Hotel Lobby: An Original Poem

Little men

With glass eyes

Skitter about as mice do

 

Little women

With silk hats

Sip their coffee as queens do

 

Little children

With thrashed toys

Screech about as… well… children do

———-

Careful!

Do not disturb

The plastic hydrangeas!

 

Haste!

The cleaning lady

Will come soon, evacuate the children!

 

Patience!

The pool will be closed

Until further notice!

———-

If Mr. Prufrock could measure

Out his life in coffee spoons

I can measure mine in

Doorknobs

Elevator buttons

Polished floors

Soiled sheets

The silver buzz of telephones

 

As for me

My life is not worth measuring

Each suitcase

Every golden carriage

Taps a dull beat of

Nonchalant routine

 

My life checks in and out

With each guest

Here’s your key sir

The pool is closed ma’am

No we do not have a weight room

Yes the elevator is broken

 

The Loss of Our Comedy Captain

Note: I do not own the rights to the following poem below this original text. It is courtesy of The Poetry Foundation website and written by Walt Whitman.

The original intent of this post was to analyze the brilliant Walt Whitman poem “O Captain! My Captain!” in order to commemorate the loss of beloved actor Robin Williams, who died suddenly on Monday at the age of sixty-three. However, no ordinary prose can convey the devastation of the loss of such a great man.

Only poetry can portray this pain. Here is Walt Whitman’s full poem written shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and made iconic by the unforgettable Williams film “The Dead Poet Society”.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

 

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
 
The original link to the poem can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174742
No copyright infringement intended. All rights belong to author Walt Whitman and The Poetry Foundation.

 

Fifty Shades of Overrated: The Exagerrated Hype of Banned Books

With Banned Books Week declared a national holiday amongst librarians everywhere and the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey coming out soon, it is important to address a subject as controversial as the novel itself: banned books. Books that have been banned are often greatly overhyped, both by the general public and (sadly) educated scholars. Instead of being closely examined for their literary value and contribution to society’s enrichment, banned books are either paraded and propagandized under the banner of free speech or demonized as immoral and corrosive to the malleable minds of the masses.

We humans have a rather morbid attraction toward all things forbidden, and in more cases than not this has caused more harm than good. Do the names Adam and Eve ring a bell? The promotion and marketing of banned books plays off this allure, slyly crooning to the public, “This book has been banned in 49 COUNTRIES!!! Therefore, it MUST be good!”

Um, no. Not always.

Let’s face it: do people read Fifty Shades of Grey for its intellectual merit? Its eloquent imagery? Its three-dimensional character that morph continuously, yet remain timeless? No. This book’s fame is based entirely on its shock appeal. Women of all ages get a kick out of reading graphic, sadistic sex scenes and desperately wish they could have that sort of love life. Squealing and smirking over taboo subjects is easier than thinking, after all.

News flash: publishing one’s erotic fantasies for all the world to gawk over is not great literature. It could technically be considered a form of art, since it is an expression of feeling and the human experience. But that’s a whole other topic and irrelevant to the conversation.

To use a more classic (and classy) example, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s scandalous novel that portrayed the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, was an immediate sensation when it was first published. It was also immensely controversial and banned in the South, which nonetheless increased its popularity among the general public. While it is undeniable that Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s contribution to society is extraordinary and significant as it spurred the abolitionist movement, the book itself is rather poorly written. Its literary value does not match its political legacy or mass sensationalism.

Yet, it is still required reading for many a weary high school student.

This goes to show that while banned books may be immensely popular and have phenomenal public appeal, their scandalous nature does not automatically guarantee their literary merit. The two factors of public appeal and intellectual value are not mutually exclusive either. There are many banned books that are also extraordinarily well-written, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Whenever one is considering reading a book that has been banned, it is important to examine the motives behind reading this particular book. Literary appreciation should be one’s foremost priority in analyzing great works of literature, not vulgar public appeal.

 

Edgar Allan Poe: Not Just a Creepy Goth Guy

Edgar Allan Poe is arguably the most eccentric, passionate, enigmatic, troubled, misunderstood, and perceptive American author of all time. His legacy today is far greater than it ever was in the past, yet the misconceptions surrounding his life, death, and work are still prevalent amongst the public.

The majority of people know Poe only for his poems and short stories–works such as “The Raven”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “Annabel Lee”, and “The Fall of the House of Usher”. While all of these works are phenomenal and truly some of the finest examples of Poe’s writing, there is far more to his work than one can find published in local libraries and high school textbooks.

Poe was also an essayist on philosophy, religion, and the sciences; a prominent literary theorist and critic (who even dared to attack Scarlet Letter author Nathaniel Hawthorne); and the inventor of modern mystery fiction. He is credited with writing the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in 1841, and both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King have praised his genius in the mystery and horror genre. He is also credited by scholars for writing the first science fiction story in 1835, “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall”.

As one can clearly see, he’s more than just a creepy Goth guy with a flair for dramatic storytelling.

Poe’s true genius lies in both the sheer breadth and astonishing eloquence of his work. He was a scientist, artist, mathematician, intellectual, philosopher, poet, storyteller, lover, dreamer, genius, and madman all wrapped up in one. He never specialized in only poetry or only essays or only short stories. His fingers brushed every facet of literature, every aspect of the human experience, every hidden fear and dream and feeling. He understood the power of the human heart and mind, and this uncanny perceptiveness is what makes his writing so breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time painfully raw. Poe is a true master of prosetry. His unique style could even be labeled “Poesetry”. See what I did there? Oh, never mind.

So find a cozy, moth-eaten couch in an abandoned mansion about to collapse, crack open a cask of Amontillado, and read a good short story or poem by the poet laureate of Gothic literature!

 

Cupid and Eros: An Original Poem

Contrary to what many believe,

Cupid and Eros are not the same person.

There are significant differences

That must not be ignored.

 

Cupid is a playful, mischievous boy

Born to toy with other’s hearts

With his sharp arrows.

Ping! That was the pang of the heart.

Twang! Another victim taken;

His gleeful cackles are unheard

By the love-struck lunatic

Who sings to his infuriated lover.

 

Eros is a man;

Grown, and with passion in his heart

This is no mere child’s play.

His intense passion for Psyche is not shallow

But genuine

But plagued with lust

For Eros is an erotic fellow;

His passions are his doom.

Why L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz is Unusual Even by Today’s Standards

L. Frank Baum’s beloved classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is arguably one of the most imaginative, peculiar, and remarkable children’s’ book ever written, rivaling only Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in its pure imagination and eccentric characters. First published in 1900, it was certainly a novelty for the fairly conservative time period, but nonetheless an instant bestseller that has proven to be ageless and timeless.

The legacy of Oz is just as remarkable as the book itself; it has been adapted as a non-successful stage musical and an extraordinarily successful movie musical that has become a perennial favorite for all ages, be they five or one hundred and five. It has been psychoanalyzed to death and examined for hidden political messages (many scholars suggest the use of silver and gold in the novel is a subtle commentary on the Populist movement at the turn of the century). In modern times, it has spawned inspiration for numerous other books, movies, songs, and plays, the most popular fan fiction being Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which has also been adapted into an award-winning musical. It has been championed by feminists and members of the LGBTQ community for its strong female protagonist and portrayal of diversity.

Indeed, it is so idolized in pop culture that the quirks and peculiarities that make it so endearing in the first place are often overlooked.

It cannot be denied that Baum’s classic story of courage and compassion is very unorthodox in many senses. However, there is one remarkable trait that defines the entire novel and truly sets it apart from other literary works: the role of the female protagonist.

Now, female protagonists in literature are not uncommon; even very old, traditional sources of literature often feature a strong central female character, such as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. What is remarkable is that Dorothy Gale is neither a frail damsel-in-distress typical of Grimm’s fairy tales, nor is she a hyper-masculinized, hyper-sexualized, gun-toting, leather-strapped, freakishly violent heroine that is sadly too common in most contemporary literature and film (Suzanne Collins, Joss Whedon, I’m looking at you).

Dorothy is an unusual protagonist because she is a child, an innocent little girl that is nonetheless an incredibly powerful central character. Her power lies not in being a squeamish princess or a toughened feminist, but rather in being a compassionate, caring young lady and an unassuming friend to misfits and outcasts. She certainly does not go out with a mission to be a hero, nor does she intend to kill anybody. Yet with a little help from her friends, her dog Toto, and the enigmatic Wizard of Oz, she manages to defeat a great source of evil without resorting to violence.

Dorothy herself is what makes Baum’s classic so unusual and extraordinary. She is not a stereotypical shrinking violet criticized by many contemporary feminists, nor is she the Scarlett Johanssen of young adult literature. Her weapons are love and friendship, not force and toughness.

Truly, it is incredibly rare to find such a protagonist as Dorothy Gale. Baum’s loving portrait of a girl whose strength lies in her heart and mind rather than in her body is one of the many reasons why The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a truly timeless tale.

Nature’s Best: An Original Poem

The smell of pine needles after rain

Dripping perfume onto the rocks

And the leafy forest floor

That is the best smell in the world.

 

A sunset, grand in scale

Amethyst, gold, rose, scarlet

The twilight sky

Clothed in her finest garments

Silk, chiffon, sable cannot compare

To the best sight in the world.

 

The soft trickle of a stream

Across pebbles

Singing on its way to the ocean

Sparkling notes of

Liquid glass

Truly, what else could be the best sound?

 

Honey, dripping from the hive

The product of the bees

A glorious liqueur

O sweet golden taste, nature’s best!

 

A tender embrace

Warm arms gather happiness

Though rarely associated with nature

This is the best feeling in the world.

Crime, Creeps, and Communism: The Unusual Similarity Between O’Brien and Porfiry

WIN_20140714_162406

The evil kitty lurks in the hallways, prepared to ensnare his prey

Everyone loves a good villain. Even more, everyone loves a good creepy villain. The eccentric, the macabre, the slightly (or completely) insane–whatever category they may fall under, many famous villains in literature and the movies gather their own large audience followings despite being classified as “the bad guy”. Famous examples of such insidious snakes include the Joker, Jim Moriarty, Loki, Sweeney Todd (who’s also the protagonist), Macbeth (not to mention his charming wife), and Bellatrix Lestrange.

However, there are two brilliant, cunning villains who always seem to pass under the radar, but deserve just as much acclaim to fame for playing the creepy game: O’Brien from Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, and Porfiry* from Dostoevsky’s weighty crime drama, Crime and Punishment.

The most striking aspect of these two underrated antagonists is what they share in common. Both have astonishing yet morbid wit, honed sharply by years of experience in the field of Badguyology (yes, that is a word). Their cleverness combined with madness, though expressed and used in different ways for different purposes, successfully drive their respective victims to madness. One might add that in both novels the sanity of the protagonist was questionable early on, even before they encounter their nemeses.

As aforementioned, O’Brien and Porfiry manifest this cunning nature in different ways. O’Brien originally poses as the protagonist’s, Winston Smith’s, friend. Not only does he pretend to be on Smith’s side, but he also tricks him into thinking that there is, indeed, an enormous underground conspiracy set up to bring down Big Brother and the insidious forces of socialism. Smith easily takes the bait and eagerly awaits the chance to plan his next move against the government. It is not until he is captured, tortured, mocked, and at last converted to the communist cause by clever O’Brien does Smith at last realize the terrifying power he had foolishly set himself up against.

O’Brien is the classic example of the sociopathic villain: cold, level-headed, even gentle. His charms win Smith over easily, but once the mouse is caught in the trap, he proves to be ruthless and bloodthirsty, calmly torturing Smith in atrocious ways–physically, mentally,  and emotionally–until at last our weary protagonist gives in to his inevitable fate and learns to mindlessly love the tyrant that rules him, Big Brother.

Porfiry, like O’Brien, also poses as a friend to the psychotic murderer, Raskolnikov. He also plays complex, psychological mind games to ensnare the protagonist into the clutches of the law. Unlike the gullible Smith, however, Raskolnikov is paranoid, irrational, and constantly fearful, suspecting that Porfiry already knows of his transgression. This creates a fiercely one-sided hostility in their interactions. How it will all end is still a mystery to me; I have not yet finished the book, but I can already tell that Porfiry also has his little mouse trapped in his clutches.

Unlike O’Brien, Porfiry is not cool and collected. Nor is he a sociopath. In fact, his cunning perception of Raskolnikov’s crime appears to be mixed with genuine sympathy for the protagonist’s madness, even suggesting casually that a criminal may not necessarily be completely aware at the time he commits the crime, but in a dreamlike trance. Whether this sympathy for insanity will translate into mercy when Raskolnikov is at last caught and punished is yet to be discovered.

While the former is a monster and the latter is more human, both O’Brien and Porfiry strike fear into the hearts of their protagonists and readers by using their creepy, cunning wits. If only they had as big as a fan base as Tom Hiddleston, then they would get all of the fame they deserve.

*Technically, Porfiry is not so much a villain as an obstacle in Raskolnikov’s pathway. For the sake of simplicity, however, he is classified as an antagonist.

 

T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock”: A Lament on How Boring One’s Life Can Possibly Be

T.S. Eliot’s famous narrative poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”  is a magnificent ballad of a life of heroics, gallantry, and a life that has truly been lived to the fullest. Its astonishing portrayal of adventure is enough to rival even the epicest epic that ever epiced, The Epic of Gilgamesh.

First of all, “epic” should never be used as an adjective or a verb.

Second, the above statement summarizing “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is, sadly, only a fantasy. An illusion, if you will.

In reality, Eliot was not writing about any sort of brave hero whatsoever. J. Alfred Prufrock, our poor, pathetic protagonist, is a middle-aged, world-weary man reflecting on his uneventful life. He wanders from street to street, from drawing room to drawing room, reminiscing on his present suffering.

Truly, Mr. Prufrock wishes he could be a hero. He is a man who never got to see his glory days, and most likely, never will.

“I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker…”

Instead of clutching the reigns of destiny and pursuing a life of meaning and purpose, he has chosen to drink from the chalice of mediocrity, and now ages slowly and alone, stuck in a world of grim imagery and gross-looking fog and fancy women drinking tea while mundanely discussing famous artists.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…”

Jeepers. I thought my life was pathetic.

No one will ever sing of J. Alfred Prufrock. He will never be praised by famous bards or sages. Mermaids and sirens will certainly never sing of him. His time for glory has come and gone, and he now lives in a hellish world of his own past regrets.

Why then, has he been immortalized so by Mr. Eliot, one of the most famous poets of the 20th century? Why is this one of Eliot’s most famous poems, even though it simply describes the dull life of a dull man living a dull existence in a world where

“…the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is not the type of love song one would expect to find immortalized in the world of poetry. However, it is a love song that many of us sing even today. In a world of iPhones and AP classes and office cubicles and bland, formulaic action films, to live the uneventful life is an easier road to travel down than the road of meaning and purpose.

Listen, I’m not saying that an action-filled life is the only type of life one should live to have a sense of purpose. But sadly, the dull, resounding nightmare of Prufrock is the life many of us choose to live today, and it’s a terrible fate for anyone to have to suffer. Sadly, it’s all too relatable. Each of us knows a man like J. Alfred Prufrock. Or maybe we are our own Prufrock.

This poem, first published in 1915, has stood the test of time because no matter what era we live in, we all know of one or have suffered a dull life at some point in time. A life of purpose is a choice. So is a life of dullness.

Don’t be the one left measuring out life with coffee spoons.

The original poem can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/173476

What is Love to the Nine Muses: An Original Poem

Erato (Muse of Poetry):

Love is the eloquent words of a poet,

Poured out to his lost sweetheart.

His words are sweet and dripping with honey,

But alas! Poison is the honey

To the nymph

He lusts after!

Still, he declares his love with flowing words

Beautiful, yet distraught.

 

Euterpre (Muse of Music):

Love is a sweeping melody,

The birds’ songs are harsh and grating

And the bees buzz in vain;

For nature cannot rival this melody

Of a lover

The flowers bloom just at the catch of a few notes.

 

Thalia (Muse of Comedy):

Love is not some tragic affair;

It is a joyful chase!

Marked by humor, mischief, and playful

Chase on, lover!

Heaven’s blessing is upon you,

And your love will be boundlessly rewarded

With joy.

 

Melpomene (Muse of Tragedy):

Listen not to my sister’s playful fantasies;

Love is a hardship, wrought with trials,

And heartbreak

And sorrow.

It is no easy game.

Love is a beautiful crown to wear,

But there is a cost, a heavy cost

To the unfortunate lovers

Imbued with tragedy.

 

Terpsichore (Muse of Dance):

What is love, you may ask?

My, what a simple question!

Love is an endless dance!

The lovers’ feet move to the rhythm

Their bodies sway to the beat

And they rejoice in each other’s happiness;

Not even Hercules could tear them apart.

 

Urania (Muse of Astronomy):

Love is eternal;

Boundless;

Much like the universe,

Love does not quickly burn out as the stars do.

It continues, much like a circling comet in the heavens

To endure for all time.

 

Clio (Muse of History):

Ah, love is quite interesting

As it has been shown in different ways

By different men.

At the dawn of time,

Kronos showed his love of himself

And the throne

By daring to devour his own children.

Arrogant also was the handsome Narcissus

Who rejected helpless echo

For his own beautiful reflection.

Self-love, however, is only one side of the coin;

Because of his intense passion for beautiful Helen

Paris took great lengths to make her his bride;

A war was wrought, as a result.

But brave Odysseus, after the war

Spent eons, through storms and giants and witches,

To reach his beloved Penelope

And his son

Out of love.

 

 

Polyhymnia (Muse of Lyrics):

Love is not one song, but many:

The lyrical poem with subtle meanings in hope of reaching the nymph’s ears

The tongue that pours forth both declarations and curses over rejection

The joyful lips that draw in the lover, sealing eternal matrimony with a simple action of love

The wordless tune, admired by many, but intended for only one.

 

Calliope (Muse of Orpheus):

Love is represented by my long-lost son

Orpheus;

His deep love for the lost bride led him even to Hades

To retrieve his love.

Alas, had he not doubted the fearsome god’s promise

And looked back,

He would have kept his bride!

The love, though tragic, was true

As shown by such measures.