having encountered something like this, she watches with intrigue, and happens to take note of how many men were around one specific woman, “she perceived several gentlemen extremely pleased themselves with entertaining a woman who sat in a corner of the pit and, by her air and manner of receiving them, might easily be known to be one of those who come there for no other purpose, than to create acquaintance with as many as seemed desirous of it” (page 2740). It is important to note that the first thing Fantomina notices about this situation is where the attention of the men is focused. She sees that these men are pleased with themselves and having a good time because of this woman. She is then intrigued about the manner and air of the woman. What makes her so captivating to the men? Fantomina is motivated to create her first disguise as Fantomina because she also wants to have male attention and approval, which is normal for traditional gender politics of the time.

This claim is also supported because at this point in the novel Fantomina has had no prior sexual encounters, so there would be no possibility for her to be motivated by her own sexual liberty. She is purely curious as to what it would be like to be the object of the men’s attention, and disguises herself to fit into a character that men like, “…therefore thought it not in the least a fault to put in practice a little whim which came immediately into her head, to dress herself as near as she could in the fashion of those women who make sale of their favors, and set herself in the way of being accosted as such as one, having at that time no other aim than the gratification of an innocent curiosity” (page 2740). Not only does she dress like the woman in the theatre, she even acts like the woman in the theatre so she is approached as such. The word innocent brings the most importance to this quote because it is continuing the idea of chastity and nonsexual feelings which would negate the idea that she uses these disguises for her own satisfaction and desires.

Fantomina also actively avoided sexual advances from Beauplaisir while she was in her first disguise. She was entertained by his conversation, not his physicality. “They passed their time all the play with an equal satisfaction; but when it was over, she found herself in a difficulty which before never entered into her head, but which she knew not well how to get over” (page 2741). Fantomina describes the situation as a difficulty she must get over, which is important because it shows the struggle she feels by not wanting to disappoint Beauplaisir because she started this to be able to gain approval and be the person men desired. Fantomina again feels the struggle of not wanting to disappoint Beauplaisir later, “Three or four times did she open her mouth to confess her real quality, but the influence of ill stars prevented it,” (page 2741). Even when Fantomina wanted to tell Beauplaisir who she really was, she doesn’t because of her ‘ill stars’ which essentially means because of her bad luck or ill determined fate. This puts the emphasis on the idea that Fantomina has no control over the situation, because in societal terms she also has no control over this situation.

Fantomina’s goal never was to engage in sexual activity with Beauplaisir. She just observed how to engage and obtain approval and attention from him and acted in that way because as a lady from the country she would have no other way of knowing that there was a potential issue with her plan, stated on page 2740, “She was young, a stranger to the world, and consequently to the dangers of it;”.  She displays this innocence again at their second meeting by serving him dinner, “…a servant belonging to the house to provide a very handsome supper and wine, and everything was served to the table in a manner which showed the director neither wanted money, nor was ignorant how it should be laid out” (page 2742). She wants Beauplaisir to come to the conclusion that she is not a prostitute on his own, so that she continues acting in an agreeable manner and not to upset him.

If Fantomina; or Love in a Maze was really a feminist text where Fantomina felt free to express her sexuality and all of her fantasies, why did she only stay with Beauplaisir as a new character so he believed her to be a new person? After their first sexual encounter Fantomina speaks to Beauplaisir and says, “No, my dear Beauplaisir, (added she) your love alone can compensate for the shame you have involved me in; be you sincere and constant, and I hereafter shall, perhaps, be satisfied with my fate, and forgive myself the folly that betrayed me to you” (page 2743). Fantomina feels compelled to stay with Beauplaisir because she recognizes the wrong that has occurred between them, and the only way to make the situation even remotely better is by being faithful to one man. This shows that she is still adhering to the gender politics of her society because she recognizes that losing her honor is not a situation she should be proud of and tries to make it better by asking for Beauplaisir’s love and fidelity. On page 2745 Fantomina says, “If he is really (said she, to herself) the faithful, the constant lover he has sworn to be, how charming will be our amour?” She is thinking about their pairing in terms of a relationship, and is in favor of continuing the relationship based on the love they have versus the sexual encounter they shared.

When Fantomina feels that the relationship between her and Beauplaisir is in jeopardy, thus her entire honor and satisfaction with her circumstance is in jeopardy, she changes her identity to keep Beauplaisir engaged in their relationship. Even if he doesn’t know it is her, the principle of faithfulness is still present and their sin isn’t as bad as it could be. In their second encounter Fantomina is now Celia, and she is described by “…her half-yielding, half-reluctant body…” (page 2747). This detail is important to the situation because while Celia has had Beauplaisir before and knows this is what she needs to do to keep her honor somewhat intact, she also knows that she is still committing a sin by societal standards and that is why she is reluctant to his advances. Similarly, when she is the Widow Bloomer she is still forced to keep up appearances as to stay in line with the gender politics as seen on page 2749 to be able to attract his attention and thus continue their relationship, “she counterfeited a fainting, and fell motionless upon his breast.” If she had been too forward, she would have been going against the gender politics.

Later she realizes that Beauplaisir has been cheating on her when she receives the two letters addressed to Fantomina and Widow Bloomer, “Traitor! (cried she) as soon as she had read them, ‘tis thus our silly, fond, believing sex are served when they put faith in a man” (page 2751). She is upset by the betrayal since he promised he would stay faithful to her, but because she created characters which weren’t of status to have it necessary for him to be faithful to, he wasn’t. As a prostitute, a maid, a widow, and a mysterious woman, he would have little obligation to these women to stay faithful. She is setting him up to be unfaithful, which ultimately gives him the power because he is a male of a higher class than those of her characters and because he has no idea who the true identity of Fantomina is, he is under no obligations to her.

Fantomina also goes to great lengths to keep up appearances with the outside world, but if she felt she was equal to man and free to sexually express herself, she wouldn’t feel the need to cover up her actions as well as she did, “She had discernment to foresee and avoid all those ills which might attend the loss of her reputation, but was wholly blind to those of the ruin of her virtue; and having managed her affairs so as to secure the one, grew perfectly easy with the remembrance she has forfeited the other” (page 2744). Just as she felt that to make the best of her lost honor she needed to stay with Beauplaisir, she felt the need to keep up appearances to maintain her reputation, even though no one truly knows who she is, because she is dictated by her societal gender politics. She also maintains her reputation by paying employees to keep her secret, for example on page 2774, “…was a woman who might be influenced by gifts, made her a present of a couple of broad pieces…” and again later on page 2752, “…and above all the money, which was a sum which, ‘tis probable, they had not seen of a long time, made them immediately assent to all she desired.”

Lastly Fantomina is to blame at the end when her mother finds out about her pregnancy, and not Beauplaisir, which is the ultimate upholding of the gender politics of the time. Even though both Fantomina and Beauplaisir partook in relations before marriage and are having a child out of wedlock it is Fantomina who carries the fault. At the end of the novel she states, “Oh, I am undone! – I cannot live, and bear this shame” (page 2758).  She no longer can keep up her relationship with Beauplaisir because her reputation is ruined by her mother. She tells the truth to both her mother and Beauplaisir and is eventually sent away to a monastery in France. The ending of the novel gives great insight to the non-feminist tone that is shown throughout the story. After Fantomina tells the truth to her mother, she doesn’t believe that Beauplaisir is at fault, “I must confess it was with a design to oblige you to repair the supposed injury you had done this unfortunate girl, by marrying her, but now I know not what to say. – The blame is wholly hers…” (page 2758). Even her mother blames her actions for this end. The story ends with Fantomina being sent away to a monastery and not with her marrying Beauplaisir, it can be seen that this is the ultimate punishment for her and her curiosity.

What started as an innocent curiosity to explore the seeming power of a woman who is a prostitute, turns into a frantic plan to maintain her honor and reputation. Fantomina’s characters and Beauplaisir’s treatment of them were clearly guided by the societal norms of the time and leads to her downfall. Perhaps if she had played a woman of higher class and reputation, it would be quite possible that Beauplaisir would have stayed faithful to her. It is this that makes Fantomina; or Love in a Maze a non-feminist text and Eliza Haywood was merely writing within the gender politics of the early 1700’s.