Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer reading: The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick

So, a while back I saw a CFP for a conference about [major theme of my dissertation] in the works of Robert Herrick. OK, I thought. I like Herrick. I've never written anything about Herrick, but I'm sure I could. Maybe I'll just get the complete works out of the library and see what grabs me.

1,402 poems later, I have reached two conclusions: 1) Herrick wrote a heck of a lot more poems about farting and body odor than I'd ever realized (neither of these is the subject of my dissertation); 2) I don't, actually, know what I would say if I were going to write an essay about Herrick. With a few obvious exceptions such as "Corinna" and "The Hock-Cart," which I expect everyone will write about, he just doesn't seem to lend himself to analysis -- at least, not for me. But he is a delight.

So, a random selection of lesser-known Herrick, without commentary.

Upon Pink an ill-fac'd Painter. Epigram.

To paint the Fiend, Pink would the Devill see;
And so he may, if he'll be rul'd by me:
Let but Pink's face i'th'Looking-glasse be showne,
And Pink may paint the Devill's by his owne.

The parting verse, the feast there ended

Loth to depart, but yet at last, each one
Back must now go to's habitation:
Not knowing thus much, when we once do sever,
Whether or no, that we shall meet here ever.
And for my self, since time a thousand cares
And griefs hath fil'de upon my silver hairs;
'Tis to be doubted whether I next yeer,
Or no, shall give ye a re-meeting here.
If die I must, then my last vow shall be,
You'l with a tear or two, remember me,
Your sometime Poet; but if fates do give
Me longer date, and more fresh springs to live:
Oft as your field, shall her old age renew,
Herrick shall make the meddow-verse for you.


Wantons we are; and though our words be such,
Our Lives do differ from our Lines by much.

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the Rosemary, and so
Down with the Baies, & misletoe:
Down with the Holly, Ivie, all,
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas Hall:
That so the superstitious find
Not one least Branch there left behind:
For look how many leaves there be
Neglected there (maids trust to me)
So many Goblins you shall see.

The Bell-man

Along the dark, and silent night,
With my Lantern, and my Light,
And the tinkling of my Bell,
Thus I walk, and this I tell:
Death and dreadfullnesse call on,
To the gen'rall Session;
To whose dismal Barre, we there
All accompts must come to cleeere:
Scores of sins w'ave made her many,
Wip't out few, (God knowes) if any.
Rise ye Debters then, and fall
To make paiement, while I call.
Ponder this, when I am gone;
By the clock 'tis almost One.

According to one of my instructors in undergrad, who was a fountain of seventeenth-century gossip, Herrick kept a pet pig that drank beer. This has nothing to do with anything, but it makes me happy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

R.I.P. Antioch College.

I'm saddened by this. Antioch was the first of many progressive liberal arts colleges that I fell in love with the idea of when I was in high school. To a fifteen-year-old who had never known anything but the regimented existence of a (very good) suburban public school, colleges without formal grades and with a population of artists and activists sounded amazing.

In the end, I never attended any of them. I ended up at an (also very good) state school of considerably more traditional sensibilities, although it did have lots of small seminars and a powerful emphasis on the liberal arts. I don't regret that choice. I got an excellent education there, and it was probably good for me to spend four years surrounded by people who were a great deal more conservative than I was. And we had a lovely co-op coffeehouse where I could hang out with fellow hippies. Still, I believe that there need to be more Antiochs in the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer reading: The Fair Maid of the West, Parts One and Two, by Thomas Heywood

I totally want to see a modern revival of this play. It has cross-dressing, tavern brawls, pirates, bandits, a kick-ass heroine, a bed trick, castration jokes, and somebody saying "Off with his head!" twice in three pages. How can you go wrong?

Stuff that happens in Part One: Mr. Spencer, a gentleman, is in love with Bess Bridges, a tavern wench and a tanner's daughter. His friend Goodlack tries to talk him out of marrying her. Spencer gets into a tavern fight with a guy who casts aspersions on Bess's virtue and kills him. He flees the country, leaving Bess a lot of money, his picture, and a tavern in Cornwall. Bess becomes proprietor of the tavern, which comes with a comic apprentice named Clem, and starts making money hand-over-fist. A gallant named Roughman starts harrassing Bess, and she decides to teach him a lesson by dressing up as a man and threatening him with a sword. After a bit of humiliation, he becomes a reformed character and her friend. Meanwhile, Spencer is wounded in another fight. Believing himself to be dying, he sends Goodlack to inform Bess of his fate and execute his will, which leaves her five hundred pounds a year unless she's been unfaithful, in which case Goodlack gets the lot. Goodlack, sorely tempted, calls her a whore, and she tells him to wash his mouth out. Goodlack tries to take away the picture of Spencer; Bess kisses it and takes her leave of it at great length, and Goodlack is so moved he relents. Bess commandeers a ship to bring Spencer's body home and sails for the Azores with Roughman, Goodlack, and Clem. Spencer is in fact alive and has been captured by Spaniards; Bess and co. win a sea-fight against the Spaniards and release the prisoners. Spencer doesn't recognize Bess because she's still dressed as a man, and Bess thinks Spencer is a ghost. The ship puts ashore in Barbary, and Bess is summoned before Mullisheg, King of Fez, who has never seen an Englishwoman before and wants her to become his mistress. Spencer comes to court as a petitioner, and Bess recognizes him at last. She asks Mullisheg to "do him some grace for my sake," and he offers to make Spencer his chief eunuch. Bess protests. Clem, who apparently doesn't know what a eunuch is, volunteers instead. Poor kid. The lovers are reunited, and Mullisheg gives them his blessing and arranges for their marriage.

Part Two: Before the marriage can be consummated, Mullisheg decides that he still has the hots for Beth, and his wife Tota falls in love with Spencer. Goodlack and Roughman are enlisted as panders, but they secretly arrange to have Mullisheg and Tota sleep with each other instead. Spencer flees the court, and Bess plans to flee separately with Goodlack and Roughman. Spencer kills some watchmen and is arrested by a Moor named Joffer. He persuades Joffer to allow him to visit Bess on the ship so she'll know he's alive, and pledges to return. Mullisheg finds out, and is about to execute Joffer when Spencer returns, true to his word. Mullisheg is quite happy to execute Spencer instead, but then Bess, Goodlack, and Roughman return to plead for his life and confess all. Mullisheg has a change of heart and sets them all free. They sail away, but they're attacked by pirates and separated from one another in the ensuing fight. Spencer and Goodlack end up in Ferrara and Mantua, respectively, and make peace among the warring dukes of those cities. Bess, Roughman, and Clem are attacked by bandits. Roughman is beaten off and Clem flees; the bandits are about to rape Bess when the Duke of Florence rescues her. Turns out his intentions aren't so honorable either. A merchant who knows Bess from Barbary fills the Duke in on her story, and the Duke tries to make her his mistress. Clem, meanwhile, gets a job at a tavern, where he recognizes Spencer and Goodlack. They think Bess has been raped or murdered. Bess, passing by with the Duke, throws a jewel to Spencer. Spencer comes to court, and the Duke tries to make him his go-between and makes him swear not to speak any word of affection toward Bess. Bess thinks he's been unfaithful and swears to be revenged: "Tis my way; / I've power and I'll do it." She plays the role of Florence's mistress, frames Spencer for stealing the jewel, and persuades the Duke to deliver him into her power. After making him sweat a bit, she frees him and claims him as a husband. Joffer, meanwhile, has been brought to the Florentine court as a prisoner, but Spencer recognizes him as a friend and secures his release, after which he converts to Christianity.

Thoughts: A ton of interesting stuff going on here, much of it having to do with honor -- Spencer and Joffer offering up their lives in pledge of their honor; Goodlack and Roughman struggling between the false honor of esteem and worldly goods and the true honor of acting rightly (Roughman argues, back in his swaggering days, that "a disgrace not seen is held no shame," but, of course, it is shame); Clem offering up his testicles in exchange for honor at court and living to regret the bargain. (I have to admit I thought "WTF, Heywood didn't just go there!" when I got to that bit, but it seems to fit, thematically.)

Toward the end of Part One, in the scenes at the court of Fez, Heywood seems to be recycling some bits from the Edward IV plays; Bess, like Jane Shore, is approached by a number of petitioners who want her to use her influence with the king to do good, and eventually recognizes her former beloved among them. This time the story has a happy ending (due more to Bess's virtue than the king's -- as in Edward IV, the royal characters are capricious, willful, and mostly self-serving, though both Mullisheg and Florence have redeeming moments).

Spencer has a speech about the fickle and fragmentary nature of the world: "... in the same instant that one forfeits all his estate, another enters upon a rich possession. As one goes to the church to be married, another is hurried to the gallows to be hang'd, the last having no feeling of the first man's joy nor the first of the last man's misery. At the same time that one lies tortured upon the rack, another lies tumbling with his mistress in down and feathers. This when I truly consider, I cannot think why any fortune should make a man ecstasied." The editor of the Regents editions reads this as a set piece thrown in because Good Guys Are Stoics In Adversity; I think it's rather more, and in fact it seems like a nice commentary both on the play's gloriously episodic structure, and one of the thematic undercurrents. Spenser is wrong: the lives and fates of all of the characters are in fact intertwined, even if they don't see it at the time. Only by pulling together can they survive.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Home again

Back from New City. I have signed a lease on a fantastically expensive apartment in New SLAC Town, and now I'm not sure what the hell I was thinking, except it is walking distance to campus, and the other places I liked were all in New City, some thirty miles away. I'm a nervous driver and I just wasn't feeling the love for sprawling suburbia, which pretty much describes all the places in between. New SLAC Town itself is cute. Sleepy, and a little heavy on the antique shops and light on useful businesses, but cute.

New SLAC has a pretty and historic campus, which makes me happy. Both the University of Basketball and my undergraduate institution also have pretty and historic campuses, so this is an essential ingredient in my vision of How A College Ought To Be. There are no crape myrtles at New SLAC -- I think it gets too cold in the winter there, and this makes me sad because crape myrtles, too, are part of How A College Ought To Be. I think the beginning of a new academic year deserves to be ushered in with fuchsia and hot pink and lilac. There are, however, plenty of other trees, and one of them is right outside of my first-floor office. I have always wanted a tree, ever since I was a junior in college and decided that I wanted to be a professor. Something about the thought of watching it change with the autumn and winter and spring, year after year, is very appealing. You don't want to get too attached to your tree if you are a visiting assistant professor. I need to remember that.

By and large, a good visit, even though I smashed up a rental car on the first day of it and have to deal with a bewildering morass of insurance claims. Ouch.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Back from the AP reading. I can say for sure that Louisville is not nearly as pleasant a place as Daytona to read exams, although it had its points. As before, I've learned all kinds of things I didn't know about classic literature:

"David Copperfield is the bastard son of a famous man and the crazed erroneous widow." (Apparently there is only one crazed erroneous widow in the world, which is reassuring.)

"Without the past, exsistence would not be."

"This paranoia causes Winston to start hiding in an owl cove away from Big Brother."

"After Blanche's husband died, she began to sleep arond. Once you someone starts in that business, it is hard to get out." (I assume that the kid realized, with horror, that he or she had just implied that the exam-reader might have "started in that business," and hastily crossed it out.)

"At the end of the novel Gatsby gets shot and around that time in the 1900 many people were getting murdered. The reason being is because of slavery and Holocaust. Which and a very negative impact on people in the past and present, as a whole."

I also learned that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a great admirer of Keats, and that Gatsby, who is in a sense trying to make his life into a work of art, is a bit like the "bold lover" in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" -- who can't ever quite reach his ideal, but will never see it fade. Only his tragedy is that he's human, stuck in the real world and at the mercy of time and change. Yeah. A seventeen-year-old writing a forty-minute timed essay came up with that (although I'm sure this student had thought about Gatsby before, a lot). Gives me hope for the future, I tell you.

Off to New City on Tuesday to look at apartments. I am SO not ready for this.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Almost halfway through...

Three days of exam-scoring down, four to go. Roughly 330 essays read so far. So far, the major trends include:

-- A hell of a lot of essays on The Awakening, Beloved, The Great Gatsby, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Death of a Salesman. While I've read all of these texts at one time or other, or at least seen the movie, Gatsby is probably the only one I can talk intelligently about. (Not that this stops me from scoring essays on these works.) Between Gatsby and Salesman, I am getting very sick of the phrase "American dream."

-- A lot of very bad essays about Shakespeare. Perhaps I'm pickier about the Shakespeare essays than I ought to be, but really, what do you do with a student who argues that Hamlet was written to teach people that they should always think twice before taking action (Dude! That's what got Hamlet into trouble in the first place!), let alone one who thinks "Claudis" and Gertrude are biological siblings?

-- A great many high school seniors seem to be under the impression that the sole purpose of literature is to teach moral or practical lessons, and the quality of the work is directly related to the quality of the lesson it imparts. (I've noticed this in my freshmen as well.)

-- A few students have written essays about works I've never heard of before. (I just score away, because that's what we're told to do.) One of these works is a novel by Camus whose protagonist, apparently, "wants to be known both Biblically and famously." Don't we all?

Friday, June 1, 2007

things you probably didn't know about Oscar Wilde

Off to grade AP exams in the morning. (I did this last year, and it's sort of like summer camp for English teachers, only with a whole bunch of Very Bad Essays thrown in. It is no longer a mystery to me why I got a 5 on this exam, lo these many years ago.)

By way of illustrating what I'm in for, I attach a composite essay, cobbled together from the more amusing or alarming bits of last year's exams. (I have yet to encounter an individual student who believed that Oscar Wilde lived simultaneously in the Industrial Revolution, the Elizabethan era, eighteenth-century New England, medieval times, the South, the Revolution-Reformation, and the seventeenth century, but after reading 850 of these things last year, it would not surprise me at all if such a student existed. For the record, we are not allowed to deduct points for historical ignorance, however outrageous.)

Lady Windermere’s Farm

Playboy. Now that is something that would never have been tolerated in 1892 when Oscar Wildes Lady Windermere’s Fan was produced.

This was the start of the Industrial Revolution, a movement which would change the scope of the history forever. With the Seneca Falls convention just around the corner, it seemed as though the whole world would explode. With the Lord Darlington being the only male it is true that he must be the only one who can keep the reform from stopping, but as the closing line shows in the end he is getting reformed also and is unable to stop the growing revolutionary fever.

The Elizabethan era was filled with prestige Lords and admirable Duchess’. Fancy parties, wearing wigs, and acting proper while enjoying a cup of tea were the highlights of life. This society is repetitive and dull, with the next best thing being someone’s birthday. Balls were very popular and only the whose-who were invited. In this time of History it was always a thing to say anything about any one because there was nothing better to say. Those characters had desires to want anything and they would do anything for it even if it would cost them their face. They are victims of stereotypes and labes and because they recide in the nineteenth century there is not much they can do about it.

Wilde can give the reader an interesting insight into the world because he was lived in. In his play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Wilde points out several problems with the Elizabethan society he grew up in. He hides his daggers under plain sheets.

I believe that the genre of this playwright is hypocratical. The playwright does what it suppose to do give us a taste on how the main characters or the characters act, smell, look, talk. Due to the type of language they use, I can infer that they’re all from the 18th century New England. All the words are mixed up in Shakespears plays and in this one they are not.

Without characters, books, plays, and movies would not exist. Characters are very valuable; in modern literature and in past. Each of the characters plays a trivial role in presenting the zeitgeist since it is a play and they have to act.

The 1892 play, “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” depicts typical Southern society. Society is portrayed as a superficial, hardass that exhiles those that do not conform. A society is one that consists of high, middle, and low class people, each with their own individual way of life. This passage is about three high-class officials from the town. They’re population is made up of Duchess, lords, and ladys. Therefore showing that the time of the society is the mideval times. The society they live in is about high class and of gods and goddesses. It seems to be a normal society, for instance in this section of the playwright they talk about their houses. The reader can tell they have houses because they say they do.

The upper class worry that “the most dreadful people seem to go everywhere,” seaping like toxic waste that envelopes the entire town. The characters discuss how everything is “said behind” their back when in fact they all say “undrinkable” thing either to each other when they do not realize it or behind each others back. Altogether these characters reveal the utter political atmosphere prevalent among the idol rich, and the contrast between idealism and the shells of jade taken on by those too sure of their standing among Humanity. The purpose of all this is to show that beneath the sheep’s clothing of civilized society there still remains the harsh and indignant arrogance that makes jackasses of us all. These people are a waste of life and should be outcaste and alienated.

The time period is in the Revolution-Reformation as the women feel that they are being “elbowed into the corner” and want equality from the men. Women being under men and divorce was a big part of the nature of their society. The women of this scene seem like the stereotypical 17th century women. The female characters in this exerpt: Duchess of Berwick and Lady Windermere are so aristocratic in nature and so full of hot air that even someone who has committed a scandal like Lord Darlington seems like a Christ figure. The role of men as husbands is as inferior as clowns at a circus.

Moral values are like a dead rat in your house. It’s easy to find ... but you would rather not. The values of these high society people differ from honours to deuces. The Duchess of Berwick show her high society values by complaining about the “tea at Lady Markby’s,” which shows that she values tea.

Duchess of Berwick says “The most dreadful people seem to go everywhere,” meaning everyone seems to go everywhere but him, he is extradaniray and goes to different places. Although the Duchess seems uphalled at the dreadful people she speaks of, they are not dreadful in self, but dreadful in economy. She puts herself on a pedal stool. From the very first lines the Duchess does not want Darlington to “know” her daughter, presumably in the biblical sense. Teenagers should take inconsiderate of themselves to listen to their parents for instance their mothers, because they have experienced a lot of things in their days that can give you guys lessons.

The character Lord Darlington is picked up to be as this man who in some sense doesn’t have all his stuff and may have a few screws loose in his head. He is a foolish man who lives his life through livelyhood. Lord Darlington seems to be a free lancing bachelor. It is obvious through his dialogue that he is an untellectual. His mind and soul present a damp and putrid undertaking. He would be classified today as a Jerk. He is portrayed as a charmer and a rouge. His speeches provide an image that in today’s terms would be a high class mafia boss. It is clear that Lord Darlington is ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan,’ for when he departs, he continues the farewell by ensuring another meeting. He brings people to him then he’ll never let go. Kinda like a quick sand. He is somewhat sexus but at the same time wise and trivial. He compares husbands to “odd tricks,” comparing wives to prostitutes. So the lord has engraved something in the back of the morals around him.

Throughout the passage Lady Windermere conveys herself as a parrot. The author allows us to see this by slowly peeling back the women’s thoughts like a banana peel.

So in conclusion and in summary, George Orwell has done an amazing job in telling us so little, yet making the readers understand so much about the characters and there society through an extremely small amount of dialogue. Just think, all of these years separate that play from today and we still have the same people.