Thursday, February 25, 2010

Love is Blind

While reading Wordsworth’s “The Mad Mother”, “The Idiot Boy” and Southey’s “The Idiot” I couldn’t help but relate them to a seminar I am taking this semester—The Art of Love. In the seminar, we talk a lot about psychoanalysis, Freud and the way in which sexuality develops. While reading these three poems I felt uncomfortable about the relationship between the mothers and sons—the son seems to supplant the father as the love object, which is inappropriate and harmful to the child. The following passages highlight this weirdness:

“Thy father cares not for my breast, / ‘Tis thine, sweet baby, there to rest: / ‘Tis all thine own! …” (“The Mad Mother” ll. 61-63).

“She kisses o’er and o’er again, / Him whom she loves, her idiot boy” (“The Idiot Boy” ll. 397-398).

“And he was ev’ry thing to her, / And she to him was all” (“The Idiot” ll. 11-12).

These lines unsettle the reader. While mothers should love and care for their children, they should not love and care for them this much or in this manner. The mother’s affections are displaced in the Wordsworth poems, and in the Southey poem it is evident that the boy’s affections are misplaced as well—he even goes so far as to unbury her corpse and keep it in the house (Hitchcock’s Psycho anyone?). Obviously there is something uncanny about these relationships.

Of course, the other poems—“The Thorn” and “The Mad Woman”—offer the other extreme of the inappropriate mother-child love scenario: in these poems the mothers kill their children because the father is too deeply embedded in the heart of the woman. Instead of supplanting the father, these women destroy the child to maintain a pure and unchallenged relationship with the father, even if the father is absent.

Why the extremes? Perhaps these poets are pointing out the sickness of British society as a whole and its people’s misguided affections and cares. In both cases, obsession is the driving force and the characters are blinded by their sentiments. Perhaps they are making an appeal for the logical and rational and criticizing the overly emotional. It reminds me of the opposing phrases "Love is blind" and "Love is a choice." I think Wordsworth and Southey would condemn the first in favor of upholding the second.

Christian Allegory in Marinere

While we discussed the abolitionist interpretation of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere at length on Tuesday, I thought it would be interesting to also explore the Christian allegory that was extremely popular for a long time. From this perspective, the poem is viewed as a story of sin and redemption. The killing of the albatross reflects the fall of humanity, either in original sin, the crucifixion of Christ, or any other Biblical betrayal. From this sin, the mariner plunges into a purgatory of isolation. The albatross hung around his neck is symbolic of that sin. One source (I forget which) suggested that even the context of the mariner's story presented it as a Christian allegory: supposedly, the penance of having to tell everyone about his sin was not unique. In addition, the multitude of crazy gothic images may be interpreted in various ways to reflect spiritual concepts like hell, baptism, angels, etc. This interpretation of the poem is supported by the role of the hermit, the mariner's desire to pray, and other explicit Christian references.

While all of these elements are present in the poem, I am surprised that this interpretation continues to dominate. I am much more convinced that Christian elements were more a rhetorical tool than the central theme of the poem. However, upon my first reading of the Marinere, I would have never suspected the deep political ramifications that we discussed in class.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Coldness of Harry Blake

In reading the poem, "Goody Blake and Harry Hill," Wordsworth has the profound ability of actually making me feel cold through repetition and word choice. The constant chattering of Harry Gill's teeth paints a vivid image of a cold and miserable man. His description of the iced over streams, the bones rattling inside of the thinly clothed poor old Goody Blake, forced to stay awake and steal firewood in order to stay warm, even the cold night's wind blowing against the run down cottage. These images all create a cold feeling in the reader and makes this poem a perfect allegory of helping out a troubled neighbor when times are tough.

Harry's curse seems unbearable to me as the Nashville winter continues to prove unforgiving, but its an adequate response for his actions against Goody. He will forever be cold and know the constant struggle the the poor old Goody Blake must endure every winter in her lonely cottage. She commits such a small transgression by stealing Harry's firewood, for which Harry chastises her greatly while in his warm jacket. So she prays to God, who curses Harry to be cold forever. I am reminded of Dante's cold and dark vision of Hell in the Divine Comedy, and how he felt that treacherous actions against one's neighbors were amongst the most punishable of sins. Personally, I am tired of the cold and want Spring to come soon, but this poem seems appropriate given the recent weather.

Mothers Killing Their Children

Of all the Gothic realist poems that dealt with mother and their children, I want to examine two in particular--Wordsworth's "The Thorn" and Southey's "The Mad Woman." These both draw interesting parallels between the mothers. First of all, they both share the name Martha. In Wordsworth's poem, he is referring to a real person, and I wonder if it is coincidence that Southey's mad mother is also named Martha.
However, the biggest connection between the two poems is the color red. The mother in "The Thorn" wears a scarlet cloak, a symbol of wedlock, of the blood on her hands from killing her child, red is the color of sin. (The symbolism of the color red representing sin, and "loose sexual behavior," is most well known in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, where Hester Prynne is made to wear the scarlet letter A for adulteress on her cloak.)

Likewise, in Southey's poem, the woman's eyes "in a fever-fit were red" (24). Also in both poems, the mothers both have a fire raging inside of them.

Wordsworth: "A cruel, cruel fire, they say,/ Into her bones was sent:/ It dried her body like a cinder,/ And almost turn'd her brain to tinder." (129-132.)

Southey: "I have a fire in my head, she answered him, / I have fire in my heart also..." (17-18).

It is this fire inside of their veins that turns them mad, the "fire" is the knowledge of the crime they committed, it is the guilt that makes them sit on the grave of their child in miserable weather. The beautiful mossy hill "not higher than a two-years' child," (5) is the baby's grave. The narrator mentions that the "scarlet moss is red / With drops of that poor infant's blood" (221-222). There is some speculation on whether the child was killed at two years of age (as is referred to in the size of the hill,) or whether the mother killed her child as a newborn infant. More than likely, Martha Ray killed her baby soon after it was born because I don't think that after having a maternal bond with the baby for 2 years she could bring herself to kill her child. However, in her misery and grief from her lover/husband leaving her, she cannot bear to have his child as a constant reminder that she was abandoned.
What is interesting is that the town does not punish the mothers (as with Hester Prynne) because they cannot prove that the crime happened. Instead, the red associated with the mothers is their own personal reminder, it is their living hell.
Just as the Martha in Southey's poem says, "And there will be no winter time / In the place where I must go" (19-20). She knows she is set for eternal damnation, and she punishes herself while she is alive.

Mothers Out of Wedlock

I thought it was interesting that three of the Gothic Realist Ballads that we read, Southey's "The Mad Woman," and Wordsworth's "The Mad Mother" and "The Thorn" all are centered around the themes of the madness that takes hold of women who break the rules of society and either abandon their husbands or have their children out of wedlock.

The woman who abandons her husband, though potentially mad (even though she claims she is not), says she will not harm her son. Instead, she claims they will live happily in the woods "for aye." Nevertheless, she's not a reliable narrator. Earlier in the poem, she tells her baby, "And do not dread the waves below/ When o'er the sea rock's edge we go" and "The babe I carry on my arm/ He saves for me my precious soul." Perhaps she doesn't realize that jumping off a cliff will kill her, or perhaps, in the second to last stanza, when she sees the madness in her baby's eyes, that is really her own madness reflected, and one day, though she says she won't, she actually WILL do harm to him.

Even so, she is not as bad as the other two, who actually murder their own children and afterwards live with the "woe and misery" of their crimes. Both of them must eternally return to the site of their children's graves, guilt-ridden by the murders they have committed in an effort to cover up their existences and remain respectable in society.

In my opinion, it's VERY strange that Wordsworth wrote either of his poems. According to his biography, he left one girl, Anna, with child and didn't marry her (even though he "intended" to). If he knew the potential consequences of his actions (that she might go mad and kill their baby) how could he ever even think of leaving her? Then again, these poems may have been written after the incident. Thus, like the women in his poems, he's in a way revisiting his past crimes. They speak again and again of their misery and their guilt. Indirectly, so does he, through their voices. He laments the baby and the wife he left behind.

Stunted Growth in "The Thorn"

The prevalence of the language of stunted growth in Wordsworth's "The Thorn" was a particularly striking aspect of the poem, particularly when taken in conjunction with the brilliant and beautiful grave lying next to it. The thorn itself is twisted and disfigured in its place on the mountain, into "a mass of knotted joints, / A wretched thing forlorn," which is further weighted down by
A melancholy crop:
Up from the earth these mosses creep,
And this poor Thorn they clasp it round
So close, you’d say that they are bent
With plain and manifest intent
To drag it to the ground.
By casting this entity, as well, as "Not higher than a two year's child," Wordsworth completes an image that is rife with the idea that something inherently wild, enraged, and untamed in the mountain has served to disfigure the thorn, creating of it something ugly and stunted. By then equating Martha Ray with the mountain,
I thought I saw
A jutting crag,—and off I ran,
Head-foremost, through the driving rain,
The shelter of the crag to gain;
And, as I am a man,
Instead of jutting crag, I found
A Woman seated on the ground
Wordsworth suggests that perhaps there is something of the disfiguring madness in her, that worked on her unborn child in the same way that the nature of the mountain worked on the thorn, created something stunted, unable to fully bloom, as the moss on the grave has.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Transformation of the Natural into the Supernatural

I decided to look specifically at the end of the poem, after the Albatross is killed, because the supernatural aspects of the poem appear at this moment. It seems to me that the marinere attributes his guilt and fickleness of the weather to the natural, which are thus given agency and become supernatural. After he kills the albatross, the ship becomes stranded at sea and the crew is deprived of water, food, and shade. Logically, these harsh conditions lead to the death of the crew members and the hallucinations of the marinere (imagine a mirage in the desert - your desire for water causes it to appear etc.). Instead of coming to this conclusion, the marinere turns to the supernatural, the appearance of wind and current is caused by a spirit, which I think could be the devil. (He is 9 fathoms deep = the 9 levels of hell, and "the land of mist and snow" may refer to the cold/icy levels of hell while the fire imagery of the ocean hearkens to the fire and brimstone of the deepest levels.) Regardless of the nature of the spirit, the natural explanation is that the weather fluxuates. The description of the sea can also be explained by the bio-luminescence of algae; there are several other examples but I think y'all get the point. The marinere externalizes his guilt for the failure of the voyage and natural demise of his crew by attributing it to the supernatural. This is supported by his references to religion, which evokes a moral questioning of his actions. He is driven crazy, and, psychologically, the natural becomes supernatural.

Religion: An instrument to critique Slavery

As I read these emblematic pieces of the Supernatural horror and Realist gothic literary genres, it is very interesting to see the way Religion is utilized in comparison to Walpole's Castle of Otranto and other Gothic horror pieces. Unlike in Walpole's novel, religion here is not used as an intrument to question its very own institutions, it is used as a very stable institution to attack the slave trade. In Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" especially, Religion is not used as a literary device to overlap the supernatural and the natural realms. In fact, it is used to get rid of the supernatural and gothic that exists within the slave trade itself. One of the paintings we focused on today in the presentation really exemplifies this relationship between religion and nature. They work together to illuminate the atrocious aspects of society and the slave trade, specifically. It would be interesting to delineate how the gothic is changing in the way it is manipulated to portray slavery as the horrible. Religion is definitely one way in which the genre shifts its attention on religion itself and applies religious rhetoric to the social climate of 18th century.
Today the presenters highlighted the last stanza of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small
For the dear God, who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

and I couldn't quite remember what these lines reminded me of, but I just realized that some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most powerful rhetoric is known for making a similar argument. In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King mentions several times that all people of all races are all "God's children", and should therefore be treated equally on God's earth. I find it interesting that the use of Christian principles was crucial to both the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement almost 100 years later. Though the abolitionists may have been able to use religion in rhetoric alone, Christian principles of nonviolence, peace and the "golden rule" were intrinsic parts of civil rights organizations like the NAACP, SNCC and openly Christian organizations. Religion adds a moral dimension to any conversation, and Coleridge definitely makes both obvious and subtle use of it in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. On the obvious level, this ballad documents a crisis of faith, but closer reading shows that the author applies Christian values to denounce slavery. King would much more openly use Christianity to point out the evils of segregation years later. Clearly, religion has packed a powerful punch when it comes to bring about racial equality.

The Power of Religion and Suffering.

In both Southey's "The Sailor who Served in the Slave Traide" and Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancyent Marinere," there was a striking presence of faith for the ones suffering. However, rather than simply praying to overcome their troubles, both had accepted a life-sentence of their pain, and were actually playing that their life would therefore be ended shortly*. The most striking aspect of this, however, is how aware each seemed; both the Sailor and the Marinere were very sure only hell awaited their souls once their bodies died, yet both preferred eternal torment to that of the flesh. As much as I'm sure that I would want to end my own suffering in such a situation, I don't know if I would be praying for an eternity in hell as a way out.

*I do recognize that at the end of the "Rime of the Ancyent Marinere" he was actually praising his safe passage home; I am referring to when he witnessed the death of all his crew.

Also, one of my favorite movies references this poem. I'm sure many, many other movies have as well, but it's fun nonetheless.

The Sea as a Supernatural Force

In the three poems we were supposed to read (Southey, Robinson, Coleridge), there are parallels that I find interesting. The first is perhaps the most obvious, that all three poems deal with the ocean as a malevolent, supernatural force that is against man. This is most evidently seen in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," because throughout the entire poem the mariner has to battle the forces of nature (and the sea). Lines 107-118 of Part II in particular are some of my favorite lines of this poem,

"All in a hot and copper sky/ The bloody sun at noon, / Right up above the mast did stand, / No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day, / We stuck, ne breath ne motion, / As idle as a painted Ship / Upon a painted Ocean.

Water, water, every where/ And all the boards did shrink; / Water, water, every where, / Ne any drop to drink."

These repetition in these lines suggest a tedious, hard struggle for survival out at sea. The fact that the ship's crew is surrounded by miles and miles of water that cannot be drunk is torture. The same sort of torment is emphasized in Robinson's poem with descriptive words (such as "deaf'ning roar" (line 7), and the ominous "cavern wide/ Its shad'wy jaws display'd" (14-15) that show the brutality and desolation of the sea.

The other main connection I see between the poems is the guilt that stays with the survivors. In Southey's poem, the man who killed the slave woman by flogging her to death says "I saw the sea close over her/ Yet she is still in sight; / I see her twisting every where; / I hear her day and night." (105-108). Robinson also refers to the idea that by the power of Heaven the fisherman should have a guilty mind and "wastes, in Solitude and Pain--/ A loathsome life away." (80-81). The sea is a force of nature that is cruel; it is a "Gothic Horror," and leaves the minds of the people who dare to venture out to sea in eternal torment.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hope in the end of "The Salior"?

Southey's poem on slavery was very emotional and powerful. The descriptions of this man's mental sufferings were very life-like and stirring. It begins with a strong image of hopelessness and sadness but I feel like the ending has hope for the guilt he has after beating the woman. The spirit of the lady haunts him constantly (lines 105-108) and he is crying for some relief. Even though I feel like the minister offers hope, it is unclear if the sailor ever listened to him and prayed to be removed of these fears and guilt. The majority of the poem focuses on the events that happened on the ship but only a few stanzas actually show the interaction of the chaplain and sailor. It is heartbreaking to hear the descriptions of his acts but I wish there was a clearer ending that showed that the grace of God was working in this man's life and giving restoration.

The structure of this poem makes it easy to read and understand. The language is not as elevated as other poetry we've studied. The rhythm is very consistent and I think it helps so that the reader can focus on the text and not be sidetracked with the other structural issues.

The pathology of slavery in Southey

Reading Southey's poem I couldn't help but think of my other major (African American Studies). In many of my classes we have discussed the slave trade and discussed the epidemics of racism and slavery as social sicknesses. I think this poem, while progressive for its time, is demonstrative of that sickness. I make this argument chiefly because of the way the African woman is portrayed and objectified in the piece. While it is clear that she is enduring great pain and suffering at the hands of the sailor, her pain is not important. Her suffering only is significant because it causes him mental duress. This treatment of her pain as unimportant except as it applies to his is a key component of what caused the ethical breakdown necessary among "civilized" people that would cause them to implement widespread chattel slavery. While Southey himself seems very against the slave trade he doesn't seem to necessarily regard the woman as human or equal and his qualm doesn't seem to be with the enslaving but simply the whipping. Just a thought.

Southey: The Serious vs. The Song

Adding on to Sam's comment below,... although I agree that Southey is making a very serious commentary on the horrors of slavery, the style in which he writes the poem seems to refute this. Undoubtedly, the words of visual imagery such as "anguish," "crime," and "cursed," show the serious remorse that the sailor feels for his participation in the slave trade, the way in which the poem is read (or more likely recited) is in a very sing-songy jilt. To me, this seems to be a contrast between the gravity of the subject matter and the playfulness of the style. Perhaps, Southey is using this specific style to appeal to a wider audience, and portray the harsh and cruel reality of the slave trade to an otherwise oblivious audience, in need of enlightening...

Isolation, the Mariner, and the Haunted Beach

In reading a little bit of background information about these poems, I learned that the "Shipwreck'd Mariner" of Mary Robinson's "The Haunted Beach" is understood to be the ancient mariner of Coleridge's poem. I found this not only to be interesting, but also to provide vital insight into the meaning of Robinson's work. In particular, the connection more clearly explains the role of isolation in "The Haunted Beach." In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the mariner's shipmates are killed and he is isolated on the ship as a result of his killing the albatross - "O Wedding-guest this soul hath been / Alone on a wide wide sea: / So lonely 'twas, that God himself / Scarce seemed there to be." As a result of his sin, the mariner is doomed to roam and tell his tale in a life of psychological isolation. Robinson continues the idea of isolation in her poem by placing the "murder'd mariner" in a lone shed on a haunted beach, doomed to rot without every being buried. In this way, I think that Robinson is almost trying to pick up the story where Coleridge left off - and she ends it by continuing the isolation in death that the mariner was forced to suffer in life

Southey and "Realistic Gothic"

It seemed very apparent to me while reading Southey's poem, "The Sailor who had Served in the Slave-Trade," that he was using the Gothic genre to show the realistic horrors in society. The previous poems showed horror and terror in almost a playful and fun manner, while Southey decides to take the horror elements to make a serious anti-slavery statement. The characteristics such as death and the irrational are both played out in this poem, and I thought it was a very convincing way to make the horrors of slavery and the slave trade "as public as possible."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Clarification on the Role of Marriage in Alonzo

I feel like Sam and I made this point clear in our presentation earlier this week, but to sort of clarify our position I wanted to comment here. I think that a strong argument can be made that "Alonzo the Brave, and Fair Imogene" does actually go beyond criticizing the particular faults of Alonzo and Imogene's relationship to actually take a stab at the institution of marriage itself. While "the breaking of promises," as Peter puts it, is an obvious representation of the truth vs. lies aspect of the Gothic that we discussed in class, I think that Lewis is making a larger statement than "Be true to your husband" in his poem. The idea that Imogene was the object of another suitor's advances - "His treasure, his presents, his spacious domain / Soon made her untrue to her vows" - instead of the active initiator of the new relationship suggests that woman sort of lose their independence when they accept a husband. Indeed, Sam and I saw Lewis' description of Imogene being dragged to the grave as meant to underscore the notion of all marriage as "death" for women. Once they have promised themselves over to a man, they give up the independence they had as single women. Outside of the poem itself, I agree with Nathaniel that Lewis' life itself serves as a strong testament to this interpretation.