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.

Czeslaw Milosz

Late Ripeness

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget - I kept saying - that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago -
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef - they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The History Teacher

The History Teacher - Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

"A Barred Owl"

A Barred Owl
By Richard Wilbur

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

Richard Wilbur, “A Barred Owl” from Mayflies: New Poems and Translations. Copyright © 2000 by Richard Wilbur. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


(1985 - 2003)


1985. A critic has said that one important measure of a superior work of literature is its ability to produce in the reader a healthy confusion of pleasure and disquietude. Select a literary work that produces this "healthy confusion." Write an essay in which you explain the sources of the "pleasure and disquietude" experienced by the readers of the work.

1986. Some works of literature use the element of time in a distinct way. The chronological sequence of events may be altered, or time may be suspended or accelerated. Choose a novel, an epic, or a play of recognized literary merit and show how the author’s manipulation of time contributes to the effectiveness of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

1987. Some novels and plays seem to advocate changes in social or political attitudes or in traditions. Choose such a novel or play and note briefly the particular attitudes or traditions that the author apparently wishes to modify. Then analyze the techniques the author uses to influence the reader’s or audience’s views. Avoid plot summary.

1988. Choose a distinguished novel or play in which some of the most significant events are mental or psychological; for example, awakenings, discoveries, changes in consciousness. In a well-organized essay, describe how the author manages to give these internal events the sense of excitement, suspense, and climax usually associated with external action. Do not merely summarize the plot.

1989. In questioning the value of literary realism, Flannery O’Connor has written, "I am interested in making a good case for distortion because I am coming to believe that it is the only way to make people see." Write an essay in which you "make a good case for distortion," as distinct from literary realism. Analyze how important elements of the work you choose are "distorted" and explain how these distortions contribute to the effectiveness of the work. Avoid plot summary.

1990. Choose a novel or play that depicts a conflict between a parent (or a parental figure) and a son or daughter. Write an essay in which you analyze the sources of the conflict and explain how the conflict contributes to the meaning of the work. Avoid plot summary.

1991. Many plays and novels use contrasting places (for example, two countries, two cities or towns, two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. Choose a novel or play that contrasts two such places. Write an essay explaining how the places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work.

1992. In a novel or play, a confidant (male) or a confidante (female) is a character, often a friend or relative of the hero or heroine, whose role is to be present when the hero or heroine needs a sympathetic listener to confide in. Frequently the result is, as Henry James remarked, that the confidant or confidante can be as much "the reader’s friend as the protagonist’s." However, the author sometimes uses this character for other purposes as well. Choose a confidant or confidante from a novel or play of recognized literary merit and write an essay in which you discuss the various ways this character functions in the work. You may write your essay on one of the following novels or plays or on another of comparable quality. Do not write on a poem or short story.

1993. "The true test of comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter." Choose a novel, play, or long poem in which a scene or character awakens "thoughtful laughter" in the reader. Write an essay in which you show why this laughter is "thoughtful" and how it contributes to the meaning of the work.

1994. In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects action, theme, or the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary.

1995. Writers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using characters who are alienated from that culture or society because of gender, race, class, or creed. Choose a novel or a play in which such a character plays a significant role and show how that character’s alienation reveals the surrounding society’s assumptions or moral values.

1996. The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy endings. "The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from their readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events—a marriage or a last minute rescue from death—but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death." Choose a novel or play that has the kind of ending Weldon describes. In a well-written essay, identify the "spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation" evident in the ending and explain its significance in the work as a whole.

1997. Novels and plays often include scenes of weddings, funerals, parties, and other social occasions. Such scenes may reveal the values of the characters and the society in which they live. Select a novel or play that includes such a scene and, in a focused essay, discuss the contribution the scene makes to the meaning of the work as a whole. You may choose a work from the list below or another novel or play of literary merit.

1998. In his essay "Walking," Henry David Thoreau offers the following assessment of literature:

In literature it is only the wild that attracts us.
Dullness is but another name for tameness. It is the
uncivilized free and wild thinking in Hamlet and The Illiad,
in all scriptures and mythologies, not learned in schools,
that delights us.

From the works that you have studied in school, choose a novel, play, or epic poem that you may initially have thought was conventional and tame but that you now value for its "uncivilized free and wild thinking." Write an essay in which you explain what constitutes its "uncivilized free and wild thinking" and how that thinking is central to the value of the work as a whole. Support your ideas with specific references to the work you choose.

1999. The eighteenth-century British novelist Laurence Sterne wrote, "No body, but he who has felt it, can conceive what a plaguing thing it is to have a man’s mind torn asunder by two projects of equal strength, both obstinately pulling in a contrary direction at the same time."

From a novel or play choose a character (not necessarily the protagonist) whose mind is pulled in conflicting directions by two compelling desires, ambitions, obligations, or influences. Then, in a well-organized essay, identify each of the two conflicting forces and explain how this conflict with one character illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. You may use one of the novels or plays listed below or another novel or work of similar literary quality.

2000. Many works of literature not readily identified with the mystery or detective story genre nonetheless involve the investigation of a mystery. In these works, the solution to the mystery may be less important than the knowledge gained in the process of its investigation. Choose a novel or play in which one or more of the characters confront a mystery. Then write an essay in which you identify the mystery and explain how the investigation illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

2001. One definition of madness is "mental delusion or the eccentric behavior arising from it." But Emily Dickinson wrote: "Much madness is divinest Sense— / to a discerning Eye—" Novelists and playwrights have often seen madness with a "discerning Eye." Select a novel or play in which a character’s apparent madness or irrational behavior plays an important role. Then write a well-organized essay in which you explain what this delusion or eccentric behavior consists of and how it might be judged reasonable. Explain the significance of the "madness" to the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

2002 Morally ambiguous characters - characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying with them as purely good or purely evil - are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a novel or play in which a morally ambiguous character plays a pivotal role. Then write and essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his or her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.

2002 FORM B: Often in literature a character’s success in achieving a goal depends upon keeping a secret and divulging it only at the right moment, if at all. Choose a novel or play of literary merit that requires a character to keep a secret. In a well-organized essay, briefly explain the necessity for secrecy and how the character’s choice to reveal or keep the secret affects the plot and contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

2003 According to critic Northrop Frye, "Tragic heroes are so much the highest points in their human landscape that they seem the inevitable conductors of the power above them, more likely to be struck by lightning than a clump of grass. Conductors may of course be instruments as well as victims of the divine lightning." Select a novel or play in which a tragic figure functions as an instrument of the suffering of others. Then write an essay in which you explain how the suffering brought upon others by that figure contributes to the tragic vision of the work as a whole.

2003 FORM B: Novels and plays often depict characters caught between colliding cultures – national, regional, ethnic, religious, institutional. Such collisions can call a character’s unique sense of identity into question. Select a novel or play in which a character responds to such a cultural collision. Then write a well-organized essay in which you describe the character’s response and explain its relevance to the work as a whole.

Monday, April 25, 2011

AP English Poetry Terms

AP English Poetry Terms

(Presented by Dennis Carroll of High Point University at AP Workshop)

Listed and defined below are literary terms that you will need to know in order to discuss and write about works of poetry. You are already familiar with many of these.

l. alliteration- the repetition of identical or similar consonant sounds, normally at the
beginnings of words. “Gnus never know pneumonia” is an example of alliteration since,
despite the spellings, all four words begin with the “n” sound.

2. allusion- a reference in a work of literature to something outside the work, especially to a well-known historical or literary event, person, or work. When T.S. Eliot writes, "To have squeezed the universe into a ball" in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," he is alluding to the lines "Let us roll our strength and all/ Our sweetness up into one ball" in Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."

3. antithesis- a figure of speech characterized by strongly contrasting words, clauses, sentences, or ideas, as in “Man proposes; God disposes.” Antithesis is a balancing of one term against another for emphasis or stylistic effectiveness. The second line of the following couplet by Alexander Pope is an example of antithesis:
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jury-men may dine.

4. apostrophe- a figure of speech in which someone (usually, but not always absent), some abstract quality, or a nonexistent personage is directly addressed as though present. Following are two examples of apostrophe:
Papa Above!
Regard a Mouse.
-Emily Dickinson

Milton! Thou shouldst be living in this hour;
England hath need of thee . . ..
-William Wordsworth

5. assonance- the repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds. “A land laid waste with all its young men slain” repeats the same “a” sound in “laid,” “waste,” and “slain.”

6. ballad meter- a four-line stanza rhymed abcd with four feet in lines one and three and three feet in lines two and four.
O mother, mother make my bed.
O make it soft and narrow.
Since my love died for me today,
I’ll die for him tomorrow.

7. blank verse- unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is the meter of most of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as that of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

8. cacophony- a harsh, unpleasant combination of sounds or tones. It may be an unconscious flaw in the poet’s music, resulting in harshness of sound or difficulty of articulation, or it may be used consciously for effect, as Browning and Eliot often use it. See, for example, the following line from Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

9. caesura- a pause, usually near the middle of a line of verse, usually indicated by the sense of the line, and often greater than the normal pause. For example, one would naturally pause after “human’ in the following line from Alexander Pope:
To err is human, to forgive divine.

10. conceit- an ingenious and fanciful notion or conception, usually expressed through an elaborate analogy, and pointing to a striking parallel between two seemingly dissimilar things. A conceit may be a brief metaphor, but it also may form the framework of an entire poem. A famous example of a conceit occurs in John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” in which he compares his soul and his wife’s to legs of a mathematical compass.

11. consonance- the repetition of similar consonant sounds in a group of words. The term usually refers to words in which the ending consonants are the same but the vowels that precede them are different. Consonance is found in the following pairs of words: “add” and “read,” “bill and ball,” and “born” and “burn.”

12. couplet- a two-line stanza, usually with end-rhymes the same.

13. devices of sound- the techniques of deploying the sound of words, especially in poetry. Among devices of sound are rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia. The devices are used for many reasons, including to create a general effect of pleasant or of discordant sound, to imitate another sound, or to reflect a meaning.

14. diction- the use of words in a literary work. Diction may be described as formal (the level of usage common in serious books and formal discourse), informal (the level of usage found in the relaxed but polite conversation of cultivated people), colloquial (the everyday usage of a group, possibly including terms and constructions accepted in that group but not universally acceptable), or slang (a group of newly coined words which are not acceptable for formal usage as yet).

15. didactic poem- a poem which is intended primarily to teach a lesson. The distinction between didactic poetry and non-didactic poetry is difficult to make and usually involves a subjective judgement of the author’s purpose on the part of the critic or the reader. Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism is a good example of didactic poetry.

16. dramatic poem- a poem which employs a dramatic form or some element or elements of dramatic techniques as a means of achieving poetic ends. The dramatic monologue is an example.

17. elegy- a sustained and formal poem setting forth the poet’s meditations upon death or another solemn theme. Examples include Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”; Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam; and Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

18. end-stopped- a line with a pause at the end. Lines that end with a period, a comma, a colon, a semicolon, an exclamation point, or a question mark are end-stopped lines.
True ease in writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.

19. enjambment- the continuation of the sense and grammatical construction from one line of poetry to the next. Milton’s Paradise Lost is notable for its use of enjambment, as seen in the following lines:
. . . .Or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flow’d
Fast by the oracle of God, . . . .

20. extended metaphor- an implied analogy, or comparison, which is carried throughout a stanza or an entire poem. In “The Bait,” John Donne compares a beautiful woman to fish bait and men to fish who want to be caught by the woman. Since he carries these comparisons all the way through the poem, these are considered “extended metaphors.”

21. euphony- a style in which combinations of words pleasant to the ear predominate. Its opposite is cacophony. The following lines from John Keats’ Endymion are euphonious:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

22. eye rhyme- rhyme that appears correct from spelling, but is half-rhyme or slant rhyme from the pronunciation. Examples include “watch” and “match,” and “love” and “move.”

23. feminine rhyme- a rhyme of two syllables, one stressed and one unstressed, as “waken” and “forsaken” and “audition” and “rendition.” Feminine rhyme is sometimes called double rhyme.

24. figurative language- writing that uses figures of speech (as opposed to literal language or that which is actual or specifically denoted) such as metaphor, irony, and simile. Figurative language uses words to mean something other than their literal meaning. “The black bat night has flown” is figurative, with the metaphor comparing night and bat. “Night is over” says the same thing without figurative language.

25. free verse- poetry which is not written in a traditional meter but is still rhythmical. The poetry of Walt Whitman is perhaps the best-known example of free verse.

26. heroic couplet- two end-stopped iambic pentameter lines rhymed aa, bb, cc with the thought usually completed in the two-line unit. See the following example from Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock:
But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!

27. hyperbole- a deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous exaggeration. It may be used for either serious or comic effect. Macbeth is using hyperbole in the following lines:
. . . .No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

28. imagery- the images of a literary work; the sensory details of a work; the figurative language of a work. Imagery has several definitions, but the two that are paramount are the visual auditory, or tactile images evoked by the words of a literary work or the images that figurative language evokes. When an AP question asks you to discuss imagery, you should look especially carefully at the sensory details and the metaphors and similes of a passage. Some diction is also imagery, but not all diction evokes sensory responses.

29. irony- the contrast between actual meaning and the suggestion of another meaning. Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the actual intent is expressed in words which carry the opposite meaning. Irony is likely to be confused with sarcasm, but it differs from sarcasm in that it is usually lighter, less harsh in its wording though in effect probably more cutting because of its indirectness. The ability to recognize irony is one of the surer tests of intelligence and sophistication. Among the devices by which irony is achieved are hyperbole and understatement.

30. internal rhyme- rhyme that occurs within a line, rather than at the end. The following lines contain internal rhyme:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping. . suddenly there came a tapping . . . .

31. lyric poem- any short poem that presents a single speaker who expresses thoughts and feelings. Love lyrics are common, but lyric poems have also been written on subjects as different as religion and reading. Sonnets and odes are lyric poems.

32. masculine rhyme- rhyme that falls on the stressed and concluding syllables of the rhyme-words. Examples include “keep” and “sleep,” “glow” and “no,” and “spell” and “impel.”

33. metaphor- a figurative use of language in which a comparison is expressed without the use of a comparative term like “as,” “like,” or “than.” A simile would say, “night is like a black bat”; a metaphor would say, “the black bat night.”

34. meter- the repetition of a regular rhythmic unit in a line of poetry. The meter of a poem emphasizes the musical quality of the language and often relates directly to the subject matter of the poem. Each unit of meter is known as a foot.

35. metonymy- a figure of speech which is characterized by the substitution of a term naming an object closely associated with the word in mind for the word itself. In this way we commonly speak of the king as the “crown,” an object closely associated with kingship.

36. mixed metaphors- the mingling of one metaphor with another immediately following with which the first is incongruous. Lloyd George is reported to have said, “I smell a rat. I see it floating in the air. I shall nip it in the bud.”

37. narrative poem- a non-dramatic poem which tells a story or presents a narrative, whether simple or complex, long or short. Epics and ballads are examples of narrative poems.

38. octave- an eight-line stanza. Most commonly, octave refers to the first division of an Italian sonnet.

39. onomatopoeia- the use of words whose sound suggests their meaning. Examples are “buzz,” “hiss,” or “honk.”

40. oxymoron- a form of paradox that combines a pair of contrary terms into a single expression. This combination usually serves the purpose of shocking the reader into awareness. Examples include “wise fool,” “sad joy,” and “eloquent silence.”

41. paradox- a situation or action or feeling that appears to be contradictory but on inspection turns out to be true or at least to make sense. The following lines from one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets include paradoxes:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

42. parallelism- a similar grammatical structure within a line or lines of poetry. Parallelism is characteristic of Asian poetry, being notably present in the Psalms, and it seems to be the controlling principle of the poetry of Walt Whitman, as in the following lines:
. . . .Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

43. paraphrase- a restatement of an ideas in such a way as to retain the meaning while changing the diction and form. A paraphrase is often an amplification of the original for the purpose of clarity.

44. personification- a kind of metaphor that gives inanimate objects or abstract ideas human characteristics.

45. poetic foot- a group of syllables in verse usually consisting of one accented syllable and one or two unaccented syllables associated with it. The most common type of feet are as follows:
iambic u /
trochaic / u
anapestic u u /
dactylic / u u
pyrrhic u u
spondaic / /

The following poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge illustrates all of these feet except the pyrrhic foot:
Trochee trips from long to short.
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow Spondee stalks; strong foot! yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long;
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.

46. pun- a play on words that are identical or similar in sound but have sharply diverse meanings. Puns can have serious as well as humorous uses. An example is Thomas Hood’s:" They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell.”

47. quatrain- a four-line stanza with any combination of rhymes.

48. refrain- a group of words forming a phrase or sentence and consisting of one or more lines repeated at intervals in a poem, usually at the end of a stanza.

49. rhyme- close similarity or identity of sound between accented syllables occupying corresponding positions in two or more lines of verse. For a true rhyme, the vowels in the accented syllables must be preceded by different consonants, such as “fan” and “ran.”

50. rhyme royal- a seven-line stanza of iambic pentameter rhymed ababbcc, used by Chaucer and other medieval poets.

51. rhythm- the recurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables. The presence of rhythmic patterns lends both pleasure and heightened emotional response to the listener or reader.

52. sarcasm- a type of irony in which a person appears to be praising something but is actually insulting it. Its purpose is to injure or to hurt.

53. satire- writing that seeks to arouse a reader’s disapproval of an object by ridicule. Satire is usually comedy that exposes errors with an eye to correct vice and folly. Satire is often found in the poetry of Alexander Pope.

54. scansion- a system for describing the meter of a poem by identifying the number and the type(s) of feet per line. Following are the most common types of meter:
monometer one foot per line
dimeter two feet per line
trimeter three feet per line
tetrameter four feet per line
pentameter five feet per line
hexameter six feet per line
heptameter seven feet per line
octameter eight feet per line

Using these terms, then, a line consisting of five iambic feet is called “iambic pentameter,” while a line consisting of four anapestic feet is called “anapestic tetrameter.”

In order to determine the meter of a poem, the lines are “scanned,” or marked to indicate stressed and unstressed syllables which are then divided into feet. The following line has been scanned:

u / u / u / u / u /
And still she slept an az ure- lid ded sleep

55. sestet- a six-line stanza. Most commonly, sestet refers to the second division of an Italian sonnet.

56. simile- a directly expressed comparison; a figure of speech comparing two objects, usually with “like,” “as,” or “than.” It is easier to recognize a simile than a metaphor because the comparison is explicit: my love is like a fever; my love is deeper than a well. (The plural of “simile” is “similes” not “similies.”)

57. sonnet- normally a fourteen-line iambic pentameter poem. The conventional Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet is rhymed abba, abba, cde, cde; the English, or Shakespearean, sonnet is rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

58. stanza- usually a repeated grouping of three or more lines with the same meter and rhyme scheme.

59. strategy (or rhetorical strategy)- the management of language for a specific effect. The strategy or rhetorical strategy of a poem is the planned placing of elements to achieve an effect. The rhetorical strategy of most love poems is deployed to convince the loved one to return to the speaker’s love. By appealing to the loved one’s sympathy, or by flattery, or by threat, the lover attempts to persuade the loved one to love in return.

60. structure- the arrangement of materials within a work; the relationship of the parts of a work to the whole; the logical divisions of a work. The most common units of structure in a poem are the line and stanza.

61. style- the mode of expression in language; the characteristic manner of expression of an author. Many elements contribute to style, and if a question calls for a discussion of style or of “stylistic techniques,” you can discuss diction, syntax, figurative language, imagery, selection of detail, sound effects, and tone, using the ones that are appropriate.

62. symbol- something that is simultaneously itself and a sign of something else. For example, winter, darkness, and cold are real things, but in literature they are also likely to be used as symbols of death.

63. synecdoche- a form of metaphor which in mentioning a part signifies the whole. For example, we refer to “foot soldiers” for infantry and “field hands” for manual laborers who work in agriculture.

64. syntax- the ordering of words into patterns or sentences. If a poet shifts words from the usual word order, you know you are dealing with an older style of poetry or a poet who wants to shift emphasis onto a particular word.

65. tercet- a stanza of three lines in which each line ends with the same rhyme.

66. terza rima- a three-line stanza rhymed aba, bcb, cdc,etc. Dante’s Divine Comedy is written in terza rima.

67. theme- the main thought expressed by a work. In poetry, it is the abstract concept which is made concrete through its representation in person, action, and image in the work.

68. tone- the manner in which an author expresses his or her attitude; the intonation of the voice that expresses meaning. (Remember that the “voice” need not be that of the poet.) Tone is described by adjectives, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Often a single adjective will be enough, and tone may change from stanza to stanza or even line to line. Tone is the result of allusion, diction, figurative language, imagery, irony, symbol, syntax, and style.

69. understatement- the opposite of hyperbole. It is a kind of irony that deliberately represents something as being much less than it really is. For example, Macbeth, having been nearly hysterical after killing Duncan, tells Lenox, “’Twas a rough night.”

70. villanelle- a nineteen-line poem divided into five tercets and a final quatrain. The villanelle uses only two rhymes which are repeated as follows: aba, aba, aba, aba, aba, abaa. Line 1 is repeated entirely to form lines 6, 12, and 18, and line 3 is repeated entirely to form lines 9, 15, and 19; thus, eight of the nineteen lines are refrain. Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is an example of a villanelle.

Free Response 2007

Free Response 2009

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Two Tramps In Mud Time" (1934)

Two Tramps In Mud Time
by Robert Frost

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You'd think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man's work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right--agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tactile Image; Objective Correlative: "episode of the madeleine".

The Cookie

from Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust (1927)

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing it magic. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself. The drink has called it into being, but does not know it, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a progressive diminution of strength, the same message which I cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call it forth again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down the cup and examine my own mind. It alone can discover the truth. But how: What an abyss of uncertainty, whenever the mind feels overtaken by itself; when it, the seeker, is at the same time the dark region through which it must go seeking and where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not yet exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.

And I begin to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I rediscover the same state, illuminated by no fresh light. I ask my mind to make one further effort, to bring back once more the fleeting sensation. And so that nothing may interrupt it in its course I shut out every obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and inhibit all attention against the sound from the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is tiring itself without having any success to report, I compel it for a change to enjoy the distraction which I have just denied it, to think of other things, to rest refresh itself before making a final effort. And then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it; I place in position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed.

Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred-up colours is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life.

Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has traveled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell. Now I feel nothing; it has stopped, has perhaps sunk back into its darkness, from which who can say whether it will ever rise again? Ten times over I must essay the task, must lean down over the abyss. And each time the cowardice that deters us from every difficult task, every important enterprise, has urged me to leave the thing alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the worries of to-day and my hopes for to-morrow, which can be brooded over painlessly.

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Brief Analysis of "Personal Helicon"

Seamus Heaney’s “Personal Helicon” uses odd images of various wells, surrounded by “dank moss”, “ferns”, and “slime” in order to express a paradoxical vision of poetic inspiration. Heaney does not go to the mountaintop in this poem, as poets have ever since the ancient Greeks; instead, he recounts his childhood fascination with “old pumps” and wells that are, really, the last places most people would expect a poet to go to find inspiration. Yet his images of overgrowth and “darkness echoing” are actually portals to self-discovery: Heaney makes the difficulties of self-knowledge, so manifold as to often defy understanding, vivid, redolent, even, “scaresome”. One never knows just what poetic reflection will rise up from the deep, dark wells of the self.

The speaker is drawn to these forgotten wells from the early days of his childhood. His images are rich with tactile metaphors and similes. “Old pumps with buckets and windlasses” are of particular interest for their “dark drop” and the “trapped sky” they hold within. As he “savoured the rich crash” when the bucket “plummeted down” the wells he explores, he might be called a connoisseur of abandoned wells of long ago. In other words, he is, from his childhood, a seeker of lost selves. This puller out of old roots that have sunk deep into the past can, it seems, with his shouting into darkened wells—that are ignored by “all adult dignity”—actually call forth “a clean new music” that becomes, in the drawing, poetry.

"Personal Helicon"

Personal Helicon
By Seamus Heaney

for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.


Writing Assignment

Senior AP English
“Remains of the Day” Essay
April 11, 2011

In a three page, well-organized essay, explain how the theme of “turning points” plays out in Ishiguro’s novel on the level of plot and characterization. Identify and explain at least TWO specific incidents in the novel that support your general point.

This paper should:
*be three pages, typed.
*cite page numbers of all quotations
*analyze extensively language and scenes in the novel
*have a clear, persuasive thesis in introduction

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Letter" by Anthony Hecht

A Letter

I have been wondering
What you are thinking about, and by now suppose
It is certainly not me.
But the crocus is up, and the lark, and the blundering
Blood knows what it knows.
It talks to itself all night, like a sliding moonlit sea.

Of course, it is talking of you.
At dawn, where the ocean has netted its catch of lights,
The sun plants one lithe foot
On that spill of mirrors, but the blood goes worming through
Its warm Arabian nights,
Naming your pounding name again in the dark heart-root.

Who shall, of course, be nameless.
Anyway, I should want you to know I have done my best,
As I'm sure you have, too.
Others are bound to us, the gentle and blameless
Whose names are not confessed
In the ceaseless palaver. My dearest, the clear unquaried blue

Of those depths is all but blinding.
You may remember that once you brought my boys
Two little woolly birds.
Yesterday the older one asked for you upon finding
Your thrush among his toys.
And the tides welled about me, and I could find no words.

There is not much else to tell.
One tries one's best to continue as before,
Doing some little good.
But I would have you know that all is not well
With a man dead set to ignore
The endless repetitions of his own murmurous blood.

Copyright 1994. Online Source

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Dover Beach" (1867)

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thomas Merton

Aubade: Lake Erie
by Thomas Merton

When sun, light handed, sows this Indian water
With a crop of cockles,
The vines arrange their tender shadows
In the sweet leafage of an artificial France.

Awake, in the frames of windows, innocent children,
Loving the blue, sprayed leaves of childish life,
Applaud the bearded corn, the bleeding grape,
And cry:
"Here is the hay-colored sun, our marvelous cousin,
Walking in the barley,
Turning the harrowed earth to growing bread,
And splicing the sweet, wounded vine.
Lift up your hitch-hiking heads
And no more fear the fever,
You fugitives, and sleepers in the fields,
Here is the hay-colored sun!"

And when their shining voices, clean as summer,
Play, like churchbells over the field,
A hundred dusty Luthers rise from the dead, unheeding,
Search the horizon for the gap-toothed grin of factories,
And grope, in the green wheat,
Toward the wood winds of the western freight.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Introduction to "The Bear", Revised

In this passage from "The Bear", Faulkner uses rich imagery to convey the novel's themes. Faulkner was a master at capturing the intricacies of human thought in writing. His sentences have a type of instantaneous and spontaneous nature that makes them resemble human consciousness. This particular passage demonstrates how Faulkner uses his gift for portraying human emotions and thoughts to contribute not only to the style and tone of the passage but to the meaning of the novel as a whole. Faulkner uses the image of a snake retreating into the weeds to show the reader his main point: the old wilderness is disappearing.

Now the cleaned-up version:

In this passage from "The Bear", Faulkner uses rich imagery to convey the main point of his story: the old wilderness is disappearing. His sentences in this passage follow the intricacies of thought and feeling of Ike McCaslin, the novel's protagonist, as he encounters the graves of Old Ben, the bear, and Sam Fathers, his former hunting guide, now truly his spiritual father. During this scene, Ike also nearly steps on a rattlesnake, and with this image of coiling, shadowy, undying death, Faulkner further suggests that the wildnerness has hidden within itself its own demise, apart from the stupidities of man who cannot grasp the significance of that greater world the wilderness of hunters represents in the novel as a whole.

Then, use this paragraph as a blue-print for essay:

2nd paragraph: Ike's thoughts and feelings as he encounters the graves of Ben and Sam. Reverence. Remembrance. Nature's "concordant generality" taking back what it gives. Death not the end. Promise of restoration? "They would give him his paw back"

3rd paragraph: The imagery of the rattlesnake. His fear but not "fright" matches the "not in fright" of the snake. "it crawled and lurked", the "old one, ancient and accursed". "Evocative of all knowledge and an old weariness and of pariah-hood and death", the snake a vibrant, sensory reminder of the wilderness' innate connection with the vulnerability of all earthly paradise.

4th paragraph: He is now truly Sam's son. "Grandfather". The "old tongue" remains alive in him, the death of the wilderness can not hurt him, though it will pain him enough.

Conclusion: The stream-of-consciousness brings us the hopes, dreams, fears, and rich harmonies of Ike McCaslin as he walks the wilderness, remembering what was, knowing that all earthly perfections remain doomed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Definition

Stream of consciousness:

* phrase used by William James in 1890 to describe the unbroken flow of thought and
awareness of the waking mind

* a special mode of narration that undertakes to capture the full spectrum and the
continuous flow of a character's mental process

* sense perceptions mingle with conscious and half-conscious thoughts and memories,
experiences, feelings and random associations

* in a literary context used to describe the narrative method where novelists describe
the unspoken thoughts and feelings of their characters without resorting to objective
description or conventional dialogue

* Eduard Dujardin's Les lauriers sont coupés credited by Joyce as the first example of
this technique

* 'interior monologue' an alternate term
Anything by Virginia Wolff

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard submitted by Nathan Stewart



Voice refers to the guiding sensibility or consciousness through which we see view a story.

Voice has a great deal to do with the characterization and consciousness of the narrator (or narrators). The voice of the narrator mediates events for the audience and colors the story with a specific sensibility. Voice, like perspective and point of view, may change and shift from character to character throughout a narrative.

"They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells's mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells's face. It was wells who had shouldered him into the square ditch the day before because he would not swop his little snuffbox for Wells's seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty. It was a mean thing to do; all the fellows said it was. And how cold and slimy the water had been! And a fellow had once seen a big rat jump plop into the scum."

(Stephen Dedalus as voice)

-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Stream of consciousness

Stream of consciousness is a method of narrative representation of "random" thoughts which follow in a freely-flowing style.

Primarily associated with the modernist movement, stream of consciousness is a form of interior monologue which claims as its goal the representation of a lead consciousness in a narrative (typically fiction). This representation of consciousness can include perceptions or impressions, thoughts incited by outside sensory stimuli, and fragments of random, disconnected thoughts. Stream of consciousness writing often lacks "correct" punctuation or syntax, favoring a looser, more incomplete style.

The coining of the term has generally been credited to the American psychologist William James, older brother of novelist Henry James. It was used originally by psychologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to describe the personal awareness of one’s mental processes. In The Principles of Psychology, Chapter IX, The Stream of Thought, James provides a phenomenological description of this sense-ation of consciousness: “Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as ‘chain’ or ‘train’ do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life” (239) [emphasis in the original]. It is helpful at the outset to distinguish stream of consciousness from free association.

Stream of consciousness, from a psychological perspective, describes metaphorically the phenomenon—the continuous and contiguous flow of sensations, impressions, images, memories and thoughts—experienced by each person, at all levels of consciousness, and which is generally associated with each person’s subjectivity, or sense of self. Free association, on the other hand, is a process in which apparently random data collected by a subject allow connections to be made from the unconscious, subconscious and preconscious mind(s) to the conscious mind of that subject. Translated and mapped to the space of narrative literatures, free association can be one textual element used to signify the stream of consciousness.

As a literary term, stream of consciousness appears in the early twentieth century at the intersection of three apparently disparate projects: the developing science of psychology (e.g., investigations of the forms and manifestations of consciousness, as elaborated by Freud, Jung, James, and others), the continuing speculations of western philosophy as to the nature of being (e.g., investigations of consciousness in time by Henri Bergson), and reactionary forces in the arts which were turning away from realism in the late nineteenth century in favor of exploration of a personal, self-conscious subjectivity. The psychological term was appropriated to describe a particular style of novel, or technique of characterization that was prevalent in some fictional works. This technique relied upon the mimetic (re)presentation of the mind of a character and dramatized the full range of the character’s consciousness by direct and apparently unmediated quotation of such mental processes as memories, thoughts, impressions, and sensations. Stream of consciousness, constituting as it did the ground of self-awareness, was consequently extended to describe those narratives and narrative strategies in which the overt presence of the author/narrator was suppressed in favor of presenting the story exclusively through the (un/sub/pre)conscious thought of one or more of the characters in the story. Although examples of stream of consciousness techniques can arguably be found in narratives written during the last several centuries, it is British writers who are generally most often cited as exemplars of the stream of consciousness technique associated with the high modern period of the early twentieth century; they are Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Dorothy Richardson.

Bearing in mind the origin of the term, it is easy to see why some Anglo-American literary critics and theorists have subsumed all textual manifestations of the mental activity of characters in a narrative under the overarching term stream of consciousness. While convenient, this tendency belies the rich range and depth of narrative methods for (re)presenting a character’s consciousness, often best described by the terms originally naming them. Consider, for example, the French term monologue intérieur, rendered obviously enough in English as interior monologue. In this instance, a running monologue—similar to those we all experience inside our own minds but, importantly, cannot experience in the minds of others except in fictional narrative—is textually rendered as the unmediated but articulated, logical thoughts of a fictional character. That this monologue is unmediated, presented to the reader without either authorial or narratorial intervention or the common textual signs associated with narrative speech (e.g., quotation marks or attributive verbs), is crucial to establishing in the reader the sense of access to the consciousness of the character. That it is logical and respects grammatical form and syntax, as opposed to appearing a random collection of disconnected thoughts and images, distinguishes it from another textual rendering of the stream of consciousness, that of sensory impression.

Sensory impression occurs as simple lists of a character’s sensations or impressions, sometimes with ellipses separating the elements or lists. These unconscious or preconscious sensory impressions (re)present the inarticulable thoughts, the image-inations of a character not experienced as words. To prevent free associations stemming from such sensory impressions running away with and destroying the flow and integrity of the narrative, a story must somehow be anchored within the stream of consciousness. One method is a recurring motif or theme. The motif appears on the surface of a character’s thoughts, then disappears among the flow of memories, sensations and impressions it initiates only to resurface some time later, perhaps in a different form, to pull the story back up into the consciousness of both the character and the reader. Consider, in particular, the example of Virginia’s Woolf’s short story “The Mark on the Wall.” The story begins as a meditation—which could easily be read as a spoken monologue—on a series of recollected events but quickly turns, through the motif of a mark seen by the narrator over a mantle piece on the wall, to a near random stream of loosely connected memories and impressions. As the story progresses, the mark and speculations as to its nature and origin appear and disappear as a thread running in and out of and binding the loose folds of the narrator’s recollections. The narrator’s stream of consciousness ranges widely over time and space whereas the narrator quite clearly remains bound to a particular place and time, anchored—seemingly—by the mark on the wall.

While not generally considered a textual manifestation of stream of consciousness in the conventional sense—in part because associated with third person rather than first person narration—another method of (re)presenting the consciousness of characters is free indirect discourse (in French, style indirect libre) or reported or experienced speech (from the German term, erlebte Rede). Consider the following, from the ending paragraphs of Joyce’s short story “The Dead”: “He wondered at his riot of emotions an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse” (222). The first sentence is clearly the narrator telling what the character, Gabriel, is thinking; but with the second sentence a transition in the form of a series of sensory impressions moves the reader to Gabriel’s own conscious thoughts. In the end, it is not the narrator who thinks, “Poor Aunt Julia!”

"Such fools we all are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June."

-Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sailing to Byzantium (1928)

Sailing to Byzantium
by W. B. Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946


Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad -- I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen -- but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that i can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.* The jargon peculiar to


*An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, Snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.


Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in


† Example: Comfort's catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness . . .Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull's-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation." (Poetry Quarterly)


the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality," while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness," the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning -- they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another -- but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he "felt impelled" to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: "[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe." You see, he "feels impelled" to write -- feels, presumably, that he has something new to say -- and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases


*One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.


and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style." On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.