“Speak[ing] the wicked language”: the power of poetry as therapy

J.S. Mill examines the cathartic effects of poetry in “A Crisis in my Mental History. One Stage Onward.” The crisis he was experiencing, made unique through his own terms, would be diagnosed by any modern doctor as depression. He describes how he withdrew socially, and activities that once interested him no longer bore any weight. He could not even summon the feeling necessary to enjoy his novels, and every aspect of his life became dull and mechanical. These feelings subsided when he read Marmontel’s “Memoirs” because he found a passage to which he could relate his relationship with his own father. From this experience, Mill marks the power of poetry to relieve depression that had consumed the last several years of his life.

In this Ted Talk, Rachel Gibbons remarks on the ways she has dealt with PTSD and bipolar disorder. She grew up with no one to teach her how to cope with the extreme emotions she was feeling. When she started reading and writing poetry, all of this changed.

When she stumbled upon the poem about suicide, she says that she finally found “someone who spoke the same wicked language.” This account parallels that of Mill’s engagement with Marmontel’s “memoirs” very effectively.

To what extent, then, could poetry or other creative outlets be used to combat mental illness?

Will “stigma of mental illness,” mentioned by Gibbons, continue to inhibit cultural acceptance of the creative expression of those afflicted? With medication in place of expression, will those with mental illnesses ever learn “to speak the language of the living”?

(contributed by cross)

God vs. Innovation

sydney 2

The poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins depicts the separation between God and the people of the Victorian era. While humans have supposedly forgotten God and no longer have any connection with a higher being, Hopkins shows that the current of God’s power in nature will never cease. Although the main focus of the poem is the people neglecting God due to the progression of modernization, there is also a consistent underlying relationship between nature and development of modern society.

In the first line, Hopkins says that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” invoking images of current and electricity. This seems to identify with modern society and all of its innovations, however in the next line that same energy is said to “flame out,” which instead relates back to God’s gift of nature (2). This interchangeability represents the constant struggle for power between spiritual nature and innovation during technology’s rise in the mid 1800s. While people have forgotten about their faith in the wake of advancement, God still exists in all things, which is seen in the mention of his spirit through the dual symbolism. Additionally, the relationship is seen in the phrase, “The soil/ Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod” (7-8). Because people have become more modern, and now wear shoes, they have lost their connection to the  “bare” earth and therefore, God. This exemplifies how the more people progress, the more they desert their relationship with God, as well as symbolically showing that people have tread on God’s gifts with the power of their now modernization, which in this case, is the shoes.

With this underlying struggle, Hopkins is trying to convey a message beyond that of the poem. Although the basic plot of “God’s Grandeur” is merely that God has been forgotten due to the rising power of society’s progression, this battle between nature and civilization makes it clear that there is not room for both. With modern development comes an inevitable loss of faith, and because both cannot coexist, modernization must be removed in order to restore the relationship between people and God.

(contributed by swolff)

Curiosity killed the cat, you know…

In the poem, “Goblin Market,” by Christina Rossetti, it was discussed in class that Laura is described as a curious young girl who tastes the goblin’s fruit. Curiosity is an interesting adjective because it is not necessarily seen as either a good or a bad characteristic, but is commonly associated with the young and sometimes troublesomeness. It is the new and unknowing that sets curiosity off in many adolescents, but many times it is the forbidden that pushes the curiosity to the next level. Laura differs from her sister in that she is interested in the goblins and their fruit, while Lizzie is restricted and follows the rules.

When Laura and Lizzie hear the sounds of the goblins cry, Lizzie refuses to pay attention, but, “Curious Laura choose to linger” (69). Laura’s curiosity might stir from the fact that what the goblins sell looks enticing, but I think it mainly stirs from the fact that it is forbidden. Laura knows that she should not want what the goblins offer but cannot help herself, and there is usually an extra tempting characteristic about something being prohibited. Laura tells herself, “We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits” (42-43). Laura is reminding herself that she must not give into temptation, but eventually it consumes her (literally), and leads to moments of suffering. Laura’s curiosity at first leads to a pleasurable experience, but then she suffers because she can longer have (or hear what she wants to have) what she craves. It brings into question how human beings are subject to giving to temptation, because we are focused on the immediate moment and not of the consequences. But why are we so engrossed in wanting the things we cannot have?

(contributed by ciperez)

Having Fun with Goblins

While reading “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti, I can not help but think of the old fairy myths.  Goblins are a type of fae, or fairy, know for being ugly and the lowest of the low. In the poem they run a market selling different types of forbidden fruit.  Anyone with some knowledge of the old myths knows that eating the food of a fairy means you never get to leave them, you become part of their world and lose your connection with the human world. They are often seen doing tasks for different types of fae.

A book I read a couple months ago called Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill explores a fairy world where the goblins are used to steal children and replace them with changelings. The main goblin character was then set to the task of raising the child to become a sacrifice, but before then he teaches the boy many of his dark ways. At one point in the story the goblin takes the boy out to hunt with other types of dark fae. They claim they just want to have fun and scare some of the humans, but they all end up killing the humans.

The goblins in “Goblin Market” are similar. I believe they do not really understand the consequences of their actions, they just want to have some cruel fun.  This is why the sell the cursed fruit to Laura and then try to force Lizzie to eat some later in the story.  They know that it is cursed to humans, but they see it as a fun time anyways.

Incase you are not familiar with goblins outside of Harry Potter, here is a great clip from the Spiderwick Chronicles.

(contributed ny lauraannmeester)

Is Heroic code also Man code?

The heroic code that Ulysses was raised by and lived to abide by ultimately explains the adventurous and ever-curious spirit he has even in his old age. In the life that he lived, the journeys he’s taken and the journeys he wishes to explore until he died were an essential part of his identification as an honorable and noble man. However, in this poem we also see his son Telemachus who is now well into manhood, and while he is respected in the eyes of his father for the strength he carries on the home-front, there is the implication that the idea of masculinity that Ulysses exemplifies is not apparent in Telemachus.

Because of this notion of heroic masculinity, the question of manhood arises between father and son. Ulysses is growing old, but still feels the need to continue to explore the world and continue to find new things, while Telemachus is recognized as a man in the sense that he’s able to well manage the duties of Ithaca in place of his father. This raises the question as to whether Telemachus can distinctly be recognized as having achieved his father’s sense of manhood, or rather has he merely been recognized as so because his father was eager to leave Ithaca once more and needed someone to fill his role in managing the island. Although in Homer’s Odyssey, Telemachus does go on a journey of sorts to other islands to inquire the whereabouts of his father and does assist his father in defeating the suitors, we still get the impression that most of his development from child to man has taken place on Ithaca, in the absence of his father. He does not get the chance to go on these wild journeys like his father did because he was needed in Ithaca to help his mother protect the island, and manage the necessary duties that his father couldn’t in the 20 years he was away. And now once more we see Telemachus taking over the duties of Ulysses so he can once again find adventures to occupy the remaining years of his life. This again prohibits Telemachus from going out and doing these things himself because he must fill in for his father. So while we see that Ulysses and Telemachus have each developed their manhood in two distinct ways, perhaps it is because his father lived this heroic code that Telemachus was no able to develop his own heroism. Sure these epic journeys made Ulysses a hero to be forever remembered for, but could it have hindered his duties as a father to allow his only son to also live the heroic code and become the kind of man he was?

(contributed by vmunoz)

Sketching the Infant

I chose to focus on Charles Darwin’s “Biographical Sketch of an Infant” for my blog post. This article is significant because it was the first study conducted of child development. Living in the psychological age that we do, of course there have been many studies of development, especially concerning children, since Darwin’s time. As we learned in lecture, this study by Darwin seeks to define at what ages different emotions are apparent in children. Negative emotions, such as anger and fear, were some of the first to be shown; “Doddy”, as he is lovingly referred to by Darwin, first shows anger at 10 weeks old; when he was given cold milk, “he kept a slight frown on his forehead all the time that he was sucking, so that he looked like a grown-up person made cross” (4). These humorous observations of his infant son have us asking, is anger an inherent trait in human nature? Or is Doddy mimicking the gestures of his parents or nurses? My favorite example of emotion comes from Doddy’s attempt to deceive his father when he has gotten into a jar of pickles. When Darwin asks Doddy what the stains are on his pinafore, Doddy, “said that there was nothing and repeatedly commanded me to ‘go away’ ” (7). Here Doddy exhibits, “carefully planned deceit” (7). Again, this prompts the question, are we born with the intuitive urge to deceive, or cover our tracks? Or is this just learned behavior?
This study of Doddy reminds me of one of my favorite psychological experiments ever- a study conducted on small children to see if they can resist the urge to eat a marshmallow placed in front of them. If they can resist, they will receive another. Something that struck me when watching this video, is that after attempting not to eat the marshmallow, most of the kids take tiny, tiny bites out of it rather than popping the whole thing in their mouths. This leads me to believe that they’re thinking, “Maybe she won’t notice if i just take a tiny nibble…”. Again, we see planned deceit from these children. Is this act of deceiving the conductor of the experiment something we are born with, or do we acquire this trait?

(contributed by dcolumbo)

Porphyria’s not so loving lover; was she even in love with him?

In Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” the unnamed narrator strangles Porphyria with her own hair. The cause of this murder is love, not the narrator’s love for the woman but what he thinks to be Porphyria’s love for him. The narrator justifies killing Porphyria by claiming it as her “darling one wish” (57).

Porphyria’s lover believes she is “too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor, to set its struggling passion free from pride, and vainer ties” (22-24). So, he takes upon himself to let Porphyria “give herself to me [narrator] for ever” (25) by killing her in a moment of what he considers to be her bliss. While she is sitting there with him as he “debated what to do” (35) he thinks “she was mine, mine” (36). As his possession, Porphyria’s lover decides her fate. He sees this murder as a good, almost noble, choice for Porphyria stating “all it [Porphyria’s head] scorned at once is fled, and I, its love am gained instead!” (54-55). The narrator is convinced he has solved all her problems and has now frozen her (last) moment of happiness with him forever.

In reality, the character Browning has created for the narrator is seemingly insane. Without any dialogue from Porphyria, all claims made by this narrator are subjective, one-sided, and as a result, unreliable. He projects feelings of worship and intense love onto Porphyria and whether or not that is how she felt remains a mystery. Perhaps the narrator kills Porphyria to stop her from ever leaving him, he seems to be of lesser means living in a cottage and she of greater means. It is possible that Porphyria loved the narrator enough to leave her life and “vainer ties” (24), but he could not be sure. Murder was the only way for the narrator to keep Porphyria indefinitely.

(contributed by alyssakcee123)