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April 3rd, 2015 - MG: LITERATURE&LIFE

About April 3rd, 2015

Literature and Life at Mission Australia Surry Hills- Week 3 02:29 pm




Dawn

Dawn over Kuring-gai Chase- North of Sydney

5 new students last night! That was fabulous and we had some really great discussions on what poetic language can do through its use of sound patterning, its use of connotations (rather than denotations) and its use of imagery (visual, tactile, kinetic etc)… And we had a wonderful exploration of some of the amazing blogs that are being posted by all students: some still working within the firewall, others (wings  ready for flight)launching out into the big wide Blogosphere: Joeye &Ash. Remember if you do go public (by setting up your ownWordPress.com site) you need to be extra careful with your English expression. Use the tools on the side bar to help you get it right before posting and get your learning partners to help you with your grammar before posting. Also be sure to post your new URL into the Blogging space within LEO- so that we can find you and give you helpful comments.

The first topic we covered was the way poetic language is loaded with connotative meaning. We looked again at Judith Wright’s poem “The Wattle Tree” and discussed the opening line of her poem “The tree knows four truths”. What a line! Implicitly the tree is compared to some conscious being. This is an arresting idea that captivates the reader. Then there is so much language in this poem that captures the animated life of this tree, ending in that amazing final line that sees the tree as a “great word of gold”, as if the tree itself has become the thing that the poet aspires to in her own poetry: the creation of a word that is filled with the resonance, meaning, power of “gold”, with all the connotations that go with this word: completion, perfection, connection to the creative power of the sun etc etc

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We discussed for some time the difference between the words connotation and denotation. A denotation is something one usually finds in a dictionary. It is “a direct specific meaning as distinct from an implied or associated idea” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). A connotation are the suggested meanings apart from or beyond the thing itself. So for example of you look up “gold” in the dictionary it says “a soft metal that is valuable and that is used especially in jewellery”. However, when Judith Wright uses the word “gold” in the last line of her poem she means much, much more than this and may not want the denotative meaning at all!. For example she is pointing to “gold” as the end of a process of searching for the word that will connect her to the living source of life that is expressed through the wattle tree and that might also be expressed through her poem. She is also pointing to the end process of a kind of spiritual alchemy that transforms all the base, coarse stuff of matter into a wonderful mirror of the sun itself… and so on.

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We then went from Judith Wright to Shakespeare and spent a little time on exploring the plot of As You Like It (See:Nesbit As You Like It) which in some ways is also a work of alchemy, in that drama is used by Shakespeare to transform a world which is full of wars (brothers fighting brothers) into a reconciliation where lovers marry and brothers are reconciled. For Shakespeare drama as an art form was his way of trying to cure the world of its ills. This group is going – along with on-campus students- to Bell Shakespeare’s As You Like It next week! We concluded our session by looking at another sonnet, this one by the American poet Galway Kinnell, his poem“Blackberry Eating” which- like Judith Wright (“The Wattle Tree”) and Richard Tipping (“Mangoes”)- takes something from nature (fruit/ tree) and turns it into an occasion for celebrating and exploring what poetry is and what poetry does: poetry transforms the way we see the world, and also transforms us -as writer or reader- as we read and digest the amazing impressions that nature produces:

IMG_9753In the process of studying this poem we spent time exploring all the ways in which sound patterning in poetry can help the poet’s subject come alive, literally jumping off the page, or in this case, squelching juice across our laps!

IMG_9755Here are the audio lectures from week 3. Enjoy:

Audio PlayerAudio Player


The Invention of the Wrist Watch: The Work of the Devil? 02:30 pm

The Invention of the Wrist Watch: The Work of the Devil?


In 1853 (the year that Dickens published Hard Times and Matthew Arnold published “The Scholar Gypsy” the Boston Watch Company was formed. This was the first company to begin developing that device that keeps us all chained to linear clock time, intensifying our stress and anxiety levels and robbing us of the childhood capacity to ignore time and be immersed in the simple pleasures of life. Dickens in Hard Times has his poor McChoakumchild-infected children being removed from the world of the circus; Matthew Arnold shows how the super-intelligent Scholar Gypsy had the courage to leave the world of “knocking at preferment’s door” (prefer me! prefer me! prefer me!) and go on a single-minded search for the onething that would give him deepest, longest, essential satisfaction:

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers

Fresh, undiverted to the world without,

Firm to their mark, not spent on other things…

For Dickens, for Arnold, their quest was for an experience of life that was integrative rather than fragmenting. They both felt that the tendencies of the modern world (their 19th C world which includes our world as well) were turning people into money-driven machines, that lacked deep humanity, compassion and any spiritual sensitivity. All this was (and is) symbolised by the Wrist Watch with its ruthless demands on our time and energy. Yes, we are all ruled by this (even those like me who refuse to wear a wrist watch). When we are working with our institutions we all have toabide by the rules of clock time. However, that is why – I think- bush walking is for me so nourishing. In the bush I can forget clock time (more or less) and simply let the dawn and the dusk dictate my activities; there is no rush for anything, there is simply the joy of being there, in front of a continuing amazing variety of creations of nature:

IMG_9775

Dawn over Kuring-gai Chase 29/03/2015

Poor Louisa Gradgrind had none of this. Her life was dead from the inside; she was a burnt-out husk of a human being, suffering the consequences of her parents’s misguided beliefs about what makes a “good” human being. This of course is the key question for us all: what does make a “good” human being? Or what makes a “good” satisfying human life? Can our study of literature take us a little closer to answering this question for ourselves? Is this not the key driving question for every one of us? Can literature provide us with an answer? (through its implicit questions, its dramatization of successes and failures: the leach-gatherer; Louisa; Bitzer; The Scholar Gypsy; Clym Yeobright [in Return of the Native]; Rosalind? Jacques ?????

So here are two Blog Topics to keep the enthusiasts happy over Easter:

CREATIVE:

Describe in a short prose paragraph/ or poem the essence of what you consider to be the most important ingredients of what makes a satisfactory life

CRITICAL

In a paragraph summarize the ways in which the wrist watch controls our existence.


The Invention of the Wrist Watch: The Work of the Devil? 02:31 pm


The Invention of the Wrist Watch: The Work of the Devil?



In 1853 (the year that Dickens published Hard Times and Matthew Arnold published “The Scholar Gypsy” the Boston Watch Company was formed. This was the first company to begin developing that device that keeps us all chained to linear clock time, intensifying our stress and anxiety levels and robbing us of the childhood capacity to ignore time and be immersed in the simple pleasures of life. Dickens in Hard Times has his poor McChoakumchild-infected children being removed from the world of the circus; Matthew Arnold shows how the super-intelligent Scholar Gypsy had the courage to leave the world of “knocking at preferment’s door” (prefer me! prefer me! prefer me!) and go on a single-minded search for the onething that would give him deepest, longest, essential satisfaction:

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers

Fresh, undiverted to the world without,

Firm to their mark, not spent on other things…

For Dickens, for Arnold, their quest was for an experience of life that was integrative rather than fragmenting. They both felt that the tendencies of the modern world (their 19th C world which includes our world as well) were turning people into money-driven machines, that lacked deep humanity, compassion and any spiritual sensitivity. All this was (and is) symbolised by the Wrist Watch with its ruthless demands on our time and energy. Yes, we are all ruled by this (even those like me who refuse to wear a wrist watch). When we are working with our institutions we all have toabide by the rules of clock time. However, that is why – I think- bush walking is for me so nourishing. In the bush I can forget clock time (more or less) and simply let the dawn and the dusk dictate my activities; there is no rush for anything, there is simply the joy of being there, in front of a continuing amazing variety of creations of nature:

IMG_9775

Dawn over Kuring-gai Chase 29/03/2015

Poor Louisa Gradgrind had none of this. Her life was dead from the inside; she was a burnt-out husk of a human being, suffering the consequences of her parents’s misguided beliefs about what makes a “good” human being. This of course is the key question for us all: what does make a “good” human being? Or what makes a “good” satisfying human life? Can our study of literature take us a little closer to answering this question for ourselves? Is this not the key driving question for every one of us? Can literature provide us with an answer? (through its implicit questions, its dramatization of successes and failures: the leach-gatherer; Louisa; Bitzer; The Scholar Gypsy; Clym Yeobright [in Return of the Native]; Rosalind? Jacques ?????

So here are two Blog Topics to keep the enthusiasts happy over Easter:

CREATIVE:

Describe in a short prose paragraph/ or poem the essence of what you consider to be the most important ingredients of what makes a satisfactory life

CRITICAL

In a paragraph summarize the ways in which the wrist watch controls our existence.


Henry Lawson’s “Sweeney” and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” at Mission Australia 02:31 pm

Henry Lawson’s “Sweeney” and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” at Mission Australia


What a fantastic session we had this week with Henry Lawson and Robert Frost. Both these poets display such a deep insight into the human condition but do it in such dramatically different ways.

Lawson1                                                           frost_robert

Henry Lawson, poet and short story writer, writes his tribute to the man named “Sweeney” in the form of a ballad with a very regular rhythm and rhyming pattern. The poem tells a story of Lawson’s meeting with Sweeney and then reflects on both Sweeney’s life and on Lawson’s own life. In telling a story the poem can be described as a narrative poem. It is indeed a very empathetic poem that gives many of the details of Sweeney’s rather tragic life. Even more sadly the poem finishes off with Lawson’s premonition that the lot of Sweeney might become his (Henry’s) lot- at the end of his life. This in fact is -as we know- what happened. The one most philosophical moment in the poem is where Lawson (as the narrator, the speaker) refers to “the man he might have been” (stanza 11). This is a very painful question for anyone to deal with and Sweeney answers Lawson in the next stanza with the philosophical response:

“What’s the good o’ keepin’ sober? Fellers rise and fellers fall:

What I might have been and wasn’t doesn’t trouble me at all.”

But that is not the end of the story, because in the very last line of the poem Lawson echoes this response as he tries to imagine where Sweeney might be now:

I suppose he’s tramping somewhere where the bushmen carry swags,

Cadging round the wretched stations with his empty tucker-bags:

And I fancy that of evenings, when the track is growing dim,

What he “might have been and wasn’t” comes along and troubles him.

LIke so many of Lawson’s stories and poems this one gives a voice to some of the forgotten, poverty stricken people in the world. Lawson was able to understand and respond to people like this because of his own background growing up on the gold fields and then carving a career for himself as a writer in Sydney- a place where writers were not paid much and always needed supportive hand -outs. In his later life Lawson indeed would have understood the lines of his own poem “Sweeney” even better, because Lawson’s life took a tragic turn in his last years.

The poem by Robert Frost The Road not Taken” is completely different in its poetic approach. It doesn’t tell a story, but it does provoke deep questions, just like Lawson’s poem does. But it does this in a different way. It describes what might be an ordinary country scene where there is a fork in the road – it could be anywhere in the bush somewhere (or in the “woods” as the Americans call it). Frost describes the scene so that you almost feel as if you are standing there in the spot being described: there are the leaves lying loosely on the path and the tufts of grass. But almost immediately (unlike the Lawson poem) you realise that it is not a real place that interests him so much, but the symbolism of the place, the fact that this fork in the road is the like the fork in a person’s life: which path will I take? which path will give me the most satisfaction as a human being? Can I know in advance where this path will lead? It was great to hear so much discussion arising from this poem (listen to the audio!). Everyone in the group seemed to be able to identify moments in their own life where such a fork had occurred and where they had made a decision. For some the fork led directly into the room in which this poem was being discussed!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you all for your great conversations on both poems.

Our session ended with a brief look at Act 5 Scene 3 in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, where our main exploration was the way that Shakespeare loves to switch between poetry and prose frequently (within his drama!!! three genres in one!). Watch the scene right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5IzwTcQQV0

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Blog Topics for this week- to get your creative juices going:

CREATIVE TOPICS:

1. Try to write two or three stanzas (in the style of Henry Lawson) describing a person you have known.

2. Try to write two or three stanzas (in the style of Robert Frost) describing a situation where you have had to make a difficult choice.

CRITICAL TOPICS:

3. Find two or three good web sites that could help to introduce one of our authors to the wider public. Introduce the web sites with a few well-chosen comments helping your reader to see why you chose these. Consider this like a mini- digital kit that others could come to in order to find out more about an author and his/her works.

4. Write a short summary of why you think “The Road Not Taken” is such a thought-provoking poem.

Lecture/ Seminar Week 4 Part 1 : Audio File

Audio Player

Lecture/ Seminar Week 4 Part 2 : Audio File

Audio Player

John Bell and Cast of As You Like It in Conversation with MG and students

Audio Player

My tweets 11:06 pm
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