Analysis Of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “The Sheaves”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Edwin Arlington Robinson as a young man.

Edwin Arlington Robinson, via WikiWand.

Just like Philip Larkin, Edwin Arlington Robinson is a poet better read in reduction. A good Selected, perhaps, or even just a handful of some of his better-known work will do more for his reputation than an appraisal of everything he’s ever published. This wasn’t always the case, however, as Robinson won three Pulitzer Prizes, and was even called the ‘greatest American poet’ by Yvor Winters at a time when a dozen or so far better American writers had already peaked. This shows how easily E.A. Robinson can worm into one’s mind, in his best poems, as well as the ease with which his critics are taken in by their own aesthetic biases…including Winters, himself, who was quick to accept whatever fit his aesthetic worldview at the expense of the poetry itself.

Yet that shouldn’t take away from what’s on the page, either. And while Yvor Winters was wrong for placing weird and artificial limits on poets – ‘Write little; do it well’ was a chief motto – his love for brevity sometimes led him to the right judgments, too, as with one of E.A. Robinson’s best poems:

The Sheaves

Where long the shadows of the wind had rolled,
Green wheat was yielding to the change assigned;
And as by some vast magic undivined
The world was turning slowly into gold.
Like nothing that was ever bought or sold
It waited there, the body and the mind;
And with a mighty meaning of a kind
That tells the more the more it is not told.

So in a land where all days are not fair,
Fair days went on till on another day
A thousand golden sheaves were lying there,
Shining and still, but not for long to stay –
As if a thousand girls with golden hair
Might rise from where they slept and go away.

Although I didn’t know it then, The Sheaves was my first ‘in’ to poetry as a high school freshman. I recall the teacher sort of passing it out, very briefly discussing it, then quickly moving on to better known yet qualitatively inferior poems. I wasn’t much of a reader then, but was confused by her lack of appreciation for the poem’s mysteries, the strange imagery and diction, and how nicely the sonnet’s division plays against itself once the whole thing is taken in. Now that I can articulate what was mere feeling, once, let’s break the poem down bit by bit.

The first two lines are already memorable. The syntactical inversion of ‘long’ plays off the line’s ‘o’ assonance, all the while encapsulating the sounds in an unconventional image (‘shadows of the wind’) that is nonetheless both logical and believable. The second line hints at the rest of the poem’s trajectory, as life is made to ‘yield’ to something unalterable, with no invocation of either God or science, as was often done in poetry, but a sense of finality in the word … Continue reading →

An Analysis Of Philip Larkin’s “Church Going”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Philip Larkin Church GoingAlthough Philip Larkin is one of those writers best read in abridgment, one can’t deny that he has written some excellent poems at his best. More, Larkin is a great poet to read when young: that is, when poetry still feels like a second language, as he is not only easy to ‘get’ line by line, but is still technically competent even in his worst material. This means that Larkin can always be probed a bit more deeply…even if, coming out on the other end, one realizes it was all surface.

Although Larkin’s “Church Going” is one of my favorite poems, I can’t really argue that it’s a great one, or even Larkin’s best. That it fails in some spots, however, makes it especially ripe for analysis, and becomes – paradoxically – easier to argue for its immanent qualities given how quickly they bubble to the surface. By contrast, a poem like “High Windows” is cordoned off unless you know what to look for, and even then it is a bit harder to explain its successes. Not here, however, as “Church Going” maps its own trajectory in a way that’s less demanding of the reader:

Church Going

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

A good introductory stanza, and one that gets better as the poem goes on. It sets the scene, rhythmically, with solemn pauses (the first sentence; the use of lists and colons which nicely lend themselves to rest-stops) and does not hammer you with its deeper purpose outright. So far, it could be a theological poem or something else altogether, thus giving an opportunity for both poet and reader to meander a bit before settling into its actual narrative. No, there are no great lines here, but there are little details that do worm into one’s memory: casually baptizing the iconic portion of a church as “the holy end”, for one, or the neglect of church flowers as a small metaphor for what comes. More, the language creates – especially by the end of stanza 2 – a definite impression to play off of, which not only paces Larkin’s argument but also makes it easier to swallow when it does finally show itself.

One website incorrectly writes in a period after the stanza’s last word. Yet notice the negative effect this would have:

…Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

There is a finality here which locks the poem into a trajectory it does not have. Further, one expects more scene-setting – perhaps an addition to the first stanza’s lists – before the task of commenting on the scene itself. This is an issue of … Continue reading →

The Russian Hacks Are Distracting You From The Real Problem

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Russian soldiers in Soviet uniform
One of the most disturbing outcomes of this election has nothing to do with who was elected. It has nothing to do with who could have been elected, and nothing to do with the policies — rarely discussed now — that the electorate presumably fears. No, what’s alarming today is how quickly both sides of the Trump/Clinton divide seem to have coalesced around a losing strategy, assuring themselves of things that simply are not so at the expense of their own futures. It’s a gamble that is often made for a quick but quickly-dissolving advantage, and one that empowers anyone cynical enough to game it. And it just so happens that, this year, the cynic won, as both his critics and supporters wallow in distractions to take attention away from their own nullification.

There’s a lot to be said about this, but a few examples should suffice. On Donald Trump’s side, for instance, voters have already signaled that they’re willing to give him a free pass as Trump backs down from key campaign promises, laughably insisting on a ‘mandate’ to govern all the while denying even the possibility of Russian cyberattacks meant to throw the election in Trump’s favor. Meanwhile, Trump himself has been gas-lighting his own base for several weeks now, slowly inoculating them with positions — gay marriage, the Iran deal — they have in fact voted against. And on Hillary’s side, you have an outright denial of her worst flaws as Democrats go on to blame everything from sexism to James Comey for last month’s defeat, with the Russian hacks serving as the latest diversion from what, in hindsight, ought to have been a rote and predictable outcome.

In other words, neither side — as usual — really cares to see what’s going on. Conservatives deride liberals for their political correctness and identity politics, yet engage in much the same. Today, they’re arguing from personal insecurity, and assume that granting the obvious — such as Russia’s hacks — will erode support for their own side. Of course, they are right to worry, given Trump’s ever-widening gap in the popular vote and the sense that he’ll always be just one lawsuit away from impeachment: facts which cannot be undone no matter what Trump does, even if — and this is a big if — he ends up doing some good. But while the Republican Party slowly implodes, Democrats are trying to reassert themselves in the wrong way, courting the same donor money that failed them in 2016 while insisting on the same leadership. And although Democrats feign outrage at Russia’s behavior, they are in fact using these events to justify their own refusal to adopt the progressive agenda both sides thought they voted for. Ironically, Russia has become the party’s savior, even as the Democrats guarantee more losses in the future by not honestly dealing with their own flaws.

As a result, both parties have whipped up hysteria to unprecedented levels both before and after … Continue reading →

Why Donald Trump Might Be Good For America

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Why Donald Trump Might Be Good For America

Image via Gage Skidmore.

It has now been some weeks since the election, and it’s clear that this thing is not turning out like anyone expected. There are the results, for one, which put a supremely un-vetted TV star with questionable judgment, unprecedented business entanglements, and a string of sex abuse allegations into the White House. There’s Hillary, an ‘untouchable’ party hack who lost to one of the most hated and divisive figures in American history. There’s Trump, himself, who has already turned his back on his constituents by reneging on the very promises that once stirred them into a mob. And then there’s the reality that both sides are now giving passes to ‘their’ side, whether it’s Trump supporters ignoring the fact that he’s not the guy they think they voted for, or Clinton fans lashing out against their own nullification, blaming the media, sexism, dumb rural voters, anything, really, all to avoid the fact that Clinton was one of the most toxic and candidates to ever run for high office.

As I’ve argued before, it’s not so much that Trump won. Rather, it is that Clinton lost, and lost to a puerile sex maniac whose competence has been questioned by virtually every political scientist in the world. Yet as strange as it sounds, Trump’s tepid victory might very well turn out to be a great thing for American liberalism if – and this is a big if – genuine liberals do right. And this is not because America has veered conservative like so many have argued, but rather that America, as a rule, is simply restless, responding to calls for change no matter what direction they come from. The fact is, both parties – at least as we’ve come to know them – are done. Yes, Republicans are now in control of the House, Senate, and Executive Branch, but this is little more than an illusion. Recall that Trump, who is decidedly un-Republican and reviled by his own party, was still able to become their leader by a very comfortable margin. Yet the GOP assumes that, come 2020, the Trump ‘wave’ will be over, and they can return to business as usual with a few more victories under their belt. In short, they haven’t quite figured out what’s changed, and are likely banking on yet another Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan to wrest control. They see a mere bump in the road, even as this election marks the end of the Christian Right, voting, as it did, for a lifelong hedonist with no religious grounding. More, it might even be the end of the illusion of fiscal austerity, two cornerstones of Republican ideology that have been around longer than I’ve been alive.

Yet the Democrats, having already self-destructed, are likely in a much better position now than they’ve ever been. The Obama years signaled a new set of liberal norms, but they were also marked by a disengagement from the rural moderates (who might have … Continue reading →

Why Hillary Clinton Lost: An Addendum To 2020

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Hillary Clinton Donald Trump Stone Cold Steve AustinSo. The polls were wrong. Clinton got the popular vote by a little, and lost the electoral college by a lot. To Trump’s supporters, Trump won. Yet a more accurate conclusion is that Hillary Clinton lost: lost the young voters, lost the confidence of her own party, shook off the notion – a kind of meme until now – that one could merely procure the presidency with entitlement alone. She lost precisely because this was an election that should have been un-losable, what with an experienced career politician running against a TV star who was caught, on video, describing what was perceived to be sexual assault, with a dozen or so women coming forward to corroborate this. To be sure, both are still extremely unpopular, scandal-prone figures. Neither managed to win the majority of the electorate, whipped up, at each side, by hatred for and fear of the other side. Their antics ensured the rise of Third Party candidates, and even put Bernie Sanders, a life-long Independent, socialist, atheist, and Jew, into the spotlight as the ‘spirit’ of America’s populist wing, with a reasonable chance of being President, today, had he been the nominee. One candidate promised mass disturbances if the other side won. Then, that other side lost, ushering in a wave of protests that questioned the new president’s legitimacy, replete with petitions to get the electoral college to do the Left’s bidding, an ironic little twist that’s lost on the protesters, and the entire Democratic Party, really, which is still trying to figure out what went wrong.

Yet the question of why Hillary Clinton lost is not a very complex one. One merely needs to look at her behavior over the last thirty years, and the superficially unique alternative Donald Trump offered. Whereas Clinton had been entrenched in a terrible establishment for decades, Trump presented himself as an ‘outsider’ ready to “drain the swamp” of political life. Of course, Trump has already filled the new administration with Washington insiders, with hardly a protest from his supporters, but that doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that he’s now turning his back on other, key campaign promises as well. The “great, big, beautiful wall” that Mexico would pay for has become a “fence extension” with “a double layer,” that his poorest voters will now pay for, which was, ironically, Hillary’s own proposal. Obamacare, once a “total disaster” which needed to be “completely repealed,” will – if Trump has his way – be preserved at its core due to the popularity of its individual parts. Jamie Dimon, whom Trump has criticized for even being considered for Secretary of the Treasury by Clinton, has now been extended the same invitation by the Trump team. The mass deportation of illegal aliens, another Trump cornerstone, is not really a priority, now. The Iran deal, which he vowed to “rip up”, will pretty much remain the same. And when asked about the mass registration of American Muslims, as … Continue reading →