Keats as an Inspiration

John Keats was the youngest of the romantic poets. He was born on 31st October, 1795, in London. His life was tragic in the sense that he suffered many calamities during his very short life. His brother Tom and his mother died of consumption. He also lost his father at a very early age. His disappointment in live with Fanny Brawne, whom he loved passionately aggravated the family disease to which he himself had fallen prey. There were financial difficulties too in his life. After his boyhood he never had a home of his own and had to move from one lodging to the other. Finally he went to Italy to regain his lost health where he died on 23rd February, 1821.
As Keats was afflicted by consumption, he was obsessed with the idea of death. Acutely aware of the pain and sufferings of poverty and illness, he wrote about these subjects with great poetic force. His poetry has the vividness of detail and intensity of emotion. His poems are just like a painting in which the object is depicted with the minutest detail.
Keats was a student of surgery. During the years 1810 to 1814, he was an apprentice to a surgeon Mr. Hammond. During this period he was very much influenced by Spenser. Keats’ first volume of poems appeared in 1817. It made a little impression but soon ceased to sell. There were two significant poems in this volume namely ‘Sleep and Poetry’ and ‘I Stood Tiptoe Upon a Hill’. It was followed by ‘Endymion’ in 1818 in his second volume. Soon after a couple of cruel reviews, in which criticism of real failings of Keats’ immature poetry, along with sneers at his birth and abuse of his poetry’s most beautiful passages, appeared first in Blackwood’s Magazine and then in the Quarterly.
It was believed that these reviews would kill Keats but it was a complete error. Keats was not the man to be discouraged. His own words show this:

“I begin to get a little acquainted with my own strength and weakness. Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic of his own works.”

So all amateur writers, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a good response from your writings in the beginning. Keats’ life sets a very good example for us – first, he did not get disheartened by the cruel response of the critics; secondly, we all remember him as one of the greatest poets in English literature and this is on the basis of his short literary career till the age of 23. So all you folks pick up your pens and get going.
We’ll talk about his poetry next time!

Imagery in 'Macbeth' - Part III

Today we'll talk about the imagery of light and darkness.
Light is the symbol of knowledge and goodness while darkness is the symbol of evil and theft. A deep pal of darkness surrounds the whole play from beginning to end. Most of the scenes that crowd to our mind are the scenes of darkness. For example, the King Duncan is murdered in his sleep at night when it is too dark for anyone to see. Banquo is also killed at night. The night is so dark that he asks his son Fleance to bring a torch. Even Lady Macbeth, before her death sees only darkness around her. Therefore, she has asked her chamber servants to keep a torch lighted all the time. Even when there is any light, it is earnestly desired that the light be turned into darkness when Macbeth hears that Malcolm will be the Prince of Scotland, he appeals to the stars “hide your fires” so that his darkness remains invisible to the human eye. After this he only thinks of darkness and “thick night” whenever he wants to act. For example when he has to murder Duncan he invokes”

…come thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.


…come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day.
Banquo also refers to darkness when he says that Heaven’s “candles are all out”. Along with this image of darkness comes the image of sickness and death. For example Scotland, the dear country of Malcolm and Macduff is referred to as sick. Macbeth also finds his country sick which needs a purge. Malcolm tells Macduff that their country is suffering from the disease called the tyranny of Macbeth and they must:

…make us medicines of our great revenge
To cure this deadly grief.”

Imagery in Macbeth - Part II

The other image which recurs in the play is that of robes too big and unfit for Macbeth. Indeed, from the very beginning of the play, Macbeth is aware that the honours due to a King are too much for a person like him. When he learns from Rosse that he has been made the Thane of
Cawdor, he asks:
“…Why do you dress me
In borrow’d robes?”
Even Banquo uses this image of robes and says:
“New honours come upon him,
Like our strange garments.”
When Duncan has supped and is resting in Macbeth’s home, he (Macbeth) expresses his inability to his wife doing the dark deed. He says that he has earned a good reputation from all sorts of people, which is like robes I “their newest gloss”, which he cannot throw down so soon. At this, continuing this image of robes his wife asks him if he was drund when he hoped to wear those robes. After the murder of Duncan, when Rosse says that he is going to Macbeth’s coronation, Macduff uses the same image of robes and says:
“Lest our old robes sit easier than our new.”
Towards the end of the play people are aware of Macbeth’s villainy and Augus, using the same image of clothes remarks about Macbeth:

“…His title
Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.”

It completes the imagery of robes of honour being worn by a most dishonoured person like Macbeth.
Next post will be about the imagery of light and darkness.

Imagery in 'Macbeth' - Part I

Commenting on the rich, vivid and varied imagery used by Shakespeare in ‘Macbeth’, A.C. Bradley says, “The vividness, magnitude and violence of the imagery…are characteristic of Macbeth almost throughout.” Indeed, from the very beginning till the end there are several symbols, similes and images invoked by the dramatist to lend to the play the characteristic horror, terror and darkness of human soul. Some of the recurring images in ‘Macbeth’ are those of clothes too big for Macbeth, creating the impression that he is a comic figure; the image of blood, bloody dagger and bloody hands; the image of sounds like thunder and its echo, the image of the speeding horses and images created with the help of animals, birds, reptiles; as well as the image of darkness and blackness all around.
The play opens with a sound of thunder in which the three witches appear, at a deserted place. The sound of thunder is heard several times throughout the play, for example, when the witches appear again there is the sound and echo of thunder, the apparations appear with thunder. There is the thunder and lightning even at night when the deed of murdering Duncan is done. Associated with the sound of the thunder there are the voices of wailing and crying people over the dark deeds of Macbeth. For example, Macduff reports:
… each new morn
New windows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds.

My next post will be about the imagery of clothes.

T.S. Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral'

Some selected quotations from T.S. Eliot’s play ‘Murder in the Cathedral’:

“For the good times past, that are come again
I am your man.” (First Tempter)

“To man of God what gladness?” (Becket)

“Shall I who ruled among the doves as an eagle
Now take the shape of wolf among wolves.” (Becket)

“King is forgotten when another shall come
Saints and Martyrs rule from the tomb.” (Fourth Tempter)

“Is there no enduring crown to be won
Is there no way in my soul’s sickness
That does not lead to damnation” (Becket)

Here’s what expert critics have to say about the play ‘Murder in the Cathedral’.

Nevill Coghill: “Murder in the Cathedral is about a situation and a quality of life; the situation is perpetual and the quality is rare.”

Helen Gardener: “The central theme of the play is martyrdom and martyrdom in its strict ancient sense.”

David and Jones: “The play is not just a dramatization of death but a deep searching study of the significance of martyrdom.”

Here are some opinions about the role of chorus in the play:
Eliot: “The chorus has always fundamentally the same uses. It mediates between the action and the audience. It intensifies the action, we as audience see it doubly by seeing its effect on other play.”

Helen Gardener: “The chorus is also instrumental in involving the audience in Becket’s martyrdom.”

Helen Gardener: “The real drama of the play is where the greatest poetry lies – in its choruses.”

Now to end with Eliot’s opinion about borrowing material:
T.S. Eliot: “A form which has been perfected by one age cannot be copied exactly by writers of another age. We have to make use of suggestions from any more remote drama, too remote for there to be any danger of imitation, such as Everyman, late medieval morality and miracle plays and great Greek drama.”

Nobel Prize for Literature 2007 - Lessing

The British novelist, Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel Prize for literature, announced yesterday. She is 87 years old at present, just weeks short of her 88th birthday. She is best known for her novel, ‘The Golden Notebook’, written in 1962. The academy that conferred most coveted prize on her called her an “epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” The announcement of the prize was made by Professor Horace Engdahl, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, on 11 October 2007.
She debuted as a novelist with ‘The Grass is Singing’ in 1950. Recently she produced novels like ‘The Good Terrorist’ (1985) that was a satire on romantic politics. In 1988, she wrote ‘The Fifth Child’ (1988) – it was about the tragedy of a family by an antisocial and violent child. Her latest ‘The Cleft’ is a science fiction.

Hardy's Pessimism

Hardy is known for his pessimism. Actually the factor that plays a very significant role in his novels is that of chance. The negative shades that are visible in his writings are an effect of what he had seen in his childhood. A sight of two hangings will definitely leave an imprint on the psyche of a child’s mind as it did on Hardy's mind.
The Victorian age was an age of doubt, of contradictions and conflicts. This fact too shows its impact on the writings of Hardy. People were to live by the Bible but many took it in the strict sense and followed the literal words strictly. We see in ‘Tess of the D’urbervilles’ how Tess is treated unjustly by the society, which followed the law in words and not in spirit.
In Hardy’s tragic drama of life a conflict between man and destiny is the centre of events. David Cecil remarks,”A struggle between man on one hand, and an omnipotent and indifferent fate, on the other hand goes on and that is Hardy’s interpretation of the human situation.”
Man is a mere puppet in the hands of an all powerful fate or destiny. Hardy’s novels remind us of Shakespeare’s lines from King Lear:

“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, —
They kill us for their sport.”
According to Hardy there is a mysterious force that is always hostile to human happiness and circumstances always conspire against him and lead him towards destruction.

“Happiness is but an occasional episode in the general drama of life”.

Hardy gives different shapes to fate and destiny. A change in the weather changes the fate of Henchard, the protagonist of ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. It could the death of a horse changing the life of Tess or a chance meeting with Alec, the villain turned into preacher in ‘Tess of D’urbervilles’.
Nature, in Hardy novels, too takes the form of cruel fate. Nature is not a source of joy or mysticism as in the poetry of Wordsworth. It is not at all benevolent.
And in the end as in ‘Tess of D’urbervilles’ Hardy is forced to comment:

“The President of Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.”

But inspite of all this Hardy’s novels are not totally dark. For instance, ‘Tess of D’urbervilles’ ends on a note of hope. There is a new beginning, something to look forward to.

Read further about Hardy: The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini, American novelist and physician, is the writer of the bestseller, his debut novel, ‘The Kite Runner’ (2003). ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ was released on May 22, 07. The author and his family migrated from Afghanistan after seeking political asylum. ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is about two women Miriam and Laila – how their lives are connected later on and they suffer together.
The author has portrayed the pitiable condition of women in the society of Afghanistan. Inhuman treatment is meted out to them especially to the characters of Laila and Miriam. Miriam’s mother, Nana too was on the receiving end. The discriminating practice against women – their wearing ‘burqa’ – has also been highlighted. The character that stands out from the rest is that of Miriam. She is an epitome of sacrifice. She proves to be equal to ‘a thousand splendid suns’. The author quotes two lines of poetry:

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

Although these lines have been said about their home country Afghanistan, yet they are completely suitable ccording to the character of Miriam. She brings hope and something to look forward to in the lives of Laila and her kids.
The novel reaches its climax when Miriam is hanged for murdering her husband. The author has aptly summed up Miriam’s last thoughts before her condemnation to the gallows:

“Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing , a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.”

These words, I feel, sum up the whole life of Miriam.