Time Passes Slowly in War

The chapters in “Time Passes” directly reflect the mood of the English public regarding the Great War. The vivid imagery, like in all of Woolf’s work, is profound and penetrating even without reading the fine print that dealt heavily with the mindsets of the English during and after the Treaty of Versailles inked the end of the conflict. The section is aptly named, for Woolf’s portrayal of time passing simulates the same heavy, dragging trickle of time felt by the soldiers fighting [“Night after night, summer and winter, the torment of storms…”] on foreign soil, and certainly for their anxious and heartbroken families at home. “How long, she asked…how long shall it endure?” (p131) The question of Mrs. McNabb evokes the sentiments of all those involved in the war, longing with desperation for its end, however bleak it could be.

Woolf also writes of the agonizing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by the soldiers. Whilst many men lost their lives, the ones who returned were left with deep, cankerous scars, both mentally and physically, and had to endure the horrifying episodes of remembrance. Though they were covered in wounds and filled with terrorizing memories, upon returning they felt hollow and numb to the new post-war world. “What people had shed and left…those alone kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated.” (p129) The visuals given by Woolf are terrifying, especially when one realizes soldiers, sailors, and pilots still go untreated for PTSD despite the sacrifices they made and were willing to make in the line of duty.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

“I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love…”

This is line from the W.B. Yeats poem about an Irishman fighting in the war for Britain. Despite the fact that Ireland was rallying for independence at the time, Irish soldiers still did their duty and fought, if not for king and country, at least for a bit of pride. I found it interesting and complementary to this week’s reading. 

It’s also my dad’s favorite poem :]

The Waste Land

In “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot’s fragmented structure makes the poem an anxious and almost curt read. The fifth section, What the Thunder Said, is a prime example. “After the agony in stony places; The shouting and the crying… We who were living are now dying.” This is a potent assault of imagery. Picturing the desolation of beautiful, historical cities—London, Vienna, Jerusalem—and its people is a devastating image for the reader.

Eliot’s unusual and unpoetic syntax draw on the ruggedness and grit of the time. His inclusion of sporadic German replicates the confusion felt by the soldiers fighting in foreign lands and their isolation as many of them come to terms and foresee their eminent death. In terms of the frankness of dialogue, the women in the last part of the second section, A Game of Chess, and their discussion are particularly disturbing. Topics of infidelity, abortion, and family disfunction strike the reader along with the state of the English lower class during the war. “I can’t help it… It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said… What you get married for if you don’t want children?” Interspersed with the last call of the barman, it paints a drab picture of life for the women of the lower class during that period.

In a Station of the Metro : On a Dock in Dublin

The resemblance between Ezra Pound’s shockingly short “In a Station of the Metro” and ‘Eveline’ an excerpt from James Joyce’s Dubliners, comes from its vividly sombre imagery and solemn tone. Even though Pound’s poem is only fourteen words in entirety compared to the substantial section of Joyce’s ‘Eveline’, both tell equally of emotional numbness, imposed by one’s self and one’s surroundings.

For instance, as Eveline prepares to embark on her new life with Frank, the scene of the crowd at the dock reminds her of her life at home and awakens a fear of the unknown that lies ahead of her. She is suddenly rendered motionless, and worse, emotionless. Because of her inability to discern her emotions, she is now doomed to live an unfulfilling life, just like her mother. A similar lack of emotional stimulus is evoked in the “apparition” of faces in Pound’s poem. Indifference in the crowd prevents individuals from protruding and quashes their appearance, and by extension, their existence.

Gaskell and Darwin: A Non Sequitur?

I will be honest and say it was a bit of a stretch for me to find much that was similar in these two works other than the obvious topic of gender roles. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, the fact that women, or “Amazons” if you like, dominate the populace show much of what Charles Darwin proposed about sexual selection. Because their husbands are away most of the time or are they are simply single, women do everything in Cranford, and are apparently damn good at it. Cranford lives in harmony for the most part until a man, Captain Brown, arrives and throws a wrench in the works and muddles up what Darwin would call the harmony of natural selection within the town, albeit making it better once the women learn to evolve their perceptions.

Both Gaskell and Darwin appreciate tradition and a sense of community within their respective spheres (Cranford and evolutionary mammals). Whilst Drumble is becoming more materialistic and hectic, and religion still holds the most sway in popular opinion on scientific discoveries, these two writers lobby for a mutual understanding between all parties and diplomatic respect for the inevitable changes that come with being a part of this world.

Culture & Anarchy in Society

In both his works, Dover Beach and Culture & Anarchy, Matthew Arnold condemns society for its destruction of culture. As he describes it, culture is the “love of perfection” in thought and faith and emotion. The modern world and its ugly, clanking machines are not perfect, for they don’t allow man to expand his abilities of thought and physicality; if a machine with its “grating roar” is doing all the work, how can a man do it, or better yet, how can he learn to do it? The comparisons made between France and England, one that the former became civilized and cultured by the implementation of a constriction, whilst the latter would sooner “run to the mines.” This highlights Arnold’s problem with society. Even though the people of England are so obsessed with having their freedom, they cannot see that the machines they “worship” have begun to constrain them and suppress them from fulfilling their potential.

Knowledge is what Arnold inputs all of his stock and society’s survival, it is his “sweetness and light,” as he likes to say often in both these works. The noble virtues of knowledge and understanding of all aspects of life are what can save society from the grave that these gargantuan machines are digging for them. In order to obtain culture, the reliance on machines, the heavy emphasis on social classes, and the lackadaisical attitude towards education and overall knowledge must cease.

The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (Basically, Man’s “Get Out of Jail Free” Card in Verse)

How ironic that a man such as William Blake would pen a poem called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” A man who was outspoken in his disapproval of the institution of marriage (yet was himself married) and heartily favored the free love movement of the late 18th century, Blake’s lobbying for the peaceful union between Heaven and Hell, or of anything for that matter, could have one rolling with cynical laughter, or at least rolling ones eyes.

The beautifully crafted plates of Blake’s poem have been refashioned multiple times. Referring to two separate versions, one from 1790 and the other from 1794, the contrast in the color scheme and format of the accompanying artwork, in one way, can be interpreted as the change in what Blake found most important within his great work. For instance, Plate 2 of the 1790 version is a medley of beautiful water colors with the words scribed atop, making it a part of the artwork, as it were. In contrast, the 1794 version is significantly starker due to the color-blocking technique that places the script on a colorless background. This is obviously a very important piece of the poem–nevertheless because it is the beginning–but also because Plate 2 describes the start of man’s battle with temptation (“Roses are planted where thorns grow.”) that ultimately “drive the just man into barren climes,” or rather the futility of denying man his desires in order to please God.

Image

Plate 2, 1790

Image

Plate 2, 1794

The alteration of color in the 1794 version obviously makes the plates more eye-catching, and albeit pleasing due to the removal of the ghastly brown hues (e.g. Plate 1, 1790), but it may also show the progression of Blake’s fervent belief in the message of his work. An artist’s emotion clearly come out in his work. The use of deep reds, blacks, and dark blues imply the passionate fervor felt when revisiting the poem. The deep, wild colors mimic man’s deep and wild desires that are being suppressed by the organized religion Blake so despises. Desires that, when gone unsatiated, can lead a man to “murder an Infant in its cradle…” (PL 10, L2).

Image

In this way, the impulsive, uncontrollable Lothario Blake makes his case against organized Christianity and preaches (though he might prefer the word “innocently encourages”) the indulgence of man’s desires.