Masterpiece Monday: “Roads Go Ever Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien

[UPDATE 8/30/12: Much to my surprise, a new road was presented to me at the last minute. By that, I mean I have accepted an even more amazing opportunity as Marketing Coordinator for a supercomputer company. Although the road took an abrupt turn, I wish everyone the best in regards to my former position, and I’m excited to begin this new journey!]

It’s been a crazy week, I must say! I’ve officially accepted a new job as a Community Executive for a tech company in the Silicon Valley, and I just moved into my new apartment! It’s been so hectic and stressful, but also very exciting. This is an amazing opportunity in my life, and I’m so happy to be along for the ride!

When it comes to stories about travels and journeys, nobody does it like J.R.R. Tolkien. When I contemplate this new chapter in the book that is my life, I think about one of Tolkien’s most famous poems, called “Roads Go Ever Ever On.” The poem takes on many adaptations in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; part of it was even sung by Bilbo and Gandalf in “The Fellowship of the Ring” film.

It’s such a wonderful poem about enjoying the roads you take in life, even if you don’t know where you’re headed. I love how he writes so much beauty into the unknown, and it reminds me to be grateful for every step and not focus so heavily on the destination.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Lovely descriptions, beautiful melody, and a wonderful message. What else could you ask of a poem?

One thing I’ll add though, is that my road may take me to a place where I won’t be able to blog with as much frequency. I’ll take it one day at a time, but if I have to hedge Masterpiece Monday, I’ll let you know. My goal is to write at least weekly, but it’s all tentative right now.

And I think that’s how Tolkien would’ve wanted it…

Masterpiece Monday: “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and the first thing that I thought of to commemorate the holiday was Sylvia Plath’s famous poem “Daddy,” which was written in 1962, a few months before she took her own life at 30 years old. It’s a shame that Plath suffered from such depression, because she was a gifted writer. It’s no wonder that she was the first person to win a Pulitzer posthumously, as can be seen in this poem.

“Daddy” (Oct. 12 1962)

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

This beautifully raw poem tells of Plath’s relationship with her father Otto. “The cleft in your chin instead of your foot” refers his foot being amputated after a case of untreated diabetes. Believing his illness to be lung cancer, he died shortly after.

His death affected Plath tremendously. “Daddy” uses the Nazi as a metaphor to describe how oppressed Plath felt by her father. However, even though she characterizes him as a black-hearted, brutish fascist, she still grieved him enough to attempt suicide by sleeping pills when she was 20.

The poem tells of her solution to her pain after her recovery: to marry an imitation of her father. Plath married poet Ted Hughes, known for dressing all in black, in 1956. They had two children together. Plath calls him a “vampire” who sucked her blood for seven years, because she discovered that he was having an affair with a woman named Assia Wevill.

Plath committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas oven. Hughes was rumored to have been abusive, given that Wevill killed herself and her four-year-daughter from Hughes in the same manner six years after Plath’s death. In 2009, Plath and Hughes’ son Nicholas hanged himself after suffering from depression as well.

I love this poem for its melodic rhythm and powerful emotion. It reminds us how love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Our relationships with our fathers, especially for women, often mold our perspectives and decisions in life. The Plath family lived and died tragically, but every family goes through struggles.

I can only hope that you all love and support your dads enough to wish them a wonderful Father’s Day. Since I’m leaving for Japan on Friday, we’ll be celebrating early!

Feel free to share your thoughts on this poem and others related to fatherhood!

Masterpiece Monday: Poems for Memorial Day

Image via Small Wars Journal

While every other American besides me enjoys their holiday (as I have a full tutoring shift today), I want to remind you that on top of the barbecues and road-trips, you should take a little time to remember the reason for your three-day weekend.

While everyone has their own opinions on war and the military, I think that we can agree that the loss of human life is tragic. Because Memorial Day is about remembering those soldiers who never returned, I thought I would share three poems about their ultimate sacrifice.

“Oh, Stay at Home, My Lad, and Plough” by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Oh stay at home, my lad, and plough
The land and not the sea
And leave the soldiers at their drill,
And all about the idle hill
Shepherd your sheep with me.

Oh stay with company and mirth
And daylight and the air;
Too full already is the grave
Of fellows that were good and brave
And died because they were.

“The Volunteer” by Elbridge Jefferson Cutler (1831-1870)

“At dawn,” he said, “I bid them all farewell,
To go where bugles call and rifles gleam.”
And with the restless thought asleep he fell,
And wandered into dream.

A great hot plain from sea to mountain spread;
Through it a level river slowly drawn;
He moved with a vast crowd, and at its head
Streamed banners like the dawn.

There came a blinding flash, a deafening roar,
And dissonant cries of triumph and dismay;
Blood trickled down the river’s reedy shore,
And with the dead he lay.

“The Flag” by Edith Matilda Thomas (1854-1925)

There were three colors in the banner bright
On which maidens stitched and stitched all day.
Their needles glanced, for with the morning light
Each saw her hero-lover march away.

Save one the maidens stitch with fond proud haste;
And her they chide, “Why do thy fingers lag?
Think but how fair will gleam, by farm and waste,
The red and white and blue of their loved flag.”

The maiden lifted neither hands nor eyes:
“The red of flowing blood I see,” she said,
“The white of faces upturned to the skies,
The blue of heaven wide above the dead.”

I love these poems because of their powerful imagery and the multiple points-of-view represented, from the soldier himself to the parents and lovers he leaves behind. Serving your country is arguably the hardest job there is, and although most people are fiercely proud of their troops, we would much rather live in a world where their occupation is unnecessary, just so they can remain with their loved ones.

Until the day when we as a globe can set aside politics and religion, greed and corruption, for the sake of diplomacy, we will need our servicemen and women. And to those who cannot be with their friends and family to jump in the swimming pool, eat a hotdog, or watch some fireworks, I say with the utmost sincerity,

Thank You.

Masterpiece Monday: Poems About Loss

Tattoo of Thomas' famous lines

Today is a somber day, because it’s the one-year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s death. Coincidentally, it’s also his birthday, so I find it an apt reminder of how life and death are so intertwined. Thus, for Masterpiece Monday, I thought I would share with you my favorite poems regarding loss. You are more than welcome to add to the discussion your own experiences with grief and any pieces of literature that help you cope.

“Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne (1633)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas (1952)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Death is one of the most ubiquitous topics in poetry, and these poems are two of the most famous that discuss it. (Donne’s poem is even the focus of a film starring Emma Thompson called “Wit,” in which she plays a scholar who is diagnosed with cancer. A total sob-fest, but I highly recommend it).

I chose these poems because even though they come from two completely different eras, they share some common themes. Donne’s belief in an afterlife allows him to downplay death’s power, while Thomas only uses the word “death” once, instead preferring to call it a “good night.” Donne says to not fear death because it holds limited might, and Thomas adds that people do not have to accept death with weakness, but rather hold onto their strength and vitality.

I’m not using these poems as examples of how to view death, because I understand that everyone deals with loss differently. Some find comfort in an afterlife, others don’t. Some prefer to go out in their prime, others hang on to every day given to them. Neither is right nor wrong, and we should support one another through difficult times despite our varied coping mechanisms.

All I know is that today is a reminder of how much those who are gone are not forgotten, because we can still cherish the memories we made with them. After a year, I still miss my grandfather terribly, but I know that he lived a rich life and I am so grateful for the moments we shared together.

Blogging this has been therapeutic, and I want to thank my readers for all your support. It’s nice to feel part of a community–and it’s even nicer when we’ve bonded over some great books and poems!

I’ll leave you with a final quote by A. Sachs: “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.

Make sure you live your life to the fullest today, and every day!

Love, Book Club Babe

The Armenian Genocide continued: Siamanto’s “The Dance”

The poet Siamanto

I hope you all read my post about the Armenian Genocide earlier today (if not, click here!). Now I would like to share my favorite poem about the genocide, written by Siamanto (Atom Yarjanian) who was murdered by the Turks in 1915. Note: If you are easily disturbed, I would advise you to not read this poem, as it discusses the genocide quite graphically. You have been warned!

“The Dance”

And as her tears drowned in her blue eyes,
On a field of ash where Armenian life was still dying,
This is what the witness of our horror, the German woman narrated:

“This story which I tell you and which cannot be told,
I saw with my cruel human eyes,
From the window of my safe house which looked on hell,
Crushing my teeth from my terrible rage…
With my cruelly human eyes I saw .
It was in Garden city, which was turned to a pile of ashes.
The corpses were piled high to the top of the trees,
And from the waters, from the fountains, from the streams, from the roads,
The rebellious murmur of your blood…
Still speaks now its vengeance into my ears…

O, don’t be shocked when I tell you this story which cannot be told…
Let men understand the crime of man against man,
Under the sun of two days, on the road to the cemetery
The evil of man against man,
Let all the hearts of the world know…
That morning in death’s shadow was a Sunday,
The first and helpless Sunday which rose over the corpses,
When inside my room, from evening to dawn,
Bending over the agony of a girl slashed with a sword,
I was wetting her death with my tears…
Suddenly from afar a black, beastly mob
Brutally whipping the twenty brides who were with them,
Stood in a vineyard singing songs of debauchery.

Leaving the poor dying girl on her mattress,
I approached the balcony of my window which looked on hell…
In the vineyard the black mob became a forest.
A savage roared to the brides: “You must dance,
You must dance when our drum sounds.”
And the whips started wildly cracking on the bodies
Of the Armenian women who were missing death…
Twenty brides, hand in hand, started their round dance…
The tears flowed from their eyes like wounds,
Ah, how much I envied my wounded neighbor,
Because I heard, that with a peaceful moan,
Cursing the universe, the poor beautiful Armenian girl,
To her young dove spirit gave wings toward the stars…
In vain I moved my fists against the mob.
“You must dance”, roared the furious crowd,
“You must dance until your death, lustfully and lasciviously,
Our eyes are thirsty for your movements and your death…”

The twenty beautiful brides fell to the ground exhausted…

“Stand up”, they shrieked, waving their naked swords like snakes…
Then someone brought to the mob a barrel of oil…
O, human justice, let me spit at your forehead…!
They anointed the twenty brides hastily with that liquid…

“You must dance”, they roared, “here is a perfume for you which even Arabia does not have…”
Then they ignited the naked bodies of the brides with a torch,
And the charcoaled corpses rolled from dance to death…

In my terror I closed the shutters of my window like a storm,

And approaching my lonely dead girl I asked:
“How can I dig my eyes out, how can I dig them out, tell me…?”

I love this poem, because it is one of the few first-hand accounts of the genocide, and although it is extremely sad and tragic, it’s evidence of the horrors of the massacres. Again, I urge you to research this historical event and share what you learn with those around you. I have many viewers from all over the world, and we owe it to ourselves to spread this knowledge and promote global recognition.

You can make a difference!

Masterpiece Monday: Transcendentalist Poetry

Walden.

Walden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday was Earth Day, and I thought I would celebrate by discussing the most famous literary movement regarding nature: Transcendentalism. It’s basically a philosophy of the mid-19th century that asserts that humans have a special, inherently good relationship with nature, and that the spiritual world rises above, or transcends, the mortal one. Transcendentalists believed in a simple, minimalist life of self-reliance and independence.

The two most famous Transcendental poets were Ralph Waldo Emerson  (1803-1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). These well-educated friends were both abolitionists: Emerson believed in the divinity of all things, while Thoreau became known for his naturalist journals and simple living on Walden Pond. Thoreau was more radical than Emerson, given that he practiced civil disobedience by refusing to pay taxes (he even spent a night in jail for his evasion).

To celebrate the environmentalism surrounding Earth Day, I’ll share poem excerpts about nature from each writer.

Excerpt from “Song of Nature” by Emerson

Let war and trade and creeds and song
Blend, ripen race on race,
The sunburnt world a man shall breed
Of all the zones, and countless days.

No ray is dimmed, no atom worn,
My oldest force is good as new,
And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew. 

“Nature” by Thoreau

O Nature! I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy choir, –
To be a meteor in thy sky,
Or comet that may range on high;
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low;
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.

In some withdrawn, unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods, with leafy din,
Whisper the still evening in:
Some still work give me to do, –
Only – be it near to you!

For I’d rather be thy child
And pupil, in the forest wild,
Than be the king of men elsewhere,
And most sovereign slave of care;
To have one moment of thy dawn,
Than share the city’s year forlorn. 

Notice how both poets create that powerful connection between the earthly world and the heavenly realm. They recognize their inferiority in this grand universe, and their words are humble. Sometimes it’s nice to read their poetry to get back to basics and appreciate the wonder of nature.

Of course, don’t think I forgot about Shakespeare’s (alleged) birthday (and deathday)! If the Bard were alive today, he would be 448! I’ll most likely write a more comprehensive tribute in the near future, but for now I’ll leave you with a parody of Hamlet by the Sassy Gay Friend!

And there’s more what that came from! Check out the clips of Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and Henry VIII!

Masterpiece Monday: Poems about Racism

So I have a team presentation in my Media Ethics class tomorrow, and it’s about the ethical issues surrounding a radio talk show host who holds very bigoted views, but also makes the station a ton of money. My partner and I essentially take Voltaire’s position of “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Even though we do not respect the Don Imuses and Rush Limbaughs of the world for their hate speech, they still have the freedom of speech.

However, that does not make their comments moral whatsoever. I chose to look at three famous poems that deal with the personal effects of racism. Note: the first poem listed does use a racial slur, but since I don’t advocate artistic censorship, I will include it in its original form. Please understand that I do not mean to offend, but only to preserve the poet’s intent.

“Incident” by Countee Cullen (1925)

Once riding in old Baltimore,   
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,   
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1896)

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

“I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes (1926)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

These three African-American men highlight how racism has affected their lives. Cullen never forgot an instance of discrimination as a child, Dunbar reflects on the emotional struggle African-Americans experience with white society, and Hughes remains optimistic for racial equality.

While the content revolves around the same issue, the poems’ forms differ greatly. Cullen creates a childlike sing-song effect by rhyming every other line. This rhyme scheme enhances the speaker’s youth. Dunbar writes in couplets but repeats the line “We wear the mask” to stress how hiding their true feelings is a constant battle. Lastly, Hughes’s free-form poem emphasizes short, powerful phrases instead of a rhyming structure.

I think that all these poems are beautiful in their own way, and I believe that all high school students should experience them like I did at that age. Too many of my students are under the impression that racism does not exist anymore, that it’s only a thing that we study when discussing the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

Although I am grateful that equality has increased legally and socially over time, I am disturbed by this promotion of ‘color-blindness.’ We should celebrate, not ignore, our racial differences, because race is an essential factor to who we are and how we perceive reality.

Right now,  everyone is infuriated over the death of Trayvon Martin (rightfully so, in my opinion), and while I won’t digress into a political debate, I’d like to ask: What do you think these poets would say about this controversial tragedy? How far have we really come since their era?

It saddens me that these events still occur in the 21st century, but we are also capable of inciting sociopolitical change. Going back to the reason I wrote this post, if you find that a media professional (whether he’s on TV, radio, or an internet blog) is spouting off racist opinions, do your part and refute. If enough people post their comments and write their political representatives about fighting racism, then slowly that change will happen.

And when it comes to promoting racial equality, it’s better late than never.