What wouldst thou do, old man?

Kent’s speech (I.i.161) in which he steps forward and openly protests Lear’s rash decisions represents some of Shakespeare’s most eloquent prose about loyalty, honesty and standing up for what’s right. Prior to this passage Kent is attempting to be gracious in his criticisms of Lear. When Lear asks him to be direct Kent shifts his tone, and does not hold back his opinion.

Lear:

The bow is bent and drawn. Make from the shaft.

Kent:

Let if fall rather, though the fork invade

The region of my heart.

Shakespeare continues an extended metaphor here. Lear asks Kent to be direct by getting out of the way of the “arrow” or the opinion he intends to express. By beginning with this Kent expresses his discontent in sharing Lear’s ignorance with him. He realizes the arrow must “fall” or the truth must be unleashed but saying it still hurts him greatly. There also seems to be another implied meaning in this exchange. Lear insists that Kent must get out of the way of the arrow, implying that Kent is shielding Lear from something he knows he does not want to hear. With close reading, we begin to understand the extent of Kent’s loyalty. It’s difficult for him to express his concerns to Lear because he wishes to protect him from his own ignorance. Kent decides that when Lear is mad or crazy he must disregard his manners. He continues:

Kent:

What wouldst thou do, old man?

Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak

When power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s

bound

When majesty falls to folly.

The tone and audience shift here, causing the actor or reader to imagine Kent raising his voice and confronting Lear for his foolishness. He began this passage speaking to himself but switches to Lear addressing him bluntly and rudely by calling him old man. Perhaps trying to help him realize how his power is diminished in age. From there Kent speaks his words of wisdom, advising Lear not to fall to flattery an foolishness. He compares two situations with a rhetorical question, hoping Lear will see his own error. He begs him to see that the binds of both his and his daughter’s duties will not be held if his power bows to flattery. The “dread” of duty is not so looming if Lear’s subjects recognize he is easily swayed by sugary words. He justifies his blunt words in the next line. It is written in the same form or syntax as the line before implying a parallel there. When power falls to flattery or folly, duty weakens and plainness is required to remedy the situation. Kent both speaks his mind and justifies speaking his mind in a play on words.

Kent continues, begging Lear to control his rash decisions and to save his state/kingdom in doing so. He affirms his intentions and his virtuous nature. Even though Lear has already warned him about criticizing his decision, he does so anyway, hoping that Lear will not destroy his own blessings. At Kent’s own risk he makes these observations out of loyalty and love to the person he serves. He is a model of good servitude. His wisdom continues onto another observation, where Shakespeare masterfully employs foreshadowing.

Kent:

Answer my life my judgement,

Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,

Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds

Reverb no hollowness

Kent continues by swearing on his life the words he is about to speak are true, reinforcing his intelligence and loyalty yet again. He begins his observation plainly, insisting that Cordelia does not love him less than his other daughters, but it is the final line of Kent’s speech that is most moving an thought-provoking. He draws up a metaphor, where a vessel or object like a vase represents a human being. His proverb implies a few things. Completely empty or “heartless” vessels make the loudest or most full noise, because there is nothing to interrupt their “reverb”. He is clearly referencing both Regan and Goneril, pointing out they have the loudest “reverb” or they proclaimed their love the loudest and most passionately. Following this interpretation we come to understand that Kent is implying Goneril and Regan can profess their love so exuberantly because they really have no love for their father at all. They are empty. The other portion of this metaphor implies Cordelia can not proclaim her love because her vessel or her heart is full. Because Cordelia truly loves her dad she can not flatter him with untrue or over dramatic proclamations of her feelings. Cordelia has no reverb and therefore she is full. Through this metaphor Kent shrewdly points out that Cordelia does not love him least, or even equal to her sisters. She loves him the most.

This passage reveals much about the themes of the play and the characters of Kent, Cordelia, Lear, Regan and Goneril. It establishes Kent’s unwavering loyalty, as he stands by his words until banishment. It recognizes Cordelia’s genuine love and brave stance as well as her sister’s contrasting low morals and fake feelings. Perhaps most importantly, it uses Kent’s wisdom to establish a crucial theme of the play: love can not be measured in flattery or words, it is measured in actions and what you hold in your heart. Failure to recognize this can be disastrous.

The Power of Ivy

Ivy” is the product of one of the most successful women to have ever graced the music industry. Track 10 on her 9th studio album evermore, Taylor Swift achieved some of the most beautiful lyricism of her career in this masterpiece. The subject of the poem is highly debated, many fans believing it narrates the love life of acclaimed writer Emily Dickinson, but the basic premise becomes clear as you listen: a married woman is in love with someone who is not her husband, and she grapples with the complex feelings associated with her adultery. Who it is about and Swift’s relationship with this experience is unknown, but one thing is astonishingly clear: the beautiful passion and depth of poetry is epitomized in the words. The poem coalesces many meanings in simple phrases, condensing great emotion into so few words. It uses extended metaphors, clever rhyming and scheme and beautiful imagery to convey a deeply emotional and heartbreaking experience.

The song opens establishing the setting, where the subject meets the lover she is addressing:

How’s one to know?
I’d meet you where the spirit
meets the bones
In a faith-forgotten land
In from the snow
Your touch brought forth an
incandescent glow
Tarnished, but so grand

Like true poetry, so much meaning is condensed so closely in the first 13 words of the song. The line “where the spirit meets the bones” has many layers. As referenced later in the song, this line is about the physical place where they meet, a graveyard.  The meaning is emotional as well, spirit and bone meet in the body, she met her lover with her whole body, her whole heart, her whole mind. The words “faith-forgotten” establish the circumstances under which they meet, the love is clearly adultery as the narrator’s husband is mentioned later in the song. “Incandescent” as an adjective has two definitions: 1. emitting light as a result of being heated and 2. full of strong emotion; passionate. Both definitions are used in these lines. As the narrator comes “in from the snow” she is met by the heat and light of her lover’s touch. A touch which is also full of strong emotion. Coming to her lover “from the snow” implies that her previous love was absent of incandescent glow. Or absent of the passion and warmth she finds with this new love. The final line of the first stanza characterizes the “glow” mentioned in the previous line. Tarnished elicits a feeling of age, a shine that has dulled from years of disuse, an odd word to describe so much passion. Swift follows tarnished with “but so grand”, though the love is “dulled” it is still great and beautiful. All of this emotion, meaning and experience is encompassed in so few words, just the first verse of a four and a half minute masterpiece.

The pre-chorus re-introduces the graveyard, adding more to our understanding  of the budding romance:

And the old widow goes to the stone everyday
But I don’t I just stay here and wait
Grieving for the living

In describing a widow and the stone she visits, Swift brings back the graveyard setting. A woman who mourns the loss of her husband by visiting his gravestone. The narrator, however, does not have a gravestone to mourn a past lover, she stays in the graveyard “grieving for the living”. She is missing someone who is not dead, but somehow lost from her regardless. The most obvious interpretation that can be made from this is the loss of love, trust, faith or contact within the narrator’s marriage. She is grieving what she has lost in the marriage, at the same time, waiting in that graveyard for her new spark, confirmed in the first verse. She waits for new love in the death of her old one, Swift masterfully asserts through the physical and emotional location described in the song.

From here, the chorus is introduced: 

Oh, Goddamn
My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand
Taking mine, but it’s been promised to another
Oh, I can’t 
Stop you putting roots in my dreamland
My house of stone, your ivy grows
And now I’m covered in you

Swift is implying the narrator’s pain is cradled easily in the lover’s hand, that the lover understands and nurses that pain so easily. The description “freezing hand” connects back to the first verse, where the lover’s touch is described as incandescent. The extended metaphor and  contradiction here is difficult to understand at first, how can one both provide warmth and passion, but still themselves be frozen? The lover can not be made warm because they give love so intensely. Perhaps the lover remains so cold because the narrator can not provide the support they give in return, because of the “house of stone” mentioned later in the poem. Connecting one deeply moving metaphor to another, Swift brings us to the line that named the song: “My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you”. Stone is timeless, strong, cold and unyielding and though it is tested by horrible storms and great tribulations, it stands. This can be wonderful to liken your heart to, because it means it can bear great hardship and still go on. It also means the narrator’s heart has endured quite a lot and therefore will not weaken to love. Except, of course, to this love, who weakens stone through ivy. Ivy is not violent, it doesn’t bring the stone down, it simply grows and flourishes on it and in it’s gentle expression of life, loosens the stone. The narrator’s cold, tested “house of stone” is now covered in the lover’s understanding and life-filled “ivy”. 

The song continues into two more verses, three more choruses and a beautiful bridge that counters the expressions of love with those of anger, bringing emotional complexity to the song. In verse three Swift writes:

Clover blooms in the field
Spring breaks loose, the time is near 
What would he do if he found us out?
Crescent moon, coast is clear
Spring breaks loose, but so does fear
He’s gonna burn this house to the ground

In one short rhyme scheme Swift utilizes multiple poetic devices. Metaphor is used to liken the new love to life of springtime bursting out into the world. It characterizes the nature of the relationship, inciting hope. The repetition of the second and fifth lines, induces a sense of anxiety in the listener. The reader experiences the narrator’s fear of being discovered. The repeated lines end in rhyme with each other, implying the connection between the joy of love and the fear of unfaithfulness are intertwined, emphasizing again the anxiety the repetition created. She concludes this portion of the song with a conclusion about her husband’s actions. That he would “burn this house to the ground”. Therefore extending another metaphor many verses into the song. The house the narrator and her lover have built, one of stone covered in ivy, will be destroyed and therefore the unique trust and love it represents. This line also characterizes the violence of the husband, that he would burn and destroy until there was nothing left. No shelter from the cold that is so often referenced in the song. 

I would need a novel to explain all the poetry and deeper meanings written into this song, so I encourage anyone reading this to listen for themselves and feel the emotion Swift further demonstrates with musicality. This is a poem that needs to be heard to be understood. It is a masterpiece only Swift could conjure up.

The Stranger and Post-Colonialism

The Stranger, at it’s core is an examination of human personality, consciousness, and how we understand life. The characters are therefore, incredibly complex and unique, because each of them approaches the circumstances in the book differently. Meursault is indifferent to the disturbing elements of his life, Marie is a woman willing to marry a criminal who does not love her, Raymond and Salamano are abusive but share complicated relationships with the creatures they abuse. Each major character is a complexity, as long as they are white. The Arab that Meursault kills is fundamental to telling the main character’s story, and presumably would also be complex and unique. But he is not named or otherwise acknowledged as a thinking being. He is a monolith. He, like the other Arabs throughout the story, does not speak, only acts in violence. They all present a burden to the narrator and his friends throughout the story. Whether they are following Meursault, attacking him or lying in the shade and blocking him from getting out of the sun.

In the second part of the book, Arabs are presented again as one body and mind. He describes the first prison cell he is placed in. “The day of my arrest I was put in a room where there were already several other prisoners, most of them Arabs. They laughed when they saw me. Then they asked what I was in for. I said I’d killed an Arab and they were all silent.” Meursault never mentions any individual. It’s implied they all asked together and laughed together and went silent together. There was no acknowledgement of an action beyond what every other Arab person was doing. It appears again when Meursault is visited by Marie. When he enters the visiting room he mentions how most of the Arab families were all doing the same thing. “Most of the Arab prisoners and their families had squatted down facing each other.” Meursault implies the existence of one Arab woman being an anomaly from the rest because he registers her yelling to her white husband through the visiting room bars. The ethnicity of this woman is never confirmed, and even if she was intended to be non-white, her only purpose is to be a burden to Marie and Meursault’s conversation. This attribute mirrors the burden the man Meursault killed created for him.

A post-colonization society often creates monoliths so they do not have to acknowledge individuality, and therefore humanness of the people they invade, rape, kill and oppress. We see an enormous post-colonization monolith in the form of the American Indian. The savage, whooping Indian warrior with feathers in his hair and little clothing on his body was created by white guilt. It is easier to imagine the colonization of mindless savages then the colonization of culturally unique, politically and socially organized societies in which each person plays a role and has individuality. I suspect this theme arises in The Stranger, either intentionally or unintentionally by generalizing the actions and person hood of the Arab community in Algiers.

Heat of the Moment

The first part of The Stranger by Albert Camus moved really slowly, it seemed to have no plot direction. This was very deceiving. It wasn’t until you finished the last page that you realize a lot is going on throughout the story that you didn’t see. I really appreciated how Camus used the sun and heat to demonstrate the narrator’s emotional processing of his mother’s death. It is described as a ever-present, oppressive force at different phases of the novel. Particularly interesting is how the narrator becomes tired, often falling asleep or wishing to be in his bed when he is in the heat for an extended period of time. I understood this detail to represent how exhausting processing trauma or loss can be. While Mersault is describing his mundane life, small details are revealed that clue the reader into to his spiraling mental state. But the most obvious is his growing dislike for the “heat”. At the climax of part one, the heat, or the narrator’s unfinished feelings towards his mother’s death (whether guilt, grief, anger I can’t tell yet), become “unbearable”. “The sun was the same as it had been the day I’d buried Maman, and like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all the veins in it throbbing under the skin. It was this burning, which I couldn’t stand anymore, that made me move forward” (pg. 59). This abnormal reaction is not simply talking about temperature or physical discomfort. His trauma hangs so heavily over him that his veins throb and his skin burns. I think that Mersault manifests these discomforts in the form of an uncomfortable Algerian sun, so he doesn’t confront them. This explains his homicidal actions in the paragraphs following this passage. Because he is only processing his emotions through the oppressive heat, he believes an escape from the sun will result in an escape from emotions. He sees the shade and water spray of the rocks as an escape, even if a brief one. But the man is lying there and preventing his escape. A desperate Mersault, already losing touch, loses control in this portion and in the “heat” of the moment he kills what he perceives as something of a threat.