Tag Archives: funeral

Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 2: At the Crossroads

Painting by Wilhelm Marstrand

Painting by Wilhelm Marstrand

One of the symbols that I have always found fascinating is the crossroads. Not only is it a representation of a point in our lives where we must choose a direction, but it is also an intersection between two realms: the conscious and subconscious, life and death, past and present. Maya Deren’s exploration of voudou offers great insights into the powerful symbolism of the crossroads.

Anyway, as I am continuing to read through Cervantes, I have noticed the symbol appearing in the text. In fact, Don Quixote states in no uncertain terms how important the crossroads are.

To which Don Quixote replied, “Thou must take notice, brother Sancho, that this adventure and those like it are not adventures of islands, but of crossroads, in which nothing is got except a broken head or an ear the less: have patience, for adventures will present themselves from which I may make you, not only a governor, but something more.”

(p. 65)

What is being expressed here is that the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza conveys more than what appears on the surface. It is not just an island in the vast sea of literature. It is a mystical place where the spiritual and the physical meet, where the veil between reality and the imagination is torn away.

Not long after this passage, Don Quixote and Sancho meet a group of shepherds at a crossroads who are on their way to a funeral.

They had not gone a quarter of a league when at the meeting of two paths they saw coming towards them some six shepherds dressed in black sheepskins and with their heads crowned with garlands of cypress and bitter oleander, Each of them carried a stout holly staff in his hand and along with them came two men of quality on horseback in handsome travelling dress, with three servants on foot accompanying them. Courteous salutations were exchanged on meeting, and inquiring one of the other which way each party was going, they learned that all were bound for the scene of the burial, so they went on all together.

(p. 86)

Here we have the intersection between life and death. The three plants that are mentioned—cypress, oleander, and holly—are all evergreens and symbolize the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

I still have a long way to go in this book, and I suspect that Don Quixote and Sancho will find themselves at many other crossroads along their journey. I look forward to seeing which pathways they choose.

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“Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost

Hemlock Tree: Source - Wikipedia

Hemlock Tree: Source – Wikipedia

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Although this is a short, it is very powerful.

The crow as a symbol represents death. This is heightened by the fact that the crow is in a hemlock tree, which also represents death. The reference to snow means the poem is set in winter, which is also symbolic of death. So in the first stanza, we have a triple death image that sets a dark and somber mood. But this changes in the second stanza.

Frost clearly states that his heart has “A change of mood.” I think that he is describing a scene at a cemetery where a hemlock is growing. It is likely he is actually attending a funeral, but there is no definitive evidence of that. What is clear, though, is that the crow knocking the snow from the hemlock branches has given him hope. My guess is that it is because hemlock is an evergreen tree and stays green throughout the winter. This would symbolize that life continues after death. So the hemlock tree becomes a symbol of death as well as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. This alleviates the sadness he feels at the loss of his loved one.

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Three Poems by William Blake

PrettyRoseTree

As I continue to work my way through the Songs of Experience, the next one is more of a set, three poems that share the same illuminated page and also share a theme of flowers.

MY PRETTY ROSE-TREE

A flower was offered to me,
Such a flower as May never bore;
But I said I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,
And I passed the sweet flower o’er.

Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,
To tend her by day and by night;
But my Rose turned away with jealousy,
And her thorns were my only delight.

AH! SUN-FLOWER

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

THE LILLY

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble Sheep a threatening horn:
While the Lilly white shall in Love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

There is a lot here to consider. The first question is: Why three poems? After reading through them a couple times, I concluded that the three flowers/poems represent the three stages of a woman’s life: birth, adulthood, and death. This would also be symbolic of the triple goddess: maid, mother, and crone.

In the first poem, the Rose-tree is the mother who gives birth to the baby girl. The red color of the rose symbolizes the blood associated with childbirth. The mother becomes jealous of her daughter, possibly because she mourns the loss of her beauty which she sees reflected in the daughter’s visage, or it could be the attention which the father pays to the young girl. Regardless, the mother is not joyous over the birth of her daughter.

The Sun-flower symbolizes the girl becoming a woman. She has reached her full height and now aspires to reach the sun (or son). She is ready to become a mother herself and renew the cycle.

Lastly, the Lilly is the symbol of death and mourning, hence they are frequently used in funeral wreaths. The whiteness represents the pallor of the skin, yet also hints at a purification of the soul as it transitions to the next realm.

While all this makes sense, there was something about this poem that still bothered me and as I thought about it some more, I figured out what it was. In the first poem, I realized that roses do not grow on trees. The image was all wrong. So why would Blake, skilled poet that he was, use such a poor image, unless he was hinting at something else. That is when an alternate interpretation came to me.

I pictured the Rose-tree as symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This completely changed my view of the poems. The flower that was originally offered was the promise of life in the Garden of Eden, but humanity instead turned to the Tree of Knowledge and as a result, became subjected to the thorns of life (the curse of experience). Humanity then attempted to reach back to God and did so through Christ, the Sun-flower (or Son-flower). This makes the lines “Arise from their graves and aspire, /Where my Sun-flower wishes to go” make more sense. Finally, the whiteness and purity of the Lilly represents the return to the Edenic state. No more will “a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright” as humanity is returned to the place of divine being.

Even now, I feel that there is more to this triad of poems than I am seeing. But alas, the day is moving on and as much as I would love to sit all day and contemplate this, I must attend to other things. If you see anything else hidden in these poems, please share them in a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a beautiful day and keep reading!

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