Tag Archives: three

“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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“Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea” by William Butler Yeats

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This poem is too long to include in this post. For those who need, here is a link to the full text hosted on the California State University website:

Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea

In order to understand this poem, you need to know the three key characters: Cuchulain, a warrior from Irish mythology who served under the rule of Conchubar; Emer, who is Cuchulain’s wife; and the swineherd, Cuchulain’s son who is unnamed in the poem. The basic story which the poem conveys is a reverse Oedipus tale, where Cuchulain mistakes his son and slays him and is then overwhelmed by guilt.

In the beginning of the poem, the swineherd returns home to his mother who had instructed him to watch the shore for Cuchulain’s return. Anguished by her husband’s failure to return, Emer seems to perform an act of sorcery.

Then Emer cast the web upon the floor,
And raising arms all raddled with the dye,
Parted her lips with a loud sudden cry.

Emer then instructs her son to go and camp near Conchubar’s camp where Cuchulain is and to challenge him. Cuchulain, eager for glory, fights with his son and ultimately kills him.

After short fighting in the leafy shade,
He spake to the young man, ‘Is there no maid
Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round,
Or do you long for the dim sleepy ground,
That you have come and dared me to my face?’

‘The dooms of men are in God’s hidden place,’

‘Your head a while seemed like a woman’s head
That I loved once.’

Again the fighting sped,
But now the war-rage in Cuchulain woke,
And through that new blade’s guard the old blade broke,
And pierced him.

‘Speak before your breath is done.’

‘Cuchulain I, mighty Cuchulain’s son.’

After slaying his son, Cuchulain is wracked with guilt and broods alone, inconsolable. Conchubar fears that Cuchulain will become overwhelmed with grief and will ultimately slaughter all the members of the party. This sets the scene for the final part of the poem, which to me is the most interesting.

Then Conchubar, the subtlest of all men,
Ranking his Druids round him ten by ten,
Spake thus: ‘Cuchulain will dwell there and brood
For three days more in dreadful quietude,
And then arise, and raving slay us all.
Chaunt in his ear delusions magical,
That he may fight the horses of the sea.’
The Druids took them to their mystery,
And chaunted for three days.

Cuchulain stirred,
Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his own name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.

There is a lot of symbolism woven into these lines. First, we have number mysticism, the numbers ten and three both repeated, emphasizing their importance. The number ten is a reference to the number of sefirot that comprise the kabbalistic Tree of Life, which figures prominently in Golden Dawn philosophy with which Yeats was well versed. Then the number three represents the trinity, as well as the three stages in the cycle of life: birth, life, and death. There are many other mystical connections with the numbers 3 and 10, but this should suffice for the purpose of this post.

The Druids then perform a chant with the intent of evoking “delusions magical.” Basically, the Druids are chanting mystical poetry which after a period of time causes Cuchulain to slip into an altered state of consciousness. The sea is a symbol for Cuchulain’s subconscious. He is thrust into his own psyche and there does battle with himself and his memories. He has no choice but to vanquish his inner demons and self-hatred; if he fails, he will drown in the sea of sorrow and lose touch with the realm of waking consciousness.

This poem works really well as a psychological allegory, but also contains some great mystical and mythological symbolism. I am pretty sure that there is more to this poem than what I included here and that someone who is more versed in Irish mythology would be able to draw deeper interpretations. If you uncover any other symbols or allusions in this poem, please share them in a comment.

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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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“To Horror” by Robert Southey

Southey

Dark HORROR, hear my call!
Stern Genius hear from thy retreat
On some old sepulchre’s moss-cankered seat,
Beneath the Abbey’s ivied wall
That trembles o’er its shade;
Where wrapt in midnight gloom, alone,
Thou lovest to lie and hear
The roar of waters near,
And listen to the deep dull groan
Of some perturbed sprite
Borne fitful on the heavy gales of night.

Or whether o’er some wide waste hill
Thou mark’st the traveller stray,
Bewilder’d on his lonely way,
When, loud and keen and chill,
The evening winds of winter blow
Drifting deep the dismal snow.

Or if thou followest now on Greenland’s shore,
With all thy terrors, on the lonely way
Of some wrecked mariner, when to the roar
Of herded bears the floating ice-hills round
Pour their deep echoing sound,
And by the dim drear Boreal light
Givest half his dangers to the wretches sight.

Or if thy fury form,
When o’er the midnight deep
The dark-wing’d tempests sweep
Watches from some high cliff the encreasing storm,
Listening with strange delight
As the black billows to the thunder rave
When by the lightnings light
Thou seest the tall ship sink beneath the wave.

Dark HORROR! bear me where the field of fight
Scatters contagion on the tainted gale,
When to the Moon’s faint beam,
On many a carcase shine the dews of night
And a dead silence stills the vale
Save when at times is heard the glutted Raven’s scream.

Where some wreck’d army from the Conquerors might
Speed their disastrous flight,
With thee fierce Genius! let me trace their way,
And hear at times the deep heart-groan
Of some poor sufferer left to die alone,
His sore wounds smarting with the winds of night;
And we will pause, where, on the wild,
The Mother to her frozen breast,
On the heap’d snows reclining clasps her child
And with him sleeps, chill’d to eternal rest!

Black HORROR! speed we to the bed of Death,
Where he whose murderous power afar
Blasts with the myriad plagues of war,
Struggles with his last breath,
Then to his wildly-starting eyes
The phantoms of the murder’d rise,
Then on his frenzied ear
Their groans for vengeance and the Demon’s yell
In one heart-maddening chorus swell.

Cold on his brow convulsing stands the dew,
And night eternal darkens on his view.

HORROR! I call thee yet once more!
Bear me to that accursed shore
Where round the stake the impaled Negro writhes.

Assume thy sacred terrors then! Dispense
The blasting gales of Pestilence!
Arouse the race of Afric! holy Power,
Lead them to vengeance! and in that dread hour
When Ruin rages wide
I will behold and smile by MERCY’S side.

Although I love the English Romantic Writers, I confess that I had not read any of Southey’s works before. This poem works well for me though and captures what I find fascinating about the horror genre.

In this poem, HORROR is a dark muse that inspires the writer. HORROR is the source of powerful yet dark emotions and thoughts. Southey describes the various manifestations of HORROR in the physical world. As he meditates on these horrors, he is able to move into the darker nether regions of his psyche and draw poetic inspiration.

What I found the most intriguing about this piece is the way it works as an incantation. Southey is summoning the dark muse, seeking to manifest HORROR before him. He summons HORROR three times, drawing on the mystical power of the number three to bring something into being. For each of these calls, he includes a descriptor: Dark HORROR, Dark HORROR, and Black HORROR. Then Southey does something interesting; he summons HORROR a fourth time.

HORROR! I call thee yet once more!
Bear me to that accursed shore
Where round the stake the impaled Negro writhes.

This kind of puzzled me a bit. Why would he call on the dark muse a fourth time if it has already manifested? My conclusion is that, once HORROR was evoked, the fourth call was to invite HORROR inside his consciousness, to rend his sanity and unlock the hidden realms of his psyche. Once this occurs, he is able to draw artistic inspiration from the darker aspects of his subconscious and express the shadowy beauty that lurks within.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.

Cheers!!


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17

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“To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time” by William Butler Yeats

WBYeats

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:
Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old
In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody.
Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate,
In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.

Come near, come near, come near—Ah, leave me still
A little space for the rose-breath to fill!
Lest I no more hear common things that crave;
The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,
The field-mouse running by me in the grass,
And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;
But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.
Come near; I would, before my time to go,
Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.

RosyCrossGDThis is a pretty cryptic poem. The title suggests that there is Rosicrucian symbolism woven into the verse, the rose and the cross being the symbol of the order. Yeats would have been familiar with this symbol, being a member of the Golden Dawn (which used the Rosy Cross as a symbol) and he was familiar with various occult symbols. He is definitely drawing on occult symbolism as well as Irish mythology. Cuchulain and Fergus were part of the Irish Red Branch cycle, or Ulster cycle. The Ulster cycle is a collection of medieval Irish legends and sagas that influenced Yeats. For a brief overview, click here.

I get the sense that Yeats considered himself to be like the Druid, conjuring a realm of magic as he sings his sacred bardic poetry. The second stanza in particular has the feel of a mystical chant. He repeats the opening phrase of the stanza “Come near” three times, like an invocation. The fact that he says this three times would have had occult symbolism also, three being a mystical number. Finally, the following lines imply that Yeats is conjuring in a sacred language, that of God which is unknown to all but a select few.

But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.

I am not sure what language Yeats is referring to. If I had to guess, I would say either ancient Irish or the sacred Enochian language of angels, possibly both. (Click here to read the Enochian Dictionary online.)

In addition to the rose and the cross being a symbol of occult mysticism and evocation, I suspect that Yeats was also using these to represent the Irish renaissance. The rose would therefore symbolize the blossoming of Irish culture. The cross would represent a sort of crossroads in time, where the past is intersecting with the present. The rose or Irish culture, a symbol or rebirth, is blossoming in the center of the crossroads.

Although I took a class on Yeats in college, I confess that I am not that knowledgeable in regards to the Irish mythology in much of his poetry. If any of you have some additional insight into Cuchulain or the Ulster Cycle, please feel free to share it here.

Thanks, and read on!

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Unholy Trinity: The Number Three in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

MacbethThe last time I read Macbeth was in college, so I was long overdue to read it again. It is the perfect Shakespeare play to read during the month when the veil between worlds is thinnest. I was barely into the play when I decided what I would be writing about: the symbolism of the number three in the play.

Before looking at the text, I want to provide a little bit of historical information which I think is important to understanding the meaning of the number three in Macbeth, which I refer to as the unholy trinity. During the time when Shakespeare was writing, England was experiencing profound social upheaval, which was the cause for much concern. The primary cause for this concern was the Elizabethan belief that what happens on earth is a reflection of what is happening in Heaven, or, “on earth as it is in heaven.” So the displacement of the nobility by the merchant class, and the fact that the traditional patriarchal rule of England was now controlled by an unwed woman, led many to speculate that the realm of the divine was also being turned upside down and that unholy beings were possibly assaulting the divine throne of God. This idea is key in the play and is expressed in the very first act when the three witches say in unison: “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” If you want to find out more about this, I highly recommend The Elizabethan World Picture by E. M. W. Tillyard. (Click here to view the book on Amazon).

OK, now on to the number three. First, it is a fairly common belief that bad luck comes in threes. I have personally noted that when someone I know dies, the death is usually followed by two more deaths of people to whom I am acquainted. This idea, accompanied by the possibility that the Holy Trinity in Heaven may be usurped or turned topsy-turvy by an unholy trinity, sets the stage for Macbeth.

The first use of the number three relates to the number of witches. The three witches appear together throughout the play and generally portend dire events. In fact, much of their predictions and conjuring has to do with three. When the witches first meet Macbeth, they address him by three titles: Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and finally, King. Then, there is the classic cauldron scene, which opens with the following lines:

1. Witch: Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed.
2. Witch: Thrice and once the hedgepig whined.
3. Witch: Harpier cries “’Tis time, ‘tis time.”

Finally, as Macbeth joins the scene, the witches conjure three apparitions, and each of the apparitions shouts Macbeth’s name three times: “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!”

I mentioned earlier the idea that deaths come in threes. It is worth noting that there are three murderers who are employed by Macbeth to carry out the foul deeds. There are also three murders that are actually performed on stage, those of Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s son. Even though there are other murders (such as that of Lady Macduff and the rest of her children), there are only three that are actually acted out as part of the play.

In addition to the ones I mentioned, there are many more instances of three throughout the play, mainly the repetition of words three times. There is also a great discussion between the Porter and Macbeth regarding the three things that drinking alcohol provokes in a person. I encourage you to dust of your copy off the cursed play and read it during this dark season, and when you do, take notice of how often the number three appears, directly and indirectly.

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