Dulce et Decorum Est –Explanation

January 6, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen
Introduction .. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Europe’s political map looked so much different from what it is today. The attitude of the rulers towards their citizenry, the the economy and war were also starkly different from what we see in modern times. Stable borders, responsible governance, focus on economy, regard for democracy were not given much importance in political thinking. Most importantly, the rulers felt no particular aversion to wars. Countries were generally small. The kingdoms had to bear the curse of despotic self-indulgent rulers, who had scant regard for the well-being of the subjects. A penchant for indulging in long-drawn ruinous battles made blood-letting a ritual for the ruling class. Kings and dukes loved wars and glorified it as a necessary evil for a proud state. As the battles raged, kings and commanders took little part themselves. Instead they, from a safe distance, implored thousands of young men to plunge in the battles as a sacred duty. Through rousing patriotic songs, people were enthused to go out and fight, no matter the suffering.
Conditions in the battle field were ghoulish. Soldiers died like rats as medical support for the wounded was scanty. Despite the grisly scenes of suffering, people came out to fight and die as their vainglorious commanders and monarchs conjured up dreams of valour and victory. As a result of this deadly cocktail of patriotism and self-aggrandizement, battles dragged on inexorably spilling blood on every square inch of the battle field.
This poem graphically portrays the horrors of the battlefield, and the author sighs in frustration and disbelief as she reflects on the empty patriotism that has led to so much of suffering.

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Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Meaning of Stanza 1 .. The battle had been savage and brutal. Under the weight of injuries, starvation, and the enemy’s  salvos of lethal poisonous gases, allied soldiers suffer misery and desperation. The soldiers are down on their knees. Too demoralized and etiolated, they can barely stand erect, and walk. They are fleeing trying to escape the murderous assault by the enemy soldiers. These valiant fighters barely manage to hang on to their lives, hoping to flee to safety. Their feet are deep under the mud, and some of them cough intermittently to let their lungs eject the poisonous gases they have inhaled. The slow walk to safety is punctuated by blinding flares from enemy gas shells.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

Meaning of Stanza 2 .. Despite their drained body and mind, they try to make the best of a hopeless situation. They call out to one another about the gas shells bursting nearby, and ask their comrades to hasten their sagging feet. The author sights a fellow soldier struggling to stay afloat in the shallow waters of the nearby sea. He wants to swim, but can’t. He is too weak to do so. Right before the author’s eyes, he slowly drowns to death. It is a nerve-wracking sight, too horrendous to endure.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Meaning of Stanza 3 .. He tries to reach out to the author for help, but neither he, nor the author is undone. He gulps down water, and breathes his last.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Meaning of Stanza 4 .. The soldier has drowned to death. His body is thrown into an army wagon that collects dead bodies of soldiers.The dead soldier’s face shows how much pain, fear, and frustration he endured in his dying moments. His eyes pop out as if to say something, but he is dead. He has suffered excruciating pain as his choked lungs tightened its grip around his throat. Seeing him in this state is a harrowing and ghastly sight.

After going through such ordeal, the author claims, no one would sing the praise of a fighting soldier’s life, nor would he say that dying for the motherland is so great glory.

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Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

January 4, 2017 at 9:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

————–

I walk into a room 

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man, 

The fellows stand or 

Fall down on their knees.   

Then they swarm around me, 

A hive of honey bees.   

I say, 

It’s the fire in my eyes,   

And the flash of my teeth,   

The swing in my waist,   

And the joy in my feet.   

I’m a woman 

Phenomenally. 

 

Phenomenal woman, 

That’s me. 

——————

Introduction .. As a civil rights activist, author and a feminist leader, Maya Angelou has made her mark in America. Maya, with her con-conformist outlook, fierce self-confidence and a great literary mind, has inspired hundreds and thousands of black and just ordinary women around the world to give up their inferiority complex and assert their place in the society. Born in 1928 in St Lois, Missouri, Maya is considered as a foremost public figure with multiple literary awards under her belt. She sang her famous song ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ in Bill Clinton’s inauguration to thunderous applause from the audience.

Explanation to Stanza 1 and 2 Maya Angelou wrote the poem in the first person. She is brimming with self confidence as she declares herself as a ‘phenomenal’ woman. In this male-dominated and sex-defined society, she is a rebel – an anti-hero. Bereft of impressive vital statistics, and white skin, she stomps her way in the society and the work place as men glance appreciatively towards her begging her love. Her gait, smile, body language and, most importantly, self-assurance gives her the aura of beauty, attractiveness, grace and sophistication. It is certain that she is a woman of substance–a ‘phenomenal’ woman. She has a radiant face and a radiant smile despite not being rated as a raving beauty in the stereotype sense. On such value system which rates women as their figure and skin colour as yardsticks, she pours scorn and disdain. She defies the age-old system of looking at women and authoritatively prives it wring through her own example.

Men themselves have wondered   

What they see in me. 

They try so much 

But they can’t touch 

My inner mystery. 

When I try to show them,   

They say they still can’t see.   

I say, 

It’s in the arch of my back,   

The sun of my smile, 

The ride of my breasts, 

The grace of my style. 

I’m a woman 

Phenomenally. 

Phenomenal woman, 

That’s me. 

 

Now you understand 

Just why my head’s not bowed.   

I don’t shout or jump about 

Or have to talk real loud.   

When you see me passing, 

It ought to make you proud. 

I say, 

It’s in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

the palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman 

Phenomenally. 

Phenomenal woman, 

That’s me.

Explanation Stanza 3 and Stanza 4 The author, with an air of self-confidence, says how men are left clueless about her charm. She exudes grace and a cool attractive persona that the men folk find so intriguing. They try to delve into the secrets of her beauty, but fail to unravel anything. The author then proceeds to list them. It is the arch of her back, the optimism and brightness of her smile, her bust and her grace that make her so adorable to the opposite sex. She ends her stanza by reiterating that she is a ‘phenomenal’ woman.

She walks upright, with no inferiority or guilt. She has a cool composure, neither screams, nor raises her voice to make a point. She asserts that she is bodily as much beautiful as she is desirable for values hidden in her. People yearn for her attention, because a woman like her with beautiful hair pals and gait infects others with inspiration, joy and optimism. This is why she calls herself a ‘phenomenal’ woman.

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If Thou Must Love Me: Line by Line explanation Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

January 1, 2017 at 2:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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If Thou Must Love Me: Line by Line explanation

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote ‘If Thou Must Love Me’. It is the sonnet no.14 of her collection named ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ that has 44 love poems. She was a very renowned woman poet of the Victorian era (1830-1890) of English literature. In the sonnets Elizabeth Barrett Browning pours out her heart for her love for her lover and future husband Robert Browning, a great Victorian poet, too.
The sonnet is in the Italian or Petrarchan form of sonnet with the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CD CD CD.
THE POEM …
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only.
Meaning … The poet lets her readers know her expectations from her lover. Quite candidly she says that her lover must have towards her only pure, undiluted love, un-tinged by any other sentiment. Quite unabashedly, she states that it is ‘love’ only that should bind her lover to her, nothing else.
Do not say
‘I love her for her smile – her look – her way
Of speaking gently, – for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’ –
Meaning …The poet wants that neither her beautiful body, sweet and suave demeanor, nor her mental disposition should be the bedrock of her alliance with her lover. She asks her lover not to love her because of her bewitching smile, and her genteel speaking. She also tells him that her qualities might be very appealing to him, and he could one day discover great convergence in their thoughts, but these traits must not beckon him to her. These transient attractions must be kept away from his love towards her, she implores.
For those things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, – and love so wrought,
May be unwrought so.
The poet has some mild and sane words of advice for her lover. Humans, both men and women, have bodies that age, wither, and fade with time. In the same vein, human traits, mannerisms, and mental attributes change. Even for the same man, his beloved’s sweetness of self may not last indefinitely. Therefore, pleads the author, her lover must discern between true love and love based on transitory fancy. For the bonds of love to endure, lovers must rise above outward signs of attractiveness, and decide if there is something more heavenly that draws them together. Lovers who fall prey to the visible lure in one another might come to grief as the strains of time tears their love apart making them to drift away. The author beseeches her lover to weigh these words in mind.
Love ‘wrought’ with worldly attractions is more likely to ‘unwrought’ than true love.

Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,
A creature might forget to weep who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning doesn’t want her lover to love her out of feelings of pity or empathy. He may wipe her cheeks to comfort her, but such loving gestures may not come often. If she stops to weep in future, her lover would stop to show such effusive signs of caring and sharing. That would strike at the root of their bonding.
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.
In the last two lines of the sonnet If Thou Must Love Me, the poet spells out her own ideas of ‘true love’. She explains how a man should love a woman unconditionally for their mutual attraction to endure. Love driven by lust or desire will diminish, no matter how string the initial surge might be.

[To be continued with questions and answers]

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