Response poem to In Just- by E.E. Cummings
Fairy world in old trees
Made in just a stump
On wet grass
Slipping and skipping
Made fairy gardens
From popsicle sticks and
When everything is fairy dust fixable
With the wet grass
And our slipping and skipping
WillaandWinifred come running
Swinging and dancing
Isn’t fairy dust fixable
I wrote this poem in the same sequence as Cummings in the sense that my stanza pattern reflects his. I repeated statements in all the places he did and tried to emulate the themes of childish wonder. When I read the poem, it reminded me of my summers working at a Spectrum Arts Camp. Every year, I work with the Fairy Gardening Class and they’re always the sweetest campers who loved pouring “fairy dust” everywhere–especially on me. Whenever girls were being nasty to each other, or were grumpy and tired the day after a swim meet, they would always tell me that fairy dust fixed everything. So I wrote the poem from the perspective of my Fairy Gardens Campers.
The first stanza is structured in the same way Cummings structured his and I set the scene. The girls always loved this dead tree that still had its branches cut off but was cut in such a way that was perfect for their fairy kingdom. The middle stanza in the original poem quotes the balloon man’s song but I chose “slipping and skipping” because one of my favorite pictures of camp were two girls in sundresses skipping through the grass almost slipping. I chose some of my most memorable campers to put together as Cummings did. In discussion I mentioned that I was certainly familiar with the fusion of names; I remember the girls’ words tumbling out in just that way. Rather than having the whimsical phrase “puddle-wonderful”, I used the phrase “When everything is fairy dust fixable” which, I promise, was just as cute when my campers said it. The final stanza strayed from Cummings’ structure a little but ended with the fairy dust line in the same way his repeated phrase were the final words.
Robert Frost’s The Gift Outright is a classic example of his folksy, lyrical poetry based on nature. Rather than the typical format of describing the scene around him though, he reflects on who the scene belongs to. His choice to make the first line a sentence makes the first phrase seem factual and sets a serious tone for the rest of the poem. His opening sentence reads, “The land was ours before we were the land’s” reminded me of “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” introducing the interconnectedness between human life and the earth. Although I would like to believe this poem is meant to be about taking care of the earth and natural world, I think that it is written from the perspective of an imperialist. The consistent use of “ours” conveys the possessive nature of imperialists who claim the land as their birthright, their “Gift Outright”. The middle section of the poem addresses the aggressive theme of possessiveness of the earth. His repetitive use of “possessing” conveys the all-consuming greed that resulted from imperialism. “Possessed by what we now no more possessed” conveys that rather than cherishing the land, they were swallowed by their greed for something that was never theirs. In this way, the expansion of land made them “weak”. The weakness juxtaposes the idea that expansion creates strength. The combination of this contradiction and his deliberate choice not to punctuate creates a natural pause in the poem. “We were withholding from the land of the living” continues his rhythmic pattern of iambic pentameter and begins a series of alliterations that emphasize the consequence of greed. His second use of alliteration comes with “salvation in surrender” saying that the settlers were saved by their realization that wealth and prosperity was achieved not through pushing through progress, but by letting the earth do its work. That the earth was beautiful in its “unstoried and unenhanced”, pure form and would prove prosperous in time. Here he ends the poem with a classic ode to the beauty of nature in its untouched form, satirizing the idea that an industrial version would be preferable.
Marianne Moore’s What Are Years? seems an example of her early works as it utilizes complex imagery and prosodic patterns, themes of her early poetry. My initial interpretation of the poem was that Moore split the poem into three sections to reflect three stages of life (emulating themes of the “Voyage of Life Series” by Thomas Cole). I interpreted the first stanza as “innocent” childhood, the second as “struggling” young adulthood/adulthood, and the third as acceptance of “mortality” in late life. However, further analysis makes me think otherwise.
The opening lines begin with Moore’s existential, “unanswered question” of what makes us courageous. She asks why, in times of “resolute doubt” we soldier on and go about life despite the challenges before us. Her phrasing here jumps out. The word “resolute” creates such a final and sad tone that contrasts her chilling, final lines of the stanza, “in its defeat, stirs/the soul to be strong”. Her choice to separate the phrase elongates and suspends the sentence, first emphasizing the two timid descriptors, “defeat” and “stirs” then the conflicting, powerful alliteration of “soul” and “strong”.
The second stanza is the narrative of vivid imagery of seeing “deep”, encapsulating the feeling of drowning and how she wrestles with the thought of death. Her choice of the word “accedes” creates rhythm in the stanza that causes a natural slowing of the poem until it picks up speed again with imagery of “imprisonment” and panic as death looms. The poem continues at this speed with struggling until the “sea in a chasm” occurs when suddenly she is flying above worry and has a revelation that mortality is what makes life worth living, what makes “continuing” worth it.
The third stanza uses the metaphor of the “imprisoned”, “caged” bird conjuring similar themes of Emily Dickinson’s Hope Is a Thing With Feathers. The bird “steels” his form straight up once again conveying vivid imagery of picking oneself up and moving on and even “mighty singing”. “Mighty” inspired me and created a lift and pause in the poem, conveying a newfound confidence and resolution. The ending lines are my favorite, though, contrasting the satisfaction of mortality and eternal joy. This perfectly wraps up the poem. I think that she tried to convey that one can spend their whole life trying to do everything right, outsmarting mortality and feeling satisfaction. But, they may never achieve true joy that lives longer than the human life as it can only be achieved through accepting mortality and making the most of it.
“We are soothed as we read; and withal is a calm astonishment that ideas so apparently obvious have never occurred or been presented to us before.”
Though Hawthorne’s literary works are often complex in their meaning and theme, his distinctive stylistic writing simplifies the text, yielding a more accessible and more interesting text. Hawthorne’s Wakefield, in particular, is a perfect example. Wakefield is written in a kind of conversational folklore. In other words, Hawthorne writes as though he is conversing with his reader and in doing so, he stays true to his theme of “twice-told tales”. In Poe’s critique of Hawthorne, Poe stated that, as readers, “We are soothed as we read”, which is true. Hawthorne sets the tone of ease by first conjuring an image of casual storytelling. Although he doesn’t explicitly set this scene, his conversation with the reader is similar to that of an elder telling a child a folktale. The first and most obvious example comes in his introductory paragraph. “In some old magazine or newspaper, I recollect a story, told as truth, of a man–let us call him Wakefield–who absented himself for a long time, from his wife”. Personally, I was able to connect and visualize the story immediately, settling into the twice-told tale/folktale. As the text continues, there are numerous examples of this in his questions such as “What sort of a man was Wakefield”, in his interjections “Let us now imagine Wakefield bidding adieu to his wife”, and exclamations “Wakefield! Whither are you going?” In addition, Poe states that Hawthorne’s distinct style extends to the way he presented his ideas. Poe recognized that through the progression of Hawthorne’s work, as Hawthorne would introduce new ideas, he presented his ideas as fact. Hawthorne introduced his ideas so persuasively, that the reader would think his ideas were obvious. Although Hawthorne doesn’t explicitly state his ideas, he certainly injects his thoughts on the story. “His fate was turning on the pivot”, “It is perilous to make a chasm in human affections”, and finally his conclusion that “individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system…and to a whole, that, by stepping by for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever.” In essence, Hawthorne not only interjects his ideas in the text, but more clearly in his social observations that seem so plainly apparent in his style.
Find Poe’s original review of Hawthorne’s work here
“Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that is sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!–these were her realities,–all else had vanished.” (483)
In this section, Hester Prynne is affronted with the sharp reality of her situation and the significance of her betrayal and defiance of Puritan values. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s text is most enhanced by his choice of words and the way he portrays reality. His choice of words enhances his text through the contradiction of Prynne’s fierceness versus the gentleness of her newborn child. His choice to use “fierceness” is also an interesting choice of words because her fierceness is not a representation of anger, but a representation of her struggle to grasp reality. Hawthorne continues the theme of contradiction in his description of Prynne’s dueling realities: the joy of motherhood versus the public humiliation of wearing a scarlet letter. Later in the book, Hawthorne describes Prynne as being emotionally absent and confused but this passage provides insight as to why she seems that way. Prynne is overwhelmed by the attention and shame that she is suddenly faced with, further clouding her perception of reality that becomes a continuous theme throughout the text.