Man of Comedy and Tragedy

What is history without literature? What is art with the words of an author? When we think of words, poems, stories, of plays, the only name that comes as a flashcard in our head is Shakespeare. William Shakespeare, a magnificent author, poet, known for his famous plays all over the world but what do we know of his life? 

William Shakespeare was born in the year 1564, in the Elizabethan era, to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden Shakespeare and was the third child out of his eight siblings. Seeing the proof of his extraordinary work, Shakespeare was an enthusiast for reading, writing, and even acting. Literature had played an important role in his life, from the very first of his learnings. Latin was the language that used to go around in those times and William being a curious student learned Latin and hence most of his texts, plays and other writings are in Latin and then have been translated into English. Eventually, he started writing in English as he was fluent in the historic native English that he spoke in his everyday life. 

William Shakespeare got married when he was 18 years old to Anne Hathaway who was 26-year-old at that time. Soon after they were blessed with a daughter named Susanna in 1583. After another two years, Anne Hathaway gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith. Unfortunately, Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died when he was 11 years old due to an unknown illness. 

William Shakespeare lived a life filled with astonishing wordplay and interesting theories about life in a tragedy which he depicted in his writing, leaving a trace for upcoming authors, writers, poets to continue a dramatic course of literature around the world. His work was indeed a work of art. Writing plays about kings and queens, about betrayal, about revenge were his best works till today. Writing plays like Romeo and Juliet, which became a world classic story of romance in the Elizabethan era, made him the most astounding writer globally. 

Hamlet, one of his longest plays, has been his most famous after Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare found humor in most of his writings. He wrote plays like Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to imbibe the role of tragic comedy in society giving a new view and perspective to the world and encouraging by implying that there is nothing wrong in finding humor in difficult times, just like in his plays. 

William Shakespeare was an inspiration for many forthcoming writers and even today he has been inspiring young authors and poets to write something that is out of this world. Shakespeare gave words meaning and gave people hope to write imaginary stories and make a new world of fiction through words, whether fantasy or just politically strong made-up scenarios. To all the book lovers, to all the blooming writers, to all the daydreamers, there is a place that can make you feel like the main character and that place is not a place but it is in the plays written by William Shakespeare. As T.S. Elliot rightfully said, “The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink”

“HELL IS EMPTY AND ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE”

-WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

The Omnipotence of Death

We glorify power, fame and strength when they don’t even stand a chance before the most powerful force, death. In life, there are ups and downs, the powerful and the powerless, rich and poor. But death ultimately levels all these differences and makes everything equal.

The poem ‘Death The Leveller’ by J. Shirley starts with stating that all the glories of humans are mere shadows which appear and disappear after some time. They do not make up an essential part of human life.  This is because there is nothing that can defend us from our fate. We can’t fight against it. When Death lays his cold hand on Kings, they can’t protect themselves and their sceptre and crown are ought to tumble down. The most powerful of all the kings is turned to dust and made equal with the poorest peasant on death. The sceptre and crown are as powerless as scythe and spade.

The glories of our blood and state

Are shadows, not substantial things;

There is no armour against Fate;

Death lays his icy hand on kings:

Sceptre and Crown

Must tumble down,

And in the dust be equal made

With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

The second stanza gives the picture of men in armour. Men fight battles and rejoice fame from killing their foes. Such battles boast bravery, chivalry, and courage. But even the strongest soldier must yield to death. No matter how brave he fights death, sooner or later, he must surrender to fate. He ceases breathing as death slowly creeps up to this captive of fate. Thus, even the strongest soldier is also rendered powerless by death.

Some men with swords may reap the field,

And plant fresh laurels where they kill:

But their strong nerves at last must yield;

They tame but one another still:

Early or late

They stoop to fate,

And must give up their murmuring breath

When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The flowers sing no more of the celebrated deeds once the garland withers. We witness everyone and everything coming to stillness in Death’s kingdom. The word ‘victor-victim’ refers to all the conquerors, emperors, and victors who are victims of Death. The victor-victims bleed and finally lie dead in their cold tomb. Though all turns to nothing, the only thing, which can bloom and spread fragrance, is the actions and good deeds of people who had led a just life. 

The garlands wither on your brow,

Then boast no more your mighty deeds!

Upon Death’s purple altar now

See where the victor-victim bleeds.

Your heads must come

To the cold tomb:

Only the actions of the just

Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

The only thing which stands the test  of time is the deeds of selflessness and service to fellow beings. Thus, this poem has a moralising tone and shows the omnipotence of death.

Kindness Comes at a Cost

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem ‘Kindness’ portrays the abstract feeling in a different light. We live our lives by being kind and by receiving kindness. But, is kindness all elegant, brighter and a beautiful emotion? Brighter the light is, the darker the shadow will be. In the same way, the journey to appreciate kindness is painful.

The first stanza of the poem starts by stating that unless we go through hardships, difficulties and excruciating pain, we can never feel kindness. We should feel our future melting away and dissolving like salt in a broth. We should feel every single block we had built falling apart one by one and should see things go crazy and beyond control. We should be wrecked and hopeless to feel and see kindness between the regions of dreary and forsaken landscape. When life feels needlessly long and dull, when everyone seems to be busy and no one really cares about what happens to us, the relief that rushes over by one extending hand causes kindness.  

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

To understand how valuable and serious the emotion of kindness is, we must see a man lying dead on the road. We must realise that such a death can occur to us too and we can also be abandoned like that man. We must see how the man was the same breathing living thing with plans and dreams before he could die.  

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Just as the lines below say, we must wake up everyday heavy with sorrow and talk with it to understand what kindness really is. We should confront our sadness and separate each of its strings and weave it into a sorrowful clothing to see how big our sorrow really is. 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 

If we do so, then we will see only kindness in every little thing and every little action. It will be kindness which ties our shoes and gives us strength to step into the outside world and do our work. Even among the ocean of bodies and faces, we will spot kindness rising its head and calling to us, “It is I you have been looking for” and following us everywhere “like a shadow or a friend”.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

These lines make us realize how we take kindness for granted most of the time. The kindness of the mother hidden in the packed lunch box, the kindness of the friend embedded in a lent pen, the kindness of a stranger who says ‘Have a beautiful day’ are slept on by us. Our mother might have lost her good sleep to pack lunch, our friend might have not even had a pen to lend or the stranger would have had a really bad morning. Thus kindness comes at a cost. When it comes, learn to appreciate it and give it back.  

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen – Book review

Jane Austen (December 1775 – July 1817) was an English novelist. The plots of her novel were often based on the situation of women; how their social and economic status totally depended on the family they are married to. She used social commentary, humor and realism to express her thoughts. Her works were approximately based on her social background. The books that she wrote were highly influenced by moral issues.

Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, is one of the most recognized works of Jane Austen. The story revolves around Elizabeth Bennet (Lizzy) and how her character changes and develops through. It is a romantic comedy about how a man and woman surrender their pride and prejudice and come to realize their feelings for each other. It also shows how in the 1800, the only way to lead a decent and content life a woman had to marry in a rich house.

 Elizabeth is the second oldest daughter out of five of the Bennet family. The Bennet family is a combination of both silly and wise personalities. Mrs. Bennet is a lady of uncertain temper and mean understanding. Jane, the oldest daughter, was very beautiful comparatively among the five. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was quick-minded, cultured and wise. Mary was fond of reading while Catharine and Lydia spent their time flirting with youngmen, especially militia. Mr. Bennet, was the owner of Longbourn state, but he had no son but five daughters. Accordingly, the property would be inherited by a cousin of his leaving the daughters economically unstable. Mrs. Bennet was always keen to find a suitable and wealthy gentleman to marry at least one of her daughters off. It was a matter of great importance as at least one of the five needs to be economically stable to help the others. Elizabeth, considered the wisest, is often ashamed of her mother’s sheepish behavior.  

The events take place when the Bingley’s arrive in Hertfordshire where the Bennets reside. The daughter of Bennets and Mr. Bingley were introduced at a ball dance party. Mr. Bingley is attracted to Jane at their first meeting. While Mr. Darcy is a close friend of Mr. Bingley who is also present in the party. Darcy is usually an attractive person but is full of pride and haughtiness. Elizabeth gets provoked by Darcy’s comment on her claiming that she wasn’t pretty enough to dance with him. However, he falls for her wisdom and quick mindedness. Mr. Bingley begins to fall in love with Jane and Jane too. However, Mr. Darcy is logical and believes that Jane is after his money and so plays a role in separating them. The Bennets give up the hope of Jane’s marriage to Mr. Bingley and are disappointed, especially Mrs. Bennet whose aim in life is to marry her daughters. 

Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham can be considered the antagonists who have created more toil in Elizabeth’s life. The Bingley sisters are no less; they carried a superior behavior towards Elizabeth. Mr. Wickham first shows interest towards Lizzy filling her up with hatred towards Darcy but then engages someone else. Wickham later elopes with Lydia, the youngest daughter of Bennets.  Later demands money to marry her and they have to do the same to save their reputation. Among these events Elizabeth is proposed to by Mr. Darcy and she, ignorant of the truth and full of hatred towards him, refuses him coldly. However, she later comes to know the true character of Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy, and regrets her past actions and prejudices.

The novel provides the reader cognizance through the chapters. It is a piece of reading which is more meaningful and worthy of learning than just entertainment. We learn more while reading it instead of getting a lesson at the end. It shows how even a sharp minded woman is dependent on her spouse to lead a good life. Not only this, but it gives us some life lessons and a new view to someone’s personality.

But to expose the former faults of any person without knowing what their present feelings were, seemed unjustifiable.
– Jane

Doing things we don’t mean to and ending up hurting others. We can never judge a person by what we hear from others.

It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.
– Jane

One can never be perfect. There is always room to improve. Too much pride may make us blind at times. There are times we skip the options that are right for us by underestimating them.

The novel contains a not rushed story with tons of valuable lessons.

‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

When we aren’t confident about ourselves, we definitely can’t win anything in our life. Are you scorned, oppressed, and belittled? Want a little bit of confidence boost? Then the poem ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou is for you. 

People may picture you however they want. They may lie about you, spread rumors, and pull you down to gutters but you should never give in to such slanders. Even if they make you look dirty, like a dust which never settles down, you ought to rise. 

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

People, who talk ill about you, do so because they are blinded by petty emotions like jealousy and insecurity. They may not like you when you differ from the crowd and when you are being yourself while they cannot. You may find your happiness in small things and this might irritate them. So, they might try to bring down your confidence, even then you must rise. 

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

And, when you rise, rise like the sun or the moon, which rises everyday without fail with its fullest radiance. Like the tides which hit the shore with certainty and hope which springs higher in the darkest times, you too should rise. You know why you should rise? Simply because everyone is watching. They want to see you broken, shoulders fallen, heads down, kneeling and desperately crying at misfortunes. So, rise beyond expectations.

They may label you haughty when you differ and might be offended when you laugh happily. Even though they slander you, belittle, treat you indifferently and hatefully, you must rise like air which sees no confines. 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

They will be jealous and afraid of you rising, and so they will try to pull you down. But you must rise. People oppress others based on economic conditions, race, ancestry, and color. Even then you must rise. 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

The poetess was strongly fighting against the oppression of black people and women. People of her race were ill treated and subjugated. She, the black ocean, is resolute to send tides of opposition against such oppressions. Though she had suffered and lived painfully, she will march into daybreak, proud of her identity that her ancestors had given her, and will rise and rise and rise. 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Hence, never let yourself be held back by restraints and limitations. You are you and be confident about yourself. If you do so, you shall also rise. 

‘How Did You Die?’ by Edmund Vance Cooke

Why do I have to be born like this? Why can’t I get anything without trouble? Why? Just why? Let’s be true, we have always tried to blame something other than ourselves when we fail. Not everyone is born with silver spoons in their mouths and we shouldn’t excuse ourselves from challenging ourselves to great heights. Maybe we cannot determine our birth, but we can always determine how we are going to live.

Edmund Vance Cooke’s ‘How Did You Die?’ is a motivational poem telling us to go head-on with our challenges in life. Life throws challenges at everyone of us. And when it does, how we react to it is all that matters. Are we going to accept the challenges with a cheerful mindset and strong heart? Or are we going to cower and hide from the outer world? The decision is ours. Where there are challenges, there are troubles. But how we perceive these troubles is up to us. It is our mindset which decides if our troubles are a ton or an ounce. When we challenge ourselves, we are not always going to win. We may fall many times. So, it doesn’t matter how many times we fall, but how many times we pull ourselves up.

Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

So, what if we fall and get hurt. It isn’t embarrassing. If we had thought so as a child, we wouldn’t be here walking. What is really embarrassing is when we don’t get up after falling down and give up without even seeing the end. All we have to do is put on a smile and get up. A ball bounces up as hard as it hits the floor. Hence, we should be proud of our failures. It doesn’t matter if we fail as long as we have fought well. We should try our best so that we don’t regret it even when we fail. 

The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight —  and why?

If we had fought well and had done our best in whatever role we are given in this mortal world, then the Critic will conclude that we did well. The Critic who will judge us is not the society or family or acquaintances but the Creator, the supreme power. Death comes to everyone. Death doesn’t look at our age, gender, status or power. It treats everyone equally and may come to anyone at any time. Whether we die early or late, whether we die in a moment or experience a slow death, it isn’t our death that matters but how we died. 

Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?

We can equalize the phrase ‘how did you die’ to how we lived. Life is full of choices and we may regret some. But we have to make sure that we turn such regrets into life lessons. Maybe we will die today or tomorrow, but would death matter if we live well?    

A Poem in Appreciation of Defeat.

Failures and defeats are what everyone of us meets throughout life. But how we react to them is that which decides how successful we can be. Kahlil Gibran’s poem ‘Defeat’ gives a lesson on learning from our failures and appreciating them.

The poet calls defeat his solitude and aloofness. As said in one of the previous posts, we need to differentiate solitude from loneliness. Solitude is our time and it helps us reflect on yourselves. When defeat gives us our solitude, we reflect on what went wrong and what needs to be done to improve ourselves. This, we cannot get from success. So, failure is dearer than all the victories and sweeter to the heart than all the fame and respect which success gives.

Also, the poet calls defeat his self-knowledge and defiance. Through defeat, we learn that we are still young and prone to mistakes. Through it, we know that we have a long way to go and that we shouldn’t be trapped by the fleeting fame. When we fail, we receive criticisms and are censured. Some of these criticisms help us to grow and through defeat only, we learn more about ourselves and become strong.

Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,

Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot

And not to be trapped by withering laurels.

In the third stanza, the poet calls defeat his ‘shining sword and shield’ because it protects him from falling prey to ignorance and false knowledge. Through it, the poet learnt that to succeed and labelled as a winner is to be enslaved. This is because when we succeed in something, we think we have mastered that thing and think no more. To think that we have understood everything is to level down ourselves and to be grasped by the ecstatic emotions caused by success is to be in an illusion. Hence, through defeat we learn about our weaknesses and though we fall, we are to cherish the defeat just like how a fallen ripe fruit is relished.

That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be leveled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.

Now, the poet calls defeat his companion with whom he can be himself.  When alone with defeat, he can talk openly about his worries and hardships. People console us when we fail but there is no greater consolation than defeat itself. Only defeat can truly tell us about what we need to work on, how to overcome hardships and challenges and how hard we should work to reach the goal. Only defeat can break into our insecurities and soul and show a way out. 

And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Lastly, the poet calls defeat his ‘deathless courage’. He imagines himself laughing with defeat when undergoing challenges and together digging graves for everything that they shall leave behind. Finally, both the poet and defeat will see the sun and stand victoriously for all the dark times are gone. And this will be dangerous because there is no one more powerful than a person who has learnt to embrace his defeat.

Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

When we rightly learn to appreciate our defeat, there can be no greater strength than our defeat itself. Defeat shapes us stronger and wiser and brings us close to fullness. To succeed, we should befriend defeat and it shall be our greatest motivation.

‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done – then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 

‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, though belongs to children’s literature, is an interesting read even for adults. Mary Lennox, a sick looking girl, goes to Yorkshire after her uncle takes her custody due to the death of her parents in India. Having brought up without any motherly love and having got her way in everything from her childhood, Mary finds Yorkshire a new world. Her caretaker Martha, being a young girl herself, isn’t subservient to Mary and this is all new to Mary who has always got her own way. Mary learns about Yorkshire from Martha and also learns about the Secret garden in her uncle’s manor. The door to that garden was locked ten years ago and the key has also been buried, whose whereabouts no one knows. Intrigued by this, Mary tries to find the secret garden. The book progresses to show whether Mary finds the secret garden and what she finds in there and what effect it has on her. 

Colin, who is also of the same age as Mary, is introduced as a sick and bed ridden boy. As the story progresses, we can also see that he imagines an illness which he doesn’t have and expects to die soon. In simple words, Colin suffers from hypochondria. So, what happens when Mary and Colin meet? What changes do they bring to each other? How will Mary assure Colin that he won’t die? All these are answered as the plot unfolds.

One character that everyone has to look out for in the novel is Dickon. Just as how he is loved by everyone in the novel, he is loved by every reader. Who doesn’t love a person who is friends with every animal, bird and plant. Being elder to Mary and Colin by two years, Dickon acts as a good friend and as an agent of positive influence on them. 

This novel is a healing novel. It has the best lines which teaches the reader on how living with nature heals the soul and makes one to grow positive and healthy. When we see things budding and thriving to come out of the earth, it makes us believe we can grow too. 

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Another lesson we learn from the book is about magic. Now, you don’t need to relate magic to flying castles and extraordinary power. Magic is found in everything even within us. That which makes things come true is magic. That which fills us with goodness and makes us move forward is magic. Magic is in everything.

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”

The novel is an amazing read except for the racism and stereotypes it contains against India. Thus, ‘The Secret Garden’ is a book you would love to read and recommend. 

“Your children are not your children”

Parents often try to steer the life of their children. They decide for their children and make them live according to their wishes. Kahlil Gibran’s poem ‘On Children’ talks about such issues and on proper parenting.

The poem starts with a woman asking a person to talk about children. So the unknown narrator starts of by saying,

  Your children are not your children.

Most of the parents think of their children as belonging to them or think that they own them. But this is a toxic mentality. One can never own a person because people aren’t objects. Every child has his/her own life and it belongs to him/her and no one else. They did come from the wombs of their mothers but that doesn’t mean they are owned by their parents. So, every child has the right to decide and live his/her own life in the way they like.  

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

Because children tend to make mistakes and don’t know the world, they require guidance from their parents. But parents should not use this as an opportunity to impose their preferences and opinions. They should rather support and guide instead of making choices for their children.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

 For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 

Parents may shelter their human bodies and not their souls. Their souls move freely and live in tomorrow. Many parents try to realize their dreams through their children without knowing that it was a past they failed to live and that it is already today, which the children wish to live in. 

 For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The poet brings in the comparison parents as bows and children as ‘living arrows’ in the hands of our Creator. The archer, our Creator, sees the mark at an infinite distance. The mark is our death. He bends a bow (a parent) to launch an arrow (a child). When the arrow is shot, the trajectory it takes is defined by the arrow itself. The bow just lends its strength to the arrow to travel. Hence, the parents should make sure that the bow in the hands of the Archer is properly used. The Archer loves both the bow and arrow that serve the purpose properly. 

  The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

  For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Thus, the poem provides a valuable lesson on parenting.

‘Life is Fine’ by Langston Hughes.

Sometimes, when people ask us how we are, we would want to bawl our eyes out and say “I am not fine”. But there are also days when we can happily say that we are fine. Such is life with all its ups and downs. 

In the poem ‘Life is Fine’, Langston Hughes deals with a darker theme of taking one’s own life. The first stanza starts with the narrator sitting down by a river bank and trying to figure out something. It  is clear that the poet is worried and is trying to think about it. When he can’t find answers for his problems, he throws himself into the river. This comes as a surprise to a reader at first when one doesn’t know the theme of the poem. 

But instead of drowning, the narrator comes up. He hollers and cries for help. The narrator reasons out that he didn’t die because it was too cold to bear. He seems to have backed out at the last moment. He repeatedly says it was because the water was cold as if trying to console himself. 

I came up once and hollered!

I came up twice and cried!

If that water hadn’t a-been so cold

I might’ve sunk and died. 

  But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!

The narrator tries to kill himself for the second time when he is going up in an elevator. He plans to throw himself out of the elevator. Also, readers come to know the reason for his suicide attempts. He is missing someone to whom he refers as ‘baby’.

But he doesn’t jump off the elevator because it is too high. It is quite ironic how the narrator is more concerned about the physical pain caused by death. Readers also come to understand the vulnerable mindset of the narrator. It is obvious the narrator is suffering and is in pain.

I stood there and I hollered!

I stood there and I cried!

If it hadn’t a-been so high

I might’ve jumped and died.

In the concluding stanzas, the narrator complies with reality and decides to go on living. He decides to live simply because he was born to live. He could have died in place of his beloved, but he can’t because he was destined to live his life.   

So since I’m still here livin’,

I guess I will live on.

I could’ve died for love—

But for livin’ I was born

While he continues to live on, he might suffer and cry. He may have more painful experiences, but he is resolute to live. He is earnest to live. He assures his beloved that he will live and not die.   

Though you may hear me holler,

And you may see me cry—

I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,

If you gonna see me die.

He ends the poem with the line,

Life with all its pain and suffering may appear fine when we are resolute to live on. We may go through hard times, but it may not appear hard when we live on. When we grow old, we understand what to cling onto in life and what to leave behind. Thus, this poem which starts with a gloomy theme ends with an optimistic message that life is fine as long as we continue to live. So, let’s live.

    Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!

‘No Man is an Island’ by John Donne.

Have you ever been ostracized by your peer group or have you ostracized someone? The world we are living doesn’t want a person to be different from them and so for various reasons such individuals are isolated. But no matter how different an individual may be, he is still a part of the bigger community, the human kind. Dealing with this theme is John Donne’s poem ‘No Man is an Island.’ 

 No man is an island, entire of itself;

 every man is a piece of the continent, 

 a part of the main. 

We shouldn’t think of ourselves as belonging to no community and we should also not label someone as belonging to no community. Though we have different labels identifying based on our gender, nationality, and race, we all live on the same earth. We look at the same sky and breathe the same air. 

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less, 

as well as if a promontory were, 

as well as if a manor of thy friend’s

or of thine own were. 

John Donne emphasizes the importance of every individual on the earth. When a clod is washed away by the sea, we may not feel concerned much. Even the clod is as important as a promontory.  This comparison is used to convey the message that even the most insignificant individual is as important as our friend. We should love and respect every other individual just as we love and respect our closed ones.    

Any man’s death diminishes me, 

because I am involved in mankind;

and therefore never send to know 

for whom the bell tolls;

it tolls for thee.

Donne concludes the poem with an appeal to universal love and companionship. Even a stranger’s death would make the poet sad because the stranger belongs to humankind. When the church bell tolls announcing the death of the stranger, it is not only for their acquaintances but also for us. We needn’t know the person personally to share their sorrow. 

Today, we have so much going on in our earth. People are suffering and dying because of the pandemic and war all over the world. It is only natural for us to feel sad when we watch such news. Due to the pandemic, many are quarantined and isolated. While they fight the virus, they have to fight loneliness too. So, even if we can’t help them physically, we should at least support them emotionally by sending prayers, kind words and positive thoughts. Thus, this poem is apt even after many centuries.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

The very first statement, which starts the novel “Pride and Prejudice”, sets forth the major themes of the novel. Opening with an introduction to the Bennets, the first chapter shows an anxious Mrs. Bennet, who wants her daughters hitched and their new neighbour Mr. Bingley seems right for that purpose. When Mr. Bingley organises a ball, everyone in the neighbourhood is invited. There, the meeting takes place between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, the protagonists of this story. The story proceeds as the misunderstanding between our protagonists grows and they break away only to understand each other better. 

Beyond the obvious love brewing between various characters, the novel discusses other themes like class difference, need of money, marriage, the status of women, parenting and self – reflection. Unlike the Chivalric romances, Jane Austen portrays reality in her novel. The novelist shows how women of that age weren’t allowed to work and were expected to learn everything (knitting, embroidery, housekeeping, music and such) to be considered accomplished women. And when our female protagonist stands up for women, she is criticised. Elizabeth challenges the established beliefs of that age and gives out the message that women needn’t be perfect to be accomplished.  

“I never saw such a woman. I never saw capacity, taste, and application, and elegance, as you described, united.”

The novel also shows how women were dependent on marriage for financial support and they should also possess some money for a successful marriage. Instead of showing a fantasy where love solves everything, the plot showcases the importance of money in life but this doesn’t necessarily mean money defines happiness. The influence of class difference was strongly felt by the way Darcy and the Bingley sisters treated others like the Bennets. This is one of the important factors in the love story of Darcy and Elizabeth and Bingley and Jane. 

One of the best things about the novel is that we can vividly see how the characters evolve. The character development in both Elizabeth and Darcy is what brings together. There comes a situation when both have to step back from each other before they can grow closer. This brief interval helps them to understand themselves and face their inner flaws. The attributes in the title are clearly associated with the protagonists. Darcy was self conceited and Elizabeth was prejudiced.

Jane Austen had written some of the finest lines in English in this novel. The lines make us think and what makes them more attractive is that it appeals to people of all ages and all nations. 

“Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we have others think of us.”

“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is wilfully to misunderstand them.”

These lines have the most impact when one reads the story. Adding, Jane Austen is also the best at description. Her descriptions of landscapes, settings and others transports us to that age.

This book also helps to reflect on ourselves. We are all proud and we are all prejudiced at least sometimes. All it takes is us admitting them and trying to work on it. This novel is relatable even in the 21st century.

A Poem in Appreciation of Solitude.

Did you know solitude is different from loneliness? Though many think the words mean the same, it is not the case. Loneliness refers to a state of feeling lonely. It is possible to feel lonely even when you are with people. But solitude refers to being alone. It means being by yourself and spending time with yourself. Many philosophers have appreciated solitude. In fact, the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, once said, ‘Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realising he is one with the whole universe.’ 

The English poet, Alexander Pope, sings in praise of solitude in his poem ‘Ode on Solitude’, just as the title says. Though a man lives secluded, he can be happy if he has a small land to take care of. He wouldn’t have big ambitions and would feel content just by breathing the fresh air of his native. He surrenders to nature and enjoys being by himself. He does so because he feels tranquility.

Happy the man, whose wish and care

   A few paternal acres bound,

Content to breathe his native air,

                         In his own ground.

He feels happy even when he is all by himself because he has enough of everything for him. His cattle provide him milk, his fields food, his congregation clothes, and his trees give him shade during summer and firewood during winter. He doesn’t need to worry about making ends and spends time for himself. 

Blessed is he who doesn’t need to worry about running out of time. He enjoys the drifting time and passing days because he can take care of himself. He is healthy and peaceful, so he is calm doing his routine in daytime and sleeps well at night.

Blest, who can unconcernedly find

   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,

In health of body, peace of mind,

                         Quiet by day,

When he has enough time for himself, he learns many things and does everything with ease. When this happens, he reflects on his deeds, his memories, and on himself. He recalls his past and re-lives those happy moments. He understands about himself and can reveal his true self without fearing to be judged. 

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,

   Together mixed; sweet recreation;

And innocence, which most does please,

                         With meditation.

The last stanza ends with the poet asking to be granted such a life where he can live   unnoticed by people and unknown to them. He doesn’t want people to mourn his death for he wants to leave this earth without regrets. When he dies, he doesn’t want to take anything from the world, not even a stone which marks his grave and let people know where he lays dead.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;

   Thus unlamented let me die;

Steal from the world, and not a stone

                         Tell where I lie.

This poem shows us how self satisfying solitude can be. We keep running and running without ever knowing what we are after. So, by being alone and spending time with ourselves, we can know what we need and what we want to do. Thus, when you enjoy loneliness, it becomes solitude.

‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson.

What do you call that which assures you that everything will be fine? What is that makes us believe in a better tomorrow? What is that which lifts us out of our difficulties? The answer is hope. In this poem ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’, the poet Emily Dickinson praises hope and brings out its importance.

Hope is an abstract feeling and the poet gives this abstract feeling a shape of a bird. It sits on our soul and belts out tunes. These wordless tunes never cease. Hope doesn’t utter words of consolation and promises. It stands there supporting us, lending us strength by its tunes and ceaselessly does this routine.  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Of all the Gales present in the world, hope sings the sweetest tunes. Their sweet tunes make us forget our bitter experiences. They remind us of happy moments awaiting us.  Though the storm (our hardships and hurdles) snubs this little bird, it never leaves. During the hours of storms, hope gives us the warmth to survive the bitter coldness. It is really a wonder how this little bird (hope) keeps us together. 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

Hope never leaves us even in our hardships. The ‘chillest land’ and ‘strangest Sea’ refer to our struggles in life. Even at this stage, hope gives everything it can to us and asks nothing in return. Hope pours itself into its songs and lends us a will to challenge our problems. It is to be noted that ‘ “Hope” is the thing with feathers-’. The hope which can fly away anytime leaving us to our problems never does so. Rather it stands by our side and guides us through our darkest hours.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

The poetess uses a poetic technique called enjambment in this poem. Enjambment is used to carry an idea from one stanza to another without any pause. Here, the poetess carries the idea of Hope singing to the next stanza by saying it sings sweet. 

It is an interesting study to know how this poem contrasts the poem ‘Hope’ by Charlotte Bronte. She considers hope as a ‘timid friend’ and as being indifferent to the poet’s struggle. Thus, the two poetesses view hope in a different light.  

‘The Sleep’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Have you ever appreciated your ability to sleep? Now, you will wonder if being able to sleep is something to be praised. Yes, give yourself an applause for you have been given the best gift ever and you will have to cherish this gift. The poem ‘The Sleep’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning brings out the importance of sleep and why it is to be cherished.

Of everything we have known about God from psalms and hymns, the poet asks if there is any gift which surpasses His gift – the sleep. As humans, what can we give to our loved ones? We can give the hero’s courage and determined heart to confront all the troubles; we can give them a poet’s lyrical verse to move them to ecstasy; we can give them a patriot’s voice to guide them through hurdles and motivate them; we can give them a ruler’s consolation to ease their burdens. But of everything we can give them, there is nothing that will surpass God’s gift to His beloved – the Sleep. 

“He giveth His beloved, sleep”

Sometimes we give our beloved words of consolation and sometimes we add to their difficulties, making their whole world burdened. But God’s gift – Sleep – puts an end to all such sufferings. No matter what words of consolation we say, we can’t solve the problems of our beloved. When things get hard and we have no words of consolation, all we can say to our beloved is to sleep.

“ ‘Sleep soft, beloved!’ we sometimes say,”

We say so, hoping that no bitter memories of hardships shall disturb their ‘happy slumber’. When we sleep, we forget our bad experiences and experience eternal peace. So, this peace gives us hope and when we wake up the next morning, we are prepared for the day. Now is there any gift which surpasses sleep?

Our earth is full of dreary noises and wailing voices of despair. We chase after money, wealth and other material prospects which might leave us anytime. So, God silences these wailings by putting everyone to sleep. God has created this earth and all natural elements and we humans sow and reap. Thus, Sleep is more delicate than the dew drops and clouds. It makes us feel as if we are on a delightful journey and makes us feel lighter.

We go on living, thinking, and feeling without even realizing what keeps us going everyday. It is the sleep which keeps us going everyday. When we sleep, we forget the hardships of today, and hope for a better tomorrow.

“Aye, men may wonder while they scan  

A living, thinking, feeling man  

Confirmed in such a rest to keep;”

Our world is a stage and we are like a tired child watching the performance of the mummers on the stage. So when our eyelids droop, we rest like a child on God’s lap. So, no matter how exhausted we are, it is the sleep which rejuvenates us at the end of the day.

The last stanza ends with the poet asking her friends not to mourn or weep when she dies, for she is just going to an eternal sleep and a state of peace after all. 

“Let One, most loving of you all,  

Say, ‘Not a tear must o’er her fall;  

He giveth His beloved, sleep.’“

The poem makes us understand how blessed we are to be able to sleep. We should no longer take our sleep for granted. Sleep improves both our mental and physical health. So, sleeping is the best thing ever. Finally, think if there is a greater gift than sleep.

“He giveth His beloved, sleep.”

Read the poem at https://poets.org/poem/sleep

‘Of Studies’ by Francis Bacon.

We are told that studies are important but no one tells us why we should study, how we should study and what we should study. Francis Bacon’s essay ‘Of Studies’ answers all such questions. Firstly, 

“STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.”

When we read books in our leisure time, it brings us delight. When we use what we have learnt in our conversation, it decorates or graces our speech. When we apply what we have learnt in our judgement and business, it becomes our ability. While men of experience can carry out and judge only some particulars, the learned make the best plans and execution of affairs. This is not to say experience is not important. 

Though we are bestowed with inborn talents, we need studies to perfect them and in turn the studies are perfected by experience. Our inborn talents are like plants which require pruning and this the studies do. Though studies give all the directions, they are also bound to experience.

“To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgement wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar.”

While men of experience scorn studies and laymen look up to them, only wise men use what they have learnt. We shouldn’t read just to argue; neither to believe everything given in the text blindly nor to boast about what we have read, but to scrutinize and to regard them carefully.  

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and few to be chewed and digested;”

There are myriads of books to read but how do we prioritise them? Bacon says that there are some books which only require some of its parts to be read, some books though read fully don’t demand close reading, but there are books which require our full attention and are to be read with diligence. 

“Reading maketh a full man; conference ready man; and writing an exact man.”

So, if a person writes less, he should have a good memory to remember everything he had read; if a person speaks less, he should have a quick wit so that he can escape his problems; if a person reads less, he should at least have wit enough to act like he knows the matter.  Bacon lists the advantages of studying each subject.

“Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.”

When we read about past ages and of men, we come to know why they failed or succeeded; when we read poems which expresses huge meanings in small words, we gain wit; when we study math, we become clever in analysis of the problems; when we read natural philosophy, we gain deep knowledge of the universe; logic and rhetoric helps us to win arguments.

“Abeunt studia in mores” means studies become habits. When we practice what we read, it becomes a part of us, Just like how there are different physical exercises to cure the diseases of different parts of our body, different studies cure impediments in our wit. If a man lacks concentration, he ought to study math because if he gets distracted while doing sums, he has to redo the whole sum else he won’t understand. If a person cannot distinguish what is right or wrong, then he ought to read philosophy. If a person can’t get to the root of the matters and cannot defend his stand, then he ought to read law.  

“So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt.”

‘A Fellow Traveller’ by A.G.Gardiner.

Have you ever thought of everything except human life as insignificant? Have you realised how we treat every creature in a different way? How different are human beings from other creatures?

A G Gardiner’s essay ‘A Fellow Traveller’ explores the themes of freedom, compassion and equality. 

“I do not know which of us got into the carriage first. Indeed I did not know he was in the carriage at all for some time.”

The essayist boards the last train from London to Midland town which stops at each station and takes forever to reach the essayist’s destination. By the time the train leaves the outer ring of London, the train becomes empty except for the essayist or it appears so.

The essayist explains the ‘sense of freedom’ a vacant carriage affords. We can do anything we wish to do. We can talk loudly, do a headstand, sing, dance or play for there is no one to question. We can open and close windows at our leisure and there is no one to protest. We can lie down on the seats as we wish.

“It is liberty and unrestraint in a very agreeable form.”

This freedom is agreeable because it doesn’t affect or harm others. But the essayist does nothing like he had told above. He does the most normal thing. He puts down the paper he had been reading, stretches and looks out of the window. It was a calm summer night. When he sits down to continue his paper, he recognises the presence of his fellow traveller

“He was one of those wingy, nippy, intrepid insects that we call, vaguely, mosquitoes.”

When the mosquito came and sat on the essayist’s nose, he was flicked by the essayist. He tours the compartment and visits each lamp by the wind. The way the mosquito enjoys liberty in the empty carriage and does whatever the essayist had previously mentioned brings out a strong contrast between him and the essayist. Finally, he decides that nothing is as interesting as ‘the large animal’ (the essayist) and inspects his neck. 

The essayist flicks him off again. The mosquito goes around the compartment and perches on the essayist’s hand insolently in the end. This ticks off the essayist and he pronounces the death sentence of the mosquito. The essayist states various reasons as to why the mosquito deserves to die. The mosquito is a homeless tramp, a public nuisance and he travels without ticket and constantly misbehaves. The essayist strikes a lethal blow but the mosquito escapes with an imprudent ease. This humiliates the essayist who lunges ferociously at the mosquito. But the mosquito escapes with his ruse.

No matter how hard the essayist tries, it was all in vain. He was played by the mosquito. The mosquito totally enjoys this little game he was playing with the essayist. Suddenly, a change came over the author. He enters into the spirit of his fellow traveller. The mosquito was no longer a mere insect but a personality with a wit “that challenged the possession of tis compartment with me (the essayist) on equal terms.” This makes us realise that every creature shares the earth just like us. It is a collective ‘us’ who lives in this world. So, we need to show compassion to each other.

“I felt my heart warming towards him and the sense of superiority fading.”

The essayist now brims with magnanimity and mercy. He was treated as a laughter stock by the mosquito but by being merciful towards him, he asserts his dignity and honor. The essayist retires to his seat. But the mosquito delivers himself into the hands of the essayist as if ready to be sandwiched. The essayist no longer desires to kill him for he has grown affectionate to him. 

The essayist draws near to conclusion with some of the best lines.

“Fortune has made us fellow travellers on this summer night. I have interested you and you have entertained me. The obligation is mutual and it is founded on the fundamental fact that we are fellow mortals. The miracle of life is ours in common and it’s mystery too. I suppose you don’t know anything about your journey. I am not sure that I know about mine. We are really … a good deal alike …”

These lines show that human life is not the glory that it is deemed to be. We are as uncertain as other organisms on the earth about our life and journey. We don’t know what we will see in our journey, how our journey will be, where our journey will lead to and where our destination really is. We all are vagrants on this vast planet just like any other creature.

When a porter snaps him into reality, he realizes that he has reached his station. He gets off the train and closes the door.

“As I closed the door of the compartment saw my fellow traveller fluttering around the lamp…”

‘On Running after One’s Hat’ by G K Chesterton.

“I am done with it! I am irritated! This is frustrating! Why does it happen only to me?”

We face problems everyday and life for no reason keeps throwing something at us. Even when our toe gets hit by furniture, we start cursing and stressing. No matter how trivial or challenging a problem is, we constantly worry about it. But all these problems can be romanticized as adventures after reading G K Chesterton’s essay ‘On Running after One’s Hat’.

The essay starts with Chesterton envying people who were in London when it was flooded. He says that Battersea (a place in London) has always been beautiful and the addition of water has made it appear like Venice. He imagines the boat that bought the meat to have moved with the elegance and smoothness of a gondola (a long and narrow boat). 

“There is nothing so perfectly poetical as an island; and when a district is flooded it becomes an archipelago.”

The optimism of the essayist makes him romanticize the flood which we would normally think of as bringing misfortune, destruction and loss.

“The true optimist who sees in such things an opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much more sensible than the ordinary.”

Most of the instances which we perceive as inconveniences are completely related to our mentality and outlook. The essayist gives an instance for example. When there is a delay in the arrival of the train, the grown-ups complain while the children never do. This is because for children, a railway station appears like a ‘cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasure’. The red and green lights of the signal appear to them as the new sun and moon. So if we view such inconveniences as children do, we shall no more perceive them as inconveniences. All the so-called inconveniences depend on how we view it. 

The second instance the essayist gives is running after one’s hat. Many find it unpleasant to run after their hats after being blown away by wind. They run after a ball in a game but not after their own hat as they find it is humiliating.

“When people say it is humiliating they mean it is comic.”

People find it embarrassing as they are laughed at by other onlookers. Their fretful pursuit serves as a source of laughter. But it is all right because everything a human does is comical.

He also says that running after one’s hat has the potential of becoming a sport and it can be an alternative to poaching. “He might regard himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal,…”. The essayist imagines it to be a common sport among the upper class. They would have their personal assistants run after the hat on a windy day and it would provide them a hearty laughter. This will be less painful than animal hunting too. The essayist says that we should be relieved of distress if our actions can provide laughter for others.

The essayist recalls how his friend struggled with a jammed drawer everyday. So, he points out to his friend that he is always finding the drawer troublesome because he always opens it while thinking that it should be easy to open the drawer. He says that the main problem lies with his friend’s outlook. Hence, he advises his friend to think of himself as “pulling against some powerful and oppressive enemy” or as participating in some fearsome tug war. If he imagines such situations when pulling the drawer, then it will no longer be an inconvenience but an adventure.

So, if we develop a positive outlook on everything that we encounter everyday, maybe life won’t be as hard as we think. After all,

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

‘Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun’ by William Shakespeare.

Will you believe if someone says death can bring happiness and peace? Even the words ‘death’, ’happiness’ and ‘peace’ seem to not fit together. But when we read the extract “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun”, we probe into what death really is. Is it only capable of giving sadness and heartbreaks?

Starting with, this poem is an extract from Shakespeare’s play ‘Cymbeline’. It is sung by two characters Guiderius and Arviragus to the dead in the play. The characters take turns to sing the stanzas and lines of the poem.

The first stanza addresses the dead and it tells the dead not to dread the summer’s heat and winter’s harshness. The dead are set free from all the worldly responsibilities that weigh down the living. The dead needn’t worry about making ends and other materialistic needs. Only death treats all humans equally. Be it the children of high born stations or the ones who work as chimney sweepers, all return to ashes on their death. 

“Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”

The dead needn’t fear the anger of the crown (a ruler by differing from him/her) and are free from the clutches of the tyrant. The dead needn’t worry about opposing and are free from all restraints. They needn’t worry about having proper clothes to wear and a proper meal to eat. And to them everything looks equal, be it big or small. All men powerful, intelligent, strong and valiant will meet the same end – they all return to dust. As the dead cannot bring anything along with them that can distinguish them from others, all are treated the same.

“The sceptre, learning, physic, must

All follow this, and come to dust.”

The dead needn’t fear ‘the lightning flash’ and ‘all-dreaded thunder stones’. They needn’t fear such natural elements and can rest in peace. When living are prone to be talked at by the society, the dead can sleep well without fearing to meet the society’s standards. They needn’t heed to the slanders and other harsh criticisms. The dead have completed all laughing and crying. They have nothing more to cry about and so they can rest well after their tiresome journey on the earth. Death doesn’t look at the age of the person it takes with it. Young or old all return to dust.

“All lovers young, all lovers must

Consign to thee, and come to dust.”

Now, the singers wish that no exorciser disturb the dead from their sleep and no sorcery to enchant them. The singers hope that ghosts will restrain themselves from approaching the dead and that no evil shall come near them. Nothing will dare to approach, for death has come and they pray that the grave should be known by all.

“Nothing ill come near thee!

Quiet consummation have;

And renowned be thy grave!”

When we die, we will be relieved of our burdens and worry. We experience a peace we have never experienced. Death comes with heartbreaks but also with relief. Hence, death may need not always be associated with negative feelings.

The repetition of the phrase, “and come to dust” in all the three stanzas, shows the temporal nature of human life. Everything that is material has no value on death. So, instead of running after material prospects, we should focus on eternal prospects. We can take nothing with us on our death but we can always leave something for the world. Thus, we should be kind and happy while living, and so we can leave happy memories for others on leaving.

‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake.

“I don’t like her. I hate him. She makes me angry. He is fake. It is all an act.” 

Let us all confess that, at some point, we had hated someone. We harbor the hard feelings in our hearts and wear a façade to hide them. We act all elegant and nice outside but curse from inside. We are all hypocrites. 

So, William Blake explores this hypocrisy in his poem “A Poison Tree”. If we are angry with the other person, our anger will disappear when we talk it out. And we do so only with our friends and not our foes. When we don’t express ourselves, we let our anger grow into something ominous. 

In the second stanza, the poet illustrates how we nurture anger into a tree. 

“And I watered it in fears,

Night and morning with my tears;

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft deceitful wiles.”

Fear and hate are connected to each other. Where there is fear, there is hate. This can be simply explained with an example. If a person fears bugs, then they start hating bugs. This is because they fear that bugs might bite and so they kill the bugs out of hatred arising from fear. Similarly, when we fear that our anger will be exposed, we naturally start hating. We feel wronged and shed our tears. Then wearing a façade of goodness, we fake a smile and we start manipulating. Thus, the fears, tears, smiles and wiles together nurtures the tree healthy and strong.

“And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright;”

As we constantly dwell on such hard feelings, the tree grows big ‘day and night’. The tree grows until it bears ‘an apple bright’. This is an allusion to the forbidden fruit which grows in the garden of Eden. Like the forbidden tree which brings the fall of Adam and Eve, we await for the apple to cause the ruin of our foe. 

One silent night, our foe trespasses into our garden and consumes the apple even after knowing it is poisoned. When we visit our poison tree in the morning, we are happy to see our foe dead. 

“In the morning glad I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.”

The last lines show us that we are glad to witness the success of our trap for the foe. We grow the whole tree aiming for a ruin and it happens. But what is our mental state on achieving such a success? Can we really be happy at others’ downfall? If so, what kind of person are we? Are we good? or are we bad? These questions arise in our minds. 

We all get angry and it is a normal human emotion. But we have to confront our anger and hold its reins before it controls us. There should be moral bounds for our anger. If not, it ruins ourselves and others. In our life, we keep dwelling on such negative emotions and keep hurting ourselves. So, let us not nurture poison trees anymore. Let’s nurture the love which the world is in need of.

‘The Doll’s House’ as a Feminist play.

“I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them.”

“The Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen, a 19th century play, strongly stamps the rights of women into the minds of the readers. It explores what roles women are forced to play and how they lose themselves by doing so. Now, the ‘Doll’ in the title will make us think about what its role is and how it is connected to the play. A doll is made to look pretty, made to entertain others, and to be toyed by its owner. Similarly, women are also expected to look pretty, please men and are directed to play the roles given. This is how women were treated and are even now.

This play explores these intricacies in the lives of women. Nora is the doll in the play and her house the playhouse. Nora is also an embodiment of the entire women folk in general. The plot is set during Christmas, and so we can see Nora busy with her Christmas preparation in the first act. She is happy to hear of her husband’s promotion and also expects greater happiness because of it. She is visited by Mrs. Linde, who is an old friend of hers, and has come to seek her husband’s help in finding a job. Afterwards, she is also visited by Krogstad from whom she had leant money in the past. He blackmails her of revealing a forgery done by her in borrowing money. She has forged her father’s signature to get money. Krogstad tells her to get him a job in the bank from her husband. 

Through the series of dialogues in the first act, we see how her husband, Torvald pets her and objectifies her. Instead of calling by her name, he uses ‘little squirrel’, ‘little lark’, ‘little skylark’ and so. By using such words, he objectifies her and diminishes her being. The adjective ‘little’ shows how he considers her lower than him and how he always treats her like a child. In fact, everyone in the play treats her like a child. 

When Nora reveals to her friend, Mrs. Linde, that she has borrowed a huge sum to save her husband’s life, Mrs. Linde is shocked by it. 

“NORA.

Couldn’t I? Why not?

MRS LINDE.

No, a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent.”

This shows that women of that period weren’t allowed to concern themselves with financial matters. We can even see that for a woman to borrow money, she needs a consent of a man and his sign. This is why Nora forged her father’s signature to borrow money. Nora also adds that she wouldn’t let her husband know about it because it would hurt his pride. Torvald never considers Nora as his equal and seems that being helped by women would make him look weak. This is a conventional thought which needs to be broken.

“A man who has such strong opinions about these things! And besides, how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! “

In the second act, things speed up and we see Nora anxiously awaiting what would happen after the revelation. She mentally prepares herself to face the consequences and strongly believes her husband will take the blame all upon himself. This will be proved wrong later.

NORA.

Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice, and do what she wants.

HELMER.

Speak plainly.

NORA.

Your skylark would chirp about in every room, with her song rising and falling –

HELMER.

Well, my skylark does that anyhow.

These lines show how Nora is always expected to please her husband. Torvad also likes to show off her to others and is proud of ‘owning’ her. A woman is a human and an individual and no mere object to own or show off. Thus the playwright brings out the toxic habit of objectification.

It is also seen that Nora never has an identity of her own. She is referred to as the daughter of her father and wife of Torvald. The society seems to repress her individuality by adding surnames to her. The play progresses to show how Nora sets out to find herself and her identity as an individual.

HELMER.

There, you see it was quite right of me not to let you stay there any longer.

NORA.

Everything you do is quite right, Torvald.

It can also be seen that Nora is never to have her own thoughts and to do what she likes. Her freedom as an individual is thus constrained by her husband. Her husband controls her, her actions, thoughts and directs her on what she has to do. And when the truth of her debt and forgery is revealed, he blames her and throws her under the bus. He is more worried about how his reputation in the society will be tarnished on the revelation of her actions. He is self-conceited and doesn’t bother to listen to Nora.

HELMER.

[walking about the room]. What a horrible awakening! All these eight years—she who was my joy and pride—a hypocrite, a liar—worse, worse—a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all!—For shame! For shame! [NORA is silent and looks steadily at him. He stops in front of her.] I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it. …. Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future. It is horrible to think of!

This is an awakening to Nora. Nora borrowed money in order to save her husband, but her husband completely ignores that fact. And when Krogstad sends a mail to them telling that he won’t reveal anything to the world, her husband immediately changes his colours and tells her that he had ‘forgiven’ her.

All these makes Nora realize what kind of life she was leading. She has an honest talk with her husband for the first time in eight years since they have married. She tells him that he had never considered her as an individual with feelings but a merely pleasing doll

“You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me.”

She says that she was a mere doll passed down from her father to him. She was never to have her opinions with her father and so the same with her husband too. All her life she was treated like a doll and now she has also become to treat her own children like that. Here I quote the lines told in the beginning again. 

She breaks up her marriage and sets herself free from everything that restrains her from being an individual. Before everything, she owes a duty to herself which she had not been concerned about before. She is going to educate herself and find herself.

HELMER.

Before all else, you are a wife and a mother.

NORA.

I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one.

The realization that she had never lived her life as an individual and that she had always been objectified transforms her. She slams the door of her house and sets out.

“I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care, because it was so brittle and fragile. [Getting up.] Torvald—it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children—. Oh, I can’t bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits!”

Every woman like Nora should liberate themselves from their constraints. The entire play takes place inside the house and it shows how Nora and women are confined to four walls. Nora finally escapes her confinement and liberates into the real world. 

[The sound of a door shutting is heard from below.]

Thus this play motivates every woman to find her way out of the door and slam it. This is a realistic play even applicable for the 21st century.

Read the full play at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2542/2542-h/2542-h.htm

‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy.

Times are bad. Everything around us seems doleful and gloomy. Of the disasters we had only read in fiction, are now crawling out of the pages. At this time, all we want to find is hope. Hope , which consoles us that things will get better, expectations of the long nightmare ending and a belief that we too can resurrect ourselves like phoenix are those to which we dearly cling to.  

Similarly, the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ is also set in a sombre mood. When the poem starts, we find the poet looking at everything as disconsolate. He is at his gate looking at the frost covered surroundings. The frost has made everything look pale like a ghost. The sun is setting and the day is coming to an end. Even the bine-stems are lifeless this winter. The lanes which would usually be bustling with humans are now forlorn. Winter has shut men into their houses and men huddle around the hearth to feel the warmth.

“And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.” 

These lines made me think that no matter how cold the outer world is, we feel warmth once inside our home. This warmth comes from our loved ones and it makes us not give up yet. 

When we learn the fact that this poem was written on the 29th of December in 1900, we understand the context of the second stanza better. It wasn’t just the end of the year but also of the century. It may even be considered as a dirge to the ending century. The land is referred to as the corpse of the century with the clouds forming its crypt and wind lamenting the death of the century. There is no trace of life. Even the germs and microorganisms from which we were born are also lying frozen beneath the frozen ground. Everything the poet sees looks as passionless as him.

“And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.”

In the third stanza, the poet finds the most extraordinary thing happening. A sweet singing voice vibrates through the air. It is full of happiness and uncontrollable joy. It is a thrush. It’s appearance isn’t so grand. It is old, weak, small and scruffy. But it pours its soul into the song as the day is darkening.

“An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.”

It is interesting to note the description of the thrush. It is almost battered out of life yet it sings full of life and energy. Though we are worn out, though we are exhausted, we should never give up for we don’t know what lies ahead and for we haven’t opened all the doors.

 There is nothing notable in the surrounding which would inspire the thrush to sing. There is nothing so full of life like that ‘ecstatic sound’ near and far. The thrush singing is out of place and odd. But it carried with it something that was unknown to the poet. The bird knew of the ‘Hope’ that the poet failed to see. 

“That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.”

Though the surrounding is dreary and dull, the thrush knew that it wouldn’t be the same forever. The winter will eventually end; new things will spring from the ground; the lanes will once again be bustling with life. This the poet did not understand. The last lines of this poem also reminded me of the last line of Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’.

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

We all should be like the little thrush. Finding hope and giving hope. All I want to say is – this too will pass away, and when tomorrow comes, it will be brighter than today.

Types of Poetry.

If you like to read poetry, you may as well like to know more about it. Poetry can either be subjective or objective. In subjective poetry, the poet expresses his own feelings and reflects his thoughts. Whereas in objective poetry, the poet talks about other things other than himself – like external objects, sceneries, events and so on. Though poetry is classified as above, it doesn’t completely belong to one type. This is to say that even the most objective poetry may contain some of the poet’s feelings. Poetry is further divided into several types as follows.

LYRIC:

This is of Greek origin and is a song often sung by a single person backed by a lyre in the ancient times. It carries a single emotion and is musical in composition. Later ages found that this form of poetry can be made musical just by the use of words without any music to back it. Vowels and consonants were arranged musically for this purpose. A lyric tends to be quite short for its effect is weakened by huge length. 

ODE:

 It is also of Greek origin. The subject and treatment is serious and exalted. It often addresses something or someone. The opening lines either contain apostrophe appeal. Eg: Shelley’s ‘Ode to the west wind’ starts with ‘O wild west wind…”. There are two types of odes namely the Dorian or Pindaric ode and the Lesbian or Horatian ode. 

SONNET:

As everyone knows, sonnet is a short poem. It is divided into two – the Italian Sonnet and the English sonnet. The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet contains fourteen lines concerning one single feeling or idea. It is divided into two parts – the Octave (contains eight lines) and the Setset (contains six lines). At the end of the eight line, there is a Caesura (a pause) followed by a Volta (a turn in thought). When this form was adopted by the English, it was altered. The fourteen lines were divided into three quatrains (stanzas of four lines) with a couplet to end. This is the form practiced by Shakespeare. 

ELEGY:

 Though this form bore a different meaning in older times, in modern connotation, it refers to a poem which takes up grim and doleful themes. It is often written in the memory of the dead but it can also take up other sorrowful subjects. There is another form called the Pastoral elegy in which the poet represents himself as a shepherd mourning the death of his friend. As the word ‘pastoral’ indicates, the setting and language are borrowed from countryside and country people.

EPIC:

 It is a long story told in verse with all the character, language, setting and treatment exalted. It often has a lofty theme and has divine interventions for most parts. The classical examples are Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’. Mock Epic, as the name suggests, treats the most trivial theme in an epic manner. 

BALLAD:

It can be considered as one of the oldest forms of poetry as it developed during the early stages of civilization. The ballad is a short story in verse containing simplest subjects and themes. It takes its subject from the external world and nothing of the poet is known through the ballad. It is an objective poetry.

SATIRE:

It is a composition intending to attack a folly or vice. It attacks the sin and not the sinner. It is to create a light atmosphere even when it is scornful.  Some of the best English satirists were Dryden, Pope, and Byron.

This is just a basic introduction to the types of poetry. The study of poetry is exciting and engrossing. The book referred for the purpose of the article is ‘A Background to the Study of English Literature’ by B. Prasad.

‘Walking Tours’ by R L Stevenson.

“It must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some would have us fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing the country.”

R L Stevenson’s ‘Walking Tours’ guides us to the method of enjoying a ‘walking tour’. The essay which starts with relishing the ‘walking’ ends on an unexpected note of self reflection.

Miles and miles of walk may sound exhausting but it is not so when one reads this essay. If a tour is all about viewing landscapes and picturesque places, then a train would make for a satisfactory travel. But a walking tour starts with hope and spirit and ends with replenishing ourselves with peace and spirit. A person will find pleasure after pleasure during the walk.

When going on such a tour, one shouldn’t be an ‘over walker’ for they will not comprehend the purpose of the travel. To cover a long distance by walking fast is merely to brutalize one’s own body. An over walker will neither enjoy the evening sky nor the journey and his physical exhaustion will put him to sleep. 

“It is the fate of such an one to take twice as much trouble as is needed to obtain happiness and miss happiness in the end…”

To enjoy the walking tour to the fullest, one has to go alone. For if one goes with a company or as pairs, it will be more like a picnic. In a walking tour, one should enjoy the liberty to stop and then continue. 

“…you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take color from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon.”

In the beginning of the tour, it might be difficult and one would have the urge to give up. In this case, one is to take off their knapsack, enjoy a short break and “ give three leaps and go on singing”. This will improve the mood and soon the spirit of the journey will enter them. If one constantly ponders over their anxieties and worries, which like the merchant Abudah’s chest never empties, they will never be happy about the walk. 

There are instances where one will be joined by other wayfarers. Of them is this one who walks fast with a keen look all concentrated on setting the landscape to words. There is this one who stops at each canal to look at the dragonflies and each gate to look upon cows. There is another who is busy talking, muttering, laughing and gesticulating to themselves; definitely composing the most passionate oration and articles.

There will also be that person who will sing even though he is not a master in that art. It is all fine until he comes across a stolid peasant. This person may be misunderstood for a lunatic for no reason can explain their gaiety to the passers-by. This is completely possible in a walking tour for when surrounded by pleasant things, a person will definitely skip, run, and laugh out of nowhere. Here the essayist quotes Hazlitt who had said,

“Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me,…I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy.” 

Though the essayist had quoted it, he is against leaping and running because these actions breaks the natural rhythm of respiration and break the pace. But when one is on an equable stride, there requires no conscious thought to keep one going and it neither does engage the mind. A walking tour gives us a sense of physical wellbeing, a delightful play of fresh air, contraction of thigh muscles and makes him relish the solitude. 

“He becomes more and more incorporated with the material landscape, and the open air drunkenness grows upon him with great strides, until he posts along the road, and sees everything about him, as in a cheerful dream.”

The essayist stresses on bivouacs as a necessary part of the walking tour. One may dally time as long as one wishes to. It feels like prolonging the time and slowing it down. This is what we people in the industrial era miss. Being in a constant race with time, we have forgotten to live the time. 

“You have no idea, unless you have tried it, how endlessly long is a summer’s day, that you measure out only be hunger, and bring to an end only when you are drowsy.”

The essayist draws near conclusion with a talk on an evening’s rest after a long walk. We throw ourselves into the hands of nature and bring down all our guards.

“And it seems as if a hot walk has purged you, more than of anything else, of all narrowness and pride, and left curiosity to play  its part freely, as in a child of a man of science.”

When the night leaves us alone, we are free to reflect on the way we have led our lives. We are all running after our desires and greeds, we have failed to understand how ephemeral life is.  The essayist puts out lines which makes the readers to question themselves. 

“We are in such a haste to be doing, to be writing, to be gathering gear, to make our voice audible a moment in a derisive silence of eternity, that we forget that one thing, of which these are but the parts — namely, to live.”

“We fall in love, we drink hard, we run to and fro upon the earth like frightened sheep. And now you are to ask yourself if … to remember the faces of women without desire, to be pleased by the great deeds of men without envy, to be everything and everywhere in sympathy, and yet content to remain where and what you are — is not this to know both wisdom and virtue, and to dwell with happiness?”

These lines make us reflect on ourselves. It urges us to ask ourselves when was the last time we were happy, are we happy, are we living, what have we left for the world. These profound questions are for us to think. Maybe there will be no answer. To think and to live our life from here onwards is all that matters. When times get better and when you are to live, go on a walking tour.

“And whether it was wise or foolish, tomorrow’s travel will carry you, body and mind, into some different parish of the infinite.”

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

This is the opening line of the book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. Set in the time of French Revolution, this historical novel gives an insight of the cause and outcome of the revolution. The revolution, which was expected to be the kickstart of the new era and new hopes, turned out to be a bloody massacre. Dickens has intricately woven his plot to align with the timeline of the real events. 

A fiction which is set in the past is Historical fiction. Such a genre mingles the fact, events as in the recorded history, and fiction, the author’s imagination. As the novel is set in the past, the characters, the places, the language, the conflict should all accord to those of that period. The plot doesn’t completely depart from the records.  All these characteristics are observed in the novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

The novel features two cities London and Paris and which in turn bridges two countries England and France.  The French Revolution which occurs in France also casts its shadow on England.  The novel traces the causes of French Revolution. Though a part of it may be fictional as in the part of St. Marquis Evremonde, the novelist brings out the cruelty of the aristocrats in the embodiment of Evremonde. It brings out the horror of the age and how inhumanely the third estates were treated.  

“The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere.”

The conduct of the characters is also in congruence to the period. The time period and the cruelty of the age justifies the actions of the Defarges and the other revolutionaries. The conflict in the novel is also a parallel to the period of the revolutions. The novelist foreshadows from the very beginning of the impending terror in the novel. 

“The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.”

But the conflict is not only between the aristocrats and revolutionaries but also between the innocent whose lives were claimed by the revolutionaries. This is portrayed through the misfortunes of Darnay and his family. Though they were innocent, they were pulled into the political storm of France. By providing many sides of the history, the author makes us think to which degree the revolution was successful and to which degree it was a failure.

The novel doesn’t just bring out the themes of revolution, class division, poverty but also the themes of love, hatred, self-hatred, mental health and other complex themes. The character which makes the most impact in the reader is Sydney Carton. He doesn’t fail to move the readers to tears and a character with a lot of inner conflicts which is worth analyzing. No other words can give such a powerful ending as these.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Thus, by going beyond the expectations of readers and by enchanting them with a descriptive language, Dickens has produced a timeless classic – ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

Read more about Historical fiction at https://awriterofhistory.com/2015/03/24/7-elements-of-historical-fiction/

Read the novel at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/98/old/2city12p.pdf

‘Travel by Train’ by J B Priestly.

“I can pass, at all times, for a quiet, neighborly fellow, yet I have sat more than once, in a railway carriage with black murder in my heart.”

This quote is for you if you had ever hoped for your train journey to end fast, if you had met with passengers who roused your inner devils and had your patience tested by them. We are not always gifted with best travel companions and J B Priestly gives an account of different types of fellow travelers we meet during our journey in his essay ‘Travel by  Train.’

The first type of a traveler is the one who often arouses hatred in others.

“She is a large, middle-aged woman, with a rasping voice and a face of brass.”

Carrying heavy packages in all shapes and varying sizes, she pushes her way into smoking compartments. She glares at everyone around her until a poor victim gives their seat to her. She comes along with a ‘whining cur’ which is only less offensive than the lady by one degree. She wedges herself into the seat and the mood of the whole compartment is completely spoiled by her entry. It will be not long before she gets into trouble for there are few who are bold enough to call her out. 

“From the moment has wedged herself in there will be no peace in the carriage, but simmering hatred, and everywhere dark looks and muttered threats.”

The most common among the travelers who annoy us to varying degrees are those as follows. Firstly, the person who comes with a myriad of luggage packing every old chattel and household utensil. They buy baskets of fruits and bunches of flowers adding weight and misery to themselves and others. Then there are those who forever eat and drink during the journey. As soon as they take their seats, they pass sandwiches and pastry to each other. They talk with their mouths full, scattering food crumbs on those around them. 

“Some children do not make good travelling companions, for they will do nothing but whimper and howl through a journey,…”

Some children either weep throughout the journey or keep smearing their faces with chocolate and try to climb out of the window. There are also these ‘cranks’, as the author calls them, who insist on opening the windows on a cold winter day and on closing the windows on a hot summer day.

There are also these ‘innocents’ who always board the wrong train. Halfway through the journey, they ask if the train is going to their destination. When proved contrary, they get off at the next station looking clueless.

“I have often wondered if these simple voyagers ever reach  their destinations, for it is not outside probability that they may be shot from station to station, line to line, until there is nothing mortal of them.”

The author envies the ‘mighty sleepers’ the most who fall asleep the moment they settle in their seats. While other passengers have to spend their journey in a boring way, they go on adventures and quests in their dreams. But no matter how deep asleep they are, they always wake up two minutes before their destination and get off at the right station.

The author remarks that the Seafaring men are the best companions for they have the best stories to tell. But they are hard to come across. As a contrast, we meet the ‘confidential stranger’ who compels us to listen to his ‘interminable story of his life’ and some boring hobbies. Lastly, there is this elderly gentleman who starts the conversation by telling that “the train is at least three minutes behind time.” On the cue of the slightest interest, he recites the whole railway time table and the essayist warns the readers of such an elderly gentleman.

“Beware of the elderly man who sits in the corner of the carriage and says that the train is two minutes behind the time, for he is the Ancient Mariner of railway travelers,…”

Have you come across any of these travelers? Or do you belong to one of these travelers? Which is your worst train travel? It’s time to think about it.

‘With the Photographer’ by Stephen Leacock.

“Is it me?”, I asked.

Have you had an instance where you had wondered if the person in the picture is you? Has your photo been photoshopped to the point where it departs from resemblance to you? If so, the quote will be relatable. 

Stephen Leacock, a Canadian writer, is best known for his humor. Through his light-hearted and humorous writings, he brings out the follies in people. His essay ‘With the Photographer’, as the title suggests, gives an encounter between the narrator and a photographer. The narrator enters the studio and takes his seat. The photographer remarks on the narrator’s face and how he doesn’t like it.

“The face is quite wrong,” he said.

“I know,” I answered quietly, ”I have always known it.” 

The photographer further instructs on how to pose and this forms a funny narrative in the essay. This also reminds us how we are often told by the photographers when we go to the studio. The photographer keeps stressing on the narrator’s face which makes him angry. Unable to withstand such remarks, the narrator utters these words.

“Stop,” I said with emotion but, I think, with dignity. “The face is my face. It is not yours, it is mine. I’ve lived with it for forty years and I know its faults, I know it is out of drawing. I know it wasn’t made for me, but it’s my face, the only one I have–”…”such as it is, I’ve learned to love it.”

The passage also makes us think about ourselves. Instead of resenting ourselves for not reaching the so-called beauty standards, we should learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are. We may not be beautiful but there is no fault in it. It is no mistake. Learning to love ourselves is the first step to a happy life.

Not heeding to his words, the photographer takes a picture of the narrator when he was speaking. The photographer asks the narrator to come again on Saturday to get the picture. When the narrator visits the studio on Saturday, he is bewildered at the photograph of him. The photo no longer looks like him and the reason is because the photographer had retouched it. This ‘retouch’ can be considered as a photoshop of that age. He had used chemicals like Delphide and Sulphide to ‘retouch’ the picture. The photographer is proud of the changes he made in the photograph and how he made the ugly features of the narrator look good. This only angers the narrator.

“Listen! I came here for a photograph – a picture – something which would have looked like me. I wanted something that would depict my face as Heavens gave it to me, humble though the gift may have been. I wanted something that my friends might keep after my death, to reconcile them to my loss. It seems that I was mistaken. What I wanted is no longer done. …”

Spilling these words, the narrator leaves the studio with tears. Though the essay seems funny, it leaves a room for profound discussion.

DYSTOPIAN LITERATURE

You may have heard about ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, ‘The Maze Runner’ but have you noticed the elements they have in common? All represent a wretched state of society characterized by oppression, unhappiness, and rebellion. They all belong to the genre of dystopian literature.

In the 16th century, Thomas More dreamed of Utopia – an ideal state of things, people and society are happy and peaceful deprived of sadness and destruction. The following centuries proved it impossible for such a state to prevail. There were endless wars, revolts and rebellion,exploitation,unprecedented scientific discoveries, and disruption. All these provided endless materials for the new form of literature – the Dystopian literature.  

Dystopia is contrary to Utopia. Dystopia characterizes a complete havoc and a wrecked state which is beyond repair. It portrays an imperfect world. The main themes of such a literature are extreme divisions in society, rebellion, environmental destruction, disaster and dehumanization. 

As seen in the above mentioned fictions, there is an organization or a character with a propaganda to dictate people of the state. In such a state, there is a difference of power leading the citizens to an unfair treatment and are left to live in poor conditions. President Snow in The Hunger Games has complete control over the people and people lead their life adhering to his regulations. And so, there is a clear difference in the standards of living between the people of Panem and other districts.

There is no independence, free access to information and all are expected to be uniform leaving no place for individuality. People of the state idolize an authoritarian or an idea. The characters or the people live in an illusion that their society is an utopia. In the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, the state, which is set in Chicago, is divided into five factions namely Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Dauntless and Candor. It is expected of all people to fall into either one of the factions. But we see that the protagonists Beatrice and Tobias, who don’t belong to any of these factions, are ostracized. In the beginning, the characters in the story believe such a division in society as ideal and necessary for an order in the state. 

The characters are often monitored by some authority and nothing misses their watch. Being confined to their own little world, characters fear entering the outside world. They are ignorant of what lies outside their state. The outside world is either banished or not allowed to interact. In The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, the Gladers are constantly watched by some mysterious authority which is later found out to be WICKED. Being shut in the Glade, the characters don’t know what lies outside the maze for none has reached it and came back alive. They accept the challenge and make it out of the maze. They later notice that the outside state is in a state of ruin with a dangerous virus called Flare affecting people. So, the immune Gladers are not allowed to interact with the outside world.

Dystopian literature is also speculative literature. They hypothesize of a future which present conditions may lead to and warns of the imminent dangers. It also criticizes those aspects of society which may cause the downfall in the near future.  Now look around and ask yourself if you are living in dystopia.

Read more at http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson926/DefinitionCharacteristics.pdf

Also watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a6kbU88wu0 

Life Lessons from ‘The Happy Prince’ by Oscar Wilde.

“The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.” 

The quote sounds ironic when one completely reads the short story, ‘The Happy Prince’ by Oscar Wilde. The short story is a beautiful tale of love, tears and a portrayal of cold reality. The statue of the Happy Prince is erected in the city.

“He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword hilt.” 

Though all conceive the Happy prince to be happy, the Sparrow catches him weeping. When asked why he was weeping, the Happy Prince tells,

“When I was alive and had a human heart, I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter….And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.”

Sometimes, we too, like the Happy Prince, turn a blind eye to people in misery around us. We are intent on satiating our own greed and desires that we don’t hear the wailing cries for help. 

So the Happy Prince asks the Swallow to help him and the people by taking the rubies and sapphires out of him. When the Swallow helps the poor mother and child for the first time, the Swallow says,

“It is curious but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold”.

Although the night was freezing, the Swallow felt warm because he had done a good deed. Nothing equals the happiness we get from committing a good deed. Share with others and serve for a good cause and so no matter how sad you are, you will be embraced by the warmth of love. 

The Happy Prince gives away his eyes, beauty and luster for the welfare of the people in the town. So the Swallow becomes the Prince’s eyes for he tells what goes on in the town. The Swallow instead of joining his friends in Egypt remains by the Prince and tells him of Egypt. But the Happy Prince tells him to tell what he sees in the town for

“more marvelous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery.”

Misery, as Wilde says, is mysterious as it is sometimes caused by external factors and sometimes by ourselves; we don’t know how long it will last and how bad we will be affected; we don’t know what we will gain and what we will lose. All we can do is cling on to hope as no dark sky rains forever.

The story also brings out the theme of class difference. It shows how the rich are busy making merry in their luxurious houses while the poor and the needy suffer for a morsel. The greediness of the Town Councillors shown in the story proves that nothing had changed in our society since then. 

The story ends with the death of the Swallow and also of the Happy Prince who though a statue had his leaden heart broken into two. Though they both helped people, there was no one to bid them proper farewell. But they were given the best merit – the place in Paradise. We shouldn’t expect honor, fame and laurels in return for our good deeds. For we won’t be awarded by worldly standards but by Heavenly standards. Don’t wait for the Happy Prince to change the society but become that Happy Prince to promote goodness and welfare in the society.

All the quotes are taken from the short story “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde.

Read the short story at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/902/902-h/902-h.htm