One of the most profound and striking books on my mid-year reading list was Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. It was perhaps this text which not only prepared me for this semester’s weekly task, but inspired a desire to commence an ongoing dialogue – or should I say relationship – with the texts I read. Gone are the days of one-sided conversations – here’s to an age of carnal love: of not gently caressing a book’s pages, but fervidly blotting every inch of white with my own ink; of not simply wondering about what I do not understand, but demanding and scavenging for answers; of not momentarily envisioning its scenes, but finding them in all I see. Here on this blog I will expose the joys and passions, the pains and frustrations, and every emotion and feeling which these texts evoke from me – vulnerably, honestly.
“How does your response to Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” make you reassess your reaction to war memorials in your own country? Try to be as honest as you can about this.”
My reaction to war memorials has changed over the years but, sadly, there has been a general sense of apathy directed towards them. For me, the hundreds of names engraved on plain wooden plaques, pillars, and statues were empty words. The monument itself seemed to me a fragment of an old Australia clinging desperately to the present, trying to be relevant. For me, there was no sense of richness in the past these artefacts came from. Occasionally, during the stages I was reading historical fiction at school, my attitude would change towards these memorials as I considered the poor young souls who laid down their lives for a hopeless cause. However, these emotions were transient.
Reading “On Passing the New Menin Gate”, I am somewhat relieved that I am not the only one who possesses these sentiments towards war memorials. I thought I was perhaps being too insensitive towards the struggle of these soldiers. But my apathy is not directed at those who suffered; it is directed towards the cause for which they suffered. These war memorials may give the relatives of the dead some sense of closure, or relief at the recognition of their loved ones’ efforts. To me, however, they are only a useless reminder of the senselessness of war – pointless, because the same governments that build these memorials are the same governments which still send innocents to die for their dirty deeds disguised in the name of Loyalty.
Image: Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park
This is a powerful piece! Sassoon’s writing is difficult for even the greatest writers to live up to, but you’ve made an awesome attempt to capture the contrasting states of naivety and despair in this poem. I particularly like the last two lines of each stanza, and the final line of the poem is especially powerful; it has an effect which is similar to that of Sassoon’s final line, making the reader question the role of God in war. I think this poem can really be enhanced with a few minor grammatical changes: removing the quotation marks in line 2, placing them at the end of the first stanza; “heroes” instead of “hero’s”; reconsidering your use of commas and full-stops… These are very small changes but make a world of difference. Otherwise, amazing work!
This is a lovely short piece which encapsulates the essence of the literary figure of “The Bard”. I love how you not only described its significance in Blake’s work, but that you also turned to other artists and analysed the role of the Bard in their contexts, as well as in our modern world. A few minor things may have enhanced this entry, such as textual examples of how “Blake’s idea of the bard is perhaps a step further”. Otherwise, fantastic work!
“In a poem or short prose piece describe a situation where you have either seen or experienced a dramatic difference in the state of a human being and its impact on the world around.”
I see Agusta in buoyant dandelions
that sprout from signposts of suburban bus stops.
Cerulean heaven swam in her eyes,
tooth-gapped mouth stretched in a smile,
the words of a child piping unrehearsed
of the beauty of the flower and the way the world works;
“You know, I think we were meant to meet today” –
I’d missed my bus by seven seconds,
her trip to IKEA scheduled for another day –
but in the span of fifteen minutes,
from the time I arrived to the next red bus,
my languid spirit stirred; lifted its head,
then its drooping shoulders,
straightened its spine,
and bounced from foot to foot,
til at last it laughed with uncontained glee
and leapt into the blessing of day.
NOTE: I tried multiple times to capture this interaction in some form of writing, but the magnitude of its impact on me is hard to contain in the form of writing… or in language itself. I don’t know what was so striking about Agusta, or our little interaction. Perhaps it was the way she spoke with no filter, spoke her mind, but there was only goodness and truth there. And the immense respect and admiration she had for the world around her… it stirred feelings in me that I had not had since I was fresh in senior school, studying in the city, at a stage where everything and everyone I saw had some kind of deep, rich, unheard story. When I met Agusta, I was in a state of complacency, unable to see things beyond the surface, or perhaps too focused on my own drab self. But leaving the bus after our meeting, I found myself skipping, the lightness which comes from seeing the beauty of the world afresh returning to my body. I keep saying I wish I had recorded my thoughts and feelings immediately after the interaction, but I remember pushing away the urge, intent on revelling in the present without trying to water it down into words. Now enough time has passed for me to try to conjure up whatever memory I have of this event, and share it.
Artwork: Image taken at the MCA… Reminds me of Blake’s Hyperion artworks
Think of a moment in your experience that could be amplified in the way that Hopkins does. Try either to write a short prose piece that captures all the intricate details of the experience, or try to compose your impressions in the form of a poem. Use whatever devices you have gleaned from Hopkins to bring your writing to life.
Emerald curtain charged with the sun’s splendour; golden
orb, suspended lowly, dipping to kiss the horizon’s edge which splits
the nebulous sky – streaked with wispy cloud, warbling bird – from
the lavish streets of suburbia lined with silent, soulless structures.
But tonight, they are ignited – burning with a radiance which
fans through the fringes of fir trees, of palm leaves –
they sway with cool ease, flirting nonchalantly with
the hesitant breeze, whilst the thin ossified buds of barren branches
strain towards the sultry spring.
And then the finale from the firmaments;
a host of electric pink clouds bloom into a cotton-candy sky
like the magnolia above my head as I pass it by.
And as the heart of the city bursts with traffic
my own heart bursts with joy joy joy.
Note: This poem is inspired by a recent experience of walking home after uni one sunset. The photgraphs and videos attached were taken on this walk, and are placed in order of the imagery in the poem. It was – by far – one of the happiest strolls I’ve had in a long, long while.
How effective do you think Charles Dickens was in pointing to the heart of the problem with contemporary education? Have we learned anything since his day? Write a short piece that expresses your sense of the value of Dickens’ educational views for our own times.
From my experience as a student in the Australian education system, I found it quite distressing when reflecting on Dickens’ work to find that we have made very little progress in the years since this book was written. While my personal experience of the classroom was much more relaxed atmosphere than that of Mister Gradgrind’s classes, the fact that the teaching methods are, across a larger scale, much the same – a teacher standing at the front of the class, forcing facts into “vessels” and asking them to be regurgitated back either verbally or on paper – shows that contemporary education is of the same nature as Victorian education.
As products of the digital age, where the internet is the Bible, it is important for educators and those dictating what is taught to ponder on what it is that they can offer students. Clearly, information is somewhat useless: why waste time in an artificially lit, sweat-scented classroom when you can attain the information being taught from the comfort of wherever you wish to be? While the current classroom setting can be beneficial in the sense that it occasionally directs students to potentially useful information, I believe that – like Dickens – the learning process ought to give students a sense of freedom, and a chance to learn practically.
“You are a belligerent student in Mr. Gradgrind’s classroom. In a short, punchy paragraph tell Mr. Gradgrind exactly what you think of his teaching methods.”
“In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!”
But I want more than facts, Mr. Gradgrind “sir”!
‘Girl number twenty” Mr. Gradgrind said. “I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’
‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ she explained, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.
‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’
What good are FACTS, “sir”, if FACTS won’t help you accept the truth?
“Now girl number twenty… Give me your definition of a horse… Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!”
A definition! Oh poor, poor Sissy… She works with horses, she loves horses – I’ve seen her helping her father tend to the lovely, sick animals with such tenderness, such compassion – and yet here she is, reduced to a dumb and speechless number because she cannot describe the living animal she adores in lifeless, scientific terms!
Mr. Gradgrind “sir”, Sissy Jupe knows more about horses than your narrow mind ever will!
Image source: https://goo.gl/images/QZXDCz
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Try to explain as simply as you can what you think William Blake is trying to convey in these mysterious lines.
These four simple lines convey a most critical aspect of Romanticism… nay, of many literary periods. It is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, deriving meaning from mundanity. The Modernists were especially known for this approach to life. However, the Romantics pushed this notion even further, connecting the ordinary to the sublime – something Modernists fall short of. Whilst the term “sublime” can be used as an adjective to describe external scenes, the Romantics regarded the sublime as a “physical grandeur transformed into spiritual grandeur”. This definition is evident in Blake’s cryptic lines. Attaching terms such as “Heaven” and “Eternity” with relatable and accessible objects and concepts – “Wild Flower”, “an hour” – describes the consanguinity between the physical and spiritual realm. In terms of the writing itself, Blake’s capitalisation of the common nouns and concepts displays his high regard for them.
This is a fantastic blog post. You draw clear parallels between the two stories, explaining how the visuals can be manipulated according to the event you choose to see represented. I especially like the link you made between the “god of war” title and Antony’s role in the story. There’s not much constructive criticism I can give, except perhaps that you proofread before you post (you wrote “to” instead of “two”, but that’s a minor issue). Otherwise, fantastic job!
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Explore a vivid and meaningful moment in your own experience- similar to Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”- and write a short poem or prose piece that captures the intensity and significance of the experience.
When the sun goes down tonight we shall glow like burning amber;
our hair will alight – parched logs catching aflame,
eyes sparkling like stars I cannot begin to name, but you…
you can read the night sky and tell me its stories.
Stories of gods long gone,
fizzled out and extinguished with the dreamers who conjured them.
As the burning gloaming dips into eventide our bodies wilt, but our hearts –
they beat ever strong, pumping the passion which
fuels this attraction through our veins.
The sky cracks and crumbles,
the mottled blue engulfed by the vacuum of black…
or, perhaps, it simply makes way for it.
Soft winds whisper through the window,
caress our cheeks, part our hair, gently push us together.
And once the grasshoppers commence their evensong,
so shall we.