Aspirations, Expectations and Needs

“Keep high aspirations
Moderate expectations
And small needs.”

The quote reveals something we have all experienced or felt but couldn’t put the things this way. Our aspirations do help us to rise high in life. If we don’t aspire to achieve something, our life would be directionless as a ship without a rudder. We set goals that we would like to accomplish during our lifetime. But what happens when things don’t happen the way we imagined, there is a trail of disappointment in the life – the reason being we set a condition for the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations. The same is the problem with day-dreaming – we weave stories around the persons or objects that have not yet happened in our lives. The path of day dreaming is beautiful but the journey back is very painful. The solution to lessen disappointment lies in keeping moderate expectations. We shouldn’t expect too much from life. Some of our dreams might stay unfulfilled forever… telling stories of the days gone by. Moreover, keeping moderate expectations from a person too would help to maintain a successful relationship, because when you don’t expect you’ll be in for a nice surprise. Then comes the case having small needs. Our needs reflect our outlook towards life. The number of needs should be restricted as they are not an indicator of success and happiness. Money can’t buy happiness, we’ve all heard that. Moreover, dreaming of something and feeling a need for the same are, many a times, two different things. For instance, a person might dream of a very costly car but might not have the need for owning the same. Such dream simply lets him enjoy the little pleasures of life.
But life can’t be lived in water-tight compartments. We are, indeed, the fallible human beings. We dream too often, and when they are dashed to the ground, we grumble, mourn, blame God, find faults, hide our tears lurking in laughing eyes, complain when life pauses… this is the stuff that we humans are made of. After all this, again trying to locate a ray of hope in the dark and dreary world…and, thus, we keep on moving…

Use of Conceits in Donne's Poetry

Clearly the seventeenth century had the courage of its metaphors and they made them the organic parts of its staple, imposed them on the nearest and the farthest things with equal vigour as clearly as the nineteenth century lacked this courage and was half-heartedly metaphorical or content with similes. The difference between the literary qualities of the two periods is not the difference in degree between poets. It is something which had happened to the mind of England between the Age of Donne, Crashaw, Lord Herbert and the time of Tennyson and Browning. It is the difference between the intellectual poet and the reflective poet. Tennyson and Browning are the poets who think, but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose.

A thought to Donne was an experience, it modified his sensibility. When a poet’s mind is equipped perfectly for its work, it is constantly amalgamating the disparate experiences. The ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, fragmentary and irregular. The latter cooks something or reads about cooking, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of the rose. In the mind of the poet, these experiences are always forming new wholes. Donne had this unique genius, which T.S. Eliot calls ‘unification of sensibility’.

The metaphysical poetry abounds in conceits. A conceit is a far-fetched comparison, a comparison between dissimilar things, a comparison between objects which have little in common with each other. Dr. Johnson called it “the most heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together”. A conceit may be brief or it may be elaborate. The conceits used by Donne are learned. They are drawn from a wide range of subjects such as science exploration, medieval philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and others. Conceits impart an intellectual tone to the poetry. The intellectual conceits add weight and illustrate the feeling giving rise to the impression of ‘unification of sensibility’. Ransom states, “To define a conceit is to define a small-scale metaphysical poetry.” A conceit is actually a comparison, whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness, that is, when two things which appear to be completely different from one another, are stated to be similar that one can be used to explain and analyze the other. Helen Gardener says, “A brief comparison can be a conceit, if two things patently unlike or which we should never think of together, are shown to be alike in single point in such a way or in such a context that we feel their incongruity.” Here a conceit is like a spark made by striking two stones together. After the flash the stones are just two stones.

Conceits in Donne’s poetry are not a piece of decoration, they are functional. They are used to persuade, define, illustrate or prove a point. A poem has something to say which the conceit explicates, or something to urge which the conceit helps to forward. They are the most effective vehicles of Donne’s mode of perception. Their farfetchedness adds a touch of miraculous to his poetry. In the words of Joan Bennett, “The purpose of an image in Donne’s poetry is to diffuse the emotional experience by an intellectual parallel.”

Another significant aspect of Donne’s metaphysical conceit is that it cannot be isolated from its context, the whole poem. Like the conceits of Shakespeare, Donne’s are born of the given dramatic movement to illustrate the relationship of characters and relationships of ideas. The conceits of Donne have an organic growth and proliferation, receiving sustenance from the intensity and complexity of the given experience. That is why even though far-fetched, they have an astonishing clarity.

It remains to be seen how Donne rushes from one intellectual hyperbole to another, including as a habit, a vivid range of speculation within a single example. In ‘The Canonization’ the two lovers moving round each other like flies or consuming themselves like tapers; or the images of the eagle and dove – the violent preying on the weak, and ultimately the riddle of the phoenix indicate the whole process of love from courtship to consummation of love. Because of sheer force of love ‘they die and rise the same’. The poem then leads to the lovers being regarded as the martyrs; saints of love will make them model of love.

To express the comprehensive nature of love, Donne makes a scintillating use of Elizabethan circle imagery and encompasses infinitude harmony like the two concentric spheres of the Ptolemic universe. Such an idea underlies the beautiful ‘A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning’. He argues and gives a proof by analogy in the most famous conceit of “the two legs of a compass”. Donne’s beloved is the fixed foot around which he moves and hence persuades his wife or beloved not to mourn.

In the poem ‘Good Morrow’ the two lovers are compared to two hemispheres which unite to form an ideal and a better world than the two hemispheres of the earth itself. They are ‘without sharp north, without declining west’. This perfect and ideal union they achieve through the eyes of each other. The sharp North implies coldness and indifference to which their love is not subject and declining West symbolizes decay and death from which lovers are free.

In ‘Batter my Heart’ Donne compares himself to a usurped town. At the same time there is an image drawn from the purification of metal, by knocking, blowing and shining it. He has referred to God as a tinker (a mender of old pots). The third conceit he uses is the portrayal of man-God relationship through lover-beloved relationship. In this poem that poet addresses God in His three-fold capacity as Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. He calls the Reasoning faculty, the Viceroy of God. In ‘The Extasie’ the souls of the lovers are compared to two equal armies confronting and negotiating with each other. Again love without an outlet in physical expression is like a Prince languishing in prison says Donne. In ‘Go and Catch a Falling Star’, unconventional imagery is used to convey the view that there is no woman in the world who is both beautiful and true.

In ‘The Flea’, the flea is a symbol of the poet’s passionate plea for physical and sensuous love. Donne compares the flea to a temple and to a marriage bed. Just as the two lovers are united in the temple into a bond of marriage, so the two bloods have been united in the body of flea. Its body is a sacred temple where their marriage has taken place. The killing of the flea would be an act of triple murder – murder of the flea, murder of the lover and her own murder. This is a sin and so she must spare the flea.

In ‘The Sunne Rising’, there is the same outburst of pride in his discovery of a new world richer than any of the Elizabethan voyagers since it is ‘both the India’s spice and Myne’. The last stanza begins with Donne’s favourite antithesis: the nullity of worldly riches as contrasted with the wealth of love. This idea links naturally with the circle imagery so that the lyric ends with the thought of the eternal union of two hemispheres, which are perfect, infinite and indestructible – like the world of love.

In the poem ‘A Valediction of Weeping’, Donne employs images from a variety of sources. The lover’s tears are like precious coins because they bear the stamp of the beloved (an image drawn from mintage). The tears are ‘pregnant of thee’ – a complex image, conveying the impression of the beloved’s reflection in the drop of tear. In ‘Good Friday’ the soul is compared to a sphere, and Donne treats the metaphor elaborately. Planetary motions are brought into the poem to illustrate feelings.

Donne has made a remarkable use of conceits in his poems. His conceits are learned, which are drawn from a wide range of subjects. His conceits impart intellectual tone to his poetry. They are not decorative but functional. They are used to illustrate or to convince. They cannot be isolated.

The Mountain Story

Here's an inspiring story I would like to share with my readers:

A son and his father were walking on the mountains. Suddenly, his son falls, hurts himself and screams: “AAAhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

To his surprise, he hears the voice repeating, somewhere in the mountain: “AAAhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

Curious, he yells: “Who are you?”

He receives the answer: “Who are you?”

Angered at the response, he screams: “Coward!”

He receives the answer: “Coward!”

He looks to his father and asks: “What’s going on?”

The father smiles and says: “My son, pay attention.”

And then he screams to the mountain: “I admire you!”

The voice answers: “I admire you!”

Again the man screams: “You are a champion!”

The voice answers: “You are a champion!”

The boy is surprised, but does not understand.

Then the father explains: “People call this ECHO, but really this is LIFE. It gives y ou back everything you say or do. Our life is simply a reflection of our actions. If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart. If you want more competence in your team, improve your competence. This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life; life will give you back everything you have given to it.”


(Source Unknown)

Blake's Symbolism

Symbolism is a mode of expression in which a writer depicts indirectly through the medium of another object. But symbolism is not a mere substitution of one object for another. There is much more to it. Symbolism is the art of evoking an object little by little to r veal a mood or emotion or some mysterious region of human psyche. However, this is only one aspect of symbolism and it may be called the personal aspect on the human plane. The other aspect is transcendental – that is, using objects to symbolize a vast and ideal world of which the real world is merely an imperfect representation. A symbolist is a seer of a prophet who can look beyond the objects of the real world and convey the essence of the ideal world which human mind tries to express.
Blake is one of the greatest symbolist poets of the world. The greatness of his poetry lies in the sweep of his imagination and symbolic dimension it acquires after every fresh reading. Blake is unique because of his ability to communicate beyond immediate context and space. Blake gave the doctrine that “all had originally one language and one religion”. It implies that the similarities between myths, rituals and doctrines of various religions are more significant that their disparities. Blake wants to suggest that a study of comparative religions, morphology of myths, rituals and theology can lead us to a single visionary conception, a vision of the fallen and created world, which has been redeemed by divine sacrifice and is progressing towards regeneration.
By postulating the world of imagination higher than that of reality Blake suggests a way of closing the gap, which is completed by identifying God with human imagination. In ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ Blake wrote: “Man is All Imagination. God is Man and exists in us and we in Him.” In his creative activity, an artist expresses the creative activity of God; as all men are in God, so all creators are in the creator. The “divine image” and the “human abstract” apart from signifying oneness of man and God, also forms the basis of Blake’s theory of good and evil. Civilization is in more than one sense supernatural and in its evolution and development man’s superiority over nature has been proved. The central symbol in all of Blake’s works is the city. Of all the animals, man is the most maladjusted to Nature, that is why he outdistances the animals and it is the triumph of his imagination that he creates a world of his own dreams.
In his poems Blake does not present ordinary events common men see and understand them, rather describes spiritual events which have to be portrayed symbolically in order to render them intelligible. Blake uses the familiar figures of the Shepherd and the Lamb, which can be easily understood. In ‘Songs of Innocence’ all desires are innocent, even discipline is innocent and is a source of happiness. Describing innocence in his poem ‘Holy Thursday’ Blake writes:
“’T was on Holy Thursday, their
Innocent faces clean
The children walking two
and two, in red and blue and green.

Mercy and kindness in human relationships not only make for emotional, spiritual and moral health of society but also abstract representations of Divine Will:
“For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And love, the human form divine
And Peace, the human dress.”

It is by now a well established fact that the ‘Lamb’ in Blake’s poems is Christ himself. The word ‘Lamb’ refers to children in his poems. ‘A Lamb’ is a name of affection used by the parents for their children. Symbolically, the Lamb of God is Christ. In his poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ Blake writes: “Around his Golden tent like lambs rejoice”.
It is even clearer in the poem ‘The Lamb’ when he says: “Little Lamb, who made thee?” Apart from using Biblical symbols, Blake also has a system of his own symbols. He uses traditional symbols in a different way. For instance, the lily flower is used by him as a symbol of purity of love and also of naturalness and open-heartedness in love. By sunflower he represents the longing of youth for freedom in love.
Nature plays a different role in Blake’s poems that those of the Romantics. It was Keats (a Romantic poet) who wrote:
“To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees
To fill each fruit with ripeness to the core.”

The lines having vivid and pictorial imagery have something voluptuously sensuous about it. But Blake is not attracted by ‘God’s plenty’ in ‘Nature’s Paradise’. He once wrote: “Natural objects always did and do now, weaken, deaden and obliterate imagination in me.” He uses the objects of nature so as to symbolize various emotions and moods through them. Blake is not concerned with the outside world but the world within – with mind and imagination. The terror of Nature is unleashed in the image of the tiger. There is a difference between the images of the lion and the tiger. The lion can be turned into a harmless animal while the tiger is not. Blake once wrote that the lion is symbolic of wisdom. The lion in the poem ‘Night’ is a contrast to the tiger of ‘The Tiger’. About tiger Blake writes:
“Tyger, tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of ht night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

Blake was against any type of restrictions. That’s why in a large number of poems he condemns authority. For instance, in ‘The Garden of Love’ it is the church, which he criticizes for exercising undue authority. The garden here represents spontaneous natural delight. In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ (from ‘Songs of Experience’), where Blake talks of the miserable plight of the child (the chimney sweeper), he holds responsible three authorities for the plight – Church, King and Parents. Blake says about the parents of the child:
“And are gone to praise God and His Priest and King
Who make up a Heaven of our misery.”

In another poem ‘The Little School Boy’ it is the school teacher, who represents the cruel authority,
“Under a cruel eye outworn
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.”

Morton D. Paley in his essay ‘The Tyger of Wrath’ writes: “Blake’s images have meanings which may in part be construed from the internal logic of the poem but which also depend at least in part upon meanings established elsewhere, in Blake’s other poems or in the traditional sources from which he drew. Meaning is affected by context, though not entirely determined by it.

What is fate?

What is fate? Can we change it? Philosophers and thinkers have been trying to analyze the concept of fate since times immemorial. We try to put into words our opinions on fate. We often find it easy to put the blame of all our failures on fate. It comes in handy. But how right is it? Or how much percentage of the blame can we justifiably lay on it? Or is it solely responsible? Do we humans have the capacity to change it? What is fate actually? These are some of the questions that keep cropping up in the mind time and again. And that too without satisfactory answers!

I have often tried to find answers to those questions. But whenever the dreams are dashed to the ground or the hopes remain unfulfilled, I am at once tempted to blame it on my fate. Often consoling myself by saying, “This had to happen, there’s no other way out.” But heart craves for a more strong logic. Then finding it hard to decipher the ways of God, I resign to my Fate, not knowing what to do next. But life goes, only grudges remain and the heart saying, “What if this had happened! What if things had been like that!” But then I move on, finding out a new way and following it with mind and heart involved in the journey. There’s a fear lurking in a corner of the heart, “What will I do? What would happen next…? A host of other fears crowding me… but I march on as if nothing would go wrong now… and life goes on…

Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare

Samuel Johnson’s Preface to 'The Plays of William Shakespeare’ is a classical document of literary criticism. It is proof enough of the qualities of lucidity, energy and individuality on the part of Johnson, who has presented before us an impartial and objective judgment of Shakespeare. He has excelled his guru, Dryden in superbly defending the tragi-comedy.
In the Preface, Johnson has enumerated the faults of Shakespeare about which Raleigh writes, “The detailed analysis of the faults is a fine piece of criticism and has never been seriously challenged.”
The first thing that needs to be observed is why the obscurities have crept into the writings of Shakespeare. The reasons are – careless manner of publication; use of colloquial English; use of many allusions, references etc. to topical events and personalities; rapid flow of ideas that often hurries him to move to the second thought before the first one is fully elaborated. Johnson in writing this Preface has performed the service to Shakespeare in making obscurities and confusing clearly understandable.
The faults of Shakespeare as elaborated by Johnson are:
• There is a lack of propriety as the jests are gross and the pleasantries licentious.

• Shakespeare sacrifices virtue to convenience. He makes no just distribution of good and evil.

• The tragi-comedies (neither comedies nor tragedies) are not in accordance with the rules. Moreover, some plots are loosely constructed and have improbable endings.

• Then there is lack of poetic justice especially in tragedies. The major figures suffer more that they deserve – the punishment inflicted on them is disproportionate to their sins.

• There are instances of Shakespeare’s violation of chronology (called anachronisms).

• As regards the faults in tragedies, Johnson was of the opinion that the display of passion which urgency forces out are for the most part striking and energetic but when he tries his own inventions the result is humour, meanness and obscurity.

• The fault in comedies is that Shakespeare is commonly gross in his jests. Neither his gentleman nor ladies possess any delicacy. They are not sufficiently distinguished from Shakespeare’s clowns by the possession of refined manners.

• Dr. Johnson is of the opinion, “In narration he affects disproportionate pomp of diction and a wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in few.”

• Shakespeare has also been blamed by Johnson for not following the unities of time and place. At this point, Johnson also presents his defense of Shakespeare for failing to observe the unities. “The unities of time and place are always to be sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety and instruction”, says Johnson, although unity of action must be maintained. Johnson actually in refuting the unities of time and place gives up his neo-classical garb and becomes a liberal critic in this regard. He justifies this by saying that the audience knows that it is only a stage and the players are mere actors and not for a moment do they believe what they are seeing is literally true. Even if they do for a moment they can easily imagine a little more – they can imagine the stage as different places.

Talking of his historical approach to literature Johnson pointed out the limitation under which Shakespeare worked, saying that Shakespeare wrote for uncultured audience and therefore his plays are full of exciting incidents and shows. His (Shakespeare’s) plots borrowed from novels – he chose the most popular, read by many. Johnson was of the view that literature is not written according to a fixed pattern but is conditioned by a writer’s age and environment.

Note: The opinions expressed here are only as expressed in Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare. I myself am a great admirer of Shakespeare's works. But we have to be objective sometimes for being true to the genre of literary criticism and take into consideration all the aspects.

'At Crossroads' - a poem

At crossroads I stand
every day, each moment:
the eternal problem – ‘to be or not to be’
is there for one and all.
Accepting and rejecting
the track unbeaten;
wary of all, yet, being the fearless.
Path often visited
invites one and all;
the untrodden is taken
by those desiring lonely tops;
they often end up proud
being lonely in the crowd.
I stand and stare,
stare hard at the two,
refusing to choose one;
but still cannot leave the two.
Life freezes,
but time doesn’t;
then I am led,
and now am a part of it,
a successful loser,
a part of the mob,
a part of the oft trodden.
© Amritbir Kaur