Archive | March, 2014

COCK-CANCER #1 – Back by popular demand

27 Mar

Brilliant ideas don’t happen often, but when they do they’re mind blowing….

There I was sitting in my car dodging cops and avoiding sex-ting teenagers when the radio starts to spit out commercials. It seems to be the industry standard that one shitty sing-a-long-a- teeny bopper tune is equal to three advertisements. This is frustrating because I’m sick of hearing how happy McDonalds is going to make me, or that a dose of Viagra is going to give me a dick as thick as the Smith family tree. Just as I start to ruminate on the inequality of personal appendages something comes on which piques my interest. Not just because the subject matter of breasts is enough to pique the interest of any red blooded male, but because their particular role in this commercial strikes me as interesting.

Its breast cancer week, and women all over America are banding together to walk sixty miles in order to feel closer to sick relatives or bond with likeminded individuals through the medium of an incurable disease. Rather than a walk for neighbors week or love thy local illegal alien half marathon they buy into pop culture hype and allocate themselves a place in yet another corporate media box. If it’s not religion, or politics then its football team reverence or baseball theology; people it would seem are determined to herd themselves, and can’t wait to jump straight in – pulling the lid tightly over themselves and shutting out the light.

Now I’m not such an arse-hole that I think breast cancer isn’t a worthy cause, because it is. It’s just that given the budget spent on our military, to fight brown people, in foreign countries, for corporate gain – coupled with the insipid groveling of big-pharma, for less governmental oversight and ever larger profits we might have found a root cause already.

The cure for cancer, instead of the glut of pre-packaged pills to prevent hypochondria, would be stacked on the shelves at your local Walgreens.

However given that the last disease that was ever cured by a genuine health caring health service was Polio, we may have a while to wait. No longer is the emphasis on the cure, but rather the stabilization of the disease. Expensive medication plied to the sick so that profits can be eked out over years rather than a one-stop-shop injection, where the only profiteer would be the poor victim herself.

I understand that with Cancer hope is a huge key in winning the battle. Without hope and support the victims might as well roll over and play dead. It’s just the naivety of these good hearted souls who declare themselves heroes by walking x-number of miles for x-number of days. Rather than marching around Phoenix maybe we should be marching on Washington. Isn’t it about time we had a million woman march? Aren’t they justified in demanding governmental attention on a disease which not only destroys lives but undermines the stability of families as well?

Instead of demanding our right to live a full life in the pursuit of happiness we instead busy ourselves in short sighted, pink ribbon wearing, t-shirt buying, familial sponsorship which although commendable really isn’t getting the job done. If there is a charity involved then profits are being made. If the pharmaceutical industry is involved then bigger profits are being made. If the government is involved then mistakes are being made and money wasted. Not a jaded point of view, simply a reality check and a peak at the big picture. The funds are there, a cure is possible however, what would be the point if there wasn’t a profit to be made?

Without wandering too far off track let’s get back to the brilliant idea. We James’s don’t have many, but when we do they are earth shattering. Not always a generational thing, and too be honest we peaked back in the 11th century with Grandpas James’s three pronged stick for eating soup, occasionally something comes to mind which is worthy of further comment.

Okay, so here it is Cock cancer, that’s right Cock cancer………….not impressed, you will be.

Time and again I see an emphasis put on breast cancer, not that there is anything wrong with that it’s just a fact. As with every emphasis the popularity of the cause is dependent upon organization and a will to express an ideal. It doesn’t matter how big the group is; if one can combine, collaborate, and lobby, then you are a force to be reckoned with. A classic example here would be the religious lobby’s in America that wield all kinds of power as oppose to the apathetic atheists, who probably outnumber all the for-profit religions put together, and yet couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery.

So before revealing the brilliance of the idea let’s just compare the figures.

In 2010, according to the National Cancer institute, there were 217,730 new cases of prostate cancer and 32,050 deaths.

Let’s now compare those numbers to breast cancer cases in women in 2010. There were 207,090 new cases and 39,840 deaths.

Does anything strike you about these numbers?

That’s right they’re pretty damn close, and yet when do you ever here about prostate cancer on the T.V., in magazines or even radio commercials?

Next to never!

I know there was huge campaign run by the Armstrong foundation for testicular cancer however a yellow band on the wrist isn’t raising the kind of horror we have come to expect from the exhibition of single and double mastectomies. In fact wearing a yellow wrist band has become a rite of passage for many young people, and has simply become a fashion accessory. Yet another shade on the spectrum of color coordinated concern. I am sure that Lance might view this differently. If kids want to wear the band they have to pay the cash. This revenue stream helps to promote research – Q.E.D., QUID PRO QUO. Unfortunately the true message is lost as the happy-smiley- cutesy-color-yellow does nothing to express the severity of a man dying of prostate cancer. A disease that is literally killing him through everything that defines him as a man. Just as boobs help to define women, meat-and-two-veg define men.

So what to do, where to go, how to make this issue stand out in order to throw it in the face of complacency and drag concern out of the gutter and put it where it belongs – on mainstream television and front paged printed media? Cock cancer is destroying as many lives as breast cancer which means that just maybe we should turn the spot light up a little and see what we can do to raise awareness. Naturally I have a million ideas and taken from a man’s point of view they won’t always be appreciated by the fairer sex or our feather-bedded complacent society. From this day forth prostate cancer will be known as Cock Cancer.

Taken at its most base, the full mouthed vulgarity of the word COCK will be appreciated by men who hate to fluff around an idea and want to get straight to the point. No beating around the bush, no fiddle-faddle , just plain and simple Cock Cancer. It’s our bloody disease, we should be able to call it what the hell we like. Straight up front with no P.C bullshit.

“Give it to me straight doc, what’s going on, how long do I have left?”

It’s not a pink t-shirt, nor is it a made-in-China magnetized ribbon for the back of the car but a full mouthed vulgarity, that we as men can deal with.

Imagine a conversation between two men in today’s so-called polite society, where we cringe when we use the full palette of the English Language.

“How’s john doing?”

“Didn’t you know he’s got the big C? In his prostate too…”

“Yeah that’s a shame, really liked John.”

WRONG-WRONG-WRONG…Let’s start again.

“How’s John doing?”

“Didn’t you hear, he’s got cock cancer?”

“That’s fucking terrible. Poor fucking bastard. What can we do about it?”

Clearly when we call it like it really is and don’t hide the truth men and women respond better. Currently my daughter is walking around school with a pink silicon wrist band called a booby-bracelet, replete with the text, I love my boobs. I’m not shocked and hopefully you aren’t either. Call them what they are. Nobody talks about mammary cancer, so why are we talking about prostate.

Cock cancer is out there, as large as death, and its killing men every day. Let’s get real – let’s address the issue and stop messing around.

Let’s put an end to cock cancer. Tell your friends, shout it from the rooftops, call your congressman, whatever it takes.

I-10 Blog

Brilliant ideas don’t happen often, but when they do they’re mind blowing….

 

 There I was sitting in my car dodging cops and avoiding sex-ting teenagers when the radio starts to spit out commercials. It seems to be the industry standard that one shitty sing-a-long-a- teeny bopper tune is equal to three advertisements. This is frustrating because I’m sick of hearing how happy McDonalds is going to make me, or that a dose of Viagra is going to give me a dick as thick as the Smith family tree. Just as I start to ruminate on the inequality of personal appendages something comes on which piques my interest. Not just because the subject matter of breasts is enough to pique the interest of any red blooded male, but because their particular role in this commercial strikes me as interesting.

Its breast cancer week, and women all over America are banding together to walk sixty miles…

View original post 1,313 more words

TOP GIRLS – CARYL CHURCHILL

22 Mar

ALBION DECLINING

AN ODE TO THATCHERISM

 

DDDXXX

 

            Churchill doesn’t introduce us to blood-spattered Colonel Mustard guiltily holding a dripping candlestick in the library, nor do we meet Miss. Scarlet with a glass of red wine in one hand and a dagger in the other. There’re no murders in the play but cordite hangs so thick that the reader nearly chokes on the fumes. Instead we’re offered a play that’s devoid of one person, a protagonist who isn’t listed in the dramatis-persona, nor who’s to be seen on any stage and yet whose ghost, like a murdered Scot, haunts the production. Churchill relates that when she initially wrote her play she was heavily influenced by the political climate of the time, and the temperature of that specific period perspires in measured degrees throughout its production. Instead we’re offered a good old fashioned “M for Murder” where it’s up to the reader to sift the detritus in order to discover that, “when the possible is impossible, then only the impossible is probable.” Scrutinizing her list of characters we’re able, just as great nineteenth century consulting-detectives are able, to determine for ourselves the identity of the uninvited guest. The main character of the play isn’t Nicola, Deborah, or Abigail or any other proto-eighties name that the love-generation of the sixties decided to endow their first born with, but Marlene; Marlene with a not-so silent “M.” It’s this letter which defines the play, that construes character and which is representative of the entire undercurrent of the production. “M” is for Margret not Marlene and it couldn’t be more obvious if the lead character had it crayoned on her forehead during each and every performance. The spook that haunts the play is the late, but not lamented Margaret Thatcher; the female inspiration for Caryl Churchill’s play, “Top Girls.”

            Margaret Thatcher, probably the most divisive character who ever held the contentious title of Prime Minister, carved her legacy into the very heart of what was once England with surgical disregard. Apologists would say Britain, but Margaret, as her legacy proves, only truly cared about England, the other countries of the unfortunately named United Kingdom reduced to sources of revenue and contention, depending upon her government’s needs. In order to subtly communicate to audiences the inherent dangers of Thatcherism “Top Girls” was written as a societal introspective rather than a theatrical reflection. Through the character of Marlene, Churchill chronicles the beginning of the downfall; the death of empire and all that was great about Britain. Through her character we discover the demise of society, the rise of the individual to the detriment of the collective, the North-South divide, the destruction of the family unit and what it meant to be a disenfranchised native on a sinking island nation. With total disregard for British heritage and accompanied by a specious reverence of wealth, Margaret Thatcher left her mark, just as Marlene indelibly scrawls her own legacy in the play. The Top Girl in question is Thatcher, the production Thatcherism, the encore, a wilderness of industrial and social dereliction.   

            A play of two acts with the first being a confused and muddled retrospective; a group of women representative of historical figures who, the more wine they drink, the more they chat and obfuscate one another. One could be confused that Churchill is attempting to portray feminist triumph; that women through the years have fought their corner and progressed under the direst of circumstances in order to obtain at least the hammer with which to smash through glass ceilings. Tales of rape, subjugation and a will to overcome unfold throughout the first act; experiences of fortitude and despair that both enthrall and perplex. This is supposed to be a celebration but for whom, or rather of what? Marlene has been promoted and is about to achieve directorial status, proof that she’s got what it takes to be top-bitch in a dog-eat-dog world. The assumption then, is that the party is to celebrate professional success? The women at the party through loss of self-respect, love and even life, have helped to pave the feminist path. Marlene likewise has apparently overcome the odds but rather than the epitome of female success she’s portrayed as the antithesis of empathy. The corner office is now hers, but what was it that she sacrificed in order sit comfortably within it? Rather than dwell on her promotion, Churchill chooses to showcase the struggle of the others and in doing so intentionally glosses over Marlene’s perceived achievement.

            The first act is representative of transition, what Thatcher would’ve undoubtedly termed progress. The achievements of the past, personified by the historical women, are discarded in favor of the contemporary and her irrepressible march towards monetarism and egocentrism. When Thatcher took office, Britain was indisputably the “Sick Man of Europe.” A flirtation with state run institutions and the empowerment of the unions had led to stagnation in production and too much power in the hands of those who controlled vital services, rather than an equitable equilibrium of shared power. It’s easy to understand the rise of Labour after nearly a century of crushing worker subjugation. The Second World War had made a difference, and the social contract that’d been the country’s reward for surviving and destroying Nazism was well deserved, however, in retrospect was a peter-principle of too much too soon. The empowerment of the workers meant that the political pendulum swung too far to the left and ultimately had to swing once more to the center. Under Thatcher rather than finding that center, the pendulum swung instead, inexorably to the extreme right. Instead of celebrating the policy of nationalism and social awareness as alluded to by the various historical figures at the party, the social contract is discarded as Margaret steps into the second act; an allusion to the origins of Thatcherism and the abandonment of socialist values in order to empower the individual at the expense of society as a whole. A little short sited when one considers Margret’s humble beginnings – similar to the tales of Churchill’s historical women – as a village grocer’s daughter at the hub of the local community and who participated enthusiastically as a member of a congregation. The society she’d learned to appreciate as a young woman was clearly no longer to her taste and the lady was definitely for turning when it came to the idea of deconstructing Britain. In act two we encounter a modern, vibrant, controlling Marlene who’s focused on the future, having dismissed the ideals of old Labour and any hope of a revitalization of the social-contract.

            Two girls play outside, one a coarse, older girl, the other a younger more eloquent and obviously brighter child. Despite their differences they both play in the same back yard. There’s an adult in the vicinity, however, her attentions are elsewhere; Mother Britain no longer has time for her children and so the young Albions, left to their own devices and outside influences, are quickly choosing their own path. The mother is Marlene’s sister Joyce, or rather she personifies Britannia, the children in the back yard, although we don’t yet know it are not hers, and are representative of a divided nation. Although the oldest is supposedly her daughter there’s an obvious appreciation of the other child and her abilities. Britannia questions the younger girl about her future and is flabbergasted by her aspirations. It’s apparent that under the flagship of Thatcherism, if one works hard anything is seemingly possible. Britannia can only despair at her older daughter and shake her head, no longer seeing the value of posterity but imagining instead the brave new world of individual success. But at what expense, Churchill asks? Shouldn’t society benefit both children, aren’t both children worthy, don’t they each have talents which could be utilized to the betterment of the collective? It’s obvious that one of the children in the production will fail whilst the other will undoubtedly succeed. With a shrug of the shoulders and a matter of fact acceptance the sister character goes back to the minutia of life. Here Churchill demonstrates to her audience a fractured and polarized society. Yes, the future according to the new political doctrine is for all, but unfortunately not attainable by all. The ideology of personal monetary success at the expense of others signifies that rather than standing on the shoulders of the giants – the female guests of the first act – the Thatcher generation is crawling across the bodies of their neighbors; a simplistic scene but one which is analogous of Thatcherism.

            Marlene is now the top-girl at the Top Girls agency and professionally is in control of her life. Just as Thatcher had risen to the top, so has our protagonist. Young women with aggressive male vernacular are her subordinates, their accents denoting them as working class girls made-good and therefore tolerated by the British caste system and the new model society. But at what expense has she achieved her management  status? She’s given up a daughter, walked away from family, betrayed her roots and all but deserted a sister whom she hardly sees. In order to succeed she’s had to abandon so much. Once again Churchill is demonstrating the dearth of society, the disintegration of the family unit, geo-political separation, and the rise of the individual.

            To achieve promotion Marlene had to overcome traditional male hegemony and become the best man for the job, as Thatcher probably would’ve undoubtedly enjoyed saying with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. The man she’s supplanted, despite the supplications of his wife for his position, suffers cardiac arrest. Again Churchill’s skill in blanketing her real meaning is sublime. The sick man and his loving wife represents the mass unemployed and their communities who’ve been dumped and forgotten after the wilful destruction of steel, shipping, coal and industrial manufacturing. With no recourse, thanks to Thatcher’s illegally instituted regulations, the withdrawing of labor has become a crime. The heart attack signifies not only the death of the unions but also of the nation. Coal the life blood of the country, the fuel which boiled the kettle of the industrial revolution, employed millions and was the foundation upon which the North of England was built is eviscerated. Thatcher policy crushes them to the point where they’ll never recover and dismisses their communities as unviable just as Marlene dismisses the wife of her former colleague, “Could you please piss off!” Instead of industrial excellence and full employment it’s the rustle of bank notes and the flashing of computer screens in a money driven economy that signify transition. One could perceive Marlene’s promotion as representative of female progression but to define it as simply the usurpation of male domination would be naïve. Churchill clearly makes her point and it’s hard not scream Margaret every time Marlene’s name is mentioned. Her careful crafting of the scene is indicative of the demise of the British way of life.

            In the final scene there’s an attempted reconciliation between sisters – again read Britannia and Thatcher – both drunk and maudlin, who although related, can never be friends. Bearing the gift of a too small dress Marlene offers unwelcomed charity; a halfhearted attempt to patch the irreparable rift of a divided nation. The daughter Angie, who’s doomed to failure and representative of those who don’t personify the ideals of Thatcherism, tries on the ill-fitting garment she’ll never get the chance to wear. The realization that things have gone too far and that amends need to be made is obvious in Marlene’s demeanor, with the explication of her private rather than her professional persona in a place where she’s neither welcomed nor wants to be ; Maggie perhaps, not Margaret? The concept of an abandoned daughter representing a neglected nation creates momentary doubt in Marlene/Margaret’s intent, and is perhaps a glimpse into the never, publically displayed humanity of Thatcher? As a mother and wife she conceivably possessed the ability to empathize and yet was so compartmentalized that she was capable of destroying the lives of vast numbers of the population and their communities to pursue an ideal of neo-conservatism. The sisters continue to argue and even surreally discuss the policies of Margaret Thatcher, both adopting stereo-typical juxtapositions. The notion that one can succeed no matter where you come from is contradicted by a post- card of the Grand Canyon lying on a small kitchen table, in a house in the middle of nowhere, containing a forgotten family and an abandoned child. To add insult to injury Marlene tells Joyce, “I believe in the individual, look at me!”

            The daughter who’s been privy to what was supposed to be a private conversation is now aware of the true relationship between herself and her birth mother Marlene. No longer a child of Britannia but the progeny of Thatcherism her final words are lamentable. What choice does she have as a potential Tesco’s shelf-stacker, “she’s not going to make it?” She doesn’t want to emulate her adopted mother and eke out her life in rural anonymity, but realistically nor does she see herself fitting into the sophisticated professionalism of London briefly experienced when visiting Marlene in the city. The final word she utters, in a moment of self-realization, is, “Frightening!” Evidently she doesn’t have a choice, and in a world of top-girls, doesn’t stand a chance.

            Top Girls is suffused with the idea of Thatcherism and the misrepresentation of character to define the plight of 1980’s Britain is understatedly brilliant. Ignoring all the usual clues for literary discovery and avoiding the elephant-trap of feminist criticism, one grasps the epiphany of Churchill’s monumental political commentary. The only top-girl in this play is Margaret Thatcher, and Churchill doesn’t give a damn who knows it.

 

 

 

 

 

BETWEEN THE LINES – SATIRE

21 Mar

A REVIEW

(The Satire of DEFOE and ROCHESTER)

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            Shakespeare suggests in his play Twelfth Night that it’s “Better [to be] a witty fool than a foolish wit.”  That being said, what would the wit without the fool? The lampooning of society and the natural order is nothing new and the art of satire still remains one of the most popular forms of contemporary social commentary. The craft of satirizing was a literary style, extremely popular during the period of The Restoration and The Glorious Revolution of the 17th century; two proponents of this technique where Rochester and Defoe whose work epitomized both the genre and wit of the age. It’s the intention embedded within their writing which makes them pertinent, and to a modern eye evergreen. Beneath what appears prima facie to be innocuous poetry lurks an undercurrent of bighting criticism whose complaints, in many cases, would not be out of place if directed towards current political cronyism and public mal practice. Both writers skillfully tackle the subjects of identity and national hubris however, from different viewpoints. By comparing and contrasting the employment of dissimilar critical allusions to satirize the issues of the period, a consideration of their effectiveness in achieving a common goal can be made.

            The English flux of the late 17th century was caused by successive regime changes of both monarchy and government. With the forced abdication and ultimate execution of  King Charles I,  after a bloody revolutionary war with the parliamentarian forces under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, England went from being a monarchy to a republic; the first since Rome. There no longer existed a divinity of kingship but instead, an imposed regime led by a self-styled dictatorship or Lord Protectorate. The new republic, despite initial optimism, brought with it not only constitutional change but religious and civil upheaval as well. The societal pendulum had swung from the debauched and the crass to a totalitarian centralization of power. The Stalinist grip held over the people of England can only be compared to the Cromwellian grip that Stalin later held over the Russians. The death of Cromwell precipitated a return to a self-serving monarchy unwilling to work with a parliament of the people and who in all things was autonomous and aloof. Not only was there a restoration in governance but a reformation in religious discord as the incumbent monarch – although subtle – was once again a proclaimer of the Catholic faith. Upon his death the problem was exacerbated by his son James II – an extrovert Catholic – determined to turn the clock back to 1641. An intervention was necessary and King William III of the Netherlands was duly installed in what became known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688. To suggest that England was perplexed would be an understatement, as the state of supposed normalcy seemed to change every few years with almost clock-work regularity. It’s little wonder then, that satirists of the day were apt to lampoon both the parliament and the monarchy by waving its dirty laundry in the face of public opinion, through the medium of satirical poetry, for closer scrutiny.

            Satirical topics of the period included everything from the general state of the nation and the ruling classes to the more introspective topics of identity and national hubris. Two such satirists were John Wilmot, the second earl of Rochester, a man reputedly, “with the most wit and the least honor in England” and Daniel Defoe, a man better known for his novels, but more notoriously for being in debt to the tune of ₤17000; an extraordinary sum, which today would amount to millions. Through the writings of these two ex-cons – Defoe having been pilloried on numerous occasions, and Rochester who’d been thrown into the Tower of London – we’re illuminated, through their satire, as to the historical state of the English commonwheel.

            Rochester “a man of strange vivacity and vigor of expression,” expresses his disdain for humanity as a whole by utilizing the petri-dish of England for his most caustic revelations. Employing a philosophy of “writing what one knows,” he parodies the state of humanity in his satirical poem “A satire against reason and mankind.” Within the stanzas of his verse he acutely demonstrates the incalculable idiocy of man to both gratify and enlarge himself. His writings eloquently demonstrate man’s hopeless attempts to extricate themselves from the mire and make something of what will assuredly be, he insists, a hopeless life and a wasted opportunity. It’s the richness of his parody that makes one ponder the veracity of his insights.

             Rochester chooses to polarize his reader with the weakness of man and expose him as less than wild beasts in virtue and social interaction; a satirical tool that wasn’t original, but one which he used to great effect.  The poetry begins with his general announcement that if he himself had the choice, which he doesn’t, he’d choose to be anything but a human, “Where I a spirit free to choose…/ What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,” The allegorical comparison of bestial connection in Rochester’s work is simplistic but effective. By asking rhetorical questions we see a list of comparisons that one could easily believe to be true if taken at face value. “Be judge yourself, I’ll bring it to the test / Which is the basest creature man or beast?” It’s man who kills for profit, greed and appointment. It’s man that cheats his fellow man, lies, dissembles and with, “voluntary pains works his distress / Not though necessity but wantonness” One can almost imagine the readership nodding their heads in agreement with his statements as the facts, as they stand alone, are perfectly reasonable. By employing satire the author gives the audience no recourse to argue the point, as his is the only voice and therefore rebuttal is impossible. A basis of truth infused with insinuation and ridiculous reasoning and yet very efficient.

            Daniel Defoe was able to adapt to the mutability of the period; whether through writing, affiliation, or business, and was successful where others failed. Despite some very close calls with imprisonment, bankruptcy and misfortune it would appear that it was ultimately his wits that preserved him. Defoe through his own satirical poetry chooses a dissimilar route to Rochester, although he incorporates many of the same ideas. Instead of railing on the ineffectuality of the human he picks as his target the Englishman. Rather than anthropomorphic symbolism he chooses national hubris with which to expose and denigrate his chosen target. The poem entitled “A true born Englishman,” lampoons what it is to be English, or rather what is imagined as the English ideal and the genus of Englishness itself.

            National identity is the amalgam that binds all nations together and it’s this trait that Defoe satirizes. He suggests, and rightly so, that to identify with a pure bred, divinely empowered race is ridiculous. Preservation of nationality was a particularly tenuous topic given the social pressures the English had endured during a period of major upheaval. The push and pull of religious faction was still fresh in the minds of the public and a legacy that’d been retained well within living memory. Papism was regarded as something alien and had for the longest time been associated with foreign cultures. One only had to go back to the reign of the Tudors to revisit the horrors of regnal imposition. Due to the religious evolutions through which England had passed from Popes to Protectors of the Faith, Anglicanism was a stamp of Englishness. The republic of the civil war had certainly been non-conformist and the ideas that it has ushered in did not wither and die under the restoration, just as Catholicism never really left the islands either. With Scottish kings on English thrones and Dutch usurpers replacing them, it was self-evident that the blood that ran through the veins of the English was of no discernable pedigree, despite widespread cognitive dissonance. A “mongrel half bred race” is how Defoe describes the indigenous population who stem from the loins of foreign invaders, roving bands and invading armies. That which was nationally purported to be true is destroyed in his observation, “That het’rogenous thing an Englishman:/  In eager rapes and lust begot/  Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.” Rather than compare, Defoe contrasts the improbability of racial purity “A true born Englishman is a contradiction/ In speech an irony, in fact a fiction.”  His bitter use of irony throughout drives his point home, just as Rochester utilizes every comparison available to denigrate and debase. In order to broach the subject of a xenophobic nation towards a Dutch King, Defoe incorporates satire to formulate his argument. William was invited to England to rid that which was considered most English; a generational monarchy. The fact that the new king was a Dutchman, he suggests, can be forgiven, as in his attitudes and lineage he is not dissimilar to the indigenous peoples of the land. In point of fact he is, according to Defoe, in all probability as English as any of those who decried his electability.

            Rochester continues to needle his audience by offering mitigating circumstances to explain the irrational behaviors of men that are more hindrance than help. By rationalizing he hopes to compound his argument and force an affirmative reaction, “Men must be knaves it’s their only defence /…Who dares be a villain less than the rest?” Although dripping with irony the narrator strives to find an affinity and pretend and understanding. This is the beauty of the satirical method as the true message is repressed below the author’s imagery; a subliminal chastisement, if only one would take the time to read and understand.

            At the beginning of Defoe’s poem he goes on a cultural diatribe describing the ills and vices of other nations. The Germans drinks, the French are lascivious and so on; national traits and cultural stereotypes that are very easily to identify and recognize. His methodology is to trick his audience, just as Rochester does, into accepting the dichotomy that stereotypes may be as poignant to the Europeans as they are to the English. This then poses the question, how are the English perceived by others? By holding up a mirror of foreign traits he offers absolution through self-reflection. Consequently it’s ironic that an Englishman would willingly accept the differences in others but not in himself.

            As with modern satire the writings of Defoe and Rochester were a reflection of the age. In the satirical writings of the 17th Century, it appears to the contemporary reader, that there’s a blatant overstatement of point even to the point of obviousness. The use of satire during this period, although not new, was increasingly on the rise and becoming more common place. Improvements in printing and social integration in the coffee shops and chocolate houses coupled with increased enrolment at universities meant that books and pamphlets were beginning to be regarded as a staple. The flow of information and quotidian topic was only available through the medium of print and therefore whoever had access to the press could coin both opinion and politic.

            Although they employ different satirical methods both authors are able to ably make their point, through the comparison of instinctive animal behavior, which one can recognize easily in Rochester’s treatise, or in the absurdity of national identity and superiority of race in Defoe’s. Through the use of allegory and irony they create a uniform persona that can be held up to scrutiny; a polarized figure that’s easily identifiable and which can be manipulated to transfer the author’s message. Rochester shows us a “beast” that isn’t as competent or as clever as it may consider itself to be and suggests that there’s room for improvement in everything it is, and does. This reflects on society, manner, governance and everything that conceivably involves human interaction. Likewise Defoe is sending a message which suggests that as different or as English as we are, there’s no reason for disharmony and social disparity. Both messages are equally pertinent and yet both are argued from different points of view. In order to focus public attention and achieve a common aim, it’s the methodology of satire, rather than the vehicle, that solidifies the message.

A CUNNING PLAN…

19 Mar

imagesCAAUWEEH          

Smarter than the average medieval bloke… possibly!

An investigation into the intentions of the narrator in Chaucer’s  “Book of the Duchess

 

  In “The Book of the Duchess” the reader is presented with a duality of dream vision and cathartic intervention; a poetic, psychological discourse between the bumbling narrator of the poem and a strange, anomalous black knight. Of course the dream is dialogued and staged managed by its author and what at first appears to be merely an analogous tale of circumstance and coincidence contains instead a depth of meaning that would’ve undoubtedly been perceptible to John of Lancaster, for whom the poem was intended upon the anniversary of the death of his wife. The interactions between the dream figures are clinically developed to the point where the imagination and sympathies of the reader are juxtaposed by the alter-egos of the protagonists. Is it the narrator who’s being assisted by the lovelorn knight, or is the knight an allegory for the narrator’s own problems? Perhaps it goes even deeper and is instead an intimation of concern by its author for its recipient? The concept of dream reality is that anything is possible and all interpretations are valid. In this particular dream the subjectivity of the dreamer is secondary to the revealed truths. Although all the clues have been provided it’s for the reader to decide whose giving advice to whom, and for what reason; in short “cui bono?”  By analyzing the conversation of the dream figures we can justly surmise that the narrator is both the recipient of innate wisdom and a well-intentioned pretender with regard to the amorous dilemma of the knight. 

            The nature of dreams is such, that what’s impossible in the quotidian can easily occur within the construct of a dream reality. A nightly purgative where one is offered visions to help one tackle the difficulties of life; where the subconscious administers somnial wisdom to ease the cares and worries of the dreamer. The figure of the black knight within the somnium is an allegoric persona for the narrator’s own mortal concerns. It’s through the sadness of the knight that the narrator, upon awakening, is able to translate the experience and resolve his own issues via the medium of poetry. The encounter in the forest doesn’t appear to be pure chance and lends itself to the mediation of Lady Fortuna; her intervention allowing the dreamer to once again mount an ascending cycle. From the inept and troubled chronicler we meet at the beginning of the poem to the dexterous and adept interviewer who’s able to draw the knight from his reverie and illicit reasons for his melancholia, we discover a man capable of dexterous psychological machinations even if his apparent brilliance is the result of a dream. Although we’re led to believe that he doesn’t comprehend the knight’s sorrow, despite his heart wrenching confession of lost love, he manages to resolve the knight’s dilemma by coercing him into conversation with a play on stupidity and in so doing reveals to himself the nature of his own malaise. 

            The dream vision was a popular vehicle in medieval literature whereby the fantastic could be committed to paper without fear of accusations of heresy, treason or perhaps misinterpretation. After all, what was being realized was a dream that occurred not at the will of the dreamer but instead was the result of some mysterious sub-conscious revelation; therefore, the retelling of it could cause no offence. Popularized by the writings of authors such as Macrobius , dreams could be categorized into five distinct topics. The most important of the five were the oraculum, a dream containing a message, the visio, the prophetic dream and the somnium which was of psychological importance. The regimented characterization of dreams allowed one to translate their meanings and offer some pseudo-scientific commentary in order to explain them. “The Book of the Duchess” is a somnium where the narrator, our dreamer, falls into a deep sleep and is led through fantastic vistas of imaginative landscapes and ultimately to a man dressed in black armor; a knight sitting alone in a forest contemplating suicide. The somnium therefore offers insight to the dreamers mind, allowing him to draw the necessary conclusions and correct accordingly. 

            The medieval idea of fortune’s wheel also plays a significant role in the dream and is significant for both the knight and the narrator. When we first encounter the narrator he’s sick and unable to sleep, believing himself close to death. Clearly he’s reached his human limit and without some form of divine intervention sees little hope in extended life; a direct allusion to the complaint of the knight. Through the retelling of the story the narrator is able to regain his vitality and his ability to sleep, as evidenced by the poem itself. Having fallen asleep and dreamt, he awakes to complete the manuscript. Clearly Fortuna has cast a glad-eye and he’s once again in the ascendency, although the troubles of the knight, except in verse, are conveniently forgotten.  

            The persona or mask that Chaucer paints of his main character is of a bumbling, inefficient, rather naïve individual. A comic comparison to himself may be drawn via the insomniac reading in bed who, despite his questionable intellect, does seem to have more than a passing understanding of the classics and is able to draw on these throughout the narrative. Thus the conclusion can be made that the narrator is Chaucer. It’s is from this point of intellectual redemption that he adds an element of humor to his enduring tales. His foolishness is displayed when after retelling the story of Alcyone and Ceyx, where Alcyone offers a pious life to Juno in return for details of her missing husband, the narrator instead offers a bed so that the god of sleep, Morpheus, may rest comfortably. The offering of a comfortable bed is clearly more in line with the narrator’s needs than the gods. 

            Upon falling asleep whilst reading a book the narrator, despite earlier protests that he’s unable to do so, awakens within the somnium in a fabulous room decorated with the story of the “Roman de la Rose,” which describes an allegorical dream vision of courtly love; foreshadowing of what the narrator is yet to encounter. An environment where the sounds of a royal hunt can be heard and where the narrator, with youthful vigor springs naked from his bed to his horse, before being led by a puppy into an exquisite forest! Here the reader is made comically privy to the inconsistency of dreams; how they skip from one scenario to the next without apparent reason. It’s in the forest where we encounter the knight, and the sympathetic meeting takes place between the two. 

            From the outset there’s intent on the narrator’s mind. Although he’s unaware of the reasons for his arrival in the dream-scape he’s already met and been cordial with members of a hunting party heading to the forest, and spoken with one of the young boys to ascertain the nature of their business and company. Upon seeing the knight sitting in the wood he makes a decision to creep up on him. Why would he do this if there wasn’t some kind of forethought in his mind to possibly take advantage of the information divulged during the knight’s complaint? The knight is unaware of any other presence and upon being disturbed may react in any number of ways. Safe and secure in the blanket of the somnium the narrator makes his way towards him.

“I stalked directly behind him and I stood there as still as possible, so that, to tell the truth, he didn’t see me; so he hung his head down, and with a deadly sorrowful sound he made a complaint of ten or twelve rhymed verses to himself, the most pitiful, the most doleful, I ever heard.”

            At this point it’s fair to assume that the knight is unknown to him, however, it may also be construed as a meeting of self. The knight is forlorn and hopeless just as the narrator is sick and dying, a mirroring of the “real” world with the dream. Therefore the narrator by confronting the self is able to comprehend what it is that ails him. Rather than the simplistic we’re offered a complex dream vision where it appears that a fool is engaged in a conversation with no comprehension or understanding of what is being addressed to him. A self-help allegory intended perhaps for the alluded to John of Lancaster on the anniversary of the death of his wife? 

            The knight is discovered mumbling a complaint of lost love and is left, strategically, undisturbed by the dreamer who, not wishing to interrupt, stands back and listens. He then confronts the knight who after some encouragement from the narrator describes an allegorical game of chess between himself and Lady Fortuna who’s apparently taken his queen during the game but who in reality has stolen the love of his life. The game of chess is a metaphor within the metaphor of the dream vision to describe the great sadness induced by lost love – courtly love – and although having heard every word of the knight’s complaint, the narrator pretends not to have been listening, presenting himself as one who’d rather help than pry. This is both a sympathetic and a cunning action which will gain him the knight’s respect and a chance to hear the remainder of his story. 

“Straightaway I began to search, to look where I might, for a worthy subject for discussion, so that I could get to know him better.”

            In order to placate, the narrator describes a list of classical figures that’ve suffered equal loss and who despite their circumstances overcame hardship and apparent hopelessness. After offering his naive understanding of the knight’s feelings he is rebuked, the knight claiming he can never understand what he’s lost, as his loss is far greater than all of classic tragedy. Through this act of pretended idiocy the knight is drawn into conversation. From not wishing to divulge anything at all the knight frustratingly insists that the narrator listens “with all his wit to his lamentable tale,” which our seemingly inept narrator promises to do. The knight proceeds to describe the beauty of his love the “good fair white” and lists the blazon of her physical attributes from lip to foot in which he describes an image of female perfection. After this heart felt outpouring the narrator cunningly pretends to understand her beauty, but to add insult to injury, suggests that it was without doubt, that in the eyes of the knight the woman was the most beautiful that ever lived. The exasperated knight is once again drawn in by the machinations of the narrator who then has to redouble his efforts to the apparent fool beside him, just how much she meant to him; a classic psychological move, where a patient is pushed to reveal the depths of distress through personal catharsis rather than forced intimation. The knight cannot help himself and at such a seeming affront is forced to divulge the very depths of his heart to explain the beauty he’s lost.

            To the narrator the death of the “fair white” is obvious or rather implicit in the knight’s telling long before the conclusion.

“What loss is that?” I said then; “Will she not love you? Is it so? Or have you done something wrong, that she has left you? Is it this? For God’s love, tell me everything.”

            The knight’s anguish is palpable, and there can be no other conclusion. The narrator who’s listened patiently to the complete tale and who through naïve commentary has drawn the knight out further and further to the point of complete emotional confession, continues with his inane questioning. 

“And tell me also what you have lost, as I heard you mention earlier.” 

“Yes!” he said, “you know not what you mean by your words; I have lost more than you think.”

“What loss is that?” I said then; “Will she not love you? Is it so? Or have you done something wrong, that she has left you? Is it this? For God’s love, tell me everything.” 

            The narrator still pretends to misunderstand and forces, rather like Lady Fortuna, the knight into a position of check. The knight has no choice and is compelled to respond to the narrator’s questions and through a moment of self-realization admits to both himself and to the narrator what has actually occurred. A moment of release and healing that’d been coerced from the initial moment when the narrator first pretended not to hear the knight’s complaint, to the moment he forced him into admitting the worst.

“She is dead!”

“No!”

“Yes, by my word!”

“Is that your loss? By God, that is such a pity!”

            By drawing the Knight out and discovering the truth regarding “the fair white” the author has achieved three things; absolution for the knight, enlightenment to the narrator and sympathy for John of Lancaster. The purpose of the somnium with regard to its characters has been to rescue the knight from his grief and imbue the narrator with renewed drive and a will to live. Both characters have been saved by the Machiavellian machinations of the narrator. Clearly the narrator was endowed by some form of wisdom discovered within the dream that allowed him to play the part he did. The fact that he first awoke in a room decorated with images from the “Roman del la Rose” points to foreshadowing and a learned affinity with courtly love. With an intuitive understanding of the rules of love, the narrator is successful in both his contrived deceit of the knight and his necessary achievement of innate wisdom with which to recover his own self-worth.

 

 

 

ROMANTIC CONFLICT – WORDSWORTH V COLERIDGE

14 Mar

A Duality of Romanticism Discovered Within the Verse of Wordsworth and Coleridge

 

imagesCAKONZYZ

  

            Humanity, during the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th, centuries began to be regarded merely as a soulless collection of evolved animal responses; the body and its very essence, the rendering of an egocentric assembly of selfish genes. The great chain of life, where divinity could be recognized in all things, had seemingly been broken. A new, nihilistic, modern perspective had replaced the old idea that one existed at the will of a divinely initiated, incomprehensible plan. Prior to the revolution in scientific thinking and philosophic reasoning the estates of being where regarded as predestined and one had simply to fulfill the ardors of one’s allotted task under the supervision of an all seeing, if myopic, omnipotent god.

            The establishment of the Romantic Movement was a harkening to another period and time when the sublimity of nature and the universality of god within it was a matter of wisdom. Now with enlightenment dawning on Britain and a withdrawal from the old ways and a focus on the new, god had been demoted to the position of engineer rather than that of great architect and the ultimate authority within the universe. There had to be more, and the Romantics refused to accept the idea that life, nature and the pursuit of a singular, plodding existence were all that prevailed. Surely the abundance and diversity to be found within nature was evidence enough that there was more to life than that which the newly-enlightened were declaring? Beset by modernism the Romantics dug in their heels and declared the new world order as being out of step with the old. The rise of pantheism, as evidenced by the writing of the period meant that god was in all, and everything was god. Even the Deists of the new republics created by recent world turmoil acquiesced to a common, if undefined, creative hand. The world had always existed as was, and nature was the only evidence required to enlighten a darkened mind. It was the recognition of god in nature and the oneness of everything that was inspiration to many poets of the period.

             The pantheistic revelations contained within the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth lends explicit form to the idea that god and creation are one and the same, and that creation and the natural world are evidence thereof. This is apparent in both poets, but for different reasons. There is an inherent duality within their individual poetry that describes both pantheism and escapism; two separate and distinct inspirational ideas. Although both poets utilize nature to express themselves, I suggest they did this for different reasons. By analyzing several poems, their dialectic for their individual regard of a natural and verdant divinity will become self-evident.

            In order to understand this duality one needs to be aware of poetic precedence; of a poet who, although not greatly regarded for his verse during his own lifetime, was keenly aware of the sublime and the existence of a natural order “beyond rational understanding [with] a sense that transcended earthly industry.” One who recognized and understood the need to escape the encroachment of modernity and the proto-empiricism of contemporary science. The herald to the “dark satanic mills” that were appearing throughout Britain, and enslaving a population within them, was William Blake. Blake was a worthy forerunner of the Lake Poets; a literary esthetician who, in his own poetry, formulated and demonstrated the concept that nature could be considered in many different ways. In “Auguries of Innocence” we see the connections the poet makes with a pantheistic, cognizant, natural world and his realization of it as a living entity. A revelation that everyone and everything is connected, and that god, or the creative force, can be found in all living things. Everything, according to Blake, is consciousness and we as people are “simply the imagination of ourselves experiencing the world subjectively.”  Not new ideas, as we can find the genus of them embedded in Eastern religions and even closer to home in the Christian Bible where we are told in the Gospel of Saint Thomas “Split a wooden stick and I am there…lift a stone and you shall find me.” Blake’s, in my opinion, most explicit language as to the unity of man with nature, and nature within man can be found in the following lines from his poetry, “ 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.’

            With the onset of industrial revolution and the commonplace usage of children to perform the most dangerous and demanding work, Blake came to understand that just as there was another world beyond the peripheral there was also a need for escapism. “Auguries of Innocence” were quickly followed up by “Songs of Experience” in which Blake exposes the evils of society and the ills associated with the onset of the modern age. Enlightenment may have been burgeoning on the door with a large stick however there was so much, as evidenced in his sometimes horrific lines, more to life than production quotas, mercantilism and the need for humanity to disappear in a cloud of coal dust and steam. He seems to ponder the loss of antique sensibilities, when nature had been contiguous; when the connections between man and his creator had been so much closer instead of being driven further from human consciousness by the laying of railway lines, the canalization of the countryside and the imprisonment of the population in that which were little more than houses of servitude. In his own words, “Imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself.” Little wonder then that Wordsworth and Coleridge where able to deftly reconnoiter the boundaries of pantheism and succinctly utilize the keys to sublimity, although in a different manner, within their own poetry.

            The natural environment represented in Wordsworth’s work is a zoetic entity that excited, frightened, and inspired. His pantheistic representations portray an affinity and understanding beyond that of mere pathetic fallacy. Rather than use his verse to express the ornamented language of the rhetoricians he instead opted to use the uncomplicated voice of the common man to engender a symbiotic relationship with nature, hither to only hinted at by other poets. Wordsworth saw nature as an active element of existence rather than a passive backdrop to encroaching industrialization. In letters to his sister Dorothy, whilst traveling through the Alps in Germany, he describes “A perpetual hurry of delight….that [has] passed before my eyes.” To Wordsworth the magnificence of the environment through which he travelled was clearly more than just an escape from the urbane and self-evidently “the power behind his imagination … [his] connection with eternity.” (Wordsworth. 6.34) In his autobiographical poem “The Prelude,” we learn how he “identifies spiritual freedom with the absence of the encumbrances of civilization.” It’s nature in all its magnificence that hones the poet’s attention and his appreciation of the animus within the natural world that is indicative of a greater consciousness. A youthful delinquency that undoubtedly fostered an affinity with raw nature, and which later helped to shape his writing, was when he stole a boat and rowed it out into the middle of Ullswater Lake. Whilst on the water he experienced what would later help to cement his feelings towards pantheism and his affinity with the sublime, when in his mind a rocky outcrop came to life to admonish him for stealing his neighbor’s boat!  What he termed “the spirit of the universe,” may well have been the coalescing moment of his appreciation of divinity within nature and of nature being divine; his “Blake” moment.

            Surprisingly it’s Wordsworth’s dearth of imagination and creativity that helps one to solidify him as a pantheist. In “Intimations of Immortality” Wordsworth confronts the reader with the troubling scenario that he can no longer see beauty in nature; that which once was so obvious has been dispelled, “There was a time when meadow, grove and stream/ The earth and every common sight/ To me did seem/ Apparell’d in celestial light.” He complains that the natural muse and her inherent inspiration has faded; that the bounty of the natural environment is no longer supplicant to his whim and so despairs of his prospective loss of poetical talent, “It is not now as it hath been of yore.” The majesty of the wide open spaces no longer supplies that which he desires most; therefore, one must question his reasons for his doubt and melancholia. We know that at this time William was living in the countryside and experienced nature on a daily basis and so, as a Romantic, should have been over-brimmed with a cornucopia of natural abundance. According to Wordsworth this was not the case and he subsequently proceeds to enlighten the reader. There has, we’re told, “pass’d away a glory of the earth” that prevents him from connecting with the sublime. Despite his frustration he’s all too aware of its causes. In the poem he pinpoints several that seem to him to interfere with the pantheistic abundance to which he’d become accustomed.

             The first is the encroachment of quotidian society and the obfuscating abundance of modernity with its detriment to inspiration and natural wonderment, “Shades of the prison house begin to close/ Upon the growing boy.” How the bright lights and pressures of the new age are turning the heads of the people inwards instead of outward and who, under the burden of “earthly freight,” can no longer connect with that which is truly important. The modern world to Wordsworth is anathema as all he truly needs, as he describes, is to be at one with nature. No other inspirational sustenance is required. The poet recognizes this and understands instinctively why his musings are not as lush as they once were and so is able to succinctly identify the second reason for their demise; the loss of innocence and the unconvuluted understanding and wonderment of childish discovery. His depression is brought about by the remembrance, a morphic-resonance, of that which he once held to be obvious when he viewed nature through the eyes of the child. It was through these eyes that he first discovered the divinity of nature upon the waters of the lake when confronted by a rock face. A childhood experience that created the link between imagination and nature and a realization that the older one became, the further one was removed from it. As he tells us, “the child is the father of man” and hence the relationship with nature is stronger when one is young and diminishes as one grows older. The maturation away from the core of understanding, the wisdom gained in its place, is detrimental to that which was once self-evident. Wordsworth recognizes his tenuous all though very real connection with nature, mourns its loss and then regains it when he once again sees through the proxy of a child’s eyes, “Behold the Child among his new-born blisses.” The realm of pantheistic grandeur, he understands, hasn’t gone anywhere; it was exactly where he’d left it, “Mighty prophet!/ Seer blest!/ On whom those truths do rest.” His near loss is nothing more than a reaffirmation of earlier feelings. It’s this that makes us realize that Wordsworth isn’t a man trying to find the sublimity of pantheism but rather a man who knows that he’s losing “primal sympathy” with nature. Thankfully, he recovered what was seemingly lost and his profound joy described within the poem compounds his relationship with nature. Therefore by confronting his own negative feelings he reaffirms the divinity of nature and his connection to it, “Ye blessed creatures, I have heard the call/ Ye to each other make; I see/ The heavens laugh with you in jubilee.”

 

            Affirmation of his pantheism can be found in his poem “Tintern Abbey” where Wordsworth boldly describes his intimacy with the natural world and his affinity with bucolic perfection. No longer do we hear the complaint that nature was “once mystical” but instead are exposed to a pristine wilderness where the reader is confronted with the magnificence of the occasion. It isn’t just a vista to which we’re treated but rather an experience, a sense of its grandeur and innate allure; the testimonial of an awe inspiring verdant world. “Tintern,” although a highly spiritual poem, does not embody the rhetoric of Christian doctrine purely for the sake of it. Nature in this instance is the church and the affirmation of a god is apparent in the symbiosis of all living things, “We stood together…a worshipper of nature…with far deeper zeal of holier love.” Neither the fracture of religious schism nor the persuasion of enlightened argument can describe his experience but rather an appreciation of a divinely infused organic totality. A creator god is tangible; he can be felt, sensed and appreciated. Wordsworth’s experience isn’t a struggle of intellect but instead an immediate recognition of pantheism in the Wye Valley; the exposition of a mere moment and yet an experience of being part of something greater, “And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy/ Of elevated thoughts.” Anthropomorphism is apparent in his description of “glad animal movements” when as a child he unquestionably accepted the synthesis of boy and nature, as he himself describes, “sober pleasure.” It’s the recurring theme of the child in nature and the natural perception of the sublime that is recurrent in his verse. Retention and loss proceeded by the acceptance of a distancing between the conscious world and the world into which one matures. Wordsworth’s ability to retain childhood sensibilities, all be it with some difficulty, shows a determination to not only be a part of nature but to strive to be indistinguishable from it, if only in his imagination. The hall mark, in my opinion, of one who has accepted that god is in everything and everything is god.

            If poetry is “the image of man and nature” then Coleridge may be viewed as one who’s adopted nature as a medium instead of one who proclaims pantheistic affinity. Rather than embrace nature as Wordsworth does, Coleridge appears to view nature with a utilitarian eye. His appreciation of the natural world is undeniable, but it’s his understanding of it as God-given rather than innately divine that separates the two poets. Although both he and Wordsworth share an appreciation there is undoubtedly evidence to show that Coleridge, rather than using nature as a muse, was instead amused by it. At this particular period, Romanticism was at a zenith  and therefore the choice of nature as a poetical subject was an obvious one. Given his close relationship with the Wordsworths and his proximity to the countryside it’s hardly surprising that pantheistic musings crept into his writings. Surrounded by an abundance of nature and his close collaboration with a man who could see creation in everything, it could be argued, that it was predictable where his poetry would ultimately lead.

             In the “Aeolian Harp” we are offered an exhortation of nature, the distinction being that it’s the harp that transmits the voice of nature rather than a personal grasp of the sublime through which the wind can be imagined. Pathetic symbolism is rich as he sits outside his cottage with his wife Sara, and Coleridge goes to great lengths to describe the lush conditions of his environment. “With white flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle,” his cottage is surrounded by, and overgrown with nature, but it’s his use of nature as an adjective rather than a verb which defines its role within his poetry, “The stilly murmur of [a] distant sea.” Nature is merely scene-setting for both the poetry and his romantic interlude; lyrical props rather than the focus. His appreciation is not pantheism but recognition of divine creation and an elopement into romantic fallacy. It’s the harp that suggests nature as a tangible presence, and the harp that he briefly imagines to be instrumental in the chords that dwell within nature itself, “How by the desultory breeze caressed/ Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover.” Without the harp in the window there would be no thought provoking sounds and the wind would uninspiringly blow through gaping glass. He briefly gives into pantheistic reverie, “And what if all of animated nature/ Be but organic harps diversely framed,” but is chastised by his wife with her, “… more serious eye,” who quickly restores his perspective. The brief slip where he momentarily seems to understand the natural rhythm of life is quickly curbed by admonishment and “many idle flitting fantasies” are dismissed from his thoughts as a flirtation with vain fantasy.

            Further evidence of his usage of nature can be seen in “Frost at Midnight.” Sitting alone with his son in the wee hours, Coleridge is aware of his imagination and its rousing effect on his inspiration. His metaphor describing the ministries of the creeping frost is perceptible. He can sense the warmth of the fire, feel the cool chill from the window and is secure in the knowledge that his family is safe around him and therefore by musing on the elements creates a sense of tranquility, “Tis calm indeed! So calm, that it disturbs/ And vexes meditation with its strange / And extreme silence.” There’s no recognition of natural essence; it’s simply the frost performing its natural process. It’s not the tread of a divinity that coats the countryside outside his home but simply the drop in temperature. His attention is drawn to the embers of a fire where a film of wood or coal flutters on the grate. His imagination is in the flames, the colors, the physical, rather than in rural fantasy. “The thin blue flame/ Lies on my low-burnt fire…Only that film…still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.” His musings are palpable and his imagination is stirred by what he can see, not by what he feels instinctively. These constant allusions to nature within both poems show Coleridge’s juxtaposition from that of Wordsworth who considered nature central to his very existence. “Frost” leads us down a path of reverie and fond recollection as Coleridge reminisces on village life, his schooling and his time spent in the towns, “In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim.” His heart felt wish is that his young son sleeping at his feet will not be as he, but will instead enjoy the wild open spaces, “…wander like a breeze/ By lakes and sandy shore, beneath the crags/ Of ancient mountain.” Once again it’s the romance of nature that’s foremost in his imaginings. Coleridge is a romantic escaping the drudgery of the modern world rather than one who is innately inspired by the spirit of nature. His poetry dictates a love of, an admiration for, but not a synergy with nature as he admits, “The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible/…Which thy God utters.”

            Pantheism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a doctrine that identifies god with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of god; that god is in everything and everything is god,” and clearly there is a theme within the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge which could be labelled thus. The sublimity of both poets demonstrates an intimacy with nature but not necessarily a pantheistic appreciation. Wordsworth comprehends the consciousness of being, senses the resonance of the natural environment and fights to retain the child within himself in order to maintain the wonderment and delight in the oneness of everything. Coleridge on the other hand tends to gloss over natural intimacy in order to create vivid description. He’s clearly aware and even admonished for his brief interludes into pantheism and holds what can only be described as cognitive dissonance; a belief in two separate and opposing ideas whilst holding them both to be true. Coleridge, I maintain, is conflicted. He intuitively understands that there’s more than he appreciates. Unfortunately he’s beyond redemption; the child who was the father of the man has long since expired. Although without doubt there are pantheistic apologies contained within their verse, it’s their duality of comprehension that endures and fascinates.