from Dance On Fire

August 18, 2012

A GLIMPSE INTO PETE’S LIFE  (c.2000)

“You see an artisan skillful at his craft: He will serve kings, not common men.”  Proverbs 22:29

MY INTRODUCTION

Hello, welcome to my mind. The arts, I believe, exist primarily for the enjoyment of them. Beauty, thoughtful entertainment, and creative imagery fill a void in the human spirit and cause man to functuion happier and more complete in life. Just as God has anointed some as prophets, teachers, administrators, etc. for the rest of us to receive from them, so he has anointed some with talents in various forms of the arts for others to receive blessing from as well for the worship of our ultimate Creator.

There is truth in the saying, “You are what you eat.” What a person chooses to take into their minds becomes a little part of them as it shapes their view of life. Until recently, the message coming from the mainstream church generally rejected most forms of creativity. For so long the church had lagged behind with cheap imitations of what the world has done, usually after it went out of style. What if the best selling authors, the best movies, the most popular musicians were mostly Christians? We’d be living in quite a different society.

The greatest force that influences peoples thoughts and beliefs is the media. We are letting a huge, open, world-reaching mission field lay almost barren for Christ. In most cases, it is a cop out and lazy excuse to say our art is rejected because it has the name Jesus stamped on it. Although it is true that through integrity and moral character, Christians will have to deny many “advantages” offered by an industry dominated by so much sin; for the most part, the people at the top are there because of hard work and talent. And we serve the Creator God who had made us in his image and has endowed his creative anointing on many of his servants. Should we leave those talents buried, or should we risk their investment?

Most art that requires thought represents the artist’s views on life; there is usually a moral or point the artist is trying to convey. Although I don’t feel the need to sum up the gospel in every one of my pieces, I think the outflow of my heart on paper reveals my faith, strength, and love dependent on our Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Subjects of my work range from thoughts on something of interest to the daily struggles of life to the exploration of the human spirit in our relationship with God to pure and simple worship of him. Although we tried to match some artwork to poetry with common themes, all work was created separately and has nothing to do with the other on a specific level.

My deepest desire for my work is that by the grace of God it would somehow lift up and encourage you and move your heart closer to the Lord by knowing him in a deeper way. It is my prayer that in seeing my struggles some would in a sense learn from my mistakes and be encouraged to persevere and press on in what God has called you. At the very least, I hope you find my work interesting and entertaining so that the time you spend looking into my head is enjoyable.

Thank you sincerely…

21st Century Man

Running Running Running on and
Raging he went
Whipped around in a whirlwind.
His life was spent
Taking shots in the dark,
He never kindled the spark
Into a magnificent fire.
He was conditioned to be a liar:
A constant walk on the high wire.
Looking down,
The world went ’round
Without him.
He laughed and he cried-
Took in his breath and he sighed-
And he died.

Twenty-first Century Man-
That’s who I am.

Cycles 

A dark red glow is all that is left
Of the fiery bowl sunken
In the deep dark horizon.
Soon even the trees,
So perfectly silhouetted
Against the evening glow,
Will become a mere whisper
And a shadow.
The stars ride out
In their procession
Deceiving us with their faint light.
Everything is so beautiful,
So mysterious,
But the stepping stones stumble me
And I’ll be lucky to catch
Reflection
Of the lion’s eyes-
Devourer.
Enter the night.

We toss and turn in sleepless struggle,
Being held captive by blackness bubbles.
We don’t float away-
We turn and fight.
We search for light,
Find wisdom where she may be:

Awake,
O mother, sister in heart.
Sell us the fuel
To light the lamps
To guide
The way
To Freedom Road.
Your Father,
Your brother the King,
Our Husband, he calls us…
Plain bright mystery.

The horizon behind us,
The sun left behind.
The horizon beyond us:
A strip of pale blue
Pushes out purple, down black.
The Son is arisen,
My world is renewed;
My vision is back.

Patience

She talks go
But when I go
Red lights flash ahead.
Somehow…
I prefer to stop.
Fire burns red.
My flesh burns for you.

No. Far better
In me
A white fire
Of the core.
Purify…
Soul consuming.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you…

To my God: Jesus Christ, His Father, His Holy Spirit; Three persons in unity: One God Most High. The maker and giver of my talents and everything good in me.

To my ex-wife Letecia who has been a source of inspiration and a tool used to shape and develop my character.

To my boys Gabriel and Zed. My two greatest rocks of unconditional love.

To my parents Richard and Catherine, my brothers Paul and Tom. A family filled with love and normalcy I once rejected but now so deeply appreciate your strong stablility in days so uncertain.

To Pneuma Books, the designers of this book, my friend Brian Taylor, who spent much valuable time on it, giving me the opportunity to present my work.

To Vivian Branton-Jones, who gave a shy, punk kid the ability to have confidence in himself.

To Harold R. Eberle, a prophet of God who imparted the commission of God to me.

To Bob, John, Darrell, James, Mel, Alan, and Misty; my buds from high school–almost Tens Years Gone–give me a call sometime.

To the elders and body of believers at Newark Christian Fellowship and East Coast Aflame Ministries. Thank you for the love, support and acceptanct you have given me throughout the years.

“…deep, heart-felt emotion… overflowing into perfectly-placed poetic words. They are a realization of unfulfilled dreams and a longing for perfection as a father and as a human being… desperately reaching… and finding solace in the understanding that only God is in control.”  -Susan L. Heisler, Delaware Artist & Author of Anthology of a Crazy Lady

Peter L. Richardson

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Vivian: In Memoriam

April 19, 2012

Without life you become earth, the bearer of herb, rock, seed, root. You are the energy of ocean, the force behind mountains. You are gravity. You are echo. You are the mother of dreams, the father of song, the child of eternity.  -Vivian Branton, “Absence”

Space is the place
you dropped out of
Like an angel
into my dark night.

Drifting through the cosmos
all stardust unawares
When your hand reached down
spun me ’round
And planted a compass
and a drum in my heart.

Like seed in the dirt
Your vibrant rainbow voice
dropped
courage,
faith,
wisdom,
truth
Into the cracked holes of my soul
Until I began to believe
in the dream.

Now you return to the ethereal chorus
Singing in the great cloud of witness.
Your tune weaving in, out and around
stands out from the rest,
Your heartbeat rythmn
competes and completed with the best.

But your mark is still among us earthdwellers.
Your garden grows deep within my own,
and now I spread the seed
you once planted in me;
I set the compass for
drifters in the sea.
Fruit grown from the kindness you once shared with me:
“Ya know what I mean, jellybean?”

I will not waste your legacy.

Peter L Richardson
4/15/12

 

FIRE AND APPLES:

May 30, 2011

The Use of Myth in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 

Frankenstein Cover, by Barry Moser

Frankenstein Cover, by Barry Moser

“Nail in my hand from my creator, you gave me life, now Show Me How to Live!” -Chris Cornell 

It was a rainy and cold summer day when Mary Shelley first conceived the idea of her now famous story, Frankenstein. She and her future husband Percy Shelly were visiting Lord Byron at his summer home in Geneva. Because of the temperamental weather, the group of writer-poets was spending most of the time inside reading, writing, and telling ghost stories. Mary was having a hard time coming up with a good ghost story, but after she heard Percy and Byron discuss recent theories from the botanist Dr. Erasmus Darwin about the scientific possibility of reanimation, Mary had a sleepless night when she “saw–with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,–I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together” (Shelley 170). However, the work Mary was about to create became much more than a simple ghost story. Frankenstein has become a modern myth which has held a significant influence over our culture to this day. Through her letters and journals we know that during the year previous to that fateful summer, Mary had been reading many biblical and classical works which had a profound influence on her own work (Harper 11-12).One needs only to look at the title page to discover the myths that lent themselves most significantly to Mary’s creation: the subtitle is The Modern Prometheus, and the epigraph is from Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?” Of the Greek myth of Prometheus and the Biblical creation story with the fall of man from paradise, philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche has said, “there exists between the two myths a degree of relationship like that between brother and sister” (Ziolowszki 25). It is no wonder that these two myths emerged to dominate the symbolism in Frankenstein. In a way, much like her tragic hero, Victor, pieces together existing body parts for his creation, Mary pieces together these myths of creation and rebellion in order to create her own modern myth, her own “hideous progeny” (Shelley 171). The story of Frankenstein is one of horror and the supernatural, a story that reveals the consequences of man’s obsession with knowledge and ambition–and, in essence, this new myth and legend, which has gone forth and prospered, upholds the Romantic traditions that paradise can only be obtained through embracing nature, brotherhood, and the imagination.

Most Romantics believed in a divinity of nature that could help mankind find his way back to paradise. According to the Romantics, there exists a higher power within and throughout nature that mankind has lost touch with because of ambitions caused by the established orders of government and religion in society. Government and religion are based on reason, which is opposed to the imagination. Too much reason and analytical thinking rips the world apart, whereas imagination holds all things together. Imagination makes man psychologically and socially whole; therefore, mankind could restore Eden with imagination. Both Prometheus and Adam possess elements of ambition and rebellion in a reach for knowledge (or reason) which result in bringing misery and destruction to mankind. Likewise, Victor Frankenstein’s ambition, his preference for reason over the imagination, and his separation from humanity ultimately cause his downfall.

The most well know story of Prometheus is from the tragedies of Aeschylus. Writing at the height of Greek culture in Athens, Aeschylus portrays Prometheus, a Titan, as a benevolent hero of mankind. He rebels against the tyrant Zeus by stealing fire from the gods and he bestows his gift of fire, which is equivalent to knowledge, to the human race. Prometheus is punished by being chained to a rock where an eagle comes to feed off his liver every day, but this noble image of Prometheus is problematic. When we first encounter him in Greek mythology through Hesiod, who was a contemporary of Homer, he is portrayed as a trickster who steals from Zeus simply to spite him, and his gift to man is seen not as a benefit but as a curse that has brought misery to humanity.

Victor Frankenstein, Mary’s “modern Prometheus,” is just as problematic as his forbearer. Victor has many good and noble qualities in himself. He is a lover of nature, and before he became obsessed with his work, he was deeply connected to family. It can be argued that the loss of his mother partly inspired his creation. At least the idea of the protection of humanity was a part of his ambition to “banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!” But unfortunately he prefaced his declaration with “what glory would attend the discovery” (Shelley 30). So while Victor wished to bestow on humanity the gift of a disease free world, it was mainly the desire for personal glory that drove him on. At the end when Walton, the captain who drug him out of the frozen sea of the North Pole, wished to know the formula which sparked his creation, Victor refused to give it to him saying “learn [from] my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own” (Shelley 155), but later on his deathbed, while Victor is once again coaching Walton to “avoid ambition” he reneged at the end and blurted out: “Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.” Despite all the misery he has experiences and all the misery he has caused others, Victor still cannot fully reject his over ambitious desire for knowledge.

In the Prometheus myth, fire is a tool that benefits mankind, yet left unchecked, it erupts into a destroyer. Mary consistently uses the image of fire to show how the increase of knowledge unchecked with wisdom and imagination can also lead to destruction. When Victor was fifteen years old, during a thunder storm he “beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak…so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump…I never beheld any thing so utterly destroyed” (Shelley 31). And so, through lightning, Victor was introduced to the power of electricity, and the power of knowledge. Years later, after his promise to create a mate for his creation, Victor was unable to be lifted up even by nature. He had become the victim of his ambition, the slave to his creation. It was as if he were chained to a rock with an eagle gnawing at his insides: “I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit, what I shall soon cease to be–a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others, and abhorrent to myself” (Shelley 119).

Fire and the increase of knowledge have the same destructive result for Victor’s creation, who is never bequeathed with a name or identity from his creator. When the creature was still in his innocent state, the only light he had or needed was “a gentle light that stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure.” Knowledge is not in itself evil. At a distance from man it is not destructive; it gives us enough understanding to “enlighten [our] path.” However, man’s ambition to use knowledge to gain control and power only serves to corrupt and destroy him. When Victor’s creation stumbles upon a lit fire left by some wandering beggars, it is the beginning of his destruction. He learns the benefits of warmth by the fire, but just as quickly he learns of its destructive nature when he puts his hand too close: “How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite affects!” The first thing the creature did was to go about collecting wood to increase his fire; thus his ambition for knowledge began, “I was in the greatest fear lest my fire should be extinguished” (Shelley 76-77). Later Victor’s creation literally increased his knowledge; as he hid out and observed the De Lacey family, he learned to read, and he studied from the books he had found. Like creator, like creature, he lamented to Victor that “Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was” (Shelley 97), and when he was rejected by the family he had grown to love in secret, he became overcome by rage and used his new tool of fire to utterly destroy their cottage. Desire for revenge consumed him, and he sought to rebel against and overpower his creator, but in the end his rebellion and revenge only created an increase of misery for himself, and he conceded that the only way to end his torment was through self-destruction: “Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of these torturing flames” (Shelley 164). The result of both Victor and his creation’s ambitious increase of knowledge was utter destruction for each.

It is no coincidence that Milton’s Paradise Lost is explicitly referred to so much in Frankenstein; Mary had Percy read it aloud to her a few months after she began her novel (Ketterer 23). In this story man is still the victim of the crimes of a higher spiritual being, Satan, but he also has his own share in the blame. Adam has been specifically told by God not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, yet when prompted by Satan (through Eve) to eat and “become like God,” he takes the Fall. This interpretation of the Biblical creation story is in agreement with the Romantic notion that humanity was once in a state of perfection and unity with the earth and nature, but when knowledge, or reason, entered the world, man became separated from God and from nature. But it is not simply knowledge that corrupts man; it is his motivation to acquire that knowledge. Satan had rebelled against God and tried to usurp the throne of the Almighty, and at his advice Adam disobeyed his benevolent Creator with the ambition to be “like God.” 

Milton’s epic is based on the Bible, the Holy Scriptures of Christianity, and his work ironically becomes like Scripture to Victor’s creation. Paradise Lost becomes the monster’s guide, the one work by which he judges himself and those around him (Shelley 95); for example, he appeals to his creator with “Remember, that I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed” (Shelley 74). While Victor alone play the role as an unjust, unmerciful and imperfect creator who creates a flawed being in his own corrupted image, both he and his creation share the dual role of Adam and Satan in this story of the fall from Eden.

In Victor’s Eden, his childhood in Geneva, he is surrounded by those whom he loves and is loved by, and in his company are those who embrace a love and passion for nature and the poetic imagination. When he leaves for the university to pursue knowledge, his fall from grace begins. Victor reaches for the apple in his attempt to be “like God” and “render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” (Shelley 30); the result is ban from Eden. As stated earlier, he is unable to be affected by nature, and he is disconnected from love. After denying his own “fallen angel’s” demands for a mate, Victor longs for a life with his betrothed: “I…dared to whisper paradisiacal dreams of love and joy; but the apple was already eaten, and the angel’s arm bared to drive me from all hope” (Shelley 139). Victor had a few opportunities for redemption; had he stayed in touch with his family and friends he may not have committed his unnatural act, but as he said himself, “my imagination was too much exulted…to doubt my ability to give life.” Here Victor took the role of Satan as his ambitions drove him to be just like God: “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 39-40). But like Satan in Milton’s epic, he took a hard fall: “like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained to an eternal hell…I trod heaven in my thoughts…until I fell, never, never again to rise” (Shelley 155-156). 

Victor created a deformed being in his imperfect image; Victor was psychologically disfigured, and his creation became the physical image of his mind. Even though Victor abandoned and rejected his “Adam,” the creature still had his own Eden in a forest where he lived in unity with nature, until he stumbled upon fire and began his own search for knowledge. This “monster” is at first portrayed as the ideal Romantic; he was a lover of nature, and his only ambition was “to be known and loved by…amiable creatures” (Shelley 97). However, simply because of his deformity, he was rejected by all of humanity, and in his isolation and loneliness he vowed revenge on his creator, but instead of going straight after Victor, he followed the role of Satan in Paradise Lost (IV.381-392); he set himself to destroying everything that Victor loved: “from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me, and sent me forth to insupportable misery.” The creature set out to overpower his creator, and he more or less succeeded, but in his ambition to make Victor his slave, he became a slave to his own depravity. By acting on the threat that barred Victor from returning Eden (killing Victor’s love, Elizabeth, on their wedding night), the creature “was the slave, not the master of an impulse, which I detested, yet could not disobey…Evil thenceforth became my good” (Shelley 162).

Both Prometheus and Adam are promised a day of salvation: Prometheus will eventually be freed by Hercules, and Adam and his descendents have the promise of Christ’s redemption. There is no Savior waiting in the future for either Victor or his creation, but Mary points the way to paradise through the Romantic ideology of the supporting characters, who show the reader how to avoid the destruction wrought and suffered by Victor and his creation. For Victor there was his best friend, Henry Clerval, who sought to bring Victor out of isolation: “Study had before secluded me from the intercourse of my fellow-creatures, and rendered me unsocial; but Clerval called forth the better feelings of my heart; he again taught me to love the aspect of nature, and the cheerful faces of children. Excellent friend! How sincerely did you love me, and endeavor to elevate my mind, until it was on a level with your own” (Shelley 52). But it was too late; Victor had already condemned himself. For the creature it was the old, blind man De Lacey. Unable to see his bulk and disfigurement, De Lacey gave the monster his only taste of acceptance an invited him in his cottage.  Victor’s creation declared, “You raise me from the dust by this kindness; and I trust that, by your aid, I shall not be driven from the society and sympathy of your fellow creatures” (Shelley 99), but it was not meant to be. De Lacey’s family returned, and fearing Victor’s creation on sight, drove him out and therefore ignited his wrath. In the end, both Victor and his creation lament their ambition for knowledge and long for a simpler time and place, a return to Eden, in almost parallel statements. Victor states, “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (Shelley 39), and his creation states, “sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known or felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!”   

Mary Shelley uses her Romantic Tragedy to teach us that if we can curb our ambitions of power and conquest, and if we can embrace the divinity of nature and treat all men as brothers in loving kindness, we might be able to achieve the unity and paradise expressed through poetic imagination. In so doing, she has created her own myth that has become as timeless as the works she used to create it. Mary’s “hideous progeny” has gone forth and prospered and is still inspiring us today in many new ways and through many new media and genres. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein stands as a warning to modern man: As we ever more speedily increase our consumption of information and ever more embrace personal ambition and glory as positive traits for our heroes, we neglect to nurture the Spirit and the brotherhood of man, the very places through which Wisdom calls out to the soul.

Peter L Richardson
February, 14 2005

Harper, Henry H. Letters of Mary W. Shelley. Boston: The Bibliophile Society, 1871.

Ketterer, John. Frankenstein’s Creation: The Book, The Monster, and Human Reality. University of Victoria, 1979.

Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” From The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Seventh Edition. ed. M.H. Abrams. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Shelley, Mary. The Mary Shelly Reader, containing Frankenstein… (1818 edition). ed. Betty T. Bennett & Charles Robinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Sin of Knowledge, Ancient Themes and Modern Variations. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Richard Wilbur was the editor of his college newspaper. He graduated from Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in 1942 and enlisted in the United States army to fight in the Second Great War. He was being trained as a cryptographer, but because of his leftist views, federal investigators had him demoted to the infantry where he fought in the front lines. Wilbur fought in Italy, France and Germany; he was an observer of life, and he wrote down his reflections in his poetry. After the war Wilbur continued studying at Harvard and he graduated in 1947, the same year his first book, The Beautiful Changes, was released. During the 1950’s, Wilbur was regarded as one of America’s most important poets; in 1956 he won the Pulitzer Prize. In the sixties, the beat movement grew popular and Wilbur began to be criticized for being too formal and too clean. Though he lost his status of influence among young poets and scholars, Wilbur was not moved by these changes and he continued to write and publish poetry true to himself.

Wilbur’s poetry may not fall into despair or may not graphically describe the horrors of the world around him, yet to say that the reality of a depraved world is missing in his poetry, as many of his critics do, is failure to see the essence of his work. Wilbur does not ignore the trouble of the world, but rather he manages to come to terms with it. John Gery says “To read a poem by Wilbur…is to be pulled simultaneously toward anxiety and consolation, toward despair and hope, and ultimately to be deposited somewhere in between” (3). Wilbur is able to see a bigger picture being drawn, through his Christian faith he able to look beyond “the time’s fright” and hope for a means to an end.

This pulling “toward despair and hope” is revealed not only in Wilbur’s poems influenced by war, but it can also be seen in many of his simple nature poems. In fact, some of his poetry reveals a deep relationship between the horror of war and the beauty of nature. It is as if they are somehow intertwined and grown into each other like two different vines forming a seemingly whole plant. We can see this relationship most clearly in three of Wilbur’s poems. “First Snow in Alsace” was published in Wilbur’s first book only a few years after the end of World War II. It is a reflection of a moment in time from his experience in the war. “The Lilacs” and “On the Marginal Way”, both nature poems, were published in 1969 in Walking to Sleep. They are the first and second poems in the book and appear in a section subtitled In the Field, a title which brings together a sense of war and a sense of nature at the same time. These later poems were published during the height of the Viet Nam conflict of the United States.

“First Snow in Alsace” is a simple, straightforward poem. It is about the first snowfall of the season in Alsace, France, one of the places Wilbur fought at in the war. It is written in three-line stanzas; the first and third lines rhyming, and the second line creates the rhyme for the next stanza’s first and third rhyme and so on for eight stanza’s until the ninth, which is only one line that rhymes with the second line in the eighth stanza. The lines are all iambic tetrameter, with the exception of the second line in the fourth stanza and its rhyming first and third lines of the fifth stanza, which have an extra syllable at the end. These extra syllables occur right in the middle of the poem and these three lines are the most revealing of the imagery of a war torn town. The poem itself carries this pattern of eight stanzas with an extra line at the end, but the extra line does not emphasize the war, like the extra syllables do, rather it emphasizes the nature aspect of the poem. 

Judging by the title and the first stanza, we have very peaceful and poetic imagery of a simple snowfall; “The snow came down like moths / Burned on the moon.” We are pulled in to the poem with the beautiful image of giant white snowflakes falling at night, but underneath there is the image of greed causing destruction. We are reminded of the cliché,  “like a moth drawn to a flame” and the flame destroys the moths. The snow “fell till dawn / Covered the town with simple cloths.” A snow covering can make almost anything look beautiful and clean, but it is only a simple covering, a cloth hiding the dirt underneath. What we have is a poem of nature encroaching on the devastation of war.

The second stanza openly introduces the war. We have the images of “entangled railings, crevassed lawn…scattered and deranged” by “shell bursts.” Yet the “absolute snow” continues to fall upon “estranged…houses…as if it did not know they’d changed” right to the end of the poem. “Absolute snow” implies the purity of the new snow, as well as its permanence. Snow will continue to fall, the seasons will continue to change, nature will persist, no matter what the tangles of man are that it covers.

In the fourth stanza the snow covers and makes “ration stacks” and “ammunition piles” beautiful. In the fifth stanza, with “You think,” The poet brings us right into his mind and we recall with him the casualties of war; “…snowfall fills the eyes / Of soldiers dead a little while.” This is the last of the three lines with an extra syllable, Wilbur is emphasizing that “a little while” before this snowfall a bloody, violent battle has taken the life of men. The snowfall “fills the eyes” as if they could see, but also, since they have died suddenly their eyes are left uncovered by their lids and the snow is filling up their still open eyes. Nature buries the dead left on the field.

In the sixth stanza, “Persons and persons in disguise…Trade glances quick with shared surprise.” In wartime we have people who are free to walk about and those who need to be disguised. As they walk in “the new air white and fine,” they are able to share, however brief, a moment together. The seventh stanza is the most “benign.” It leaves behind the image of war and speaks only of “children’s windows” where “winter shines the most, / And frost makes marvelous designs.” The poet has taken us from a typical nature poem into the despair of a war and then leads us to the hope and joy that children possess.

In the eighth stanza Wilbur reveals himself as “The night guard coming from his post.” He is “Ten first-snows back in thought.” He is remembering when he was a child and he is able to remember his childlike hope which “warms him with a boyish boast:” and the poem ends with the simple statement, “He was the first to see the snow.” In the midst of a war in which a madman was leading a people gone mad from despair to try and take over the world, a first snow of the season inspires Wilbur to find a hope in mankind. Nature will continue its seasonal progress, just as children will continue to be born. New snow, pure and clean, will fall and cover the earth, just as new children, pure and full of hope, will be born and cover the Earth. 

“First Snow in Alsace” is a foreshadowing of Wilbur’s work published more than twenty years later. In the 1960’s Wilbur was criticized for more than his use of form and the simplicity of his poetry. As soldiers continued to go to Viet Nam, more and more anti-war groups began to rise up. Robert Bly headed a “poets against the war” group which was very vocal and very critical towards anyone who did not speak out against the war. Wilbur began to be highly criticized in the poetry press because of his silence about the war. Though he never openly spoke out against or in support of the war, Wilbur’s work in 1969 may have been a response to that criticism, at the least it shows that the war was certainly on his mind. Once again we have poetry that expresses the relationship between war and nature.

Wilbur begins his book, Walking to Sleep, with “The Lilacs.” In response to the call for him to become more contemporary, Wilbur decides instead to reach back to a form of poetry from Old English. “The Lilacs” is written in alliterative-stress Anglo-Saxon verse which uses lines with four stresses. The first two stresses and one of the last two stresses need to be alliterated. Unlike “First Snow in Alsace,” this nature poem, about a group of lilacs’ first bloom, never explicitly speaks about war, yet the metaphor of war is all over it. It is as if war and nature were fused together as one.

The poem begins “Those laden lilacs at lawn’s end.” From the first lines our flowers are burdened as the word “laden” implies. Yet we could also use the word loaded, which implies ammunition; a loaded gun. As the poem continues, the lilacs “Came stark and spindly, and in staggered file, / Like walking wounded from the dead of winter.” Here we see the lilacs coming up from the ground at the end of the winter season, but the language more appropriately speaks about soldiers marching back from battle; as “in staggered file, like walking wounded.”

The poem continues to speak of these flowers’ struggle for life as they “waken in brusque weather” in violent terms. The lilacs waken “To rot and rootbreak, to ripped branches,” they “shiver as the memory swept them / Of night and numbness and the taste of nothing.” The flowers, in hibernation all winter, remember nothing and feel nothing as they waken in the midst of struggle. Soldiers in the “rot and rootbreak” of war, whose experience of life and limb being “ripped” need to become numb and feel nothing for a time in order to survive “the dead of winter” and the despair “of night.”

The lilacs waken “Out of present pain and from past terror.” The soldiers begin to wake from their “present pain;” physical and emotional, and from the “past terror” of the battle behind them. The lilacs are now “bullet-shaped buds [which] came quick and bursting, / As if they aimed to be open with us!” Once again we have the imagery of ammunition; “bullet-shaped, bursting, aimed.” However, these buds are not aiming to shoot us, but simply “to be open with us.” The language provokes war imagery, but also speaks of the lilacs or soldiers wanting to convey some information to us, “as if they intended to be honest with us.”

This line occurs right in the center of the poem, Wilbur uses assonance instead of alliteration and the mood of the poem changes here from a violent battlefield to a peaceful hospital of healing and hope. The second half of the poem speaks of the healing that occurs after warfare. Right before the lilacs are about to speak, “the sun suddenly settled about them, / And green and grateful the lilacs grew, / Healed in that hush, that hospital quiet.” After a long winter, flowers inevitably bloom; after the war, healing inevitably comes to the world.

Over the next few lines the lilacs bloom but they “Have kept their counsel, conveying nothing / Of their mortal message.” These lilacs, or these soldiers, healed from their experience, prefer to keep silent about what they know of mortality. Richard Wilbur, a war veteran, prefers to remain silent about the war his country is now involved in. The poem continues, however, and ends with “unless one should measure / The depth and dumbness of death’s kingdom / By the pure power of this perfume.”

What is the mortal message? Flowers bloom and die, youth passes away, beauty fades and death comes to us all. Yes, but there is something more. The dead are silent, they cannot speak; “the…dumbness of death’s kingdom” but if “one should measure the depth…of death’s kingdom by the pure power of this perfume” that one would learn that the power of life is through the passion by which it is lived, and the more powerful the perfume, the longer the scent lingers. The lilacs mortal message is to live life to its fullest because it is frail and subject to trial and war. Maybe, even that war is inevitable in a world of “brusque weather.”

But the lilacs are also a testimony that life carries on, we move through the winter of war and if we survive the sun comes out and we are “healed in…that hospital quiet.” The lilacs leave us the message that after a long cold winter, some will survive and break through the frozen ground, and bloom again and leave with us “the pure power of [their] perfume.”  The scent, and hope, of life is more powerful than the silence, and despair, of death.

The next poem in Wilbur’s 1969 book is one of war encroaching on nature; yet along with the poets darkening thoughts in this work, he is once again able to find hope for some kind of meaning in it all. “On the Marginal Way” begins as a typical landscape poem, Wilbur is actually walking on the Marginal Way, a physical path along the shores of Maine. Yet the title also suggests to us that Wilbur is looking at life from a different perspective, from on the edge. Wilbur suggests in “The Lilacs” that he, as a war veteran, may choose to remain silent and let his life and work speak for him. It is possible here that Wilbur is making the statement that he is able to see “the time’s fright” of the current war from a different perspective; through his veteran status and through his faith. As Wilbur walks along the coast and takes delight in this “perfect day,” thoughts of war darken the experience, but Wilbur again returns to a place of hope.

Wilbur once again conforms to formal convention. The poem is made up of eleven stanzas, each stanza has six lines with an a-b-a-b-c-c rhyme scheme. The first line of each stanza is written in trimeter, the third in tetrameter and the remaining lines are all iambic pentameter.

The poem begins with “Another cove of shale,” as if to say this is simply another poem about a beach, “But the beach here is rubbled with strange rock / That is sleek, fluent, and taffy-pale.” The beach here is filled with rocks which in Wilbur’s eyes take the shape of various kinds of people throughout the poem. For the rest of the first stanza and the second, Wilbur is reminded of an amusing experience of George Borrow, a minister and travel writer who received a bit of a shock. While he was on the beaches of Spain, he observed a large group of women sunbathing in the nude. These rocks take the form of “A hundred women basking in the raw.” Wilbur thinks that the women, “–a too abundant view…must have looked like this,” like the rocks strewn on the shore. Wilbur amusingly imagines that these women “Could not have waked desire in Borrow’s eye.”

But at the third stanza the mood darkens, as does the sky, and Wilbur sees these rocks in a different light. It begins, “Has the light altered now? / The rocks flush rose and have the melting shape / Of bodies fallen anyhow.” In the third and forth stanzas the rocks become a vivid vision of bodies in a Gericault painting “of blood and rape, / Some desert town despoiled, some caravan / Pillaged, its people murdered to a man.” and the ocean waves’ spray turns into the dust from the murderers galloping away and making their escape.

Before the fourth stanza ends, the weather shifts again and Wilbur moves out of the realm of images from art into visions from his own experiences. He states “But now the vision of a colder lust / Clears, as the wind goes chill and all is greyed / By a swift cloud that drags a carrion shade.” Clouds move in and the sky becomes darker still, everything becomes cold and this group of rocks turned bodies, turned into bodies murdered, now becomes bodies which are rotten and putrid.

The fifth stanza takes Wilbur back to his own experience in World War II:

               If these are bodies still,
     Theirs is a death too dead to look asleep,
          Like that of Auschwitz’s final kill,
     Poor slaty flesh abandoned in a heap
     And then, like sea-rocks buried by a wave,
     Bulldozed at last into a common grave.

The beautiful sight of waves bursting and flowing upon a rocky shore, becomes for Wilbur the vivid image of mankind’s most heinous of crimes; the Holocaust.

In the sixth stanza we find out what is really troubling Wilbur. He begins with, “It is not tricks of sense / But the time’s fright within me which distracts / Least fancies into violence.” So it is really not the changing light which made these haunting and violent images from such beautiful scenery, it is not a trick of the eyes, but rather it is “the time’s fright.” It is the conflict of the Viet Nam War and the conflict of his country becoming divided over that war which turns his thoughts violent. But Wilbur does not linger in despair, instead his “thought[s] take cover in the facts” as Wilbur looks upon “the bed of layered rock two miles above [his] head.” He sees the grandeur of the cliff rising up on one side and Wilbur thinks back to the creation of the world. He spends the next two and a half stanzas describing the world’s creation and stating “the facts.”

The seventh stanza is a vivid and even violent description of the making of the Earth. He thinks of how the cliff beside him broke through the Earth’s skin, fueled by fire and magma. The description continues into the eighth stanza as the magma is “Welled up, as here, to fill / With tumbled rock meal, stone-fume, lithic spray, / The dike’s brief chasm and the sill.” Wilbur is thinking about the violence that first formed the beautiful landscape he now views. The next lines moving in to the ninth stanza brings Wilbur to creation; “Weathered until the sixth and human day.” In the creation story of Genesis, man was formed on the sixth day. Yet it is “By sanding winds and water, scuffed and brayed / By glacier’s heel, these forms were made” (italics mine). It took centuries of erosion to form the rocks before Wilbur “That now recline and burn / Comely as Eve and Adam.” Adam was formed out the ground and these rocks which were formed by the elements remind Wilbur of his Creator; Wilbur is able to “take cover in the facts” that we are created beings, and that violence is sometimes part of what the Creator uses to shape and form the beautiful images that we become.

As Wilbur reflects on these “facts” the sea is once again “transfigured by the sun’s return” and Wilbur is back on a typical beach where “three girls lie golden.” But the war has not left his mind. Wilbur understands that “high above the shore / On someone’s porch, spread wings of newspaper flap / The tidings of some dirty war.” We cannot ignore the times that we live in, we are forced to deal with them, even when “It is a perfect day,” that day will be tainted by “the time’s fright.” But on that day we are not forced to fall into despair for still “the waters clap / Their hands and kindle, and the gull in flight / Loses himself at moments, white in white.” The world is still full of beauty and there is still room for hope as Wilbur explains in the next and final stanza of the poem.

In this last stanza Wilbur explains how he is able to live in such troubled times and still be at peace. Just like the waves are breaking on the shore “like a breaking thought / Joy for a moment floods into the mind,” and this joy is “Blurting that all things shall be brought / To the full and stature of their kind.” Wilbur has confidence that all things will be worked out in the end, that the purpose and reason for every struggle will be revealed. These preceding lines are reminiscent of the scripture; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV). Though Wilbur never uses his poetry to preach, his faith, no doubt, permeates through it. “All things shall be brought / To the full state and stature of their kind, / By what has found the manhood of this stone.” All things will be brought to fullness by the founder, the one who shapes the stones which are before Wilbur to look like people. In other words, the founder is the Creator; God.

The last line of the poem is even a prayer; “May that vast motive wash and wash our own.” Wilbur’s revelation of his confidence that he can trust his Creator leads to the breaking moment when joy floods his mind. Trust and joy provoke faith and hope. “That vast motive” is confidence and joy in our Creator. “May that vast motive wash and wash;” may that great hope in God break in and consistently wash our thoughts as the waves consistently wash over the shore. “May that vast motive wash and wash our own [motives];” May everything we do be done through the motive of a hope and a confidence which brings joy, in our Creator. May God, himself, be the motivator of our actions.

It is ironic that Wilbur is criticized for not being vocal about the war and for his poetry being too straightforward with its meaning being right on the surface, because as we take a look underneath the surface of his work, we discover Wilbur’s subtle views on war. Wilbur’s experiences in World War II seem to influence much of his work. He even uses military terms in describing the writing of poetry; Wilbur states, “every poem begins, or ought to, by a disorderly retreat to defensible positions. Or, rather, by a perception of the hopelessness of direct combat, and a resort to the warfare of spells, effigies, and prophecies” (from Gery 3, italics mine). In this statement Wilbur affirms that his work often begins with a sense of hopelessness, or despair, and must resort to the use of things supernatural to be resolved. Wilbur’s path to the supernatural is often through nature. Wilbur never vocally speaks out against war because war is a part of nature as much as mankind is. War and nature truly are intertwined together, and Richard Wilbur is able to come to terms with “the time’s fright” of any time because he has a confidence in “what has found” the Earth and mankind and even time itself.

Peter L Richardson
20th Century Poets
12/9/2003

Gery, John. Ways of Nothingness: Nuclear Annihilation and Contemporary American Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

Modern American Poetry “Richard Wilbur: Biography and General Commentary” http://www.english.uniuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/wilbur/bio.htm p.1-4. 12/4/03.

First Snow in Alsace
-Richard Wilbur

The snow came down last night like moths
Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,
Covered the town with simple cloths.

Absolute snow lies rumpled on
What shellbursts scattered and deranged,
Entangled railings, crevassed lawn.

As if it did not know they’d changed,
Snow smoothly clasps the roofs of homes
Fear-gutted, trustless and estranged.

The ration stacks are milky domes;
Across the ammunition pile
The snow has climbed in sparkling combs.

You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children’s windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

The Lilacs
-Richard Wilbur

Those laden lilacs
                         at the lawn’s end
Came stark, spindly,
                         and in staggered file,
Like walking wounded
                         from the dead of winter.
We watched them waken
                         in the brusque weather
To rot and rootbreak,
                         to ripped branches,
And I saw them shiver
                        as the memory swept them
Of night and numbness
                        and the taste of nothing.
Out of present pain
                        and from past terror
Their bullet-shaped buds
                        came quick and bursting,
As if they aimed
                        to be open with us!
But the sun suddenly
                        settled about them,
And green and grateful
                        the lilacs grew,
Healed in that hush,
                        that hospital quiet.
These lacquered leaves
                        where the light paddles
And the big blooms
                        buzzing among them
Have kept their counsel,
                       conveying nothing
Of their mortal message,
                       unless one should measure
The depth and dumbness
                       of death’s kingdom
By the pure power
                       of this perfume.

On the Marginal Way
-Richard Wilbur

          Another cove of shale,
But the beach here is rubbled with strange rock
     That is sleek, fluent, and taffy-pale.
I stare, reminded with a little shock
How, by a shore in Spain, George Borrow saw
A hundred women basking in the raw.

          They must have looked like this,
That catch of bodies on the sand, that strew
     Of rondure, crease, and orifice,
Lap, flank, and knee–a too abundant view
Which, thought he’d had the lenses of a fly,
Could not have waked desire in Borrow’s eye.

          Has the light altered now?
The rocks flush rose and have the melting shape
     Of bodies fallen anyhow.
It is a Gericault of blood and rape,
Some desert town despoiled, some caravan
Pillaged, its people murdered to a man,

          And those who murdered them
Galloping off, a rumpling line of dust
     Like a wave’s white, withdrawing hem.
But now the vision of a colder lust
Clears, as the wind goes chill and all is greyed
By a swift cloud that drags a carrion shade.

          If these are bodies still,
Theirs is a death too dead to look asleep,
     Like that of Auschwitz’ final kill,
Poor slaty flesh abandoned in a heap
And then, like sea-rocks buried by a wave,
Bulldozed at last into a common grave.

          It is not tricks of sense
But the time’s fright within me which distracts
     Least fancies into violence
And makes my thought take cover in the facts,
As now it does, remembering how the bed
Of layered rock two miles above my head

          Hove ages up and broke
Soundless asunder, when the shrinking skin
     Of Earth, blacked out by steam and smoke,
Gave passage to the muddled fire within,
Its crannies flooding with a sweat of quartz,
And lathered magmas out of deep retorts

          Welled up, as here, to fill
With tumbled rockmeal, stone-fume, lithic spray,
     The dike’s brief chasm and the sill.
Weathered until the sixth and human day
By sanding winds and water, scuffed and brayed
By the slow glacier’s heel, these forms were made

          That now recline and burn
Comely as Eve and Adam, near a sea
     Transfigured by the sun’s return.
And now three girls lie golden in the lee
Of a great arm or thigh, and are as young
As the bright boulders that they lie among.

          Though, high above the shore
On someone’s porch, spread wings of newsprint flap
     The tidings of some dirty war,
It is a perfect day: the waters clap
Their hands and kindle, and the gull in flight
Loses himself at moments, white in white,

          And like a breaking thought
Joy for a moment floods into the mind,
     Blurting that all things shall be brought
To the full state and stature of their kind,
By what has found the manhood of this stone.
May that vast motive wash and wash our own.

To think about Elizabeth Bishop, one is forced to think about geography. Her friend and fellow poet, Richard Wilbur, speaks of her, “When she looked in her poetry for ultimate answers, she generally expressed the search in the key of geography, of travel.” But Bishop did not content herself to looking for answers only in geography. She was free to look in other places as well. In her poems, “The Moose” and “The Fish,” Bishop has an encounter with the natural world. It is in these creatures that Elizabeth comes closest to discovering an “ultimate answer” for the struggles she bears in each particular poem. Though each poem is very different in structure and style, each has similar themes. In both, there is an interaction of some kind between man and the natural world. Bishop describes each creature with a sense of respect and honor. Each creature comes to represent something deeper than itself to her. Through each experience Bishop learns that there are things in life that are bigger than she, yet that doesn’t serve to diminish her worth, rather each experience helps her to grow.

“The Moose” was published a good twenty years after “The Fish.” However, there are manuscripts that indicate she began the poem much earlier. Also, knowing a bit about Bishop’s biography indicates that “The Moose” is probably about an experience Bishop had as a child, while “The Fish” can be assumed to be about an experience she had as an adult. For this reason, I’ll begin with exploring what was going on with young Elizabeth, as Bishop reflects on her encounter with “The Moose” and then move on to explore her encounter with “The Fish.”

“The Moose” is dedicated to Grace Bulmer Bowers, Bishop’s maternal aunt. When Bishop was a child her father passed away and her mother had to be institutionalized. She was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia until her paternal grandparents intervened and took her to live back in Massachusetts, her father’s origins. On the surface, “The Moose“ is a narrative poem about a bus ride in which the passengers encounter one of nature’s creatures in the middle of the road; however, a closer reading reveals that the moose standing in the road blocking the vehicle‘s path becomes the representation of all that young Elizabeth holds dear. “The Moose” is a poem about leaving home. It is Bishop’s journey away from safety and away from security; away from the sacred.

The length of the poem resembles the length of the journey. We know by Bishop’s vivid description that in the beginning of the poem we are in her hometown in Nova Scotia along the Bay of Fundy. As the poem progresses, Bishop casually names the places in Canada where the bus stops to receive and let go of passengers. As night darkens, an older woman enters and we find that she, and presumably Bishop, will take the bus “all the way to Boston.” Finally after four pages of this five page poem the bus encounters a moose. The poem is broken up in to six-line stanzas, each line roughly about six meters. There is no set rhyme scheme; some stanzas have very regular end rhyme, while others have no rhyme at all, and still others have only one or two rhymes which may occur in various places. Yet the feel of the poem is not at all choppy, rather the poem itself has a physical feel of a bus ride, sometimes speeding up with regular rhyming, sometimes slowing down, while the steady meter keeps us moving along with Bishop.

From the start Bishop sets the tone of leaving home with her description of the bay. She imagines the bus riding through her hometown towards her house and past the bay that was so familiar to her. In the first stanza we see how “the bay leaves the sea…and takes the herring on long rides,” and later in the second stanza the bay is “not at home.” By the third stanza the bay becomes “a red sea” and Bishop begins to mix the imagery of home with the imagery of the sacred. She imagines the bus traveling towards her “past clapboard farmhouses / and neat, clapboard churches.” By the sixth stanza Bishop enters the bus and says goodbye to her family, her dog, her farm, her woods. In short: her home. She continues the mixing of the sacred and secular as “the fog…comes closing in…on the…lupins like apostles.”

Over the next few stanzas the imagery becomes very lonely. The landscape the bus passes by becomes “A pale flickering. Gone…” and later, “An iron bridge trembles…A dog gives one bark.” Until they enter the New Brunswick woods. Bishop hears “Grandparents’ voices…talking in Eternity.” They talk about misfortune and conclude that “’Life’s like that. We know it (also death).’” These grandparents remind Bishop of her own; they talk “the way they [Bishop’s maternal grandparents] talked.” They talked in “Eternity” where Bishop feels safe. Children exist in Eternity, they don’t think about anything but their current situation, their home is eternal, and their home is sacred. Bishop had already lost so much in her young life. She was probably very familiar with the “half groan, half acceptance / that means ‘Life’s like that…’” as loved ones took pity on her. And with thoughts of home she began to feel safe; “Now, it’s all right now / even to fall asleep.” But the bus “–Suddenly…stops with a jolt” and we finally meet the moose.

The image of the moose embodies everything Bishop feels that she is losing by leaving home. It comes out of “the impenetrable wood.” It comes from a place of mystery, a place that is eternal. It comes out of the natural world and confronts man as it “looms…in the middle of the road.” It is something that happens to the passive onlookers in the bus. Bishop describes the moose as “high as a church, / homely as a house / (or, safe as houses).” This moose becomes for Bishop her last connection to her childhood place of safety, the place that is “’Perfectly harmless…’” The place where the sacred and the secular are one, the place where home is an eternity. The moose is revealed to be “a she;” she becomes maternal, and yet she is still “otherworldly.” Bishop asks herself “why do we feel,” and she adds, “(we all feel) this sweet / sensation of joy?” The world of nature has a spiritual quality to it, “otherworldly,” and man’s encounter with a rarity of nature causes him to reflect on, perhaps even connect to, his sense of eternity. But the bus must move on, and Bishop is left with only a moment to look back upon her fading connection to home. The poem ends with Elizabeth being left with “a dim / smell of moose, an acrid / smell of gasoline.” The word “acrid” leaves a sense of overwhelming discomfort. As the moose represents Bishop’s home that she is leaving, the bus is the only image she has for the place she is going to. As the smell of home fades in the background, the “acrid smell” of her future overwhelms her. The poem ends with Bishop feeling overwhelming pain from leaving her home with her maternal grandparents.

In Bishop’s poem “The Fish” we once again have an incident of man’s interaction with a natural creature, only this time under very different circumstances, resulting in a different type of poem with different conclusions. This poem is a story of Bishop out fishing one day when she “caught a tremendous fish.” In “The Moose” the creature for whom the poem is titled doesn’t show up till the end, yet almost the whole of this poem is focused on her description of the fish she caught. This poem begins very much like a “fish story” in which the facts are exaggerated or simply not true. This is something common among fisherman and it suggests that Bishop may never have had an encounter with this fish, perhaps she simply dreamed him up one day while she was waiting for a bite. But whether or not he is real or imagined, what he represents for Bishop and what she comes to realize through him is a genuine experience of revelation and growth.

“The Fish” is a free verse poem with bits of alliteration scattered about. Bishop emphasizes important points in the poem by incorporating the use of repetition. The first of which is; “He didn’t fight. / He hadn’t fought at all.” Bishop is intruding into the fish’s world with her bait and hook. As the fish is caught, this time, he remains passive, he gives in to her. It is interesting to note that it was Bishop’s moose who walked out of his habitat and interrupted man’s world while the passengers on the bus remained passive onlookers. Here there is no “sweet sensation of joy” among a group of people, no feeling of the spiritual world mingling with the natural. This time it is only Bishop and the fish alone together. Yet as she looks upon this fish, she begins to describe him with a developing sense of respect and awe. In this poem Bishop is not being forced to leave the image of her home behind, rather she is in control. She holds the passive creature in her hands and begins to understand and relate to him in new ways.

At first Bishop begins to see the fish through her own terms and describes him in a familiar sense of home. She says “He hung a grunting weight, / battered and venerable / and homely.” She continues to use images that are like a home; “his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wallpaper, / and its pattern of darker brown / was like wallpaper: / shapes like full-blown roses…the course white flesh / packed in like feathers.” Bishop continues to describe areas of the fish that would not be very pleasant to look at with the pleasant images of a home. Right in the middle of this type of analysis, she describes his gills; “–the frightening gills, / fresh and crisp with blood, / that can cut so badly–” She is trying to relate to the fish in terms she understands, in terms of a home, yet it is also as if she is saying that the home is not such an ideal place anymore. It is not as safe, perhaps, as a child may perceive it to be. The “frightening gills” are what a fish uses to breath, this fish is now drowning in air, and yet they “can cut so badly.” The need for a home is almost as great as the need to breathe, yet there are times a home can hurt you and make you bleed.

As Bishop looks “into his eyes” she begins to see the fish in a new way. The fish’s eyes “shifted a little, but not / to return [her] stare.” The fish is unresponsive to her. He is not intimidated by her; he is not concerned with her presence at all. He no longer seems as a passive victim; rather, he becomes patient, awaiting the next move. Bishop describes the fish’s eyes shifting as “more like the tipping / of an object toward the light.” The word “light” here could also carry the meaning of understanding. Bishop now begins to understand this fish on his own terms as she begins to describe him with masculine terms; she “admires his sullen face, / the mechanism of his jaw.” She begins to see him as a warrior; his lip, “if you could call it a lip,” becomes “grim, wet, and weaponlike.” The fish still has five hooks lodged into his mouth. All five hooks are still bearing the strings attached which the fish broke and snapped in previous struggles. We see that the fish is not so passive. That he has war wounds which he bears from past struggles to survive. To Bishop these hooks become “medals with their ribbons / frayed and wavering;” the fish is not only a warrior, he is a hero. He has survived the fight and shown himself worthy. She describes the strings as “a five-haired beard of wisdom / trailing from his aching jaw,” and the fish becomes an elder, an old wise man who commands respect and honor, who still feels an ache from his wounds. This fish, who has battled through life and survived, becomes the image of life itself to Bishop. We are not to be passive onlookers, waiting for our homes and spiritual peace to come to us; rather, we should be active partakers in life, gaining wisdom and understanding through our struggles as we bear the medals of each wound we survive. We cannot force life into a pattern that is safe for us, we must let life be what it may be, and learn to let go of what we cannot control.

At this revelation the poem dramatically moves from a concentrated focus on the fish to the larger picture. Bishop “stared and stared / and victory filled up / the little rented boat.” The victory is her new understanding of life she has received, or caught if you will, which is the dignity that the fish possesses. In “The Moose” the “acrid smell of gasoline” overwhelms the young Bishop; however, this time some spilled oil mixed in the bilge becomes a symbol of beauty as it makes a rainbow. The elderly “know it,” that “Life’s like that…(also death).” It is through our trials that we gain wisdom. The wounds we bear and survive, the pain that we face, ironically can add beauty to our life and dignity to our character. We need to find the wisdom to choose the right battles to fight and the wisdom to know when to let go with dignity. As Bishop expands her focus away from the fish, she continues to describe “the little rented boat,” and  Bishop’s revelation comes together as this free verse poem pulls together with the last four lines ending in rhyme:

     from the pool of bilge
     where oil had spread a rainbow
     around the rusted engine
     to the bailer rusted orange,
     the sun-cracked thwarts,
     the oarlocks on their strings,
     the gunnels–until everything
     was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
     And I let the fish go.

Bishop realizes that she can’t go back to making home a completely safe place anymore, that there are some parts of life that she must learn to accept on their own terms; she must learn their language. As she lets go of the fish, she lets go of her need for control and deep safety, and she is able to see the beauty of life despite its pain and struggle.

In each of these poems we see how an encounter with nature gave revelation to Elizabeth Bishop, and she was able to find answers to her heart‘s search. In “The Moose,” Bishop was a child taken by members of her father’s family from the home she knew and felt safe at. It is a testament to how sacred the home is to a child. Elizabeth shows through the imagery of this poem, through her image of the moose, how important it is to provide a place of safety and security to our children. Yet in “The Fish,” the adult Elizabeth comes to realize that life really isn’t a safe place, but neither is it an entirely bad place. As we grow up and learn from our mistakes, we find that we can embrace life for what it’s worth. We are able to gain wisdom and dignity through the trials we bear. When we accept life on its own terms, we learn when to take control and when to let go, and our eyes are free to open up and see the rainbows.

Peter L Richardson
20th Century Poets
October, 2003

The Moose
For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats’
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts. The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens’ feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.
The Tantramar marshes
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn’t give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship’s port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
“A grand night. Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston.”
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb’s wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores. Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
–not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents’ voices

uninterruptedly
talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

“Yes . . .” that peculiar
affirmative. “Yes . . .”
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means “Life’s like that.
We know it (also death).”

Talking the way they talked
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it’s all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
–Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus’s hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man’s voice assures us
“Perfectly harmless. . . .”

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
“Sure are big creatures.”
“It’s awful plain.”
“Look! It’s a she!”

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

“Curious creatures,”
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r’s.
“Look at that, would you.”
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there’s a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.

Elizabeth Bishop

The Fish

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled and barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
–the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly–
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
–It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
–if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels–until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Elizabeth Bishop

"Mending Wall" by Ken Fiery, 2007, from the Robert Frost Series

http://www.kenfiery.com/gallery/pages/080.html 

There is an accepted idea among lovers of poetry that a poem is a shared experience between the poet and the reader. Though the poet will never even meet the majority of his audience, there is a relationship that exists between he and they in the shared experiences of his poems. Robert Frost opens up his second book of poems, North of Boston, with the famous poem “Mending Wall.” It is his first word and the reader’s first impression of the book. In “Mending Wall” Frost explores a relationship between himself and his neighbor who is not named; his identity remains vague to the reader and, as it seems, to the poet as well. It is Spring in the poem, and Frost and his neighbor walk the stonewall that divides their properties to make repairs after the Winter. Towards the end of the poem Frost questions his neighbor about the need for walls. His neighbor simply replies that “Good fences make good neighbors,” and Frost ends the poem with that thought.

“Good fences make good neighbors” is a cliché that Frost is questioning in this poem. The poem ends with that statement; however, it begins with “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The conflict that arises between these two lines which encase the poem is the dilemma that the poet faces in the lines which are physically between them. Frost emphasizes this conflict in a number of ways. Not only is one the first line and the other the last line of the poem, these are the only two lines which are repeated in the poem. Also, “Mending Wall” is written in blank verse, Frost will often add an extra syllable in order to make a line stand out in his blank verse poems, and he does this for each of these two lines.

In the beginning of the poem Frost considers what it is that doesn’t love a wall. While he and his neighbor are making repairs Frost asks him, “Why do [fences] make good neighbors?” and argues against the need for a wall. There is little debate that the wall represents relationship boundaries between people. It would be easy to conclude that Frost is arguing that there is no need for these boundaries and people should just trust each other and accept each other unquestioningly. Yet upon a closer reading there is much evidence in the poem that may reveal Frost is closer in agreement with his neighbor than it seems at first. After all, Robert Frost says about writing that “There is no story written that has any value at all, however straightforward it looks and free from doubleness, double entendre, and duplicity and double play, that you’d value at all if it didn’t have intimation of something more than itself.”

From the beginning of Frost’s argument in line 23, he uses language that sounds playful, almost as if he is teasing his neighbor. Such as in line 25:

          My apple trees will never get across
          And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
          He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Before Frost continues to dispute with his neighbor, he confesses to the reader that “Spring is the mischief in me.” So it is evident that Frost is not taking himself so seriously; in fact when he repeats “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Frost considers the something to be like “’Elves’… But it’s not elves exactly.” If we look at Frost’s ideas of what exactly “wants a wall down” from the first half of the poem, we find he doesn’t have anything very flattering in mind. It is “the frozen-ground-swell…the hunters [who] would have the rabbit out of hiding, / to please the yelping dogs.” If this were a poem arguing against walls, Frost would probably have thought of the things that doesn’t love them as more positive. I believe that Frost does truly question the use of walls, but he never questions the value of them.

“Mending Wall” is a poem that reveals a healthy relationship between the poet and his neighbor. If the wall represents personal boundaries, the title itself is an analogy to repairing relationships. It is Frost who contacts his neighbor so they can make the repairs “And set the wall between us once again.” Frost and his neighbor respect each others’ boundaries, and they meet regularly to make repairs on their relationship. In line 15 Frost says; “We keep the wall between us as we go,” a perfectly regular pentameter line, but Frost again makes an emphasis in the next line with an extra syllable; “To each the boulders that have fallen to each.” Frost and his neighbor each take responsibility for their part of the disrepair of the wall. However, in the next four lines Frost talks about the compromise and work it takes to repair the wall:

          And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
          We have to use a spell to make them balance:
          ‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
          We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

It takes a lot of balance, i.e. compromise, to repair some issues but when our backs are turned from each other we often let the “balls” drop. Relationships are hard work. It is at this point that Frost playfully questions his neighbor on the need for walls. While Frost is not rejecting the value of walls, I think that he is lamenting the lack of access to his neighbor that their wall makes. While he questions his neighbor he states:

          Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
          What I was walling in or walling out,
          And to whom I was like to give offense.

Frost expresses the down side that sometimes walls create a lack of understanding of the differences between neighbors. He uses the description of his neighbor who is grasping a rock to repair the wall; “I see him there…like an old stone savage armed.” But his neighbor remains elusive to Frost, which he expresses in two lines that he emphasizes as a loosely rhyming couplet; “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, / Not of woods only and the shade of trees.” That darkness is Frost’s ignorance of who his neighbor really is. Frost values and respects the boundaries in their relationship, yet he desires more access to his neighbor, as he says; “I’d ask to know / what I was walling in or walling out.”

Psychologists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have collaborated on a book entitled Boundaries, about the important roles boundaries place in healthy relationships. I think they express well in layman’s terms what Frost is expressing in his poem as his desire for his relationship with his neighbor. “Boundaries are not walls,” Cloud and Townsend write, they are “fences [with] gates in them…The important thing is that property lines be permeable enough to allow passing and strong enough to keep out danger.” To me, it seems when Frost questions his neighbor on the need for walls he is expressing his desire for passing through the gate in order to know him. Frost wants clearer understanding of his neighbor. Even with the playful way Frost debates with his neighbor he expresses his interest in him, yet his neighbor does not return the interest. He remains elusive to Frost only responding to him with the last words of the poem, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Frost opened his book North of Boston with a poem about his thoughts on healthy relationships. Though we, Frost’s audience, largely remained elusive to him, he offered to share his experiences with us. He kept his walls repaired but through his poetry Frost still keeps the gate open for us into his thoughts and ideas. “Mending Wall” invites us to continue the book and share in Frost’s experiences.

Peter L Richardson
“20th Century Poets”
September 22, 2003

Robert Frost on writing (pp125-128). Ed. E. Barry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 1973.

Boundaries (pp 31-32). Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend. Grand Rapids, MI. c.1992.

“Mending Wall”
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing: 5
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 10
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go. 15
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 25
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. 30
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down!” I could say “Elves” to him, 35
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me, 40
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

What happens after Man takes the rule over Middle Earth…

(Note: This is a project I had to do for a linguistics class years ago. I’ve been too busy to write any new work, so I’ve been digging into past works. This is just for fun!)

It is twenty years later. The kingdom of Mordor has fallen and peace has settled upon the dwellers of Middle Earth. The Elves have moved on and man has become the protectors and peacekeepers for all who make their home in Middle Earth. The Hobbits live their simple lives in the Shire and the Dwarves continue to mine the earth for gems of all kinds. There is a freedom for persons of every kind  to move about Middle Earth without prejudice or conflict. Each year delegates from every major dwelling of every kind travel to Gondor and make council with Lord Aragon. On this twentieth anniversary of the crowning of the king, the Fellowship of the Ring have returned to Gondor for a reunion. They are meeting at an establishment that Aragon feels will revolutionize the lives of all the inhabitants of Middle Earth. Frodo and his companions are the first to arrive…

     “Welcome to McDoundles of Gondor, can I tayk yah ohder?”
     “We do not wish to order anyone around, we have come for some food. My companions and I have traveled a great distance and we are famished. Lord Aragon sent word that we would find nourishment here.”
     “That’s the ideya. Whadiyawon?”
     “I’m not sure…it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten man’s bread. This food looks strange to me. Sam, what do you suggest?”
     “I dunno, Mr. Frodo, it all looks good t’me!”
     “Than we shall have it all. We shall order you to give us each one of your…what do you call them?”
     “Valya Meals?”
     “Yes. We shall try each one. We are famished, we were unable to eat second breakfast.”
     “Whateva. I need a couple of evry valya meal here, please.”
     “No! No! Smeagle no wants mansbread! Smeagle wants ‘is precious, Smeagle wants it raw Master!”
     “Oh my Gawd! Ya caynt bring ya pet in heah! Youse gotta leave it outsiyd!”
     “I am bound to this creature and he to me! Without Smeagle’s help you would be taking orders from the Lord Sarun, and they wouldn’t involve food!”
     “Now, now, Mr. Frodo. There’s no need to be causin’ a ruckus! Perhaps we should do what she wants-”
     “No Sam. I owe Smeagle my life, the least I could do is to make sure he is fed.” Frodo suddenly drawing his sword on the counterperson exclaims, “Do you know who this is? This is Sting and I will cut your throat if you do not obey-”
     “Mr. Frodo! No!”
     “I don’t think that will be necessary, Frodo Baggins.”
     “Gandalf! You’re here!”
     “Yes. I am here. Just at the right time it seems. I see that you Hobbits still cannot leave the Shire without being the cause of some kind of trouble.”
     “Its not that, Gandalf, it’s the Ring, ever since our journey, I’ve been restless and irritable.”
     “I can vouch for that Mr. Gandalf!”
     “I’m sure you can Samwise. Frodo, the ring is now destroyed, you must work to put yourself to rest, you of all creatures know its power, but you are now free from its grasp, now is a time for celebration-”
     “And so we shall celebrate, in all the splendor of Gondor!”
     “Aragon!”
     “How are you, my friends? It is an honor to dine with those who brought peace to Middle Earth once again. I am sorry I am late, there were some diplomatic matters to attend to. I trust you have been well received?”
     “As a matter of fact, no. This young lady here-”
     “Man, whoya callin’ young, punk? I’m almost sixteen, Ile be drivin’ soon!”
     “Sister of Gondor, do you know who I am?”
     “I done care if youse da King! I ain’t servin’ no rawl meat ta no dawg.”
     “My lady, you are now speaking with Aragon; Lord of Gondor, protector of Middle Earth and founder of this establishment.”
     “Uh-oh.”
     “Yes, I think it shall be necessary for you to call upon your manager.”
     “Yessir.”
     “Founder?” Gandalf remarks in wonder, “Aragon, are you sure of the wisdom of this endeavor?”
     “Of course, Gandalf, I have helped to establish these food stops in honor of our fellowship. Last year a man had come to my council, very strangely dressed, he was dressed in yellow and red and wore his face white as the moon with very large red lips, as red as his hair. He presented this idea of ‘fast food‘ and it seemed right to me so I have a great plan to establish many more across all of Middle Earth.”
     “Aragon, I would expect you should be more wary than this. Just because the Ring is destroyed does not mean that there are no forces left in Middle Earth, who would rather see your kingdom destroyed.”
     “Such is the point, Gandalf, I have often traveled many suns and moons tracking Orc with no time allowed for nourishment, with these fast food stops, creatures of all kinds will have quick and easy access to nourishment with very little cost to them. And there is the food of every kind of group we have in Middle Earth; hobbit, dwarf, elvish and man-”
     “McElfbread? The picture has a likeness, but if that is elvish food, I am no elf.”
     “Legolis and Gimli, my friends! You are late.”
     “Hurgh! Late? Then what we all doin’ standin’ around yappin’ for? I did not travel half way ackrost Middle Earth only to talk! Master Elf, could you do me the pleasure of repeatin’ the menu fer me? I couldn’t care if it were Orc meat right now, it’s time for us to eat!”
     “Mr. Frodo?”
     “(sigh) Yes, Sam.”
     “I don’t know why they be callin’ this food fast, we been nearly twenty minutes here and ain’t had a bite yet. Mr. Frodo, when it comes to savin’ the world and all that, I think that men and wizards and elves may know better, but when it comes to eatin’ I’d say we hobbits are the bestest.”
     “Oh Sam, I agree. Do you think Mary and Pippin are coming?”
     “I dunno, Mr. Frodo, I dunno.”
     “Master! We’s hungry! Smeagle donts needs ‘is precious! Smeagle jus wonts ‘is dinner!” 

HOW I MADE THIS UP:

I confess, I tried to follow the natural speech patterns from the characters in the movie that I heard in my head and adjusted the dialogue from there. I wanted to include as many characters as possible and I wanted this to be something outside of the book. I couldn’t think of anything interesting to have them say so I decided to go with the comedic aspect using the McDonalds reference. I changed the spelling because I noticed that Tolkien had taken many things from our world and included them in Middle Earth by simply changing the spelling a bit. I also tried to show word pronunciation by changing the spelling, so if you sound out the misspelled words, you should be able to know what they are saying and the type of person who is saying them.

I tried to mark these characters as different “races” by using different dialects among them. I’m not sure if I succeeded so well on this, but you should be able to see the difference between Gimli and Sam’s dialects. I tried to give them both a “backwoods” sounding speech, but Gimli’s is more American, while Sam’s is more English (at least in my head). I used the idea of registers to identify who is speaking and where they come from. The “McDoundles” worker is supposed to be a lower class female from New York. I just dropped a lot of [r] sounds, for the most part. The idea was to identify Gondor with New York City to make it seem to have become more commercialized since mankind has been peacefully in charge of Middle Earth. I tried to show Sam’s background as laborer/gardener with his speech and I tried to make Frodo sound like he was an educated middle class hobbit. He spoke nearly as well as Gandalf and Aragon, but I used sentence structure and more unusual or sophisticated word choice for a wizard and a king. Among those two I tried to use words that I associate with wisdom for Gandalf and words that I associate with diplomacy for Aragon. I am most ashamed of who I turned Aragon into for this little project, he is a very awesome character in Tolkien’s books. I gave Legolis one well spoken line, since elves are supposed to be the on the high end of social class in Middle Earth, and Gimli was supposed to sound as like a mountain man, since the dwarves dwell in the mountains. Smeagle, or Gollum, I thought sounded like someone who was mentally challenged or as a very young child, so I tried to convey this in his speech. I know he died in the book, but I decided to bring him into this for fun and to present him with a lighter side. 

This was a fun and challenging project for me; someday I hope to write fiction of my own. This class and this project has given me some techniques to consider that will help me distinguish my characters and make them more real. I hope I have achieved that with this dialogue, but I’m sure there is much room for improvement.

Peter L Richardson
12/15/2003