“The Footfalls of Memory” – A poem by T.S Eliot

Context: T.S Eliot (1888-1965) born Thomas Stearns Eliot in Missouri, was an English-American writer of plays, poetry and Essays. He was educated at Harvard and did graduate work in philosophy at the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Merton College, Oxford. He finally settled in England and became a teacher. In 1927 Eliot became a british citizen. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 with the motivation: “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”. His most famous cycle of poetry is perhaps The Waste Land. The poem “The Footfalls of Memory” was published in Four Quartets and contains four poems  produced between 1935-1942. It appears in the poem Burnt Norton (1935).

Themes: Memory, time, past and present

 

The Footfalls of Memory

 

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

T.S Eliot (1888-1965) {Photo credit: wikipedia.org}

 

Sources

The poem is reproduced from Four Quartets available through wikiquote.

wikipedia.org (various entries)

Nobelprize.org

“The Haunted Palace” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: This poem by  Edgar A. Poe (1809-1849) was incorporated in the story  “The Fall of the House of Usher”, published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (Sept. 1839). It’s presented as a song written by the main protagonist Roderick Usher. The poem is an Allegory about a king, his palace and the kingdom. The palace is the main object in focus and is described through a romantic scenery of pittoresque nature sorrounding it. People living in the valley are happy and the king has wit and wisdom. There are also beauty and music. But bad times comes and the king is nolonger happy. Unamed sorrows struck the king and the poem takes on a darker theme. The valley is no longer beautiful, but scary.

Themes: Happiness, sadness, memory, past, present, ghosts, Music and Madness. Notice that Music and Madness is also a main theme of the novel The Fall of the House of Usher.

The Haunted Palace

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle edgar allan poe usher house rackham
Arthur Rackham’s illustration to the House of Usher.

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

“Eldorado” – A poem by Edgar A. Poe

Context: El Dorado means the Golden One in Spanish. Originally El Hombre Dorado (the golden man), or El Rey Dorado (the golden king), was the term used by the Spanish Empire to describe a mythical tribal chief (zipa) of the Muisca native people of Colombia, who, as an initiation rite, covered himself with gold dust and submerged in Lake Guatavita. The legends surrounding El Dorado changed over time, as it went from being a man, to a city, to a kingdom, and then finally an empire. In Edgar A. Poe’s poem from 1849 Eldorado is a land.

The poem is technically advanced. Take notice on how the words are bulit up. Not only do they create a delicate story about the knight’s life journey, it has a special rythm too. Structurally, the poem consists of four stanzas, each having six lines, known as sestets. It is composed in iambic diameter. What is the message of the poem? Do we all journey like the knight in our personal search for happiness and wealth in this life? Is the knight in Poe’s poem successful in his mission? Who is the pilgrim shadow? What do we learn from him?

Themes: The knight, romantic ideals, Life, vasted opportunities, seeking Paradise, ageing

Eldorado

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?”

“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied—
“If you seek for Eldorado!”

Sources:

wikipedia.org

Edgar A. Poe, 1809-1849

“I felt a cleaving in my mind”- A poem by Emily Dickinson

Context: In this poem Emily Dickinson (1830-1866) once again expresses her bodily experiences into text. To be a product of her own time with Calvinism and Romanticism as mainstream ideas; this lady can be very down to earth and that’s what makes her special. This is how she choose to define a conflicting thought or idea. The lines has got some rhytm as well.

Themes: Thought, idea, mind, brain, split, dichotomy


I felt a cleaving in my mind

As if my brain had split;

I tried to match it,

seam by seam,

But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join

Unto the thought before,

But sequence ravelled out of reach

Like balls upon a floor.


“The Starling” – A poem by Amy Lowell

Context: Amy Lowell (1874-1925) was one of the early Modernists in American poetry. At school she was remembered as outspoken by her classmates. Growing up in the early 1900s she never went to college because her parents didn’t want her to do so (education was no use to a woman). She came from a well to do middle class family as started to collect books and educate herself on various topics. She was also allowed to travel and at age 28 she went to see a performance in Europe by Eleonora Duse. After this experience she started to write poetry. She helped introduce imagism1 in American Literature and begun to publish her works in the 1910s. She also wrote some works on Literary Criticism and commented on several French poets and John Keats.
Lowell received the Pulitzer Price for Poetry posthumously, 1926.

Theme: “The Starling” is an introspective poem as the narrator explains her inner feelings. She’s a bit moody and feeling blue. Reading how she describes herself one gets hint she’s feeling trapped and holds herself back. The poem ends with the lines: “I weary for desires never guessed, For alien passions, strange imaginings, To be some other person for a day.” It’s sad to notice she feels she wish to become another person to fulfill her passions.

Sources:

wikipedia.org

 

___

Forever the impenetrable wall

Of self confines my poor rebellious soul,

I never see the towering white clouds roll

Before a sturdy wind, save through the small

Barred window of my jail. I live a thrall

With all my outer life a clipped, square hole,

Rectangular; a fraction of a scroll

Unwound and winding like a worsted ball.

My thoughts are grown uneager and depressed

 Through being always mine, my fancy’s wings

Are moulted and the feathers blown away.

I weary for desires never guessed,

 For alien passions, strange imaginings,

To be some other person for a day.

___


  1. Imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. 

Poe’s Literary Sources of Inspiration in “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

In this post I search for literary parallels (not to be confused with parallelism) in two short stories The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart; by Edgar Allan Poe. Simply, I look for other sources or texts which may have inspired Poe to write these stories. “The Black Cat”story was published in August 1843 and has strong parallels to “The Tell-Tale Heart” published earlier the very same year. The genres for both books are detective stories. According to Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1997) Quinn states that Poe may have read Charles Dickens ”The Clock-Case” in which a retired soldier kills his young nephew to profit economical from his death. The child had also a sort of gaze which frightened and irritated the soldier (Quinn, 1997 p. 394). Dickens story was published in Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840/41). Compare Dicken’s story with Poe’s ”The Tell-Tale Heart” in which the narrator is deeply disturbed by an old man’s eye. In Poe’s story the narrator’s madness explode after the man’s death because the eye is replaced by the loud beatings of the dead man’s heart which the narrator hears repeatedly in his head. As the policemen enters his house to ask him questions about the whereabouts of the old man he no longer cannot hold himself and confesses the deed.

Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_cropNotice, that in the story of “The Black Cat”, the cat Pluto once beloved by the narrator has only one eye. As the narrator goes crazy he thinks the cat harbours the soul of his dead wife. There are other references to  superstitions in the story but the main theme is alcoholism which the narrator battles and looses. Finally, Mr Poe himself was an owner of a black cat in real life.1 Today many scholars refers to Edgar A. Poe as the father of the modern detective story, but he had his sources. Another literary role model was E T A Hoffman. Hoffman’s stories Die Elixiere desTeufels (1815/16) and Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1820) are both in some sense detective stories. However, some critics question if Mme. Scuderi can be thought of as a ”detective” since she doesn’t pose as one even though she does perform some investigations.

Resources

Barger, Andrew (2008). Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems.

Quinn, Arthur H. (1997). Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Johns Hopskins University Press)

wikipedia.org


  1. In his short article “Instinct vs Reason- A Black Cat” Poe reveals: “The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world – and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches.” (Barger 2008, p. 58) 

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”- A poem by Emily Dickinson

Context: This poem was written in 1862 during the Civil War. It was a very productive year for Emily Dickinson’s poetry writing. She composed more than 300 verses this year. I wrote previously on Emily Dickinson (1830-1866) on this blog and mentioned her poor health which may have contributed to her self-imposed isolation and preferred confinement to her private rooms. She seldom went out. Modern scholars have tried their very best to figure out what may have happened to her health this year because of what she wrote in this poem.  We know Emily sought help in an opthalmic consulation with Dr. Henry Willard Williams in Boston during the Civil War. She had eye problems. As Blanchard states in his article published in 2012 no records related to any diagnosis have survived. “Photophobia, aching eyes, and a restriction in her ability to work up close were her main symptoms. Iritis, exotropia, or psychiatric problems are the most frequent diagnoses offered to explain her difficulties.” (Blanchard 2012)

There’s a lot of physical pain present in many of Emily’s poems. We don’t know what her illnesses were. Her death certificate lists her cause of death as “Bright’s disease”, which is not an illness but a term that was used for a collection of medical symptoms including nephritis (kidney disease) and hypertension. Maybe it was something neurological or maybe she suffered from mental health issues. She was also a colorful personality with some eccentric habits like refusing to see people, even close family members from time to time.

It’s hard to know what her problems were. If she had visual problems this may have caused her headaches. In this poem she compares her pain to a funeral going on inside her head. Notice how the physical pain she’s feeling is transformed into noisy mourners until the mourners sense themselves and finally sit down. Something else takes over which is called The Service. “The Service” is also uncomfortable and noisy to the narrator and she feels a repeated drumming inside the head. Notice the narrator in the poem does not describe what she sees, only what she hears. The noise goes on until “Being” and “Ear” become one. Take extra notice to what happens in the final sentences. The narrator drops down after “a Plank of Reason”and then “hit a World”. This will probably let you know the narrator doesn’t die a physical death, but rather returns to the world and to her senses.

Themes: Pain in the head, sensitivity to noise, tinnitus?, migraine?, depression?

Poem 340

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

Sources
Blanchard, D.L (2012). “Emily Dickinson’s ophthalmic consultation with Henry Willard Williams, MD.” Quote from Abstract.
img_0981
Emily Dickinson