Friday, December 04, 2009

William Carlos Williams

Now if you really really want to know what makes William Carlos Williams tick go read his poetry. There is a lot of it here on E2 and I have explicated a wide variety of his prose and poetry. If you want to know how his poetry affects me, read Pastoral and I have measured out my life with a pumpkin patch.

Born in Rutherford, NJ on September 17, 1883, he began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Leipzig. After 1910 he practiced medicine in Rutherford and neighboring Paterson. At the same time he carried on his literary work, and his reputation, first as a poet and later as a writer of prose, became world renown.

    When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing.
    William Carlos Williams

One can easily see some evidence of his idea in his poem:


    They call me and I go.
    It is a frozen road
    past midnight, a dust
    of snow caught
    in the rigid wheeltracks.
    The door opens.
    I smile, enter and
    shake off the cold.
    Here is a great woman
    on her side in the bed.
    She is sick,
    perhaps vomiting,
    perhaps laboring
    to give birth to
    a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
    Night is a room
    darkened for lovers,
    through the jalousies the sun
    has sent one golden needle!
    I pick the hair from her eyes
    and watch her misery
    with compassion.

    William Carlos Williams (Sour Grapes1913)

He describes the scene on a house call to a woman in labor. It is past midnight in winter time when the road is frozen. Entering the home where the "great woman" is in misery; she is "sick," "perhaps vomiting," about to give birth to her tenth child. Williams exclaims to the reader "Joy! Joy!" in a room where a completion of love is about to occur he contrasts the anticipation of the event against the bleak as the wintry landscape all the while offering compassion to "pick the hair from her eyes." Williams attended numerous women in labor, many of whom were Italian immigrants. Birth control was not available and families were large. In this poem and in others about childbirth, he expresses obvious admiration and compassion for the poor women he visited in dire settings and circumstances.

His earliest works included Poems (1909) and The Tempers (1913). His mature work, frequently experimental and radical in form and technique, displayed to a great degree an influence by the Imagist movement and its rejection of unconstrained and contrived sentimentality. As a result his work became oriented towards the use of everyday speech and by withholding the emotionality of words he concentrated in concrete and sensory experiences often sensual in relation to nature, hinting at the forbidden and taboo.

    By listening to the language of his locality the poet learns his craft. It is his function to lift, by the use of his imagination . . . his environment to the sphere . . . where they will have a new currency.
    William Carlos Williams
Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh, and singularly American poetic form. He met Ezra Pound while attending the University of Pennsylvania who in turn introduced him to another well known Imagist Hilda Doolittle. As he became more self confident in his work he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially T S Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions.
    Times change and forms and their meanings alter. Thus new poems are necessary. Their forms must be discovered in the living language of their day, or old forms, embodying exploded concepts, will tyrannize over the imagination.
    William Carlos Williams
Many publishers avoided his quirky styling early in his career and to a great degree much of it was over shadowed by Eliot's The Waste Land and he frankly believed for some time that:
    Afraid lest he be caught up in a net of words, tripped up, bewildered and so defeated -- thrown aside -- a man hesitates to write down his innermost convictions.
    William Carlos Williams
Thankfully he didn't hesitate for long and created an ideology that there are 'No ideas but in things.' His work really hit its stride in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. Examples of his later poetry are contained in The Complete Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (1938) and Collected Poem( 1950). In the latter part of the 1930's Williams started the composition of an extended poem dealing with the American scene in the era of the Great Depression, Paterson Books I-V (1946-1958). His prose works include a widely read assemblage of essays on American history, in the American Grain(1925), and the novels White Mule(1937), as well as, In the Money (1940) and The Build Up(1952). In 1950 Williams received the National Book Award for poetry. Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1963 and he passed away on March 4th in Rutherford. Awarded posthumously a Pulitzer Prize for his verse collection Pictures from Breugal(1962), his autobiography appeared in 1951, and his novel, A Voyage Pagany, in 1970.

He said, I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it. and described his goal in the The Fool's Song:

    I tried to put
    Truth in a cage.
He was practicing physician, who wrote prolifically in all the major genres who encouraged the literary careers of many of his contemporaries.
    "It's what you do with a work of art; it's what you put on the canvas and how you put it on the canvas. It's how the words fit in. Poems are not made of beautiful thoughts; it's made of words, pigments put on, here, there, made actually."
    William Carlos Williams
He inspired and encouraged many to make their own experiments with an American kind of writing making him recognized as a significant figure in modern American literature, and is still widely read.

The Works of William Carlos Williams

Selected Sources

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "William Carlos Williams," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988

Literary Kicks
Accessed Oct 19 2001.

The Poets' Corner
Accessed Oct 19 2001.

William Carlos Williams
Accessed Oct 19 2001.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

1 Among twenty snowy mountains,
2 The only moving thing
3 Was the eye of the blackbird.

4 I was of three minds,
5 Like a tree
6 In which there are three blackbirds.

7 The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
8 It was a small part of the pantomime.

9 A man and a woman
10 Are one.
11 A man and a woman and a blackbird
12 Are one.

13 I do not know which to prefer,
14 The beauty of inflections
15 Or the beauty of innuendoes,
16 The blackbird whistling
17 Or just after.

18 Icicles filled the long window
19 With barbaric glass.
20 The shadow of the blackbird
21 Crossed it, to and fro.
22 The mood
23 Traced in the shadow
24 An indecipherable cause.

25 O thin men of Haddam,
26 Why do you imagine golden birds?
27 Do you not see how the blackbird
28 Walks around the feet
29 Of the women about you?

30 I know noble accents
31 And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
32 But I know, too,
33 That the blackbird is involved
34 In what I know.

35 When the blackbird flew out of sight,
36 It marked the edge
37 Of one of many circles.

38 At the sight of blackbirds
39 Flying in a green light,
40 Even the bawds of euphony
41 Would cry out sharply.

42 He rode over Connecticut
43 In a glass coach.
44 Once, a fear pierced him,
45 In that he mistook
46 The shadow of his equipage
47 For blackbirds.

48 The river is moving.
49 The blackbird must be flying.

50 It was evening all afternoon.
51 It was snowing
52 And it was going to snow.
53 The blackbird sat
54 In the cedar-limbs.


Thus, it might be true . . . that the style of a poem and the style of men are one.
Wallace Stevens "Two or Three Ideas"

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) worked for a short time as a journalist, completed his law degree and in 1934 became a Vice President at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. He remained there until his death in spite of his increasing popularity and importance as one of the foremost writers of verse in American poetry.

Stevens's most notable poems, many of them dealing with the world of creative imagination in a world deprived of religious meaning include Le Monocle de Mon Oncle, The Emperor of Ice Cream, Sunday Morning, Anecdote of the Jar, Peter Quince at the Clavier and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

An ambiguous poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird depicts the narrator watching a blackbird through a window and how his mood changes along with each observation. His sensuous and elaborate imagery along elevated precise diction are reminiscence of William Carlos Williams with a bit of T S Eliot thrown in with the use of expressions of subtle philosophical themes creating a characteristic tone that is both lyrical and ironic. By taking blackbirds and contrasting them against thirteen ways to look at them the reader sees the bleakness and monotony of modern life with the richness of nature and of the aesthetic experiences but with a twist.

Focusing on the after images as aberrations, in fact all images are after, they behold for the reader a certain terror. "I do not know which to prefer," writes Wallace Stevens "The beauty of inflections / Or the beauty of innuendoes, / the blackbird whistling / or just after. Every image is an "afterthought" or "aftershock" of something that has already occurred. Like a modern impressionist painting with strokes of words Stevens work is a composite structure built of oblique meanings and surprising shifts that add up to an engaging portrait where symbol, and metaphor coexist. The verses are a journey from the physical to the metaphysical, a journey that is altogether poetic, technical, and philosophical. The poet examines his subjects with as few preconceptions as possible, taking familiar concepts and stripping away all associations until they become strange, producing ideas that are refreshing and new and straddles the ground between the intellect and the senses, leading the reader beyond the realm of theory and practice into the universe of the imagination, where "space" is experienced as something touched, seen, and thought. With this use of traditional Modernist experimental writing one scholar explains: "There is more poetic truth in this agile prose, these vivid, metaphorical descriptions and surprising juxtapositions than any amount of scholarly research could possibly unearth." Stevens solution is is to use multiple metaphors for God: masculine, feminine, non-sexual, and depersonalized. God has many names. If Wallace Stevens can write about "thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird," how many more ways must exist to envision the infinite and eternal God? The disorienting and revelatory shifts of focus in such a charming poem takes the romantic commitment to a specular order of attention, so that his poem has more than a trace of consistency. Emphasizing the geography or contour of the poem on the page, whether it be in monomorphic, polymorphic, or paratactic, the fulcrum in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is the word "see". Rhyme also serves a visual as well as aural effect.

Suggestive as Blackbirds may be, the theme of the poem is, "Pay attention to physical reality." What kinds of things are suitable to serve as units in a number? Clouds, ripples on the surface of a liquid, psychological states these things are usually too indefinite to count. How many psychological states did one experience yesterday? How can one objectively determine the answer? There are times which one can, for example, say that there are three clouds overhead. And, after all, this is not the Four Noble Truths, seven types of ambiguity, three theological virtues, or thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird. Are the numbers that these sorts of things compose like Faith, Hope, and Charity form a triad in the way that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost do? Is Faith a thing in the same way that Father or Son is. The bafflement and uncertainty experienced when confronting these questions are reminders to the reader that the ancient conception of the numbers under consideration by the composer is not an exacting scientific concept. It is about nature after all.

The thin ascetic men of Haddam is chided by the poet for ignoring the good blackbirds and real women for golden phantasms. He remands the aristocrat who rides about Connecticut, of all places, in a glass coach as if thinking himself Prince Charming as inexcusable failure to exercise his intelligence. Steven's ends in a section with a tone that is straightforward and matter-of-factly sums it up. No matter what the reader does to interpret what Steven's has seen there remains the last image of one blackbird perched in the cedar tree awaiting the snowfall. The reader can smell the crisp cedar strongly sensed against the dry cold air of the impending weather. The tree is sharply in focus the air icier while the blackbird becomes a shadow.

Wallace Stevens is a poet who manifested an abiding interest in philosophy. His poems consistently display, in both their syntax and modulation of thought, philosophical parallels. Stevens' dominant mode of thought is phenomenological. This can be shown by analyzing parallels between phenomenological methodology and Stevens' poetry. Particularly three poems--"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" (1917), "The Snow Man" (1921), and "The Latest Freed Man" (1938)--embody, respectively, the poem as doing phenomenology,(a philosophical movement that describes the formal structure of the objects of awareness and of awareness itself in abstraction from any claims concerning existence ) the poem as a description of the phenomenological mind, and the poem as a portrait of the phenomenologist.

James A. Clark

For poetry ideas based on comparisons and contrasts, the very subjectiveness of interpretations James A. Clark writes about his book Wallace Stevens: A Portrait of the Artist as a Phenomenologist is an unintentional one of confusing modern poetry with philosophy, a common fault of literary criticism, even so, there are a tremendous variety of benefits to these critical interpretations.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
Or woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies;
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair-linĂ ed slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy-buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

English playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) is considered the most important Elizabethan dramatist before William Shakespeare and acclaimed as the first great English dramatist, although his career was a brief one lasting a mere six years before he was killed at the age of 29 in a tavern fight. While earlier playwrights focused on comedy; Marlowe worked on tragedy and was responsible for advancing it as a dramatic medium and paving the way for Shakespeare. His masterpiece is The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus He was the first poet to write in blank verse, as well as translations from the works of the ancient Latin poets, Lucan and Ovid.

As a poet Marlowe is best known for this classic romance piece The Passionate Shepherd (1599), which contains the familiar phrase Come live with me and be my Love, / And we will all the pleasures prove .... An ideal example of what is known as a pastoral lyric alluding to the shepherds writing music to their flocks. The tradition goes back to David in the Bible and Hesiod the Greek poet. If the nymph would go just a-maying with the him, they would have a perfect life. The shepherd paints a very pleasant picture of his bucolic world, in which "Melodious birds sing madrigals" and the people will dance to entertain his love. Offering her all the beauty of nature from steepy mountains and the smell a thousand fragrant posies, to artful stitching from the Myrtle; the tree of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. First published in the original text of The Passionate Pilgrim the poem has a carpe diem theme of unbridled passions written in quatrains of iambic tetrameter A kirtle refers to a skirt or petticoat and swain is lover or sweetheart.

So, who really wrote this, Shakespeare, or Christopher Marlowe?" We can refer to this bit of very interesting; truth is stranger than fiction, story about Marlowe's sudden and fearful demise:

    In the spring of 1593, a friend of Kit's (as Christopher Marlowe was often called) was captured and tortured by the Queen's Privy Council.Based on this 'evidence,' the Council was preparing to arrest Kit. But before this arrest could take place, Kit was killed in a brawl at a rooming-house in the town of Deptford. He was staying there with three of his friends--and let me tell you, these were some very interesting friends. Ingram Frizer was a known con artist and (even worse) a moneylender. Nicholas Skeres was Frizer's frequent accomplice and probably a fence. Robert Poley was an occasional courier/spy for Her Majesty's secret service, who had boasted of his ability to lie convincingly under any circumstances. Frizer's master, Thomas Walsingham, was a cousin of the noted spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. On the night of 30 May 1593, the four of them had just finished eating when Frizer and Kit began arguing over the bill. Kit eventually grabbed Frizer's dagger and attacked him from behind, and in the ensuing fight, Frizer regained his dagger and stabbed and killed his friend. He was quickly pardoned on grounds of self-defense, and his employers did not fire or otherwise ostracize him.

    Both the timing of Kit's death and the lack of any retribution against his murderer have led some scholars to theorize that his death was faked and Kit himself took up a new identity to escape the Privy Council. Some go so far as to state that this new identity, was, of course, obviously, that of William Shakespeare.

Many sensible people would reject this theory as rather silly, though it has the makings of a good Bond film. From this historical mystery, the American motion picture screen writer and author of detective fiction, Raymond Chandler lent Marlowe's name to his own hero Philip Marlowe. In a rather perverse way, The Passionate Shepherd has been carried along by others by creating a small industry for poets writing replies. Compare to the eeirily similar Shakespearean Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music, 5. Most can be summarized as "show me a ring first, buddy." A rather fishy tale is The Bait by John Donne. However, the best known answer is by Sir Walter Raleigh another colorful figure of the Renaissance; there have been dozens over the years. Few are as clever as Raleigh's response, The Nymph's Reply.

Selected Sources:

Blair, Bob

The Wondering Minstrels

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.

I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. "We would see a sign":
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering Judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fraulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What's not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what's thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils.
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use it for your closer contact?

These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

One could just about teach a whole unit in literary history based on the murky musings of the gentleman Gerontion. Composed in 1919 Eliot was in London at the time working as an assistant editor of The Egoist. The poem was published in 1920. It appeared in the US under the simple title Poems and in England it was published in an almost identical book, Ara Vos Prec. In the early days Eliot based his compositions on French symbolist poetry, chiefly the works of Jules Laforgue, but through his alliance with Ezra Pound, and advice from his wife Vivienne, and others, he finally arrived as a poet with Gerontion. Just as prominent are his readings of Dante, Shakespeare, ancient literature, modern philosophy, and Eastern mysticism, all of which bear some meaning. It's a poem that anticipates the power of The Waste Land (1922). During the postwar years his prevailing sense of dejection and 'sour irony,' and his belief that modern-day society falls short of past grandeur, hit an open chord in many readers. Eliot is a poet of fragments," Stephen Spender once said, "through which run certain great and obsessive themes." Oddly ambiguous, and at the same time slangy it gave way to notoriety and genuine admiration because of its iconoclastic shrug of boldness toward conventional literary standards.

The disordered reflection of a tradition is a meditative interior monologue in blank verse: nothing like this poem had appeared in English before. Eliot gave voice to this anxiety when he wrote, After such knowledge, what forgiveness? It expresses with great power the world-weary cynicism, and aversion of the period after World War I. Some saw in this time as one of new futures; for the most part many felt an unsettling uncertainty.

The Waste Land is a series of vignettes loosely tied to the legend of the search for the Grail. And while it portrays a sterile world of anxious suspicions, bleak desires, and of beings waiting for some promise of redemption, Gerontion is a glimpse into the soul of an small elderly man whose dreamlike memories wander through a whole panorama of the past. Written in a floating unsustained conversational speech like Prufrock, Gerontion progresses by way of failed relationships, journeys not taken, and questions refused. It's the poetry of a broken world through the fractured mirror yielding a voice that the poet makes no commitment beyond the naming. Professor of education and author John Paul Riquelme makes some observations about who Gerontion is not:

The difficulty of maintaining the illusion of an "I" who speaks becomes greater as Gerontion proceeds, for example, in the fifth stanza with its sequence of sentences beginning with the verb "Think," which continues into the next stanza. The sentences may be in the imperative mood. Or the subject of an indicative verb may have been omitted. The grammatical indeterminacy disturbs the statements' coherence in ways that resist resolution. The language pertains not to a character whose name indicates that he is a person but to one who is named artificially. Like a figure in a medieval allegory whose name points to a concept that is abstract and general rather than personal and individual, Gerontion is not a person but one among many possible incarnations of the meaning of his name in Greek, "little old man."
(From Harmony of Dissonances: T.S. Eliot, Romanticism, and Imagination, 1991.)

All the world's a stage

Gerontion is a modernist's literary work in which the persistent collapse of humanity's efforts to respect the grace of the historical moment is attended by an obbligato of individual cowardice and shame. The title has been borrowed from the Greek geron meaning "old man." T.S. Eliot opens Gerontion with an epigraph from Act 3, scene 1 in Measure for Measure by Shakespeare. His purpose is to set the stage from which he presents the scenes of the poem.

Shakespeare's play is a dark comedy ripe with bitterness and cynicism centered on secret identities and lots of manipulation. One of the main themes that runs throughout it are significant topics with detailed descriptions of Christianity. In this particular scene, a prison, there are three characters present. The Duke, a central figure is disguised as a friar so he can watch what happens in his absence. Unswervingly honest, good, and benevolent the Duke tends to rule a little softly, which is why he enlists Lord Angelo's help. Angelo is a rogue, a man who rules stringently and without pity. He has his own failings, however, and he is detestable more for his hypocrisy above all else. Finally there is the prisoner Claudio, a young man sentenced to death for getting an unmarried woman pregnant. They were engaged by a common-law agreement, but before the marriage they had sexual relations. The Duke's speech to Claudio that includes Eliot's preface is as follows:

Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both: for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid more thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

Measure for Measure III.i

In the end the Duke condemns Angelo himself of defying this law, the death penalty is rescinded in each circumstance and the marriages prosper.

Losing battles

In 1905 A. C. Benson wrote a biography on Edward Fitzgerald who was a translator of Omar Khhayam's Rubaiyat (1859). Line one is an allusion to a paragraph found on page 142 in Benson's biography:

"Here he sits, in a dry month, old and blind, being read to by a country boy," longing for rain: -- `Last night ... we heard a Splash of Rain, and I had the book shut up, and sat listening to the Shower by myself -- till it blew over, I am sorry to say, and no more of the sort all night. But we are thankful for that small mercy!'

A constituent of the Irish aristocracy Fitzgerald renounced his lordship and became embroiled in the Catholic Emancipation of 1798. It was a cause that united "Protestant, Catholic and dissenter" in an effort to establish an Irish Republic. He was mortally wounded in during the uprising.

The "hot gates" Gerontion refers to in line three is an English form of Thermopylae, a seaside pass that was a little more than fifty feet wide at the time of the ancient Greek battle. The route was an important connection between the cities of Thessaly, Locris and Phocis. In 480 BCE, led by Leonidas, 300 Spartan s as a part of a contingency of 6,000 Greeks battled the vast army of the Persians under Xerxes.

The "woman keeping the kitchen and making tea" again alludes to the biography of Edward Fitzgerald who wrote to Frederick Tennyson, "I really do like to sit in this doleful place with a good fire, a cat and dog on the rug, and an old woman in the kitchen. This is all my live-stock. The house is yet damp as last year ... "

Wei la la. After this it gets deep.

Throughout Gerontion Eliot uses deliberate Christian imagery: "In the juvescence of the year / Came Christ the tiger." Each and every one of the devastated homes in the windy spaces of Gerontion's worn out brain refer to Europe's war-shattered civilization. They are abruptly plopped into the framework of the rejection of Christ. Rubble is related to religion and eventually manifests into to an unusual kinship amid knowledge and unbelief. Lancelot Andrewes was not only a contemporary of Shakespeare but also the favorite preacher of the court of James I. Here Andrewes and Eliot rely on two Biblical passages in lines 17 through 21. First, in Matthew 12: 33-40 Jesus replies to certain Pharisees splitting hairs over his miracles and secondly John 1.1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

This stanza takes on the theatrical imagery from the previous one. As the Jew awaits his prey the, scene becomes overlaid by one of greatest houses in history, the house of David. The tenants in this apparition of the house of Israel are the Pharisees, Christ, and the combination of nineteen hundred years of history. The landowner squats on the windowsill of Europe. Joining in are many half brothers, impudent upstarts who irrevocably change Abraham's line. The denial of Christ by his brothers in blood led to an opening of the house of Israel. Anyone of any race whatsoever who would acknowledge Christ in faith was taken into the new Israel, the Christian Church. The residents in Jacob's greater house include, then, Christ's adopted brothers and joint inheritors. The house of Israel, like the house of Gerontion, is decayed, dry, wind-sieged. Eliot's core allusion in this second verse paragraph is to a sermon preached before King James I by Lancelot Andrewes on Christmas Day in 1618:

Verbum infans, the Word without a word; the eternal
Word not able to speak a word; a wonder sure and . . .
swaddled; and that a wonder too. He that takes the sea
"and rolls it about the swaddled bands of darkness," to
come thus into clouts, Himself.

The ruin in all of the houses in the poem is related to the destruction of this temple. The content for Andrewes's sermon and for Eliot's poem is the order by the Pharisees that Christ give them evidence of his divinity--"We would see a sign!" they claim. This passage draws the focus on another house within the house of Israel. The mind of the Pharisees and it is in some ways parallel to the mind of Gerontion.

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." (Matthew 12:38-39)

Jewel Spears Brooker exams modernism as a cultural and literary phenomenon in her book Mastery and Escape: T.S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism (1994). She writes:

This passage is crucial to understand Gerontion, for it identifies the curse that has brought all these houses (Greek, Jewish, Christian) to ruin; this curse is a mentality that isolates intelligence from passion and from belief. Separated from its context, the... passage seems to say that Christ refused to give the Pharisees a sign, demanding that they accept him by faith alone. In context, the passage says almost the opposite. Most of Christ's career was devoted to giving signs to these professors of law and religion; but whenever a sign was given, the proud but unperceiving scholars took it for a wonder and, ironically, resumed their campaign for a sign. In the incident quoted... Christ gave two signs of his divinity. First, he restored a paralyzed hand, and then he cast out a demon, which was making its victim blind. The Pharisees witnessing these signs responded with their usual request, "We would see a sign!" They accepted the authenticity of the miracles, but they refused to accept their validity as signs. They would soon see the supreme sign, but their unbelief, inseparable from their learning, would prevent them from recognizing it.

This rejection by the Pharisees, quoted by Andrewes and by Eliot, was a turning point in the life of Christ and in history, because it led to an expansion of the house of Jacob.

Also significant to the stanza is William Blake's, The Tyger.

It's interesting to note that the same year Gerontion was composed Eliot evaluated Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams. "Adams (1838-1918) was a Harvard-educated diplomat, says Ian Lancashire at Representative Poetry Online, "a man of letters, a European traveller (for a time he was an American in England), and a professional historian who, having descended from several American Presidents, wrote a nine-volume history of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The reviewed and the reviewer had more than passing similarities. Adams' autobiography has the following passage on spring in Washington, D.C.:

The Potomac and its tributaries squandered beauty ... Here and there a Negro log cabin alone disturbed the dogwood and the judas-tree ...The tulip and the chestnut tree gave no sense of struggle against a stingy nature ... The brooding heat of the profligate vegetation; the cool charm of the thundergust in the deep and solitary woods, were all sensual, animal, elemental. No European spring had shown him the same intermixture of delicate grace and passionate depravity that marked the Maryland May. He loved it too much as if it were Greek and half human.

A thousand small deliberations

A number of other notable references about the last stanzas that are worth mentioning are Limogesis and Titian. Limogesis a city in central France celebrated for its fine china and porcelain and the "Titians" are paintings by the late 15th and early 16th century Venetian master of portraits and sacred subjects. Tiziano Vecelli (1477-1576). The line, Vacant shuttles/ Weave the wind. I have no ghosts can be compared to Job 7:6-7 when he grieves: "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope. O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good."

By now it's clear that the poet is connecting the allusions with one another breathing into them a life of their own. The richness of the past becomes as important as the poverty of the present; indeed, the reality of the past begins to be the fullest indictment of the present- it could be that Eliot is seeking a purposeful correlation for the agonized and ominous clouds forming over post World War I Europe. Critic James Longenbach presents an interesting comment about the poet's creative process:

Eliot's drafts for Gerontion show that the passage on history was finished in all but one crucial point before other sections of the poem were given their final forms. In his last revision, Eliot altered only one word: he substituted "history" for "nature." Had the change not been made, our sense of the entire poem would be drastically different; on a much smaller scale.
( From Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot, and the Sense of the Past,1987.)

Memento mori

"I have not made this show purposelessly" Gerontion tells the reader. This line is tailored from The Revenger's Tragedy (circa 1606). It's a story of retribution. In it the Duke murders Vindice's mistress because she refused to sleep with him. Avenging her death, Vindice delights in dressing up a dummy in women's clothing, topping it off with a skull and smearing its lips with poison. After the Duke kisses the Vindice gloats:

Now to my tragic business; look you, brother,
I have not fashion'd this only for show
And useless property; no, it shall bear a part
E'en in it own revenge.

Kissing the deadly skull the Duke dies in agony to the gratification of Vindice. From this tale of revenge the reader is taken to the 'backward devils' of Dante. These were foretellers of the future placed in the Inferno and punished by being forced to walk backwards.

Other than Gerontion, Fresca is the only other character that the reader can gather any real clues about. She is a character from part of The Fire Sermon in The Waste Land that was removed before its publication, but later on Eliot would depict her waking in the morning in his pastiche of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock:

Admonished by the sun's inclining ray,
The white-armed Fresca blinks, and yawns, and gapes,
Aroused from dreams of love and pleasant rapes ...
Leaving the bubbling beverage to cool,
Fresca slips softly to the needful stool,
Where the pathetic tale of Richardson
Eases her labour till the deed is done.

As a madman shakes a dead geranium

Alone in his grim passageways of houses Gerontion begins an emotional shuddering, verses probe a life of his own, that seems almost to unfasten himself from the author. Men bungle blindly down the corridors of history. With vanity as their guide they are deceived by triumphs, avowing no control over choice between good and evil but obligated to unpredictable substitutes. It's an endless labyrinth of futility. And while some would say that Eliot's compulsive image is the abyss. It is the corridor, the blind hallway, the old man attends to with anxiety while the corrupted wind sweeps his world "Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear / In fractured atoms." Grover Smith explained it long ago:

Gerontion describes only "the unstilled world," the turning wheel, the hollow passages--not "the Garden / Where all love ends," the ending of lust and the goal of love. The point at which time ends and eternity begins, at which history disappears in unity and the winding spiral vanished in the Word, is lost to the world of the poem. Yet the Word exists; it is only history, which cannot find Him, history with a positivistic conception of the universe, a deterministic view of causation, a pragmatic notion of morals. As Chesterton's Father Brown remarks, "What we all dread most ... is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare." Eliot's symbol of the mazelike passages, or the clocklike wheel of time, or the whirlwind of death, the gaping whirlpool, is the antithesis of the single, unmoving, immutable point within. History is the whirlwind, for history is of the world, and history like the world destroys all that dares the test of matter and time.
( From T.S. Eliot's Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning, 1956. )

Lastly the Straits of Belle Isle are a Canadian waterway that divides the Labrador Peninsula from Newfoundland Island and the Horn refers to Tierra del Fuego, Chile, a land located at the southernmost tip of South American that was described by Charles Darwin in his Voyage of the Beagle as a place of death.


Congratulations if you've followed along this far. In the end Christ the tiger comes for the aging protagonist mired in decadence and lost passion, Gerontion asks then if redemption of the world is still possible. Desolation reaches an apex and the houses are multiplied. In his anguish the detached Gerontion has considered the pollution of windward punishments and his guilt is not passive, but as in the Dante's Purgatory he suffers perhaps to purify.

The finest of Eliot's poems have an amazing ability to reveal a man who was not only an inspired artist but also a keen observer of culture. His work encourages readers to re-examine their ideas of literature. The impenetrability of Eliot's poetry comes, I think, from the difficulty of his world: that heap of broken images. Even so, in the entirety of his poem, Eliot comes to reaffirm an image steeped in the recovery of the integration of religions, philosophies, and politics. His answers may not belong to us all, but still, who can resist the command of his nostalgia for a world that is whole.



Measure for Measure

On "Gerontion"

Public domain text taken from Gutenberg

T.S. Eliot

What TS Eliot Almost Believed

Monday, November 30, 2009


The "lowly" goldfish (Carassius auratus) is possibly the oldest, domesticated fish. To find the first recorded reference goldfish experts must go back to the, Sung dynasty in China, circa 1000 A.D. It is agreed that this is when the first "red" mutation appeared. The goldfish was then taken to Japan in about 1500 A.D., while definite dates, 1611, 1691 and 1728 give them a place in European history. The goldfish reached America, from Japan, in 1876 and found a permanent home. These imports were of exceptional quality, a fact which is not common today.

The Chinese have produced the most varieties of this genetically variable fish, with depending on which expert you choose to believe, over one hundred varieties and sub-varieties being produced. Most purists would start at the beginning with the first mutation, the "Red Hibuna" or..... the common goldfish.

Most ichthyologists would describe best specimens as those that have a "sturdy look" to it. The back and ventral area should be moderately curved. The head area should be short and "wide". The caudal peduncle is short but strong, supporting a short, narrowly forked, caudal fin. Pectoral, anal and pelvic fins are paddle shaped and carried stiffly. Scaling is of a bright, metallic sheen in even, overlapping rows. Coloration is very variable, from the "wild" grey-green color through crimson red. Often one will find orange or red fish marked very attractively with black fins, lips, etc...., these are going through a phase known as "discoloring". These fish are in the process of shedding the black pigment and allowing the underlying colors to show through. Some fish do this very early in life, others may never change color at all.

These are the fish one usually wins at carnivals, fairs or as a joke door prize at parties. Most die early on, but many will live if given proper care.

Goldfish have been proven to have a very long life span.......

* The oldest goldfish on record is Freda who died in Sussex, England aged 41 years.
* No wait... another claim for the oldest goldfish on record is Tish At least 43. Tish was acquired at a fair in July 1956 and died in early August 1999.
* and yet another fish tale??? The 1995 Guinness Book of World Records reports that a goldfish died in 1980 at age 41. The fish was owned by A.R. Wilson of Worthing, Great Britain and was named Fred.

Kinds of goldfish:

1. Comets have a straight tail and are orange.
2. Fantails are orange and have a flared tail.
3. Shubunkins have a bluish tint and a straight tail.
4. Calicoes have a flared tail and a bluish tint.
5. Sarassas are bred for their red and white color.

I visited over 35 web sites looking for goldfish trivia and this is what I found!

* Goldfish lose their color if they are kept in a dim light or they are placed in a body of running water, such as a stream. They remain gold when kept in a pond or in a bowl with adequate illumination.
* The Chinese Lettered Goldfish is covered with Chinese characters, achieved through thousands of years of crossbreeding
* Misnamed Fish:The electric eel is not an eel, but is related to the harmless goldfish.
* The first successful goldfish farm in the United States was opened in Martinsville, Indiana in 1899.
* The most popular name for a goldfish in Great Britain and the United States is "Jaws".
* The collective noun for goldfish is a troubling.
* The Game and Fish Department in Silver City, New Mexico suspects the goldfish came to populate Lake Quemado by the thousands from a stash dumped out of a fisherman's bait bucket years ago.
"Back in late winter, early spring, we got a report in Las Cruces that the goldfish were going bonkers in Quemado," a spokesman said. "When we got there, I was shocked. The whole cove by the boat ramp was orange." Fishermen aren't interested in catching the goldfish and the Game and Fish Department department removed more than five tons of the goldfish - about 45,000 - but it didn't put a dent in the population.
* It's against the law in Seattle, Washington, for goldfish to ride on a bus--unless they lie still.
* The common goldfish is the only animal that can see both infra-red and ultra-violet light--Goldfish have four color receptors in their eyes compared to our three - the mantis shrimp has ten color receptors.
* A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds, but...goldfish remember better in cold water than in warm water.
* The brain of a goldfish makes up 0.3% of its total body weight. An adult human brain is about 2% of total body weight. (Statistic from G.E. Nilsson, "The Cost of a Brain," Natural History, 12/99-1/00.)
* A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.
* Goldfish can suffer motion sickness, maybe that's because goldfish have ears inside their heads. So the next time you feel queasy on a boat, it may comfort you to know that fish can also get seasick. Scientists were able to make goldfish seasick by creating artificial waves in a glass bowl.
* In 1939, one of the most famous and certainly most disgusting of the college fads, swallowing live goldfish, started.
A young lady at University of Missouri was the first female student to swallow a live goldfish. But a co-ed student of Boston University became known that spring because of the goldfish sugar cookies she had created. Finally, a Massachusetts state legislature introduced a bill that would "preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption." The president of the Boston's Animal League made sure that goldfish swallowers would be arrested if campus officials did not stop this behavior. A pathologist at the U.S. Public Health Service said that goldfish may contain tapeworms or harbor a disease that causes the swallower to become anemic.

Today among the amazing acts is one performed by Stevie Starr The Regurgitator who swallows large coins, Rubic's cubes, ladies rings and padlocks. He can return the items in any order with the cube solved and the ring locked inside the padlock. Many people are astonished to watch him swallow a live goldfish and return it unharmed.
* On Sesame Street, Bert's goldfish were named Lyle and Talbot, presumably after the actor Lyle Talbot. What were the names of Loretta Hager's two pet goldfish in the TV series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman? Conway and Twitty. Bianca is the name of Mickey Mouse's pet goldfish and Pinocchio's was Cleo.
* Pepperidge Farm produces over one million flavored Goldfish per hour.
* and finally from Randy's Homestead: My Pets...
The Associated Press reported in December 1985, in Eugene, Oregon, a 6-month-old kitten set a Christmas tree on fire while batting at the lighted bulbs. The heat of the fire cracked a nearby fishbowl, and water from the bowl doused some of the fire. Firefighters arrived within minutes of the fire starting and put out the fire, which had spread to the carpet. A goldfish named Clyde was found lying prone in the cracked bowl, and when put into another bowl with water, was quickly revived and survived the ordeal. The water in Clyde's bowl had prevented the fire from getting out of control.

Disclaimer: The web tales, fish tales, and trivia gathered from web sites are meant for the sole purpose of entertainment and cannot verified as factual.


Petnet - Responsible Ownership in Australia - Petrivia Library
Accessed Mar 17 2001

Picture Source

Randy's Homestead: My Pets

Accessed Mar 17 2001

Tip 'o the hat to spiregrain for the information about Stevie Starr The Regurgitator. (August 26,2006)

Trivia for Kids

Accessed Mar 17 2001

Wow Animal and Pet Pictures
Accessed Mar 17 2001

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Genetic drift

Genetic drift refers to changes of gene frequency due solely to chance deviations from the expected ratios appearing when a small number of offspring and a small number of mating pairs in the population. The effect is not related to the advantage or disadvantages of the genes involved. It becomes much more pronounced in small isolated population than in larger groups, where the extent of the numbers would level off random fluctuations in the distribution of the gene pool.

As an example, if a new mutant, a appears in a single individual in the population it would be expected to be

A/a x A/A --> ½ A/A:½A/a.

However, if there are a limited number of offspring it might, by chance occur that they would all be A/A, rather than the anticipated ½:½ ratio. In this scenario the new gene would be lost.

A second example of genetic drift often termed the founder's principle, involves the chance of receiving a non representative distribution of genes among a handful of people, who may quit a large population to set up a new and isolated colony. If the original population was comprised of 50% B and 50% b, it's possible that 20 individuals who moved to an island may indeed be B/B or all b/b. In either situation, the new population would have a notably differing gene frequency distribution from the parent group. To a lesser extreme there would be the likelihood that the frequency of B among the members of the new colony could be 10 or 90 percent in place of the original 50%.

The Dunkers

Bently Glass demonstrated genetic drift among human populations among a group of people in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, known as the Dunkers. A German Baptist religious group they were descendants of a religious sect, the Baptist Brethern and were popularly known as Dunkards, Dunkers, or Tunkers, from the German for to dip, referring to their method of baptizing, by trine immersion, the candidate being immersed once for each member of the Trinity. Originating from the Rhineland region of Germany near Krefeld they had evolved from the Pietist movement. The first congregation was organized there in 1708 by Alexander Mack. Persecution drove them to America where,in 1719 under Peter Becker, they settled in Germantown, Pa. They have remained relatively isolated from others in the US, with their own manner of dress and custom distinct from those around them. They were essentially genetically isolated because they generally did not reproduce with people in nearby populations.

Amidst the characteristics of the Dunkers which were studied , the ABO blood groups illustrate the possible determinants of genetic drift. Comparisons were made with the people in Rhineland of West Germany today and with people in the eastern United States. A number of traits are either more or less frequent in the Dunkers than they are in Germany or other populations in Pennsylvania. Sixty percent of the Dunkers have a distinctly higher frequency of Type A blood, as compared with a 41% in Rhineland and 40% in the eastern US respectively. Along with the loss of type B among the Dunkers at a 3% population occurrence compared to 10 % in Rhineland and 11% in the eastern US. This appears to be the manifestation of genetic drift in an early generation after migration, when their numbers were small, the ancestors of today's Dunkers may have produced a generation of children with a larger abundance of the gene for the A antigen and a lower one for the B antigen. There is no reason to believe that selection or anything other than pure chance was involved. A gene pool with a high frequency of A and a low frequency of B has, as a result, come down through the generations.

Genetic Drift and Catastrophe

At times a huge catastrophe will wipe out the majority of a population, leaving only a few survivors. Such catastrophes could be a disease, plague or some terrific natural force such as a tidal wave or hurricane. The few survivors may not be representative of the originating population and would have descendants differing according to the chance distribution of genes in those who survived. At the University of Hawaii just such an example of this was revealed by N.E. Morton during his studies of the natives of the Micronesian Islands. On the island of Pingelap he found that 6% of the population had a serious inherited eye disorder, achromotophobia. The recessive gene for this condition, when homozygous, causes a degeneration of the retinal cones, and results in complete color blindness along with extreme sensitivity to bright light. The compared populations on surrounding islands showed a very low frequency of this abnormality, much less than one percent. An investigation into determining the cause of this notable deviation uncovered that a serious hurricane hit Pingelap in 1900 killing all but 20 inhabitants. By chance, it appears that this small group had a much greater chance than average occurrence of this gene. Or, it could be that the survivors with the gene had more children that those with the normal allele. Either factor, or more likely both, could have resulted in the high incidence of achromotophobia there today.


The relative importance of genetic drift and selection depends, in part, on estimated population sizes. Drift is much more important in small populations and is important to remember that most species consist of numerous smaller inbreeding populations called demes.

Studies of evolution at the molecular level have provided strong support for drift as a major mechanism of evolution. Observed mutations at the level of gene are mostly neutral and not subject to selection. One of the major controversies in evolutionary biology is the neutralist-selectionist debate over the importance of neutral mutations. Since the only way for neutral mutations to become fixed in a population is through genetic drift. This controversy is actually over the relative importance of drift and natural selection.


Columbia Encyclopedia

Genetics: A Survey of the Principles of Heredity. Ed. H. Bently Glass, June Shepard. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972.

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