Tag Archives: virginity

“Nurse’s Song” by William Blake (from Songs of Experience)

NursesSong_soe

When the voices of children are heard on the green
And whisprings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.  

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.

This poem corresponds to the poem of the same name from the Songs of Innocence (click here to read about that poem). As with the other poem, this one also is set at a transitional period between day to night, symbolizing the transition from childhood to adulthood. But we also see a transition out of spring and accompanying that the idea of winter coming. This symbolic transition conjures a sense of impending death, that the first stages of the cycle has come to a close and the cycles of maturity and death are beginning.

The nurse, who is the voice in this poem, is clearly troubled as she watches over the children. Their play evokes memories of her past which cause her deep anguish.

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.

I would assert that the nurse gave up her virginity out of wedlock and as a result, suffered for doing so. Possibly, she bore a child herself and had to give the child away to an orphanage or some such institution. As she watches the children and listens to them, she recalls her own innocence and how it led her to make a mistake that carried long-lasting consequences. She knows innately that at least some of the children she cares for will ultimately make the same mistakes she made.

As with so many of Blake’s poems from the Songs of Innocence and Experience, this poem is short but visceral. I know for me, I spent a lot of time looking back at my youth and punishing myself for choices I made, just as the nurse does. Thankfully, I reached a place of acceptance and even gratitude. If it were not for my mistakes, I would never have learned the lessons that brought me to the place I am today, which is a good place.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 13

Painting by Michele Desubleo

Painting by Michele Desubleo

This episode corresponds with the section concerning Nausicaä in Homer’s Odyssey.

In Book Six of the Odyssey, Odysseus is shipwrecked on the coast of the island of Scheria. Nausicaä and her handmaidens go to the sea-shore to wash clothes. Awoken by their games, Odysseus emerges from the forest completely naked, scaring the servants away, and begs Nausicaä for aid. Nausicaä gives Odysseus some of the laundry to wear, and takes him to the edge of the town. Realizing that rumors might arise if Odysseus is seen with her, she and the servants go ahead into town.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Joyce’s novel, Gerty MacDowell corresponds with Princess Nausicaä, Gerty’s friends Cissy and Edy represent Nausicaä’s handmaidens, and Leopold Bloom is associated with Odysseus. As in the Homeric epic, the scene takes place on the beach and is full of sexuality, which in Joyce’s book is much more overt. Essentially, Bloom masturbates as he watches the girls on the beach.

Early in the episode, Gerty fantasizes about a storybook wedding. Images of fairy tales and being swept away by her Prince Charming abound. It is implied that while she is having these fantasies, Bloom is having his own as he watches. As Gerty notices Bloom watching her, she begins to tease him and play up to his fantasy, positioning herself so he can better see her and steal glimpses up her skirt. She begins moving her leg in a manner evocative of sexual intercourse.

Queen of angels, queen of patriarchs, queen of prophets, of all saints, they prayed, queen of the most holy rosay and then Father Conroy handed the thurible to Canon O’Hanlon and he put in the incense and censed the Blessed Sacrament and Cissy Caffrey caught the two twins and she was itching to give them a ringing good clip on the ear but she didn’t because she thought he might be watching but she never made a bigger mistake in all her life because Gerty could see without looking that he never took his eyes off of her and then Canon O’Hanlon handed the thurible back to Father Conroy and knelt down looking up at the Blessed Sacrament and the choir began to sing Tantum ergo and she just swung her foot in and out in time as the music rose and fell to the Tantumer gosa carmen tum.

(pp. 359 – 360)

What is interesting about this is that while Bloom is fantasizing about Gerty and Gerty is playing up to his attentions, there is a Catholic service happening at a nearby church. This builds a symbolic connection between Gerty and the Virgin Mary. Joyce seems to be criticizing our obsession with virginity and our secret desires for those things which are pure and generally out of our reach. I cannot help but wonder how many men, sitting in a church service, secretly wondered how a statue of the Virgin Mary might look if naked, like classical Greek statuary. Probably more than would be willing to admit.

Undoubtedly, the most memorable scene in this episode is when Bloom reaches orgasm. It happens as fireworks are exploding in the sky over the beach and Joyce employs the image of a Roman candle as a phallic symbol.

She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow the cry of a young girl’s love, a strangled little cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! They were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lively! O so soft, sweet, soft!

(pp. 366 – 367)

It is worth pointing out that Joyce uses the word “rapture” to describe the experience. I get the impression that he is also making the connection between orgasm and a profound religious experience. The image that comes to my mind is that of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.

Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Bernini – Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

The episode ends on a sad note, with the sound of a cuckoo clock sounding the time.

Cuckoo
Cuckoo
Cuckoo

(p. 382)

The implication here is that Bloom was made a cuckold, that his wife Molly and Blazes Boylan have consummated their affair at the same time he was masturbating and fantasizing. So while it’s easy to look at Bloom in this episode and see a pervert jerking off as he watches a young girl at the beach, you can’t help but pity him also. He seems a sad and lonely person.

I’ll post my thoughts on episode 14 in about a week or so.


 

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


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section13.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nausicaa

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“Sonnet 3: Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest” by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose uneared womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remembered not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

This is a sonnet that encourages procreation. The woman who is the object of this poem seems to be reluctant to give up her virginity. It is pointed out that procreation is part of a cycle, where she must create life just as her mother before her created life, and how her daughter will also procreate when the time comes.

In lines 5 and 6, Shakespeare incorporates images of planting. It seems that he is using the symbol of the divine feminine to represent the earth, which brings forth new life and growth after the seed is planted. And just like the earth, a fertile womb brings forth new life once the man’s seed is planted.

In lines 9 and 10, Shakespeare makes a reference to the month of April, which is spring and usually when Easter is celebrated. It is a time of rebirth and regeneration. It is also worth noting that at the end of April is the pagan celebration of Beltane (held on either April 30 or May 1), which is often associated with sexuality and fertility.

The final couplet reminds the woman that if she fails to fulfill her role as a mother, then her matriarchal lineage dies with her. Since Shakespeare lived in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, who remained unmarried, this couplet makes me wonder if Shakespeare may have had Elizabeth in mind as he composed this. Certainly there must have been concern about what would happen to the royal lineage.

Overall, I liked this sonnet. It is simple enough to enjoy without a lot of analysis, yet it leaves just enough open for interpretation to make it interesting.

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“Infant Joy” by William Blake

InfantJoy

I have no name;
I am but two days old.
What shall I call thee?
I happy am,
Joy is my name.
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee.

This is a very simple and loving poem, and there is really not a whole lot that needs to be said about it. It is an expression of a mother’s joy as she beholds her newborn infant. There is one bit of symbolism that is worth pointing out, though, and that has to do with Blake’s illustration.

In the illustration, the mother and child are resting within the blossom of a flower as an angel attends them. I see the blossoming flower as the loss of virginity, so it appears to me that the young woman was blessed with a child upon offering up her virginity. It is also possible that the infant is the baby Jesus. One could certainly interpret the symbolic combination of flower, mother, infant, and angel to be representative of the Immaculate Conception.

There isn’t anything else I have to say about this poem, but if you have other thoughts or interpretations, please feel free to share them.

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“The Winter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare

WintersTaleThis seemed an appropriate play to read as we were plunged into sub-zero temperatures. It was the first time I read this play and I found it quite interesting. It is different from the other Shakespeare plays that I have read. For example, people die as in a tragedy, but there is also a marriage at the end, which is typical of a comedy. I did a quick Google search and found that this is deemed a “problem play” and that some people now label it as a romance instead of a comedy.

The other thing that struck me as strange in this play is the character Time, which for all intents and purposes is a chorus. I have not read all of Shakespeare’s plays (yet), but I have read a fair amount, and this is the first time that I have come across the use of a chorus.

The first part of the play seems to focus a lot on infidelity. Leontes is convinced that his wife, Hermione, is unfaithful and allows his jealousy to cloud his judgment. There is a great passage where Leontes obsesses over the imagined infidelity. In the passage, the word “play” means adultery, but also draws in images of theater and acting.

Gone already!
Inch-thick, knee-deep, o’er head and
ears a fork’d one!
Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play.

(Act I: scene ii)

I confess that the rest of the play puzzled me. It seemed as if there were hints about goddess worship and the cycles of the seasons, but they were not that strong. Anyway, I’ll point them out for the sake of discussion.

Perdita is referred to as a goddess-like in the play, which made me wonder if she was the “maiden” incarnation of the goddess.  She also has a passage in Act IV which draws on imagery of virginity, flowers, and Proserpina which could add support to this assumption.

Out, alas!
You’d be so lean, that blasts of January
Would blow you through and through.
Now, my fair’st friend,
I would I had some flowers o’ the spring that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing: O Proserpina,
For the flowers now, that frighted thou let’st fall
From Dis’s waggon! daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength–a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!

(Act IV: scene iv)

In the same act and scene, there is bit of metatheatre that I found symbolic. Twelve peasant farmers appear in four groups of three, dressed as satyrs, and perform a dance, which I interpreted to be some type of planting and harvest ritual. The fact that the twelve are split evenly into four groups made me view them as representative of both the twelve months (grouped into four seasons) and as the twelve zodiac signs (grouped by element).

Servant

Master, there is three carters, three shepherds,
three neat-herds, three swine-herds, that have made
themselves all men of hair, they call themselves
Saltiers, and they have a dance which the wenches
say is a gallimaufry of gambols, because they are
not in’t; but they themselves are o’ the mind, if it
be not too rough for some that know little but
bowling, it will please plentifully.

Shepherd

Away! we’ll none on ‘t: here has been too much
homely foolery already. I know, sir, we weary you.

Polixenes

You weary those that refresh us: pray, let’s see
these four threes of herdsmen.

(Act IV; scene iv)

Overall, I liked the play, even though there are some issues with it and it is kind of difficult to grasp. I suspect that this is one of those plays that is better seen performed onstage than read from the page. Still, the story is interesting and there are some good plot twists. I just hope that the local Shakespeare troupe performs this one soon.

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“Night” by William Blake

NightBlake1This poem is fairly long, so for those who need, here is a link to read it online:

PoemHunter.com

Overall, this poem gave me the impression that it was inspired by the classic children’s bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

But in addition to echoing the theme from the children’s prayer, Blake adds his own symbolism, building on the foundation and creating something that is uniquely his own.

In the first two stanzas, there are references to flowers and blossoms, which are symbolic of young girls’ virginity in most of Blake’s poems. Blake describes the angels pouring blessings and joy “On each bud and blossom, / And each sleeping bosom.” I get the impression that the angels are not only blessing the young virgins, but also protecting them from the abuse and assault that may occur at night.

In the third stanza, we see the angels comforting the birds in their nests and the beasts in their caves. It appears that sorrow and unrest haunt the animals, which leads me to interpret them as symbolic of the poor and homeless children of London, seeking shelter wherever they can.

The fourth stanza turns dark, as the wolves and tygers of the night begin to prey upon the unsuspecting innocents as they sleep. The angels try to protect them, but are often unable to do so. Instead, they “receive each mild spirit” and guide them to Heaven.

NightBlake2In the final two stanzas, Christ accepts the souls of the children. Here, Christ is symbolized by the lion whose eyes “flow with tears of gold” as a display of deep, holy sorrow at the loss of the innocent children. The poem concludes with the image of the lion lying down with the sheep, protecting the flock, which is comprised of the souls of the children who were taken from the world too, too early.

This is a perfect example of Blake’s poetic genius. He beautifully weaves his words together in a way that evokes conflicting emotions: joy and sadness; comfort and unease; love and anger; hope and despair. Right now, my feelings are so confused by this poem that it’s hard for me to nail down exactly how I feel. But that’s the goal of poetry, to stir emotion.

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