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Biography

I have published a short story called ‘The Capability Garden’ and an honor’s thesis titled, ‘The Poet and the Temple of Delight: Allegory in ‘Ode on Melancholy’ and Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience,’’ for which I did extensive research. At GSU I took a vast amount of higher level English and Philosophy classes (I was one elective short of a second B.A.) that involved a lot of expository writing in addition to fiction workshops.

EDUCATION:  B.A. English, fiction writing from Georgia State University BLOG:  None provided
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Writing Sample

from ‘How to Survive in Europe as a Young Man’

 

Saturday 2/5/11

Étoile

Star

 

            Mon avion a posé trente minutes en avance à l’Aéroport Charles de Gaulle.  The plane landed thirty minutes early at the airport in Paris.  Felt the sinking feeling in my stomach as the plane lurched downwards and landed with a bump on the piste d’atterrissage or landing strip.  The stewardesses made une annonce, ‘bienvenue à Charles de Gaulle,’ and everyone got up all at once.  I waited for the aisles to clear and after checking to make sure I had all the important stuff: laptop, passport and boarding pass in the laptop case I walked up the now empty aisle and said ‘merci’ to the stewardesses saying goodbye to everyone by the open door and crossed through the white, elevated tunnel that connects the door of the plane to the terminal.  Took the ‘trottoir roulant’ to baggage claim, walking very rapidly along the moving walkway and emerging in a grande salle with high ceilings and a long series of circular baggage claim belts that I did not remember.  The digital display for ‘Atlanta 8517’ said the bags would arrive at 8:40.  Looked out through the glass onto the sidewalk where people are getting out of taxis and hauling their bags out of the trunks of their cars and being dropped off and it was mid-morning in Paris. I stood there waiting for the valises to start coming down the ramp and looked around for airport employees to get directions for the busses; Lily had told me Johanne would meet me at Étoile.  At any rate I saw a man and a woman that looked like they worked at the airport dressed in black uniforms but as I approached them saw the woman holding a sign with someone’s name on it and I thought they must be limo drivers.  So I asked them in demotic French ‘si ils travaillent ici’ or if they worked there and they said yes and I asked them ‘est-ce que vous savez où est le bus pour Charles de Gaulle Étoile?’ and they seemed mildly pleased with my accent and were very polite and they told me how to find the bus.

 

When I had gotten the black valise I crossed the long, empty salle.  To the left is a glass partition with emergency doors indicated in green and people on the other side are walking in the opposite direction: you have to go all the way down to the end of the salle to get to the door that leads out onto the concrete ‘trottoir.’  So I followed les ‘directions’ that the man and the woman had given me: something about going down to the end of baggage claim and then turning left.  I emerged into a much larger and busier salle with lots of people milling around and the bureau de change is up the couloir on the left and I changed a hundred Euros at the glass window.  Before I left I checked the exchange rates on the colored chart behind the glass and I think it is $1.60 to the Euro which is not a good exchange rate. 

Dans la grande salle très bondé, the large, crowded chamber I saw the ‘panneau’ for the busses and followed the signs up the couloir parallel to the one with the bureau de change and then outside into the cold sunlight.  The sign for Étoile-Arc de Triomphe was on the corner.  Bummed a light off some guy waiting down the sidewalk, ‘excusez-moi, est-ce que vous avez du feu?’ and smoked a cigarette sitting cross legged against the concrete mur of the airport with my bags all around me.  Shortly le bus pour Étoile arrive – I saw it coming around the corner displaying ‘Étoile.’  Climbed up the steep marches and the guy says ‘quinze Euros’ or ‘twenty Euros’ so you pay him.  Hauled my s#@t onto the luggage racks and sat down.  The bus drove across the airport, a vast oval of terminals.  The place is huge – the elevated ‘rails’ du Metro levitating in the center and all around the concrete murs of the aéroport with various signs for the various terminals, altogether about 600 mètres across.  Then the bus headed dans la vielle partie de la ville – the old part of the city and around the Arc de Triomphe. 

The bus pulled to a stop at Étoile and I got off, hauling the heavy valise onto the trottoir and I remembered the street corner and the café up the street.  I think we took the Étoile bus from the aéroport the last time we were in Paris.  Anyway there was a cabine téléphonique right down the sidewalk next to a small, barren tree by the café but I didn’t have any ‘monnaie’ to call Johanne and tell him the plane had landed early and you couldn’t use a debit card for the phone.  So I headed down la rue several mètres that is empty even though you are near the Arc de Triomphe and down the concrete stairway under the green sign Metropolitain.  You walk down the cramped, dingy couloir or corridor with white tiles on the floor and the walls.  At the intersection of two tunnels on the plan de Metro I saw on the orange and blue sign that I could take ligne 6 towards Nation to Dupleix near Lily and Johanne’s apartment. 

You follow the sign for ligne 6, the number 6 in an orange circle and walk down the stairway onto the platform.  You sit down in a plastic chair with the valise at your feet and soon the train arrives.  The sliding glass doors open and you get on holding the metal post with your bags around your feet and follow the ‘arrêts’ on the diagram above the doors.  The Metro crossed the Seine, flowing brown and cold in the sunlight and then the elevated rails ran up Boulevard Grenelle and I looked down onto the magasins lining both sides of the street with people walking up and down the sidewalk.  I got off at Dupleix and the Metro does not take long in Paris and does not take long to get used to and to learn and even if you are jetlagged and exhausted it is easy to get around the city. 

After walking down the stairs onto Boulevard Grenelle I went dans un magasin and at the counter asked the woman en français pour un briquet and after buying a lighter with an image of la Tour Eiffel I schlepped my heavy bags with the backpack full of books up the sidewalk, crossing under the elevated rails through the massive concrete pillars and walking up past the magasins and cafés.  I remembered the way exactly, walking towards the Seine and then left onto rue Dr. Finlay, up the ramp into the courtyards of the massive, ugly apartment towers.  The bags were getting really very heavy and I was hot because I was wearing my father’s dark green overcoat over the pea coat that was too bulky to carry so I had to wear it even though the sun was shining.  My shoulder hurt and I had to keep switching shoulders with the shoulder strap of the heavy valise.

            Walked across the empty ‘cour’ in the spitting rain and at the sliding glass doors that are locked I buzzed the concierge and said ‘Debrancy’ and he buzzed me in and I crossed the tiled rez de chaussée and took the elevator up to the 19eme étage.  The doors open onto a hallway with red carpeting and the doors to the Debrancy’s apartment on either side.  No one answered when I rang at the door on the left which is where I always get into the apartment so I sat down in the hallway.  Just then Lily came out the door.  Her appointment had just shown up – a young woman and she saw me sitting on the landing and said ‘Hey, Stuart!  How did you get here!’ and I told her ‘I took the Metro.’  She told me Johanne had gone to Étoile to get me as we had discussed and I said the plane had arrived early and wasn’t sure if he was coming to meet me anyway so I took le Metro.  Anyway I didn’t know if his coming to get me at Étoile was a finalized plan or not and he wasn’t there when the bus arrived (this was all in French) and I didn’t feel like standing around and waiting if he wasn’t going to show up.   

            So she unlocked the porte and I entered the familiar ‘appartement’ through the vestibule where there are bookshelves and dropped my bags on the floor of William’s room (Lily and Johanne’s son who liked to drink ‘la bierre’ and talk politics at Parisian cafés), une petite chambre avec deux lits.  A small room with two twin beds.  Made myself at home, unpacking and putting my clothes in the drawer and dropping la monnaie, a few Euros on the bedside table.  Went into the kitchen, a long, narrow modern kitchen with shuttered plastic blinds at the window and got a drink of cranberry juice.  Then I took the elevator downstairs and walked out into the cour and sat cross legged against the wall of the apartment tower and smoked a cigarette.  To your left you can see through the passage between two buldings the rue along the Seine.  Scanned the petit clef against the black plastic buzzer and the doors opened and I took the elevator back upstairs.

            Went back into the room and lay down sur le lit and soon I was dead asleep.  Slept the rest of the day.  Woke up and Lily was in the kitchen and I said, ‘bonne soirée’ as it was evening now and told her about mon voyage d’avion and what I wanted to do tomorrow.

 

That night I looked out the window at the large dining room table onto the city.  The walls of the dining room have been newly painted a dark red color.  ‘La Ville Lumière’ Johanne’s friend had said when I told him in America Paris is called ‘The City of Light.’  It is called that because of the low height of the buildings – you can see the whole city sprawled out under the blackness of the sky and at night it is all lit up.  A sea of lights.  My parents had asked me to email them when I got there so I sent an email home saying everything was fine and I had arrived with all my stuff and so on.  Then before I went to bed I called them sur le téléphone in the luxuriant living room where we had watched the fireworks sur la Quatorze Juillet – Lily told me that phone was for calling the United States but no one picked up even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon there and it was Saturday. 

 

At any rate if I’m going to be living here for the next three weeks, completely immersed in a foreign language I hope there will be a spiritual revelation like when I was seventeen or at least I will experience the same independence as when I took le TGV (train grand vitesse) to Charleville-Mézières to the Musée Rimbaud il y a deux étés or two summers ago. 

 

At night the water of the Seine is black and sparkles in the darkness and you are in The City of Light.

 

Dimanche 2/13/11

Atelier de Victor Hugo

 

            Yesterday I took ligne 8, the purple line vers Creteil underneath the Seine and emerged on the rue de Rivoli which is hip and crowded like New York.  Wound through the narrow streets following the ‘livre guidé’ (the guide book) to Musée Picasso but when I got there the huge green portes étaient fermées.  The doors were locked.  The plaque didn’t say why the Musée was closed or what the hours were.  Sometimes museums are closed on certain days in France like Monday for example.  So I wandered the streets for a while and came to an open doorway that looks into une petite cour and a plaque: ‘Musée Sully.’  You stroll into a palatial Renaissance era cour through a shaded archway that has an uneven stone floor and is surrounded on all four sides by beige walls de 3 étages avec les fenêtres en verre, glass windows.  Past the slate ‘toits’ is a square of blue sky.  Through an arched promenade into the second cour that is much larger and sectioned off into four green ‘gazons’ or lawns.  Les marches going down onto the lawn and across the gazon there are les bancs lining the path but no one sitting on them.  I was walking towards a building that I thought was une maison that had been coverted to the Musée Sully but instead of entering a museum I found myself dans la Place des Vosges.

It is a Medieval cour surrounded on all four sides by very old immeubles with black slate roofs and there is a shaded promenade or walkway around the edges and in the center of the place un parc avec les arbres de printemps surrounded by les barrières en metal.  The place is very much the same as the Place Ducal in Charleville-Mézières; apparently it was built by Henri IV pendant la Renaissance.  You walk along the arched promenade past closed doors and cafés but you don’t sit down.

You leave the promenade and go dans le portière ‘en fer’ (the iron gate) onto the gravel pathway of the parc that intersects the lawns like a cross.  Crunching across the gravel I sat down sur un banc in the shade.  On the other bancs that are in a row dessus les arbres people are sitting and having lunch.  J’ai mangé un sandwich au saucisson and un sandwich de fromage with the demie baguette that I had bought at la boulangerie, taking the paper packet of saucisson and the wrapped fromage from le sac à dos noir – the black backpack that I bought with a Best Buy gift card from graduation that has padding for my laptop – avec un canif for spreading the fromage crémeux on the bread, tearing the bread and making a sandwich with the sliced saucisson and cheese and drinking the bouteille d’Oasis that I had bought for 2 E at the machin on the platform at Concorde.  Thought for a while about nothing and then left the parc, walking across l’ancien rue and through a shaded archway or ‘passage’ past a band that was playing with a small foule of people watching.  Walked up the narrow rue to rue de Rivoli and sat down at the café on the corner and ordered ‘un double express.’  The garçon brings out the double expres and as I was sitting at the café I saw the blue panneau for the ‘maison de Victor Hugo’ pointing back in the direction I had come at Place des Vosges.  I know that Rimbaud was influenced by Victor Hugo – I think he said Hugo was the greatest French poet or something – so I decided why not I would go see his maison.

The maison de Victor Hugo is at 6 Place des Vosges.  Walked back through the archway onto the promenade ‘cintrée’ – the arched promenade and turned left and saw a big black numero 8 above the door so I headed back in the direction I had come where there is a black numero 6.  The garrets are in black slate and les fenêtres sur le 1eme etage avec les petits balcons look out onto the place.  You go dans le vestibule of le musée and it is dark inside and at the small wooden bureau you check your backpack.  You ask ‘combien?’ and these days evidently the musée is ‘gratuit’ or free.  You go up the creaking stairwell to what must have been a very expensive home because it is right on the Place des Vosges.  In other words he must have already been a famous poet when he lived here. 

The furnishings of the apartment are luxuriant and very much in the mode of the 19eme siècle.  You go into the small étude or study from the room ou vous êtes entré and there is a bookshelf with volumes upon volumes of very old livres.  The books are behind glass but worn and it is unclear whether they were all written by Hugo as one of them says Shakespeare, Oeuvres Complètes on the binding.  From there you wander into his chambre.  Dark red wallpaper with gold fleures de lis and a woven tapestry of two birds in lush green on the ceiling.  The lit where he slept is very short with dark wood molding and high posts and a red cloth canopy high over the bed and there is a red fauteuil or armchair at the foot of the bed by the fireplace.  Apparemment il a écrit debout – he wrote standing up as there was a chest-high writing desk with a plumed feather pen on it.  You go back across the study into a room with blue and white ‘vases orientales.’   The people who were visiting the house walked through the place reverently, the old wooden floors creaking and groaning in the silence.

When you have seen the maison you go back down the stairway.  I could have stayed longer but I was tired and ready to go back to the appartement.  So you go back down l’escalier to the bureau and say, ‘merci, c’est très chouette’ or ‘thanks that’s really neat.’  Someone went and got mon sac à dos from behind le bureau; sometimes at these ateliers you have to take a ticket that corresponds with a numbered shelf but I think here the place was small enough that they just remember you.  Anyway les personnes derrière le bureau are very nice to you and respectful of the atelier de Victor Hugo.

By that point my legs had started to hurt from walking around all day so I decided to go back, crossing the rue de Rivoli and descending into Metro St-Paul.  Up the stairs at La Motte Picquet and out the metal portes that open automatically and got une patisserie at a boulangerie near Dupleix which was very expensive.    

Last night I skyped with my parents at 19:00 Paris time or 7:00 p.m. en Atlanta.  I don’t remember if we spoke French or English.  Told them about how the woman selling Mesclun at the marché on Mercredi had grabbed me a whole pile of Mesclun and I said ‘un peu moins que ça’ or ‘a little less that that’ and she took out two leaves and they laughed.  They said the marchands are like that.  Then they tilted the camera of my father’s Mac downward so that Ralph, my yellow lab would be on the webcam and I said, ‘hey, Ralphy’ or something but he didn’t see me.  I don’t think he understands 2 dimensional images.  I really like being able to talk to my parents though and see them on Saturday and Sunday on the screen and it makes me feel less lonely.

 

Ce matin I walked to le Monoprix again but apparently it is closed Dimanche.  A little cold and windy on the way up the few blocks to the Monoprix.  The buildings look like the buildings in Orwell’s 1984.  The glass portes of the Monoprix were shut and les lumières étaient étient (the lights were out).  So I crossed the street sur une rue diagonale and then up rue ------ to La Banette but it was also fermée so I decided to go to the market.  Au marché at a stall with all kinds of cuts of meat I got une cuisse de lapin or ‘leg of rabbit’ for 3 E which is a good deal.  It was 25 E le kilo or something like that and the woman was very nice.

 

            Going to buy les billets de train today from TGV online because I am going to visit my cousin in Brussels.  When I was on the page d’accueil yesterday or the day before it said you could get your ticket at la Gare with a carte banquaire but some American cards (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) are ‘sans puce’ and will not work.  When I emailed my father, ‘what does ‘sans puce’ mean’ he said ‘… is a card without a microchip with a magnetic stripe.’  So I’m going to have the tickets mailed to the apartment in Johanne’s name, envoyés à Johanne Debrancy dans le courriel à leur addresse dans le 19eme.  Anyway I’m glad I didn’t try to get mon billet at the Gare.  I have been going into Lily’s bureau or office and looking at the pile of mail on the desk that I had been picking up in the little boîte postale in the rez de chaussée, turning the tiny key to the left dans la serrure miniscule and the tiny porte en metal opens.  I really hope I didn’t schedule trains for the wrong day, etc though and I hope that the tickets get here in time.  I also hope that my cards being sans puce won’t affect my ability to get Euros from the atms.  I mean that would be really bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From

THE POET AND THE TEMPLE OF DELIGHT:

ALLEGORY IN “ODE ON MELANCHOLY” AND BLAKE’S “SONGS”

 

            The poem is in this sense about Keats.  It is about a place where he has been, an instruction how to get to the “temple of Delight,” – a place of poetic inspiration imbued with his experience of “Melancholy.”  He is in effect saying, become a great poet “as I am! But this does not end the pretense” (Smith 689).  In that sense, the “Ode on Melancholy” is also addressed to a reader capable of poetic inspiration, an instruction how to get to a place where Keats has been.  In describing how he accomplished the state in the final couplet of the poem, to “be among her cloudy trophies hung,” the reader to whom the poem is addressed can follow the allegorical figures and he too can “be among her cloudy trophies hung.”  It is unclear whether the poem is entirely about Keats, addressed to the “thy” of “glut thy sorrow” (25) in the second stanza, or in the case of the last stanza the poet capable of same inspiration as Keats.  This is consistent with the discrepancy between the speaker and the characters within Blake’s “Songs.”  Insofar as it is being about being a poet “as I am!” the “Ode on Melancholy” is about the same things as Keats’s letters from the Spring of 1819[1].  But “even when his health was good, Keats felt a foreboding of early death and applied himself to his art with a desperate urgency” (Norton 1794).  This “applied himself” is consistent with the poems being about the same things as his letters.  This sense of purpose was in particular applied to “Melancholy” rather than the other odes, and Keats’s awareness of his own mortality certainly affected the content of this poem – it is, after all, ultimately about death.  In a letter to Fanny Brawne in July of 1819, Keats wrote, “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death” (Norton 1856).  Certainly the events of his life – the meeting of Fanny Brawne and his own sense of the frailty to human life – influenced the Odes, and in the same letter he writes, “would I could take a sweet poison from your lips” (1856) a phrase that mirrors the “poisonous wine” (12) and “the ruby grape of Proserpine” (14) of the first stanza of “Ode on Melancholy.”  E.C. Pettet writes, “his 1819 moods of indolence, not always pleasurable, have much to do with the odes” (285).  The imagery of “shade to shade” coming “drowsily” (19) is indolent in this sense, and the emotions of the last stanza are certainly not “pleasurable.” 

The “Ode on Melancholy” was written in search of a recourse for these feelings, and in the end the poem is allegorical in the sense that what he is writing about is the abstract state of being embodied in the final couplet.  Helen Vendler states in The Odes of John Keats that in “Melancholy alone among the odes” the poet “addresses admonitions to himself” (158).  These “admonitions” take the form of “go not to Lethe, neither twist / Wolf’s-bane” (11-2) and the other suicidal images.  In this sense the poem is addressed by Keats to himself.  Furthermore, the poem reduces its audience to “the poet himself” (Eaves 784).  In Romanticism, the “first-person pronoun announces the writer’s elevation of an individual self to an acceptable poetic subject” (Simpkins 21).  Although Keats never uses the “first-person pronoun” in “Ode on Melancholy,” he appears to be the speaker.  It is unclear whether “you” (8) in the discarded stanza, “you would fail / To find the Melancholy” (8-9), is directed to Keats himself.  This is consistent with the poem being addressed to the “thy” (25) of the following stanzas or to another poet, as in the last stanza.  However, the argument that Keats’s poem is directed to “the poet himself,” Keats, is still consistent with the argument that he is writing about an emotional state where he has been such that the reader can follow him, and this is what makes “Ode on Melancholy” allegorical.

The final couplet is Keats’s conclusion – he is directing the reader to an emotional state that he has accomplished as a poet.  “It is still John Keats who is, even then, pretending to be the poet-as-poet” (Smith 689).  Even when the mimetic nature of the poem is taken into account, it is “still John Keats” who is writing the poem.  According to Morris Eaves, the same poetic identification can be found in Blake: “This is the romantic ego – ‘self-devoting genius’ – in its melancholy aesthetic phase, crying ‘I. I.’” (786).  The Romantic poetic genius is asserting his identity as the author of the poem.  The “true Man” (786) who occurs in Blake’s poems, for example the “Bard” (1) in the “Introduction” to “Songs of Experience,” signifies the abstract quality of imagination.  In the first stanza of “The Human Abstract” it is man who is speaking, “If all were as happy as we” (4), but the rest of the poem is spoken by the Bard who “Present, Past & Future sees” (2) as stated in the “Introduction” to “Experience” (Gleckner 377).  This is Blake’s identity as a poet crying “I. I.” – he is writing about the poetic process.  As in “Ode on Melancholy,” the meaning in Blake’s prophetic works depends on the identity of the speaker, and it is often unclear who the speaker is or who he is speaking to (Howard 563-4).  In Blake’s “Songs” the speaker is sometimes a character in the poem and sometimes not.  In both Blake and Keats, the speaker of the poem is present insofar as he is telling the reader how to get to a certain emotional state that he has experienced, and it is here that the allegory is leading. 

Walter Jackson Bate argues that the “Ode on Melancholy” was in large part different from the other Odes of 1819 in the sense that Keats had to address “Melancholy” directly because of his youth.  He had not been formally educated and had not in this sense been criticized, and was “without thought of the winding stair” that one must climb in order to become an accomplished poet, although he had been “reassured” by earlier Romantic poets (521).  Bate’s assurance that Keats learned how to write from earlier Romantics corroborates the argument that he had been influenced by Blake. 

            The “Introduction” to “Songs of Innocence” is about poetic authorial intent.  Thomas R. Frosch argues that this poem is about a transition from the state of “Innocence” to the state of “Experience.”  The child asks the piper to pipe the song and write it down, which takes the piper “beyond the child’s capacity” (74) and the child disappears.  The piper “plucks” a “hollow reed” and with this “rural pen” he “stains” the “water clear” (Frosch 74).  Thus, the poem is about the “writing down” of a song about the lamb of “Innocence” that takes the poem into the realm of “Experience.”  These are acts according to Frosch, “tinged with destructiveness” (74).  They have connotations of “Experience.”  The poem is spoken primarily by the piper of “Experience.”  He encounters a child, who asks him to “Pipe a song about a Lamb” (5).  Then the first couplet of the third and fourth stanzas is spoken by the child, asking the piper to then sing the song and then to write it down.  The piper responds in both cases by piping the song again and then writing it down.  The poem ends with the piper writing down his “happy songs” (19) that “Every child may joy to hear” (20).  This is Blake’s intention in “Songs of Innocence,” to write poems that “Every child may joy to hear.”  It is about comprehending a state of “Innocence” experienced by Blake[2].    Many poems from “Songs of Innocence” are written like nursery rhymes, as if addressed to a child, and the adult who reads the poem thus comprehends something directed towards innocent children.  The ambivalence of the speaker, alternating between child and Piper, echoes Keats’s poem, in which the first two included stanzas are addressed to the “thy” of the second stanza while the last stanza is more of an omniscient statement about where “Melancholy” can be found.

              Barbara Herrnstein-Smith argues that “Ode on Melancholy” takes the form: (1) “Do not do these things” (2) “Instead, do THESE things” (3) “Because” this (682).  The (1) Do not commit suicide, (2) instead “glut thy sorrow” is not addressed to the same person as (3) because “She dwells with Beauty.”  The last stanza is spoken in omniscient third person and is about where the “temple of Delight” can be found, for Keats and the poet to whom the poem is addressed.  The imperative second person, (2) do “these” things is not addressed to Keats himself but the “thy” of the second stanza: “glut thy sorrow” (25).  The “you would fail / To find the Melancholy” (8-9) is certainly true for the “thy” and the ambiguity of the speaker in Keats’s poem is allegorical in the sense that whether the “you” of “you would fail” is Keats addressing himself or the reader capable of poetic inspiration, the poem remains allegorical because it is about the abstract state of “Melancholy.” 

Keats is giving himself several alternatives: committing suicide would be too easy: “For shade to shade will come too drowsily” (19).  He could dwell on life’s pleasures, including his love for Fanny Brawne; but then he realizes that “She dwells with Beauty” (31).  The “She” here does not refer to Fanny or the “peerless” mistress; rather, the poetry that he truly loves belongs with a “Beauty that must die” – in the end he chooses to be a great poet, one who sees what is “seen of none save him” (36) – his soul “shall taste the sadness of her might, / And be [immortal] among her cloudy trophies hung” (37-40).  It can be argued that all four stanzas of the poem are allegorical.  The structure of the poem in its entirety is about how to find “Melancholy;” the first two stanzas say what not to do to find her: “go to Lethe” (11) or commit suicide, while the final stanzas are about how to find her – “glutting” on the phenomenal world or going to the “temple of Delight.”  

Vendler argues that the first stanza is mythological, the second is not “and the third neither mythology nor nature but allegory” (159).  She calls the first stanza mythological because of the references to Greek mythology in “Lethe” (10), “Proserpine” (14) and “Psyche” (17).  The second stanza is pastoral and the third is allegorical. “Beauty,” “Joy,” “Pleasure” and “Delight” are what one encounters along the way. 

Keats wrote a stanza of “Ode on Melancholy” that is often not included in publications of the poem; it is about a Persean or Stygian mythological quest for “Melancholy,” although Keats structures the stanza such that “you would fail / To find the Melancholy.”  The first two quatrains are about a “bark” (1) from the underworld, with “a phantom gibbet for a mast” (2), a sail sewn with “creeds” and filled with “groans” (3), a “Dragon’s tail” for a rudder (5) and the cordage of the ship “uprootings from the skull / Of bald Medusa” (7-8).  The personification of this passage involves the different aspects of the “bark” that would sail through the underworld in search of “Melancholy.”  The volta at line eight qualifies this first passage with “certes you would fail / To find the Melancholy, whether she / Dreameth in any isle of Lethe dull” (8-10).  The stanza can be broken down into (1) though you would do this (2) you would fail (Vendler 169). 

Keats instructs the reader to go to Lethe in his Persean quest to slay Medusa.  But this quest does not lead to “Melancholy,” and after all the poem is about “Melancholy,” so Keats cut it.  There is some debate whether the inclusion of the discarded stanza would disrupt the structure of the poem, although in this paper I am arguing that it provides a balance; the first two stanzas are about what not to do, and the third and fourth stanzas are what one should do.  Pettet writes on the subject of Keats’s discarding of this stanza that “the coarseness of the contrast would destroy the general effect of luxurious tenderness which it was the object of the poem to produce” (300).  The contrast he is referring to is the strictly mythological nature of this stanza that contradicts so sharply the rest of the poem, particularly the pastoral second stanza.  “No, no, go not to Lethe” is Keats’s realization that the Persean quest cannot find “Melancholy.”  This “luxurious tenderness” is embodied in Keats’s language: the fit that falls “Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud” (22) and “him whose strenuous tongue / Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine” (37-8).  But since it can be argued that the entirety of the poem is allegorical, the discarded stanza does not in fact “destroy the general effect.”  The inclusion of this mythological stanza provides a midpoint in the poem, right at the point “when the melancholy fit shall fall” (21).  The poem started as a mythological allegory, then this stanza was discarded, although the poem retained its allegorical nature.   

In an earlier draft of “Ode on Melancholy,” at line 3 of the discarded stanza, Lord Houghton has “shrouds” instead of “creeds” (Pettet 302).  Although “shrouds” certainly does not “destroy the general effect” of this stanza,” it lacks the religious allegory of “creeds” (3).  It is consistent with the Stygian nature of this passage, although it lacks the kind of “political allegory” that can be found in Blake.  The mythological nature of the poem is consistent with its religious imagery.  Thus, with the addition of “creeds,” the “general effect” of the stanza is supported by its religious allegory.  In a letter to his brother and sister in 1819, Keats writes about the “hethen mythology in which abstractions are personified” (Norton 1855).  The mythological quest for “Melancholy” of the discarded stanza and the personified “abstraction” of “Psyche” are consistent with this statement.  In the same letter Keats wrote about the “Salvation of children” in the context of the Christian establishment and how the “chr[i]stain scheme” developed from ancient Greek philosophy (Norton 854-5).  In other words, religious allegory is represented in the poem with the “Proserpine” (14) and “Psyche” of the first stanza.  Similar religious allegory about Christianity can be found in Blake’s “Songs.”  In “The Chimney Sweeper” of “Innocence,” the chimney sweepers are “lock’d up in coffins of black” (12).  An Angel comes with “a bright key” (13) and sets them free into a paradisal world.  The Angel tells Tom “if he’d be a good boy,/ He’d have God for his father and never want joy” (19-20).  The “coffins” and the “bright key” are allegorical symbols, leading ultimately to the moral or religious statement at the end of the poem that is its abstract allegorical content that includes joy.  In the poem by the same name in “Experience,” the first stanza is spoken by an anonymous narrator, who asks, “Where are thy father & mother?” (3) and then the child answers, “They are both gone up to the church to pray” (4).  In other words, they have abandoned their child to go and “pray.”  The second stanza begins spoken in the first person by the chimney sweeper, presumably Tom Dacre, although there is no dream of release into the paradisal world that David Simpson mentions in the companion poem from “Innocence” (50).  The chimney sweeper then says, “And because I am happy, & dance & sing, / They think they have done me no injury” (9-10).  Thus, the speaker suffers and has been done “injury” by his parents, although he appears to be happy and in a state of “Innocence.”  The last line of the poem addresses God and the religious establishment, “Who make up a heaven of our misery” (12).  The word “heaven” is not capitalized, indicating that it is not Heaven that Blake is referring to but rather the false “heaven” of the religious establishment that is based on suffering.  Harold Pagliaro says that the chimney sweeper who narrates most of the poem connects his parents with this “false heaven” (123).  “Misery” in this sense is an emotion in the context of a religious allegory.  Scott Simpkins asks if reading this poem as commentary on “Christian establishment” tells us how to read “The Chimney Sweeper” of “Songs of Innocence” (53).

The “bark of dead men’s bones” (1) of this stanza resembles Arthur Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat.” 

                                    As I came down the impassible Rivers,

                                    I felt no more the bargemen’s guiding hands….

                                    And great peninsulas unmoored

                                    Never knew more triumphant uproar than I knew. (1-12)

The comparison here is that both poems are about the visionary process.  Rimbaud’s poem is a metaphor for becoming a poet: “I felt no more the bargemen’s guiding hands” is him breaking away from his influences.  James O’Rourke cites Keats as a Romantic poet who shares “a visionary indulgence associated with Blake or Shelley” (97).  In other words, the visionary nature of the discarded stanza and of the final couplet of the poem “associates” Keats with Blake and other Romantic poets.  The “bark” in the discarded stanza of Keats’s poem mirrors the barge in “The Drunken Boat,” and it is the “Melancholy” that cannot be found, “whether she / Dreameth in any isle of Lethe dull” (9-10).  This stanza resembles several of the plates for “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.”  According to Houghton, the discarded first stanza was “as grim a picture as Blake… could have dreamed and painted” (170).  In the plates to “The Human Abstract” and “A Poison Tree,” Blake etches the kind of “grim pictures” that can be compared to this stanza of “Ode on Melancholy.”  In “A Poison Tree,” a man lies prostrate on the ground.  He is doubtless the “foe” (3) who has been killed by the “Poison Tree” that the speaker has “waterd” with his fears (5).  The speaker’s “wrath” (2) is made into a tree that he “waters” with his “fears” and “tears” (6).  These personified aspects of himself with which he “waters” the tree cause his wrath to grow (4).  This poem by Blake is in this way about how one’s fears and sadness lead to a cultivation of wrath in the speaker, represented as a tree: at the end of the poem, he is glad to see his foe dead, “outstretched beneath the tree” (16).  In the plate, the lower branch of the tree is anthropomorphized, reaching for the corpse underneath.  To the left of the man the tree branch that is growing over him forms a kind of rib cage comparable to the “bark of dead men’s bones” in “Ode on Melancholy.”  In the plate to “The Human Abstract,” an old man kneels, bound with “cords” that appear to be coming out of his head and behind him to the left there is a series of dark lines in the form of a rib cage.  The cords or ropes coming out of his head is comparable to the “cordage” that is “large uprooting from the skull” (7) of the person who is being addressed in the discarded stanza of Keats’s poem.  The “Tree” in “The Human Abstract” is according to Keynes’s commentary the “Tree of Mystery” (plate 47).  The “uprootings” in this stanza echo the “Tree of Mystery.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Capability Garden

 

 

I am the scholar of the dark armchair.

- Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Enfance’     (‘Childhood’)

 

            Paul sat in the darkness of the bedroom in the comfortable armchair by the window, the deep red walls and stillness of the room surrounding him in the [darkness].  The whole place was filled with books, rows of books on the bookshelf and table and the dresser were stacked with books, piles of books everywhere.  As he sat there in the armchair, the clock on the bookshelf ‘tick tick ticked’ away in the darkness.  The branches of a tree tapped against the panes of glass in the wind, and outside the bedroom window under the vast expanse of deep blue sky across the roofs of the neighborhood were the occasional illuminated windows of houses where people were still awake.  But this night possessed for some reason a more prolific blackness than most.  The world, as far as he could tell, was asleep. 

He put down the worn, heavy book he was reading that he had gotten from the library, a history of the ‘Kubla Khan.’  In England in the year 1797 Coleridge was living in a country cottage in the town of Nether Stowey; he was in ill health and had taken an opiate as a medication, or perhaps as other Romantic poets did because the intoxication produced good poetry.  While reading the passage

                                    Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace

                                    to be built, and a stately garden thereunto.

                                    And thus ten miles of fertile ground were

                                    inclosed within a wall

 

in a history of the Kublai Khan, he had fallen into a drug induced sleep, during which time the entirety of the ‘Kubla Khan’ was revealed to him [ref wiki]   .  When he woke he began to write:

                                    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

                                    A stately pleasure dome decree

He got as far as

                                    close your eyes with holy dread,

                                    For he on honey-dew hath fed,

                                    And drunk the milk of Paradise.

 

when a visitor came on business and knocked at his door, the Person from Porlock.  The gentleman, possibly his doctor, detained him for about an hour.  Coleridge returned to his poem to find that during the time that had passed during the course of that conversation he had forgotten the rest of the poem; the lines of verse had dispersed into nothingness like leaves in a cold wind, leaving what remained as a fragmented and ritualistic history of the Khan Kublai and Xanadu.  The Kubla Khan endures, however at the end of the poem as a figure of sheer Romantic or metaphysical terror.

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

 

The important part of the story though, as far as Paul could tell, was that regardless of whether Coleridge had taken opium to sleep or as a medication or in order to evoke a visionary awakening, the ‘Kubla Khan’ had been revealed to him.

As he had done every night for the past week, Paul walked across the carpet to the dresser stacked with books and opened the top drawer, taking the red and gold Corona cigar box out of the drawer, putting it on the metal writer’s desk and opening the lid.  Out of the box he took a packet of 1.5 rolling papers, a pack of cigarettes and a matchbox from a hotel in Paris.  He pulled a rolling paper out of the packet and laid it carefully on the metal writer’s desk, tore open a cigarette and spread the dry tobacco in a line down the paper.  From the matchbox from the hotel in Paris he took out a lump of tar opium, tore it with the tips of his fingers, and sprinkled the pieces onto the tobacco.  He deftly rolled a cigarette with the opium and tobacco and put it in his shirt pocket.  Then he slid shut the tiny matchbox, tossed the rest of the cigarette that he had torn open for the tobacco into the wastebasket, and put the packet of papers and the French matchbox back into the cigar box.  He put the cigar box back in the drawer and shut the drawer.  

He left the room and closed the door quietly, walking down the carpeted hall and crept carefully down the stairs, the wooden steps creaking under his bare feet.  He really did not want to wake his parents; they would not approve of what he was doing.  In fact, it would probably scare them.  From the downstairs hall he walked through the open doorway into the kitchen, dimly lit by the light over the stove and the pilot light of the oven buzzing softly.  The microwave clock over the oven read 11:37; it was late he was experiencing severe insomnia.  In the glass paned door of the kitchen he could see his reflection.  

Paul knelt and opened the liquor cabinet by the doorway that opened onto the dining room and reached in to grab the bottle of Red Label bourbon, hearing the clinking of glass as he slid the bottle across the base of the cabinet.  ‘S#@t,’ he thought, carefully taking the bottle of bourbon out of the cabinet and putting it on the counter.  He stood up and opened the glass cupboard above the liquor cabinet and took out a glass tumbler, pouring it almost overflowing to the brim with whiskey.  Then he put back the bottle, the glass clinking against the other bottles and shut the cabinet.  He walked across the tile floor trying not to spill any bourbon, opened the paned door of the kitchen and walked outside, shutting the door behind him. 

            Paul stood on the narrow flagstone path beneath the light that shone over the kitchen door, peering into the darkness of the garden.  He walked up the narrow path into the small garden proper that was enclosed by the stone wall where on one side the walkway led to a gate that opened onto the street.  He sat in the balmy garden on the slatted bench underneath the leaves of the tulip poplar and took a large swallow from the tumbler of bourbon, feeling the alcohol travel warmly down his chest and into his stomach.  His mouth tasted of bourbon and he felt the revitalizing effect of the alcohol, the comfortable feeling of drunkenness sinking through his body down into his limbs and he no longer cared for anything except opium and the drunkenness that came from it.        

            He took the rolled cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit the opiated cigarette carefully, taking a drag, the tightness filling his chest, and then exhaling in a cloud of smoke that drifted upwards, swirling above him into the nothingness.  The mild, bitter taste of opium was in his mouth.  Paul smoked the cigarette down until it burnt his fingers and tossed the roach onto the flagstones, stepping on it to put it out.  He could feel himself float upwards into the dew covered leaves of the poplar tree.  There was the beating of his heart and the garden looked beautiful in the darkness and time seemed to stand still and for once he did not feel like his life was passing him by.  The shadows floated around him and the whole place was still and white orchids glowed softly in the light of the waning moon, the milky light of the moon shining over the garden, his is midnight Paradise.  A small, odd tree loomed next to him against the wall like a corpse or the body of a man.  The man had always kept him company though, so Paul poured him a drink from the tumbler onto the ground.  In the daytime he could walk back into the tall plants against the wall and be completely hidden.  Now, at night, as he sat unprotected he felt all around him the green energy of the plants vibrating in the stillness and soft, careful growth, the broad leaves of the tulip poplar above his bare head rustling and dripping drops of water.  The atmosphere of this place was humid and alive with growth and the scent of lavender lingered in the humid air and the whole garden surrounded him closely.  A cool breeze wafted through the air, awakening the foliage surrounding him, the wind caressing his face.  You really need to be stoned in order to appreciate the tranquil beauty of this place, he thought; the garden at night under the lens of the opium was indeed a very beautiful place and he felt once again at peace. 

            But then, across the dark blue sky at thunderclap boomed, a lightning flash illuminating the scene for a moment.  Far away across the slate rooftops of the rural town a church bell began to toll midnight; he counted the resonant ‘ding dongs’ coming from the church steeple, the delayed tolls of the bell ringing across the town where Coleridge had lived a long time ago.

Then dome of the sky became a dark brown color and one by one the stars disappeared, the moon a pale blue sun that shone tranquilly over the world that slept.  No word was spoken and there was only the deafening silence of empty space, the shadows of the garden enveloping him.  This change did not bother him in any way; in fact he had looked forward to this moment all day. 

The he was on the shallow promontory; a young girl in a white gown descending the grassy slope on her way to communion, the snow-capped mountain far away across the land in the distance.  I am a poet of great renown, she said to him.  All of a sudden She began to take on mythic proportions.  She was all that he saw, blocking out sun and sky.  The lithe, small body under the delicate dress had become gargantuan.  Her green eyes devoured him.  Her blond hair flowed menacingly around her face, once beautiful, now terrifying, singing to him prophesies.  Then the sun came back to life, showing as a disc of light on the pale blue firmament, and now the promontory by the canal was full of life.  People talked, walking by.  But Paul could not remember what She had told him.  He could not find her.  She was gone. 

            He awoke with a start.  All was still and quiet again.  Paul sat there on the bench in the dark solitude of the place and he was drunk from the opium; his head felt empty and his whole body was calm.  The hedges and plants rotated slowly and moved up and down around him.  He could not tell what direction he was facing.  Anyway when he was stoned he no longer cared for anything.  Whatever he had once cared for, he had forgotten.  The drug had since the beginning made him empty inside, and he had discovered that the emptiness brought wanting.  Then, one night, he had discovered that with the wanting came knowledge. 

            ‘I am the Kubla Khan,’ he said out loud into the darkness of the garden.  The words sounded empty and hollow. 

            He bent over to try and find the end of the joint, the cracks in the flagstones looking like the white roach in the dimness; but then he found it, put it in his shirt pocket and stood up and walked slowly along the narrow path.  He opened the paned kitchen door, stepping inside and shutting the door quietly behind him, passing through the dimly lit kitchen, the digital microwave clock reading 12:33.

            He drunkenly climbed the stairs, the steps creaking and groaning in the silence and slowly crept down the hall past the room where his little brother and parents slept and went into his bedroom, groping his way past the table stacked with books not wanting to turn the light on.  He opened the drawer and put the roach from his pocket back in the Corona cigar box and shut the drawer.  Climbing into the soft sheets of his bed, he thought as he lay there in the red walled room about a book read as a boy where a forest grew in his bedroom and he set sail across a midnight sea.  Then all of a sudden a forest grew around him; above his head was no longer a ceiling but a canopy of leaves.  Gnarled trees climbed the walls of the room and above him was the light of the moon.  Vines crept up against the headboard.  He lay there alone in the darkness.  Outside in the rain the branch tapped playfully against his window.  Then Paul closed his eyes and sank into the deep, restful sleep of youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]In the summer of 1818 Keats contracted an illness of the throat, after watching his brother die of tuberculosis.   

[2] Blake knew about “Innocence” because he had been a child.  As a child he had visionary experiences, including seeing a tree full of angels.  He was apprenticed to an engraver and the “Experience” that his poems condemn was a response to the adult world and the political and religious establishment.