Anorexic by Eavan Boland

I am not a huge fan of poetry and I do not really know why. I guess I tend to read novels since I still have to find crime-fiction- poems. Or maybe I should write some myself. Anyway, I have this professor who loves poetry and every time I attend her lessons I wonder why I find it so hard to read poetry when it is so inspiring. Yesterday, we analyzed this poem with her and I fell instantly in love with it. I do not want to write the analysis here, but just its context so that you interpret it yourself and see what it means to you. Eavan Boland writes in 1980’s Catholic Ireland where women’s bodies were silenced. Here it is:

ANOREXIC (Eavan Boland)

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.

Yes I am torching
ber curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials.

How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.

I vomited
her hungers.
Now the bitch is burning.

I am starved and curveless.
I am skin and bone.
She has learned her lesson.

Thin as a rib
I turn in sleep.
My dreams probe

a claustrophobia
a sensuous enclosure.
How warm it was and wide

once by a warm drum,
once by the song of his breath
and in his sleeping side.

Only a little more,
only a few more days
sinless, foodless,

I will slip
back into him again
as if I had never been away.

Caged so
I will grow
angular and holy

past pain,
keeping his heart
such company

as will make me forget
in a small space
the fall

into forked dark,
into python needs
heaving to hips and breasts
and lips and heat
and sweat and fat and greed.

 

Borrowed from Elite Skills

Feminist Sundays

Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Feminist Sundays! Please leave a link to your wonderful posts on the comments section so that we can all pay you a visit. Thank you :)

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Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

The idea for this project started when I was reading a book about female philosophers and I realised my total ignorance about their lives, works and achievements. One of the names that came up was Emily Dickinson and of course, I knew her name, but I realised I could not quote a single line of her 1,175 poems. How could that be? So, I decided to dedicate this post to her and to the many other women whose names of course we know, but whose works we are not so familiar with.

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  • Name: Emily Dickinson
  • Dates and place: Born in London in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Died in the same place in 1886.
  • Historical period: Romanticism with an influence of the 18th century metaphysical poets.
  • Famous for: The 1,800 poems discovered by her family after her death at the age of 56. During her short life, she seldom left her house which has resulted in a comparison with the many women secluded in the Middle Ages. Her poetry is usually described as “primitive” due to her scarce use of words, yet hers are masterful pieces full of emotions and images. It is not a simple task for writers to evoke so much through so little.
  • Poems: The Complete Poems (Volume II: Part 3 “Love”). Upon researching her body of work, this has come up as my favourite poem. I like how she established a dialogue and the idea of a legacy where there is a construction around feelings (pain as something you can parcel and put boundaries to). Also, the idea of knowing another person’s consciousness suggests me – probably because of the previous line – eternal love of any kind, not just romantic. But also, a love for someone you know everything about and there is an instant and lasting connection with them.

You left me, sweet, two legacies,—

A Heavenly Father would content,

Had He the offer of;

You left me boundaries of pain

Capacious as the sea,

Between eternity and time,

Your consciousness and me.

Source

I know this is very little about such a great and well-known writer as Emily Dickinson, but it is a start and this is why I came up with the idea for these posts. I remember studying some of her poems in class and back then the did not appeal to me at all. Now that I have explored her works and I gave myself the opportunity to choose a poem I like and relate to it, Emily has now a place in my mind and heart.

Poem: Lady Weeping at the Crossroads

I must admit I am not the biggest poetry fan. But, ironically, I love music! For me, it is much easier to connect to a message when sung, with music reflecting the singer’s interpretation of the meaning. And talking of music and poetry, yesterday I remembered Carla Bruni and her album No Promises. There, the Italo-French singer adds music to her favourite English poems. My favourite piece of the whole album is Lady Weeping at the Crossroads, a poem from 1940 by W.H Auden full of sadness but, somehow, hope. I think the woman in the poem feels lost but, at the same time, it makes the world hers: there is a sense of infinity surrouding her. So here you have both the original poem and the song. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Lady Weeping at the Crossroads

Lady, weeping at the crossroads,
Would you meet your love
In the twilight with his greyhounds,
And the hawk on his glove?

Bribe the birds then on the branches,
Bribe them to be dumb,
Stare the hot sun out of heaven
That the night may come.

Starless are the nights of travel,
Bleak the winter wind;
Run with terror all before you
And regret behind.

Run until you hear the ocean’s
Everlasting cry;
Deep though it may be and bitter
You must drink it dry,

Wear out patience in the lowest
Dungeons of the sea,
Searching through the stranded shipwrecks
For the golden key,

Push on to the world’s end, pay the
Dread guard with a kiss,
Cross the rotten bridge that totters
Over the abyss.

There stands the deserted castle
Ready to explore;
Enter, climb the marble staircase,
Open the locked door.

Cross the silent ballroom,
Doubt and danger past;
Blow the cobwebs from the mirror
See yourself at last.

Put your hand behind the wainscot,
You have done your part;
Find the penknife there and plunge it
Into your false heart.

Poem: When we Two Parted by Lord Byron

Today, in my 19th century literature lesson we read the following poem by Lord Byron and I inmediately fell in love with it. I have a soft spot for certain romantic poems (not any by Cooleridge or Wordsworth) because they appeal very directly to the reader’s feelings. This creates a unique bond between the reader and the author: once again, literature proves ist universality and its power to unite human beings across time and space. Here is the poem:

When we Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shrudder comes o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee so well–
Long, long I shall rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?–
With silence and tears.

I happened to had a dream about departing from my boyfriend that same night, so this reading just arose the (unpleasant) feelings I woke up with. But, there is no need for a fictional situation to feel identified with the author’s feelings. However, our professor suggested that this poem is dedicated to Byron’s half-sister, Augusta, with whom he was rumored to have had an affair. Obviously, we (hopefully) cannot identify with the frustration reflected in certain lines (In secret we met / How should I greet thee?) that comes with the relationship, but I also see the pressure from pretending, of abscribing to the English social rules – especially if we take into account Byron’s affairs that would still call our attention even in the 21st century!

So, hope this Romantic introspection brightens your Monday! Have a nice week y’all!

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer was a compulsory reading for a monographic course on the author. I wasn’t very attracted to the idea at first but I quickly changed my mind.

3/5

Basically, The Canterbury Tales is the transcription of the tales of a group of pilgrims competing for a prize: a soup. It is very important to highlight that it is a transcription and it has a lot of oral features, like interruptions. However, most of the tales rhyme and it is difficult to actually imagine someone speaking like that (even in the 14th century!).

Our professor selected some tales for us to read, amounting to 20 in total. However, they could all be linked with one another thanks to their themes or the connection between the narrators. The characters held extensive debates on marriage, sex and appearances versus reality which makes the stories very interesting since each narrator has a different view according to their social class.

It is very difficult to actually write a review on the tales: there were some I loved (The Clerk’s Tale) and others I did not really understand because you need to know quite a lot of history/English and French culture to get the references. However, I can assure you they are a great and complete description of the 14th century, its people and how they were affected by the enormous changes of English history (The Peasants’ Revolt, the Black Death). So, I recommend a great book that actually helped me to understand everything better, as a read-along: The Oxford Companion to the Canterbury Tales. It helps if, like me, you choose the Penguin Edition of the tales, translated to Modern English but keeping the rhyming scheme.

In general, I enjoyed reading such a classic and I was really surprised to find out that many modern thoughts already existed in Medieval times. For example, Chaucer defends essentialism instead of nominalism: that is, like science, what matters is the facts and not the authority of who says it. Also, some post-modern writing devices were already used back in the 14th century which suggests a long narrative tradition.

However, Medieval literature is not really my cup of tea and I found myself struggling with history and Classica literature to understand most of the tales. On the other hand, I think this is the best work for a first approach to English Medieval literature!

Click on The Clerk’s Tale above to read a prose translation to Modern English.

Poem: A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott

Just recently I did a series on postcolonialism and did not include a wonderful author I did not know yet: Derek Walcott. He is a West Indian with mixed ancestry: two of his grandparents were black and two were white. Being superficial, the result could not be better: he got both blue eyes and dark skin.

But, leaving superficial comments besides, his mixed ancestry has also influenced his work as an artist (a decision he took being a kid). However, reading one of his poems, I also found he is very influenced by the sea and the fluidity. This last concept of fluidity is very important in postcolonial theory: we are not fixed entities, we are in continous change and can adapt ourselves to new situations and contexts. Just like water does in different containers!

So, I leave here the first poem I read by Walcott, the one I liked the most and that deals with that reconstruction of an African past based on a continent many descendants of slaves have never visited and means nothing to them. Hope you enjoy it.

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa, Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?
Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilizations dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

I have added links to the most complicated works so you can read a little bit and understand the poem. Basically, Walcott criticizes both African and European people because they both did the same: end other people’s lives. He also sees his mixed ancestry as something poisoning instead of enriching but still praises the African landscape, separating it from its inhabitants. At the same time, he also praises the English tongue, despite being an important tool of colonialism.

I would like to know your opinion about the poem:

As I said on my last post, I am a narrative girl, but I’ve discovered a like postcolonial poetry too much. I find it enriching and easier to understand thatnclassical poetry (Whitman, Dickinson etc). So, I have bought an antology on the diaspora poetry called Ten and which I have already recommended to any reader interested in postcolonialism.

Did you like the poem? Do you agree with the idea of returning to an African past (unknown to many) as something dangerous?

I personally agree with Walcott. Such a return is on a myth and not a reality. I understand that your ancestors being slaves may affect you, but, how can returning to a landscape you don’t know, a language that means nothing to you and to a culture that may be a slight part of you, enrich your life? I would rather focus on the multiculturality of my present and try to enjoy it as much as I can.

Further reading on the influence of slavery HERE.

Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

I’ve always considered myself a narrative girl since poetry was never an option. But, things are changing this year because thanks to my Chaucer and Caribbean Literature courses, I am beginning to enjoy poetry. To tell you the truth, I could not be happier!

Summary from Book Depository:

‘Now listen with good will, as I go straight to my subject matter, in which you may hear the double sorrows of Troilus in his love for Criseyde, and how she forsook him before she died’ Like Romeo and Juliet, or Tristan and Iseult, the names of Troilus and Criseyde will always be united: a pair of lovers whose names are inseparable from passion and tragedy. Troilus and Criseyde is Chaucer’s masterpiece and was prized for centuries as his supreme achievement. The story of how Troilus and Criseyde discover love and how she abandons him for Diomede after her departure from Troy is dramatically presented in all its comedy and tragic pathos. With its deep humanity and penetrating insight, Troilus and Criseyde is now recognized as one of the finest narrative poems in the English language. This is a new translation into contemporary English of Chaucer’s greatest single poem which can be read alongside the Middle English original, or as an accurate and readable version in its own right.

First of all I got to admit I got really scared when I realised I had to read one thousand stanzas. How could I do it? I have never enjoyed reading poetry so it just felt a real challenge… but it wasn’t. Troilus and Criseyde has become a work I would consider re-reading in my free time and that has made me love Chaucer’s works a little bit more.

The story is very interesting and it is not that different to Romeo and Juliet in that they both deal with an impossible love. In fact, I must admit I love the Chaucerian style over the Shakesperian one (but I cheated, because I read a translation to Modern English). Also, because it is a work from the Middle Ages, there are a lot of intertextuality and interior monologues.

Regarding the characters, especially Criseyde, what can I say? She is a modern woman in her own right. Abandoned by her father, she married and there is no reference to her having children. When Troilus approaches her, she has two concerns: her honor and her freedom! In their relationship, she is the strong one, always reluctant to accept Troilus too romantic discourse. Her only blind spot is her fixation on her honor. As a widow, she does not want to be seen with any man and always wears black clothes. Obviously, it is hard to understand but, at the same time, we are still very close in history to the discrimination not only of widows but also of divorced women and single mothers.

The love story is difficult to understand for a modern reader. It is based on the idea of courtly love and sometimes the characters have too much affected manners. However, it has the elements of any romantic movie we would be sold nowadays: the boy in love, the strong girl, the funny friend (No Strings Attached comes to my mind right now) and the impossibility of their love. However, some previous reading on courtly love and an open mind will work this problem out.

Would I recommend Troilus and Criseyde? Totally! However, readers should keep in mind that the interesting thing of the work is not the ending but how and why the story unfolds as it does. Also, unless you can read Middle English, I recommend to buy the Penguin Edition: the text is translated to Modern English but the stanzas and the rhyme are kept.

 

For those who have read the Postcolonial Series, please keep visiting this post for new aditions as my courses progress. At the moment, I plan to add, at least, one novel, a collection of poems, single poems and a play (their reviews will be post in the main page anyways) Thanks!