Thursday, October 27, 2005

October's Bright Blue Weather


    O SUNS and skies and clouds of June,
    And flowers of June together,
    Ye cannot rival for one hour
    October's bright blue weather;

    When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
    Belated, thriftless vagrant,
    And goldenrod is dying fast,
    And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

    When gentians roll their fingers tight
    To save them for the morning,
    And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
    Without a sound of warning;

    When on the ground red apples lie
    In piles like jewels shining,
    And redder still on old stone walls
    Are leaves of woodbine twining;

    When all the lovely wayside things
    Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
    And in the fields still green and fair,
    Late aftermaths are growing;

    When springs run low, and on the brooks,
    In idle golden freighting,
    Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
    Of woods, for winter waiting;

    When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
    By twos and twos together,
    And count like misers, hour by hour,
    October's bright blue weather.

    O sun and skies and flowers of June,
    Count all your boasts together,
    Love loveth best of all the year
    October's bright blue weather.
    Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)


Helen Hunt Jackson wrote some fine lyric poetry, of which October's Bright Blue Weather is a good example. Ms. Jackson was a Massachusetts woman, so she had a slightly different point of view than we here in the southwest, where a clear October days see temperatures of 95 degrees F. This poem is about the merits of autumn, I agree with her, though: fall is the season for love.

The title is a wonderful, long, collection of sounds where "b"s all bump together, and bumble along unavoidably to the final word--"weather"-- a certain understanding of autumn sets in the moment one finishes the first stanza. Spring is no contender when it comes to the climate of fall where the "Belated, thriftless vagrant" lifts the poem to an eccentric, lyrical plane with its literal rhyme and goldenrod charm, as old favorites drop quietly.

Blue reverberated in gentians, azure flowered fall herbs, ornamental in shape; rare and beautiful wildflowers. "When red apples lie on the ground" becomes a dazzling poetic inversion as the poet invites the reader along to see: "When on the ground red apples lie' like masses of gems bordered by well-worn crimson ivied walls. This old orchard amongst "lovely wayside things" with flights of gossamer offspring whilst "late aftermaths are growing." in "idle golden freighting". Friends gather in familiar places to pass pleasant times during "October's bright blue weather."

Born on October 15, 1830, American poet Helen Hunt Jackson was a novelist, essayist, and Native American rights advocate and a schoolmate and lifelong friend of Emily Dickinson. After her first husband passed away in 1863 and her youngest died two years later she turned to writing. Preparing 400 articles for New York Independent she published a first volume of poetry Verses in 1870. Five years later Jackson relocated from the east coast to Colorado after her second marriage and began writing novels and continued her poetry. It her contact with the Native Americans in Colorado that prepared her as an unwavering advocate for Native American rights. She indicted the US federal government's mistreatment of Native American in 1881 with the publication of her 476-page novel entitled A Century of Dishonor and followed up the publication of her book by sending copies of her disturbing studies to every member of the US Congress. Her book had a far-reaching effect on American politics, and for many years Ms. Jackson spread petitions and lobbied in support of American Indian causes. Traveling across country she challenged Theodore Roosevelt to a discussion of the condition of the Indians in America. After the hue and cry caused by A Century of Dishonor, Ms. Jackson was appointed a special commissioner to investigate conditions for the Indians in California.

Helen Hunt Jackson was an extremely prolific author and a great deal of her work has never been identified since much of it was published anonymously. Her best-known work of fiction is Ramona published three years after A Century of Dishonor in 1884. On the same subject, Ramona portrayed Jackson's experiences in California to draw further attention to Indian Rights issues. Her opinions exerted a great influence in the late 19th century and today; her work is considered a part of that era's Utopian movement. Jackson's work is reprinted and excerpted in anthologies for the classroom; generally recognized to have been a major authority on public thinking about the treatment of Indians; her contributions are expected to establish new history and environmental instruction standards in educational courses.

Many educators require upper grade level students to memorize this piece of poetry as a part of a prescribed curriculum. The poem's meaning is so strikingly descriptive several dictionaries use the phrase "October's bright blue weather " as a phrase that exemplifies the word bluish, and it has even been made into a choral .

Sources:

Helen Hunt Jackson
Accessed
Nov 04 2002

Jackson, Helen. Poems. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1893.

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner
Accessed Nov 04 2002

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young



So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchéd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

- Wilfred Owen, 1918.




Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"

God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"

Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"

Highway 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan




The Great War served as a watershed in modern history. Beginning in 1914 the war lasted until 1918 and it was the first time chemical weapons were used, the first mass bombardment of civilians from the sky was carried out, and the first genocides of the century occurred. No preceding conflict had mustered so many soldiers and the sociopolitical consequences of the outcome of the war heralded the "literary war" serving as a crucible for "modernity." It produced an astonishing pinnacle of great poetry. Surrounded by the likes of Thomas Hardy, Rupert Brooke, Harold Monro and Siegfried Sassoon, stood the humble Wilfred Owen(1893-1918). Like so many of his fellow soldier-poets Owen felt a profound revulsion in the face of war, but had to resolve this with a sense of duty to fight. He shared with his generation the feelings of resentment of the apathy from the "men in power" to the agony bourn in the trenches, and the apparent ignorance of the "civilians." He also repeated the widespread opinion on the front that young men were being inanely butchered by the older generation of politicians and generals and they were worthy of far more scorn than any German soldier.

His total war experience lasted four months with five weeks on the line. After enlisting in the Artists' Rifles on 21st October 1915 he spent a little over a year training in England. By 1917 he was drafted to France during the worst winter of the entire war. Shell shocked by the horrors he experienced he was sent to the Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh. In August of the following year fellow war poet and friend Siegfried Sassoon had been severely injured. He too was sent back to the war hospital in England where they met and collaborated on several poems.

One of Owen's most effective methods was to end a poem in an unexpected way by creating a feeling of disorientation. The last and most powerful line pulls no punches when it comes to focusing the truth on what is happening to Owen and his brothers in arms. Some versions have notes explaining that when Sassoon came to edit his friend's work he removed the final line.* Even though only four of his poems were published in his lifetime several collected editions were issued in 1920, 1931, 1964, and 1983. Two years after his death Siegfied Sassoon noted in the 1920 volume Poems by Wilfred Owens, "This Preface was found, in an unfinished condition, among Wilfred Owens' papers:"

    This book is not about heroes. English Poetry is not yet fit to speak
    of them. Nor is it about deeds or lands, nor anything about glory, honour,
    dominion or power,
    except War.
    Above all, this book is not concerned with Poetry.
    The subject of it is War, and the pity of War.
    The Poetry is in the pity.
    Yet these elegies are not to this generation,
    This is in no sense consolatory.

    They may be to the next.
    All the poet can do to-day is to warn.
    That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
    If I thought the letter of this book would last,
    I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives Prussia, --
    my ambition and those names will be content; for they will have
    achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.
He was just 25 years old when he died yet his poetry endures as some of the most influential and well-known in the English language. A legacy that remains a matchless witness to the appalling shock of the First World War on an entire legion of young soldiers. The official canonization of Owen, which Sasoon began and was picked up again after the Second World War--has done much to distort the complexity of his work. The General Notes from Project Gutenberg say:
    Due to the general circumstances surrounding Wilfred Owen, and his death one week before the war ended, it should be noted that these poems are not all in their final form. Owen had only had a few of his poems published during his lifetime, and his papers were in a state of disarray when Siegfried Sassoon, his friend and fellow poet, put together this volume. The 1920 edition was the first edition of Owen's poems, the 1921 reprint (of which this is a transcript) added one more -- and nothing else happened until Edmund Blunden's 1931 edition. Even with that edition, there remained gaps, and several more editions added more and more poems and fragments, in various forms, as it was difficult to tell which of Owen's drafts were his final ones, until Jon Stallworthy 's "Complete Poems and Fragments" (1983) included all that could be found, and tried to put them in chronological order, with the latest revisions Parable of the Old Men and the Young: A retold story from the Bible, but with a different ending. The phrase "Abram bound the youth with belts and straps" refers to the youth who went to war, with all their equipment belted and strapped on. Other versions of this poem have an additional line.

But where the lamb, for this burnt-offering?

The poet uses assonance, consonance and alliteration to integrate the iambic pentameter found within The Parable of the old man and the young. Owen starts by drawing a comparison to the story of Abram and Isaac. He connects the idea that all of the young men who died are somebody's sons. The poet paints his masterpiece with belts and straps and constructs parapets and trenches. Instantly the reader gets a picture of the horrors of the front line. Owen's Ram is pride personified and Youth experiences the sacrifice taking place in defiance of the celestial message from the angel. Designed to evoke a strong sense of indignation it puts the scenery of the war firmly in place in the mind of the reader. Owen wants the reader to draw the same conclusion he has, the pity of war.

Owen seeks to compare the story of Abram and Isaac to the start of World War I and some say that Abram symbolizes Germany or perhaps Wilhelm II, while many mention it most likely corresponds to the European nations and their governments. But Owen never faults any person or nations in his other poems, so others explain that there is little rationale to suppose that he does so in this one. Instead he criticizes all those in power who took their countries to war and think that killing the Ram is too high a price to pay. The final two lines--the only ones that rhyme, paint a chilling image of an old man systematically slaughtering the Europeon youths. It is this image, set apart from the rest of the poem, that makes it one of the finest war poems ever written.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?

What makes this poem relevant today is that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are referred to as the "Abrahamic religions." All three share the ancestor Abram or Abraham. Aqedah is the Hebrew word for "binding" and the story of God's testing of Abraham by commanding that he sacrifice his son Isaac. 1 With no reason given in the text, Abraham agrees to do this without argument. He arives at Moriah ties Isaac up and when he is about to kill him an angel tells him to stop. Abraham then offers a ram that is trapped in a bush nearby as a sacrifice in Isaac's place. Although the Aqedah is the climax of the narratives about Abraham as a demonstration to his faith in, obedience to, and fear of God, it is not talked about elsewhere in the Hebrew bible. Isaac surfaces as both the model of martyr and a perfect sacrifice whose act brings merit with a redemptive value for his own descendents.

Rather than a redemptive sacrificial death the New Testament refers to the Aqedah as an example of faith. 2 3 4 Even earlier indications to sacrifice as redemption can be found in Paul's understanding of the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and the Septuagint of Genesis may be alluded to in three New Testament scriptures.5 6 7 The divine testing of Abraham and the subsequent near sacrifice of his son appears in the Qur'an too (37.101-113). Early Muslim exegetes vary as to whether the son, unidentified in the Qur'anic passage, is Isaac or Ishmael. Some of the original traditions assert that it was Isaac but by the 9th or 10th century the consensus was that Ishmael, who was progressively linked with Mecca and recognized as the forebear of the northern Arabs, was the voluntary sacrificial offering. Muslims celebrate the event on the day of Eid ul-Adha.

Like Owen observes in his poem this story is meant to be an incentive for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike to live up to their heritage and Abraham is to be looked upon as a foundation of unity and harmony rather that dissent.

Another name writ in water

In October 1918 Wilfred Owen wrote, "I came out in order to help these boys-- directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first." On 4th November 1918 while attempting to get his men across the Sambre Canal Wilfred Owen was killed in action. Historians say that, "The bells were ringing on November 11, 1918, in Shrewsbury to celebrate the Armistice when the doorbell rang at his parent's home, bringing them the telegram telling them their son was dead. "


Sources:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Wilson, Owen," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Holy Bible; King James Version.

Manuscript of Wilfred Owen’s "Parable of the Old Man and the Young," date unknown.
Scan courtesy of
Julio Jeha
Used with permission.
Accessed November 2,2005.

minstrels-- The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
Accessed
Oct 29 2004

The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.

Owen
Accessed Oct 29 2004

The Parable of the old man and the young
Accessed Oct 29 2004

The Project Gutenberg Etext of Poems, by Wilfred Owen
Accessed Oct 29 2004


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