Tag Archives: guilt

“Sonnet 36: Let me confess that we two must be twain” by William Shakespeare

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

The essence of this poem is expressed in the first three words: Let me confess. The speaker is confessing that he has done something wrong, the result of which is the separation of the two lovers. This sentiment is echoed in line 10, where he mentions guilt and shame.

As this is another of the fair youth sonnets, where Shakespeare is expressing his love toward a young man, I am curious as to what it was that the speaker did which would have caused such a public disgrace that the two could no longer be seen together. I cannot find any hints in the text as to what might have happened. But the emotion is clear. There is regret on the part of the speaker for his part in the separation, a feeling that too many of us have experienced in our past failed relationships.

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“Haunted” by Siegfried Sassoon

Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré

Evening was in the wood, louring with storm.
A time of drought had sucked the weedy pool
And baked the channels; birds had done with song.
Thirst was a dream of fountains in the moon,
Or willow-music blown across the water
Leisurely sliding on by weir and mill.

Uneasy was the man who wandered, brooding,
His face a little whiter than the dusk.
A drone of sultry wings flicker’d in his head.
The end of sunset burning thro’ the boughs
Died in a smear of red; exhausted hours
Cumber’d, and ugly sorrows hemmed him in.

He thought: ‘Somewhere there’s thunder,’ as he strove
To shake off dread; he dared not look behind him,
But stood, the sweat of horror on his face.

He blunder’d down a path, trampling on thistles,
In sudden race to leave the ghostly trees.
And: ‘Soon I’ll be in open fields,’ he thought,
And half remembered starlight on the meadows,
Scent of mown grass and voices of tired men,
Fading along the field-paths; home and sleep
And cool-swept upland spaces, whispering leaves,
And far off the long churring night-jar’s note.

But something in the wood, trying to daunt him,
Led him confused in circles through the thicket.
He was forgetting his old wretched folly,
And freedom was his need; his throat was choking.
Barbed brambles gripped and clawed him round his legs,
And he floundered over snags and hidden stumps.
Mumbling: ‘I will get out! I must get out!’
Butting and thrusting up the baffling gloom,
Pausing to listen in a space ’twixt thorns,
He peers around with peering, frantic eyes.

An evil creature in the twilight looping,
Flapped blindly in his face. Beating it off,
He screeched in terror, and straightway something clambered
Heavily from an oak, and dropped, bent double,
To shamble at him zigzag, squat and bestial.

Headlong he charges down the wood, and falls
With roaring brain—agony—the snap’t spark—
And blots of green and purple in his eyes.
Then the slow fingers groping on his neck,
And at his heart the strangling clasp of death.

I wanted to find a good “horror” poem that was not written by Edgar Allan Poe, so I did a web search and found this one. I was totally unfamiliar with Sassoon, so I did not have any expectations. I have to say, I really found this poem powerful, haunting, and well-written.

I see this as symbolic of someone who is haunted by memories of his past, most likely something deeply traumatic. He has kept his pain locked inside, and this pain is represented by the forest in which he wanders. He keeps thinking that he will eventually find a clearing, a place of reprieve from his inner torment, which is symbolized by the “open fields” and “meadows.” But it never happens. The vines and brambles of his memory snag him and hold him in the past. Demons that haunt his psyche swoop down on him. Eventually, he dies, carrying with him the burden of his suffering.

While this is certainly a grim poem, it should be looked at as a warning. We all carry guilt, pain, and suffering. But what is important is that we do not keep that pain hidden inside us. When we do, it grows and morphs into nightmares which haunt us psychologically, and the longer we keep those secrets hidden inside us, the sicker we become, until they ultimately consume us.

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“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

KiteRunner

This was one of those books that has been on my list for a long time, and I finally got around to reading it. I remember something Salman Rushdie said when I heard him speak at UNCA: He said if you want to learn about Afghanistan, you read The Kite Runner and not the news. I definitely feel like I learned a lot about Afghan culture from this book.

So the problem I now face is what to write about without providing spoilers for those who have not yet read the book. It’s tough, because so much of the story’s beauty is in how everything plays out. I guess I will focus on some things that resonated with me on a personal level, as well as some interesting symbolism.

One of the more painful memories from my childhood was when a friend of mine, Mason, was getting bullied by a group of older kids. These kids had often bullied me, so I was just grateful that I was being spared. Thinking I might avoid future bullying, I laughed as my friend was attacked. Of course, this did not spare me from future abuse, and I was also wracked with guilt over the pain I saw in my friend’s eyes. Our friendship ended that day and I have long regretted my failure to stand by Mason. So when I read how Amir passively watched and did nothing while his friend Hassan was attacked, I had a reaction which was nothing short of visceral.

I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had. But I didn’t. I just watched. Paralyzed.

(p. 73)

Recently, I have been saddened by the images of Syrian refugees and the stories of their struggles. It is almost unfathomable for a white, privileged American to grasp how it must feel to pack what little you can into a suitcase and flee from your home. The closest experience I have had to that was having to evacuate my home when a hurricane was approaching, packing what I could into my car, and thoroughly expecting the rest of my belongings to be gone within 24 hours. As such, I was stirred by the section of the book where Amir and his father had to flee Afghanistan.

My eyes returned to our suitcases. They made me sad for Baba. After everything he’d built, planned, fought for, fretted over, dreamed of, this was the summation of his life: one disappointing son and two suitcases.

(p. 124)

The one symbol I would like to look at is the pomegranate, which appears throughout the book. “In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the ‘fruit of the dead’, and believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis.” In addition, pomegranates “were known in Ancient Israel as the fruits which the scouts brought to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the ‘promised land’.” Finally, “some Jewish scholars believe the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.” (Source: Wikipedia)

In the book, there is a scene where Amir returns to a place from his childhood where a pomegranate tree once grew. The tree is now dead and fruitless, symbolizing the transition of Afghanistan from a rich fertile place to one of death and desolation. In addition, the dead tree also represents the loss of his friendship with Hassan, and the sin and guilt which Amir must bear.

Hassan had said in his letter that the pomegranate tree hadn’t borne fruit in years. Looking at the wilted, leafless tree, I doubted it ever would again. I stood under it, remembered all the times we’d climbed it, straddled its branches, our legs swinging, dappled sunlight flickering through the leaves and casting on our faces a mosaic of light and shadow. The tangy taste of pomegranate crept into my mouth.

(p. 264)

It’s taken me a long time, but I have finally been able to forgive myself for the mistakes I made as a kid. Kids make mistakes; it’s part of growing up. Like Amir in the book, I beat myself up for a long time over mistakes I made, but as I matured as a person, I learned to forgive myself and to become a better person as a result.

What you did was wrong, Amir jan, but do not forget that you were a boy when it happened. A troubled little boy. You were too hard on yourself then, and you still are—I saw it in your eyes in Peshawar. But I hope you will heed this: A man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer. I hope your suffering comes to an end with this journey to Afghanistan.

(p. 301)

It’s impossible to read this book and not be affected by the experience. This book demonstrates the importance of literature. Stories matter. They force us to examine ourselves and help to advance humanity as a whole.

Thanks for stopping my, and keep reading great stuff.

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Afterlife with Archie: Issue #9

AfterlifeArchie_09

It’s been a year since the last Afterlife with Archie comic, and this one hits you like an unexpected sucker punch. It reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, where Reggie, the protagonist of this installment, is overcome with guilt over his actions that ultimately led to the current crisis. He struggles with thoughts, memories, questioning his basic humanity and grappling with the fact that he might be a sociopath, void of human emotion and unable to feel empathy or compassion.

After confessing to Kevin, Reggie leaves the group and goes off on his own, in an attempt to atone for his sins and shed the guilt that is festering within. But at the final moment, when it comes time to do what he needs to do, something happens which causes him to fully embrace his dark side. He becomes the sociopath he feared he might be. It is that poignant, tangible instance where an individual crosses the threshold to become the thing he loathes.

We have seen this archetype so many times before in literature, but it never ceases to fascinate me. What is it that finally causes someone to relinquish their hold on the last thread of their humanity?

Reggie says that we all envision ourselves as the hero, as the one doing the right thing. But sometimes we lose sight of what is truly right and the path that seems clear is the one that leads us to our ultimate demise.

I think: “Everyone is the hero of their own story.” You don’t find out who you really are until the world tests you…

While this is a brilliant story and beautifully illustrated, it is a very dark and disturbing tale. It forces us to look at ourselves in a way that is not comfortable. But in my opinion, that is the purpose of art, to make you uncomfortable and to challenge your established beliefs about the world and yourself.

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Sexual Violation in Shakespeare’s “Double Falsehood”

DoubleFalsehood

It’s strange how often I read something and discover it relates to events taking place in the world around me. Many of us are outraged at the lenient sentence given to Brock Turner, a mere six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. As such, I found it serendipitous that Double Falsehood, written over 500 years ago, also addresses the issue of the sexual violation of women.

For those of you who do now know the history of this play, it is thought to be a lost Shakespeare play. The play has only recently been attributed to him and added to the collection of Shakespeare’s works. If you are interested in reading more about the history of the text, check out this Wikipedia page.

Anyway, I want to focus on the text.

First off, I want to point out that one of the central female characters, the one who is sexually violated in the beginning by Henriquez, is named Violante. I instantly noted the similarity of her name to the word “violate.” Remove the “n” from her name and you have violate, symbolizing a violated woman.

After forcing himself on Violante, Henriquez tries to convince himself he did nothing wrong, that even though she resisted, she did not resist enough and therefore acquiesced in his mind.

Hold, let me be severe to myself, but not
unjust. Was it rape then? No. Her shrieks, her
exclamations then had drove me from her. True, she
did not consent: as true, she did resist; but still in
silence all.

(Act 2, scene 1)

Afterwards, as is often the case with victims of sexual abuse, Violante feels guilt and shame.

Whom shall I look upon without a blush?
There’s not a maid whose eye with virgin gaze
Pierces not to my guilt. What will’t avail me
To say I was not willing?
Nothing, but that I publish my dishonour,
And wound my fame anew. O misery,
To seem to all one’s neighbours rich, yet know
One’s self necessitous and wretched.

(Act 2, scene 2)

In her despair, Violante escapes to the country and disguises herself as a young boy. But her master figures out she is actually a woman and also tries to violate her sexually.

Come, you’re made for love.
Will you comply? I’m madder with this talk.
There’s nothing you can say can take my edge off.

(Act 4, scene 1)

She manages to escape her new attacker, but is then wracked with guilt and despair. Sadly, she considers suicide as the only way to rid herself of the pain she feels as a result of her violation.

And O, thou fool,
Forsaken Violante – whose belief
And childish love have made thee so – go, die!
For there is nothing left thee now to look for
That can bring comfort but a quiet grave.
There all the miseries I long have felt
And those to come shall sweetly sleep together.

(Act 4, scene 2)

While this is certainly not one of Shakespeare’s best works (if in fact it truly is the work of the bard), it’s an easy read and worth checking out, if nothing else but for insight into a social plague that still vexes us today. All sexual assault should be condemned and perpetrators given punishments that suit the crimes. But let me not get too high on the soapbox. Give the play a read and feel free to share your comments in the space below.

Thanks for stopping by and showing an interest in literature.

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Magneto: Issue 13

Magneto_13

Just as I was thinking about discontinuing reading the Magneto series, I was reminded of how good it is and how thought-provoking the writing is. This issue is excellent and explores something I find fascinating: how stories affect our concept of reality.

Stories, when repeated, become part of the fabric of our collective consciousness. They teach us things about ourselves and build a bond which helps hold our society together. On a level, we know that these are just stories which, although fiction, express universal truths regarding the human experience. But sometimes, as this comic points out, people begin to accept these stories as facts which lead to the birth of urban legend, and in more extreme cases, self-deception.

What is the appeal of ghost stories? Gathering around a darkened room… speaking in whispers… recounting the tales of monsters that lurk in shadows. Is there comfort there? The reminder that… while we speak of the dead… we are all truly alive, or is it purely for the thrill? The pumping heart… the racing blood… the trembling flesh. Among these tales of terror… the “true” ghost story is among the most offensive. “Listen,” you say. “This is what happened to me.” You know the entire time that your every word is a lie… and your audience realizes the same… although they force themselves to believe. And so it is the ghost stories we tell ourselves… when no one else is listening… that are the most egregious. Lies for our own benefit. “This really happened to me.” Lies we force ourselves to believe.

This hit painfully close to home. When I was younger, I lied to myself as a way to justify my actions and to absolve myself from guilt and shame. In these stories I forced myself to believe I was the hero. I twisted history to view myself as making the right decisions, to validate the choices I made, to make it easier to live with myself. It was a coping mechanism for me and one that I suspect many people still rely upon. It is painful and difficult to look at yourself and judge your actions honestly, but it is important to do so. This is the only way that you can grow as an individual.

As you know, I love stories, but I must be careful not to allow stories to distort my view of reality. It is appropriate to use stories as a way to interpret reality, but it can be a slippery and dangerous slope when we allow stories to define our reality.

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Wytches: Issue 1

Wytches_01

I have been waiting for a while for this. I had read about it and it sounded intriguing. Then my wife pointed out an article in USA Today talking about the scariest comics for October and this was the top of the list. The next day, issue 1 hit the shelves and I purchased a copy. Often, when you have expectations for something, you end up disappointed. That was certainly not the case with this graphic tale. It was all I had hoped for, and more.

First off, this is very graphic and disturbing, both visually and psychologically. While it is only the first installment, I can see that it is starting down some dark paths. The opening sequence is set in 1919, where a woman is trapped within a hollow tree, peering out from a hole. The surrounding woods are dark and mysterious, and bring forth memories of being in the northern woods as a kid. The woman is terrified and calling for help. Her young son finds her and she tells him she has been pledged and he needs to help her. Instead, he smashes her face with a large stone, just before some ancient clawed hands grasp her and pull her deeper into the tree. This all occurs in the first four pages.

I starting considering the symbolism associated with the tree. Obviously, there is a reference to the mythology concerning deities existing within trees and the archetype of the tree as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. But it also reminded me of something I read in The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner. A hole in a tree serves as a portal to other realms. Using visualization, the shaman is able to project himself through the hole and into the other realm. Whenever I go hiking in the woods and come across a hollow tree with a hole in it, I cannot help seeing this as an opening into a hidden dimension.

The main story takes place in the current day and focuses on a teenage girl, Sailor Rook, who has recently moved to New Hampshire with her family. The parents are very concerned about her, particularly her dad. It is revealed that she was being brutally bullied where they previously lived and that the girl who was her tormentor was pulled into the hollow tree and killed. As a result, there were rumors that Sailor may have killed the bully. Sailor feels guilty because she had “wished” that her tormentor would be gone.

All this hit close to home for me. As a kid, I was bullied and I know the pain that one feels when they are the target of senseless hate and abuse. As a parent, I can also relate to the anguish and concern that the father feels. Protecting his daughter is the most important thing in his life. I know that I would also do anything to protect my kids.

The issue ends on a real cliffhanger. I am not going to give details, because I hate spoilers. I will say that if you are like me, by the time you get to the end of the issue, you will be hooked.

There is a postscript that was very interesting. The writer, Scott Snyder, tells about how he was inspired to write the book and provides some details regarding the mythology. I found it really interesting and I could totally relate to his experiences exploring the woods with his friend as a kid. When I was growing up, I spent most of my time in the woods. I was particularly drawn to darker areas of the woods, like swamps and such.

Snyder tells how he went back to the woods as an adult and experienced a scare tied to his childhood which was the inspiration for writing the story. He thought he saw a “witch” which turned out to be a tree. His recounting of the experience is worth including here.

Later that night, I found myself haunted by the image of the witch, peeking out from behind the tree. I knew what had really frightened me wasn’t the “witch” in the trees – sure, the sight scared me – but what had really gotten me spooked was the idea that this witch had ALWAYS been there. That all the years in between were nothing to it. Because it knew… it knew one day I’d come back and it would be waiting. And why had it waited? What did it want?

For hours that night, I kept on with these questions. I knew that there was a story there for me. Something more than scary, something personal, something terrifying in that special way that gets at the deeper fears, the fears below.

Personally, I cannot wait for the next issue. I’m tempted to read this one again. If you’ve read this, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to post a comment. Cheers, and have an eerily inspired October.

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