Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Death of Love in the Forsaken Garden

Swinburne's use of language and rhyme scheme creates a vivid image of the decay in his poem, "A Forsaken Garden." The imagery in the second stanza illustrates this, "So long have the gray, bare walks lain guestless, / Through branches and briers if a man make way" (13-14). To imagine a garden where the only thing that grows is briars. Clearly the poet is languishing over a failed romance when he alludes to the roses that once grew in the garden, "The thorns he spares when the rose is taken; / The rocks are left when he wastes the plain" (21-22). His love has withered away much like the garden and all that remains is thorns. The poem twists and turns and pulls you on through the use of internal rhyme, like a fleeting romance. "Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither, / As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose" (51-52). There will be no more romance for the poet, for there are no more roses in the garden. The imagery of the sea could be an allusion to all the love's lost, as he stands in the garden regretting past mistakes, awaiting death.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I realized that in my post from last night I completely misquoted the poem, which really made my point moot. No more 2am blog posts. I swear. Anyway, here's a new one to make up for it.

In class today, Professor Porter pointed out that we should be reminded of Wordsworth when listening to the flow, cadence, and diction of "Goblin Market." I hadn't really made an in depth connection between Rossetti and Wordsworth other than the fact that Rossetti probably did read him and was influenced in some way. But going back and looking at it from that perspective, I now see a much closer resemblance. Both poets, when creating the settings of their poems, use imagery that could almost be described as pastoral -- Wordsworth with his fields and flowers; Rossetti with her fruits and markets. However, both do so in such a way that the pastoral sense that might normally accompany these images is distorted. The flower in Wordsworth may mark a grave, as Rossetti's fruits are associated with rape, loss of innocence, improper desire, and so forth. This distortion, coupled with the almost sing-songy nature that both poets employ, creates an interesting dynamic that completely perverts all sense of what's what by the end of the poem. Obviously the outcomes are somewhat different in regards to physical life, but the structure and setup are very similar, and each done very well in their own regards.

Ekphrasis in/on the Blessed Damozel

Take a look at Rossetti's painting; if you click on the image, you'll get a larger view, and you can see the poem inscribed on the bottom of the frame. As we discussed with Browning and Tennyson, ekphrasis is the technical term for a work of art that imitates or represents another work of art in a different medium, usually the verbal representation of visual representation. In this case, the direction of representation is reversed, and raises questions about how the painting asks us to interpret the poem. Does it offer a particular interpretation? Tell us how to read the poem? In its material presentation, this work creates the image as the true text, and the poem serves as a kind of footnote that explains the image: is Rossetti suggesting that the poem works in the service of something other than itself? How then does thiis suggest we understand his illustrations to his sister's poem "Goblin Market"?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rossetti's "Goblin Market"

Well, I hope that I have not been overly influenced by my seminar class on the art of love (which stresses all things Freudian and strange and for which this poem is also due on Thursday April 1), but I noticed some weird love relationships in this poem. First, there is the strange and inordinate desire to taste the fruit of the goblin men, even though Laura and Lizzie know they shouldn’t. Laura, however, cannot resist and succumbs to their seduction, becoming a slave to her desire. She begins to wither and die because she cannot get any more fruit, she cannot even hear or see the goblin men. This part—to me—suggests a sexual metaphor. She has given herself to the goblin men and satisfied both of their desires—to “come buy” and to eat. Since she has given away part of herself; as Lizzie puts it when referring to Jeanie: “Who should have been a bride; / But who for joys brides hope to have / Fell sick and died” (ll. 313-315). The “joys brides hope to have” seems to refer to the sexual relationship of the wedding night. Second, there is the bizarre relationship between Lizzie and Laura. They are sisters, but share one bed and sleep “Cheek to cheek and breast to breast / Locked together in one nest” (ll. 197-198). Also, Lizzie’s language after she goes to get fruit to satisfy Laura’s desires is very erotic: “Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, / Goblin pulp and goblin dew. / Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me” (ll. 468-472). Laura’s response to Lizzie’s invitation is the following: “She clung about her sister, / Kissed and kissed and kissed her… / She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth” (ll. 485-486, 492). This seems abnormal, exorbitant, just a little strange. As we see in the picture that precedes the poem, the sisters are locked in a loving embrace. It is the natural pose for two lovers sleeping together rather than two sisters. Also, it seems that Laura is dreaming of the goblin men and their fruits as she sleeps. These two representations of “love” are both strange, especially since the poem ends on the slightly didactic note of “For there is no friend like a sister” even though both sisters have married and had children (l. 562). Overall, I had to ask, ‘What is this poem trying to get at?’ There is the warning against giving oneself to men and the message to trust in sisters, but both sisters do marry men and have children. Any thoughts?

Sisters in the Goblin Market

This poem is particularly interesting in that it has more of a narrative feel to it than most other poems. Through the comparison of two sisters, we find out what happens to women when they go astray. Lizzie is the more cautious of the two sisters, telling Laura that "Twilight is not good for maidens," and accepting fruit from strange men is dangerous and unacceptable. These goblins don't even appear to have human-like faces. Rosetti describes them as
"One had a rat's face, / One whisked a tail, /One tramped at a rat's pace, / One crawled like a snail / One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry, / One like a ratel tumbled hurry scurry..."
Here is an image I found of the "goblins" which look more like animals than actual goblins.
This link is more what I had in mind of what goblins look like.

However, all of these talking creatures reminds me of Alice and Wonderland...considering next week we will be reading that story, perhaps this is a kind of 'pre' Wonderland?

Like Alice, she enters a world she is unfamiliar with, and she falls head over heels into this dreamlike trance caused by the fruit and the misleading "dove-like" voices of the goblins.
In the end, it is Laura's sister who saves her. Lizzie is the rational, grounded sister, and she does not react to the goblin's violent attacks on her. However, for how hard Lizzie works to ignore the goblins, I found this particular quote interesting, when she heads off to buy the fruit for her sister's sake:

"At twilight halted by the brook:
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look."

She loosens her morals for the sake of her sister, she does not ignore the symbols of sexual desire (which are represented by the abundance of fruit), but she does not give in all the way as Laura does. She does not figuratively "give herself up" to the goblins by cutting her hair, and they react violently. However, her courage pays off and Laura is saved, except I am a little fuzzy on what exactly it is that saves her...if that could be clarified that would be great.

Overall, I think this poem is a good midway point from the Fairy Tale "Romance Perverted" poems that we studied last week and Alice and Wonderland for next week.

Caliban Upon Setebos

Since no one decided to contemplate, in my opinion, the weirdest poem we have read so far, I decided to post on "Caliban on Setebos," having previously studied it with Professor Porter and attempted to write a paper on it. The poem is a contemplation of Natural Selection, and Caliban misunderstands this process because he is unwilling to accept that his low societal standing is natural. He projects his bitterness and anger onto Setebos, or Natural Selection, and twists its role in nature. In order for Setebos to be an agent of Natural Selection, his behavior must embody the scientific tenet of Charles Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection". Darwin asserts “any variation, however slight...if it be in any degree profitable to an its infinitely complex relation to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual” (Darwin 132-33). He also notes that competition develops from the “struggle for existence that inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase” (134). Caliban notes this variation of individuals when he speculates upon and imitates the behavior of Setebos with a population of crabs. Each crab has a unique physical variation that is then associated with its success in life: “the first straggler that boasts purple spots / shall join the file, one pincer twisted off; / ‘say, this bruised fellow shall receive a worm, / and two worms he whose nippers end in red” (Browning 104-07). Caliban recognizes that physical traits determine the crab's success, but he believes their fate depends on his whims he explains, “as it likes me each time, I do: so He” (108). The grammatical structure of Caliban’s statement, with Caliban’s behavior preceding Setebos’, indicates that Caliban is projecting his emotions and logic onto Setebos. This discards Darwin’s concept of random variation for the idea of random success in life, twisting Caliban’s perception of the rudimentary tenet of Natural Selection. I wont point out Caliban's confusion throughout the rest of the poem, but for Setebos fulfills the remaining tenants of Natural Selection through several other organisms. The squirrel and the urchin embody Survival of the Fittest while the "icy fish" occupies an environmental niche. Browning's poem is an elaborate portrayal of Natural Selection and the problem it poses to disenfranchised members of society.

Rosetti The Blessed Damozel

As I was reading Rosetti's The Blessed Damozel, I understood how powerful his language and description were throughout the poem. He manages to use words to create vivid pictures, almost cinemagraphic in a way that are very similar to Milton's descriptions in Paradise Lost. This picturesque quality to his poetry helps narrate the story a lot better because it helps create a myriad of images that reflect the story he is telling. It also exemplifies the efforts poets like Rosetti put forth to interweave the spiritual traditions, the pastoral, along with a mystic one that reads more like a fairytale story. The poem begins with a great picturesque description of Heaven and unravels from there to describe the desire of the Blessed Damozel to eventually meet the man she loves in the Heavenly kingdom. I also noticed how important it was for poets during this era like Rosetti to marry poetry to the arts, as a way to strengthen, prove, and display the power of words. Like Browning, Rosetti is trying to incorporate many elements in his poetry in order to legitimize poetry and the power it holds.

The sanctity of nature in "Forsaken Garden"

The author of "A Forsaken Garden" had a lifelong disdain for the crown of England as well as the church. These feelings as well as his alcoholism probably held back Swineburn from a term as Poet Laureate. Because of this I would suggest a reading of this poem as a piece that rejects the manmade institutions of the world. I believe the poem argues that all things associated with humanity, even death and love, are temporary. Swineburn also had a great love of the sea that he cultivated as a youth and this poem is very representative of that mariner's spirit and the feeling that the natural world and the sea in particular will outlive and outlast all things.

Form Understood as Content

We talked a lot about the content of "My Last Duchess" in class, in terms of both the objectification of the Duchess, the power paranoia of the Duke and the relationship to audience. The content of this poem, however, is also specifically enacted in its form in the phrase unit and meter, the defamiliariazaiton of the objects of the poem, the framing, and the imposition of structure from the Duke. The poem is tightly knit to convey the same structurally and formally precisely what it shows through content. The strict iambic pentameter and heroic couplets lends itself to the almost maniacal control exercised by the Count. By speaking of both painting and Duchess in unfamiliar tones, Browning creates a transfer of the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception with roughened, impeded language. Even the poem itself is framed like the painting discussed, the Duke's talking directly to his audience surrounding his story of his wife. The structure is ultimately directly the imposition of the Duke, although the structure also points to the difficulty that the Duke has in asserting this control. The enjambments of the poem, for example, occur when he speaks of his wife and her death, imparting a feeling of loss of control as he struggles to reassert himself against her memory and the power of authorship of the painting. By creating this double layer of content, with form as content and content as content, Browning posits art (in this case the poem) as a way of breaking down our easy or "natural" way of perception to induce a new way of seeing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Women Trapped Cont.

I thought that today's readings were a good follow-up to Nathaniel's post from last week for several reasons. In particular, the idea of the arrogance of men really caught my attention in Browning's "Porphyria's Lover." When I read it, I really noticed the enormous lack of empathy from the narrator. His total disengagement and lack of humanity was so petrifying, and this tone might reflect some commentary on men in society. His attitude toward Porphyria lacks any sense of chivalry, compassion or emotion. Indeed, at the end of the poem, the narrator is even arrogant toward God in his snide remark that "God has not said a word." It seems that these romantic poems portray hyper-dependent women and utterly senseless men. That's a bad combination.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Clarity in Properiza Rossi

As I was researching Felicia Heman's life, I found it particularly interesting that her work was often assigned to schoolchildren. Her poem celebrates moments clarity and optimism, which would indeed be a valuable message for children to hear. Lines like
"The bright work grows beneath my hands, unfolding as a rose leaf after leaf, to beauty, line by line",

celebrate poetic talent and could be read as encouragment to succeed in spite of life's obstacles, which are, in the case of this poem, related to love. Unlike the gothics and romantics, Heman seems to rejoice in her poetic felecity and its ability to convey the pangs and joys of being in love. There is a great sense of agency and purposefullness in this poem that Wordsworth, Keats and Colerige lacked.

Properzia Rossi - Killed into Art

Last semester in one of my classes we read a feminist critique of Snow White about women who had been "killed into art" - basically meaning that the aesthetic ideal of the woman had made them into nothing but objects, and their existence as three-dimensional, complicated people was basically negated by the patriarchal ideal.

I think that works really well here with Properzia Rossi - first of all, the whole reason she cares so much about the statue she's making is not for any personal pleasure, but because the one person she loves doesn't love her because she's not beautiful enough for him. As a result, she has to make a statue that he might appreciate for its beauty. That way, he'll love some part of her - the beauty of the statue which her talent has created. But more than a representation of her talent, I feel like the statue is the concrete image she always wanted to be...and that's what I feel is kind of wrong with her mentality here. That she doesn't do it for herself, that the only reason she wants to have fame is so that he might recognize her, however insubstantially, and think fondly of her in the future.

Then again - why does anyone try to achieve fame? And the problem with feminist critiques in my mind is why does anyone do anything? Being in love with someone seems to me to be a pretty legitimate reason to make a statue, at least as legitimate as trying to get fame forever. I guess we're really supposed to do things because we love them - but who knows why we love to do the things we do at all - it could just be some evolutionary/biological reason. This is going off on a tangent which is in no way related to bodies/souls. Sorry.

My Last Duchess

In our discussions of the give and take between poetry and paintings in class thus far, the norm has been for poetry to do the giving and paintings to do the taking. Most often, it is an artist who interprets or draws inspiration from a selection of poetry, not the other way around. Interestingly, I think the tables might be turned if we examine Browning's "My Last Duchess." This poem is commonly understood to be an historical reference to Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, and his first wife Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who lived in the mid 16th century. According to history, Lucrezia died under suspicious circumstances after only a few years of marriage at age 17. Poison was suspected to be a possible cause. Anyway, the famous Italian painter Agnolo Bronzino painted a portrait of Lucrezia before she died -- and so naturally I have been looking at the painting to see if it could have served as the source for Browning's inspiration three hundred years later.
File:Agnolo Bronzino, ritratto di Lucrezia de' Medici.JPG
This is a copy of the image (sorry it is so large). For me at least, there is something powerful and engaging about this portrait, especially if we examine the facial expression of Lucrezia. Certainly "the depth and passion of its earnest glance" is clear. I am not sure if the Duchess is smiling, indeed, her piercing look almost suggests the opposite - deep loneliness and despair. Either way, if Browning actually did look to this portrait for inspiration, I think it must be important to interpreting his poem. If he did not, then it remains interesting to compare the real-life representation of a character forever memorialized by Browning's famous poem.

My Last Duchess

Properzia Rossi

Last class we talked a little bit with regards to Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil about how themes are incorporated throughout different art forms, particularly with poetry and painting, and how they are interpreted similarly or differently in the work. This relationship with painting and poetry seems to repeat itself throughout history, which I find very interesting. I was unable to find Ducis' painting of the work, but I was able to find a description of the painting that described Properzia Rossi showing her last work to a knight, presumably her lover, who basically looked like he didn't care about her work or wasn't impressed. Throughout the poem we see Hemans describe Rossi's work with references to nature (roses, sunshine, etc.), and then describe the lover's reaction to the work with references to death. I assume the lover was not literally killing Properzia, although I may be wrong, and that this is a metaphor to show how her lover has taken away part of her life by not caring about her work. I also think the combination of nature and death simile's is interesting, as this appeared in many of the poems in last week's class.

Porphyria's Lover & Its Underlying Meaning

As I read Porphyria's Lover, I was definitely surprised at the ending. I knew it wasn't going to be happy but I didn't expect him to strangle her and then take her body and make it seem like she was resting on his shoulder... I propped her head up as before, Only, this time my shoulder bore/Her head, which droops upon it still (lines 49-50). He continues to touch her like she was still alive...I warily oped her lids...her cheek once more/Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss (lines 44-48). It is creepy to imagine a person manipulating a dead body that way, especially since her killed her. This poem is in the collection Men and Women, which Browning dedicated to his wife which I think is interesting. But what is the meaning behind this poem? Is it a social commentary and warning for women and their behavior? Or is it a critique on both genders since the the man killed her?

Nature also plays an important role in the beginning of the poem and describing the cottage and storm. Porphyria shows her love for him by coming to his cottage in a storm. She also risks her social standing because it was considered inappropriate for her to conduct herself in this manner.