Books from Abroad

I’m back from a six week tour and study trip to four different countries and, thanks to jet lag, my brain is wide awake while my body is still confused as to whether it’s time for second breakfast or a mid-morning nap.

So I will take advantage of this forced downtime to go on my regular post-travel blogging rampage. Expect more than one post within the next couple of days! To start, though, I will begin with my “Read across Europe” post.

In every city I visited, I did my best to find a bookshop. In most, I succeeded, and with an overweight suitcase, returned home with many new reads to add to my library. I tried to be thematic with my selections and ended with a nice little collection of books from abroad. They served as a second way of documenting my travels and expanding my understanding of the lands I visited, the homes of their authors.

  1. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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Our first stop was Amsterdam, home of beautiful canals, more bikes than in all of America, a certain district we did our best to avoid, and- of course – the Anne Frank House. We toured it, but I felt that I ought to have read her book first, so I picked it up in the gift shop on the way out and was engrossed in it throughout several train rides and an international bus journey.

I ended up being glad to read the book after having been in its setting. However, I was surprised to see just how roomy the secret attic was; I remember elementary school teachers telling me with horrified tones how the hiding space was probably smaller than my bedroom, perhaps even smaller than my closet. This was no the case, as I found out. However, reading the book I was struck by the brutal honesty of its young authoress. Anne Frank was, well, frank about the too-real trials of their situation and yet she also possessed a wisdom and eloquence beyond her years. I was convicted by her ability to write with such clarity and skill in the darkest of times.

2. Poems of the Great War 

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“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow.”

From the first line, I was stuck by the poignance of these poems; they are full of yearning, mourning, and heartbreak but also hope and loyalty and courage. I picked up this little collection in Ypres after a strenuous bike ride through the surrounding farmlands, where once the poppies grew.

Although few poppies grow among the memorials of Flanders Fields now, the memories of the Great War linger. The museum and the poems in this book keep them alive, reminding, entreating us to never forget and to carry on with wisdom in light of the tragedies of the past.

This book kicked off my love of poetry, which continued to influence my reading choices throughout the rest of this trip.

3. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory 

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This book caught my eye just as I finished exploring the castle in Edinburgh. In a city so rich in literature and history, it was a no-brainer that I needed to purchase a book. I had been hoping my something by Sir Arthur Conan Dolye or Robert Louis Stevenson or even J.K. Rowling as they all lived in Edinburgh, but this book focuses on a key point in Scottish and English history, so it worked just as well. It turns out the author got her Ph.D. in 18th century literature from Edinburgh University, which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

It was a great book for gaining insight into Mary Queen of Scots and Tudor England. Was it my favorite book? No, but it was interesting and certainly passed the time on another long train ride.

4. Underwoods by Robert Louis Stevenson

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I found this gem in a quirky bookstore in Inverness. Besides a sporting goods shop where I bought amazing running shoes, this bookstore was the only interesting thing in the city. However, Inverness is situated in the Scottish Highlands, which I strongly believe to be the most beautiful place on earth. This collection of R.L. Stevenson’s poetry is not only over one hundred years old, it smells of “ancient Egypt” and is filled with thrilling rhymes and imagery. For instance, “Wine-scented and poetic soul” (from “To a Gardener”) won me over at once.

Update: I read several more poems and am in love with R.L.S.’s ability to marry humor and earnestness within the same stanzas.

5. The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson

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After his poetry, I was on a Stevenson reading trend. In St. Andrews, a beautiful coastal town in Scotland, I found another darling bookstore, complete with ladders and books old and new. There, I picked up this “black comedy” and laughed my way through it all the way from Cambridge to Glasgow on my final train ride.

It was a pleasant way to pass a 4.5 hour journey, though Stevenson made me painfully aware of my limited vocabulary. I ended up having to scribble a list of words to look up later in my journal. Still need to do that…oops.

But, after this, I purchased a Stevenson collection on my abomination (er, I mean, my Kindle) and enjoyed finally reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, shocked that I’d never read it before and astounded at its insights into human nature.

6. Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare. 

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G. David, a bookseller in Cambridge, is one of the most magical places in the world. Unfortunately for me, my wallet did not agree, so all I could afford to buy in the end was this teeny-tiny copy of Much Ado. 

We saw this comedy performed in the King’s College Fellows Garden as part of the 30th annual Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, so it seemed a fitting (and suitcase weight limit-friendly) souvenir. Besides, I think sassy Beatrice might be my literary twin and this is definitely my favorite of the comedies.

 

So there you have it! These are my souvenir books, though I also read a wealth of English and Cambridge authors’ books (on my Kindle…alas, it is so convenient for travel…)

  • Romeo and Juliet – Shakespeare
    • Aside from the traumatic Globe experience, I admit that I love this play, not because I make the painful mistake of thinking it is a romance, but because I am fascinated with the way in which it is simultaneously comic and tragic in its plot. Essay on this later?
  • Sermons on Ephesians – Reverend Charles Simeon of Cambridge
    • Wonderful resource to have on hand as I studied Ephesians during my stay in Cambridge. Simeon is concise and insightful.
  • Silhouettes and Skeletons – various
    • This was a weird one and I’m not sure why it was on my reading list for my Cambridge course. It sought to give a character depiction of Simeon and sort of did, I guess… maybe.
  • An Experiment in Criticism – C.S. Lewis
    • This book was incredible and is reshaping how I approach various works of art. I already want to reread it as I know there is a wealth of ideas that I missed.
  • Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis
    • Also insightful, but I wish I could have read Malcolm’s letters to Lewis…
  • Ariel – Sylvia Plath
    • At first, I was shocked and annoyed, considering Plath’s poetry to be nothing more than long and unnecessary sex and suicide metaphors. However, upon closer reading and applying the openness Lewis advises in Experiment, I found a new depth and beauty to Plath’s writing that inspired my own attempts at poetry.
  • The Art of Prophesying – William Perkins
    • This was a nice, concise guide to preaching which, naturally, my honors institute friends and I overcomplicated.
  • Samson Agonistes – John Milton
    • Do NOT make the mistake of skimming this in your head on an airplane. Instead, read it aloud with some literary friends; I promise you will find new meaning and beauty in it this way.
  • Manual of a Christian Knight – Erasmus
    • Rule No. 5 was about the only part of this book that did not make me want to give it up. Yes, it was helpful in some parts as it described our spiritual battle, but overall it was just. so. long. and. wordy. Still, when we discussed it, I – as usual- appreciated it more than before.
  • The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
    • This book seemed so straightforward until we discussed it…But it was a relief to read a children’s novel after so much theology.
  • Very British Problems – Rob Temple
    • This had me laughing aloud, but I think a more apt title would be “Awkward Introvert Problems” because all of the so-called “British Problems” are things I too fear.
  • Misery – Stephen King
    • Well this was equal parts inspiring and traumatizing…it’s writing and construction were brilliant and its story had me captivated for nearly all of my transatlantic flight. But now I wonder if I really want to be a famous writer as the plot centers on the kidnapping and torture of one…Still, it was my first King novel and I certainly enjoyed (is that the right word?) it!

 

Well, there you have it! My Euro-trip 2017 summed up in the books I read and purchased. Hopefully it gave you some new reads to check out in the future and maybe some new literary destinations to visit.

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Romeo and Juliet at the Globe 2017: A Review

 

Last night I had the opportunity to attend Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre in London. Having read it not long ago, I arrived expecting heartrending professions of love, stately background characters, comic relief now and then, and period costumes. I also half expected to fall asleep as it has been a long week of traveling and I have seen various similar versions of RJ since my birth (the daughter of an English teacher, I likely was hearing it read aloud before I was even born.)

Well, I certainly was in no danger of falling asleep and was in fact on the edge of my seat for the entire production, from its disturbing opening in which two clownish figures representing Ladies Montague and Capulet gave birth to coffins to its sexually-charged dance scene (also featuring the Shakespearean equivalent of the Village People singing YMCA) to its gruesome ending in which, rather than uniting the two households, Romeo shouts “bang” as he pantomimes killing everyone.

Shocking is perhaps the most mild word to describe this production. Others had called it “rubbish” or, less gently, “poop.” But although it ruffled my moral feathers and baffled my literary mind, I cannot dismiss it so easily as a piece of mere modern, avant garde trash. Was it likely crafted with the intent of upsetting Shakespearean purists? Yes. But was there no value at all in seeing it? That stands to be decided.

When it comes to anything that even vaguely might be considered art, I am of the firm opinion that it must be evaluated according to the triangular concept of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. I say “triangular” to indicate that these three abstracts cannot be separated from each other without severely degrading themselves as individuals and thus the work of art in question. (i.e., a beautiful painting that does not inspire contemplation of truth or practical goodness, is beautiful in itself but lacking in ultimate and lasting impact, thus making it a lesser work of art. But that is another blog post- or perhaps thesis- in itself.)

In discussing the play afterwards with the brave souls who stuck it out, we thoroughly examined its every aspect according to these three ideals, which happen to comprise the motto of our honors institute.

The Beautiful: 

First and perhaps easiest, was this production beautiful? Regardless of personal taste, was this a well-crafted show? Were the costumes done with excellence? Was the staging effective? How were other art forms incorporated? Was the acting convincing? Did it authentically communicate the original text?

Overall, yes, I would say there was a great deal of beauty within this production. Was I a fan of the male stripper character who showed up just in time for an odd dance party scene? Not particularly. Not at all, actually. Did I understand why ballistic missiles were hung above the stage without any explanation? No.

However, the costumes (besides Speedo-pasty guy) were done with a great attention to detail. While the entire cast besides Romeo and Juliet were dressed in harlequin attire to match their ribald and careless personalities, the young couple were dressed in an elegant and simple suit and dress, complete with foreboding and fitting Mexican death masks. This was a beautiful choice for it highlighted that amidst a chaotic and pointless world, serious love might might still bloom, albeit for a short time.

Similarly, the staging was magnificent. Scenes such as the death of Tybalt and the anticipation of the newlywed Juliet upon her bed were layered to show the intricate weaving of death and life which characterize this play, no matter the version. I grant that the staging of nearly every scene (I can never forget the YMCA dance party disaster) was stunning.

Other arts such as music were also incorporated, featuring the stellar vocals of the Mercutio. The song itself was cheesy, but it did serve well to enhance the drama of the ending and tug at the audience’s heartstrings. Well done. Still, I have to take some points off for the other main song being YMCA sung by a rowdy Lord Capulet dressed in a dinosaur costume.

The acting was convincing. That much was clear to everyone. While I do not necessarily like the way certain characters were portrayed, such as Friar Laurence who seemed crafted specifically to mock all religion, they did well in their assigned roles. The stand-outs were certainly Juliet, whose intentionality shown in every phrase, Romeo, who was simply adorable, and Mercutio, who was disturbingly impactful.

As far as communicating the original text…I could rant forever about how the ending was cut so that no reconciliation was truly reached and thus the near-comedy ending of the original was tossed carelessly away. But I will restrain myself…for now. The original was most clearly expressed in the scenes between Romeo and Juliet themselves; these sweet, intimate moments were a refreshing contrast from the raunchy update of the rest of the play. I would like to believe that this tension between the loud pursuits of the majority and the confused love of young people is true to what Shakespeare must have intended.

Oh, and let’s not forget the double entendres. Every single one (and then some) that Shakespeare wrote was emphasized as a crude joke. So there’s that.

Beautiful? In many ways, if surprising in light of my initial shock and disgust, yes.

The True: 

Did this production effectively communicate a message of truth? Was this message what Shakespeare would have intended? Did the audience leave with new ideas and questions worth pursuing? Did it lend itself to discussion and a greater understanding of any concept? Did it speak to any realities that need addressing?

These questions were the most troubling. While my mind has come up with multiple messages that could have been communicated by this production, I cannot settle on any one in particular. To me, this is a fault of the direction. With Shakespeare, there are so many themes worth highlighting that choosing one to focus on should not be a difficult feat. However, this production was so scattered that it was impossible to truly know what it was attempting to convey.

I hypothesized that it was highlighting the idea that genuine love between a young man and woman is doomed to die in light of a sexually-charged, consequence-free society. Others speculated that it meant that this love was worth dying for in the light of cheap physical pleasure. One friend brought up nihilism. Another thought it was a statement in favor LGBT living while still another thought it was an argument against this. Some thought perhaps it was to promote feminism or unveil abusive parental relationships. Theories were wide-ranging to say the least.

While I value ambiguity in art for the purpose of leading to discussion, I still find it immensely troubling when a piece has so many messages that it ultimately has none. This version of RJ was so varied in its potential messages that I fear it ended up saying nothing. Any truth discovered by viewing this was only achieved after hours of speculative conversation rather than simply individual contemplation of the work itself. Thus, in touching on so many different potential messages, I believe it failed in communicating fully a single truth of any kind.

In its defense, it lent itself well to discussion, but I am afraid this is more because it was a scandalous spectacle than a work of true philosophy. Any truth discovered was achieved through our own mental efforts to understand something, anything of what we just watched rather than through the production itself.

True? Nada. Discussion and thought-provoking due to utter confusion? Yes. I suppose that is a small point in its favor.

The Good: 

Did this production highlight good, even if doing so by portraying darkness? Did this play have the effect of catharsis, portraying wrong and death so that we might purge our inclinations/emotions and live rightly instead? Or, rather, did it draw us into its moral degeneracy? How did our consciouses react during and after? Was it edifying?

Romeo and Juliet is certainly not an example of how we should live; it is full of contention, deception, murder, offense, etc. However, the same could be said of a tragedy such as Macbeth. Plays such as this seek to direct audiences toward better things by demonstrating graphically the consequences of vice. However, this production fell short, for the characters who lived most wrongfully ended with the fewest consequences, perhaps deceiving less-discerning viewers into believing this makes these poor choices acceptable.

In Macbeth, the characters who commit sins end up devising their own downfalls. However, in this production, the characters who are most clearly shown to be abusive, lustful, and prideful survive while the two characters who pledge fidelity end in death. This does not redirect our hearts toward good by demonstrating evil, but rather excuses evil at the expense of good.

At first, I was disgusted by some of the things I saw on stage, as I would be in any production that features characters filled with such lust, pride, and hate. This was no different than I would likely feel watching Lady Macbeth declare that she will “unsex” herself and commit murder to achieve power. However, while I would have continued to be repelled by Lady Macbeth’s degeneracy, I become slowly more drawn in by what I was consuming in this version of RJ. This is dangerous, for rather than highlighting light by darkness, which may well have been the original intention, this production more and more pulled me into its darkness.

That said, while my mind enjoyed the challenge of analyzing and seeking some excuse for this production so that I might exalt it as art, my conscious warned during and after that it was simply not edifying.

Was this production good in the sense that it promoted contemplation of and practice of right morality? Not really. I concede that I adored the contrast between what was portrayed as real and gentle love between the married Romeo and Juliet and the unrestrained and rough lust of the other characters. However, this is the only edifying facet of the production as a whole.

Conclusion: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful…

This production was good in that it emphasized (contrary to many versions) the sanctity of the marriage of Romeo and Juliet amidst the callous affections of the other characters. However, overall it left me reeling as I sought after any other thread of morality and was, in my thoughts, instead dragged downwards into its degeneracy.

This production was true only in our own analysis and conclusions, not in its own effective communication of a reality or even an opinion. We arrived at many interesting ideas and interpretations, but it failed to convey any one clear message.

This production was beautiful in that, though stylistically opposite what I would have chosen and purposely offensive to conservative Shakespeareans, it was crafted with exceptional intentionality and detail. As an artist, I appreciated this immense care and attention to all facets of presentation.

I hold to the idea that to be a genuinely valuable work of art, something must be good, true, and beautiful in some sense. It is a performance that toes the line not only between shock-factor and authenticity but between that of good art and bad. It is up to the individual viewer to decide his or her stance on this. My own opinion? It has its virtues but its vices detract from it so much that it becomes a lesser work of art than it ought to have been had it more firmly founded upon goodness, truth, and beauty.

For more info, here is the link to the Globe Theatre’s synopsis: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/globe-theatre/romeo-and-juliet-2017

To the Books on my Shelf: A Sonnet

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Couldn’t resist sharing this “shelfie”  😉  #nofilter

 

Too often, I find myself staring in admiration at my bookshelves. The ornate covers of collectables, the crackled pages of old favorites, the bright illustrations of new editions… *sigh of delight* To my abashment (isn’t that a lovely word for a not-so-lovely feeling?), I own and admire many books I have yet to actually read. Also, I continually purchase books without finishing the ones already waiting for me so faithfully at home! Horrible. Simply horrible. But, in staring at my beautiful and partially-read Shakespeare collection, I was inspired. Perhaps, if I cannot read all of the books on my list, then I can at least compose a sonnet (which may or may not resemble Shakespeare’s most famous 18th Sonnet) for them to assure them of my good intentions!

               To The Books on My Shelves

Shall I shelve thee and read mere summaries?

Thou art more dense with stories worth the wait;

Rough times have robbed my reading time in May,

And summer’s months I deem too short a date:

Though Sun a hot book light for reading shines,

And e’en by night a lamp burns near undimmed,

I fear my eyesight steadily declines

While far too many tomes remain unskimmed.

But dusty still your ink will never fade

Nor I forget the study that I ow’st.

Although cases of books rest in the shade,

Someday I shall uncover all they know’st.

So long as writers breathe and glasses see,

So long shall books give breath and sight to me.

Poetic Purpose: Why Meter Matters

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.”

~Edgar Allan Poe

Aside from signing my friends’ yearbook with personalized limericks, I admit that I have little experience with poetry. However, I adore reading it, as it was meant to be read, aloud. I love the sounds of its rhymes, the flow of the lines, the imagery and emotion that are woven together into a spoken song… but I’ll stop trying to sound poetic and go back to actually discussing poetry.

As with many of my posts, this one is inspired by my AP Literature class. We are beginning a unit on Hamlet and as it is virtually impossible to separate Shakespeare from iambic pentameter, we spent a period learning about meters of poetry. Right away, it made sense to me and, I noted with interest, my musical friends. However, those who had no musical experience (at least to my knowledge) seemed confused at the entire concept of poetic rhythm and its purpose. While my violinist and vocalist friends were nodding their heads appreciatively, many others were asking why does meter matter? Basically, meter in poetry matters because it helps the poet to give purpose to his or her writing and the reader to understand this purpose. As simple as this answer may sound, though, it is easy to miss if one does not understand the parallel concepts of poetry that are found within music.

To explain this concept further, I’ll provide a brief music lesson which will, I hope, function as a more concrete example that can later be used to clarify upon the abstract ideas of poetry.

In music, like poetry, meter is crucial. Consider for a moment one of the most famous forms of dance music: a waltz. What do you think of when you think of a waltz? The words that come to mind for me would be adjectives such as romantic, gliding, and elegant. Clearly a waltz is not rough, casual, or jerky. But what makes that distinction? For the sake of this example, let’s say that meter does. Obviously, other musical elements such as dynamics, tonality, and chordal structure are key as well, but meter is undeniable the biggest distinguishing trait of a waltz. Waltzes are generally in triple meter, which refers to counting each measure (or small section) of music in three beats, with the first beat receiving the most emphasis.

Listen to this waltz played on the piano by Arthur Rubinstein (Chopin’s waltz in c sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2).

Can you hear the left hand playing on the three main beats? Listen carefully and you will hear beneath the melody a strong “ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three” pattern. This is what triple meter sounds like in music.

This is the opening of the above waltz. See in the lower line the three main beats?

This is the opening of the above waltz. See in the lower line the three main beats?

Why triple meter? This is a fair question. After all, couldn’t a waltz be elegant, gliding, and romantic in any other meter? The answer is no, it probably could not. A waltz is a dance and  the triple meter, with its emphasis on beat one and then lighter beats two and three, is innately dance-able.  (Yes, “dance-able” is a word…) The dancers would make their largest and strongest step on the first beat, the emphasized ONE, and then smaller steps on the subsequent beats, two and three. And not only is the waltz in triple meter fit for dancing, it is fit for elegant, smooth,and lovely dancing. Other music with different meters can be danced to, but not in the same way. You see, the meter here serves a unique purpose.

Let’s consider another musical meter: quadruple. This meter consist of four main beats, giving it a steady one-two-three-four rhythm with each beat being approximately equal in emphasis. Take a listen to this famous quadruple meter pop song, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles:

This is a passage from "Love Song". The four main beats are depicted in the treble clef.

This is a passage from “Love Song”. The four main beats are depicted in the treble clef.

Would you say this is a graceful song? Or perhaps a delicate song, like a lullaby? Of course not! This is a energetic, determined, and even angry song. Listen to the driving chords that create the strong one-two-three-four rhythm. These are crucial to making this song what it is! “Love Song” would sound ridiculous if performed in triple meter like a waltz, but the continuous one-two-three-four rhythm of quadruple meter provides a forward drive and a memorable riff that are guaranteed to not only communicate the frustrated feelings of the artist but become stuck in the listener’s head for the rest of the day. (Or, in my case, from 8th grade until now.)

So how does this relate to poetry? Exactly. Meter in music relates exactly to meter in poetry; that is why the choir and orchestra geeks understood our poetry lesson while others found it puzzling. Not only are lyrics to songs poems set to music, but the meters of the two are often the same! For instance, the quadruple meter we just listened to is the musical equivalent of spondaic meter in poetry, which consists of repeated stressed syllables. See the similarity?

In music: one-two-three-four

In poetry: / / / /                    ( / refers to a stressed syllable)

“Love Song” was a quadruple meter song, so let’s look at a spondaic poem for comparison. The internet for once failed to provide me with what I needed, so I was forced to write my own example, which shall remain untitled.

   /       /      /       /

Coffee now please

 /    /      /      /

I need caffeine.

  /         /       /     /

Two more coffees

 /    /    /      /

Or I’ll be mean.

I think the emotion behind this piece is pretty clear: I’m tired and need coffee in order to avoid being cranky. Not exactly “Love Song”, but the frustration and forcefulness of the writer is as apparent in my untitled snippet of a poem as it is in Sara Bareilles’ famous breakup song. The only difference is that my poem is not set to music and therefore referred to as spondaic dimeter, meaning there are two sets of two stressed syllables per line (thus four syllables total per line). If I were to set this poem to music, it would probably be in quadruple meter like “Love Song”, with each stressed syllable placed on a strong beat. Like quadruple meter, spondaic meters tend to communicate power and potentially anger with their clearly-defined emphasis and lack of unstressed (softer) syllables.

Swing/jazz music and dance are characterized by a fun, energetic vibe given by their swung rhythm.

Swing/jazz music and dance are characterized by a fun, energetic vibe given by their swung rhythm.

There are many other meters in both music and poetry and the parallels between the two are undeniable. For example, trochaic meter, which consists of an stressed syllable followed by a unstressed syllable, is remarkably reminiscent of jazz music with its rhythms of swung notes. The link below features a swing song, “Sing, Sing, Sing”, with its characteristic “long-short-long-short” rhythm which is comparable to the stressed-unstressed meter of trochee poetry. This rhythm can indicate a sense of freedom from regulations of strict meters as it bends from straight, even beats.

These parallels fascinate me and I could discuss them forever, but I must answer the question I began with: Why does meter matter? We looked at why it matters in music, that is, to communicate the composer’s emotions and purpose in writing the piece. Chopin’s waltz was in triple meter to convey the sensation of dancing with poise and beauty; Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” is in quadruple meter to demonstrate her determination and frustration as she tells off her needy ex; and jazz music has a swung rhythm to give it its carefree, spontaneous feel. In poetry, meter is used in the same way: to provide a structure that supports the ideas of the poet and communicates them better to the reader. I used spondaic dimeter to convey my urgent need for coffee through its demanding, blunt rhythm and I feel that my choice of meter made my emotion more apparent to the reader than if I had, say, written about my need for coffee in an iambic pentameter sonnet, which probably would have come across too flowery and romantic for my topic. In the same way, real poets (meaning not me) use specific meters for specific purposes. Whether or not they do so intentionally is a question for another day, but there can be no doubt that they do use different meters for different purposes and this allows for effective communication of ideas and emotions through verse.

To conclude, I will address another question that a peer of mine asked: Why do we, as students and readers, need to know the various types of meters? Again, I will return to my music comparison; as a music student, I obviously need to know the meters of the pieces that I play, but even as a listener, I should be aware of these meters so that I can fully appreciate the artistry of the music. By being aware of the elements that combine to create music, such as meter, I am better able to understand and appreciate a waltz for its elegance, or pop for its energy, or jazz for its freedom.  When reading and studying poetry we ought to be aware, as educated readers, of meter just as we ought to be aware of elements such as figurative language, diction, and point of view, to deepen our understanding of the piece and allow the purpose of the poet to be fully communicated to us as his or her audience.

Romeo is not Romance

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I was perusing Pinterest this afternoon and came across this nifty picture. Seeing that it included classic books, I stopped my mindless scrolling, looked through it, and nearly shouted aloud.

No.

No.

No!!! No. No. NO. N.O. No.

What was so frustrating about this pin? Well, first of all is the fact that it lists Nicholas Sparks alongside Shakespeare, which is like creating a playlist of music that includes Miley Cyrus and Beethoven; it is not okay. (Nobody wants to be interrupted by “Wrecking Ball” between movements of “Sonata Pathetique”!)

Secondly, many of these books are not love stories! Aside from Nicholas Sparks and several others which I have not read, these books, although they center on romantic relationships, were not written to be advertised as “The Greatest Love Stories of All Time”! Rather, their authors used romantic relationships, usually FAILED romantic relationships at that, to communicate other concepts. I have serious doubts as to whether the creator of this pin read anything beyond the synopsis paragraphs, and if he/she did, I am begging him/her to reread them with a little more mental effort. Please, for the sake of literature nerds everywhere and for the authors who are turning over in their graves as I write. Sure, these novels may appear to be love stories, but…

(warning, spoilers)

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Failed loved triangle, lust wins over love, the only true love comes from a dying woman whose husband is nearly unfaithful to her. Also romantic gold.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Anna commits adultery, abandons her husband and child, and ultimately throws herself under a train in a realization of her guilt. Practically flowers and chocolate.

Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare: Two angsty teenagers kill themselves after a forbidden

Pretty sure this is what Shakespeare was thinking... :P

Pretty sure this is what Shakespeare was thinking… 😛

marriage. I don’t even have a snarky comment. This is tragedy, pure and simple.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby’s love for Daisy is a representation of his desire for acceptance by the “Old Money” of society, so if wealth and envy are synonymous with love, then certainly this is a love story. Who cares if the lovers actually end up together, right?

Okay, so now that I have relieved myself through sarcasm, I will admit that this list is not completely wrong. Some of these books are quite adorable and “loverly.” Jane Eyre had a warm, fuzzy resolution, The Princess Bride is a romantic romp, and I can’t deny that Pride and Prejudice is delightful. (Who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy?) However, I wish that readers would exercise more discernment; a pair (or triangle) of lovers does not imply a romance, just as a death does not mean a tragedy. Books are much more than an “adventure” or “mystery” or, in this case, a “love story” and we have a duty as readers to study the masterpieces of these authors with a mind that can see beyond the surface and ponder the deeper implications of the seemingly straight-forward plots.

Granted, even if it isn’t a love story, I’d venture to say that it’s still a better love story than Twilight.

Apologies if you liked Twilight. I haven’t read it, but it was such a fitting end to this post! 😉