Tag Archives: imagery

“When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats

OldWomanByFire2

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

This is such a sad and poignant poem. Yeats appears to be writing to Maud Gonne, entreating her to read his words when she is old and nearing death in order to remember the love he felt for her. There is some beautiful symbolism included, particularly the fire, which represents both her life and the passion that Yeats felt for her. The fire is dying and turning to embers, or “glowing bars.” The shadows are the fading memories of the past.

While this is a beautiful and touching poem about his feelings for Gonne, there is more to it. As with most of Yeats’ poems, there is something mystical hidden within the lines. Yeats was well versed in kabbalah, so I suspect he was making a reference to the Shekhinah, which is essentially the divine feminine aspect of the godhead.

“In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as ‘the daughter of God’. … The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The unnamed woman to whom Yeats is speaking in the poem is described as having a “changing face,” which establishes the connection to the moon and reinforces the symbolic relationship between Maud Gonne and the Shekhinah.

Finally, I think there is a third interpretation to this poem. I believe that the woman to whom Yeats is speaking is also a symbolic representation of Ireland. Yeats was writing in the peak of the Irish Renaissance, and he felt it was paramount to restore Irish mythology to the national identity. Therefore, Yeats was implying that when the flames of the Irish Renaissance are not burning as brightly as before, then Ireland should refer back to his poems, to rekindle the passion and interest in the rich mythology that is part of Ireland’s heritage.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

“Sonnet 20: A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted” by William Shakespeare – An Exploration of Transgender Issues

Venus and Mars

Venus and Mars

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all “hues” in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

In this romantic “fair youth” sonnet, Shakespeare explores the physical beauty he sees in the youth. He sees the young male as possessing both male and female characteristics, the best of both genders; hence the reference to the youth being “the master-mistress” of Shakespeare’s passion.

The first ten lines are pretty clear, where the poet describes the physical aspects of the facial features, and particularly on how the youth’s face has many feminine qualities. But the last four lines are of particular interest.

The ending focuses on the youth’s genitalia, particularly the fact that he has a penis. When I studied Shakespeare in college, the professor gave a lecture about Shakespeare’s use of the word “nothing.” Basically, nothing meant “no thing,” or the lack of a penis; in other words, nothing means vagina (think “Much Ado About Nothing”). So in this sonnet, Shakespeare is expressing his belief that the youth is really a woman trapped within a man’s body, that “one thing” was added to the youth’s “nothing.” He goes as far as to make a pun about how Nature “pricked thee out for women’s pleasure.” If you think about it, this is a pretty radical poem.

As I read about legislation being passed in the US that discriminates against transgender individuals, I cannot help but wonder why we have not evolved more as a society. These were clearly issues that have been dealt with for a long time now, and Shakespeare certainly seems to have been comfortable with this. Maybe our lawmakers should take some time and read more Shakespeare.

Well, enough politics for one day. Thanks for stopping by and having an open mind. Cheers!

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws” by William Shakespeare

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

This is another romantic fair youth sonnet in which Shakespeare expresses his longing to immortalize the young man’s beauty through poetry. But I noticed something interesting about this sonnet which I feel gives some insight into the fair youth and why Shakespeare found him so attractive. The key is in the first four lines:

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

Here we have four metaphors, two symbolizing masculine strength and beauty, and two representing feminine. In lines 1 and 3, the lion and the tiger symbolize the masculine, images of strength, manly grace, and power. In lines 2 and 4, we have the earth and the phoenix, feminine symbols of beauty associated with creation and rebirth. The fact that Shakespeare vacillates between the masculine and feminine implies that the young man to whom the sonnet is composed possesses a balance of masculine and feminine qualities, allowing him to transcend the concept of gender-based beauty. And because the youth’s physical traits encompass both masculine and feminine beauty, he becomes, in Shakespeare’s eyes, the paragon of what human beauty should be.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #5

Miracleman_05

This is a very interesting installment. Gaiman uses a spy to symbolize the isolation, alienation, and paranoia that seems to be pervasive in society as a whole. The protagonist, a woman spy, navigates a shadowy world where she is suspicious of everyone, imagining connections and conspiracies which may or may not be real. At one point, she gazes out the window, and snippets of conversation surface in her mind as she tries to make sense of her existence.

Night: I stand at my window, staring out at the lights of the city. There’s a shape there, if only I could place it. Something I almost understand. Phrases run through my head. “Rudnitsky’s gone triple.” “He’s a martyr to his back, our Darren.” “It’s need to know, 1860, and you don’t need to know.” “The plumber still didn’t come, I see.” “Sorry, love. We’re out of hake. I can do you some lovely mackerel.” “It’s the city, Ruth. It’s where we live.” A movement catches my attention, in a distant window. I fetch my binoculars from a drawer, focus them.

(p. 12)

The artwork in this issue is perfect. It is dark and grainy, which reflects the shadowy world that is the reality of the spy. The combination of the imagery and the lonely internal dialog does an amazing job of evoking the loneliness and lurking uncertainty of the spy, which is also the loneliness and uncertainty of the post-millennial individual.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“The Sorrow of Love” by William Butler Yeats

WBYeats

The brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,
The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,
And all that famous harmony of leaves,
Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.

A girl arose that had red mournful lips
And seemed the greatness of the world in tears,
Doomed like Odysseus and the labouring ships
And proud as Priam murdered with his peers;

Arose, and on the instant clamorous eaves,
A climbing moon upon an empty sky,
And all that lamentation of the leaves,
Could but compose man’s image and his cry.

I read this poem a couple times through to try to get a sense of what Yeats was conveying. I suspected that he was making references to Maud Gonne, and a quick search online confirmed this. So then I thought about what aspect of his love for Gonne might be causing him sorrow, and I suspect it is connected with the symbolism of the fall in the Garden of Eden.

There is a definite impression of Eden, especially in the first and third stanzas. The reference to “man’s image” implies the archetypal being embodied in Adam. Also, the image of the “famous harmony of leaves” conjures a vision of the innocent state of man in the Garden, contrasted by the “lamentation of the leaves” which may refer to the use of leaves by Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness after the fall.

I get the sense that Yeats felt like he sacrificed something deep and meaningful to himself for Maud, or else he became separated from her and left lost and adrift like Odysseus, trying to return to her. I am not sure, but there is a tangible feeling of sadness associated with his love for Gonne.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem marks the transition from the procreation sonnets to the romantic sonnets, and since this is still considered one of the “fair youth” sonnets, there is a strong belief that this poem and the rest of the fair youth sonnets that follow express homo-erotic passion. And while you could debate this topic extensively, I choose to focus this post on the main theme of the poem, which is immortality through verse.

The poem begins by comparing the youth’s beauty to the beauty of nature. But as Shakespeare points out, nature’s beauty is temporary. The beauty in nature fades, dies, is clouded over, and you get a sense that Shakespeare fears that the youth’s beauty will also fade. Which is why he is inspired to compose the “eternal lines,” the verse which will capture the youth’s beauty and preserve it for all eternity, for as “long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”

Art as a means of making beauty or deeds immortal is nothing new. But there is something about this sonnet that really resonates with a person’s soul. Maybe it’s the cadence, or the images with which we can all relate. It seems to tap into something universal within us all. Without a doubt, one of Shakespeare’s most memorable sonnets.

3 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Pity of Love” by William Butler Yeats

WBYeats

A pity beyond all telling
Is hid in the heart of love:
The folk who are buying and selling,
The clouds on their journey above,
The cold wet winds ever blowing,
And the shadowy hazel grove
Where mouse-grey waters are flowing,
Threaten the head that I love.

For such a short poem, I find this very challenging. The difficulty in deciphering the meaning lies in the fact that it is unclear who or what love symbolizes. As is often the case with Yeats, there are several possible interpretations.

One possibility is that the love he is describing is the love for a woman. The pity is that as time passes, symbolized by the clouds, the winds, and the flowing waters, the chances are that the object of his love will also change and their love will not last. Physical love, like everything else in this world, is subject to change and as a result frequently temporary.

Another interpretation is that the object of the love in this poem is Ireland. The pity then would be that as Yeats observes the scenes about Ireland which he finds so moving and inspiring, he knows that his country is changing, that the Ireland of myth will eventually fade into the mists of obscurity and distant memory.

Finally, the love of this poem could also represent the godhead, since Yeats makes it clear at the end that it is a head that he loves. The pity then would be that although Yeats feels a deep love and connection with the divine source, he knows that he must exist within this world and cannot become one with the godhead until after he dies and leaves the beauty and inspiration of this life behind. This creates an inner conflict as Yeats longs both for unification with the divine and communion with the divine creation which is this world, but is painfully aware that he cannot have both at the same time.

Sometimes it seems that the shorter the poem is, the more difficult it is to interpret. There is less to work with. That said, Yeats was the master of evoking myriad images with his words. So while I am leaning more toward the idea of the embodiment of love being the godhead, I feel that Yeats also crafted his symbol to represent other vessels of love.

Feel free to share any other interpretations or impressions that you have. Cheers, and keep reading interesting and challenging stuff.

13 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 15: When I consider every thing that grows” by William Shakespeare

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

So I really enjoyed this sonnet. The imagery that Shakespeare employs really connected with me.

This falls into the category of “fair youth” sonnets and is one of Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets. What struck me as different in this sonnet is his entreating to the youth to become a father is much more subdued than in his other ones, where he sometimes vehemently urges the youth to procreate. This one is much more subtle, only claiming that he perceives that “men as plants increase,” simply implying that reproduction is natural.

But the part of this poem that I found most interesting is lines 3 and 4:

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

This echoes the famous line from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage.” But it also implies a connection between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, an idea that was reflected in the concept of the Great Chain of Being (see The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard). Essentially, everything is connected. What happens on earth is a reflection of what happens in the heavens, and vice versa. So according to English Renaissance thought, what happens on earth is reflected in the heavens.

I’d like to close with my thoughts on the ending of this poem. Time is the great enemy of life, and will ultimately bring old age, decay, and death to all of us. But Shakespeare tempers this with a positive image. Through his poetry, he grafts the fair youth anew. What he is saying is that through his poems, the youth will remain forever young.

Thanks for stopping by and have an inspired day!

12 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XXII – Death in the Great Hall

OdysseusSuitors

In this episode, Odysseus essentially cleans house (pun intended). With the help of Telemachus, Eumaeus, Philoetius, and the goddess Athena near the end, Odysseus kills all the suitors and spares only the minstrel and the herald, who were deemed innocents. Odysseus then has Telemachus put the disloyal maids to death.

I have a lot to say about this episode, which is clearly the climax of the epic. The first section I want to point out is when Athena appears. She acts quite differently from when she appears in other parts of the text. Throughout, she always offers assistance to Odysseus immediately, but not this time. Now, in his most dire hour, she withholds bestowing power upon him. Odysseus must now prove himself worthy of the goddess. It is as if this is Odysseus’ true test, almost like he is on trial and must demonstrate that he deserves to have divine power bestowed upon him.

For all her fighting words
she gave no overpowering aid—not yet;
father and son must prove their mettle still.
Into the smoky air under the roof
the goddess merely darted to perch on a blackened beam—
no figure to be seen now but a swallow.

(Fitzgerald Translation: pp. 416 – 417)

When Athena finally reveals herself and prepares to join the battle, the suitors are thrown into panic. The description of the scene draws on imagery of birds of prey swooping down on their victims, which echoes the imagery seen in the omens and visions presented throughout the text.

And the suitors mad with fear
at her great sign stampeded like stung cattle by a river
when the dread shimmering gadfly strikes in summer,
in the flowering season, in the long drawn days.
After them the attackers wheeled, as terrible as falcons
from eyries in the mountains veering over and diving down
with talons wide unsheathed on flights of birds,
who cower down the sky in chutes and bursts along the valley—
but the pouncing falcons grip their prey, no frantic wing avails,
and farmers love to watch those beaked hunters.
So these now fell upon the suitors in that hall,
turning, turning to strike and strike again,
while torn men moaned at death, and blood ran smoking
over the whole floor.

(ibid: pp. 418 – 419)

Homer uses the metaphor of cattle when describing the suitors. Throughout the text, cattle are generally offered as sacrifices to the gods. I cannot help but seeing the suitors as sacrificial beasts, slaughtered to appease the gods. Also, the falcons seem to symbolize divine justice. As I read this, I was reminded of W.B. Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

(Excerpt from “The Second Coming”)

One passage that I found particularly fascinating was the scene where the minstrel and the herald are spared. It is Telemachus, the son, who is the one who can bestow forgiveness.

Telemakhos in the elation of battle
heard him. He at once called to his father:

“Wait: that one is innocent: don’t hurt him.
And we should let our herald live—Medon;

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 420)

I see a connection here between Telemachus and Christ. Both are figures who can offer mercy and intervene on behalf of a person. Forgiveness can only be attained through the son.

The last section from this episode that I want to look at also contains imagery and symbolism that we find in the Christian Bible.

Odysseus answered:

“Let me have the fire.
The first thing is to purify this place.”

With no more chat Eurykleia obeyed
and fetched the fire and brimstone. Cleansing fumes
he sent through court and hall and storage chamber.

(ibid: p. 425)

Whenever I hear about fire and brimstone, I cannot help but envision the Christian hell. I had always viewed fire and brimstone as symbols for punishment, when actually, they are symbols of purification, as expressed here. This changes my interpretation of biblical hell. It is not a place of punishment as some would assert, but a symbolic cleansing of the soul, a purification of the spirit before it is reunited with the divine source.

This book is definitely the climax of the epic, and it works on many levels. The symbols, metaphors, and the pace of the text all work together to create the climactic sequence, which has been steadily building throughout the tale.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature