The Jazz Age
The 1920s were the beginning of the Jazz Age, when musicians were experimenting with the earliest forms of jazz music. The sound came with the blacks migrating from New Orleans and mixed with the already established ragtime style. In ‘‘Jazz Fantasia,’’ Sandburg praises musicians of 1920, who had just begun to play what was recognized as jazz. His recognition of the genius of the movement and the obstacles it had to overcome compels him to press for more, to congratulate the artists, and to exhort them to play on. Of course, Sandburg can take no credit for the jazz movement, but it is notable that a Swedish American poet would grasp the brilliance of the music that would affect nearly every aspect of modern American music from 1920 to present day. As a poet, he loved the way the music could summon images, evoke strong moods, and soothe the soul.
In his poem . . . Read More
“Jazz Fantasia’’ begins with the drums, the instrument most critical to any jazz musical performance. The drums lead the music by their steady rhythmic beat. They set the tone and mood: the cadence of a dance or shuffle. The rhythm of the first part of the fantasia starts out a steady andante (moderate) jazz tempo. Line 1, if spoken in a standard 4/4 time signature (four beats in a row), should have a strict rhythm. In jazz, the first beat is always given more emphasis than the rest; it is stronger than the rest and serves as the downbeat. This convention is helpful in establishing the rhythm of the piece, and it also gives direction as how to dance or march. The repetition of d’s makes the tongue a percussion instrument on the roof of the mouth, just as the b’s make a drum of the lips.
The saxophones now join the ensemble with a wail. Jazz saxophones usually have a sad, . . . Read More
‘‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’’ may well be the most anthologized poem in the English language, and generations of school students have been presented with it as an accessible work by one of England’s greatest poets. ‘‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’’ may indeed be a simple poem but it is not quite as simple as it might first appear, and it leads the interested reader into a glimpse of the philosophical aspects of Wordsworth’s poetry and of his theories about how poetry comes to be written.
The origins of the poem lie in a walk near Ullswater taken by Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy in April 1802. The details of this walk are known because Dorothy kept a journal and recorded the day-to-day activities of herself and her brother. This particular spring day was mild but very windy, so windy in fact that at one point they thought they would have to turn back. But they continued and when they were in the woods they saw a few daffodils close by the lake. . . . Read More
The poem is written in what is called iambic tetrameter. An iamb is a poetic foot in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. (A foot, in English poetic meter, consists of two or three syllables, either one strongly stressed syllable and one lightly stressed syllable, or one strong stress and two lighter ones.) The iamb is the most common foot in English poetry. Almost all the lines in this poem are iambic. However, just for variety, the poet does vary the meter in certain places.
At the beginning of stanza 1, line 6, the poet substitutes a dactylic foot for the initial iamb, in the word Fluttering. A dactylic foot consists of a strongly stressed syllable followed by two lightly stressed syllables. In stanza 2, at the beginning of line 11, the poet substitutes a spondee (two strong stresses) for the iamb. This has the effect of emphasizing the sheer number of daffodils that he saw, since the . . . Read More
Perhaps the key term in the poem is ‘‘lonely,’’ which describes the poet’s state of mind as he walks in nature. He does not say merely that he was alone. He refers to a specific lack of a sense of community, or connectedness. He is isolated, and in the poem he uses the image of a solitary cloud to convey his mood. He is walking in nature, but he feels a sense of separation from other living things, whether human or natural. But then he suddenly catches sight of the endless line of daffodils, and this changes his mood completely. What meets his eye is not merely a static scene. The wind is blowing, which makes the daffodils seem more than usually alive as they are blown about in the breeze. In this scene of great natural beauty, the poet feels happy and restored to life in a certain way. Before, he was lonely, but now he feels cheerful, moved by the beauty of the scene. It seems to him as if nature, as represented by the . . . Read More
In ‘‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’’ the speaker describes what he saw one spring day when he was walking in the English countryside. The first two lines state that he was alone as he walked, and he compares himself to a solitary cloud high in the sky. Then suddenly he comes upon a splendid sight: a multitude of daffodils. The daffodils are under the trees and next to the lake. The daffodils sway from side to side, appearing to dance in the breeze.
In this stanza the poet continues to describe the daffodils. There are so many of them that he compares them to the stars in the Milky Way. The Milky Way galaxy contains billions of stars and forms a band of light when seen at night from Earth. As the poet looks at them, the daffodils continue in an unbroken line at the edge of the bay. He estimates that there must be 10,000 of them, and they are all dancing in the . . . Read More
Eliot was born into a family that was influential in the Unitarian Church. His grandfather was the founder of the Unitarian sect in St. Louis, Missouri, and his uncle founded the Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. Yet, as Eliot matured, he rejected his family’s beliefs. For much of his early adulthood, Eliot lived without regard to organized religion, a choice that was supported by the modernist milieu in which he lived and worked. Personally, Eliot struggled to reconcile his intellect with his faith and, in 1927, at the age of thirty-nine, he was baptized in the Church of England. The move took place only two years after the final publication of ‘‘The Hollow Men.’’ Eliot’s decision to join the Church of England did not endear him to his family, or to his peers. Still, the period in which Eliot struggled with his spirituality also saw the production of three works that are not only religious in content, but also highly prized for their modernist aesthetic, namely, The . . . Read More
Death pervades ‘‘The Hollow Men’’ from beginning to end. The artificial men are empty yet full. They reference a holiday centered on the tradition of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes, an act in which death is implicit. A second implication of death is also part of this metaphor. Indeed, the hollow men of the title call to mind an image of corpses, bodies whose souls have departed. Even the afterlife is a dead place, filled with dying stars and made of a desert landscape. It is also a sightless place, one in which eyes do not exist. In the afterlife, there are crumbling statues and vanished empires. There is a shadow that lies in the space between things. All of these images are of death or are at least deathlike. An extension of this theme is that death is necessary to make way for the new. This death applies to old gods, old religions, and old ideals, all of which will fall by the wayside to make room for new gods, new ideals, new . . . Read More
In a ten-line verse, the speakers claim to be empty yet full, evoking references to the straw men burned in effigy in England on Guy Fawkes Day (a holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot conspiracy to blow up the British Parliament and King James 1st on November 5, 1605). Made of straw, these men are without depth and significance, like the grass in the breeze, or like the movement of rodents over debris in the basement. The next verse is a couplet in which numerous contradictory terms (such as the idea of being colorless, yet possessing a hue) are introduced. Notably, there is no concrete indication of what these paradoxes are referring to. In the following six-line stanza, references are made to those who have died and passed on to the afterlife. The speakers declare that the dead may think of them, and if they do, they think of them as empty yet full.
This section appears to be . . . Read More
When Neruda published ‘‘Fully Empowered’’ in 1962 he was no longer a young man. At the age of fifty-eight, he was entering what has been described as his ‘‘autumnal period,’’ often dated from about 1958 to 1970. According to Christopher Perriam, who uses this term in his book The Late Poetry of Pablo Neruda, the recurring themes of Neruda’s autumnal period are ‘‘the land as a source of images and metaphors, the sea as a metaphor for purity, and solitude as a newly sought-after state of mind and being.’’ All of these images and metaphors can indeed be found in ‘‘Fully Empowered,’’ and they take some of their force and vitality from the place where Neruda lived for many years, in the house he built at Isla Negra, Chile, which faced the Pacific Ocean. ‘‘I live by a very rough sea in Isla Negra—my house is there—and I am never tired of being alone looking at the sea and working there,’’ he told the American poet Robert Bly in an interview . . . Read More