Friday, March 25, 2005

Emily Dickinson.

As a young woman the intensely retiring Emily Dickinson sought her education at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She began to write in the 1850s and her earliest poems were simple in form and sentiment with a sense of whimsy while her later poems became more complex and experimental. Her efforts toward concision often meant stripping her lines and sentences to their most basic form.

Experimenting to a large degree with off rhyme or near rhyme, the majority of her poems were not published until after her death. Not knowing her motives, editors significantly "corrected," her works by adding punctuation -- mistakes that still haunt many published editions of her poems. An authoritative variorum edition of her poems was not published until Thomas H. Johnson did so in 1955 -- nearly 70 years after Dickinson's death. Dickinson in died 1886 with over 1700 poems unpublished; shortly thereafter, between 1890-1891, her friends Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel L. Todd began a tradition of publishing her poetry in heavily edited, conventionalized form. Fearful of public reaction, the editors altered her meter and rhyme schemes, metaphors, and syntax, gutting her poetry of much that later generations would appreciate as original.

Heavily influenced by her Puritan upbringing and the Book of Revelation her metaphor and imagery were taken from a sharp observation of nature, as well as playful thought and witty expression like those of the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England. She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and John Keats. Rumored as being disgraceful Emily was dissuaded from reading the verse of her contemporary Walt Whitman, the two poets are now connected by the distinguished place they hold as the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice.

Although Thomas Higginson recognized her genius and became her lifelong friend correspondent and literary mentor, it was Helen Jackson who tried unsuccessfully to persuade her to publish a collection of her poetry. After Dickinson's death nearly 2000 poems, many fragmentary were found among her papers and it was from this mass that Higginson and Todd edited the first published selection of her work, Poems (1890). Todd never spoke to Emily but glimpsed her once through a passageway flitting by in white, the only color Emily wore in her later years. The Copyright Notice by the University of Toronto Press notes:

She never married, however, in recent years research hints that Emily had two great loves. She wrote about her first love in the late 1850's and may have been a married Philadelphian clergyman by the name of Charles Wadsworth. Several of her poems apparently reflect this love and her personal struggle to transcend its disappointment. Around 1878 she fell in love with Otis P. Lord of Salem, Massachusetts, a close friend of her father; Lord's death in 1884 ended the relationship.

Mystical directness in her universal themes and expressions of intense personal feelings is comparable to the work found in British poet William Blake. Dickenson's poetry, consolidated into short stanza form, are most often composed in a few different combinations or more accurately versification of trimeter lines and iambic tetrameter. By using simple rhyming schemes and varying the effects of theses schemes with partial rhyming for example, tune with pain , a common device among many of her contemporaries. Using common words she draws remarkable implications by the suggestion of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names at times with almost pedantic exactness. The titles of her posthumously published works are:

  • Poems: Second Series (1891)
  • Poems: Third Series (1891)
  • The Single Hound (1914)
  • Letters of Emily Dickinson (1931)

The copyright situation pertaining to the poetry of Emily Dickinson is very confusing because almost all of her poems were published after her death and circumstances around the first publications resulted in versions of the poetry that were often far different than the form of the poems as written by Emily Dickinson. If they are not in public domain please let me know so I may remove them.

Emily Dickinson created a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on intellectual edges by pulling pieces of geometry, geology, alchemy, philosophy, politics, biography, biology, mythology, and philology from alien territory, a "sheltered" woman audaciously invented a new grammar grounded in hesitations and humility. Dickinson died in 1886 on May 15th.


Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Dickinson, Emily Elizabeth," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Selected Poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Epilogue to Looking Glass

Epilogue to Looking Glass

    A BOAT, beneath a sunny sky
    Lingering onward dreamily
    In an evening of July --

    Children three that nestle near,
    Eager eye and willing ear
    Pleased a simple tale to hear --

    Long has paled that sunny sky:
    Echoes fade and memories die:
    Autumn frosts have slain July.

    Still she haunts me, phantomwise
    Alice moving under skies
    Never seen by waking eyes.

    Children yet, the tale to hear,
    Eager eye and willing ear,
    Lovingly shall nestle near.

    In a Wonderland they lie,
    Dreaming as the days go by,
    Dreaming as the summers die:

    Ever drifting down the stream --
    Lingering in the golden gleam --
    Life what is it but a dream?
    Lewis Carroll (1832- 1898)

Written by of the English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, the good Reverend Dodgson had a friend, a young girl name Alice Liddell, for whom he wrote the stories.

Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934) was the middle of three daughters of Dean Liddell, Dean of Christ Church in Oxford and was a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth II. The easy and light rhyme has an added twist, it is an acrostic where the initial letters of each line spell the twenty-one letters of Alice Pleasance Liddell in the twenty-one lines of the epilogue

You may be familiar with Carroll's well-known and entertaining caricatures of poems that were very popular during the Victorian era. "How doth the little crocodile..." as a clever parody of Isaac Watts' old childrens' rhyme "How doth the busy little bee...". This poem serves as the epilogue to Through the Looking Glass, in which the author speaks in the first person. "Life," he concludes, "what is it but a dream?". It is a looking back to the summer day, long, long gone of the boat ride years before when Dodgson first told the Alice in Wonderland story to the Liddell sisters.

As for Alice, she eventually married Reginald Hargreaves and sometimes toured to speak in celebration Lewis Carroll. Charles Dodsen died on January 14th, 1898 of a severe bronchial infection, thought to be worsened by the new asbestos fires he had had installed in his rooms to replace the hazardous coal fires.


Alice Liddell - the original Alice
Accessed August 22, 2003.

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Accessed August 22, 2003.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Sea Change

It's a sea change--yes, the network really is the computer."
John Doerr in The Red Herring

How all the people everywhere who have watched, amazed, as computers took sons and daughters, mothers and fathers through a sea change, into something rich and strange... The phrase sea change in todays usage refers to something more than just an ordinary transformation. You might think the word is written as C-change since a C is a 180 degree curve and wouldn't a person be making a C change if they went from liberal to conservative, Republican to Democrat? But that's hardly the case. It does seem to be a political buzzword among the pundits today. What it really means is a change into something finer or richer. Shakespeare employed the earliest known use of the term in Ariel's song from The Tempest:

    "Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made:
    Those pearls that were his eyes;
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange."
With his depiction of the original sense of the term and for its remarkable and eerie beauty: Shakespeare has quite literally changed the corpse of Ferdinand's father into something else or a change has been wrought by the sea. Scholars can't determine positively if he did in fact coin the term but the usage of the term has evolved to focus more upon the extent of the metamorphosis, as opposed to the cause of the change. A metaphor along the lines of fundamental and radical changes that would be brought about after a prolonged submersion under the sea. Perhaps it was from the scriptures that Shakespeare struck upon his idea of a sea change as the divine spirit, one that alters and ultimately destroys the force of the lower motivations of the mortal self. Deriving the concept from the figurative power of God as rebuking the sea and smiting the sea, even confounding the sea.

Perhaps The Old Man and the Sea suffers a sea change in the Hemingway's mind. A sea change typically occurs in the perception of the nature of reality, an elevation of the collective consciousness of mankind, a new paradigm, the dawning of a new age one that is as dramatic as that of the Renaissance exploding forth in the fourteenth century to mark the end of the Middle Ages. As usage for the term for example, when the English language was imported to the New World one could say it under went a sea change as it gained new words and idioms becoming "something rich and strange"

"We are what we eat, particularly in the realm of rhetoric", says Sean Gullette in his Talk American column in The Silicon Valley Reporter (1998),"where ideology and metaphysics are metabolized with every metaphor......

    A sea change washed over American English with World War II. In 1940, regional American remained largely intact, and a Louisianan and a Vermonter might well have done some gawking and gesturing to share what they meant by "infare days" (honeymoon) or "Juneteenth" (Emancipation Day). A decade of newsreels, war headlines and television sets later, millions of people shared a nationalized hybrid vocabulary of military acronyms and radio jargon; TV show catchphrases, and presidential propaganda metaphors. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, what a Jerry, a Jap Zero, a Cattle Car, a $64,000 question, an A-4, a B-52 and a V-2 were.

    There's no way to prove it, but the trickle down effect of American English's post-war jingoistic confusion was a Cold War's worth of Sunday Afternoon Football-inspired foreign policy and Hail Mary corporate quarterbacking. All this new jargon was such fun that America barely noticed a new world order being established, and survived in blissful ignorance the romantic idea of a nuclear bomb being a sort of grand slam home run.

    By 1969, the Cajun, the Yankee and the Lovechild now had V-6 engines, V-8 juice, and "bomb shelters," but the terms "nuclear winter," "radioactive half-life," or "mutually assured destruction" were not as yet classified for public use. That year--leap with me--the Department of Defense wired together Arpanet, a new kind of information machine borne of punchcard dreams and atomic nightmares, which would insure that even if the other team hit a homer, we would still have our computer files because, incredibly--like, um, an electron, or the leadership of a Maoist cell!--they'd always be in more than one place at one time. It would take 30 years for the true nature of this paradigm shift to sink in.

    Then, one morning in the early 1990s, Rip Van Windows woke up and the Internet was there. The reconditioned idioms of this handy and undemanding medium seemed easy enough to pick up--"virus, digital information, feedback, network." The encrypted metaphysics which came with the new codes were not. Do these words simply describe the components of a new world, or are they, in fact, the DNA from which one will be born?"

How would Shakespeare's poetic term for something that abides a transformation spawning and aberrant be applied today? Terrorism has undergone a sea change in the aftermath of September 11th.


The Red Sea

Take Our Word for It Letter S

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

e.e. cummings

E.E. Cummings, or ee cummings, if you prefer -- he didn't care much either way from what I've read, was influenced early on by the Imagists however his spirit did not fit the Imagist description. His work was too personal and too passionate to satisfy the militant Imagist. You may be surprised by the form of his poems. Some like it may not always be so; and i say are traditional in construction with rhyme and scheme as sonnets. Certainly there are some odd things about it: the punctuation and capitalization are eccentric, as cummings always made them.

More important is the meter. Does a line like "saying,Accept all happiness from me" belong in a sonnet? Well, it's there, so it must. About the only way you can make this line fit is to sing the sonnet. You might want to try it; make up a tune for the last six lines of it may not always be so; and i say --it makes the language flow smoothly. It's very simple, and that is what cummings was up to.

E.E. Cummings's is confusing at first, you may be wondering about the non-standard punctuation and strange placing of words on the virtual page. Many people have the idea that this makes Cummings quite the rebel who "throws out all the rules". But from reading around I discovered that origins of this style are due to his art training as a painter, and particularly in his eagerness in regards to Imagism. He had the idea that there were better uses for spaces, capital letters, and even parts of speech, than those for which they were commonly used. Unlike most who tried he enjoyed some success, as the Imaginists, he rearranged things creating a new effect. Here is an short excerpt from his introduction to New Poems:

    The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople-it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootof-minusone. You and I are human beings;mostpeople are snobs.
    Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to most-people? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous super-palazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesireable organism. Mostpeople fancy a garanteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they'd improbably call it dying-
    you and i are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. you and i wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now;and now is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.
    Life,for mostpeople,simply isn't. Take the socalled standardofliving. What do mostpeople mean by "living"? They don't mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science,in its finite but unbounded wisdom,has suc-ceeded in selling their wives. If science could fail,a mountain's a mammal. Mostpeople's wives can spot a genuine delusion of embryonic omni-potence immediately and will accept no subsitutes.
    -luckily for us,a mountain is a mammal....

    -e. e. cummings

Like it or not Cummings odd typography has become closely associated with him and readers come to expect an e e cummings poem to look funny. By the time Cummings became popular, his odd typography had become closely identified with him. Some scholars guess that in the long run he might have felt limited by this expectation.

Cummings was also a fine artist, playwright and novelist; his life and art were tightly interwoven. As for his poetry, don't be confused by it. It's just a song and the surprising thing about his work, given the way it looks, is that it reads very regularly, especially if you follow the typographical clues. Try reading it aloud and see if you don't agree. A common misconception is that he never used capitals though as you read through his work of course he uses capitalizations often, but not in a conventional way. Of interest is a letter he wrote to his mother he said, , "I am a small eye poet." September 3, 1925 (Selected Letters, F. W. Dupee and George Stade, eds., 1969, pp. 108-9) He uses the meaning quite cleverly with the use of capitalization to differentiate the writer of the letter (first person singular) and the writer of the poetry. Some say "e. e. cummings" is the spelling legalized by the author himself as his signature to his poems, but this is apparently a fiction. Frequently fans will will uncapitalize in commemoration of his revolutionary style but the official spelling is capitalized correctly.

He was a Harvard graduate, and served in an ambulance unit in France during World War I. After the war, Cummings committed himself completely to his writing and painting, publishing eleven books of poems--with a posthumous volume appearing the year after his death. All are collected in Complete Poems 1913-1962 (1972).

Other works:

  • Eimi (Greek for "I Am"), in 1933, a second antibureaucracy journal about his journey to the Soviet Union.

    Several plays :

  • --Him (1927),
  • Anthropos: The Future of Art (1930; 1945), and
  • Santa Claus: A Morality (1946)

    A scenario for a ballet:

  • Tom (1935), based on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

    Essays and lectures:

  • i: Six Nonlectures (1953) and E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany (1958; rev. ed., 1965).

    A collection of childrens stories: Fairy Tales appeared in 1965; and his Selected Letters was published in 1969.

Popular particularly among young readers, for his playful style, simple use of language, and his attention to subjects such as sex and war. He was second only to Robert Frost as one of the most widely read poet in the United States at the time of his death in 1962. He wrote with typographical ingenuity, showing how his presentation of words on the page could change oral readings of the poetry.


E. E. Cummings

NOT "e. e. cummings"

Excerpt from the introduction to New Poems

Monday, March 21, 2005

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

John McCrae was a physician, veteran of the Boer War and when Canada declared war on Germany in 1914, fought on the Western Front during World War I. This poem is memorable for many reasons. Historically it commemorates a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915. Ypres, Belgium is in the area traditionally called Flanders where some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War took place during what was known as the Second Battle of Ypres. It is considered a turning point for the Allies.

Today Flanders covers parts of northern France and Belgium, and by the spring of that year poppies that had lain dormant for years began to bloom bright red and profusely. With the Western front consisting of nothing more than churned up soil from all of the fighting, McCrae sat in that field surrounded by the striking sight of these blossoms the like of which no one had ever seen. He had spent seventeen days treating injured men during this terrible conflict and he writes about it in his journal:

    "I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days... Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done."
There was one death that affected McCrea deeply. A young friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa who had been killed by a shell burst on May 2nd 1915. What body parts could be found were gathered into sandbags and laid in an army blanket for burial. Lieutenant Helmer was buried near the 1st Canadian Brigade's position where there was a small burial ground which had originally been established during the First Battle of Ypres in the autumn of the previous year, 1914. The Second Battle of Ypres began on April 22nd, 1915 and by early May the burial ground also contained graves of French and Canadian casualties. It became known as the Essex Farm British Military Cemetery.

Lieutenant Colonel Morrison writes about the small burial ground where Alexis Helmer was originally buried:

    "A couple of hundred yards away, there was the headquarters of an infantry regiment and on numerous occasions during the sixteen day battle, we saw how they crept out to bury their dead during lulls in the fighting. So the rows of crosses increased day after day, until in no time at all it had become quite a sizeable cemetery. Just as John (McCrae) described it, it was not uncommon early in the morning to hear the larks singing in the brief silences between the bursts of the shells and the returning salvos of our own nearby guns."
With the company chaplain away John McCrae performed a simple service at the graveside, reciting from memory some passages from the Church of England's 'Order of Burial of the Dead'. A wooden cross marked the burial place, but the grave has since been lost. By one account McCrae scribbled down these fifteen lines in twenty minutes shortly after the funeral as he gazed across to the wild poppies blowing in the easterly breezes in the ditches in that part of Europe. Dissatisfied with it, by another's account, McCrae threw the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it anonymously on December 8th 1915.

While the images became a part of the collective memory of the war they still captivate future generations with its rural scene during the season of rebirth and hope. The rondeau marches along in its short and insistent rhythm and commands the reader's attention to the eye-filling resplendent beauty while echoes contrast side by side in stark reality with the exuberance of Nature and the solemnity of Death.

    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
          In Flanders fields.
It's not hard to imagine the the soldiers on the lush fields in Ypres feeling this deep down in their soul. Images that....
    have the red flowers of traditional pastoral elegy--which go back to Milton (and beyond); the crosses which suggest the idea of Calvary and sacrifice; the sky as seen from a trench; the larks singing in the midst of the horrors and terrors of man's greatest folly; the contrast between the song of the larks and the voice of the guns; the special significance of dawn and sunset with the anticipated echoes of Gray'sElegy; the conception of soldiers as lovers; and the antithesis drawn between beds and graves. The poem sails across the imagination laden with literary associations ransacked from the riches of the past.

(Robert Giddings)

The poem was translated into several languages and used in a 1917 Canadian campaign to help raise money for the war effort. The goal of the campaign was to raise $150 million. With the help of the powerful In Flanders Fields, the campaign raised around $400 million.

It created a great sensation, and was used widely as a recruiting tool, inspiring other young men to join the Army. Not only does the historical value make this a timeless piece because people during the war interpreted it primarily as a pro-war poem, it has been often read later as an anti-war poem. Poetry was a passionate hobby of John McCrae, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, was published in 1918 and was among the top 10 non-fiction bestsellers for both 1918 and 1919 in America. However he became sick with pneumonia and died at the No. 3 General Hospital, January 28th, 1918 in Wimereux near Boulogne.

Because of In Flanders Fields' popularity, the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead of Britain, France, the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries. These lines are enshrined in the innermost thoughts and hearts of all soldiers who hear them. John McCrae was their voice.

for those who have paid the ultimate price .


In Flanders Field, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae:

Robert Giddings, The War Poets, pp. 55-6.

First World War. org

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

"Welcome to Flanders Fields", by Daniel G. Dancocks, McClelland and Stewart. Toronto, Canada, 1988