Filed under Poetry: Eavan Boland, Prose Nonfiction: G.K. Chesterton
The essay “On lying in Bed” is a commentary about the moral problems society is facing today.
Chesterton is disgusted by art he deems meaningless, such as the designs of the Turkish woven carpets, and the generic wallpaper designs found in common houses. He despises designs that are devoid of religious or philosophical meaning, and thus is horrible since it is devoid of thought, according to him. He calls them the “small pox”. Chesterton even calls upon the bible to state the bland designs without philosophical purpose was also disliked by the bible as well: “Use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do.”.
In a way, Chesterton relates his hatred for bland thinking to the modern day problem of morality. Chesterton states that the modern day represents a spiritual “decadence” in that small matters of conduct and secondary matters are placed great importance upon, and that greater and more primary ways of conduct are dimmed down. Greater morals are down played while minor morals are played up. The cleanliness of man is seen as more important and essential than to Godliness, which is seen as an offense nowadays.
An example of Chesterton’s point may include the LGBT issue in America. From a Christian perspective, the issue of LGBT is seen as a not as important issue, since the bible already states that it is a sin, which is in the same level along with all other sins, and so it should not be emphasized much so. However, the world today states that LGBT people are treated badly, and thus need improvement in their social rights and reputation. The world treats LGBT rights as the end to all means, in which once accomplished, will solve all problems relating to it. However, the Christian world states that it is not so, since the world is permanently full of sin, and that one needs to follow the Christian creed in order to solve all spiritual and worldly problems, which is the greater moral issue in the eyes of Christianity, downplayed by the popular secular society as a whole.
Note: Mr. Andrew, I posted my fourth one on the “Eavan Boland #3” section. So I’m just going to copy my fourth blog here.
I am on the fence with Eavan Boalnd. Our relationship so far has been like a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs. While I admire her technical pursuits, most of the messages behind her poem were not my cup of tea – the theme of love and whatnot. But I do love her feminist approach in some of her poems and how some of these poems addresses today’s society. I think that her “What Language Did” is an epitome of our volatile relationship.
First of all, she creates a common ground between the readers and herself by using a simplistic setting of a suburban background. Unfortunately, this method was not a universal method as some readers like myself live in a busy metropolis. Thus, as someone who lives in Jakarta, I was not able to identify myself with the first few opening stanzas when she talked about “roof-tops and houses” or the mundane livelihood of the suburbia. However, I tried to keep an open mind and the first thing that came to my mind was Wisteria Lane (the suburban road in Desperate Housewives). Thus, I tried to imagine myself living in that setting.
The flowers were particularly interesting for me. The way she described the flowers and its slow decay. As an intermission, let me just say that her transition from an imaginary driven first few stanzas to a more personal ones was impeccable. Anyway, I think that the flowers are representation of the first foreshadowing of the concept of old age in the poem as a whole. She relies on this imagery to emphasize the youth she feels while she’s outside her house and to demonstrate how she’s getting older. Keeping that Wisteria Lane mindset, I could relate to her as sometimes the characters in Desperate Housewives would step outside their front yard and look at the trees and flowers, and have flashbacks of the past.
Of course one would have to comment on her use of mythical creatures. Let me just start by saying that I am not a fan of mythology at all, but I think it is clever on her part to create such allegory. Casiopeia for example represents the pain women wrongly suffer due to abusive men, which is like what one of the characters in Desperate Housewives had gone through. Taken literally, the main function of this last example has more to do with youth and beauty, much like the flowers mentioned earlier. I felt it was strange how she relied on mythical individuals to arrive at such a thematic conclusion.
The way that Boland is able to tie in all of these elements and put forth the final statements in the last two stanzas explains the process of aging in the most depressing way. I don’t know whether this is an ‘emo’ poem or not, but I feel that the poem is trying to say that living life of pain and suffering is necessary in order to be able to learn lessons that can be applied from that experience to better your life and others later lives. This last few parts are quite intriguing and empowering for me as it seemed that Boland is standing up to give a voice for women who cannot speak their pain, resulting in a lesson learned for all in spite of the fact that pain and suffering led to this lesson through unspoken language. I think that her intent is commendable, but I just wished that I could relate with it more without having to go through all the hassle and imagine myself in Wisteria Lane (although playing a part in Desperate Housewives would be fun).
At this point I discovered that I quite like Boland because her poems actually bring up the issues about women in society that I am personally also fighting against. In her poem ‘What Language Did’, Boland touches upon the subject of women once more through the mythical allusions in the poem. She alludes to various mythical figures, such as the shepherdess, Cassiopeia (the mythical Ethiopian Queen who had to sacrifice her daughter because she dared to boast of her beauty), and a mermaid by the North Sea. All of them are symbols of eternal youth and beauty. She poignantly describes the suffering that each of them undergo as imaginary figures; unlike us, they are always living in a specific moment. For example, it appears that Cassiopeia is always stuck in the sky in a certain position because constellations don’t change. Boland’s diction is appropriate in depicting the suffering of these imaginary women in living eternally. She describes Cassiopeia as always stabbed since that is how she appears on the constellation, emphasizes the shepherdess’s cracked smile, and depicts the mermaid’s desolation. From this, Boland leads us to the theme of the poem, which deals with the suffering of these imaginary women instead of real women. Boland emphasizes that language, the stories people told to paint images of these imaginary women, essentially caused a life full of void for these figures since they could not experience real human life since they are rendered immortal by people’s stories. They would be happy to live the life full of human pain, emotions, and old age as evident when Bolan describes them saying “Help us to escape youth and beauty”
My first blog in the new year! Woo hoo!
To begin my blog, I admit I really enjoyed reading ‘A Piece of Chalk’. I find it rather amusing and suprisingly fun to read. In ‘A Piece of Chalk’ G.K Chesterton talked about brown papers, his pocket, how he prefers to draw about men and superstitions rather than nature, how colors hold a certain meaning, and finally ending the essay by talking about chalk.
What I admired about G.K Chesterton from this essay is how he is able to put together something very complex in a something very simple. When he realized that he lost his white chalk, Chesterton went on to describe how brown paper was able to reveal white as a color, instead of the absence of it. He was able to relate white color – which he describes as ‘not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black’, and tie it to the concept of virtue and chastity. He said ‘Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance or moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing… Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming’. I love how he is able to to connect how white is often assumed to be the absence of color, and connect it with the assumptions of virtue and chastity. I realize how he is able to connect all three of them to criticize how wrong assumptions may be.
Talking about assumptions, I realized after I finished reading that G.K Chesterton had been trying to point out how often and easily we assume, and I often find myself laughing how different my assumptions were to the ‘reality’. An example of this was when he asked the lady for a brown paper, like the lady, I first assumed that he wanted it to wrap a parcel. That’s what people would have assumed. What never came to my mind was that he was going to use it to draw! You see, G.K Chesterton had intelligently pointed out how wrong my assumptions are and used ‘drawing’ (something quite unexpected and a rather ‘childish’ term) to create some humor.
Lastly, I want to point out that G.K Chesterton is one very unique writer that I would never forget. I love how he writes. I have never expected him to write ‘Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pockets’ or ‘Meanwhile, I could not find my chalk’ and finally, how he ended his essay with ‘And i stood therein the trance of pleasure, realizing that this Southern England is not only a grand peninsula, and a tradition and a civilization; it is something even more admirable. It is a piece of chalk’. He sure has a way to ease the reader after some ‘serious reading’.
I like Chesterton. He’s witty and sharp, and more importantly, to the point. Unlike Boland, who has a terrible tendency to write poems that take ages to decipher, Chesterton’s essays only take a reading or two to understand. My favorite Chesterton essay would be “A Piece of Chalk”. Chesterton is the type of writer that challenges his readers to think in different ways – for example, that white is a color and not an absence of it. It’s easy to link this to morality – like how virtue is not an absence of vices, but an altogether separate thing.
Chesterton’s musings are unique in the sense that they are concerned with ideas that normal people do not concern themselves with. It’s not often that I think of ‘moral significance’ -as Chesterton writes in his essay- on a lazy Sunday morning. To read about his opinions on philosophy and its like is something that I find particularly enlightening. In contrast, Boland, as I have mentioned in class, has this obsession with all things Irish. It’s difficult to ‘connect’ with someone who comes from a culture so different from your own.
Chesterton’s work is easier to swallow – he manages to clearly and succinctly impart serious thoughts that still keep the light, witty flavor of his style. Chesterton writes, “They [poets] preferred writing about great men to writing about great hills; but they sat on the great hills to write about it.” I think it’s very viable that poets who do not often write about nature do draw inspiration from it. Nature has been around since the beginning of our history. It’s an integral part of our lives, even more so the further back in history we go. Even though nature is not expressly written about, it’s easy to see how poets could have been affected by it – we can see this in the whiteness of snow and the whiteness of the robes of virgins, the green of spring leaves and the green of Robin Hood, and the gold of the sunset and the gold of the shields of warriors.
Chesterton’s a thinker. This is not to say Boland isn’t, but Chesterton’s works, though written decades before Boland’s works, are far more applicable and far more relatable to modern readers than Boland’s. Boland is obscure and difficult to understand –she does not have the smoothness of Yeats or the epicness of Homer. Chesterton is sensible and sharp – British to the end.
As a devoted reader of C.S Lewis, I truly admire the complexity and astuteness that Chesterton similarly offers in his writings. Like C.S Lewis himself, Chesterton has the ability to grapple with the challenging issues that humans typically avoid voluntarily as a result of fear of confusion or confrontation. Aside from shedding light towards the true intricacies of the most simple of things, Chesterton offers a great deal of insight that caused me to become slightly more reflective as well. In his essay, “The Medical Mistake”, Chesterton identifies the broken nature of the world, but the mere fact we deem it ‘broken’ must mean that we believe there is an ‘optimal’ society, but we truly have no actual clue what this society would be like. Chesterton comments on how we constantly associate words together like ‘dying nations’, as if nations actually “have a fixed and physical span of life”. He then mentions the social enigma that we have entangled ourselves with, “… the worst is that we have before us: the habit of exhaustively describing a social sickness, then propounding a social drug.” He then continues on to talk about the insanity that humanity has been confronted with, the changing of worldview, the alternating of social conventions, for instance, the adoption of relativism because absolutism is modernly deemed as ‘extreme’ and ‘unaccepting’. In truth, if the world was truly sick, the ideals behind it don’t quite matter. What intrigues me the most is when Chesterton brings forth the point that no one in the right mind would say, “I’m bored of this headache, give me a toothache.” This is a perfect depiction of what humanity has tried to do in its history. We think that different political theories, various economic conventions will somehow fix the brokenness of the world, when nothing inside a ‘sick body’ can actually heal it without the body being transformed as a whole. He makes the assertion that “… But exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would regards as worse maladies…” This, right here, is the revelation that humanity must wake up to. None of us have ever experienced, seen a true utopia. We will never ‘cure the world’ because we simply cannot understand the dimensions of the illness that it suffers. How can a doctor find a cure without truly grasping all the symptoms of the sickness? Chesterton summarizes this perfectly in his last paragraph when he says, “We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity?” The cure is simply not natural, true cure for the world is found in the supernatural, and it cannot be attained through human means. No matter how hard we strive to find a balanced, equal solution to move towards a utopian society, it will fail because that solution will indefinitely be a disadvantage to others. ABSOLUTELY RADICAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
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