Week Thirteen Ways to Begin

1 Self-Reliance

Emerson’s essay entitled “Self-Reliance” written in 1841 is a part of Emerson’s “First Series” of lectures after he resigned from his position as a Unitarian Minister. After his resignation he began to try to establish himself as a lecturer rather than a minister through his “First Series” essays, “First Series” is considered to be highly influential in the formation of the transcendentalist movement that began in new england. The Essay itself is about how man

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can

Render an honest and a perfect man

Commands all light, all influence, all fate;

Nothing to him falls early, or too late.

Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,

Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”

Like most of his essays Emerson begins “Self Reliance” with a poem, this poem is from the epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s play Honest Man’s Fortune. This poem plays well into the content of the essay since it revolves around the idea that man creates his own path and is the deciding factor on whether he is good or evil.

2 Emerson’s Literary Form

“…Emerson [is] incapable of being “summed up in a formula,” Joel Porte points out on page 679 of his work “The Problem of Emerson”. That is to say that no part of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing is straight forward or easily interpreted. Emerson’s use of analogies and metaphors in his writing can be looked at to help demonstrate this. In his works, Emerson uses analogies and metaphors to further explain the ideas that he is presenting to his audiences. They act as a translation of sorts for his readers. In order to fully explore Emerson’s use of analogies and metaphors, one must take a closer look at his essays.

Emerson often uses nature as a form of analogy. For example, in his 1844 Second Series essay titled “Politics”, Emerson is describing politicians’ shallow nature.

Senators and presidents have climbed so high with pain enough, not because they think the place specially agreeable, but as an apology for real worth, and to vindicate their manhood in our eyes. This conspicuous chair is their compensation to themselves for being of a cold, hard nature. They must do what they can. Like one class of forest animals, they have nothing but a prehensile tail: climb they must, or crawl.

In the first part of this quotation, Emerson is introducing the politician. He uses the language to present politicians as individuals whose only worth is found in their status. Their manhood is determined upon citizens’ viewpoint of them. Emerson employs the second sentence to reiterate this. The status, or chair as Emerson puts it, compensates for the fact that they lack agreeable personalities. Emerson applies the word ‘nature’ to get this across. The use of this word sets up the second part of the quotation and the analogy that Emerson uses for politicians.

3 Emerson Explaining the Unexplainable

“My words do not carry its august sense; they fall short and cold.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Over-Soul

These are the words used by Emerson in his attempt to explain his idea of the soul to his reader, and interesting words they are to come from a lecturer, poet, essayist, and preacher such as him. Being a man who had so much experience in the art of communicating thoughts and ideas through both the written and spoken word, it’s strange to think that there were some ideas that even he believed he couldn’t convey. With that being said, he contradicts himself nicely throughout his 1841 essay, The Over-Soul. Though he finds it difficult to describe the soul itself, he’s able to eloquently use various literary devices such as metaphor and repetition to paint a vibrant picture of words around that which he cannot explain, leaving a vague yet discernible shape for the reader in the white space of his canvas.

4 Emerson’s “Fate”

Early in his life and his experience as a scholar, Emerson believed firmly in the idea of self and the ability of an individual to form his or her own path. Later on in his studies, Emerson began to think more about the concept of fate and destiny. His unique essay titled “Fate” is quite literally a contradiction of his earlier thoughts and ideologies. He uses many distinct literary forms that help him, as well as the reader, explore his thinking. Emerson introduces the ideas of “power” and “circumstance”. The topic that he is exploring is much too complicated for the audience to understand without the use of colorful paradoxes, thought-provoking metaphors, and parables that institute aspects of religion and nature. He uses paradox in a way to contradict his previous statements made in his earlier essay “self-reliance”. He uses religious metaphors and parables to propose biblical ideas of fate, and what he believes is the more relevant aspects of fate.

5 Life as a Circle

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end…there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens…The life of a man is a self-evolving circle” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”).

A picture is painted in the mind once reading this metaphor and analogy. Emerson’s claims that life itself is a self-evolving circle invites the reader to a new perspective of life – one that almost implies that every aspect of a circle is analogous to life itself. Emerson does not mean simply the life of man in his claims; he means nature, thinking, thought, knowledge, and man. All of which are essential for life.

Emerson starts with nature – the basis for life itself. He explains that nature has no fixtures and no permanence. He states that every day is repeated without end and everything is built on something else. It is all a constantly evolving circle. This use of the metaphor drapes a sense of interconnectedness. In other words, if everything is built upon something else, such as, “continents built of the ruins of an old planet: the new races fed out of the decomposition of the foregoing…”, they are connected because one could not have existed without the other. This helps Emerson’s circles metaphor because we as people and our expansion of thought and thinking are all built upon something else, dependent upon our experiences. We ourselves could not have existed without something else. Emerson sets the stage for the reader’s understanding of his circle metaphor.

6 Spiritual Laws

‘Spiritual Laws’ is an essay taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first series of published essays in 1841. Over the course of this essay, Emerson ponders on the types of reflections that take place in our minds, and the idea that if man were to keep his peace of mind, the key is nothing more than simplicity. According to Emerson, which reflects strongly on his transcendentalist views, ‘simplicity derived from spiritual principles is evident in nature and in the universe, where the mind and will of humans is utterly powerless.’ So in this he’s saying that if we use our mind and will in an unhealthy or negative manner, we are creating our own evils and demons whilst surrendering to the ‘optimism of nature’, which is all we need in our lives.

7 Emerson and Sentence Structure

What the average writer can discuss throughout an entire essay, Emerson can compact into a single sentence. Each of his sentences, though they often times vary in length and style, make a bold claim as exemplified in his 1859 lecture, “Quotation and Originality”. Regardless of the structure and length, Emerson’s voice as a writer always comes through.

There are several occasions throughout the essay in which Emerson makes a bold claim within a short, compact sentence. An example of this is when he makes the claim that, “Quotation confesses inferiority” (324). The quote itself is controversial but regardless of whether or not one agrees with it, it is a bold claim. The format for this particular sentence is that is it a very short, compact, declarative sentence. The sentence following it makes a claim as well but it is much more wordy. Emerson continues, “In opening a new book we often discover, from the unguarded devotion with which the writer gives his motto or text, all we have to expect from him” (324). Another example of a short, declarative sentence is one in reference to many famous philosophers from before his time. Emerson writes, “We respect ourselves the more that we know them” (325). Emerson’s voice as a writer comes out in this sentence because it is very punctual yet also voices a truth that many people can personally relate to. Whether one wants to admit it or not, having elevated knowledge is closely associated with how highly they think of themselves. Following a similar topic, Emerson also makes the bold claim that, “Our best thought came from others” (327). This statement can be regarded as controversial as well as the one about quotations confessing inferiority. What Emerson means by it is that all thoughts come from other thoughts so once it has already been thought, it is no longer original, but borrowed.

8 One Convincing contradiction

“Spiritual Laws”, the fourth essay in Emerson’s First Essay Series, is an exploration into religion, history, and human nature and the validity of each when it comes to determining action. As a young scholar, Emerson practiced as a pastor and, in turn, was heavily influenced by religion and the idea of a higher power. As he grew older, he began to question what he was once taught to be ultimate truth and began viewing the world, nature, Emerson uses three main elements in his literature; Nature (consciousness, human nature, and the natural world), The Past (historical events and habitual action) and Action (action vs. inaction and its consequences). He uses transcendentalist ideas to persuade the reader to question religion, embrace spirituality, and understand and appreciate nature and the part it plays in our lives. Using the essay format of writing as a literary tool to present his argument, that nature is a better determinant for action than the actions of others in the past, Emerson is able to elaborate on both sides of the argument allowing the reader to argue the point themselves and come to their own conclusion. Using Transcendentalist ideas, Emerson introduces the nineteenth century to a way of thinking that had since been considered taboo and profane.

9 Emerson’s Language and Sentences

In Emerson’s Essay, the language is mixture of varying elements that create a serious and formal essay. One can turn to the way language affects how the essay is looked upon. In some aspects of the essay, pieces may not make sense when first read. Although the essay is meant to bring across an idea to the reader, Emerson takes it a step further and manipulates words and sentences that leave the reader in a questioned state. Some sentences may not make complete sense to the reader and leaves them with an incomplete understanding of the essay. Emerson uses this confusion to his advantage and makes the reader want to reread the writing, so that they may get a better understanding for what is written.

“In it’s experiments there has always remained, in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve” (163).

For this particular piece, the reader may have no idea what Emerson may be saying especially if the reader is just encountering him. In context alone, a word such as ‘residuum may trip up the reader and leave them at a standstill. The complexity in which sentences are written could trouble the reader, and could leave them feeling like they couldn’t understand it. However, that is not Emerson’s intention. The essay is a work meant to be read by many and evoke different possibilities within the reader. To truly wrap one’s mind around Emerson, one must reread the sentence to come up with an idea of what is being said.

10 Emerson’s Essay

There’s no doubt that Ralph Waldo Emerson has a unique and effective way of writing. When you first read one his essays, you will most likely find your hands clutching your skull in attempts to shake the massive headache stemming from a small string of words that all mean something so complex (yet beautiful) that your brain just can’t accept it. Every sentence. Every line. Every word. It’s like every second is a news broadcast that you have to listen to. His writing is so thought provoking, and the language is so colorful. It’s confusing whether you should look at the meaning of his writing or the poetic beauty of his words. Today, we’re just going to look at how he writes, rather than what he writes, because someone has to mention the big elephant on the page.

11 Emerson’s Writing Style

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing is much different from what I am used to. It inspires me a way I cannot even understand. In my last essay, I discussed how certain phrases stuck out to me in “The American Scholar.” He spent a lot of time discussing books and raving about them, which really made me see them in a different light. Books are clearly important enough to Emerson for him to spend an entire essay discussing them and the way he discussed them made me look at them the same way. This is not because of the things he said, but the way he said them. He was basically saying books are amazing over and over again, but that would not have had the same effect on me as the essay did.

For this essay, I want to focus on his essay “Quotations and Originality” and how the way he writes makes his readers feel a certain way about the words his saying. In class on Friday, we were taught by Kaitlyn (who I believe did a great job) and we learned about the differences and similarities between originality and quotations. We all originally thought that quotations and originality were opposites, but after discusses our opinions and what Emerson discussed in his essay, we realized they had more in common than we thought.

Week Twelve

Thank you to Caitlyn for guiding the discussion on Friday. And thank you for excusing me to be with my daughter over the weekend. For her Vermont Shamrocks are national champions!


Her U-19 division team defeated New Jersey and Utah, lost in a shootout to New York, and then won games against South Dakota and Massachusetts en route to an overtime victory in the championship game vs. Connecticut!

Week Six: Narrative

Natural and Literary Narrative

“Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”

—Aldous Huxley

The sociolinguists William Labov and Mary Louise Pratt have identified six elements common to most  “natural narratives”—that is, stories that we tell to one another every day.  One way to understand narrative is to pay attention to how they use (modify, manipulate, compress, omit, and rearrange) these elements.

A minimal narrative, according to Labov, can be defined as a sequence of two clauses which are temporally ordered: “that is, a change in their order will result in a change in the temporal sequence of the original semantic interpretation”(360). However a minimal sequence of narrative clauses is neither common nor interesting. According to Labov and Pratt, there are six elements of natural narrative that usually appear in the following order:

Abstract: summary of story or indication of the general purpose of telling the story

Orientation: language that identifies the who, what, when, where, placed before the first narrative clause

Complicating Action: the event that initiates the plot of the story, begins with first narrative clause

: the last narrative clause, the closure of the plot, that returns and concludes the speech act

Evaluation: the point of the story, why the story is worth telling, the interpretation of the plot (explicit or implicit), sometimes indicated by narrative clauses that depart from the simple past tense

Coda: indication that nothing else important to this story or its meaning happened later

Writers and people who study writing are interested in forms of narrative, or the way writers transform simple sequences of events into engaging stories and essays—what we can refer to as literary writing

Examples of Anecdotes

Darren was a friend of ours. His parents were extremely wealthy because they owned a bunch of hotels. They were usually taking care of the ones they had somewhere in Europe, so Darren had one of their huge mansions to himself and he took amazing care of the place. He threw a lot of parties, but he never let them get out of hand. They were more sophisticated than most people may think*

“Driving fast is fun. When I was your age I used to drive my parents van on this route (At the time I was driving on the route he was referring to) to work and back everyday after school. It’s a great road to drive fast on because it follows the curvature around the bays of the lake. I’d pretend that I was racing my dirtbike on the track and try to increase my “lap speeds” each day. I got to know the road pretty well, and I eventually became overconfident in my driving ability. One day after work I was hauling ass and took a corner faster than I intended to and panicked. I started to drift into the opposite lane, so I reflexively jerked the steering wheel to the right harder than I should have and sent myself into a tree on the side of the road. I completely wrapped the van around the tree, but was somehow lucky enough to walk away from the accident with relatively minor injuries. If things had gone differently that day, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story, and you wouldn’t be here to hear it.”


One day during a lecture tour, Mark Twain entered a local barber shop for a shave. This, Twain told the barber, was his first visit to the town.
“You’ve chosen a good time to come,” he declared.
“Oh?” Twain replied.
“Mark Twain is going to lecture here tonight. You’ll want to go, I suppose?”
“I guess so…”
“Have you bought your ticket yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, it’s sold out, so you’ll have to stand.”
“Just my luck,” said Twain with a sigh. “I always have to stand when that fellow lectures!”


“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
 Nicolo Paganini was a well-known and gifted nineteenth century violinist. He was also well known as a great showman with a quick sense of humor. His most memorable concert was in Italy with a full orchestra. He was performing before a packed house and his technique was incredible, his tone was fantastic, and his audience dearly loved him. Toward the end of his concert, Paganini was astounding his audience with an unbelievable composition when suddenly one string on his violin snapped and hung limply from his instrument. Paganini frowned briefly, shook his head, and continued to play, improvising beautifully.

Then to everyone’s surprise, a second string broke. And shortly thereafter, a third. Almost like a slapstick comedy, Paganini stood there with three strings dangling from his Stradivarius. But instead of leaving the stage, Paganini stood his ground and calmly completed the difficult number on the one remaining string.


The Brooklyn Bridge that spans the river tying Manhattan Island to Brooklyn is truly a miracle bridge. In 1863, a creative engineer named John Roebling was inspired by an idea for this spectacular bridge. However, bridge-building experts throughout the world told him to forget it; it could not be done.

Roebling convinced his son, Washington, who was a young upand coming engineer, that the bridge could be built. The two of them developed the concepts of how it could be accomplished and how the obstacles could be overcome. With un harnessed excitement and inspiration, they hired their crew and began to build their dream bridge.

The project was only a few months under construction when a tragic accident on the site took the life of John Roebling and severely injured his son, Washington. Washington was left with permanent brain damage and was unable to talk or walk. Everyone felt that the project would have to be scrapped since the Roeblings were the only ones who knew how the bridge could be built.

Even though Washington was unable to move or talk, his mind was as sharp as ever, and he still had a burning desire to complete the bridge. An idea hit him as he lay in his hospital bed, and he developed a code for communication. All he could move was one finger, so he touched the arm of his wife with that finger, tapping out the code to communicate to her what to tell the engineers who were building the bridge. For thirteen years, Washington tapped out his instructions with his finger until the spectacular Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed.


Goethe once wrote a very long letter to one of his friends. In the end he added a postscript explaining: “I am very sorry for sending you such a long letter but I did not find enough time to write a shorter one.”

Examples of Parables

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the kirig’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.


“’The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’” (Matthew 13:45-46 NIV).


A scorpion was walking along the bank of a river, wondering how to get to the other side. Suddenly he saw a fox. He asked the fox to take him on his back across the river.

“The fox said, ‘No. If I do that, you’ll sting me, and I’ll drown.’

“The scorpion assured him, ‘If I did that, we’d both drown.’

“The fox thought about it, finally agreed. So the scorpion climbed up on his back, and the fox began to swim. But halfway across the river, the scorpion stung him.

“As the poison filled his veins, the fox turned to the scorpion and said, ‘Why did you do that? Now you’ll drown, too.’

“‘I couldn’t help it,’ said the scorpion. ‘It’s my nature.’”


One day a wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country so that the son could see how the poor lived. They spent a day and a night at the farm of a very poor family. When they got back from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” “Very good, Dad!” “Did you see how poor people can be?” “Yeah!” “And what did you learn?” The son answered, “I saw that we have a dog at home, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden; they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lamps in the house; they have the stars. Our patio reaches to the front yard; they have the whole horizon.” When the little boy was finished, the father was speechless. His son then added, “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are!”


Luke 10: 30-37

30b“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

35 The next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”


The Hare and The Tortoise

A tortoise one day met a hare who made fun of her.

“My, my, you move so slowly, you will never get far!”

The tortoises, upset by the hare’s manner, said, “Let’s have a race and see who is faster.”

The hare laughed and said, “You must be joking! But all right, we’ll see who reaches the other side of the hill first.”

Off he ran, leaving the tortoise far behind.

After a while, the hare stopped to wait for the tortoise to come long. He waited and waited till he felt sleepy.

“I might as well take a nap,” he thought. “Even if she catches up with me, I can easily win the race.”

So he lay down under a shady tree and closed his eyes.

When the tortoise passed the sleeping hare, she walked on slowly but steadily. By the time the hare woke up, the tortoise was near the finishing line. He ran as fast as he could, but he could not catch up with the tortoise.

The moral of this story being: “slow and steady wins the race.”


Week Five

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough

-Ezra Pound

Michel  Foucalt, “Foucault What is an Author?
Walt Whitman Song of Myself (1891)
Hart Crane, The Bridge

Week Four

What is a Metaphor?

 The pale-gray granite spires pierced the evening sky like needles.

The thought beneath so slight a film—
Is more distinctly seen—
As laces just reveal the surge—
Or mists—the Apennine. (Emily Dickinson)

All the world’s a stage. (Shakespeare)

Presentiment—is that long shadow—on the lawn—
Indicative that the sun goes down (Emily Dickinson).

What is a Metonomy?

pen for author; the bench for law, the ballot box for democracy
Head of cattle (used for counting number of cattle in a herd).
The buses are on strike today.
Paris has dropped hemlines this year.
The ham sandwich is getting impatient for his check.
Hollywood is producing terrible movies these days.

What is Conceptual Metaphor?

So called “figures of speech” are perhaps better understood as figures of thought, as ways of saying one thing in terms of something else to reflect an understanding and experience of one kind of thing in terms of another. For example, love is conceptualized as a process or journey: “Look how far we’ve come,” It’s been a long, bumpy road,” “We’re at a crossroads,” “We may have to go our separate ways,” “Our marriage is on the rocks,” and “we’re spinning our wheels.” Contrary to what we might think, such conceptualizations of the experience we call love actually constrain how we think creatively and express our ideas about love in everyday and literary discourse. In this view, figurative thought allows us to use language to see something in terms of something else; however, closer inspection often reveals not so much a new metaphorical mapping between dissimilar domains but in fact the making manifest some of the possibilities about love that are suggested by the standing metaphorical concept “love is a journey.”

One may conclude that the constraints on how we speak and think are not imposed by the limits of language but by the ways we actually use figures of thought to think of our ordinary experiences.

Love is a journey (One abstract domain of experience (love)  & a concrete domain (journey)
Look how far we’ve come!
It has been a long, bumpy road
We are at a crossroads
They went their separate ways
Our marriage is on the rocks
We are spinning our wheels

Love as a natural force
She swept me off her feet
Waves of passion overwhelmed him
A whirlwind romance
Waves of passion

Love as magic
She cast a spell over him
He was entranced by her
She was spellbound
The magic is gone

Love as unity
We were made for each other
She is my better half
We belong together
They are inseparable

Theories are buildings
That theory needs more support
The foundation of Darwin’s theory is shaky
Her theory collapsed

Figures of thought are everywhere: an overeager funeral director is a “vulture”; a dishonest card player is “sly as a fox”; and a professor summing up a point begins a sentence with the phrase, “In a nutshell. . . .” I will not discuss here the related and overlapping relational figures such as, analogy, homology, and so on.

A Few Definitions

Simile: an explicit comparison between two things by using words such as “like,” “as,” “than,” “appears,” “seems.”

The pale-gray granite spires pierced the evening sky like needles.

The thought beneath so slight a film—
Is more distinctly seen—
As laces just reveal the surge—
Or mists—the Apennine. (Emily Dickinson)

Metaphor: an implicit comparison based on an implied resemblance between two unlike things. In a metaphor two conceptual domains are brought together, as opposed to metonymy in which the relation is established within a single conceptual domain.

All the world’s a stage. (Shakespeare)

Presentiment—is that long shadow—on the lawn—
ndicative that the sun goes down (Emily Dickinson).

Implied metaphors are less evident (“He brayed his refusal to leave”); extended or controlling metaphors keep the comparison alive in successive lines of poetry or in stages of a narrative.

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,
His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance. (Robert Francis).

Metonymy: functions by way of association. The taking of one well-understood or easily perceived aspect of something to stand for or represent the whole. Metonymy substitutes the token for the type, or a particular instance, property, or characteristic for the general principle or function.

The ham sandwich is getting impatient for his check.
Hollywood is producing terrible movies these days.

Synecdoche: a part substituted for the whole; and as such, synecdoche functions as a form of metonymy. In synecdoche the terms of reference are concrete, as opposed to metonymy, in which the terms of reference often bridge the gap from abstract to concrete. It can be expressed as species for genus, material for thing made, abstract quality for thing possessing it (cf. microcosm and macrocosm relationship, wherein an individual entity is seen as recapitulating the nature and structure of the universe, or cause and effect).

Elizabeth lives four doors dow
They’re taking on hands down at the factory.

Irony: In irony proper, the speaker is aware of a double meaning and the victim unaware. (As opposed to sarcasm, where both parties understand the double meaning). In modern terms, irony can be understood as 1) verbal irony and 2) dramatic irony. Verbal irony is a form of speech in which one meaning is stated and a different, usually antithetical meaning is intended.

If I say “Wonderful day, isn’t it,” looking up at a concerned friend after I slip and fall on a patch of ice, the statement is understood in an ironic sense.

When Hamlet rejects the idea of suicide with the remark, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” his remark is unconsciously ironic because conscience is a sacramental word associated with moral goodness, whereas coward has pejorative connotations.

Dramatic irony is a plot device according to which a) the spectators know more than the protagonist; b) the character reacts in a way contrary to that which is appropriate or wise; c) characters or situations are compared or contrasted for ironic effects, such as parody; d) there is a marked contrast between what the character understands about his acts and what the play demonstrates about them.

Building on the romantic sense of irony as a means of expressing the paradoxical nature of reality (since it expresses two meanings simultaneously), the modern critic Kenneth Burke has argued that verbal and dramatic irony are especially prevalent in twentieth century literature. He reasons that in any historical period when stable values are undermined, irony provides an appropriate (although perhaps not sufficient) attitude.

You Fit into Me

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

—Margaret Atwood 

Doesn’t he realize

Doesn’t he realize

that I am not
like the swaying kelp
in the surf,
where the seaweed gatherer
can come as often as he wants.

 —Ono no Komachi


Perception of an Object Costs

Perception of an object costs

Precise the object’s loss—

Perception in itself a Gain

Replying to its price—

The Object Absolute—is nought—

Perception sets it fair

And then upbraids a Perfectness

That situates so far—


“Nature” is what we see

“Nature” is what we see—
the Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse—the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

—Emily Dickinson


“I do not particularly like the word ‘work.’ Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their living by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking. . .” (115).

 “When you think about it, everybody is familiar with the words “natural food.” but it is not clearly understood what natural food actually is. There many who feel that eating food which contains no artificial chemicals or additives is a natural diet, and there are others who think vaguely that a natural diet is eating foods just as they are found in nature.


—Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (1975)


“If there is any one thing that’s unhealthy in America, it’s that is a whole civilization trying to get out of work – the young, especially, get caught in that. There is a triple alienation when you try to avoid work: first, you’re trying to get outside energy sources/resources to do it for you; second, you no longer know what your own body can do where your food or water come from; third, you lose the capacity to discover the unity of mind and body via your work.”

—Gary Snyder, 1977 

“This revolution is to be wrought by the gradual domestication of the idea of Culture. The main enterprise of the world for splendor, for extent, is the upbuilding of man. Here are the materials strewn along the ground.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar,” 66

“Literature is a point outside our hodiernal circle, though which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” 178

“All thinking is analogizing, and it is the business of life to learn metonymy.”

—“Poetry and the Imagination”

“The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire, is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle.”


“One must be an inventor to read well.”

—“The American Scholar”

“The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action”

—“The American Scholar”

“Where do we find ourselves?”


“In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal. . . .”


“Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it”

—“Quotation and Originality”

“Cannot I conceive of the Universe without a contradiction?”

—“Journals, May 26, 1837

Week Three

“Tufted Titmouse, including Black-crested Titmouse” (Parus bicolor) Titmice are social birds and, especially in winter, join with small mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, kinglets, creepers, and the smaller woodpeckers. Although a frequent visitor at feeders, it is not as tame or confiding as the chickadees. It often clings to the bark of trees and turns upside down to pick spiders and insects from the underside of a twig or leaf. The “Black-crested Titmouse” of Texas was until recently considered a separate species. Voice: Its commonest call, sung year-round and carrying a considerable distance, is a whistled series of four to eight notes sounding like Peter-Peter repeated over and over.

“Northern Shrike” (Lanius excubitor) Unusual among songbirds, shrikes prey on small birds and rodents, catching them with the bill and sometimes impaling them on thorns or barbed wire for storage. Like other northern birds that depend on rodent populations, the Northern Shrike’s movements are cyclical, becoming more abundant in the South when northern rodent populations are low. At times they hunt from an open perch, where they sit motionless until prey appears; at other times they hover in the air ready to pounce on anything that moves. –John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region.

-John L. Bull and John Farrand’s Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region (National Audubon Society 1977)

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

“Before sunset, the skies lightened and the wind abated. While it was yet light the sanderlings left the barrier island and set out across the sound. Beneath them as they wheeled over the inlet was the deep green ribbon of the channel that wound, with many curvings, across the lighter shallows of the sound. They followed the channel, passing between the leaning red spar buoys, past the tide rips where the water streamed, broken into swirls and eddies, over a sunken reef of oyster shell, and came at last to the island. There they joined a company of several hundred white-rumped sandpipers, least sandpipers, and ring-necked plovers that were resting on the sand.”

“While the tide was still ebbing, the sanderlings fed on the island beach…. As they slept, and as the earth rolled from darkness toward light, birds from many feeding places along the coast were hurrying along the flyways that led to the north. For with the passing of the storm the air currents came fresh again and the wind blew clean and steady from the southwest. All through the night the cries of curlews and plovers and knots, of sandpipers and turnstones and yellowlegs, drifted down from the sky. The mockingbirds who lived on the island listened to the cries. The next day they would have many new notes in their rippling, chuckling songs to charm their mates and delight themselves.”

“About an hour before dawn the sanderling flock gathered together on the island beach, where the gentle tide was shifting the windrows of shells. The little band of brown-mottled birds mounted into the darkness and, as the island grew small beneath them, set out toward the north.”

―Rachel Carson, Under the Sea Wind (1941)

“Exercise indeed we do, but that very fore-backwardly, for where we should exercise to know, we exercise as having known, and so our brain delivered of much matter which never was begotten by knowledge.”

-Sir Phillip Sidney, Apology for Poetry, 1595

“There is then creative reading as well as creative writing”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar,” 1836

“To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which they are written, for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read.”

-Henry David Thoreau, “Reading” Walden

“Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or framework. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not a few coteries of writers.”

-Walt Whitman, from “Democratic Vistas,” 1871

“But every good book should be re-read as soon as it is finished. After the sketchiness of the first reading comes the creative work of reading. We must then know the problem that confronted the author. The second, then the third reading. . .gives us, little by little, the solution of this problem.”

-Gaston Bachelard

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—
The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—

-Emily Dickinson



The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.


-Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”




To an Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

—William Carlos Williams

The Ache of Marriage

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it.

-Denise Levertov, Poems 1960-1967 (1968)


To the Light of September

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew

-W.S. Merwin, Poetry (September 2003).

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

-E.E. Cummings, ViVa (1931)

Week Two


Edna Pontillier could not of told why, wishing to go to the beach with Robert, she should in the first place have declined, and in the second place have followed in obedience to one of the two contradictory impulses which impelled her. A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,—the light which, showing the way, forbids it. At that early period it served to bewilder her. It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears. In short, Mrs. Pontillier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such a beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult. The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace. (14)

—from Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)

A commentary

This passage comprises Chapter VI of Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening. The feature one immediately notices here is how the narrator provides insight to the reader that the protagonist of the novel, Edna Pontillier, does not yet discern. The previous pages have described a split between her public persona and the first stirrings of her inner desire to not conform to her public self. Here Edna first “declining” to go to the beach with Robert, and then her subsequent decision to follow “in obedience,” are decisions over which she seems to have no control. As the narrator puts it: “Edna Pontillier could not have told why.” In the second paragraph the narrator describes a dawning light that Edna has yet to see. “A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,—the light which, showing the way, forbids it.” The adjective “certain” does not give specificity to what it is that is “dawning dimly” (interestingly, it is not an “uncertain light”). Be that as it may, it is evident once again that Edna is not at all aware of how this gradual illumination of something has led to her to “follow” (obediently) one of the two contradictory impulses she has. The narrator goes on to explain that the source of this light, while elusive, bewildered her, and moved her to unexplainable emotions. In the fourth paragraph the reader is provided a summary statement that clarifies the earlier passages in the book that describe how unsettled Edna really is:

In short, Mrs. Pontillier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. (14)

Her “realization,” described once again as just beginning, might be best understood as the dawning of self-consciousness. The realization of her status as a woman in the social web of Grande Isle—and, more generally, in the culture of the aristocratic Southern culture at turn of the century—is not mentioned her. In the previous pages we have seen that Edna is not a “mother-woman”—a brood “who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and deemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (9). On the contrary, here Edna is realizing first “her position in the universe as a human being,” which is decidely not limited to the conventional social role of the mother-woman. Her realization is that she there may be more than one single role for a woman if conceived as a human being. Rather than accepting one social role, she is beginning to understand her relation to the world within and about her. “But the beginnings of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.” The problem, then, is that in beginning to see her way out of a proscribed social role as a woman, she is even further from the capacity to imagine a livable alternative. The language here is remarkable. Chopin is saying that Edna Pontillier is on the verge of something just coming into being. She then says that what is coming into view is a world, a world in which Edna might live not merely as a woman but also as a human being. The kind of introspection necessary for such a transformation in perspective is not yet apparent to Edna although it is suggested in the next passage that it has been instinctively apprehended. “At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” Yet in the final two paragraphs of the page the motif of the sea is given to suggest the risks of solitude and the “mazes of inward contemplation.” The voice of the sea, as one comes to see, is the refrain that both tempts and terrifies Edna through the remainder of the book.


I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

-Sylvia Plath, Colossus (1960)

Are you the new person drawn toward me?

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?

-Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92)

No Sex for Priests

The horse in harness suffers;
he’s not feeling up to snuff.
The feeler’s sensate but the cook
pronounces lobsters tough.

The chain’s too short: The dog’s at pains
to reach a sheaf of shade. One half a squirrel’s whirling there
upon the interstate. That rough around
the monkey’s eye is cancer. Only God’s
impervious—he’s deaf and blind. But he’s
not dumb: to answer for it all, his spokesmen
aren’t allowed to come.

Week One

The English Department at Keene State College

Mission Statement
The English Program encourages students to develop sophisticated ways of understanding, creating, and responding to texts.

Program Objectives
Production and Reception: The program teaches how historical, social, and cultural contexts shape literary works—including those works produced by cultures whose humanity and identity have been devalued, denied, or dismissed

Language and Poetics: The program introduces students to the major genres of literature, rhetorical and literary strategies, and the ways in which literary works relate intertextually

Criticism and Theory: The program introduces students to historical contexts and critical theories that shape literary analysis and inform scholarly debates in the field of literary studies

Reading and Writing: The program teaches careful reading, the use of literary vocabulary, an orderly critical approach, and the use of writing for a range of purposes


-Heather McHugh, The American Scholar (2006)