Category Archives: Poetry

Why

I read because I am hungry to know things. I want to understand the world better and I try to do this through books, poems, and plays. Literature is not always easy to explain and that is it is able to be so truthful to who we are. It is demanding and difficult, it requires you to think really hard about things you wouldn’t usually, but really should. I believe we are constantly changing and by reading literature, you give yourself more opportunity to choose the direction you are going. By reading, you become critical; you cannot agree with everything a writer says and this is an important skill in life. By being critical you do not have to become an old cynic, you become more aware of who you are and what you are doing. You become a fuller person rather than an automated outline.  

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Milton’s Lycidas

As I first ventured to read this poem by Milton I was somewhat apprehensive. With a little concentration, however, and the help of Google, I found myself enjoying reading it very much. I think that this is partly due to its similarity with Wordsworth’s poems, a poet I am very fond of.

This is due to the pastoral nature of Lycidas, the idealisation of country life which both poets do; “What hard mishap hath doom’d this gentle swain?”, swain meaning country youth or shepherd. This is similar to Wordsworth’s There was a boy in which he paints a picture of a boy perfectly in tune with nature and therefore completely at peace. Milton’s excessive use of imagery containing nature and plants furthers how pastoral this elegy is. He mentions the “rathe primrose” (rathe meaning ready to bloom), the “pale jasmine”, the “white pink”, and the “glowing violet”. I particularly like the last description, and the combination of all of these in one stanza creates a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. Despite the poem being an elegy, mourning a dead friend, this inclusion of spring and new life connects Lycidas’s death with life, and therefore places Lycidas within the whole cycle of nature and mother earth. In There was a boy, Wordsworth does the same thing when he describes the boy “while he hung listening”; the use of the word ‘hung’ gives of the impression that he was no leaving to go away from the vale, that he is part of the landscape. His death is also part of the landscape as the church yard in which he is buried also “hangs”.  Lycidas makes several references to Virgil’s Ecologues, which is considered the first poem in a classical style on a pastoral subject, such as the line “Who would not sing for Lycidas” which comes from “Who would not sing for Gallas” in the Ecologues. Furthermore, Lycidas is anachronistic (not chronological) which is like the original pastoral elegies.
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pity this busy monster…

Here I thought I would be slightly self-indulgent and talk about one of my favourite poems, if not the favourite; Pity this busy monster, manunkind by e.e. cummings. Here it is –

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not.  Progress is a comfortable disease: 
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness 
–electrons deify one razorblade 
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish 
returns on its unself. 
                                A world of made 
is not a world of born–pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones,but never this 
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence.  We doctors know

a hopeless case if–listen:there’s a hell 
of a good universe next door;let’s go 

Firstly, the word ‘manunkind‘ alone deserves much attention. Although it is essentially quite simple, this simplicity merely adds to its genius. The fact that the addition to the word from our dictionary, mankind, is so slight makes it very easy to say, although it does not feel natural due to the repetition of the ‘n’ sounds. This perhaps reflects that although mankind today is “unkind“, we have developed a tolerance for it. The word kind also has two meanings; one being that of gentleness and thoughtfulness, combined with the ‘un’ drawing attention to how callous the world can be. The word ‘kind’ is so much more gentle than other words that mean the same thing such as caring or nice… I am searching for a reason why but perhaps it is due to the other meaning of the word. Kind, especially used referring to humankind, also means a collective unit, bound together by some likeness. This is perhaps used to show how disjointed we have become, with each other as well as the world around us. Later on in the poem, cummings describes the victim as “playing with the bigness of his littleness“. I see this as a reference to masturbation, showing how selfish and self-centered we have become. It is also a quite sneering and derogatory way to describe it, emphasising that although it seems big, this is only in comparison to how small it actually is. Considering men’s insecurity concerning this, it seems to be a very direct attack on society. The isoloation that masturbating requires (in general) also contrasts with the final lines; “Listen, there’s a hell of a universe next door” as not only does the sense of listening contrast with  looking (at porn), it begs the reader to leave their room and explore.
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