NaPoMo, Day 3: The Tyger

It’s day three of National Poetry Month, and here at The Read Room the reading just gets better and better. In fact, it was so good today that I had trouble choosing only one poem to share. Needless to say, when it comes to selecting poems for next week’s transcription project I will have more than enough! 🙂

The poem I want to share with you today is this (be sure to read it out loud!):

The Tyger

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Observations

Ok, first– did you read it aloud? If not, try it now. If so, do it again! This has to be one of my absolute favorite poems for meter and rhyme: it moves so fluidly to its own beat and the traditional couplet rhymes (bright/night, skies/eyes, aspire/fire) reinforce the poem both in the mind and the ear. A poem doesn’t have to pay attention to sound, but one that does certainly wins admiration from me– and it’s definitely easier to commit to memory.

Second, look at how strong the language and images are. My first poetry instructor challenged us to take any poem and subtract the adjectives and adverbs, leaving only nouns and verbs. It is the nouns and verbs that resonate with us because they carry the most weight: they are the texture, the sights, the sounds, the smells and tastes. What nouns do we have here? Tyger, fire, wings, shoulder, sinew, hammer, chain, furnace, anvil…powerful stuff! The stuff of nightmares! I can see this Tyger being hammered and twisted in a hellish forge– I can see him burning  in the night!

Now, I said yesterday (after “The Emperor of Ice-Cream“) that usually when a poet repeats something they mean to draw special attention to it. Check out the first and last stanzas of “The Tyger”– the same, right? Wrong. The two stanzas are exactly the same except for a single, changed word: “could” in “What immortal hand or eye / could frame thy fearful symmetry” becomes “dare” at the end. When it comes to the analysis side of things, that is significant: it plays into the same complexity of repulsion, admiration and wonder hinted at in the line “Did he who made the lamb make thee?”

Here is today’s complete reading list. For the first week of April I am observing National Poetry month by reading 10 poems a day. Favorites are starred.

From Poetry, An Introduction, compiled by Michael Meyer (Fifth Edition):

  1. “Lonely Hearts” by Wendy Cope
  2. “The Tyger” by William Blake (see above)*
  3. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats
  4. “To Celia” by Ben Jonson*
  5. “Whatever Is” by Charlotte Perkins*

I also read several poems by Oscar Wilde today and, as expected, every one impressed me. Novels, short stories, fables, poetry…is there anything Oscar Wilde CAN’T do??? This is part of the reason I had so much trouble choosing only one poem to share today. The other I wanted to talk about was Wilde’s “Chanson,” a very brief list & contrast poem about unrequited love. Check it out by clicking the link below!

From Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde, compiled by Phoenix Poetry:

  1. Chanson“***
  2. Hélas!
  3. In the Gold Room–A Harmony“*
  4. Pan: Double Villanelle“*
  5. The Grave of Keats“*
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30 Stories, Day 15: The Nightingale and the Rose

I was saving the one by Oscar Wilde like a rare coin—I knew it was going to be good. Now, halfway through my 30 day challenge of reading and reporting on short stories, I present to you one of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful short stories I have ever read. (Highly recommend it! Readable online at the link below.)

“The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde

“If you want a red rose,” said the Tree, “you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.”

Synopsis

A Student mopes in his garden, bemoaning its lack of red roses. Were it that the garden held but a single bloom! His heart’s desire promised she would dance with him at the Prince’s ball the next evening if only he brought her red roses; because he has none to give he must instead sit alone and watch her glide across the floor with others. He is heartbroken just thinking about it and falls and weeps in the grass.

The animals of the garden hear his cries. “Why is he weeping?” they ask. The Nightingale, who has been listening from a branch overhead, answers: “He is weeping for a red rose.” The other animals scoff, calling the Student ridiculous, but the Nightingale understands his pain. Pain is the other half of what she so joyously sings of each night: Love.

The Nightingale resolves to help the student.

She flies from one Rose-tree to another. “Give me a red rose,” she says, “and I will sing you my sweetest song.” But one tree bears white roses; the next bears yellow; the third bears red, but has lost its buds to the harsh winter.

The Nightingale pleads. She only wants one, she says—is there no way she can get it? “There is,” the Tree replies. “But it is terrible.”

For a red rose, the Tree says, the Nightingale must sing to him with her heart against a thorn. She must sing to him all the night, heart pierced, and her blood must flow into the Tree’s veins.

The Nightingale considers this. At length she decides that love is greater than life, and that the heart of a man is greater than that of a bird. She will do it.

She flies down to the Student, still in the grass, and tells him to be happy: she will make a rose for him. But with one caveat: in return he must be a true lover (for love is wiser than philosophy and mightier than power). The student looks up and listens, but does not understand. Even when the Nightingale sings (the Tree that keeps her nest has heard her plan, and requests a final song) the Student perceives her through an academic lens, noting in a journal that she has form, but not feeling; style, but not sincerity. He sees neither meaning nor purpose in her song, and goes inside to sleep.

The moon comes out and the Nightingale goes to work, singing of love with her breast again the rose Tree’s thorn. Song by song petals begin unfurling, but still the rose is pale. “Press closer,” bids the tree, “or the Day will come before the rose is finished.”

The bird heeds the advice and presses closer, so that the thorn pricks deeper into her body. The petals begin to go pink as she continues singing, but still it is not enough; the thorn has not yet pierced her heart. The tree bids the Nightingale press closer once again.

Finally the thorn pricks the bird’s heart, and as she is cut by bitter pain the Nightingale’s song grows wilder: becomes a verse about Love that does not die even with Death. Her blood seeps into the rose, finally turning it crimson.

When the rose is finished, the bird lies dead in the grass.

The next day, the Student looks out his window and sees the rose. Quickly he dashes it up and takes it to the home of the girl he pines for.

“Here is the reddest rose in the world,” he says, producing the rose when the door opens. He offers it as a symbol of his affection; suggest that she wear it that night and know how he loves her.

The girl frowns. She says it will not go with her dress, and besides—another suitor has sent her jewels.

The boy, angry, calls the girl ungrateful and casts the rose into the street; the rose is trodden flat by the wheel of a passing cart.

The Student concludes that Love is a silly, useless thing—not half as useful as Logic or Philosophy—and goes back to his room to read.

Favorite line

(Alright, it’s really more of a passage this time…but Wilde just has too much great imagery and writes too beautifully to include any less!)

“Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,” cried the Nightingale, “and Life is very dear to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the Sun in his chariot of gold, and the Moon in her chariot of pearl. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?”

Observations

This breed of fable is an interesting one: animals speak, but humans don’t understand them. This serves a purpose, of course: the inability of the Student to understand the Nightingale’s sacrifice says something about love (perhaps even plays back to her creed that Love was greater than Philosophy or Power) and makes her noble act all the more heart-breaking. What a wretched lesson in love! I mean, I had heard that Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories were depressing, but this has got to be one of the most heart-wrenching short stories EVER! (And yet, it’s so beautiful and poignant—I love Wilde all the more!)

As far as fables and parables go, I am constantly learning more: one of the keys to keeping a story timeless, it appears, is using basic characters (be they human or animal or plant or object) who have both been present in the past and are present today. The more generic, the more timeless. One object, and one object only, I felt, dates The Nightingale and the Rose: a “cart-wheel” running over the eponymous rose near the end. Now, that doesn’t diminish the story for me at all—it’s just an observation. Actually, it begets a question: are the best parables/fables/folklore timeless? Or do we associate them with a certain time period: the middle ages, perhaps?

Wilde is THE MAN when it comes to maxims and pithy sayings. After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray I wanted to write nothing but Lord Henry-style witticisms! My observation with aphorisms is that, though they don’t always use absolutes, they tend to take a position and are said with confidence. In this story, for example: “In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity.”

Vocab

As observed with past parables and children’s tales, the language here is simple and designed for a broad, youth-inclusive audience. No new words here.

Right-o. It’s going to be hard to top this one. We’ll see what tomorrow’s short story brings… 🙂

Writing Challenge, Day 28: Stealing Inspiration

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 28: When you write, to what degree do real-life experiences serve as inspiration?

So, my favorite writing teacher ever taught our English class an important lesson on the first very day. She said, to a room of eager, innocent young faces:

“Boys and girls, if you want to be a writer, you must learn to steal.”

The class reacted thus:

“WHAAAAA?”

She went on to explain herself: as artists, we run into the inevitable problem of everything under the sun having already been done before. Yes, even the sentiment that it’s all been done is a hackneyed old cushion that’s lost its whoopee. The solution then, as this wise teacher relayed, is to steal.

“Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.” –Oscar Wilde

(The more I learn of Wilde, the more I love him.)

This is not to suggest plagiarism. As a writer, artist, or any other creative type one should never plagiarize. However, when we encounter something that is compelling, it is our writerly duty to capitalize upon it. Sometimes that thing is a plot. Sometimes a rhyme scheme. Sometimes an amalgamation of ideas, characters, and distasteful cultural trends. Then, when we have seized the object(s) of our affections, we must make it (them) our own. Some examples:

1. “Green Eggs & Hamlet” is a delightfully witty poem which combines the stolen soliloquy of Hamlet (Shakespeare’s most famous “To be or not to be” scene) and a rhyme scheme purloined of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham.

2. 10 Things I Hate About You is a modern (1999) film adaptation of Shakespeare’s rom-com play, The Taming of the Shrew. The film filches Shrew’s plot as well as its driving characters, remodeling them and most of their dialogue to fit the rockin’ sockin’ nineties. The poem that Julia Stiles reads, for which the film is named, also seems to be a spin off of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s poem Sonnet XLIII which begins “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

3. Vampires Suck is the god-awful result of combining all three of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books into a single cinema feature in a two-hour attempt at comedic parody. Characters are given slapstick makeovers (Bella Swan becomes Becca Crane; the Cullens become the Sullens; etc.) and there are references to pop culture icons such as the Kardashians, Buffy, and Lady Gaga that no one born after the year 2000 will give three beans about.

Says The All-Knowing Wiki: “Vampires Suck was given four nominations from the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay and Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel.”

All examples considered, some thieving endeavors turn out better than others.

But stealing from something already written (said, done, painted, filmed, etc.) is only one part of the equation. Stealing from real-life is the other. I keep running lists of anything that I think will feed good writing: textured words, visceral images, character flaws, social phenomenon, and things that make me laugh, cry, drop my jaw, or want to write an angry, angry letter.

I challenge you, in the next few days, to be aware of the things and moments that strike you. When you are amused, or disgusted, or elated, defeated, or furious, write about it.

Your friends have weird habits? WRITE THEM DOWN.

There’s that oooone awkward coworker who doesn’t understand what’s socially appropriate and makes everyone in the elevator uncomfortable each morning with his ludicrously offensive remarks? WRITE THEM DOWN.

Your HTC phone is a malfunctioning piece of shite that, in the moment your two-year contract is up, you will personally place in the middle of the street and back over in a Jeep before hailing a stampede of elephants to trample its faulty remains? WRITE ABOUT IT (I suggest an angry letter).

Used effectively, real-life details are the perfect creative fodder. They not only inform our work with an automatic sense of authenticity, but make our writing something readers can relate to.