Monday, August 29, 2011

"Blackberry Picking"

Blackberry-picking - Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney reading "Blackberry Picking"

"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke

My Papa's Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Syllabus for AP English Literature

Senior AP English Literature
Mr. Ortiz
September 2011

Course Description: The purpose of this class is two-fold: first, it is designed to offer seniors an opportunity to read several significant works in American or English literature. Our main focus on these works will be formalist in nature, i.e., we will be exploring texts primarily in regard to their compositional excellence. This will require a working knowledge of the elements that contribute to the aesthetic quality of a literary work. Concepts such as tone, imagery, diction, plot, prosody, irony, tragedy, comedy, point of view, and voice will receive particularly close attention as we explore how formal qualities shape literary works and literary history.
We will also study the humane values that such works often express. The rich interplay between the formal literary qualities of a work and its political, religious, or philosophical insights will be at the core of class discussion. Our emphasis on narrative structure will also insure that the compelling nature of the texts we study will reach as many students as possible.
The writing assignments in this class will offer each student the opportunity to become a more fluent and insightful writer. Particular time will be given to the thesis statement, i.e., the central controlling judgment at the heart of a successful essay. In this way, the reading and writing parts of this course complement each other: close reading will facilitate compositions of depth and precision. Writing assignments not turned in on the due date (excluding illness or emergencies) will receive a failing grade with no chance of a make-up for that paper.
Students will also keep a Literary Journal that they will be required to write in three times a week. Some entries will be in-class assignments, free-writing periods, annotations of a passage or chapter, brain-storming, and other methods of exploring the composition process. This will allow students to write without some of the pressures of immediate evaluation, and foster a sense that the writing process is a fluid, dynamic activity that should be creative and supple.
Writing assignments will be organized to facilitate three goals: writing to understand a text, writing to explain a text to the reader, and writing to evaluate the text according to generic, historical, and philosophical considerations.
The seminar format of the class is extremely important to a mature study of literature. Attentive participation in the class discussion will be account for 15% of the student’s quarter grade each term. Students who fail to comport themselves with maturity in the seminar will be asked to leave.
Given the nature of our reading assignments, I hope each student in the seminar views the course as an introduction to the college-level study of literary texts that can enrich one’s life no matter what career one ultimately follows. Aesthetic beauty as found in literature is a subject that no single course can exhaustively study. The techniques of literary analysis we use this year are in fact a means to an end: the contemplation of works of verbal beauty that show forth luminously the dignity of the human person.


Selected Short Stories by Faulkner, Hemingway, Wolff
Antigone, Sophocles
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse
Hamlet, Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Old School, Tobias Wolff
Peace, Richard Bausch
The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Weekly Assignment Schedule: There will be a typed, formal essay due approximately every Friday. Length will be 2 pages in the fall; and 4-5 pages starting in January.

Monday: Discussion of work studied in seminar setting. AP terminology handout for incorporation into student writing.

Tuesday: Timed in-class essay on topics discussed in class and on readings assigned for homework

Wednesday: Peer Evaluation of in-class essays based on controlling thesis, on tone, logical development, use of supporting detail from text, and command of the basic elements of effective composition (with direct reference to Ellsworth’s English Simplified). Evaluation of papers that demonstrate a wide-ranging, effectively used vocabulary—both critical and literary—will also be a part of this process.

Thursday: Discussion of work studied in seminar setting; rewrites due for both in class essays and formal written papers.

Friday: Reading aloud of formal written papers, and defense of those papers based on critiques in class from peers and teacher.

Our reading, writing, and discussion of each work will focus on:

1. How do details of tone, metaphor, imagery create characterization?

2. How is the story told? What is theme, and how do narratives develop them?

3. How do stylistic concerns shape the meaning of themes?

4. How do symbolism and other textual details reflect values and embody historical/literary/philosophical judgments?

5. How does diction in the work change the meaning of characters, action, and themes?

6. Does the work employ irony? How? On the level of dialog, scene, chapter, or act?

7. How does the issue of voice shape the work? Are there competing voices? Is there a main narrative voice? Is that narrator reliable? If not, how do we know he or she is not? What are the thematic implications of an unreliable narrator?

8. Does the work use allusion as a major structuring device?

9. Does the work employ flashbacks or other narrative devices? What are the implications of such devices?

10. In what way does the beginning and ending of a work change the meaning of the whole piece?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Prose passage

AP Essay Prose Analysis

The Crossing Style Analysis

In this passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, the main character is alone in the wilderness with the body of a wolf, searching for a place to bury her. He is overcome with emotion as he looks at the creature, in awe of her power and spirit. The author relies on imagery and figurative language to convey this mindset in the lonely night.

The imagery of this scene appeals to multiple senses. No sentence is wasted in this piece; all are filled with adjectives. The reader is drawn into the story, transported to the scene as an invisible observer, with the sounds of coyotes “yapping along the hills…their cries seeming to have no origin” (10-13). The coyotes are still calling just before dawn, suggesting that otherwise the night is silent and the person isolated. The narrator also describes the character’s jeans as “stiff” (5) and the wolf’s fur “bristly” (7) with blood. Finally, he uses contrasting images between dark and light. At first, the only light in the scene is from the fire, standing against the dark shape of the hills behind him. His state of mind is also dark, not knowing what to do with the wolf. He falls asleep, but upon awakening, the night has grown darker as the fire is reduced to embers. Though he rebuilds it, the light is ineffective, for it only reflects off the wolf’s staring eye. He pauses to reflect, and as his thoughts grow clearer, so does the sky lighten with the coming dawn.

In describing the character’s arrival at the campsite, one sentence runs ten lines long. The rush of words, deliberately strung together with “and,” is meant to be overwhelming. The character’s mind is spinning with many trains of thought, and the seemingly disorganized sentence portrays that. As he examines the wolf, the sentences become short, objective descriptions, symbolic of physical reality, then lengthen as he waxes philosophically about her spirit. However, there is no dialogue anywhere in the scene. The man in this story is communing with the wilderness, where words do not exist, and thus the author has included neither thoughts nor quotations.

Simile and metaphor both draw comparisons between this scene and religion. After washing the blood-soaked sheet, it hangs “steaming…like a burning scrim…where celebrants of some sacred passion have been carried off by rival sects…” (21-23). He compares this experience to a religious symbol because he is experiencing something ethereal that can only be equated with some immeasurable power. Then, instead of focusing on her stiff, lifeless form, he sees her “running in the starlight” (45-46). In other words, he sees her spirit running in heaven, a paradise where she is once more free to hunt her prey, “…all nations of the possible world ordained by God” (50-51). He attempts to explain the power that the wolf holds by defining her role in the world. Though she may only be an animal, he sees her as a symbol of freedom, of primitive instinct shared by all creatures, including man. His sorrow at the wolf’s death is evidenced when he lifts her head, as if to bring her back to life, only to realize that he is holding “which cannot be held” (62-63).

In this passage, the writer most effectively uses imagery, simile and metaphor to portray the impact of the wolf’s death on the main character. The solitude of his surroundings allows the character to experience the power and beauty of the natural world as he reflects on the wolf’s life and death. In isolation, he finally defines her role in both the physical and spiritual worlds as one of mysterious sovereignty.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Prayer" George Herbert

Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices; something understood.


Prayer by Jorie Graham

Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water's downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers) a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
motion that forces change--
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Casualty" by Seamus Heaney

Casualty by Seamus Heaney

He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman's quick eye
And turned observant back.

To him, my other life.
Sometimes on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.

But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.


It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Lapping, tightening
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.

But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.

He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe's complicity?
'Now, you're supposed to be
An educated man,'
I hear him say. 'Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.'


I missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable
Purring of the hearse...
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Slow consolation
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
I was taken in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond...

Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.

"From the Frontier of Writing"

From The Frontier Of Writing

Seamus Heaney

The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration—

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by that quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armor-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.


Bogland by Seamus Heaney
for T. P. Flanagan

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening--
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They've taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They'll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"The Scarlet Letter" (1850)

The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and gray steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

Robert Graves, I, Claudius (1934)

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot," or "That Claudius," or "Claudius the Stammerer," or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius," am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled.

Famous Introductions: "Bleak House" (1853)

Bleak House

Chapter I

In Chancery

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor
sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As
much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from
the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine
lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots,
making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as
full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for
the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses,
scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers,
jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill
temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of
thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding
since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits
to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points
tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits
and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the
tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and
dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.
Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on
the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping
on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and
throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides
of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of
the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching
the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck.
Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a
nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a
balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much
as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by
husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours
before their time--as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard
and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the
muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction,
appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old
corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn
Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor
in his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and
mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition
which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners,
holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

One Crucifixion is recorded—only

One Crucifixion is recorded—only—
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics—
Or History—

One Calvary—exhibited to Stranger—
As many be
As persons—or Peninsulas—

Is but a Province—in the Being's Centre—
For Journey—or Crusade's Achieving—
Too near—

Our Lord—indeed—made Compound Witness—
And yet—
There's newer—nearer Crucifixion
Than That—

Emily Dickinson

"I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading--treading--till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through--

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum--
Kept beating--beating--till I thought
My Mind was going numb--

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space--began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here--

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down--
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing--then--

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, May 5, 2011


by Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004)


A day so happy.
Fog lifted early. I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over the honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw blue sea and sails.