Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Humor that Basheer employs in "Birthday"

The use of humor that Basheer employs in "Birthday" is to present a reality diametrically opposed to the conventional understanding surrounding one's special day.  The opening to the story where the protagonist rises early fulfills the perception about one celebrating their birthday.  The protagonist rises early and gets ready.  The natural inclination is that he rises early in commemoration of his birth. Here begins what seems to be a traditional idea of one's birthday and how it is a perfect day.  
Examining a reality contrary to this is where the humor lies in the story. It is humorous because in seeing all that the protagonist endures on his special day, one recognizes that the traditional notion of a birthday might be a bit faulty. The humor lies in the misguided nature of traditional ideas.  The protagonist's experience does not make his birthday any different than any other day.  The protagonist struggles for food and basic money on this day as any other day. The humor lies in having to reevaluate how birthdays are perceived.  For those who are wealthy, birthdays can be a special day, filled with presents and food galore and a day in which people can "guard against any misdeed."  The protagonist speaks to this condition of being on his birthday:  "I must not borrow from anyone today.  Nothing must go wrong on this day."  
There is a particular sadness in the protagonist's struggle to simply live on this special day.  The humor that exists is the reevaluation in how we see birthdays. For some, a birthday is no different than any other day.  The struggles that life presented the day before are the same that life will present on one's birthday.  These are the same struggles that will be present the day after.  Humor exists in this realization. The ending of the story where the protagonist has eaten and is full is his gift to himself on this "special" day.  It is a struggle that will continue tomorrow and for the days afterwards.  In recognizing that a birthday might not be special after all is where there is humor lies.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Hamlet's Soliloquy: O, that this too too solid flesh would melt [Partial/Incomplete]


Hamlet's passionate first soliloquy provides a striking contrast to the controlled and artificial dialogue that he must exchange with Claudius and his court. The primary function of the soliloquy is to reveal to the audience Hamlet's profound melancholia and the reasons for his despair. In a disjointed outpouring of disgust, anger, sorrow, and grief, Hamlet explains that, without exception, everything in his world is either futile or contemptible. His speech is saturated with suggestions of rot and corruption, as seen in the basic usage of words like "rank" (138) and "gross" (138), and in the metaphor associating the world with "an unweeded garden" (137). The nature of his grief is soon exposed, as we learn that his mother, Gertrude, has married her own brother-in-law only two months after the death of Hamlet's father. Hamlet is tormented by images of Gertrude's tender affections toward his father, believing that her display of love was a pretense to satisfy her own lust and greed. Hamlet even negates Gertrude's initial grief over the loss of her husband. She cried "unrighteous tears" (156) because the sorrow she expressed was insincere, belied by her reprehensible conduct.

Notice Shakespeare's use of juxtaposition and contrast to enhance Hamlet's feelings of contempt, disgust, and inadequacy. "The counterpointing between things divine and things earthly or profane is apparent from the opening sentence of the soliloquy, in which Hamlet expresses his anguished sense of being captive to his flesh. His desire for dissolution into dew, an impermanent substance, is expressive of his desire to escape from the corporality into a process suggestive of spiritual release. Immediately juxtaposed to this notion, and standing in contrast to "flesh", is his reference to the "Everlasting", the spiritual term for the duality. Paradoxically, in his aversion from the flesh, his body must seem to him to possess a state of permanence, closer to something everlasting than to the ephemeral nature of the dew he yearns to become" (Newell 35). 

Another striking juxtaposition in the soliloquy is Hamlet's use of Hyperion and a satyr to denote his father and his uncle, respectively. Hyperion, the Titan god of light, represents honor, virtue, and regality -- all traits belonging to Hamlet's father, the true King of Denmark. Satyrs, the half-human and half-beast companions of the wine-god Dionysus, represent lasciviousness and overindulgence, much like Hamlet's usurping uncle Claudius. It is no wonder, then, that Hamlet develops a disgust for, not only Claudius the man, but all of the behaviours and excesses associated with Claudius. In other passages from the play we see that Hamlet has begun to find revelry of any kind unacceptable, and, in particular, he loathes drinking and sensual dancing. 

A final important contrast in the soliloquy is seen in Hamlet's self-depreciating comment "but no more like my father/Than I to Hercules" (154-55). Although Hamlet's comparison of himself to the courageous Greek hero could be devoid of any deeper significance, it is more likely that the remark indicates Hamlet's developing lack of self worth -- a theme that will become the focus of his next soliloquy. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Thought Fox -Ted Hughes

THE ‘THOUGHT-FOX’ HAS often been acknowledged as one of the most completely realised and artistically satisfying of the poems in Ted Hughes’s first collection, The Hawk in the Rain. At the same time it is one of the most frequently anthologised of all Hughes’s poems. In this essay I have set out to use what might be regarded as a very ordinary analysis of this familiar poem in order to focus attention on an aspect of Hughes’s poetry which is sometimes neglected. My particular interest is in the underlying puritanism of Hughes’s poetic vision and in the conflict between violence and tenderness which seems to be directly engendered by this puritanism. 

‘The thought-fox’ is a poem about writing a poem. Its external action takes place in a room late at night where the poet is sitting alone at his desk. Outside the night is starless, silent, and totally black. But the poet senses a presence which disturbs him:

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness.

The disturbance is not in the external darkness of the night, for the night is itself a metaphor for the deeper and more intimate darkness of the poet’s imagination in whose depths an idea is mysteriously stirring. At first the idea has no clear outlines; it is not seen but felt – frail and intensely vulnerable. The poet’s task is to coax it out of formlessness and into fuller consciousness by the sensitivity of his language. The remote stirrings of the poem are compared to the stirrings of an animal – a fox, whose body is invisible, but which feels its way forward nervously through the dark undergrowth:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow, 
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;

he half-hidden image which is contained within these lines is of soft snow brushing against the trees as it falls in dark flakes to the ground. The idea of the delicate dark snow evokes the physical reality of the fox’s nose which is itself cold, dark and damp, twitching moistly and gently against twig and leaf. In this way the first feature of the fox is mysteriously defined and its wet black nose is nervously alive in the darkness, feeling its way towards us. But by inverting the natural order of the simile, and withholding the subject of the sentence, the poet succeeds in blurring its distinctness so that the fox emerges only slowly out of the formlessness of the snow. Gradually the fox’s eyes appear out of the same formlessness, leading the shadowy movement of its body as it comes closer:  
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow. ..
In the first two lines of this passage the rhythm of the verse is broken by the punctuation and the line-endings, while at the same time what seemed the predictable course of the rhyme-scheme is deliberately departed from. Both rhythmically and phonetically the verse thus mimes the nervous, unpredictable movement of the fox as it delicately steps forward, then stops suddenly to check the terrain before it runs on only to stop again. The tracks which the fox leaves in the snow are themselves duplicated by the sounds and rhythm of the line ‘Sets neat prints into the snow’. The first three short words of this line are internal half-rhymes, as neat, as identical and as sharply outlined as the fox’s paw-marks, and these words press down gently but distinctly into the soft open vowel of ‘snow’. The fox’s body remains indistinct, a silhouette against the snow. But the phrase ‘lame shadow’ itself evokes a more precise image of the fox, as it freezes alertly in its tracks, holding one front-paw in mid-air, and then moves off again like a limping animal. At the end of the stanza the words ‘bold to come’ are left suspended – as though the fox is pausing at the outer edge of some trees. The gap between the stanzas is itself the clearing which the fox, after hesitating warily, suddenly shoots across: ‘Of a body that is bold to come / Across clearings. ..’
At this point in the poem the hesitant rhythm of that single sentence which is prolonged over five stanzas breaks into a final and deliberate run. The fox has scented safety. After its dash across the clearing of the stanza-break, it has come suddenly closer, bearing down upon the poet and upon the reader:
                                       an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business. ..

It is so close now that its two eyes have merged into a single green glare which grows wider and wider as the fox comes nearer, its eyes heading directly towards ours: ‘Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox / It enters the dark hole of the head’. If we follow the ‘visual logic’ of the poem we are compelled to imagine the fox actually jumping through the eyes of the poet – with whom the reader of the poem is inevitably drawn into identification. The fox enters the lair of the head as it would enter its own lair, bringing with it the hot, sensual, animal reek of its body and all the excitement and power of the achieved vision.
The fox is no longer a formless stirring somewhere in the dark depths of the bodily imagination; it has been coaxed out of the darkness and into full consciousness. It is no longer nervous and vulnerable, but at home in the lair of the head, safe from extinction, perfectly created, its being caught for ever on the page. And all this has been done purely by the imagination. For in reality there is no fox at all, and outside, in the external darkness, nothing has changed: ‘The window is starless still; the clock ticks, / The page is printed.’ The fox is the poem, and the poem is the fox. ‘And I suppose,’ Ted Hughes has written, ‘that long after I am gone, as long as a copy of the poem exists, every time anyone reads it the fox will get up somewhere out of the darkness and come walking towards them.’[1]

One Art -Elizabeth Bishop

The poem begins rather boldly with the curious claim that "the art of losing isn’t hard to master" (1.1). The speaker suggests that some things are basically made to be lost, and that losing them therefore isn’t a big deal. She suggests that we get used to loss by practicing with little things, like house keys or a little bit of wasted time here and there; the idea is that if you’re comfortable with the insignificant losses, you’ll be ready to cope when the big ones come along. 

The losses mentioned in the poem grow more and more significant. First it’s the things we try to remember, like names and places, then more specific items, such as a mother’s watch or homes one has loved in the past. As these things begin to pile up, we wonder how much the speaker has actually mastered this so-called "art of losing." Is she really as glib (that is to say, smart-alecky) as she sounds, or does she still have deep feelings about all of these things? We’re not so sure. 

However, the last stanza reveals a whole lot to us. We discover that the loss that really bothers her is that of a beloved person (friend, family, or lover, we don’t know). She attempts rather feebly to claim that even this loss isn’t a "disaster," though it appears to be one; at this point, though, we see that she really is still sad about the loss, and hasn’t truly gotten over it.

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster
  • This stanza provides the clear opening statement of the poem: it boldly declares that loss isn’t a big deal, and that we should get used to it.

    Lines 4-6

    Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
    of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
    The art of losing isn't hard to master
    • The poem continues in a rather pedantic tone, instructing readers to practice losing things by losing different insignificant items every day.
    • The speaker tells us to "accept the fluster" (2.4) that such losses bring, presumably so we eventually stop getting flustered by them at all.
    • We don’t know about you, but most of us are very, very familiar with this "fluster" – you know, the small-scale apocalypse of leaving your keys somewhere, then having to turn the whole house upside down (only to discover, inevitably, that you left them on the *&$^&^%$ subway or somewhere else).
    • We learn that more abstract things, like time ("the hour badly spent" [2.5]) can also be counted as a loss – for example, when an hour that really probably should have been devoted to that paper due two days ago is instead spent eating Pringles and watching Heroes. Um, not that we’ve ever done that.

Lines 7-9

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster
  • The losses mentioned grow somewhat more significant, though they are still vague.
  • The speaker brings up the kinds of things we all attempt to remember but eventually forget – you know the things you maybe mean to write down but never do, like people’s names, or places you’ve been, or places you’d like to go.
  • These losses still aren’t too important.

Lines 10-12

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master
  • This is where it gets personal. The speaker brings in some things that she’s lost that are obviously of some emotional significance to her: her "mother’s watch" (4.10) is probably more than just a watch (we wonder if the mother is dead, or otherwise distant from the poet), while the house that she loved was surely full of many personal associations and memories.
  • Though the speaker reassures us again at the end of the stanza that "the art of losing isn’t hard to master" (4.12), we’re not sure how much we believe her this time.

Lines 13-15

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster
  • Interesting…very interesting. The losses described here are a little more esoteric (mysterious and difficult to understand) – after all, how can you own a realm, much less lose it?
  • There’s something oddly old-timey about this phrase; the word "realm" is just a fancy, antiquated way of saying country or land. It brings to mind images of an earlier time, as though she was the queen of this mysterious place, but now has lost her power.
  • Now, what about the river? Two cities? A continent? What does this mean? We begin to wonder what exactly the speaker is talking about here.
  • What makes the river so special to her? Did she live in the two cities and leave them behind? How could she lose a whole continent? Maybe this place represents a certain phase of her life that’s now in the distant past.
  • Perhaps what she means is that these places have lost their significance to her, but if so, why?
  • We aren’t given the answers, but we are free to speculate. Maybe she had friends or family there who are gone now, or maybe these places were the sites of past homes that she doesn’t live in anymore…we can’t be certain.
  • We do get the feeling that, by cramming all of these significant and mysterious concepts into one stanza, Bishopwants us to wonder

Lines 16-19

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (
Write it!) like disaster.
  • This is the kicker. Here, we discover that the loss the speaker has been mulling over this whole time is that of a beloved person.
  • We’re not sure exactly who this person is, or what his or her relationship to the poet is, but it’s clear to see that this is one loss that the poet hasn’t mastered.
  • She allows herself to remember some of the things she loved about the addressee – a voice, a gesture – and admits, finally, that the art of losing actually is hard, but not too hard, to master, and that losses do sometimes look like disaster.
  • Her mini-breakdown in the last line (the repetition of like, and the interjection "Write it!" [6.19]) demonstrate the true difficulty of coming to terms with loss. For the first time in the poem, we see her fa├žade of confidence and good humor disintegrate; the fact that she has to force herself to even write the word "disaster" this last time reveals the poet to be deeply human and vulnerable, just like the rest of us


Symbol Analysis
Art is a double-edged sword here. The poet focuses on "the art of losing," which she depicts as something wherein practice makes perfect. However, this isn’t necessarily an art we can ever truly master. The poem’s ironic command that we "lose something every day" (2.4) to practice getting over the sensation of loss implies that if we lose enough small things, we’ll be ready when we lose bigger or more important ones. No matter how practiced we become at the art of losing, though, we can never really be prepared for losses, which will always seem like "a disaster."
The other art involved in this poem is that of poetry. The entire poem functions as a kind of coping mechanism for the poet, who forces herself to confront her losses by writing them down. There is some power in this act of writing, as shown in her last line, in which the poet forces herself to admit that the loss of the beloved "may look (Write it!) like disaster" (6.19). 
  • Line 1 (repeated in lines 6, 12): This refrain serves as the backbone of the poem. Its meaning gradually shifts as the poem goes on; rather than being totally straightforward, it grows more and more ironic as we see that "the art of losing" is indeed quite hard to master.
  • Line 18: In this final appearance of the refrain we see it somewhat modified: the poet admits that "the art of losing’snot too hard to master," a significant change from the more confident tone of the original.
  • Line 19: The poet’s internal command ("Write it!") alerts us to a couple of things: first of all, this is a very self-aware nod to the fact that the poet is writing a poem; secondly, it shows us that she has difficulty admitting the pain of her loss, even to herself.

Homes, Places

Symbol Analysis
The poet’s brief discussion of homes and places that she’s loved provides a smooth segue into the final stanza, in which she reveals that the poem is actually about the loss of a loved one. The idea of possession and lose-able things is greatly expanded by her inclusion of "three loved houses" (4.11), and in the following stanza, "two cities" (5.13) and "some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent" (5.14). All of a sudden, we’re not just talking about misplaced material goods. Now we’re thinking more abstractly about the things of emotional value that we lose.
  • Lines 10-11: The ante is upped by the introduction of a new idea: the loss of a home. The poet mentions that she lost "[her] last, or/ next-to-last, of three loved houses" (4.10-11).
  • Lines 13-14: The poet takes this abstraction one step further, mentioning not only specific homes, but also beloved cities and a continent that she’s lost. This makes us wonder exactly how she "owned" (5.14) these places; these mentions of place are perhaps symbolic of the memories she had of them, or of the relationships she once had there.

Material Objects

Symbol Analysis
"One Art" approaches loss in a rather sidelong manner; it doesn’t dive straight in and attack the big issues, like the loss of a home or a loved one, but instead begins with the little things that we lose here and there. In so doing, Bishop aligns these unimportant possessions with the more significant things we "own." As the poem goes on, the objects mentioned become more and more meaningful, as does their loss. We see by the end that the loss of simple objects, like a key or a watch, becomes an extended metaphor for the loss of other things the poet loves, such as her past homes or lovers. 
  • Lines 2-3: The poet personifies the lost objects, stating that they "seem filled with the intent/ to be lost" (1.2-3); that is to say, they want to get lost.
  • Lines 4-5: "Lost door keys" (2.4) are mentioned alongside misspent hours, and we see that objects and more abstract things, like time, are viewed equivalently here.
  • Line 10: The poet mentions casually that she lost her mother’s watch – but there’s more going on here than meets the eye. She’s already getting into the territory of emotionally significant objects, and we can be sure that the watch is a symbol for her relationship with her mother.